Mr Alf Newman was born in 1908. He was interviewed on 23 May 1991, when he lived at 12 St Nicholas Road.
For more about him, see Newman, Alf, in people category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Mr N: [about his wife] She was an active nurse, she was a school nurse for the last sixteen years, in Witham.
Q: Lovely pictures these are aren’t they, those two?
Mr N: I was in the Air force [laugh]
Q: Was that in the War then?
Mr N: Yes, we were married in 1938, because War broke out in 1939, so I was called up. Mildred she was at Chelmsford, London Road Hospital, for the last four years of her nursing [i.e. Mrs Newman, who still alive at time of interview, but not well]
Q: When did she work until then. Did she stop work when you married?
Mr N: No, because she was superintendent of the nursing services in Witham. I mean everybody was called up, you remember, you don’t remember that. She was superintendent of the nursing services and after that the Essex County Council invited her to become school nurse, which she did for fourteen years.
Q: That was until when then?
Mr N: Well, she retired when she was about 65, she’s been retired about ten years now.
Q: So when, the nursing services in Witham, that was during the War?
Mr N: During the War when the Red Cross took over your know the Nursing Services. She’s got all her certificates upstairs. (Q: That must have been a big job?) Oh yes. Every time the siren went she was off on her bicycle down to the First Aid Post which used to be at the Bridge Hospital. She used to race off, every time that siren went, night or day. Oh yes. Yes because our son was born in 1944. She used to take things a bit easy for a while then.
Q: Did she still do the work then some of the time.
Mr N: Oh yes, once my son got to school age.
Q: Because a lot of folks gave up work didn’t they when they got married?
Mr N: Yes, Mildred went, she carried on school nursing.
Q: So what about you?
Mr N: I was born in Witham.
Q: May I ask when that was? [laugh]
Mr N: I was in agriculture with my Uncle, Mr Wood, do you don’t remember Mr Wood, do you?
Q: Well, they lived at Wood End Farm, now, the son. They used to have a small farm in Witham. He wanted me to go with him and I went with him like a fool, but there, I enjoyed it. They treated me quite well.
Q: Why do you say like a fool?
Mr N: Well I could have done something better I suppose but I ran a wholesale business and I used to run to London three or four times a week, supply the shops in Braintree, Maldon, Witham. Oh I’ve you know, enjoyed life, really.
Q: Was that before the War you went to work for …?
Mr N: When I left school, when I was fourteen and I remained with him all my working life, with the family. My uncle died, and my cousin took over and I carried on with him.
Q: Hard work I should think?
Mr N: Yes, it was hard work, long hours but I didn’t mind. When you are young you don’t care. Well the war came and of course I was called up. We’ve got one son. He lives near Bury St Edmunds. He’s a JP now. He’s a magistrate, on the benches round that area. He represented Essex in the National Games. He was the Essex champion hurdler. (Q Really?) He had to go to Durham for a week, for the National Games. Always been a keen sportsman.
Q: Were you keen on that sort of thing? Were you athletic?
Mr N: When I was young I used to like football, but not athletic.
Q: Where did you play football?
Mr N: I used to play for the Old Boys, it was called the Old Boys. On a little meadow down Maldon Road. Several of us Witham lads we got together when we left school and formed a team, C of E Old Boys [laugh].
Q: So you went to the National School then, the C of E school?
Mr N: Oh yes, C of E. Mr Rowles. You’ve heard of him? (Q: Mmm.) He was our headmaster. And he was also organist at the St Nicolas church.
Q: Did you like school?
Mr N: Yes, I enjoyed school. My mother, unfortunately she was a widow and for several years she was the school caretaker at the C of E school, used to be in Guithavon Road [means Street] near the church. You remember that? (Q: Just about.) She used to get up six o’clock every morning, going to the school. Light six huge fires all before half past eight in the morning. As a youngster I used to go and help her.
Q: Where did you live then?
Mr N: Lived down the Valley [Guithavon Valley], all those cottages have gone now, they’ve all disappeared.
Q: Somebody else told they’d lived down there, Ted Mott? (Mr N: Oh yes?) Is that the same ones? Was that the same cottages? Near the river?
Mr N: That’s right, I don’t remember Ted Mott (Q: I don’t think it was for very long.) The river used to run behind the cottages down to the Mill, Blyth’s Mill. Which was operating then as a mill then when I was a boy.
Q: Did you used to go to the mill much?
Mr N: I didn’t used to go to the mill much but I used to go past it every day going to school.
Q: Were there many in your family? Did you have many brothers and sisters.
Mr N: I had two sisters and one brother. They’re all dead now.
Q: Were you the youngest then?
Mr N: Second youngest I was, brother George was the youngest one. He died about two years ago. (Q: And your sisters were …?) One older, well both older than me.
Q: Did your father die …?
Mr N: I don’t remember my father. That’s why my mother had such a hard time. Because there were no benefits then in those days. That’s why my mother, you know, she used to take on jobs, she was school caretaker for several years. But there she was happy, she survived.
Q: What was her first name?
Mr N: Mary Ann Newman.
Q: Was she a Witham girl?
Mr N: Yes. My mother was a Heard, that was a well known Witham name, Heard.
Q: Did you have any grandparents around?
Mr N: Yes, Grandmother, they used to lived in the Valley too, my grandmother and grandfather.
Q: That was your mother’s parents?
Mr N: My mother’s. My father’s parents lived at Finchingfield.
