Tape 016. Mrs Mabel Nicol (nee Newman), sides 3 and 4

Tape 16

Mrs Nicol was born in 1895, and was interviewed on 17 June 1977, when she lived at 11 Rex Mott Court, Witham.

She also appears on tapes 15 and 43.

For more information about her, see the notes in the People category, headed Nicol, Mrs Mabel, nee Newman, and Cooper, Mrs Elizabeth, nee Card

The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk 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.]

See the end of Tape 15 for notes about Mrs Nicol.


Continued from tape 15

Side 3

Q:    Sorry about that, where were we? You were talking about sewing at school, weren’t you?

Mrs N:    Yes that’s right (Q: And all the things you had to do, yes). [Long pause] And we used to, um, we had needlework every afternoon, bar Wednesdays, and, um, we used to make chemises, if you know what a chemise is? [Both laugh]. We used to wear a vest, then chemises, and then stays, not corsets, stays, and then a, a flannelette petticoat, then a calico petticoat, and then your dress. Well, the chemises, as a cotton garment, you know, over your vest, and that used to be, al-, nearly always calico, or when you were, well, better off, you had, sort of lawn, fine lawn. And you had to do every stitch by hand. Hemming, do the seams, double seams, French seams. And do all the top, bind the top and then feather-stitch. You know what feather-stitch is like? (Q: I think, just about, yes). Well, you used to do rows and rows of feather-stitching round there and possibly about a dozen tucks, all done, little tiny back-stitched all done by hand. Down the front, you know. Ohhh [sounds amazed].

Q:    Yes. I suppose, did the peop -, I suppose people had very much more ‘best’ clothes and every-day clothes (Mrs N: Oh yes,) for different days, yes.

Mrs N:    Everyone had Sunday clothes and Sunday shoes, you know. Always had to have a pair of best shoes for Sunday, you were never allowed to wear them during the week. And then, you see, then the next year you’d take your Sunday clothes on for, for the weekday clothes and have a new lot for Sunday. And every Whitsun every girl had a new dress. And a straw hat. Every Whit Sunday. That was absolutely a must, you know. I, I can remember the lovely hats I had, you know. Because all the hats used to be trimmed with flowers, and ribbons, ever such pretty hats they used to be. But you must have a new hat for Whit Sunday. And everybody had, um, for Easter they had lamb and at Whitsun everybody had veal. And gooseberry tart. Every Whit Sunday. [Laughs]

Q:    Talking about Sunday, what did you used .…? Or when you were in Witham, say, and older. What did you used to do on a Sunday?

Mrs N:    Well, I used to be a good little girl, then. When I first came to Witham. I used to go to chapel with my aunt. ‘Cos she used to, her husband was the Elder, the head one of the preachers, the chapel was down Maldon Road then. Where that com – there’s a chapel at the back of the, that’s a community centre now, there’s a chapel stand right back. Well, that was the Peculiars’ chapel [39 Maldon Road, now Masonic hall]. And that’s where I used to go with her, you see. And of course, I was, wouldn’t rebel in those days, I was too soft. You know. [laughs] Um, I used to go with her morning, afternoon and evening. And, er, she wouldn’t have anything cooked on a Sunday. We had to cook Saturday evening. Potatoes and everything. And, um, have cold dinner and everything on a Sunday. Go at half past ten in the morning till twelve. And go back again at two o’clock till five. And from half past six till eight. [Q laughs]

Q:    And that was all, sort of services, was it?

Mrs N:    Yes. Services. Yes. The, I mean, the, the preachers were just ordinary working men. Farm hands and that sort of thing. There was no parsons or vicars or anything, not belonged to the Peculiar People, they were just members of the congregation, really. And on the, at the Sunday morning service, they’d have a hymn and one of the Brethren would pray. And then that was left to the congregation to get up and give a little speech, you know, about praising the Lord and how good the Lord had been during the week and all that sort of thing. Talk for about five minutes. And then one of the women would get up. My aunt got up nearly every Sunday and give a little, little sermon, you know. But they would, course, they’re very different now here and at that time you mustn’t have a flower in your hat, you mustn’t have a feather in your hat, that was too worldly. I remember buying a pretty hat at Chelmsford and, I think I had a row of green leaves round the crown, and a bow of satin ribbon. But my aunt made me take the leaves off, she thought that was too worldly. [Laughs].

Q:    Like you say you probably . (Mrs N: I was good you see). Yes, because it was only her, it wasn’t your family who were Peculiars, the rest of your family? (Mrs N:    Well) Your mother and ….?

Mrs N:    Well, no, they, when they were younger they all, the whole family were Peculiars. (Q: Oh, they were?) In my, yes, my grandmother was, and grandfather, you know, they all went. As a child we used to walk from Sandon to Great Baddow, because the chapel, the Peculiars’ chapel was at Great Baddow, it’s still there. And, er, I used to walk, my brother Stanley and I used to walk with my grandfather from Sandon to Great Baddow, Sunday mornings, it was about a mile and a half through the fields, there was a footpath. And, um, we all went, you know. If we all went, we had the pony and trap and drove into, into Great Baddow, put the pony up at the Blue Lion.

