Mr Bernard Barber was born in about 1925, and his sister Miss Kathleen Barber in about 1921. They were interviewed on 10 October 1991, when they lived at 12 Pitt Avenue, Witham.
For more about them, see Barber, Bernard and Kathleen, in the 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 B: That was Mr Newman, that was years ago [dairy in Bridge Street]
Q: Whereabouts were the cows then, down …
Miss B: They used to put them down the fields just a little bit before …down Bridge Street, the fields you know.
Mr B: You know, I’ll tell you where they used to be, you know Mill Lane, well he used to drive the cows there, up Bridge Street, up Mill Lane, and you know where the bowling green is now, there’s a new bowling green now for the pensioners, up Mill Lane, there’s a new bowling green, anyway, there used to be, there’s a field there, they used to drive them in this field, near the river. That’s where he used to keep his cows.
Q: Did they have sheds here where they milked them then …? Did he have sheds here where he brought the cows to?
Mr B: Yes, oh yes, out the back.
Q: I see, so he did actually milk them here. Whereabouts did you live yourselves?
Miss B: Bridge Street.
Q: Oh you were in Bridge Street.
Mr B: I’ll show you the house later on, it’s on a different postcard. We went there about 1930 didn’t we Kath?
Miss B: Something like that.
Q: Where were you before that then?
Miss B: Down the Maldon Road here, Olivers Cottages, not far away from here.
Mr B: I was born at, you know Maltings Lane, as you come out of Maltings Lane, on the corner, there’s some cottages on the right hand side. Just as you come out of Maltings Lane, going into Maldon Road. (Q: That’s Olivers) That’s where I was actually born. When I, when we lived there there was nothing on this left hand side [west side] going up Maldon Road until you come to the smallholding, nothing, there was no houses at all. And the newest one was, there’s a smallholding near the bridge. You know, what they call Sauls Bridge. So from the corner of Maltings Lane, all the way up to this, there was no houses, nothing at all. The other side [east] there was one or two cottages weren’t there.
Miss B: Yes, just little cottages.
Mr B: Going from, going down Maldon Road.
Q: So you were right out in the country really.
Mr B: Yes well, Witham, I used to call it a market, it was a market town, but it was. We had a population of about six thousand.
Miss B: There was a market up near the station.
Mr B: And we used to have the cattle market and things like that.
Q: Is that the one you mean, by the station.
Miss B: Where they’ve got the, is it the Labour Hall or something built in there. That part with the railings. Well it did have railings.
Mr B: Where the Labour Hall is near the railway bridge.
Q: Olivers Cottages has got the little date on it, was it Olivers Cottages where you were born.
Miss B: Yes.
Q: There’s a little plaque on the corner of it, with some initials and the date or something.
Miss B: Yes, I lived there till I was about eight. Then I went away for [???] I came back when I was twelve. Then we came back to Bridge Street, you see.
Q: Which of you is the older then?
Miss B: I am. [laugh]
Q: Did the whole family go away then?
Miss B: Yes, I see.
Q: Did you want to come back?
Miss B: My dad couldn’t get any work down there.
Q: Where did you go then.
Miss B: We went to Suffolk, Bayton[?] a little village first. No sorry, Woolpit first, then we moved to Bayton.
Mr B: It’s not far from Bury St Edmunds.
Miss B: No, about six miles Bayton is, out of Bury St Edmunds.
Mr B: And then we came back about 1930 wasn’t it.
Miss B: Must have been, I know I was about twelve when I came back.
Mr B: Yes, about 1930 and we moved into Bridge Street, that was when everything was on the road, you know, and we lived there for 29 year was it? Yes about 29 years.
Q: What did your father used to do?
Mr B: Then we moved down here.
Miss B: He used to be a lorry driver, you know long distance lorry driver. Then he worked at the garage up Hatfield Road, [???] garage, the latter part of his life.
Mr B: Then during the War he finished up in the Fire Service. I’ve got a photograph there. But, he was a mechanic wasn’t he?
Miss B: Really, yes.
Mr B: So we’re more or less, all our relations come from Witham if you trace us back.
Q: So he was born in Witham himself was he, was he born in Witham, do you know?
Miss B: No, Dad was born in Bishops Stortford I think.
Q: I see.
Mr B: Born in Bishops Stortford.
Q: Cause you say he was a lorry driver, there weren’t so many lorries about then, were there?
