Mr Cecil Newton was born in 1908. He was interviewed on 11 November 1991, when he lived at 81a Church Street, Witham.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org 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: I have recollections of going to school down ‘ere, opposite the church, [Chipping Hill Infants] that school (Q: Really?) and I used to go and, ‘cos I was living in Braintree Road then, as a youngster and used to go down there bottom where that goes into what is it, Albert Road opposite the seed factory, the very last house on your right-hand side was Miss Claydon and she took in teachers as lodgers and my teacher was Miss Black and I have recollections as I say, three of four of us used to go down there just before, say quarter to nine of a morning and she used to get hold of our hands and take us to school.
Q: I’ve not heard of that before. Made sure you got there didn’t she?
Mr N: That’s right. Then I had a spell at the Guithavon Road [Street] school and I say my mother died, I’m telling a lie then, my mother had nerves and they had to take her away, took her to Braintree, institution there. Which is St Michael’s hospital now I think. Of course she died during the War. They sent me a telegram to say I could have, I think it was 24 hours leave, special leave to bury her. Because there was nobody else. My father had messed off years ago.
Q: So did she stay in there all the time after.
Mr N: Yes, she stayed in there for years. And they took me in that home at Bocking and there was thirty-four of us there. I landed there and the person, the matron, well both of them, come from Witham. Miss Paterson [actually Miss Patten] and Miss Evers. Miss Evers was assistant matron and Paterson [Patten] was the matron.
Q: Was that Miss Paterson [Patten]?
Mr N: Her father, kept that shop next to that bakery that’s shut there, Kings [85 Newland Street]. He had that, her father did. That was the turn of the century 1900 something
Q: Was his shop a bakery or was his the one next door?
Mr N: No, next door to the bakery, as that, that’s never gone has it? (Q: No.) This bakers still stands there idle.
Q: So what did Mr Paterson [Patten] do?
Mr N: He was a jeweller and watch repairer.
Q: Were there any brothers and sisters of yours then?
Mr N: No, I’ve got nobody. I’m a loner. [laugh]
Q: So do you remember much about your mother at all?
Mr N: Only that she used to go down and she made friends with the people at the Swan Inn, down the town. She used to go and play the piano there. And the people there, I can see her now, she was a nice old lady, well, old, middle aged. Mrs Noble, Ernie Noble the husband’s name was and Mrs Noble. And I’ve got a photo at home of her nursing a dog, little terrier she’d got. How I come to have that, I reckon it was through my mother, give it to my mother, and I got in in my, I’ll hunt that out one day. She used to cart[?] me down there. I forget what I used to do. Then another friend she had, my mother, was the Bibolinis in that big house opposite the forge [Barnardiston House, 35 Chipping Hill] Italian people’d got that, called Biblolini and they used to invite my mother in there to play and they used to sing. I remember them singing, and dance.
Q: You went there sometimes did you?
Mr N: Yes, I went there sometimes. I had to sit still there and not mess about.
Q: That was when you were quite little was it?
Mr N: Oh yes, yes, I was about five or six I expect.
Q: Did she used to work, did she have a job at all before you, before she was married or any thing like that, do you know?
Mr N: No, not my mother, no. I’ve heard her say that her mother, my granny, used to do a bit of washing to keep things going in them days. Because we lived next to Gaymers (Q: Oh yes.) and of course Miss [Kath] Richards mother was a Gaymer, wasn’t she, before she married..
Q: That was in Braintree Road?
Mr N: That’s it. Well I lived next door, Portland Villa, it was where I was born, there. The other side of me was Sainty.
Q: I know, so you were …
Mr N: Used to do television, he used to re-charge batteries and all that for your wirelesses and all that sort of thing. I don’t know where he worked, the old boy, I’m talking about the son he done batteries. Then he moved on and went down further on, that road before you get to Crittall’s, what is it? (Q: Albert Road), Albert Road, yes. He moved in there. That’s where he done his business from there. Sixpence a time he used to charge for recharging an accumulator. And I remember my little set that time of day was an Alba. You know, wireless. That was in the times of Savoy Orpheans were very popular and Charlie Coons and all those. I used to like … The first time I ever listened in was at Claydons up Bridge Street there. They had a shop up there, they called him Botchy Claydon. Used to go in there with his son and we used to put these earphones in teacups and listen to it. Surprising how much louder that was. We enjoyed it. Used to like the dance bands in them days.
Q: How old would you be then about?
Mr N: About sixteen, seventeen[?] then, when I was doing that.
Q: Quite an experience that was.
Mr N: Yes, it was, Cause I was with, they were fairly old people that I was in digs with. They weren’t really old when I first went there but they were much older than me. And they’d got a son and a daughter. Taylor was their name. Lena Taylor and George.
Q: Was that in Witham then?