Q: What was your father’s name?
Mr N: Walter, but I don’t remember him. He died young. Too young for me to remember much about him.
Q: Did your mother do other jobs?
Mr N: Yes, my mother, she’d take in washing. She was always on call if anybody died, she’d go out and lay them out and do all sorts of jobs. Oh yes, mother was always on call. If anybody was in trouble they would always go for Mary. Somebody said to me, ‘Your mother was aptly named Mary’. Yes, she was, she was a real Christian.
Q: Did you have to help at home yourself?
Mr N: Oh yes. Do what I could. My mother, she belonged to a sect in Witham called the Peculiar People. I don’t know if you have heard about them have you? (Q: Yes.) They were a very devout religious body, they were, very devout. Used to have a strong belief in prayer. My mother believed in it, deeply in prayer. She’d never cook on a Sunday. My mother would never cook on a Sunday. She’s say ‘No, Sunday’s a day of rest’. Which I suppose was right. She used to never cook on a Sunday. (Q: What did you eat on Sunday then?) Cold. Prepared on Saturday. But she’d never cook on Sunday.
Q: Was there a chapel in Witham then …?
Mr N: Yes, down Maldon Road, I think the Freemasons or somebody took it over didn’t they. Little chapel. They used to be very you know, a lot of people attended that little chapel.
Q: Did you go there yourselves as children?
Mr N: Used to go to Sunday School. Think I broke away from it when I got a little bit older.
Q: Did that bother you?
Mr N: No, because you know I was always on hand. Perhaps, she thought I should have carried on and become a full time member but I didn’t.
Q: Did they do a lot of things as well as, not just Sundays, did they have other meetings and things?
Mr N: Oh yes, used to have evening meetings, Tuesday and Thursdays were evening meetings, you remember Mr Whybrow, used to be at the Co-op.
Q: I met him once, yes.
Mr N: Did you ? (Q: Yes.) Who was manager there? (Q: Yes.) Well he was the leader of the sect. They called themselves the Peculiar People. I don’t know why they chose that name but, they’ve got churches all round Essex, still going, several churches in Essex, two in Southend, used to be but when the older generation died away the youngsters you know had different ways.
Q: I think someone told me that one of the chapels that’s there now came from the Peculiar People but they don’t call it that any more. I think it was the one in Mill Lane?
Mr N: No, it was down Maldon Road. The only chapel they had. Oh yes, it used to be what they called the Evangelical Church. Oh yes, that was the same people. They were the Peculiars, but they, the younger generation just changed the name, they didn’t like the name. Oh yes, mother used to, she didn’t attend there, she died before that was … but my brothers and sisters used to go there.
Q: Did she die when you were quite young as well then or …?
Mr N: No, mother lived to be 79. She died at Cross Road. After we moved from the Valley that’s where we moved to.
Q: The whole family? (Mr N: That’s right.) Why did you move to there?
Mr N: Because it was condemned in the Valley, they were demolished.
Q: What sort of size were the ones in the Valley?
Mr N: Oh they very small cottages, very small. Two rooms downstairs and two upstairs. They were rather primitive then. There was no gas laid on. Used candle light in those days.
Q: What about cooking?
Mr N: Usually the open fire in the kitchen. Oil stove during the hot days.
Q: What about water?
Mr N: I can remember. (Q: What about water?) There was one tap to supply the yard, there was about five cottages and there was a main tap. You’re not going to publicise all I’m telling you I hope.
Q: No. If you remember the book I did. I didn’t put anybody’s name, or who said what. I may not get round to doing that again for a bit.
Mr N: Did you have anything to do with that book, the farming girl, that used to work at, Mr Poulter I think did it.
Q: I think I typed it up for him.
Mr N: Oh yes, cause I remember that quite well. Oh yes. Mr Newman, no, relation, but I knew him very well, Bob Newman. Because Mr Poulter can tell you a lot about Witham.
Q: He’s made a study of it hasn’t he? Is he the same age, a similar age to you? (Mr N: He might be a little older than I am.) I didn’t ask you how old you are, is that a rude question?
Mr N: No, I was born in 1908.
Q: Were you really. That’s a long time ago, and you’ve kept very well.
Mr N: Yes, it is, thank God I’ve enjoyed good health. We bought these houses and come into them brand new.
Q: Was that in 1930 something?
Mr N: 1938. It’s the only place we’ve lived in, so we’ve lived here 52 years. Mildred my wife was a Kelvedon girl. She went nursing when she was eighteen at a hospital at Sydenham. I don’t know if you know London. She wanted to study child nursing so she went there for three years. She won the Founder’s prize in the second year for being the best nurse, the magnificent sum of five pounds which was a lot of money to a nurse in those days. They didn’t get much money. She won the Founder’s prize the second year she was there This is the Metropolitan[?] Hospital, Kingsland[?] Road London, that’s where she took her General Certificate. After she’d done that she come down to Chelmsford to the London Road hospital, staff nurse and night sister there. That’s our wedding day in 1938, Kelvedon church.
Q: That’s a nice one isn’t it. A bit more interesting than just standing around.
Mr N: That’s when she’d being presented with, that’s the Lord Lieutenant of Essex. Sir John Ruggles Brise presenting her with a certificate and badge of honour for her work with the Red Cross. She used to spend a lot of time with them, giving lectures to the Red Cross and setting them exams, the junior ones. Down Maldon Road, they had a place in Maldon Road that Mildred used to take an interest in. She had a full life. Its unfortunate that this should happen to her, this break down.