Mr B: No no, not in those days, they were the old hard tyred type, you know. There was no balloon tyres, no pneumatic tyres.
Q: How far did he go?
Miss B: He used to go to the docks with a lot of stuff, Tilbury. Yes.
Q: Who did he work for then, was there a firm?
Miss B: I can’t think of it, what was the firm he worked for?
Mr B: Oh, Joe Mens. Joe Mens, he was what did they used to call it, sort of a haulage contractor, those days. Cartage company they used to call it I think.. Well Olivers Cottages used to belong to Joe Mens.
Q: I think it’s his initials that is on them.
Mr B: Joe Mens, while he worked for Joe Mens we lived in Olivers Cottages. They used to belong to him. That’s a few years ago now [laugh].
Q: Did he have a lot of people work for him then, Joe Mens? Did he have a lot of people work for him?
Mr B: Well he was, there wasn’t many was there?
Miss B: No, I don’t think so.
Mr B: He had about four, I suppose, I’d say he had about four or five. There wasn’t, he never had a big staff no. Just a small concern. But that was big in those days I suppose.
Q: Where did he keep his lorries and things.
Mr B: He had a yard up Collingwood Road. Joe Mens had a yard up Collingwood Road where he used to keep his lorries. I don’t know how many he did have, do you?
Miss B: No I couldn’t tell you that.
Mr B: He might have had two, two or three, he never had many. That’s where he used to keep them. He used to live in a, where the Public Hall is. And then they’ve got what you call the Eastern Health Authority, Mid Essex. Well there used to be a big house there, that’s all been pulled down. That used to belong to Joe Mens, That was terrific, about three storey house I think, big house. And Joe used to live there. Then they pulled it all down and built this… Eventually they built on it with this Authority.
Q: And did your dad, I mean nowadays lorry drivers will go away for weeks on end don’t they, before they come home.
Mr B: Oh yes, long distance, he used to do a lot of long distance driving. He was a long distance lorry driver. Then of course he’s, on our mother’s side, our grandfather was a coal merchant, he used to work for a coal merchant, he wasn’t a coal merchant. His yard was, if you go up Collingwood Road, just turn the corner into Collingwood Road, on the right hand side, I believe they’ve got taxis now. Taxis there. Well that’s where he used to be. What was his, he used to, that was Moys in those days wasn’t it?
Miss B: Yes, I think it was.
Mr B: I think Moys went back quite a while.
Q: What was your mother’s surname then?
Mr B: Haygreen. That’s another old Witham family. I’ve got a photograph in there, I’’ show you.
Q: What were their first names, your parents’ christian names, and I can look out for …
Mr B: Nellie and Leonard, They were the popular names in those days.
Q: So she came from Witham herself, she was born in Witham. I wonder where they met then.
Miss B: Well, dad used to be a chauffeur down Collingwood Road, that house that’s a home now for elderly people, just past the car park.
Q: I know, Collingwood House.
Miss B: He was a chauffeur and she used to work at the glove factory, Pinkham’s, up near the station.
Q: I see.
Miss B: And they used to walk by and that’s how they met.
Q: Is that where Mrs Coleman lived, Brown she was.
Miss B: I don’t know who lived there, do you Bernard? That house down Collingwood Road what’s a home now where Dad was a chauffeur.
Mr B: You mean on the left hand side?
Miss B: Yes, just past the car park there.
Mr B: Yes. I don’t know who used to live there.
Q: It’s a big place isn’t it. I see so he was a chauffeur as well, so he did like driving then. I’m pretty sure Mrs Coleman, who’s in her eighties now, said she was a girl there, but it might not have been at the same time of course.
Mr B: I knew one of the girl, well she was a woman, who used to be a maid there years ago. Yes she was a maid. She’d be about 77. She used to be a maid there. So it must have been a private house of some description. But who it actually belonged to I … As I said if you meet older people they could tell you.