Q:    Did the, the Witham Peculiars, did they have, um, anything on other days of the week, meetings or anything like that?

Mrs N:    Oh yes, prayer meetings, yes. Yes, Bible reading, and Scripture Union and er, prayer meeting another night, during the week.

Q:    And you went to them, as well, did you?

Mrs N:    Sometimes. [Q laughs].

Q:    Sounds a hard – what’s – um, would you say they were any special sort of people, you said they were farm labourers and – (Mrs N: Yes) things. Were there quite, any, some quite well off people, Peculiars, as well, (Mrs N: Oh yes) or were they mostly ….?

Mrs N:    Um, you know, Collingwood House, at the top, top of Collingwood Road, Heddle’s? [48 Collingwood Road; not actually Collingwood House] You know that place. Well, Oscar Heddle, that had that house built. He lodged, when he first came to Witham, because, his father was Bishop Heddle, head of the whole lot of Peculiars, because they, you could only find Peculiar Peoples in Essex. I don’t think there was any outside Essex. And he, Bishop Heddle, was the head of the whole shemozzle. And Oscar Heddle, er, there was a lot, lot of the family, and they all sort of started out in this business, Bishop Heddle got this – ‘Johnnie Fortnights’ we used to call them. Go round and sell things, shilling a week, you see, you could buy what clothes you like, pay a shilling a week. And Oscar Heddle came to Witham and lodged with my aunt and he had her back sitting room and he had that fitted up like a shop with shelves galore. And then he got lots and lots of material and he employed three young men, er, Wilfred Marshall, Harry Marshall and Arthur Whybrew. I don’t know, if you remember Marshall’s, had a shop in the High Street [cycles etc., 76 Newland Street and/or 78 Newland Street] ? Wilfred Marshall? (Q: Yes, yes) Well he was one of them. And his brother Harry, he’s got his own business at Bishops Stortford now. But that’s where they started business, in my aunt’s house. And they went round, worked up a, you know, canvassed, and got a jolly good round. And, um, my aunt’s room was just like a shop, you know, piles and piles of material. And that’s how that started.

Q:     So they would sell….? (Mrs N: And, um) What, they would sell material or….?

Mrs N:    Yes, they would take the order you see and, or clothes, you know, clothes as well. And they started up quite a, but there was, um, Oscar Heddle was never, what they call ‘in the desk’, you know, there, there was a long desk with a sort of platform with a, went up about four steps, I think, to the preaching, I don’t know what you call it, desk, or er, um. Well, two of them were real farm labourers. I dunno know as how they knew how, I suppose they knew how to read, hardly that. But they were only farm labourers but they were the preachers. [Pause] You know, it seems so funny. Arthur Whybrew, he’s still alive, he lives up Millbridge Road. He was one of the preachers. And Stanley Whybrew, he was a manager down (Q: Yes) at the Co-op. Well, he was one of the head preachers, down there. And there was a Mr Smith and, um, another one, they were just farm labourers but they stood up at the desk and preached and give the hymns out and prayed, you know. (Q: Did this used….?) But now, they’ve, they, and of co- all the men had to sit one side of the chapel, on one, and all the women the other. So they shouldn’t attract each other’s attention. You see. And, um, but now, of course, they have a mixed congregation and they have, perm their hair and have flowers in the hats and have white weddings and all that sort of thing. Of course that was never allowed before.

Q:    No. Did they sort of stick together outside of the church as well? I mean, would most of, if you were a Peculiar, would your friends tend to be? All your [???] as well [talking over each other] (Mrs N: No, you ….) Or wouldn’t that make much difference, outside?

Mrs N:    No, you would, they didn’t like it if you married anybody outside the – one time we used to say everybody who went to Witham Chapel were related. Because they intermarried, you know, cousins, and friends. You, you, if you, you were sort of afraid to speak to one about somebody else because you [Q: laughs] might be speaking about their relative, you know [Mrs N laughs] they were so intermarried. They wouldn’t go out, that was, you know, that’d be too wicked, too worldly to mix with the outside world, to marry them. [Pause]

Q:    So would, um, of course, there was the chapel in the High Street, wasn’t there? As well with, the Congregational….?

Mrs N:    Yes, the Congregational.

Q:    And the Church. Would it, would you say different sorts of people belonged to different churches?

Mrs N:    Yes, oh yes, they all kept to their own. You wouldn’t, you wouldn’t see a Congregationalist in the, in the Church of England, like, or …. They didn’t intermix in any way at all.

Q:    And again, what about outside of the church? Would their friends tend to be, Chapel people, friends .…?

Mrs N:    Yes, yes and they used to, they used to have a paper with all the different chapels, Tillingham and Great Baddow and Southend and all places like that. Where there was a chapel they used to have a, a, a paper about that size, with all the list of chapels and then they used to exchange preachers every little while. And, er, the, people, you know, the farm labourers and that, they used to walk miles to chapel. Great Baddow Chapel, there used to be an old couple, Bloomfield, their name were, well, they’d be hard at work all the week, and yet on Sunday morning they’d walk over three miles to chapel, bring their dinner and tea with them. And stay there all day and then walk home at night.

