Mrs Hawkes and Mrs Baker were both born about 1897, and were interviewed on 20 June 1977, when Mrs Hawkes lived at 30 Powershall End and Mrs Baker lived at 29 The Avenue, Witham.
Mrs Hawkes also appears on tape 20, and Mrs Baker on tape 64.
For more about Mrs Hawkes, see the notes on the Filby family and on Richards in the People category. For more about Mrs Baker, see the notes on Baker, Mrs Gladys, nee Brewster 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 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.]
Mrs H: Well my friend [Mrs B] is about nine months younger than I am, so we both spent our childhood in Witham and we remember the Avenue, well you know where The Avenue is with all the houses, that was then a real avenue with trees, elm trees either side and fields either side, no houses at all and that was delightful wasn’t it.
Mrs B: That belonged to the old house didn’t it down at …
Mrs H: That belonged to the real Grove, not the Grove where Mark Strutt lived but the original Grove where Mr Percy Laurence lived, and he used to give delightful garden parties and when the evenings were dark it was all lit up by fairy lights. Not electric of course – the candles in, can you imagine it, you’ve never seen, little jars about that height all different colours with probably they were nightlights in, like a candle.
Mrs B: All round the garden
Mrs H: All round the garden – there was a beautiful rose garden which is all now offices and there was what they called the cinder track which went out into a shrubbery didn’t it, and it was a beautiful place, that’s all destroyed and gone.
Mrs B: We used to have the band there didn’t we and used to dance on the lawn.
Mrs H: And there was a beautiful cedar tree, I don’t know whether that’s cut down or not.
Mrs B: I think that’s still alive.
Mrs H: It might be still there – it was very large tree.
Q: There is one . There is one.
Mrs H: There is one large tree. ‘Cause it’s now a housing estate isn’t it?
Q: Behind there – was that part of it was it, the field at the back ?
Mrs H: That was all gardens – that was all beautiful gardens.
Q: Behind where the trees are?
Mrs H: Yes, now where the Police station, I think that was the rose garden side, wasn’t it, where the Police station now is ?
Mrs B: Yes and that was where the stables were and things weren’t they, for the horses. (Mrs H: Yes.) Because he used to drive, the gentleman used to drive through the Avenue every morning to the station, didn’t he.
Mrs H: And they had wrought iron gates, tremendous big gates and they were locked after – that was his private road, after he had driven through there to go to the station then, might have been the coachman, those gates were locked. Pedestrians could go through but no traffic was allowed through, was it dear ? (Mrs B: No.) There was a small [laugh] sort of hoop shaped iron gate at the side of the big gates where you could go through and we, as children, used to play in the Avenue didn’t we ?
Q: What, you were allowed to play there ? It was allowed?
Mrs H: Oh yes, it was allowed to play in there. There were fields either side. Oh dear, so very different now.
Q: What did you used to play ?
Mrs B: I think we used to play hide and seek, didn’t we ?
Mrs H: Hide and seek, behind the trees. A delightful place to play hide and seek. Oh, terrific trees, weren’t they, used to link right across the side. I would look for, I had a postcard once I have apparently lost it or given it to someone else.
Mrs B: You would probably have seen a photograph of the house.
Q: I think I might have, yes. In Chelmsford they have got a collection of postcards at the County Hall – great enormous big trees. (Mrs B: That’s right.) (Mrs H: That’s how we remember it.) How often did you have the garden parties ?
Mrs H: How often did they have the gardens open ?
Q: Was that a special …?
Mrs H: That was a special occasion. I shouldn’t think more than twice a year
Mrs B: I should say twice a year, yes.
Mrs H: And that would have been one the rose time, and the autumn more.
Mrs B: Then the bungalow at the other end of the Avenue was a Lodge, lodge gates you see
Q: Who would go to the garden parties ?
Mrs H: It was open to the public. (Mrs B: I expect we had to pay – not very much.) Probably the money went to the church I should think. They were great churchgoers, weren’t they, Mr Laurence and his two daughters. And I think one of them was a Sunday School teacher. That’s going back a long way you know, that’s over seventy years ago! A lot of people today they talk about the Grove, which was really the stables that were converted from the big house where Mark Strutt lived. (Mrs B: It was after Mr Laurence died.) Percy Laurence died. (Mrs B: Mark Strutt converted the stables.) I don’t know whether he did it or whether the vet did it, Walker. (Mrs B: Horner.) Horner.