Q: No, it’s all interesting, it’s changed so much since you
[looking at photo of Park, not noted]
Mr B: Years ago, Witham, the old Witham, and I’m going by the people I used to work with years ago, the older generation, they used to tell me that unless your son was a businessman, unless your father was a businessman, the prospects of playing cricket for Witham in those days, was nil. (Q: Really?) Witham was called the second Frinton. Well, Frinton was always known for, a little bit on the snobbish side, and Witham in those days, according to this older generation, you know the older people I worked with, they said there was no hope of, whether, if you worked say in the building trade, or you was a working man with overalls, you never stood a chance. (Q: Really?) I’m talking about the old Witham. Over the years since, I, I have played cricket on there, not for Witham but I’ve played against Witham, we used to have a works team years ago. They were telling me if you go right back, say to the century, when, you know, your father had to live in Collingwood Road or Avenue Road or places like that, because the elite of Witham. Anybody who was anybody, they used to live up Avenue Road, Collingwood Road, or the Avenue itself. And Hatfield Road was always a nice part of Witham, wasn’t it. If you went on the left, by Bridge Hospital, on the left, there are some lovely houses. Anyway, your father had to be, have what they called income, you know, had to have a regular income. That’s how it was, what they tell me.
Q: But you don’t think it was like that when you …
Mr B: No, when I started, you know, was old enough to play cricket and that, I mean we used to, we [???] ever so sociable, we got on very well. But it was a thing what used to be, I suppose it goes back to the Victorian times, when you had to be somebody to get…
Q: I wonder how that changed. Was it Crittall’s you worked for?
Miss B: No.
Mr B: I used to work for an old building family of Witham called Adams and Mortimers. Well they were there for donkeys years. I used to work for, we did have what they called a cricket team, and we used to go round playing all different sides round here, you know. And as I said we used to play on there, we used to play Witham. Not always the first team, I don’t mean we were that good, but we used to play a side from Witham, you see. And we used to have, go round all these villages. In those days, I don’t know, going to work was a pleasure, in other words you used to be more pally, and work with, you didn’t mind going to work in those days. I mean the money was nothing, I mean the money itself, at least there was more content then, people were more happy. Just one of those things of life that which altered now. We used to have a lot of comradeship and things like that.
Q: Did you always work for them?
Mr B: No, I worked there for a time and then, I’ve always been in … when I left school, I left school just prior to the War didn’t I, I started at the Whitehall cinema as a trainee projectionist, that’s about 1939[?] we left at fourteen didn’t we. Well I was there till about, I served in the second half of the War, I volunteered when I was seventeen and a half. So I done just over three years at the Whitehall that included the early part of the War. And then I joined the Air Force and I was away. I was always, when I come out of the Forces I done about four years, altogether after the War and then I got out. You see the money in those days in the cinema trade was very bad. So I was still a comparatively young man when I come out, so I thought right, I had an offer of going into the building trade in the decorating game. In those days you go as an improver, we were taught how to do the job and everything, start at the basics, then I carried on, I was in the building trade. The reason I come out of there, as I say the money in the cinema game was very low in those days.
Q: Can you remember anything about what it was like at the cinema.
Mr B: Used to have a cycle shed. Cause they used to cycle, we never had many cars in those days, they used to cycle from miles around, and then for the price of a penny they could put the bike in the cycle shed, you know, things like that. Used to have three houses on a Saturday, didn’t we, and I never used to get home till gone eleven o’clock at night, did I. We used to have two houses in the evening, they cleared out at half past eight then you start again, and then the Saturday afternoons they used to have a matinee for the children there. And they did eventually have Saturday in the morning, didn’t they, for the children.
Q: You were a trainee?
Mr B: I went as a trainee projectionist. Well I did actually, I did qualify, I was a fully qualified projectionist by the time I left. But even, when I come out of the forces, I was away three, four years, and I went back, but the money, the money in the building trade was higher, and I wanted to get some money together, and I’d been shut away for three years, and you know what it’s like, you couldn’t, I had to earn the money, and I was in the forces, when I come out nothing’d fit me, I’d grown and none of my clothes would fit me or nothing like that you see. So I thought well, I’d an offer, which I took.
Q: So how long were you at the cinema then?
Mr B: How long? Altogether. I suppose I was there about ten years altogether/
Q: Somebody else was in charge of it were they, how many other people …?
Mr B: You had a chief projectionist, then you had what they call the first man, you know, and then you had a second [???] you sort of go up the ladder, you know. I think I finished up just underneath the one in charge, when I left, I left there anyway.
Yes, we used to have some rare old times there. And the first film I ever remember seeing was Harold Lloyd, we had that on, called Chin Chin Chow, remember the old, he was a slapstick sort of comedy, yes those were the days. But eventually, it just dwindled off the cinema trade didn’t it. Cause you done a part time usherette job didn’t you?
Miss B: [laughs] I used to leave off work and go down there. Well I didn’t do it for long though.
Q: What did you have to do then.