Q: [???] I suppose when she started there wasn’t the National Health Service. Were they all private hospitals then? How did it work?
Mr N: Yes, they were more or less private hospitals then. Run by their governing bodies.
Q: That’s a lovely picture isn’t it, that one?
Mr N: Yes. Doctor Denholm and Doctor Foster received theirs the same evening. That was a general meeting of the Red Cross at Chelmsford at the Saracen’s Head. They used to have their annual meetings there.
Q: You say your mother did laying out and that sort of thing?
Mr N: Oh yes, she wasn’t trained. No in those days they used to call on people who were willing to do it. Mother was quite willing to do it. She had no fear of death at all, Mother. She knew she was going to a better place when she died. She was sure of that. Most comfortable about it. It gave her a lot of courage.
Q: Were here parents Peculiar People?
Mr N: Yes, Grandmother, grandmother Heard They were the pioneers I think.
Q: I think I’ve heard the name[???] Did they spend more time with that than anybody else then, if they were pioneers?
Mr N: I think they did. Trying to keep the company together, they used to work hard. Used to run a good Sunday School.
Q: What did you do with the rest of your spare time then, when you weren’t at school or at church?
Mr N: Well, [laugh] used to go down the town on a [laugh] used to meet our friends and stand on the corners and talk. There was no radio even then not in those days. The old cat’s whiskers were just coming in then. We used to meet down and have a talk. Probably walk along the Rivenhall road for a walk. There was nothing else to do in Witham. Go down Mr Ellis’s shop and have a hot drink. Mr Poulter could tell you all this.
Q: That was next to his house?
Mr N: Yes, that’s right. Uncle Ellis’s we used to call it. Made hot drinks for about two pence, two old pence. There was nothing else to do in Witham. The old cinema. They used to hold in the Public Hall. They called it the cinema. There was a Mr Clarke from Hatfield Peverel were the last people to run that. I expect you’ve heard about the Public Hall pictures. (Q: Was that before the other one [Whitehall cinema] was built.) (Q: I see.) Before the other one was built. Mr Clarke from Hatfield Peverel used to run it on a Saturday. Afternoon matinee and an evening show. The old Public Hall would be full up. Someone would be playing the piano to the films. Us youngsters used to sit in the front for fourpence.
Q: That would be quite exciting then, when there wasn’t anything else to do.
Mr N: Oh yes. Used to have a Mr Chapman, used to try and keep us in order. Gave him an early death I think. He used to come down and ‘Keep quiet you boys and girls, keep quiet’. Used to cheer and shout if the film got exciting. Still they were happy days.
Q: You were a bit on the naughty side were you?
Mr N: Oh no, I wasn’t naughty, no, all boys, you know. Oh no I was never naughty. I remember when I was at school, another boy of my age, Dick Pavelin, used to tune the church organs you know, and used to call us out, because we were the two oldest boys in the class, the latter part, to pump the organs while they were being tuned and it was jolly hard work. You’ve never seen the old hand pumps on the organs. The All Saints Church which is now the Roman Catholic church and St Nicholas Church and Faulkbourne church, we used to, once a year, they’d call on Dick and I, we pumped them, our arms used to ache. Still it was better than school. It got us out of school. (Q: It was in school time?) Oh yes, it was in school time.
Q: Did you have to work hard at school?
Mr N: Yes, but I was always pretty good at school. I got into X7, we couldn’t go any higher. Elementary School. We never did anything bad. I can honestly say that. Used to have a laugh and joke. But most of my old friends are all gone now, all dead, school friends. Your husband used to take an interest in local affairs, he still does doesn’t he?
Q: He’s still on the Council.
Mr N: Did he know Mr Williamson, at Braintree, Nick Williamson?
Q: I don’t know. I don’t know him myself.
Mr N: I think he would because Mr Williamson was a Councillor. Only my son married his daughter.
Q; I see, I’ll have to ask him.
Mr N: He was very keen on films, Mr Williamson. He made films of anything that happened
[Chat re films of Braintree, presented to Council, not noted.]
Q: So tell me a bit about your job then. You used to travel around a lot for that When you first started say, what were you doing?
Mr N: Well, I don’t know, I took on from my Uncle the wholesale business of delivery to the shops. All the shops in Witham. I don’t expect you remember John Taber’s little shop [9 Newland Street], Charlie Ingram’s little shop. All the shops I used to supply them, the Co-op and all those shops. Greengrocery and vegetables. I used to get up in the morning, go to London, buy produce as well.
Q: How did you get to London when you first started? Was that when you first started there?
Mr N: After we developed a bit. Oh no, I had a nice lorry that I used to drive. Go to London, load up, early morning come back with it and then off again round. I used to do Braintree three times a week, Maldon twice a week and all the shops in Witham twice a week.
Q: But did you grow stuff as well?
Mr N: Oh yes, we were market gardeners, we grew a lot of our own produce.
Q: Was that your mother’s brother?
Mr N: No, my mother’s sister. She married Mr Wood. (Q: What was his first name?) Reuben, because Henry Wood, his brother used to run the greengrocery round round Witham for years. Henry Wood. Now my cousin he runs Wood End Farm.
Q: Is that up Hatfield road?
Mr N: That’s right, the old nursery there. Well he bought that nursery as well.
Q: It was just smaller when you were there?
Mr N: Yes it’s enlarged a lot since I left. My uncle just started with a small holding till he bought Wood End Farm. But that’s where I spent most of my life.