Q:    Did people come a long way to Witham chapel as well, or was that mainly Witham people?

Mrs N: Yes ! Oh, yes! From, Hoo Hall, and where John Taber lives [in Rivenhall]. They used to come there, come from there. That, um, Shelley that I’m thinking of, Shelley, you know, Shelley the furniture people, well, their grandfather, he lived, he was cowman at Hoo Hall. Well, him and his wife and, and the, Shelleys’ father, they used to walk from there every Sunday to, down Maldon Road. [Lester Shelley’s family] [Pause]

Q:    Amazing, what a hold it had on people, didn’t it?

Mrs N:    Yes. Absolutely lived for their religion, you know. [Pause]

Q:    So did it affect your aunt? You said she was strict about.… Did you have any other things you could do in your spare time, outside of going to these meetings?

Mrs N:    Oh No! No. Didn’t do anything, only go for a walk, now and again.

Q:    Mmm. [Q laughs] Where would you walk to?

Mrs N:    Oh, there was heaps, you know. I had a, a girl that, that worked for Mr Heddle, um, she was sister to that Mr Whybrew that was at the Co-op. His wife, his wife’s sister worked for Mr Heddle and she came and lodged with my aunt. And we’d known each other since we were children, because all her people went to Baddow Chapel, there was a big family of them, ten of them I think, ten children. And they all went to Baddow Chapel, you see, and I knew this girl, May Campion, and she came and lodged with Aunt, my aunt, and we slept together. You know, and, er, we used to go for walks, because there was footpaths galore here, then. We used to be a little bit wicked sometimes and if my aunt went to Rochford or somewhere, to her stepson’s for the weekend, May and I didn’t go to chapel. We used to [tuts] go for a walk instead. Oh dear. [tuts]

Q:    Nobody told on you? [Q laughs]

Mrs N:    Well, she’d get to hear, always used to get to hear about it.

Q:    What would she do if you, when she heard about it?

Mrs N:    ‘I hear you young ladies didn’t go to chapel on Sunday afternoon? Why didn’t you?’ Oh! ‘‘Cos we wanted to go for a walk’. Oh dear. [laughs]

Q:    So you, so you weren’t quite as keen as she was, then?

Mrs N:    [whispers] No! [Q laughs] But there was, there was nothing else to do, I mean, there was no pictures here, then. Nothing at all to, for young people in any way. If there was, that’d have been terribly wicked to go to the pictures or to a concert or anything worldly like that. If you could go to a prayer meeting, yes, that was all right. And that’s the, um, they used to have a big Harvest Festival for all the districts that had got Peculiar People in them. At the Corn Exchange at Chelmsford they have, they used to have one big do. There used to be about three, three hundred people come and the, and have a luncheon and May Campion and I used to go up and help. Um, they’d prepare luncheon, ham and tongue and rolls and butter. There was two or three hundred people in the Corn Exchange. And then, um, that’d be cleared and all the people would go, the Congregational Chapel in London Road at Chelmsford then. And have the afternoon service. And meanwhile, our helpers, you’d get the tea ready at the Corn Exchange. And they’d all come back there to tea. And then they’d just walk round the town while the tea was cleared away, then there’d be an evening service. But they’d come from far and wide, you know, Rochford, Southend, Tillingham. Everywhere where there was a chapel, that was the highlight of the season. The Harvest Thanksgiving at Chelmsford Chap-, um, Corn Exchange.

Q:    Hmm. So what, how….?

Mrs N:    All used to come in the pony and traps and carts, who’d got them, otherwise they used to walk, or come by train. But they, you know, nobody missed that, whatever happened. That was just the highlight.

Q:    So how long did your aunt live for, you took over the business, you said, when she died.

Mrs N:    Um, I took over the business in nineteen twenty [long pause]. Nineteen twenty, I took the business over.

Q:    Yes. Were you married then? Or perhaps you…? (Mrs No, I married in nineteen twenty two) Yes, you said you met your husband in Scotland.