Miss B: Oh show people, you know, slit the ticket in half at the door, show people down to their seats.
Q: It was really quite a posh place then, much the same as they are now.
Mr B: Course that was before television, and the people, used to get full houses every time, as I say two houses every evening. And you’d always got, well when I say a full house, I don’t say every seat was taken, but it was worth running the film for.
Miss B: I think that was two shillings, and two and six was the dearest wasn’t it Bern, at that time of day.
Q: Was there just one, there wasn’t a balcony or anything?
Miss B: No, no, that just sloped up?
Q: So which was the most expensive, at the front.
Miss B: The back.
Q: The back was most expensive? You weren’t too near then I suppose.
Miss B: The further away the dearer it was. That was sixpence in the front.
Q: Did they have refreshments.
Miss B: Yes, go round with ice creams and chocolates and sweets. Carry the tray you know.
Q: Did you enjoy that then?
Miss B: I did really. I used to do that after I’d done my job at the, that was the glove factory I worked then.
Q: Oh you were at Pinkham’s were you. You must have got tired then.
Miss B: Yes I did, I give it up after a while, it was a bit too much.
Q: Was that when you were quite young you were at the cinema then?
Miss B: Oh, I must have been in my twenties I reckon.
Q: Were you always at the glove factory.
Miss B: I worked there, oh, for years and years. I started when I was fourteen, We got on short time. I was there a long time. Then we got on short time so I went and I worked at Ever Ready fourteen and a half years. Then I went from Ever Ready to Cundell[?] Cartons that was, on this estate here.
Q: Where was Ever Ready?
Miss B: Ever Ready was a Heybridge.
Q: When you were at the glove factory, when you say you were on short time did they not have much business then or …?
Miss B: No, no that did go down.
Q: Did you enjoy it at the glove factory.
Miss B: Yes I did really, yes.
Q: What sort of things did you ///
Miss B: I didn’t used to make the gloves, we used to press them on tall irons, and I ended up I used to print the boxes for the gloves to go in.
Q: How did you do that then?
Miss B: A special machine that used to stamp, fit the type up and stamp like one dozen or half dozen or size, and the colour and all that on the box.
Q: Who was in charge of you then?
Miss B: Well Mr Keeble was the manager. He’s dead now, died not long back.
Q: I think I met him once or twice, Herbert.
Miss B: That’s right yes.
Q: Then did you have other people in charge of you as well as that?
Miss B: Oh yes we had Miss Ottley was the head one over our section.
Q: Were they very strict?
Miss B: Not really no. Sometimes.
Q: You didn’t get into trouble then, often.
Miss B: No, in them days we used to do our work, you know, different to now. Get on with the job.
Q: A lot of people worked there didn’t they?
Miss B: Yes, quite a few worked there, especially the latter part of the time.
Q: I was looking at some old newspaper cuttings the other day and there was a picture of the works outing, right when it was first built.
Miss B: Yes, cause they’ve pulled that all down now, even the new one they built.
Q: I saw a plan for when they wanted to build the new one. and they were going to have a sort of archway between the two. Did they ever have that?
Miss B: I can’t remember whether they had it joined up or not. On the old one they had 1912 or something, cause my mum worked there. And the old hut, behind, that was the old factory.
Mr B: Oh the old wooden hut.
Q: Oh was it, was that there before the building then?
Miss B: I can’t tell you whether they put that on the early factory I don’t know.
Q: Did they used that as well.
Miss B: That’s right, I used to work down there, the first part, then of course we moved into the new factory 
Mr B: You see in those days, when a girl left school, they had two choices in Witham. You either went into service or you went to Pinkham’s
Miss B: Or Crittall’s, Crittall’s was there then.
Mr B: Yes but, for a girl who left that was mostly into service or.
Q: So how did you decide?
Miss B: I didn’t want to go into service and my mum had worked at Pinkham’s before she married, so I went up there with her and Mr Keeble give me a job. So I started when I was fourteen.
Q: So did you mum stop working when she got married, as far as you know?
Miss B: She did, didn’t she?
Q: Did she ever go to work again after?
Miss B: No.
Q: Did you have brothers and sisters.
Miss B: Yes. Two sisters, didn’t we, that’s right.
Q: Were you the eldest then?
Miss B: Yes.
Q: And your sisters what, were they in between or?
Miss B: My sister, one was two years younger than me, and the other one was eight years younger than me, Bern was in between.
Q: So what were all your names.