Mrs B: I remember they had a fire there didn’t they?
Mrs H: Yes, after Horner converted it – it was quite a big house then (Mrs B: Oh, yes it was.) but nothing the size of the Grove because he was a man of substance. He had a butler, didn’t he? And that was properly run the place, with a coachman, stableboy, two or three gardeners. It was kept in beautiful order. That was really the showplace of Witham wasn’t it? (Mrs B: Oh, it was.) Then there was Motions down the town where latter years Miss English had a school in latter years. He used to have a fete or garden party but it wasn’t the same size as the Grove. (Mrs B: Oh no, nothing like.) I can’t remember what – ?
Mrs B: A hairdresser – Silhouettes.[98 Newland Street]
Q: I know, Lawn, Lawn Chase.
Mrs H: The Lawn, yes that’s right it was up there wasn’t it, the large house.
Mrs B: But it’s pulled down now I believe isn’t it.
Mrs H: Yes, Miss English sold it. I don’t know whether they have built up there, probably, don’t know [???]..
Mrs B: Then of course, we used to have the hounds – The Meet, here didn’t we?
Mrs H: Yes, they used to meet outside the White Hart.
Mrs B: When we were children we used to go and see that didn’t we – of course there were no motors then, naturally.
Mrs H: No. We had a postcard somewhere of us and I can’t find that. There was two, where we’ve got out dolls’ prams. The handle of your pram wobbled and mine didn’t. Strange things you remember.
Q: What part of Witham did you live in yourselves when you were children? Where exactly did you live ?
Mrs H: I lived at the George. The George Hotel I believe they call it now. It was more like an inn then and I see they have pulled the stables down there. They have altered that a lot. I’ve good cause to remember that because the garden I once got shut in as a child and that was a long way from the house and I was very very frightened, screamed my head off.
Mrs B: It was a long way from the house. I lived in the Maldon Road. The shop’s pulled down there but then we moved to the other side didn’t we, which is still there and I believe it is a man’s shop now, or was. I believe it is empty again isn’t it ? (Mrs H: I believe so.) On the left hand side. We used to live on the other side and I remember the gas man used to come and light the lamps on a bicycle. I can remember as plain as anything. Pull the …
Mrs H: Yes, they had a long pole with a hook and that used to sort of light the gas, put it on, didn’t it. There was no electricity.
Q: In the house you’d have gas, would you?
Mrs H: Oh, yes but no electric was there. But when in latter years, well forty years ago, I moved and lived in the house the other side of this property, the big old house, I lived there, well we had neither gas nor electric or in this cottage but we had lamps, lamps and candles. [Stourton, 26 Powershall End]
Mrs B: People used to go to bed with candles you know and we had a Benzoline lamp with a little thimble a little chain, and a little thimble, and to put it out you just put the thimble on top of the flame and that put it out. I can remember that Benzoline lamp to go to bed with – it seemed to be safer than candles I think really ‘cause they didn’t fall over or anything.
Q: So for cooking, heating it would be ?
Mrs H: Coal. Kitchen range, wouldn’t it be. That’s all I think I had to cook on at Stourton when I left there, coal.
Q: Was the George actually a hotel ? Did people actually come and stay there?
Mrs H: Yes, it was the same, people came and stayed there, yes.
Mrs B: You know where that is, it’s on the corner of Collingwood Road. [36 Newland Street] It hasn’t altered really, has it?
Mrs H: No, no, they haven’t altered that at all, only the front part where there, you know, that dip is. Is that a dip now as you go in the front door. That was a private door in our time.
Mrs B: We haven’t been in there, have we.
Mrs H: No, but I think they have turned that all into the pub part and the people they live in the flat. You know they have made the top the bedrooms and a flat.
Mrs B:: I suppose there is that bar there now where you can get light refreshments.
Mrs H: Yes, they’ve altered that. There were very big cellars underneath and I remember also, there was a lovely pump in that yard and we never drank the tap water when I lived there, that was always drawn from the pump. We never thought that the tap water was fit to drink. Now that’s odd isn’t it ? And we used to have a barman in those days and he used to be called upon to go and draw the water from the pump. That was lovely. I don’t know whether the pump has gone or the well has dried up or what has happened.
Q: So what sort of people would come to stay there ?