Q: So when you went there, when you were fourteen, what were you doing then?
Mr N: Oh, odd jobs, doing, I worked hard, we used to grow all market gardening stuff. We spent a lot of time bunching onions and things like that, the tedious jobs, runner beans, all the market gardening. And bought a lot too.
Q: Because a lot of people grew their own didn’t they? (Mr N: Oh yes.) But there were still plenty of people to buy were there? (Mr N: Oh yes.) So was it taken round in those days as well, taken round the town?
Mr N: We delivered wholesale, we didn’t do retail [???]. Did they have lorries then already, when you were little. When we started it was horse and cart when I was really young, before I left school. I used to go for a ride with my uncle. Used to run into Chelmsford with the horse and cart. Used to do a round all the way through Boreham and sometimes I’d go with him on a Saturday till I left school and then I went full time.
Q: And did you ever think of going anywhere else to work?
Mr N: No. he was always very fair with me, treated me well. So I was never ambitious enough to want to do anything else so I was quite happy. People were more contented those days than they are these days.
Q: You had a brother, didn’t you? (Mr N: Yes.) What did he do?
Mr N: Eventually, cause he was a little bit retarded in his early days, but he worked for my Uncle for quite a time as well. Yes, unfortunately, he died suddenly, not many years ago. He died suddenly. In Cross Road. He took over my mother’s house after mother died, he took over, but he remained single.
Q: It must have been quite a change to go to Cross road from the Valley. Did you like it when you moved there?
Mr N: Oh yes, we liked it. It was more modern in those days. Yes, we lived in Cross Road till I got married and mother was alive then. George took over the house.
Q: I suppose, was it quite a step to buy your own house in those days, wasn’t it?
Mr N: It was really, but I knew I’d got a good regular job. (Q: I suppose so yes.) I mean these houses were going cheap then. I think these were £575. When we bought them. We’ve still got the same neighbours. Mrs Pond and Mrs Ashcroft. Amazing isn’t it. Mrs Eccleston. Yes, we all came here in 1938. Then all the men went off to war after. So the ladies had to carry on. Till we returned, which they did.
Q: Yes it must have been a strange time mustn’t it. Because there were quite a few bombs in Witham.
Mr N: Yes. Mildred, my wife, being in charge of the, she was in charge of the First Aid. She was nurse in charge of the First Aid Post [???]. As soon as the siren went, out would get her bicycle. I had a little cutting when she retired as school nurse. [looks for it, chat about photo, not noted.]
Q: So she used to have to go round from one school to another, did she.
Mr N: Yes. Yes. Well she was a clinic nurse too, I don’t think there was any other clinic nurse in Witham. That’s when the clinic was in the old Police Station in Guithavon Road [actually Street]. [chat about Q’s children going there, not noted]
Mr N: I’ve known her since she was sixteen.
Q: How did you meet then?
Mr N: Well we used to, we used to walk a lot, along the Rivenhall Road. and Mildred and her friend used to walk from Kelvedon. Quite by accident, they used to like Sunday morning walks. And we met along the road, and got chatting, and then Mildred said ‘Well we go to Rivenhall dances on Mondays’, they used to have at the old church hall at Rivenhall. Just used to have a piano and a sixpenny hop. So I said ‘All right we’ll come there.’ So it happened. Mildred and her friend used to come to Rivenhall, and we used to go. Then I was mad enough to walk home to Kelvedon with her, see her safely home, then walk back to Witham [laughs]. Yes. We had a lovely time.
Q: You wouldn’t walk along the A12 now.
Mr N: Not now, no. That’s how we met and kept together ever since. She was about sixteen then, I was about seventeen. The Rivenhall hop, Rivenhall dance. Only a piano, but it’s surprising you know, the fun we used to get out of that. Youngsters used to get there on a Monday night, jogging around.
Q: You said there was nothing to do, but there was something to do wasn’t they.
Mr N: Well it was what you made. We never used to go to pubs much. We used to perhaps have a drink now and then, the boys, but …
Q: Cause I suppose your mother was busy all the time, she wouldn’t have much time for recreation.
Mr N: Oh no, no, no. Mother believe in that sort of thing at all. Oh, go to a dance, no fear [laughs]. They got these certain beliefs that they were the works of the devil [laugh].
Q: I’m surprised that you were able to go then.
Mr N: I suppose I more or less broke away, because I never went to the church. I was brought up in the church, we used to go to Sunday School. But after I left I school and began to think for myself a bit, I didn’t go.
Q: What about your brothers and sisters, did they go?
Mr N: They’d go, they used to go, oh yes.
Q: You were the rebel.
Mr N: I was a rebel. [laughs] Well I wasn’t a rebel really, but I, you know, with our different friends we met we used to, they didn’t used to go to church so I didn’t go to church then.
Q: Cause if you were at the Church school, did you have to go to church from there with the school?
Mr N: Different occasions, Easter time or …
Q: Your mother didn’t mind that?
Mr N: Oh she didn’t mind that, oh no, no. She didn’t mind that. Although she didn’t, probably, well she didn’t know much about the C of E services because I don’t think she ever went, because she was brought up to the old, you know, Peculiar people. But I must say they were a very devout body of people.
Q: So was she very strict when you were small, then.
Mr N: Well I daren’t do anything, you know, wrong. Stay out, mustn’t, not too late at night. She always taught us the scriptures and that, we were brought up to read the Bible.