Miss B: Kathleen, Patricia, Bernard and Doreen, Doreen was the youngest, eight years younger than me.
Mr B: Most of our names were Irish. Kathleen.
Miss B: I didn’t know Doreen was Irish.
Mr B: I don’t know, that’s what they used to say.
Q: How did you decide to go in cinema, it’s an unusual job. When you left school, you were thinking what should you do, what made you decide to go to the cinema.
Mr B: Well there was an opportunity there and I thought that would be ideal. I was interested in the cinema trade. And as I said of course the War interrupted everything. I was just interested. I was very keen on projection work and I carried on, and as I said the War interrupted things, but that interrupted a lot of people, it was just one of those things.
Q: Was there a manager there?
Mr B: What the manager’s name?
Q: Was there a manager as well as the projectionist?
Miss B: What was his name now, lived up Wickham Bishops.
Mr B: The one who owned the place was a chap called Gaze. He was the actual owner. He had another cinema at Newcastle Under Lyne. Not Newcastle on Tyne. Eventually he come down to Witham, he liked Witham, and he moved into Blue Mills, and lived there for several years. Then we had, the projectionist who was in charge of me, he’s since[? or son’s] passed on, he came from Witham, and his name was Mason. Well he was a Kelvedon man, his history come from Kelvedon, his family history. Cause another chap I used to work with, he’s still alive but he’s very bad in health ways, but, then we had some younger ones after that so they’re still about you know.
Q: What was the name of the other one you say?
Mr B: The one who was in Witham? His name was Bleaze. He was a Witham man, his father was in the police force during the War, they got Witham[?] ties[?]. He lives round by Bramston School on that, what’s the name of that estate, on the left hand side, I can’t remember, that’s a Council estate, before you get the railway arches. Cuppers Close.
Q: Were you all very good at the job, did it go wrong sometimes?
Mr B: Well yes, you always had snags in those days. Things never… you see you had two projectors, and the idea, used to have what they call, before you switch one off you had to get the other one going and then synchronise so that comes on, you know, so people don’t notice it. But of course it never, there was always snags. I mean they’re all modernised now, the type of projector they use. But it was all electric. They were all electric operated. We did have one or two snags. But there you are, that’s all down to the business, you know, just one of those things. You can’t win them all, can you.
Q: They were talking pictures, they did have sound by the time you started did they?
Mr B: Oh yes, we had sound. But, I remember seeing Charlie Chaplin there didn’t we, we used to have, before I was a projectionist. I’ve been there to see Charlie Chaplin, you know the old silent films, when they used to have the piano at the side and things like that. Yes, but they were all sound, they had the soundtrack on the side of the film, picked up off the side. But they were sound by the time I got there yes, by the time I was actually working there.
Q: Who used to play the piano?
Mr B: The piano. You mean the non-talkies. I don’t know who used to do that, I don’t know who the name was of the people were, do you. I can’t remember the name of the people who used to do it. I think it was a woman. In my knowledge. Cause we’re going right back now. I was very young when I used to go, I remember seeing Charlie Chaplin there. I wasn’t really taking much notice who was playing.
[looking at pictures, not noted]
Mr B: That’s the top of the, that’s the old cinema. That used to be a boys school. Then there was a Captain Blood used to live there. He kept no end of dogs. Well if you go round the back of what was the Whitehall, they used to have a lot of dog graves round there.
Q: Oh really?
Mr B: He kept no end of dogs. Cause he, as I say I’m going by what the older generation’s told me. That was about the turn of the century.
Q: You remember, these graves were there when you used to work there, were they.
Mr B: Yes, they were still, the graves were there and all that sort of thing. So it was a fact, that did happen. But it was a boys school originally, so I’m told. Private, sort of private school.
Q: Before it was the cinema. Well I suppose it was a big place wasn’t it, that would be a good use for it.
[more pictures, not noted]
Mr B: Esmond Smith was a business man I think. Now he was, let me see, what was his job. I can’t, do you remember what Esmond used to do? Anyway he was a business man, wasn’t he.
Q: Did you know him?