Mrs N:    Yes, I went to Scotland for a holiday with one of the girls that worked for me. Her sister married a, because when the Scotch soldiers were billeted about here, she married one of them [in First World War]. And went to Scotland to live. And this girl, one of my girls, was going up to Scotland to her sister’s for a holiday. And I said to her, I said ‘I wish I was coming to Scotland with you.’ And she said ‘Well, why don’t you?’ She, ‘cos I knew her sister well. And, er, I said, I said ‘Do you think I could?’ She said ‘Yes, I’ll ask Mum when I, when I go home dinnertime. What she thinks.’ And when she came back, she said ‘Mum says “Why don’t you send a wire to…”, um, oh, [pause] oh, no, what’s her name, um, oh, ain’t that silly, you can’t think a name. (Q: Well, never mind) Well, to her sister, anyway. ‘Why don’t you send her a wire and say “Can I come with Gladys for a holiday?” ’Cos you could send a telegram for about sixpence in those days. So I did, and I had a telegram reply, ‘Please come’. So, that’s was all on the spur of the moment. I had to send word to all my customers that I, the workroom would be closed for a fortnight. And that was about on the Wednesday, we went on the Friday. (Q: Mmm) We went up on the milk, what they called the milk train at six o’clock. Gladys and I, and another girl was going up. Her sister lived in another part of Scotland, she was going up by the same train, the three of us travelled together. And we left here at six o’clock. And the Edinburgh train didn’t leave Kings Cross till six o’clock [sic], so we had an hour and half to spare. But Gladys’ cousin lived in London and they knew we were going. And one of them met us at Kings – at Liverpool Street Station and took us to his home. It was a long bus drive. I couldn’t say where. But it was a long bus drive. And took us home there to tea. [Tuts] And, um, there was two brothers, we found out when we got there so, there was three boys and us three girls, you see. And the three boys came with us and see us on the train at Kings Cross. At ten o’clock at night. And, Walter was the name of the chap I was with, I don’t know what the others were. He said, er, could he meet me when I came back from Scotland? So [laughs] I said ‘Yes’. Anyway, we got to Scotland six o’clock, Saturday morning, and, er, then we’d got a eleven mile bus ride, to Maud – oh, Maud, that was her name, Maud’s house. And we had a breakfast and had a rest. And Maud said she’d arranged for a picnic in the afternoon. And, what with her neighbours next door and the children, and Maud and Donald, her husband, Donald, and Gladys and I, there was about twenty-three of us. And we took kettle and basket of food and cups and saucers. And we went across the heather, and Donald was a piper. He took his pipes. I’ll never forget that. [Q laughs] Oh, that was beautiful. We went across the, to Nidrey[?] Castle, the ruins of Nidrey Castle and had a lovely picnic there. Amongst the heather and bracken. That was beautiful weather. And after tea we played cricket. [Q laughs] And it was my turn to bat. And I, somebody threw the ball and I hit it such a beautiful, sent it up in the air. And of course somebody caught it and I was out for a duck. But that was the chap I married. [Q laughs]. I never forgave him he’d, I had, was out for a duck the first time. Anyway, we sort of paired off. We went and gathered sticks together to get, for the fire. And we had a lovely tea. And Maud, she said she could tell fortunes by teacups. So she told all our fortunes. And when she got to mine, I said, ‘Mabel,’ she said ‘I can see a ring in yours. There’s a good sign that you’ll get married. And there’s some bells up this corner. Look,’ she said ‘There’s church bells, it won’t be long before you’re married.’ Well, I’d got a boy down here. [tuts] Anyway, Bob and I pal’d off and um, he, er, we walked home together and he said could he see me next day – he lived next door, you see, to where I was staying. And he’d got a brother John, so, um, it just happened nice. Gladys went out with John and I went out with Bob and, um, there you are. [Someone goes past and Q says ‘Hello’] And, er, but that was the loveliest sight I’ve ever seen in my life, was the morning we went up to Scotland. When we went along the coastline of Berwick, you know, you’re right on the edge of the water, almost, and you pass the Bass Rock out in the North Sea. Well, that was about four o’clock in the morning, and the sun was just rising. And that was just like a ball of fire, you know, up in the sky. And the reflection in the water. (Q: Mmm) I, I’ll never forget it. That was the loveliest sight I’ve ever seen in my life. The birds were singing and the sun was shining, you know. Oh, that was beautiful. I’ve, you, know, I often think about that, because, you just can’t imagine the beauty of it, you know. This big red sun, just coming up out of the clouds and then the reflection in the North Sea. Oh, that was gorgeous. And then, um, we kept going out together and we went to Edinburgh, we went to Forth Bridge, and we saw each other. Went out together every day and, um, I was engaged by the time I come home at the end of the fortnight. [Both laugh].

Q:    Well done. What did your boyfriend down here say, have to say?

Mrs N:    Well, [tuts] I just didn’t, I’d arranged to meet him, but I didn’t turn up. [Laughs] I was nasty, well, Bob he’d got a girl friend in Edinburgh. ‘Cos the first Sunday we were, I was there, she came over to tea, to his place. And he’d promised to go out with me in the evening, he didn’t know what to do. So he stayed in with her in the afternoon, or went for a walk in the afternoon, and he sent his brother, John, into me, and he says ‘Bob says, will you come for a walk with me?” And of course, they were ever so, ever so broad Scotch, I couldn’t hardly understand them. He said would I go for a walk with him, and Bob was going to see Mary on the bus back to Edinburgh and then he was coming to meet us, which he did. And John and I went for a nice walk, among the heather and bracken and presently, we met Bob and he took over [laughs]. [Both laugh] Oh dear, it was silly. But, um ….

Q:    So then you came down here ?