Q: At home?
Mr N: Oh yes. Mother had got her own set beliefs. She didn’t really believe in the doctor. In those days. They believed, you know, in the laying on of hands. The leader of the Church, like Mr Whybrew …
Q: So if you were ill or something?
Mr N: Yes, if you know, used to call in the doctor if we were really ill, but for small complaints mother used to believe in the you know, laying on of hands. Whether they got any satisfaction, I suppose they did.
Q: Did you ever have …?
Mr N: Oh yes, as a youngster, oh yes. Perhaps if I was a little bit off colour, you know, mother would call in the elder of the Church, for laying on of hands. But that’s nature and things. They used to do that a lot.
Q: You don’t know if you felt any benefit for it?
Mr N: I don’t know. Faith is a wonderful thing. My mother had remarkable faith.
Q: Can you remember the doctor as well at all?
Mr N: Oh yes, I can remember having the doctors, but you know, not very often. But you know, mother used to call a doctor for us children, but she’d never want a doctor for herself.
Q: As you say, it kept her going, didn’t it.
Mr N: Oh yes, her faith kept her going. She was a widow with four children, it was rather hard in those days. Not the benefits that they get nowadays.
Q: You wonder how she managed really, don’t you.
Mr N: It was only through her hard work. Washing, and odd jobs, she used to go out, sitting up with people.
Q: Did you have any little jobs while you were at school.
Mr N: Did I? Saturday mornings I used to go and help my uncle, on the smallholding. (Q: Oh you started then?) Yes, on Saturday mornings. Cause most of the lads of the town used to do jobs, errand boys, you know.
Q: Did you give something, he paid you for it did he?
Mr N: Oh yes, oh yes. Two shillings in those days was a lot of money.
Q: What did you have to do with it.
Mr N: I think I used to spend it on sweets or something like that.
Q: I don’t know much about it, you don’t think your mother had any benefits?
Mr N: Widow’s benefits came in at the latter part, I think.
Q: I see.
Mr N: Widow’s pension.
Q: Did you feel that you were badly off yourselves, or, where did you feel you came?
Mr N: Well, we certainly weren’t rich. [laughs] We never owed anybody any money, mother didn’t owe anybody any money. She used to work, to get us clothes. But those days are gone. Can’t reminisce too much about those days.
Q: It is so different then from what it is now, that …
Mr N: Life is different isn’t it now, life is easy compared to what it used to be years ago.
Q: Like you say, with clothes, you know, there’s so much choice now. I suppose you had to save up. Did she make clothes at all?
Mr N: Mother used to improvised a lot, yes. Well they used to years ago, didn’t they. They used to improvise. Cut things down.
Q: Did you ever, I know what I was going to ask you, fruit picking, pea picking, anything like that?
Mr N: Yes, perhaps I used to do a little bit of, not fruit picking, went pea picking a few times. Everybody used to in those days. it was seasonal work, pea picking and fruit picking. I went pea picking a few times. In my holidays I used to mostly go and help my uncle.
Q: Of course they had long holidays. I remember somebody telling me the holidays were specially designed for the picking.
Mr N: Oh yes, six weeks or seven weeks holiday. Used to call it the pea picking holiday in those days.
Q: Did your mother go at all?
Mr N: Yes, mother used to go. Anywhere nearby. She wouldn’t go like walking out of the town, cause there used to be local places, local farms and that. Used to grow peas.
Q: I’m sure somebody told me they actually sorted the peas in their houses or something?
Mr N: She didn’t do that but they used to. They had several warehouses in Witham, Cullens and Cooper Tabers. They used to let people sort the peas, but it was fiddling work wasn’t it.
Q: It was probably because people didn’t have much money I suppose they were able to …
Mr N: It didn’t amount to much money [laugh].
Q: Did you feel that a lot of people in Witham had more money than you.
Mr N: Well, you could always see somebody better off and you could always see somebody worse off.
Q: There were some worse off you reckon?
Mr N: Oh yes. How long have you lived in Witham now?
Q: Twenty-five years. Its not very long really.
Mr N: Not really when you think we’ve lived in this house fifty-two [laugh].
Q: There’s a lot newer than us. (Mr N: Yes.) It’s changed quite a bit. Its nice to stay in the same town really isn’t it because you see the same people about that you know.
Mr N: Yes. You still see one or two of the old faces about that you grew up with.
Q: I was just thinking, you mentioned Dick Pavelin, was he a relative of Miss Pavelin of Church Street. I went to see her not long ago.
Mr N: Did you really? How’s Mrs Pavelin?
Q: There’s a Miss Florence. (Mr N: That’s right, oh yes, Flo.) and then a John is her brother.
Mr N: Is Flo still alive? (Q: Ooh yes.) Well, her mother was school caretaker before my mother took over (Q: I see.) My mother took over after Mrs Pavelin retired as school caretaker.
Q: What was that at the …
Mr N: Church school. There used to be just the two schools. The church school and the Maldon Road school. A lot of rivalry between the two schools. There used to be, sports and that. We used to play the Board school at football and cricket. We could always beat them [laugh]
Q: Yes, because you said you were keen on football.
Mr N: Oh yes, I was keen on football. I injured my knee playing football.
Q: Did you actually play when you were at school?
Mr N: Oh yes, we used to play on the Recreation Ground. We used to play football every Thursday afternoon in the summer, I mean during the winter, and cricket during the summer. We used to have two wooden goalposts, which we used to carry down from the church school on our shoulders down to the Recreation ground and put them in the ground for goal posts, and play football. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Q; That was during school time?