Mr B: Yes I knew him. This all goes back again. When I was at the cinema, when I reached the age of sixteen I joined Dad’s Army, you know before I joined up, you see. Well Esmond Smith, he was, if you held a, if you were in business and things like that you used to have the officer positions. Well Esmond Smith was the Second Lieutenant in my whatsername you see. We used to meet at the Spread Eagle. If you go behind the Spread Eagle there’s a bit hut. At the back. That was our headquarters for the platoon I was in. Esmond Smith was one of our officers. Blyth, his name was Blyth, he was the captain. He used to have Blyth’s mills. You’ve heard of, they go over to Bocking, Braintree, somewhere like that. He was the captain, Esmond was the second lieutenant, that’s how I know him. Course they’ve all passed on now.
He died when he was fifty-two, he went into hospital just for a minor operation, on his toe, that’s as simple as that. He went into Chelmsford Hospital, I don’t know what it was, just to have something removed off his toe, and they put him under anaesthetic and he never did come round. Just a minor operation. There was some allergy to this anaesthetic, and of course they hadn’t got the techniques to bring people round. But that’s how I knew Esmond Smith.
Q: So was it like Dad’s Army then?
Mr B: Well people laugh at this, you knew see on the television, it’s typical. Some of the things, it’s unbelievable what they get up, people think that’s all put on and things like that, but those things did happen. Comical things. Oh dear, we used to get up to all sorts of tricks. Of course I wasn’t in there about twelve months, just over twelve months before I was away. But that was an experience.
Q: So what sort of things happened in Witham then. What sort of things happened to you?
Mr B: In those days we were classed as the mobile section. I was on what they call, they were the army chuck-outs of 1939, what they called spigot mortars, they were big heavy mortars, which, that took one man to carry what they called the legs, you had four legs, so they had a man to carry one leg, each, and then you had two to carry the actual mortar, so there were six men. They weighed a ton, they were very heavy. Well we used to have what they call, opposite side of the road to the Spread Eagle there was a building firm, and they used to have hand carts in those days to take out the building materials. We had an agreement with them, that when we used to have exercises and that, we could borrow their hand trucks. Because there was none of this hooliganism, they used to lean, open at night, you know. So what we used to, we were going on exercises, I’d be called out two or three o’clock in the morning, get up there, go and get the hand trucks, mount the spigot mortar on, then we’d have to double up to the police station, and then we used to cover the Catholic bridge. You know, we had positions. And there was one amusing incident was, you see on these spigot mortars you had what you called a long fore sight. As you looked, the aperture, the fore sight was out there. Well in the dark, nobody realised at the time, but if it was dark, middle of the night, you couldn’t see the foresight, you couldn’t see it, you couldn’t sight nothing. I was a gunner, you see, so I got down, and that happened to me. He said ‘Right, sight that bridge’, the officer in charge. I said ‘I’m sorry sir, I can’t see it.’ ‘What do you mean you can’t see it?’, something like old Mainwaring you know, I said ‘I can’t see the foresight’. So eventually all the mortars, we had to put some luminous paint on the foresight so we could sight the targets. See they’re the sort of things which you get in Dad’s army on the television. Nobody’d ever thought it. And then we built a position near the railway line to cover traffic coming from Rivenhall to Witham, and we built this at this position. And then when it came to the day we had to have it passed for the army, you know, somebody in charge who knew what they were talking about, he condemned it. So all that trouble we built this position, and he said to the officer in charge, he said ‘Now look, I’ve just come from Rivenhall, do you realise your position stands out on the horizon, that stood out. You know, a plum target.
He said ‘If I’d been a German coming up the Rivenhall Road, he said, with their binoculars, they’d have seen gun emplacement’, we’d have been blown to smithereens. They’re the sort of things, it was really comical really. All it was was a bluff which worked. In other words, Germany at that time didn’t know just how efficient the Home Guard was. It was a bluff but at the same time it worked. They didn’t know, they didn’t quite know what to expect if they got here. But to be honest, if they’d have got here I don’t think we’d have been sitting talking [laugh]. A lot of people said about the Dad’s Army, that’s a very good programme that was. It was made to make you laugh but a lot of those things did happen. It was stupid little things, you know, just imagine building a position, and the officer being the one who’s supposed to know all about it, you’re a prime target, as you come from Rivenhall you could see it sticking out.
Q: I wonder if, your chiefs, had they been in the forces at all, before, do you think, people like Esmond Smith, or were they just picked because they were local, had they been in the army or anything before?
Mr B: The people who would, we come under the army, in other words the professionals, they were thoroughly trained on the latest, what was the latest in those days, and they knew all about positions and everything like that you know. So they had to be passed by them. They wouldn’t just pass them off hand.