Mrs N:    Well, I stayed there a fortnight and then came back here. And, before I came back he said, er, because he worked in the mines, in the shale mines then. He said, ‘You wouldn’t marry a miner, would you?’ I said ‘I don’t know.’ And he said, ‘Well’, he said, ‘Will you marry me?’ He said ‘You know I’m a miner, but,’ he said ‘Will you marry me?’ And I said ‘Yes’ [laughs]. And, er, then we didn’t like it because we were so far apart, five hundred miles apart. So we, we corresponded, we had three letters each every week, and, er, then he suggested that, um, we should get married at Christmas and I should go up there, which we did. So I hadn’t seen him, only that fortnight, till the day, the weekend he came down to marry me. Oh dear. But we had forty-eight years of happy married life. Oh, dear. So, four lovely children, so, not much to grumble about.

Q:    He came down here to, straight off did he? Or, .…?

Mrs N:    To marry me, you see, and then we went back there, I was up there two years and then, um, we had, a, a very large bed-sitting room in his mother’s house, you see. The houses were very short, up there. They were nearly all miners’ cottages, you know ‘but & bens’ as they call them. But his mother was a midwife, and he’d got two sisters. And the elder sister’d got one little girl, eighteen months and then she was expecting another baby after I’d been up there some time. And, er, she wanted to come home to have her baby with her mother, you see. And that caused a lot of unpleasantness because I was there. And, er, one thing led to another and Bob’s mother said ‘You’d better find other accommodation.’ And Bob wanted me to go into Fifeshire and I wouldn’t. I said ‘I’m not going to move unless I move into a proper house and have my own home’, you see. And I knew I’d left my bedroom here, at Guithavon Street, at my aunt’s. My own furniture, a double bed, in the top room there. That was all my own furniture, and I’d left it there. You see, I couldn’t take that with me to Scotland. So I wrote and asked my aunt if I could come back here. And, er, she wrote back, and said yes, if that was what I wanted to do. So, my husband was quite willing, and we came down here. And, erm, first of April, he got employment at Crittalls and he was there forty years.

Q:    [laughs] They could understand what he said round there, could they?

Mrs N:    Not at first.

Side 4

Mrs N:    …. My mother in law said. She’d come and sit on my bed in the morning after he’d gone to work and talk, and I, you know, I wouldn’t know half what she was saying, really. But I soon picked it up, I got, I could talk as, as broad as they could, you know. In the shops and that, I’d ask for a ‘puren[?] of thread’ and a, a ‘stain of tatties’ instead of, you know, ‘half a stain of tatties’ instead of ‘half a stone of potatoes’. [Both laugh] And a reel of cotton, say a ‘puren of thread’ and things like that. I soon picked it up, you know.

Q:    So when you came back here, you’d carry on with the dressmaking, or did you have children pretty soon, or…?
Mrs: N:    Well, um, I’d been back here about a week when I fell for my first baby. But, um, when people knew I was back here, they soon come along, ‘Would you shorten this skirt?’ and odd jobs, so I was doing odd jobs. I didn’t really take in dressmaking again, not, not after I started my family. (Q: No) But, but now, I’ve got quite a dressmaking business here. I’m always doing jobs for people. You know, ‘Would you mind shortening this dress?’ Or ‘I’ve bought a skirt’, you know ‘And it’s a bit too long’ and, oh, I keep busy all the time.

Q:    Yes. Because, I suppose it was, I suppose women didn’t work quite so much when they were married, anyway ?

Mrs N:    Oh No! It was a disgrace! (Q: Was it really?) Absolute disgrace if anybody went out to work. They would, you know if you went out ‘charring’ as they used to call it in those days. Oh, well, you, that was a disgrace because your husband couldn’t keep you. Your husband couldn’t afford to keep you in those days. Ooh, that was very disgrading.

Q:    Well, I suppose if you were, well, what happened if you were widowed, for instance ? [aeroplane noise]

Mrs N:    Oh, well, that was different. If you were a widow, you sort of just had to do it, you know, but, but nobody’d do it unless they were absolutely obliged to do it. Oh, no.

Q:    Because I know people have spoken to me of taking in washing, and things, would that be .…?

Mrs N:    Oh yes, they’d take in washing.

Q:    Was that a disgrace, as well? Sort of ….

Mrs N:    Yes, that was, ‘cos you were hard up, you know. Because you couldn’t afford to do anything …. Yes, that was, you know, it was always looked down on, if you went out charring or taking in washing. That was a disgrace on your husband to think he couldn’t afford to keep you.

Q:    And if you worked in a factory, and got married, what happened then? Do you know?

Mrs N:    Well, there were hardly any factories, you see. Not (Q: Yes, I suppose, not a lot.) not for women to work in. There was no women factory workers, not in those days. (Q: No) [Pause] No.

Q:    I suppose there was the glove – when we were here, people talked about the glove factory (Mrs N: The glove factory, yes) Did they….?

Mrs N:    And when they wanted to build this glove factory, there was a petition got up in Witham. Because people said that they’d, Witham, they didn’t want Witham to have a factory in Witham. Oh, that were, everybody was horrified the idea of having a factory in Witham. And there was a petition. Well, nearly everybody signed it, because they didn’t want a factory. But Pinkham’s did get their factory, that little factory up by the station, there. And employed a lot of girls. Lots. [1 Chipping Hill]

Q:    Who, who got the petition up, do you know?