Mr N: Yes, during school time, Thursday afternoons were our sports afternoons. We used to take our own goalposts on our shoulders down to the Recreation ground. Set up the pitch.
Q: Did one of the teachers come then?
Mr N: Oh yes, one of the teachers used to come and act as referee. Never the head master. It was beneath his dignity. Mr Crosby used to come. You don’t remember Mr Crosbey do you?
Q: I’ve heard him spoken of. Was he the one that went to Bramston after?
Mr N: He might have gone to Bramston after. He was at the Church School, Mr Crosby.
Q: He wasn’t too dignified then?
Mr N: No, he was more of a sporting type.
Q: Was Mr Rowles not?
Mr N: No, no, he was very very professional Mr Rowles. He used to wear his mortarboard at the school. We used to laugh. High days, you know. Still he was a good headmaster. A good headmaster.
Q: Did he actually teach you in lessons as well?
Mr N: Oh yes, he would take the top classes. We had a Mr Thompson before him I remember. Mr Thompson, he used to be headmaster. And his wife was headmistress of the girls school. That’s going back a long time, that’s going back nearly to the 1914 War.
Q: I’m sure I remember, I was wondering if it was him. You know schools keep a log book, the head teachers. They’ve got those in Chelmsford now. I think it probably was him. He went off to fight in the First World War. (Mr N: That’s right, Mr Thompson.) and his wife carried on.
Mr N: That’s right, we used to call him Fringey Thompson. He was ginger. Cheeky young rascals we were. Yes, Mr Thompson, I remember Mr Thompson.
Q: Goodness. I was thinking, there must be folks, people who remember, cause it seems such a long time ago, but I suppose you would. Because you were at school during the First World War.
Mr N: Yes, I was at school, I was probably about twelve years of age when Mr Thompson was there.
Q: He came back from the War didn’t he?
Mr N: That’s right. He came back. And on leave. I remember him coming into school in his uniform.
Q: Did that make a, was that very special?
Mr N: We kept very quiet then.
Q: You think when Mrs Thompson was in charge you weren’t so good?
Mr N: I think when Mr Thompson wasn’t there, Mrs Thompson was the headmistress. Being a woman she hadn’t the same, excuse me but she hadn’t got the same control over the lads, like Mr Thompson had. Mr Rowles was a more dignified man, but he was a good headmaster. He was very intelligent.
Q: Do you remember anything else about the First World War?
Mr N: I remember they used to come round at night, anybody showing a light, special constables and shout at ‘Put that light out.’, ‘Put that light out.’
Q: What in the First War?
Mr N: In the First World War. Yes, yes, put that light out, I remember that as a boy. Put that light out. If anybody showed a light. Because I remember when they used to come round Witham, the street lighting was all gas, and they used to cycle round and put them on at four o’clock in the afternoon, a man from the gas company would cycle all round where the lights were and put the pole up and pull the chain to bring the light on and he’d come round about ten o’clock at night and put them out again. That’s years ago, when all Witham, well the few streets were lit by gas light.
Q: You didn’t even have gas light at home?
Mr N: Not down the Valley we didn’t. Paraffin lighting and heating, paraffin lamps. It’s hard to visualise that now.
Q: Do you remember any soldiers about in the First World War?
Mr N: Oh yes, we had some. Yes, I remember my next door neighbour. They had a daughter. She got friendly with the Americans in the First World War. And she married an American this girl, she married an American, and she went back to America, they lived in America, and six or seven years ago a lady came here, she said, didn’t come in, she made some enquiries, wanted to know if I remembered a Mrs Mecklenburgh, which I did. And that was her daughter that married this American. They came over to find out where her mother lived when she was Mecklenburgh, before she married this American. I’m not sure if I’m making this clear.
Q: Yes, I’m with you. It was the daughter that came over.
Mr N: The daughter of the mother.
Mr N: And I was able to put her into the picture, where her mother used to live. As a matter of fact [shows photos?] That picture there. That’s the lady who came over. She was the daughter of the woman who was our neighbour in the Valley. The American took that photograph.
Q: Because I’m sure, do you know Barbara Rice in Ebenezer Close? Because she said she a Mecklenburgh. She showed me her family tree once and there was that name there.
Mr N: Yes, yes there’s a connection there.
Q: I’ve forgotten what the connection was but I know that the Mecklenburgh was a name that she was looking out for.
Mr N: I can’t think what the connection was, they were relatives …
Q: Perhaps it was her mother or something?
Mr N: Mecklenburgh. You remember that do you? What a co-incidence.
Q: Just because Barbara told me she was trying to follow up the family and that was Mecklenburgh. It’s a distinctive name isn’t it, you do remember it if you hear it.
Mr N: Did she meet this lady when she came over? You’ll have to ask her that won’t you?
Q: Have you got the lady’s address if she was interested to follow it up?
Mr N: They always write to me at Christmas. They always send me a card at Christmas. And the Wests were the Wests and the Rices were … There’s a Mrs West at Hatfield Peverel isn’t there. I think she’s some relation to the Rices.
Q: I know that Mecklenburghs, right back a hundred years ago there were Mecklenburghs in Witham and Hatfield Peverel.
Mr N: Yes, well, Mrs Mecklenburgh lived next door to us in the Valley. I remember the old lady. I don’t remember a Mr Mecklenburgh but I remember the old lady who had a daughter that married this American.