Mrs H: Well there used to be playing theatricals then that used to travel around and come to the Public Hall – not very important actors or actresses and they occasionally used to come to stay the night and another person who stayed there, when Mr Laurence’s daughter married a Mr Tritton, some relations of this Colonel Tritton up at the hall here [Powershall], he stayed at the George. Why he didn’t stay at the White Hart considering that is smarter, I don’t now, but he didn’t he came and stayed at the… And that meant that the barman – he used to have a bath in the morning and a bath at night. There was no bathroom, all that water had to be carried upstairs to his room. There was no bathroom at all there. Why he chose to stay there. I should think it was because it was nearer to the Grove. (Q: You say it wasn’t as smart?) Well no, that was considered I should think third to the White Hart or the Spread Eagle. How he came to stay there I don’t know and I think my parents borrowed the cook, used to come across from the White Hart (it wouldn’t be a chef in those days it would be a cook) and cook his meal at night when he was in otherwise of course he was up at Laurences. I often mean’t to ask Mrs Tritton, he must have been some relative of theirs.
Q: There would be quite a lot of people helping with the cooking, would there be a chef or cook at the house as well normally.
Mrs H: I should imagine that there would only be a cook at a place like the White Hart. I don’t think they would have had a chef in those days because well there was just a cook (Mrs B: There wasn’t the people.) He used to have his own game. We’d got a very large dark cupboard which was really a wine cellar and it was on the ground floor and his game used to hang there you see when they’d had a shoot and be brought down for his use.
Q: So you had your own living …
Mrs H: We had our own living quarters yes, but that was at the George (Q: Above or?) Oh, down below, yes. I think they have converted most of that into a business house. I went in one day and talked to the proprietor. He was very interested. He wanted to know if I had got any photographs but I hadn’t. I’d only got one taken in the old garden years ago which was of no interest, only you know personal interest.
Q. It would be quite hard work I should think, running a place like that.
Mrs H: Well that would, yes. That was when the bars were really bars and they had sawdust on the floors in the bar, but not in what they called the smoking room. There was much class distinction in those days and the bar had sawdust every day, down, a boarded floor. I well remember that and the abomination was they had spittoons which were very heavy black things about that depth and it was a very disgusting habit men had when they smoked and drank I think. One day, there was, my father didn’t like serving peapickers because they very rough and very, you know uncouth savage sort of people and he had a notice put in the room ‘No peapickers served here’. A woman come in with a baby and thought that he said no pickpockets. She said ‘I’m not a pickpocket’ and she picked up the baby and [???] He got ready to catch it but she thought better of it and she put it down. There was lots of amusing thngs like that, not actually to do with Witham but the way of life in those days.
Q: It’s very interesting. As you say, it’s very different, isn’t it. What sort of people would he allow into the bar ?
Mrs H: Well, they would be labourers, farm labourers, I suppose, in the bar that type of people and the smoking room would be more for tradespeople. And then there was another little room which my father, they called the Red Room, only because it was papered red and if a lady should come in for a drink, that was a most unheard of thing, then he would say to the barman, whose name was Tom, ‘Put those women in that Red Room’, which was away from the bar as far as he could get it. That was very amusing really. Today I mean they think nothing of it do they, but my parents thought it was shocking. (Q: Even if you came in with a male?] Oh yes. They certainly wouldn’t get served at all if they hadn’t had a male with them. It was all thought very very shocking, when I was about ten. Very. They thought it was disgraceful. Women weren’t supposed to have a thirst.
Q: I suppose they were all supposed to be busy looking after the house?
Mrs H: That was the idea. Yes. Very different.
Mrs B: No going out to work those days, not for women, or very few.
Mrs H: Well if they did that was only a job as a maid or schoolteachers, weren’t they.
Q: Was there any other work? What other work was there?
Mrs H: Very little in Witham, it wasn’t industrial at all, and soon as it became industrial the elite moved up to Wickham ‘cause they didn’t like the thought of, well the thought of a factory was you know, dreadful. I think there was just Cullens, when we were children – seed people. And that was in a very small way.
Mrs B: Yes there was no factories those days at all.
Mrs H: But if any of the old ghosts came back to Witham I don’t know what they’d think of it today.
Q: Someone mentioned to me about the glove factory, but that was later.
Mrs H: That was later, yes, that was a family affair that belonged to the Pinkhams. That was very prosperous until, and unfortunately the younger generation took it over and that didn’t seem to prosper any longer did it.