Mr N: Yes, he worked for Bradshaws outfitters [72 Newland Street] at that time of day, opposite Mondy;s, where Mothercare [Adams?] is now. Then there was old Afford, he had a papershop business on the corner. And further down in Guithavon Road [Street]there was like a little building, they used to do printing there, years ago, a chap named Mr English ran it.
Q: So where were your lodgings?
Mr N: In Mill Lane. Near the tan yard. Called Hope Cottages. But they had one tap between four people and toilets up the yard, you’d have to go right up the yard to the toilet. It was amusing, about that, I don’t know if I oughter, if it is going on tape, it’s nothing really rude or anything, I used to like a cigarette and I bought these packets of Woodbine, they were five for tuppence and I used to get one, not every night, because money was scarce them days you know. There weren’t a lot of money about. So I used to make ‘em last as long as I could. And I used to go up the toilet and smoke one. And one day I went in, so my landlord said, ‘There’, he said, ‘Cecil you seem to spend a lot of time up that toilet. I often say to Annie, what do you think that boy is doing up there? I’ll creep up there one of these times’. And that’s what he done, I never heard him nor nothing. So he said to me then, ‘Is anything the matter with you boy? You spend a lot of time up there?’ of course I must have turned red, I said ‘I don’t know’ but he said ‘We do. We timed you. You’ve been up there sometimes ten minutes or quarter of an hour’, he said. He said, ‘By chance you don’t smoke up there my boy?’ Of course I must have coloured up more and course I had to come out with it. And he told me. He said ‘If you’d told lies about it, I can tell you was smoking’ he said ‘because you’ve got lattice work’ and as I drew that cigarette and, dark nights it were, and he could see that little glow [laugh]. So I was caught both ways. He said, in future ‘Now look in future always tell the truth’ he says. ‘If you’d asked us both could I have a cigarette Mr Taylor’ he said ‘We wouldn’t refuse you, because you’re nearly sixteen but I went the wrong way about it. But I never done it no more.
Q: [laugh] Kids still do that don’t they?
Mr N: Oh yes, endless people do it, even now. But in those days it was more of a crime, the same if a girl was having a baby or something, oh dear, they were outcasts, as the saying goes. Well I always thought that way. Used to look down on them and all that.
Q: Did you know girls that were doing that?
Mr N: One or two, can’t think of their names. There was one or two. I wouldn’t say there was a lot, as I say, looked on as a crime.
Q: So what happened to them normally?
Mr N: Well, I dare say, I didn’t enter into anything or conversation with any of them, I don’t know how they used to treat them. I’ve heard my landlady talking about them and it was an awful crime. Fancy that and all this. She wouldn’t go out no more like that. She’d be at home Me, I had to be in at nine o’clock when I was in digs. Once when I was doing the same, there was a young lady from Leyton and we hired a bike, both of us. They were only one and six for the day at Glovers. That’s where the electric light shop is now [38 Newland Street]. And we went to Wickham Bishops and all round there. Blow me if I didn’t get a puncture. No puncture outfit nor nothing, so I had to walk home, well we both did and she’d got relations up Cressing Road. She had to walk further than I did. I had to go up Mill Lane. When I got there, I thought there’s a right kettle of fish here, so I tried the door and couldn’t get in. So I got the prop and tapped the window. [laugh] Up went the window and she said ‘Now then, my boy, where have you been?’ I told her. She said ‘That’s a good tale’. You know the time you should be in, nine o’clock’, I said ‘Yes, I said, but I had a puncture’. I did, I really did have a puncture. That passed off but she gave me a dressing down. ‘Don’t do that no more my boy, or your days will be tallied and you’ll be away from here’. Give me a warning, at that time of day. Very strict on things. And we’d go to church every Sunday and go to communion every Sunday morning. I can see her now, she used to put a threepenny bit in George’s (her son) and my hand for the collection. And she’d see me put it in too.
Q: So really she was acting like a mother to you ?
Mr N: Yes, she was. I was fourteen when I went there. Because I come out of that home. They give me a tin trunk with a full set of clothing you know. And the Sunday School where I went to at Braintree, forget the name of the hall now, there’s a hall there near the Co-op. they give me fifty pence, ten shillings. Which was a lot of money in them days, to start in life. The priest, or the speaker at Sunday School. And of course I only moved from, because I’d got a mother they only moved me from Braintree to Witham, but some of them went to Australia under the Salvation Army Scheme, but they hadn’t got any parents. They were all on their own with nobody sort of. And that’s likely what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t got a mother alive, they’d have done the same with me. But there was a lot of them went to Australia.
Q: Did you ever see your mother after she went into the, did you see your mother after she went into the hospital at all?
Mr N: Oh yes, I used to go and visit her, every Sunday, or nearly every Sunday. Used to go with a man named Mr White, Jim White. He had his wife in there. (Q: I see.) that time of day, used to go on the train (Q: From here?) From here. Used to run Sundays, you see, not like they do now.