Mrs N:     No, I couldn’t say (Q: Just going round, was it?) I don’t know who got the petition up, but, you know, everybody was horrified at the idea of Witham becoming a factory town. And that was only to make gloves. And, later on, well, people were glad of it, erm, because, erm, oh I don’t know how many, how ever many they employed, forty or fifty or more than that. (Q: Was it that many, was it?) But, er, Pinkham’s gloves were known, got to be known all over the world. Pinkham’s gloves. And, of course, during the War, they were very busy, making airmen’s gloves and all that sort of thing. My Bettyy work, had, that was her war work. To work at Pinkham’s and make airmen’s gloves and things like that [Second World War].

Q:    And that was still a glove factory till fairly recently? Wasn’t it?

Mrs N:    Yes, I think he went bankrupt, I have an idea. Pinkham. Old Mr and Mrs Pinkham lived in Collingwood Road and there was, when they, when Mr Pinkham died, his son Bert took on. And then he had two sons. They, I think they carried on. But, um, they moved from Witham to some, down in the West Country, somewhere, they moved the factory. And so, er, I don’t know what they do up there, now. That was a button factory at one time.

Q:    I think it’s got some engineering name outside (Mrs N: Oh, have they?) Because I have to walk past there sometimes, yes. (Mrs N: Oh, yes, because I never ….) The same building is still there. (Mrs N: Yes, the building is still there) I’m remembering, somebody told me they – was it Cooper Taber’s, they had a few women working there (Mrs N: Oh, yes) at one time as well.

Mrs N:    Oh, yes. That’s right. Cooper Taber, the seed factory. Yes. [Avenue Road]

Q:    Still, there wasn’t a lot I suppose.

Mrs N:    No, the, the, Cooper Taber’s was turned, in the First World War, was turned into a munition factory (Q: Was it?) Munitions were made there. Made shells and all sorts of things. Cooper Taber’s.

Q:    So, was there the same sort of fuss when Crittall’s came?

Mrs N:    No, the, ‘cos Crittall’s, they started at Silver End, first. They bought the whole of Silver End and started – ‘cos that was a little tiny village, you see. And Crittall’s had all the – those houses built and started a factory over there. And then, this factory and of course that took the majority of men as they came home from the War, so they got work at Crittall’s. Nearly everybody worked [laughs] at Crittalls.

Q:    So, so you say there was this petition about the glove factory, but there wasn’t the same ….?

Mrs N:    Oh, no, not about the, because the, um, you know, after the First World War, people were glad, the men that did come back were glad of the work. Then there was the Slump in nineteen thirty two and Crittall’s closed down. My husband was out of work eighteen months. Crittall’s were closed right down. There was no work. There was a general Slump everywhere. Then he got twenty-nine shillings a week. I’d got two children and of course I had another baby during that eighteen months. I had three children, I had twenty-nine shillings a week. To keep the lot of us. And I had to pay ten shillings a week rent out of that. [Laughs]

Q:    That was at Guithavon Street still, was it, yes? Who owned that house, actually?

Mrs N:    I don’t know. I don’t know who the owner was. We had, there was an agent collected the rent. I don’t know who the house belonged to. But, of course, that was in my aunt’s name, you see. She was the first tenant and that was still, she died in nineteen thirty-five, nine weeks before my last baby was born. And, er, of course, I was given notice to quit, you see, I wasn’t the tenant. Mrs Cooper was the tenant. And, um, we looked round, and my husband, there was some new houses being built up Highfields Road and, er, he went and see about them and we got one of those, so we moved up there [92 Highfields Road]. But, um, at the time that we moved from there, those houses, the one that we’d been living, eight rooms. And they were all good size rooms, you know, no little box rooms, they were all, there was two, two, two, two, you know, eight rooms. All good sized rooms. And that was only, they were selling them for three hundred pounds. Oh [sighs]. And when we moved up Highfields Road, we went and moved into a brand new house, Masons had six houses built up there. Opposite the farm [Highfields farm, probably]. And, brand new houses, they were four hundred and sixty pounds each. And I couldn’t afford to, to put down a deposit then, and my husband wasn’t at all inclined. He, he wanted, it didn’t appeal to him at all to own a house. He said ‘If you own a house, look at the money you got to spend on repairs and that sort of thing,’ you see. But I thought it’d be lovely to own your own house, you know, I wanted to ever so, but he wouldn’t. But we could have done. We could have put forty pounds down and paid the rest, off. Four hundred and sixty. They’re selling now for twelve thousand pounds, the very same houses. Twelve thousand! [Sorry Janet, I have to add that those houses are now selling for one hundred and twenty thousand, at least! (Ruth Silverlock, transcriber !)]

Q:    Still, I suppose that, in the Depression, (Mrs N: Oh dear) that was a bit of a hard time for Witham, altogether, because ….

Mrs N:     Oh yes, for everybody, I mean, that was all over the country, the Depression. Terrible.

Q:    Because, what did the men used to do, when Crittall’s was shut?
Ms N:    Nothing! Just walk, loaf about. Walk about. There was nothing to do.