Q: Did that make a lot of difference, did they have many people working there ?
Mrs H: Yes, they did, yes. I couldn’t say how many. Comparatively a small factory but local people were employed there but…. I don’t even know that they use it for now. It is up near the station. It is something quite different.
Mrs B: Quite different. ‘Cause it was only a small station then wasn’t it? It wasn’t as large as it is now. Nothing like.
Q: You say Mr Laurence went up to the station every day ?
Mrs H: He went up to the station and I think he must have been something in the City, probably a stockbroker, but that I don’t know for certain I’m only imagining this what he must have been.
Q: So did many people go off to work on the train?
Mrs H: Oh no, just a few.
Q: [To Mrs B] Was your father alive when you were little ? What did he do ?
Mrs B: Oh yes, my father was a saddlers, harness and saddlers – of course that sort of thing has died out now. He was quite prosperous then, naturally.
Q: Did he have that where you lived or …
Mrs B: Yes where we lived at the shop and afterwards they pulled the shop down – down the Maldon road on the right hand side, we went over to the shop on the left hand side, we moved from the right to the left and that is where I grew up, where my parents died there.
Q: What was their name, in case I read about it ?
Mrs B: Brewster – quite an uncommon name really. Then I married from home and we had a plot of ground in the Avenue and had a house built and been there ever since. I suppose it is about forty-five years now I suppose. (Q: I don’t even know your name now.) Baker now.
Q: Saddlers must have been quite a hard business?
Mrs B: Yes, my father’s father was there as well and they kept an apprentice. It was quite a flourishing business years ago.
Mrs H: There were only horses weren’t there, really.
Mrs B: My father used to go out to the different farms didn’t he and pick up the work, you know. (Mrs H: Yes.) To Lord Rayleigh’s and pick up their work. Always had a horse, he always kept his own horse. (Q: Did he keep that nearby?) Yes we had a stable and then he used to hire a field in the Maldon Road where he used to turn it out in the day time. And brought up and put in the stable night-time. It was nearly always a white horse, wasn’t it Frances?
Mrs H: Yes, what was its name?
Mrs B: I don’t know its name, Tom I think.
Q: Did people used to bring stuff in to him as well ?
Mrs B: Oh yes, yes, oh yes, they’d do the repairs and line the collars and different things.
Mrs H: Lovely smell of leather wasn’t there always in the shop ?
Mrs B: Oh yes, lovely when you went in proper leather you know that was.
Q: Where did he used to get the leather from ?
Mrs B: Well, I suppose my parents used to send away for it, I don’t know. Used to come in
big rolls, you know, and, as you say, the smell was beautiful.
Q: I’m sure I’ve heard the name Brewster ‘cause I’ve read old directories and things. What were their Christian names?
Mrs B: My father’s name was Ernest and, oh I’ve forgotten my grandfather’s name. I couldn’t tell you that. (Q: At Chelmsford they’ve got these directories with trades and if I saw Brewster I’d know it was you.) Yes it’s not a very common name is it. Baker’s more common than Brewster. (Q: Would he be regarded as a tradesman ?) Oh yes. I always lived at home until I married and that was that.
Q: Where did you go to school ?
Mrs B: Oh I went to private school to start with. I can’t think of the name, Miss Bird’s was it, down the town and you [Mrs H] went to Miss Church’s.
Mrs H: I went to Miss Church’s. But that was only a very poor education by today’s standards. Her schoolroom was upstairs it was really, they wouldn’t allow it today, a bedroom and that was a schoolroom. I shouldn’t think there were more than six to eight children. I was not considered strong enough, but I’ve lived to a good old age, I wasn’t considered strong enough to go to the other school.
Mrs B: That’s why I went to the private school until I was eight. But you didn’t go to the Church School did you ?
Mrs H: I never went to the Church School.
Mrs B: From there I went to the Church School down in Guithavon. Which is the car park now.