But I don’t think there were so many, I forget, whether that was a full schedule or not. That’s what we done, done that for several years. Old Jim White. I think his name was Jim. He worked at Crittall’s. Because he’s got two or three sons. One of them had an operation about two years ago but he’s dead. He was a nice chap, can’t think of his name. Got one named Doug, and he had a daughter, she lives in them bungalows opposite the Bridge home. Can’t think of her married name.
Q: Was Jim White at Cross Road?
Mr N: Yes, I believe so. Do you know them?
Q; I’ve met him.
Mr N: He was a real Labour man, he was. I think he was doing a bit of canvassing here about two years ago, before he had his operation. You know local elections.
Q: Yes, because local politics, they had more meetings and that in those days? I suppose there wasn’t the television, elections were more exciting then.
Mr N: I always remember Lord Crittall, Sir Valentine getting in, and there was Labour headquarters right opposite Mondy’s, you go up the steps there, that time of day and up steps. There was a big old house, back of that shop, millinery shop. You know where I mean? (Q: Yes [Medina House, 80-84].) Anyway I was going to tell you, the car that was all dusty and dirty and it had all written on the back. Forty-nine majority. So he must have got in by forty-nine majority that first time. A chap named Burrows was his agent at that time of day.
Q: Did you have much to do with it? Politics or anything?
Mr N: No, no, I didn’t vote in them days did I, know.
Q: What did you do with your spare time then?
Mr N: Oh I’ve got plenty to do. I don’t go anywhere, mess around at home, doing a bit of gardening in the summer and all that.
Q: I was thinking of when you were a young fellow. When you were younger I was thinking.
Mr N: Oh when I was a youngster. We used to go in cliques then, funnily enough, like they do here but we didn’t haul things down and break things up. That was the difference. And there was always police about in the town. I always remember Sergeant Haggar saying that to me, I was looking at this shop, there was three of us ‘Hello boy, you still hanging around the shops, ain’t you got a home to go to?’ And if you cheeked them then they’d soon clip you, so we used to move off and go away quietly, I mean doing practically nothing, them days. I was friendly with several of em and I used to play football for the school, With a school, Church School. I mean I didn’t play much for em as a lad because I finished most of my time at Bocking, Bocking School.
Q: But you played after you left school?
Mr N: Yes, I played for Witham Town. Then I joined the Scouts.
Q: Did you like the Scouts?
Mr N: Yes, it was very nice. I was there with another Witham chap, Ken Bull. His father was a photographer. Just by that George there, where they sell motor parts and that [34 Newland Street]. His father was a good photographer, took some lovely photographs. And he got a job in the Bank. He was in the Scouts and I always remember, he was the laziest chap he was. He used to buy these plates, you know, like cardboard plate. He had tin plates but he …, and when he’d had them he’d sling them across the field out of the tent, open the tent flap and they used to go sailing. [laugh] And he had a little BSA, one and a quarter horsepower.
And he worked at Dunmow Bank. He as in the bank there. Dunmow. Used to go back and forwards every day on that. One and a quarter horsepower. Little round tank. He sold it for about thirty-eight pounds.
[chat about biscuits etc. Step daughter at Belchamp St.Paul near Sudbury]
Q: Because your wife lived in England for quite some time didn’t she?
Mr N: Oh yes, She was in the Army you see too. Russia come and took them and hauled them all over to there. She was in Russia a long while. She was ill treated there, terrible, things she told me. (Q: She’s Polish was she?). She was Polish yes, and she got away from there and then she got to Egypt and that and that’s where she caught up with her husband again. Through the Red Cross. She had one boy born out there, Jan was born out there, Tel Aviv. And she’d got a little girl when they took her to Russia, a baby. But I mean treating them so rough and not looking after them properly, it died out there. She’s had a rough time. She’s been here, I don’t know how many years, a good many. I know she came to these parts when they got these dockets for clothing. You had a docket for clothes didn’t you or furniture and all that. They had a job to get something for themselves and that. Because she didn’t know what they were. And informed her. In the end she did get what she wanted but it took a long while and she never forgot it. She holds a grudge against them. Clothes.
Q: The people that gave the dockets out you mean?
Mr N: Well I expect so, yes. I mean they didn’t know a lot of English did they, coming here like that. She was at Brandon at Suffolk, then she come this way with some friends. And they could try and get a place here or they could go to America. They had two choices. And her husband he didn’t want to go to America so they got round here and they got a house in St Nicholas Road, not far from where we are now.
Q: I see. What was their surname before?
Mr N: Kovachek. I had a job to pronounce that myself and write it, I can do it now but it was a kind of real tongue tester to me.
Q: So how did you meet her then?
Mr N: Just casually, when I walked through the fields. She was sitting on one of the seats near the railway bridge. I forget the name of these roads now. Anyway it was near the railway bridge. When you go on to the …
Q: Armond Road way you mean was it or?