[looking at photos, not noted]
Q: Did you used to go up [to Chipping Hill] at all, did you used to go there yourself?
Mr B: What Chipping Hill? (Q: Chipping Hill, cause it’s a long way for you) Yes we used to spend time up there. And of course when I was in the building trade I used to do a lot of work up there. Used to be a big house there we used to do a lot of work. And (Q: Which was that one?) That was the one what, I think it’s, what do they call it, what’s the name of that lane, goes down (Q: Moat Farm Chase). Well just by there, it’s one of the oldest houses in Witham, (Q: Barnardiston? [35 Chipping Hill] ) it’s on the side, it’s got the side of the house to the road, and we used to do a lot of work in there. That’s almost opposite the church, almost, not quite. That’s before you get to doctor, there’s a doctor got surgery there now. We used to do a lot of work at that big house.
Q: Did you have a speciality in the building?
Mr B: I was in the decorating trade. (Q: I see.) That was my speciality. They used to have the old swinging lights when the [???] [looking at photos]. (Q: I wondered what that was. That’s a light is it?) They used to have wires across, you see, yes the electric light, when they first come about Witham, that was.
[more about photos, not noted]
Yes I remember these, they used to swing about.
Miss B: Yes, I did, the light used to swing backwards and forwards.
Mr B: Before they put them on posts.
Q: They must have had tall poles to hang them from, mustn’t they. Were they hanging from posts at the side, I couldn’t see where this one is fixed on to.
Mr B: Yes, there’s a post here somewhere. Hanging on the post. But now they put them on the post don’t they.
[more about photos, not noted]
Mr B: We went to Maldon Road [school]. There’s a little school that’s a community centre now. I went there till I was eleven then I …
Miss B: I went there all my time cause that wasn’t built was it.
Mr B: I was the first one to go to Bramston, that was Witham Senior School. I was eleven, and then we all had to go to what was Witham Senior School. And we had a reunion about three years ago, that was 1937, wasn’t it, I went there, and then I, that’s right, ‘87 we had a reunion, fifty years, you know. We had a paper weight give us, up there on top of the television. Fifty years. We only had one poor old teacher that was there and that was Miss Croxall. She’s just, well I think within one twelve month, I think she’s passed on. Well of course all the others, they’d be very old anyway.
Q: So when you first went there was just, were you in the first class.
Mr B: Yes. See all the teachers, some of them were in the War, and whether they go back I don’t know. You just leave touch once you leave school. She lived in Witham Miss Croxall, up Collingwood Road, so we sort of kept in touch, you know, we used to see her occasionally.
Q: So how did you feel about going to a different school? Bit of a change then?
Mr B: No, we used to meet people from Hatfield, other parts, you know, children. I didn’t give it much though really, just accepted. It was called the senior school then, cause we used to have to wear a cap, and proper little blazer didn’t we, in those days. But now it’s all comprehensive.
Q: Were they very strict there.
Mr B: Yes. You see discipline was the thing in those days. I mean in those days if you done anything wrong you got caned, as simple as that. But there was no repercussions from the parents, or nothing like that. If you’d have told your father he’d have said ‘Well that serves you right’. [???] Nowadays they go round the school and the poor old master, be after him. But that’s how things have altered, see we were disciplined in those days. If you’d done anything wrong you expected to get punished. I mean we knew, as simple as that. But I believe they’ve got a new headmaster, I think he’s more of a disciplinarian. I think he’s got some of the old values.
Q: Did Miss Croxall used to cane as well then.
Mr B: Yes, she caned the girls. I never known the headmaster to cane the girls, did you. That was all the head woman teacher. If there was any girls got to be reprimanded, or caned across the fingers, they used to tell me some of the girls, she used to hit them worse than the men. You know, Mr Sawdy[?] was the headmaster in those days, and he used to cane you across your hand, about, she used to go like this, they never done it no more. Things have moved on since then. That’s how it used to be.
Q: Did you have different teachers for different subjects?
Mr B: Yes. Yes we had quite a lot of subjects we used to cover. There’s only one thing we did regret, we never had foreign languages. You know, I’d have liked to have learn French or something like that. But we used to do surveying, technical drawing, things like that, science, carpentry and all that. And another thing we used to do which was very handy, but that’s all stopped now, we used to do gardening. We used to have little plots of garden, and then you did it over and plant your whatsername. Well that was all to teach the boys later, how to, just a vegetable garden, you know.
Q: That was the boys that did that was it?