Mrs H: I’ve never been to a proper school you see. She taught me to like some nice things like reading Shakespeare and Dickens but as for other, you know, education, well I can count but not very well. Causes me a great deal of trouble these days when I have to do business things but I stayed there I think till I was fifteen. (Q: That was in Witham, was it?) Yes, oh, that was about three doors from the George. You know, there’s shops there now. They were private houses. Next to the George was the photographer’s and the man’s name of Hall [34 Newland Street] and after that there were private houses. And Miss Church she kept this little private school (Q: Very handy for you anyway.) Well it was handy for me, it was handy when my mother said I had got to learn to darn this stocking and I didn’t want to take it – I suppose I thought it was very undignified to take a stocking with me but we had to go, schoolchildren had to go round the back and by the time I got to the back door my mother was at the front with the stocking, which was of course black, cashmere, we never wore light stockings and when my friend and I were confirmed together at the old church here, Canon Ingles was the vicar, and they rushed, one of the sidesmen rushed down, and we drove up in style. (Mrs B: Oh yes, we had a cab.) We had a cab and our mothers with us and the sidesman rushed down and said had we got light stockings because the Canon wouldn’t confirm us if we had. But we hadn’t, we’d got black. [laughter] So we were permitted into the church. Now they don’t seem even to bother to wear a light dress. (Mrs B: Some wear jeans don’t they even. Last time there was somebody confirmed wearing jeans) I am sure Canon Ingles wouldn’t have admitted, well that would have been unheard of in those days. We had to have a white dress and white veil. They don’t even have a veil these days. You had to rake enough money up for ..
Mrs B: And a white veil, didn’t we. We all had white veils but of course they don’t have the white veils now. And a white dress.
[Chat about tape recorder, not noted]
Q: What about clothes for school, did you used to wear special things ?
Mrs H: No, no we wore our own clothes and I’m trying to think of the children’s name – there was a Percy Evitt came – he was a boy of about eight, he lived out at the Lound. (Mrs B: Down in the Maldon Road, down the bottom of Maldon road.) He was younger than I am. (Mrs B: There was no uniforms worn then.) Pinafores, we had to wear a pinafore, a white pinafore. (Mrs B: That’s right.) The other thing that you had to wear was knickers and the embroidery was starched and bless me they were uncomfortable weren’t they ? [laughter]
Mrs B: Oh yes they were. And the starched petticoats we had the petticoats didn’t we, all starched at the bottom – very posh they looked.
Mrs H: Children were dressed very different.
Q: At school you did do sewing as well then?
Mrs H: Oh yes. We learnt to sew. We learnt to read. I don’t know [???] arithmetic, wasn’t very good, mine wasn’t.
Q: Did she have children of all different ages ?
Mrs H: Yes. Oh yes, all together. Girls there. I was trying to think if there was another boy other than Percy.
Mrs B: I seem to have forgotten who went to my school down in the town there. (Mrs H: I think they were two maiden ladies weren’t they). Yes a Miss Bird I believe her name was, I believe so yes, and it was near the garage, no. (Mrs H: Not far from the bank.) Barclay’s Bank.[61 Newland Street then], that’s right, yes. (Mrs H: Algar.) That was later. Miss Bird was the one I went to, and then Miss Algar I believe she took it over afterwards. I can’t remember any of the children there at all.
Q: Can you remember what you used to do there?
Mrs B: No, I can’t even remember that. I can’t remember what I did at school.
Q: What about the Church School, do you remember that better ?
Mrs B: I don’t remember a lot about it. (Mrs H: That’s pulled down now.) I remember the boys’ room at the school. When I was, when the apples were plentiful they used to put them along the, along the path, all these apples, and then the boys used to run across the road and pick up these apples. I remember that. Mr Cranfield. Yes. And all these apples, I can see them now. But the girls didn’t do that – it was only the boys. They wouldn’t be running across the road now would they. (Mrs H: There wasn’t any women’s lib in those days!) (Q: You were kept separate from the boys?) Oh yes quite separate but in the same, where the car park is now was the boys and the girls school.
Q: ‘Cause I’ve heard of Mr Cranfield ?
Mrs B: That was with the apples Mr Cranfield, yes, he was lame, wasn’t he, do you remember him? (Mrs H: Yes.) I remember him.
Mrs H: Oh yes, his son Lionel came, I think it was last year, to see me didn’t he. Lionel Cranfield, yes. (Q: Where does he live now?) He lives out Bristol way. He occasionally comes up, he knows my niece Kathleen Richards and, of course, he used to stay with me when [???].
Mrs B: Ever so strict. Yes, the boys used to have the cane those days, didn’t they.