Mr N: Well if you come down from the blacksmiths, go down the Chase [Moat Farm Chase] as we called it and then you come into those houses there, well down that road there was a railway bridge, viaduct that’s right. Well along that walk towards the mill, Blyth’s[?] Mill. She was sitting on the seat there eating nuts. She said as I passed ‘Oh, I’ve hurt my finger’. She said to this girl she was with, and I said ‘Is it much?’ I could just see her, hit it on the seat, you know, where you rest your arms on the seat, and she’d bashed it with her hand, this nut. It’s a wonder she didn’t split it open.
And that went on from there. Started talking to her and so forth. My wife was nearly dead at that time. She come and see her once with me, but she didn’t know nothing. Because she was in Severalls, that’s where she died, my first wife. Had nine years on my own. I was grateful I found this person, she’d come and help me with the house at times. Rotten living on your own and trying to work too, do everything then get Sundays I always went down there to see her.
Q: When was this about?
Mr N: Oh, seventeen years ago.
Q: That’s when your wife died?
Mr N: Yes, seventeen years. Been married eighteen years this Christmas time, twenty-first December. Talking about that I remember Blyth’s, that I was saying about, on that river walk, goes round to Blyths. They were nice people. Biggish family. Millers they were of coures. They used to have this old chain and the old sacks come down on to the waggons and that was where that chapel is now – Guithaven Road [Valley]. (Q: Oh was it?) Yes, that’s where they had their buildings and that. Of course it was all pulled down and they built this chapel, and that was built in 1932 because I worked on that. I was working for Richards then, that time of day, Richards the builders. We done all the painting there, me and a chap named Arthur Shelley. He was a fireman, part time fireman, he was.
Q: I’ve often wondered about that. The chapel there is two buildings isn’t it? There’s two buildings at the chapel. There’s the one with the date on it 1932 and there is the little one next to it. Were they built at the same time or was one there before the other?
Mr N: No, I think that was built after. We just done the chapel first. I think so, I think I’m right in saying that, 1932. Richards built that and that dome up there I painted when it was first getting a coat of pink primer.
Q: You can go round the town looking at what you’ve done then can’t you? [laugh]
Mr N: Oh yes, I’ve been in lots of place, Coopers. One of the first places I went to was Coopers in Collingwood Road. That’s up nearly opposite where Doctor Foster lives. Where it starts there’s a little road goes up to some flats [Nicholas Court] and that. Well it’s the first house on your left as you are going towards the station. That was one of the first places I went. And this old boy, the Miss Coopers looked after him, what his name was I don’t know but I know they were Miss Coopers. I went there and Manning was the boss at Lewis’s and Son at that time of day, manager. Because they were a Colchester firm and he was manager. He employed me. They employed about seven or eight of us. Anyway he said ‘got a little job for you this morning Cecil, you come along of me’ he said. ‘Bring a bucket and brush and stripping knife and a swab and a brush’ and he took me in this room and everything was covered up. And he said ‘Now I want you to be careful and he stripped the paper and said ‘what sort of man I can make of you’. He showed me what they do and of course I done it. Didn’t seem too bad I thought to myself but when I come to the other wall, I thought this game again another one and I began to get tired of it and he said ‘How are you getting on matey?’ when he come that night. I told him not too bad, ‘Look I done this I washed it all ways’.. He said ‘we shall see what its like tomorrow and if its not smooth enough we’ll get Lou and them to rub it down with a bit of glass paper before they hang the paper’. He said ‘You’ll learn, any rate’. And that’s how I went on. I noticed I got a lot of pushing the truck about if they wanted, they had what they called kegs, fifty-six pounds. of distemper That was ordinary whitewash in those days.
And I had to push them round the town to different places. Two kegs and brushes or a little bit of scaffolding, two pairs of steps and a board. All by truck, not a lorry to come and pick it up for you. Oh yes, been to several places. Doctor Ryder Richardson, went to his once. he’d got a limp, he walked with a limp. And he had two plum pudding dogs, big danes I think they called them, whiteish but they’d got these big round polka dots. He had two of them. In the house where Doctor Baquai is. He’s over there now. He has like an nursing home.[Witham Nursing home, Avenue Road]. (Q: Avenue Road.) That’s right, yes, Dr Ryder Richardson.
Q: So were you sort of an apprentice?
Mr N: Yes, well after a fashion, but not official no. They took me to see if they could make something of me sort of. Only I’d got nobody to, no mother or father, well, got a mother but she, wouldn’t have done no good, she was hopeless then, them times. Gone by it. (Q: Sorry.) My mother gone by it then, she wouldn’t have known what to do, no.
Mr N: When she got bad, it worried her, all the War and that. And my grandfather, he had a cab business up in London, Kensington, You know this old cab and a horse, big old whip, like you’ve seen on postcards.