Q: I didn’t realise there were Americans over here in the First World War.
Mr N: Oh yes, yes, yes. They were stationed in Witham.
Q: Where did they stay? Anywhere special?
Mr N: In Witham? They were under canvas most of the time. Yes. I think they were in the Avenue (Q: I see). I don’t remember much about it now but I think that’s how this girl met up with one.
Q: I’ll mention that to Barbara and if she’s interested she could get in touch with you couldn’t she. (Mr N: Barbara.) I think she’s always been Barbara Rice I don’t think she’s married.
Mr N: Is she a single lady. I knew the Rice brothers.
Q: I suppose she must be around seventyish, I’m not sure. She lives up in Ebenezer Close. Quite a lot of people these days trace their family back out of interest don’t they, and she was doing that. You’d know a lot, like when Albert asked you about Mrs Lee’s[?] father, you knew everybody I suppose didn’t you? If you went round delivering?
Mr N: Why did Mr Poulter want?
Q: I went and talked to Mrs Lee about her family and I was trying to make a list of all the people I’d spoken to so I wouldn’t forget who they were, and with the women I like to put down their single names because I’m interested to know where they came from, but for some reason I haven’t got hers down so I was trying to make this list out and I asked Albert like I usually do. And he had to ask you, you see.
Mr N: Well of course I knew the family the Messents, very well. Bill died, you remember that do you, her brother Bill. Mrs Lee was a very staunch church. You don’t remember her husband do you, Mr Lee?
Q: No, I don’t. He was the one that was in the Co-op.
Mr N: He was the Co-op milkman.
Q: I remember her saying that her father lived to quite an old age but she didn’t tell me.
[general chat, about wife etc. not noted.].
Q: If she went to all those training courses, that must have been quite an adventure for her in those days I suppose.
Mr N: Yes, she went and left home.
Q: When, did she leave school at fourteen as well then?
Mr N: I think she went on till sixteen.
Q: I suppose if she wanted to go to, what and then she went to, was the first place you mentioned?
Mr N: Sydenham, that was her first, she was eighteen when she went there. Somebody recommended. You know you always get a lady in the village takes an interest. There was a lady at Kelvedon, a Miss Lance[?] She had some connection with the hospital and she said to Mildred’s mother ‘If Mildred wants to go to a good training hospital for children’ she recommended the South Eastern Hospital for Children in Sydenham. So Mildred went she had three years there. She was quite happy there. I used to go and see her there (Q: Did you?). It was a bit awkward to get to but I used to go.
Q: Did you have to pay to go there? (Mr N: Oh yes.) I meant to go to the hospital to train, did you have to pay?
Mr N: I don’t think so but I wouldn’t know, no I don’t think so.
Q: Were her parents alive when you knew …?
Mr N: Oh yes, her father and mother eventually were stewards at the Conservative Club at Kelvedon.
Q: What was their name?
Mr N: Cheverton[?]. Then Mildred’s mother died unfortunately and he couldn’t run the club and look after the house, so he didn’t like the job in any case, so he retired and come and lived here with us.
Q: So were they doing that when you first knew her?
Mr N: Yes, no, when I first knew her, her parents worked for Fullers. Well, her father did, not her mother. Her mother never done any work. Her father worked for Fullers brewery in Kelvedon. Then Fullers packed up, went out of business, or sold out or something, then he was offered this job at the Club and he took it but he never liked it. But it was a job and kept him until his wife died. Then Mildred said ‘Could dad come here’, I said ‘Yes, certainly, he can come here’. And I was away for four years which he stood in very well, cause he was here with her.
Q: It seems that there were ladies in the village that took an interest. Were there people like that in Witham as well? Better off people?
Mr N: Probably, I don’t know if they would. I don’t know in Witham, I never had any experience, because Mildred was eighteen when she went there.
Q: Did you have people would come round the school for instance, the richer people in Witham who would come round the school or that you would see around the town that would sort of do good works.
Mr N: Well, it didn’t affect me, I didn’t have any association with anybody like that, no.
Q: I was thinking especially of folks that didn’t have much money, whether there were places you could go for handouts at all?
Mr N: I don’t think so, no, my wife wouldn’t take charity. [laugh]
Q: I was thinking of your mother.
Mr N: No, mother wouldn’t either. She’d work.
Q: I was thinking when you were small, some places did seem to have things like that then. I suppose if you were in a small church like that you would help each other a lot.
Mr N: They did, they used to help each other a lot.
Q: Do you remember any of the other people that were in the Peculiars in Witham?
Mr N: In Witham? Oh yes, there were Whybrews, the Emmens, do you know the Emmens? There was the Heards and the Woods, oh yes, the Ambroses, they were all PPs, the Shelleys.
Q: Because the Woods were the ones that you were …?
Mr N: Yes, that’s right.
Q: Did I ask you what his first name was, I can’t remember.
Mr N: My uncle was Reuben.
Q: That’s right I did. There seem to be a lot of Woods in Witham. Were they all related to each other or …?
Mr N: Not really no (Q: Lots of different ones.) The one in Hatfield was my uncle’s brother. Everyone knew Henry Wood. He used to do a greengrocery round. Remember Shelleys? They used to …
Q: I think I once talked to Mrs Shelley. They had a little greengrocers shop next to the Spread Eagle.
Mr N: Next to the Spread Eagle, that’s right, Mrs Shelley, she was one of the fraternity.