Q: Did you have the cane? What happened if you …
Mrs H: Oh never, I should have died of fright. [laughter]
Mrs B: I don’t think the girls were ever caned. Used to have to stand up in the corner or we used to write so many words, after school, so many lines, I believe, when we were naughty, but no, I don’t think they ever used the cane on the girls.
Mrs H: Well children were more disciplined, I mean, your parents, you had discipline in your home. Believe me, children didn’t reach the stage that they’ve got to today. You just did as you were told. My great niece often says to me well why did you do it. Well I say I don’t know why but you just didn’t think of disobeying people. Children were kept so under control.
Q: So what if, can you remember being naughty?
Mrs H: No, I can’t really. I think, no I don’t …[laughter]. (Mrs B: I suppose we were. We were naughty when we used to go out …) Yes, tell you a tale about my friend and I if you’re interested. We were never supposed to go further than the Avenue to play you see. Never. That was our limit. My mother, living at the George, could come and look, you see. Well, we used to do, what we used to do was to run down Stepfield, which is now all factories and at the bottom there is, I suppose there still is, there’s a stream, ‘cause children love anything like that. Well my friend, we’ve told so many fibs about this I can hardly remember the truth. I think she took her shoe off to get a stone out and hung it on the fence, you see, upside down. Well, I don’t know how it happened but that got knocked off into the river and there were floods. Course to our horror the shoe landed in the river. Well we didn’t dare go in and get it, it might have been too deep. So she had to hop all the way home across the field and she said ‘You’ll have to go down to my mother’s and get me a pair of shoes. I shan’t come through the town like this’. Oh I was afraid to go to her mother’s ‘cause I thought I’d catch it good and hot too. However, I ran as hard as I could ‘cause you see I knew we shouldn’t be down there – that was the trouble. I ran down to her mother’s and knocked on the door and she comes to the door and she, to me always seemed a bit stern as people were. She looked me up and down and I said ‘Could I have a pair of shoes for Gladys she’s lost a shoe. ‘Lost a shoe, child’ she said ‘I’ve never heard such rubbish in all my life’.[???] I said ‘She can’t come down the town with one shoe on and one shoe off.’ So she somewhat reluctantly found me a pair of shoes and I ran back. I don’t think we ever did tell her we playing down in that river. I don’t think we did, we were too scared. But you see we were well guarded children and then we got into mischief.
Q: You weren’t allowed to come up Chipping Hill way ?
Mrs H: Oh good gracious, no, that was absolutely off the limit.
Mrs B: We used go up to Wickham sometimes didn’t we ?
Mrs H: We used to run up to Wickham. Saturday mornings was our heyday. We were allowed out ten till lunchtime. We used to take to our heels, cut down Maldon Road, across what was known as the Nicky Nocks and then up into Mope Lane. That was our favourite place to play with the woods. But you see our parents never knew it. So children were tiresome weren’t they ?
Mrs B: There was a little stream running along the bottom – we used to play there ?
Mrs H: Yes, and then we used to clean our shoes with our pocket handkerchiefs and swear we’d lost ‘em.
Q: The Nicky Nocks were …?
Mrs H: Down the Maldon Road and under the railway bridge.
Q: That was the name of the field there was it – the Nicky Nocks ?
Mrs H: Yes, that’s right, yes.
Mrs B: A lovely field, you could walk right round and come right to the back of the Grove up what they called Stepfield. Now its all industrial.
Mrs H: Oh it’s altered, all the nice walks have gone now. It’s very sad you know when you look back and remember what it used to be like. But then, as I tell my friend, now, if the fields were all there, we couldn’t walk round them ‘cause we haven’t got the strength. (Q: I was going to say because they’re all ploughed up. Were there foot …) There were footpaths you see, across. (Q: Yes, now they’d be ploughed up probably.) There were lots of field walks.
Q: Was Stepfield a meadow ?
Mrs H: It was all farm land really, yes.
Mrs B: There was no bypass then.
Mrs H: No, and [???] you take your life in your hand if you cross the road now.
Q: Can you remember any of the farmers ?
Mrs H: Oh yes, we can remember the Wakelins. They were big farmers in Witham, weren’t they ?
Mrs B: Oh yes, very old farmhouse isn’t there – Wheatons – opposite the cinema, nearly opposite the cinema.
Q: Freebornes ?
Mrs H: Freebornes, that’s right, yes that was a man by the name of Wakelin who farmed all that land just there.