Q: What was their surname that side of the family? (Mr N: Newton.) Sorry, your mother’s side?
Mr N: I always knew her as Newton, (Q: Your mother?) Yes. They’ve always been anything like that. (Q: And so your grandfather?) She was his daughter. And he’s buried in Witham. I can’t remember what happened to my grandmother.
Q: So they came. It was him that moved to Witham from London was it?
Mr N: In the end he did. He wasn’t here long if I remember, and its only vague, I don’t think he was here very long before he died.
Q: Because a lot of people seem to have moved from London to here even in those days, quite often. (Mr N: Yes.) After work often I suppose (Mr N: Yes.) And what was your mother’s first name? (Mr N: Edith.) So you never knew your father at all?
Mr N: As I was saying grandfather wasn’t down here till later. It was just her and her mother used to, and I’ve heard her say, that she used to do a bit of washing to keep things on the, for a few pennies, in Braintree Road. And then of course we moved. After Braintree Road we moved down opposite the church, them old cottages there [28-44 Church Street], which they’ve renovated now, they look very posh now but they weren’t in them days. Old cottages. There was an old boy used to work for the farm up by the Victoria. He used to live next door to us, because there was only me and my mother lived there. It was the time the Zeppelins were going over. I always remember that, seeing one go over Chipping Hill church one day. That scared us! I think a lot of that got on her nerves and it made her worse.
Q: If she was on her own, if you‘ve not got anybody to talk to.
Mr N: I mean there was a lot of Army people about here in them days. the Black Watch were here. They were stationed, were encamped up by the Victoria pub at that time. They had a lot of mules, you know like a donkey. (Q: Really?) And they used to shoe ’em at this forge here [18 Chipping Hill). And when well, you know, young boys, mates, you know what it is at a young age, get together. We used to go to them houses at that time of day which come by the White Horse. All them houses up there. They’d commandeered a lot of them places. They used to have field kitchens out there. And they’d give us some soup some times or, dogs biscuits, big old biscuits, and a tin of bully beef. They used to give us and Ticklers jam they called it (Q: Did they?) I used to take ‘em home to my mother and she used to get on to me. ‘You can’t eat that – make you sick.‘
Q: Whereabouts was that, then, in the fields you say, the kitchens?
Mr N: No they had what they called the field kitchens were in them back gardens because they’ve a good, not massive gardens. Them houses on the left hand side when you come from the White Horse and you’re going to the station [c numbers 4 – 16 Chipping Hill]. All big houses there. Well they commandeered a lot of them. This was 1914-1918 War.
Q: So what year would you be born ? (Mr N: 1908.) So you’d remember that quite clearly then?
Mr N: Yes, I remember that, us going there, messing around them field kitchens. Used to watch how the fire was burning. Yes, used to cook our grub there.
Q: Did you see them actually, presumably they’d come here really for training had they? Did you see them practising or anything? (Mr N: No, didn’t see them practising, no) Perhaps they were just waiting?
Mr N: Yes, waiting to go to the front line.
Q: You didn’t have any living with you did you?
Mr N: No, there was none boarded out or lodged out. I think they all slept in those houses they commandeered. I mean they are big houses, a lot of room in them.
Q: Were you frightened at all by the War or did you not know what was happening?
Mr N: I didn’t really realise what it was. It was only them Zeppelins that frightened us that particular day. They weren’t very high, neither. (Q: I suppose they didn’t even have aeroplanes …) There were no fighters in those … They had one at Goldhanger. There was a spotter planes, a little bi-plane there. Because me and a chap named Winston Alderton used to go down on that Smith’s farm [Moat farm], that’s opposite the blacksmiths, there used to be a farm there and they had two horses. They had one called Mousie and one called Bonnie. And we used to go up and down with this old boy that done the ploughing, Mr Barnet. He used to wear these buskins. And he used to say to us ‘Come on matey’, that’s what he used to say to us. ‘Come on little mates’, lets go and do it’ And up we’d go with him and when he finished dinner time, he’d put us on one of the horses. ‘Which one do you want to ride on’, he’d lift us up on and take ‘em for their feed in the stables. A good old chap. Him and a chap named Daizley used to live round there. We used to collect the eggs up out of the manger and take to him, and now and again he’d say ‘Here you are matey there’s a nice little egg there for your breakfast in the morning’.
Q: That’s Moat Farm?
Mr N: That’s right. They’ve got a nice house there now haven’t there. Got them big dogs. (Q: That’s right.) That was in there, that was where the farm was, chickens and cockerels strutting about there all day. Lovely scenes really. Never see it today. Gone for ever. All battery stuff isn’t it. Lovely colour them eggs in them days.
Q: I should think you were quite pleased to get one of them weren’t you?
Mr N: Yes, I was! Well, they were scarce. Things like that.
Q: I should have thought if your mother was on her own, what would she have to live off? Did you know, or did you not think about that when you were small? (Mr N: No.) Where the money came from?