Q: Oh and, Mrs Raven. I think she said her grandmother, that would be even before then I think that was Turners. Mrs. Raven that used to live in Cressing road, her family were Turners from up Powershall and I think she said her grandmother was in the Peculiars and they used to take her in a bath chair. I think she said, that’s right. Was it them that had these annual gatherings in Chelmsford?
Mr N: In Chelmsford, that’s right.
Q: Is that the same people?
Mr N: Oh yes, they used to have a church in London Road. The Congregational Church. We used to have that for our annual get together. Thanksgiving meeting. Oh yes they had all those leaders from the different churches. Used to take over the meeting. Oh yes, as a youngster I’ve been to one or two of them. Used to go for a free tea, us youngsters [laugh]. There was what they called a tea meeting.
Q: So did you have any treats and things like that at school?
Mr N: Sunday School? (Q: Mmmm.) Oh yes used to have a good Sunday School Treat. A very good one.
Q: This was at the Peculiars? (Mr N: Yes [but perhaps C of E?] what did you do at that then?
Mr N: Well, it used to very. I know we used to go to Baddow Rodney, because it used to be lovely there for children. They used to take us there in a horse brake, as kids, and we had sports and games. They would lay on a tea and it was all right. And eventually we used to go to Walton or Maldon, Maldon was quite nice, near and handy they’d take us there as children.
Q: And that was from the church?
Mr N: From the Chapel. Oh yes they always gave the children a good annual do. They used to call it the Sunday School Treat.
Q: I suppose you wouldn’t go out of Witham much otherwise would you?
Mr N: Not really no. We all had bicycles and cycled around.
Q: What, when you were quite young you had a bicycle?
Mr N: Oh yes, always had a bicycle?
Q: You can get quite a long way if you cycle can’t you? (Mr N: Oh yes.) but they’d cost quite a bit of money?
Mr N: Oh yes, the wife’s old bicycle is still in the shed. Trusty cycle.
Q: I suppose you must have learned to drive quite early on if you were going …
Mr N: Oh yes I learned when I was seventeen.
Q: Did you really, what did you used to drive then?
Mr N; Everything, car, lorry. We never had to pass a test then. We just had to apply for a licence when you was old enough. Oh yes, I’ve always had a car. Always been mobile really since I was old enough to have a licence.
Q: What you had a car straight away did you?
Mr N: Yes. I’ve paid more money to Witham court for speeding that anybody else in Witham, I should think.
Mr N: Yes, I used to, oh dear. It was a joke among some of the youngsters. ‘Hello. Speeding again!’ Oh dear oh dear. Yes I’ve paid a lot of money into Witham court [laughs]. Speeding. Cause I can drive over a certain limit, especially with a goods vehicle, you … That was the only crime I ever committed. Speeding.
Q: Was that when you were quite young?
Mr N: Yes [???]. Yes I was always in trouble speeding.
Q: What was the speed limit then?
Mr N: Thirty miles an hour.
Q: I see. Did you know you were speeding?
Mr N: Yes. Pretended I didn’t but I knew I was speeding [laughs]. Paid a lot of money into Witham court.
Q: Did you actually have to go to the court then?
Mr N: I didn’t have to but I used to go, once or twice. The AA they used to represent, you know. Always belonged to the AA. They used to do it and send me the bill. [laughs]
Q: Did you have to lose your licence?
Mr N: No, no.
Q: That was lucky wasn’t it. You were driving the lorry for work as well I suppose. Did you go speeding in that as well?
Mr N: That’s when I used to get caught. When we come back from London. A bit of a joke in Witham.
Q: How did they stop you in those days, they didn’t have a police car zooming along did they or, how did they catch you?
Mr N: Well they used to measure over a mile somehow, I don’t know how they did it but they knew. They’d catch up with you when you stopped. Used to pull into the yard and the police would come in behind.
Q: In a car? (Mr N: Yes.) Cause the cars couldn’t move that quickly?
Mr N: Oh no. Thirty miles an hour. It wasn’t fast was it. But according to the law, it was thirty miles an hour.
Q: Was it thirty miles an hour even out in the country?
Mr N: Any time. Oh yes.
Q: Must have got a bit expensive didn’t it, all those fines.
Mr N: I think my uncle used to pay the fine. It was a long time ago. You forget these things. I know I was caught several times for speeding.
Q: There couldn’t be much traffic on the road then?
[chat about modern roads, roundabouts etc., not noted]
Q: Presumably your mother walked everywhere did she, or did she have a bicycle.
Mr N: Oh yes, no, no, she never cycled. The latter part she didn’t go out a lot.
Q: So for the shopping and things like that, she’d …
Mr N: There used to be a branch Co-op over the road here which was always very convenient [Braintree Road]. You remember that don’t you. That was a good shop.
Q: And when you were small, as well, did you go to the Co-op then?
Mr N: Yes, she’s always been a Co-op member, mother was always a Co-op member.
Q: Did you do the shopping sometimes? When you were little?
Mr N: Oh yes, I used to run the errands, yes. My friend Dick Pavelin used to do the running about for Spurge’s. They used to, you remember Spurge’s shop. You don’t remember. (Q: I’ve seen pictures of it.) Oh yes, Spurge’s shop. Dick used to take, you know, after school hours, he use to go round with a hand truck delivering, I used to go round with old Dick sometimes.
Q: Did he have to go far?
Mr N: Only local, in Witham.