Q: So when you left school you were fifteen. What did you do then ?
Mrs H: Oh I stayed at home. Never went out to work. (Mrs B: We none of us worked.) We didn’t work. We stayed and helped our mothers and it was rather a dull life really. But it had its advantages as at least you could go and come as you liked.
Q: Did you have to help your mother quite a lot ?
Mrs H: Rather, yes, we certainly did.
Q: What did you have to do ?
Mrs H: Well, dust and tidy up and do the housework. It was really like an unpaid maid. If we didn’t …. These days no girls would put up with it, I suppose, but there you are. Life was different.
Q: Did they have maids as well?
Mrs H: My people didn’t. No. They didn’t need them did they ? (Mrs B: We had maids.) If you’d got a couple of good stout daughters why have a maid ?
Q: That was when you were at school as well you had to help, did you ?
Mrs H: Not so much at school, no, and I often say to my friend if we’d have gone home from school, near as it was, and our mothers hadn’t been in the house we should have thought the sky had hit us. I mean children now, many many children go home to an empty house, no mother there. I think that’s shocking really and I think that’s why half the children are so tiresome because they have to fend for themselves. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think when children, they should have parents in the house. I can’t say, I don’t think that’s right that mothers should go out to work really.
Q: You got, you got on well with your mother did you ?
Mrs H: Oh yes. They were well, different, to mums are today. I never called my mother mum did you ? It was always mother, mother and father.
Mrs B: Always. Never called them Pop or anything.
Mrs H: Oh my word no. We should have got pop !
Q: Did you have brothers and sisters ?
Mrs H: Yes, I had two sisters, one has only just recently died. She lived till ninety-four and she was a school teacher. And one brother who went out to Borneo and he went out and he died out there. I suppose he was only about forty when he died. But you see they were a lot older than I was. My sister next to me was thirteen years older so I was like an only child. That’s why we were such friends. Because you were, well, you’d got a brother
Mrs B: Just one brother – that’s all I’ve got and one niece now – so we were a very very small family.
Q: So your sister did go out to work ?
Mrs H: She went to work, yes, she was a school teacher. (Q: Did she have to go for training?) But you see the vicar, she had to go for training, yes and the vicar didn’t think that was right that she should be a school teacher. He thought that was above her station. He thought she should have made somebody a nice maid. Oh, he came to see my mother about it. He didn’t think that was, you know, even if you’d got the ability, didn’t think that was right. I think she went to somewhere in Surrey – Hockerill college. No, that wasn’t Surrey. Hockerill college she went to and I think that is somewhere near … not sure. But that’s where she was trained. But you see, vicars and that interfered in your lives more, than they would dare today ? (Q: Sounds like it from what you say). Well, it was so.
Q: What did your mother say to him.
Mrs H: Well, she made some polite reply I expect. They were never, people weren’t so rude to each other as they are today, but well I suppose he thought that was above her station you see. They did keep people under rather didn’t they in those days ?
Q: You were Church people were you?
Mrs H: Oh we were Church people. Yes, we had our own pew in the church. I believe our name was on it.
Mrs B: I used to go to All Saints, the old church that is now in Guithavon Street before I married, when I married I thought, well, might as well come up to the old church which was much nicer, we came up to the old church.
Mrs H: We still go most Sundays. (Mrs B: And still sit in the same pew.) Yes and woe betide anybody who gets in our seats [???]. She’s told the curate about it and he laughed. [laughter] She just stands and looks at them till they move.
Q: When you were young did you have to go to church more ?
Mrs H: Yes, oh yes, every Sunday (Mrs B: Catechism.) That’s right, catechism in the afternoon. (Mrs B: at All Saints, didn’t we.) Reverend Tozer was the curate there then I believe wasn’t he.
Mrs B: We all used to go to church in those days. I mean if you didn’t go early on a festival, well you wouldn’t get in would you ? (Mrs H No, no.) People were walking up and down trying to find seats.
Mrs H: There was class distinction. You know even in church. I often laugh to my nephew about it. There was this old parish church. In the centre would be like Percy Laurence, Admiral Luard and people like that in the centre. Then there would be the trades people on the right hand side, which was ourselves. Then the other side would be lesser well off. So there was three distinct classes in church weren’t there ?
Mrs B: Well, I suppose there was but we’ve always sat in the middle haven’t we ?