Mr N: No, couldn’t say.
Q: What sort of things would you eat at home when you weren’t having eggs, was that much the same as now?
Mr N: I think so, I can’t quite picture myself. I know she used to say I’ll go and get a ha’porth of this or pennyworth of this. There was a shop by the, of course its converted into a house now, Doole’s had that [45 Chipping Hill]. It was a bit of a Post Office and all that if I remember rightly. We used to go there and get stuff. Nice family the Dooles. They had one son called Reg and two or three daughters but I don’t know nothing about them.
Q: Because I think it was Mrs Grape …
Mr N: Yes, that’s it, she was one. He was something to do with Lord Rayleigh her husband.
Q: What sort of things did they sell in the shop?
Mr N: Butter and cheese, biscuits. Biscuits were in a tin in them days, what had got shavings in, paper shavings.
Q: How did you take them home then?
Mr N: In a little paper bag. And sweets were done in newspaper sometimes like a cornet, got sweets in them. Specially when I was older down at Uncle Ellis’s down at the bottom of town. Used to make a cornet and put mixtures in of sweets.[149-151 Newland Street]
Q: Because Albert [Poulter] lived near him didn’t he?
Mr N: Yes, he lived there, his house was there.
Q: You say you went to school up here first [Church Street].
Mr N: Yes, I went here first and then I got down there for a few years, two or three perhaps and then, any rate I was only about ten or eleven I reckon when I went to Braintree.
Q: How did you feel about that?
Mr N: What, going to Braintree? Well it was strange at first, start, yes it was strange. You see the discipline you got there. You weren’t allowed to do this. You’d got to do that, everything’d got be done as the matron said. Not that she was hard or cruel, nothing like that, but you had got to do as you were told. I mean I’d had a, I used to do what I liked, and I took advantage of my mother, you may depend, go anywhere. She used to worry about me when I went up to see them soldiers and that, and that with the field kitchens. And I took things home and she’d say ‘You’ll be sick you mustn’t eat them’, but I used to say ‘Oh yes, I’m going to eat this one, and they were hard them dog biscuits, nearly break your teeth. She told me off many a time for that.
Q: So when you were at home, as you say, you just could go out and play at any time.
Mr N: Yes, used to go out anytime. I don’t remember so much when it was really dark, because I’ve always been on the nervous side I shouldn’t say I’d done a lot of that when it was really dark. But during the daylight hours, as long as I could.
Q: You were a bit nervous then?
Mr N: Yes, was a little bit nervous at night time.
Q: What did you expect was going to happen to you?
Mr N: I don’t know. I mean my mother was the same of a nervous disposition, so that didn’t help did it. She used to worry sometimes about the food, getting the food. So she must have had a hard time. I don’t know what, I mean rents them times, I don’t know what they paid
Q: Just managed to make ends meet. Were you actually born in Witham?
Mr N: Yes, I was born here.
Q: She was in Witham when you were born. So when you went to Braintree, where abouts was the home, er Bocking, whereabouts was the home in Bocking?
Mr N: It’s a big big house, called the Friars. It’s a biggish house and its got a big old archway like that, where they tell me that these stagecoaches used to use it years and years ago. I think I did hear that the Yanks had taken it over. There was thirty-four of us there. A fair number really, it was big house with a lot of rooms. But of course there was three, four, five of us in one room at that time. We were expected to clean our own bed space at that time at that time of day; keep it clean and wait till the matron see it before you was allowed to go downstairs and get ready for breakfast. And when you are top boy, oldest boy, you had the kitchen range to clean. I had to get the flue boxes all, and rake the soot with this long handled steel with a hook there in that angle, and clean all them out and then emery cloth the lead on the stove and blacken the rest. It would take a good half hour and they’d show you how to do it and then expect you to do it and perfect too. She used to be very strict on the soot. If you didn’t clear all the soot out she’d soon tell you off. Then all the wood was dried, near the fire at night and then that was put away from the fire so it couldn’t catch anything and then you’d go there and lay it, but she wouldn’t let you light it.
She’d light it. In case you’d get burned. Well, she’d got a lot of responsibility hadn’t she. Now I was getting on for fourteen when it come my turn. I didn’t do it very long. Some boys done it much longer than me. But you was what they called top boy. You was the oldest one there and that was your job. (Q: Top boy of the whole place) To do that kitchen range. She never done nothing to it. She’d only put you right if it was dirty or there was a bit of soot there. Very strict she was on that.
And then another thing you had to do when you was top boy, there was no playing about when you come out of school, go straight home and turn the mangle for the woman what done the washing. Old fashioned mangle, two old rollers with splinters on the rollers.
Q: It was hard work then, wasn’t it (Mr N: It was.) And did you have other jobs when you were lower down?