Q:     I suppose, there was no, other work at all, really? (Mrs N: No, there wasn’t, no.) Because that was the main factory. [Pause]

Mrs N:    No, that was ….

Q:    Did they do the same, um, sort of stuff at Crittall’s then as they do now?

Mrs N:    Yes, windows (Q: Still windows?) and during the War they did war work, you know, did, made things, shells and (Q: Yes) things [Second World War]. Munitions, they went on munitions. (Q: Did they? Yes) During the War.

Q:    What, the last War?

Mrs N:    Yes, for the last War, yes.

Q:    But otherwise, it was very, it was much the same – I suppose they’ve got more machinery and that ?

Mrs N:    Oh yes, yes, they’ve modernised a lot. You know. Now.

Q:    Did he work long hours, at the factory?

Mrs N:    Mmm [agreeing]. Half past seven, half past seven in the morning to half past five at night. Well, they leave off at four o’clock, don’t they, now? (Q: I think, or half past) Four or half past (Q: Yes) And of course, they used to work Saturdays then, but they don’t now, do they? They never work on a Saturday, they leave off Friday night. And no holidays, you, you didn’t get any pay for your holidays, I got one, he had one week’s holiday, the first week in August. August Bank Holiday week. But you didn’t get any pay for that week.

Q:    Yes. What, everybody was off?

Mrs N:    Yes, and now, of course, now they have three weeks holiday with full pay all the time. That’s how times have changed.

Q:    It must have been …. (Mrs N: Yes, well, I ….) Do you remember what the pay at Crittall’s was in those days?

Mrs N:    Um, I think it was three pounds a week. Um, when my husband started. Three pounds a week. And then that did go up to five pounds. And then, a year or two later, they reduced it again. (Q: Really?) To four pounds. But the most I ever had from Crittall’s, in his wages, was seven pounds a week. And I’d got four children. And there was no Family Allowance when my children were small, I never had any benefits from Child Allowance or anything. I’d not, I didn’t get Maternity Benefit or anything. I paid in The Nursing Association and, er, I had to pay fifteen shillings for the nurse, when I had my babies. But, er, I never had, you know, the Child Allowance hadn’t started.

Q:    How did The Nursing Association work, you paid in thruppence a week?

Mrs N:    Thruppence a week, yes, I paid thruppence a week

Q:    Was that just when you were pregnant or you sort of paid ….?

Mrs N:    All the time. (Q: All the time when you…) yes, yes.

Q:     Like a sort of insurance. Yes.

Mrs N:    Mmm. Thruppence a week.

Q:     And that entitled you to go in there to have the babies? I suppose ….

Mrs N:    I had all my babies at home.

Q:    You had them at home did you? (Mrs N: Yes) But then you got the nurse (Mrs N: I had the nurse) through the Nursing Association, yes. (Mrs N: Yes) So what happened if people didn’t subscribe to that? What would they do then, about, do you think?

Mrs N:    Well, they had to pay. Had to pay for the doctor and pay for the nurse, too. It two, I only had the doctor when had my Betty, I didn’t have a doctor with the other three, I just had the nurse. And got on with it. [laughs] [Both laugh]. [Mrs N laughing] No pain killers or anything in those days, you just, er, got on with it. Um, the doctor’s fee was two pounds, Doctor Ted came. The baby’s, well the baby’s head was almost born, Betty’s head, when the doctor walked in. So he didn’t have much to do. But I had to pay him two pounds and pay the nurse fifteen shillings.

Q:    So, I suppose, the same when you were, when you were sick, was there, did you have any sort of savings for that? Or just pay ….

Mrs N:     No, you had to pay your doctor, if you …. (Q: When they came, sort of thing?) Yes, you had to pay your doctor. Yes. You had to pay the doctor. (Q: Yes). Yes. My mother, I always said, she’d have lived a lot longer than she did, but that, she knew she needed the doctor but she was so afraid of running up a doctor’s bill and not being able to afford to pay it. She didn’t have the doctor when she should. She died when she was seventy. She had arth – er, rheumatoid arthritis. She suffered terribly. She got so crippled. She had to go hospital to finish with. She couldn’t feed herself, she couldn’t lift a finger, hands up to her face or anything. Terrible! Oh, I said ‘Thank God!’ when I knew she was, had died. Because that was terrible to see her. But that was all through not having a doctor when she needed it. Because she was so afraid of running into debt, you know. It was against her principles.

Q:    Mmm. So, I suppose, the, um, there wasn’t a lot of different, of medicines and things in those (Mrs: No!) days either? If the, when you were….?

Mrs N:    No, No! And, of course, the doctors didn’t know half what they know now, do they? [Interruption – someone entering room – conversation]

Q:    You were saying you worked in a shop, in, the, the War, yourself, did you?

Mrs N:    Yes, a grocery shop at Earls Colne. My people moved down to Earls Colne. And the, er, Mr Adams was ‘called up’ so I took his place. That was a Co-op. And there was no bacon machine, we had to cut every scrap of bacon with a big knife, all the rashers of bacon. And of course, that only came in occasionally and there’d be a, you know, somebody’d hear or see the van being unloaded and there’d be a rush, you know. Then there’d be a lot of argument – ‘She had bacon last week, why can’t I have it this week?’ [laughs] And the, the butter come in half-pound pats and we used to have cut it into one-ounce pieces, off the half-pound pats, you know. They used to – oh, dear. There was no heating in that shop and that was a marble counter. My hands were smothered with chilblains.