Mr B: Mm, the boys used to do that. Girls used to do cooking, didn’t they.
Miss B: Oh yes, cookery classes.
Mr B: Needlework and things like that.
Q: Were they strict at the Maldon Road school as well?
Mr B: The Maldon Road school, you had the same teacher didn’t you.
Miss B: Yes, we had Mr and Mrs Care.
Q: Did they use the cane as well.
Mr B: Yes. I know one instance, there used to be a boy who was a bit of a troublesome lad. He made agreement, the headmaster made an agreement with his father, cause his father was getting on then, although he’d this young lad, he was getting on, and he was more or less retired, and he told the headmaster, he said ‘If there’s any trouble with that boy’, he said., ‘Send for me.’ He said ‘Don’t you touch him, just send for me., I’m there/. And they used to get word of mouth to him and he’d come down, he’d take his boy in the porch, he come down the school, in front of the headmaster, he’d take his boy into the porch, they used to have the belts years ago, the leather belts, brass buckles. I’m not saying he hit him the brass buckle, he used to take his belt off in the porch, that’s how they used to. No more, no more trouble. The rest of the day he’d be all right [laugh]
That’s how it used to be. He was just an individual case, he was an exception. His father said ‘Don’t bother, just send for me, I’ll sort him out.’ They weren’t all like that.
[more about photos, not noted]
Q: Was this [Guithavon Street] more the church school? (Mr B: Church school.) Yes. Did your family go to church as well?
Mr B: We went to the Maldon Road school and my parents, they didn’t go to the church school did they?
Miss B: I think my mother, yes, I think she did.
Mr B: Cause you being most senior.
Miss B: Yes. He always makes out I know a lot more, I’m only four years older than him. No I think mum went to the church school.
Mr B: They went to the church school?
Q: Did they go to church at all?
Mr B: We used to have to go to Sunday School. I mean years ago we had to go every Sunday morning, no argument.
Q: So where did you go to, was that All Saints?
Miss B: All Saints, yes.
Mr B: There was a place opposite, near the station wasn’t there, Church Hall?
Miss B: For the Sunday School, yes, we used to go to All Saints Church when we went to church.
Q: Did you, yes.
Mr B: But we used to have to go to the church school didn’t we in those days, you had to go every Sunday. Well I say you had to, your parents made sure you went.
Q: Did your parents go as well to church?
Mr B: Well they weren’t great church goers were they. Occasionally. They weren’t regular church goers.
Miss B: I don’t know whether mum did before she married.
Mr B: No they weren’t regular church goers.
Q: Anyway you were telling me about the Public Hall. Did you used to go there much for anything?
Mr B: The Public Hall used to be, where they used to have films years ago, that was before the Whitehall. The older generation will tell you that they used to go there. They used to show films. That was the first cinema in Witham. That’s going back to the turn of the century really. That’s the top of Maldon Road [looking at photo]. Now I think that’s, I think that is Toddy North’s shop there I think. I think the name is North on there. Well he was a hairdresser, I used to go there when I was a boy. And next, further up this way, where they had that fire a few weeks ago in that chapel, there’s a chapel there, an old chapel, well I don’t know if you’ve ever been told this, you know in your travels, somebody said to me one day, ‘Do you know where Paradise Way is’. So I said ‘Yes I think I can help you there’. Well he said ‘People have been talking about Paradise Way’. Now this shop which was Toddy North’s, there was a passage way between him and this chapel, and, he put it up himself mind, it wasn’t official, but Toddy North he got this name plate made out, Paradise Way. And the people in Witham had never even heard of it, it’s a fact, they said ‘Wherever’s Paradise Way’. And little things like that, you know, between there and the chapel. They thought that was going to be some elaborate passage way somewhere you know. Paradise Way, between Toddy North’s shop and the chapel [Note: the name plate may have come from the almshouses in Guithavon Street]
[more photos, etc., not noted]
Mr B: Years ago when we were children, we used to have, we never had holidays anyway, that was beyond, we used to, one afternoon, Sunday afternoon wasn’t it, once a year, we used to have a little fifteen-minute train ride to Maldon, and that was our holiday. We used to look forward to it.
Q: Just for the day?
Mr B: Yes.
[more photos etc., not noted]
Q: When you were children, how big were the houses at Olivers?
Miss B: Three bedrooms. Quite nice really for that time of day they were. Mum went into it when that was new, when she married.
[more photos etc., not noted]