Mr N: Yes, the gardener. Older boys helped the gardener. They had a gardener there then. Had to help him. And mend your own socks and put your buttons on your things and everything. And they had to be done properly your socks. You had to do up and over so there was a nice patchwork. And if you pushed it through what she called cobbled, the matron said, ‘That’s cobbled, cut that out, do it again and go to bed when you have had your tea for four days. No football’. I used to like my football, I used to do mine properly.
Q: Did they play football actually at …?
Mr N: Yes, at the back on a big field at the back of our place, that home. At that time of day, of course, its all eaten up with houses these days. There was a lot of space them days for playing in etcetera.
Q: But you went out to school somewhere different did you?
Mr N: Went to Bocking School. As I say I was about ten to eleven.
Q: I should think you missed your friends as well as your home ?
Mr N: Yes, well they kept coming in and going out. I mean when a boy was fourteen they had to try and find him a job. As I say most of them hadn’t got parents so they went to Australia under the Salvation Army scheme that they had got.
Q: I was thinking when you first went there, you’d miss your friends from Witham?
Mr N: Yes, I did naturally. Jennings. There was a chap, Cyril Jennings, I was always playing about with him.
Q: You mean at Bocking or at Witham?
Mr N: At Witham. He lived down there. There’s two houses opposite the vet. You know the vet’s there. Opposite there there’s two houses, the first two you come by. Where that goes over the River Walk.
Q: Where Mr Springett used to live.[now nos 6 and 8 Powershall End, previously 1 and 2].
Mr N: That’s it, Springett used to live there [???].
Q: Opposite Spring lodge. Can you remember them telling you?
Mr N: I think the Jennings lived in the second one, Springetts lived in the first.
Q: Can you remember anything about when they told you you had to go or anything like that, or who told you that you had to go to Bocking or who told you?
Mr N: No, it all happened in a maze to me, it was all a maze to me, upside down.
Q: You didn’t know what was going on really?
Mr N: It was Christmas time if I remember right, they said ‘You’re going to have a nice Christmas over at Braintree with your mother’. And of course I expect that helped to tide me over. I went there and there were two little boys. It was called the Union in them days, not the hospital. So I went there.
Q: So you were there with her to start with?
Mr N: Yes, but not actually living with her. In another section. Where the children were. But you went to see her every day, but not live with her.
Q: And that was when she was ill?
Mr N: Yes, and then after a while, they found me this place down the Bocking Home. There was a vacancy and I presume that they put you with your mother, or if you was on your own perhaps they put you there, until there was a vacancy down there. Because it was run by the County Council. Board of Guardians they used to tell us, run by the Board of Guardians.
Q: Do you remember anything about when you were at the Union, what that was like?
Mr N: A big old place it made me. Make you feel small. Huge place it looked to me I always remember that. Had toys to play with and football. There was two boys there with me for a while but what happened to them I don’t know. You see they used to bundle people in there. The tramps used to get there too and they used to have tramps at that time of day, and put them in there for the night. They tell me, because I mean I was only young. they had to do a portion of gardening for their keep, for staying there. Then they gave them a night’s rest and breakfast, so I understand, but they had to do something for it. Either sweep all round the place or do something on the gardens.
Q: So that was in the holiday[?] time?
Mr N: Yes, that was in the years 1917 1918.. Well, I come here in April 1922 when I was fourteen. They found me this job here.
Q: They did (Mr N: Mm.) So when you came back to Witham then did you remember your friends?
Mr N: Yes, Cyril Jennings, I was with him again. We were getting older.
Q: When you were in Bocking did you get a chance to come back to Witham ever?
Mr N: No, never come back. Not to say come back. (Q: Not even to see people?) No. My mother used to come. They brought her over twice when I was in digs with Mrs Taylor. Only twice. But she just sat there and did nothing much.
Q: So how did you feel about that then, did that worry you?
Mr N: Well it did in a sense, yes. Not very happy.
Q: It’s a bit sad isn’t it. What a shame.
Mr N: Your mother come to another person’s house to see you, seemed funny to me. Yes.
Q: But when you were in the Union and you went to see her, what did you do then?
Mr N: Well just sat there talking to her and that, perhaps you’d have a walk round in the summer, have a little walk round and sit on a garden seat and that. You had to give your name in every time you went there too. No matter how often you visited you had to see the lodge keeper and put your name in the book. Mr. White used to do it.
Q: So there was a lot of people in there was there?
Mr N: I presume there was because I never went in every ward but I mean, where I was there was, I should say there was about eight in the ward where she was. I’ve got an idea that Mr White’s wife was there in that early part, but I really forget.
Q: Did she ever say how she felt about being there at all?
Mr N: Yes, she used to say about people getting on her nerves and that. Because she could play a piano and you go in there with people, I expect that always played on her mind, I’m in here and I can play a piano and I haven’t got one to do it and all that. It’s a job to know how she did feel. But I mean she’d been used to going around playing and that and they all tell me she was a good pianist. Everybody’s told me that. Especially the Bibolinis, they thought a lot of her. But I was only a youngster. They used to welcome us.