Q:    This was in the Second War, was it?

Mrs N:    Mmmm [agreeing] Yes. Goodness, that must have been a …. And I suppose with the (Mrs N: No! First World) This was in the First World War? (Mrs N: First World War, yes.) Yes so that was (Mrs N: Yes, I was only twenty, well, I was twenty-one, then) I see, so you went off from the dressmaking to, to do that, so you could help [Q laughs] (Mrs N: Yes) Did the dressmaking keep on as well? Did your aunt keep on the dressmaking?

Mrs N:    Yes she kept on the dressmaking.

Q:    How did you get, did you go to stop at Earls Colne?

Mrs N:    Yes, I lived with my parents (Q: I see, yes), They went down there, and my father went as, ‘cos he was, been in the grocery trade, you see, (Q: Quite, yes) when he was first married. you see, he ran the shop, my grandmother’s shop, you see, so he was in the grocery trade and, er, when, he came back from Canada, because he wanted my mother to go out to Canada. She was going out and taking my youngest brother with her. And get a home ready. And then my elder brother, Stanley, and I were going out, together. (Q: I see) Instead of that, the Nineteen-fourteen War started and my mother wouldn’t go to Canada. She wrote and told my father, he’d, if he wanted her, he’d got to come home, so he came home. And he got a job for, as, in the grocery, you see. He worked in this Co-op for a time. And then he went as manager to Earls Colne, there. And I, I moved down there with them. And, er, went in the shop, took this Mr Adams’ place.

Q:    That was right through the whole War, was it? Quite a long while. (Mrs N: Ahher [agreeing] Yes. So you only, sort of came back to Witham, to see your aunt and so on? (Mrs N: Yes) And go to chur – go to chapel [laughs].

Mrs N:    I went to Baptist Church when we were Earls Colne, we went, because there was no Peculiar there, they went to the Baptist church. I was in the choir, down there. (Q: Really?) [Pause].

Q:    So, after the War, did you, your people stay there?

Mrs N:    Er, [pause] I think my father got fed up with the grocery or something, I don’t know what happened. I can’t remember why they came back to Witham. Anyway, he came back to Witham to, um, [long pause]. To Northey Island. You know where Northey Island is? Just off Maldon? (Q: Yes). There’s just the one big house there. And they advertised, and wanted a, a caretaker. Because my father was getting on then, you know. And, er, I suppose he applied, anyway they, er, anyway, they landed up on Northey Island, my father and mother, as caretakers. And they’d got a cow on the island, and a lot of, er, sandy-coloured pigs. And a lot of chickens, ducks. And my father looked after that. And Sir Claude de Crespigny, I don’t whether you ever heard of him? Er, his, [pause] his son, was living on the island, or that was his holiday home or something or other. Anyway, that was his house, really, you know. He employed my father and, er, but he wasn’t often there, he used to come weekends and he used to bring his lady friends [laughing] for the weekend too. And, er, my mother, you know, did the cooking and looked after the house, like, and my father looked after the stock. And, er, my brother, Stanley, and I, my brother Francis, my younger brother, um, he worked in, um [pause] in the War, what is Martin’s, now, paper shop, it used to be Ha, Afford’s, called Afford’s then [70 Newland Street]. My brother worked in there. In there and in the printing. ‘Cos they had a big printing office at the back. He worked there. Well, my brother and I used to cycle over to Northey Island Saturday nights after his shop was closed. ‘Cos they didn’t close the shop till eight. And we used to have such fun. Over there. Er, because they used to get the, go out, getting the winkles, there were no end of winkles in the creeks there. And I used, we used to get pailfuls of winkles. And my mother used to cook them. Used to love that. And you could, you’d only get on the island when the tide was out. (Q: Yes, I think I’ve seen it from the ….) Mmm. ‘Cos there was only the one house on the island. I think that’s sort of a nature reserve, now from what I’ve heard. Here. But, um, you could only get on the island when the tide was out, there’s the Hard, what they call the Hard to walk across. And if you landed there when the tide was in, well, you’d, you’d either got to wait till the tide receded or go to Heybridge Basin and hire a boat. [Q: tuts, laughs] and go across, we used to that sometimes. Go to Heybridge Basin and go across. It was lovely.

Q:    It was interesting, because I’ve only seen it from the shore.

Mrs N:    Mmm. Lovely on the island. Very small, you know, one big meadow, really, and all mud creeks, and the tide …. One Sunday, when I was there, the extra high tide came right up to the gard- inside the garden gate. Gets, so we all stood there watching it, waiting for [laughing] next wave to come, you know. [Q laughs] [Laughing] Thinking each time that’d get right up to the house. But it just got inside the gate and that decided to go back again [Both laughs].


See the end of Tape 15 for notes about Mrs Nicol.

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