Q: You didn’t have a piano yourselves? (Mr N: No, no.) They cost a lot of money didn’t they? (Mr N: Yes.) I wonder where she learned to play?
Mr N: I don’t know. They might have sent her for lessons you see, her parents, mightn’t they.
Q: Are you musical yourself at all?
Mr N: No, I’m not [laugh] not at all. I like to listen to music, but I’ve never been like I wanted to play anything, like a piano or anything. The only thing I’d play was a gramophone [laugh] I had one of them. (Q: Did you?) Yes, and I was on the dole at the time and it was an Apollo, the make, cabinet gramophone.
I had several records, HMV, Layer and Wharton, they were good singers then, Layton and Wharton, I’m not quite sure. Any rate they were good records and I enjoyed that. A beautiful thing it was. It was when I was in digs with Mrs Taylor and as I say unfortunately got out of work. I was about seventeen, and being on the dole for several months and that they had to come to see what you’d got in your house see and to help you pay, they’d confiscate it. They came to see me this chap and he said have you got anything, I said ‘Yes’, innocently enough, here I said, ‘This belongs to me’. He said ‘Oh that was rather an expensive thing wasn’t it’. I forget what it was now. Any rate, when he’d gone, he didn’t say anything, he went, and Mrs Taylor said ‘You was a silly boy, Cecil’ she said ‘Fancy saying that, you should have said it belonged to us and then they wouldn’t have been no more’. But do you know I never heard a thing about it. Luckily I managed to get a job, might have been six months after he’d come. I started on my own doing painting for different people and I kept on doing jobs here and there till once Adams and Mortimer, Gerry Mortimer he said to me ‘What are you doing boy, working for yourself?’. I said ‘Yes.’ He said ‘Cor, I could have done with you’ He said ‘We’re extra busy’ he said ‘I’ll tell you what, you’ll have to pack what you’re doing and come with us’ he said ‘I’ll guarantee you a year’s work’, so that’s what I done. And I went over the year and then they got slack and they told me they didn’t think there was any more and I went to Silver End, Crittall’s. And then I got transferred over here, doing painting and glazing and all that.
Q: I see, so you started out first of all with Richards or Lewises? (Mr N: Lewises.) and then out of work for a bit then you worked on your own and then … (Mr N: That’s right.) So how old were you when you went to Adams and Mortimer?
Mr N: I must have been in my twenties.
Q: So you were on your own for quite a time?
Mr N: I had a good run. But then of course your materials and that and I used to put my own stamps on my card. They didn’t look into your business in them days for tax and this and that did they? Not them days. I was doing all right in a small way, I was paying my own way, put it that way. Weren’t making a profit.
Q: Where were you living then?
Mr N: With Mrs Taylor. (Q: You were still with Mrs Taylor all that time.) I got a job when I, I was working at Richards when I married. I always remember they bought me a copper kettle and a mat for the fire, you know, in front of the fire. Frank Fairhead collected the money and Fred Hawkes. They got it up. It was about twelve people worked for Richards in them days. Bricklayers and labourers and carpenters. Old Jumbo, [Turnage] chum they called him. I remember him coming there as a boy. He worked there as a chippie. Ray Chittick worked on the coffins.
Q: When was it about when you got married?
Mr N: I married in 1932 and we had rooms up the Hatfield Road. Wheelers, near Ashby’s garage. Ten shillings for a top front and the bottom one front. And this person Mrs Wheeler had a kitchen range put in this best room with the idea, we weren’t the first ones, it had been let to different people before, but it was vacant at that time and we went there. That’s where we started our married life. We stayed there three years till there was a bit of a squabble about using the kitchen. You know what, when you live with another family it wants a lot of scheming, and we got a cottage in Mill Lane five and six a week.
Mrs Wheeler’s we paid ten shillings and all the electricity we wanted but we had to find the coal and that for the kitchen range and everything like that. And one night he left his, used to get his wood dry in his oven and this particular night he must have shut the door on the oven and it started smouldering somehow and I smelled it and called out and they were abed. So I went downstairs and I could smell this terrific smell. I though ‘I can’t see a fire or anything’ and I went and woke him up. He come down and he said ‘Lucky you was about then boy or we’d have had a fire and ruined my oven’. He gave me a week’s free rent. I remember him saying ‘You needn’t pay me nothing next week boy’. Ten shillings we paid.
Q: You were at Taylors all the time until you went to there?
Mr N: Yes, I never had any in betweens. I went with Taylors and stayed with them till I got married. I was 25 or 26 when I got married.
Q: How did you meet your first wife then?
Mr N: No, she came down here for a holiday, from Ilford and I got friendly with her. But we used to go round them times, looking for girls with friends and that and …
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