Mrs H: Ah yes, but this is latter days. But now I’m talking of when I was a child.
Mrs B: Well of course I don’t know because I always went to the other church. We always paid to have our own seat in the church at All Saints. They had our names at the end. (Mrs H : That’s right, yes, yes we did.)
Q: So did you have to wait for them to go as well, for Percy Laurence ?
Mrs H: Did they go out first? Generally speaking, I think they did, yes.
Q: How did you use to get to church from the George ?
Mrs H: Oh walk. Walk. No car. We didn’t have a horse and trap.
Q: Some people would go in a horse and trap would they?
Mrs H: Oh yes they would do. But there were farmers up here, name of Hutley and he never allowed them to have the horse and trap out on Sundays. And they had to walk and certain Sundays one maid would go, or two maids and other Sundays the others would go ‘cause someone’d got to stop and get their food ready. Religion didn’t go as far as that. They were all expected to go to church. There was no two words about it. (Q: And they had to walk?) They had to walk from Powershall End. I don’t know whether you know the house. There’s a farmhouse up there. I think Colonel Tritton lives there now, and they used to have to walk from there down to the , but he walked also himself. [Powershall]
Q: Did the vicar used to come into the school ?
Mrs B: Yes, yes, church school, yes. The vicar used to come once a week and speak to us and we used to have a hymn to start with and he used to speak to us. I think he used to come once a week.
Q: [To Mrs H.} But you didn’t get that at? (Mrs H: No, no.) Did you have religious education at the private school ?
Mrs H: Yes, at school. I think the prayer was, Miss Church used to …. ‘Cause it was only the one teacher you see. She used to read the [???] and we would start off with a prayer.
Mrs B: We used to have prayers every morning at the church school to start with.
Q: So, going back to your sister. It was quite daring, of your family, and of her then, to be a teacher then from what you say ?
Mrs H: Yes. Yes, that was, I suppose, unusual you see when my father, he used to work on the railway, well, and then he thought he would like to take the George. Well of course, Canon Ingles came and chased him up about it and he thought it was a disgraceful thing for him to do, to take the George, didn’t think that was at all a good idea. But he still used to come down and call. He used to come down to the George and I think at sixteen my sister turned RC, Roman Catholic and one day he and the priest, Father Jones, met, but they were quite amiable together, all was well. I don’t know why she went to the Catholic Church but she did. Yes, he still used to come down, he used to occasionally call. I think they took a personal interest in people really even more than they do now. Well, there’s so many people the vicar can’t call on people like they used to.
Q: Why didn’t he like the idea of you going to the George.
Mrs H: He didn’t think that was, to keep a public house, he didn’t think that was at all a nice idea. People didn’t in those days. I often wonder that she [Mrs B} was allowed to be friendly with me but she was for some reason or other [laughter]. I’ve often said to her since I don’t know how I managed to get you for a friend because that was, you know.
Q: When he was on the railways what did he do ?
Mrs H: Oh, he was a ticket collector on the railways. That was all right. Canon Ingles approved of that. That was all right. But he didn’t think keeping a public house …. ‘Cause I do think people did drink rather a lot, you know, and perhaps that was why. I don’t know. In a way they weren’t as respectable as they are today do you think Gladys? (Mrs B: No, I don’t think.) Or is it that we have got so used to it that – well we even go and have a drink, or we used to, when we used to do long walks.
Mrs B: Well yes, we used to walk – great walkers weren’t we. We used to go in and have something to drink on our way didn’t we.
Q: So people would drink quite a lot?
Mrs H: Well now, yes, they spend a lot of money on it. It is so dear isn’t it. Tuppence a pint years ago. I do remember that and gin was three and six a bottle. So (Q: What did the labourers, you spoke of the labourers in the bar?) They’d drink beer. Beer drinkers, used to, they didn’t ever drink spirits in the bar.
Q: Would they come a long way to go to the George?
Mrs H: Well there’d be the local farmers, a lot of them farm labourers you see off the farms. There was not much entertainment for people . When you think there was no radio, there was no television in the home. Makes you wonder. Although we had a piano. People used to sing round the piano didn’t they.
Mrs B: Used to be the correct thing those days, didn’t it, to have a piano.
Q: What you had one at home you mean or in the pub ?
Mrs H: Oh no, no no, no music in the pub that wouldn’t have been, they didn’t think that was the thing. They didn’t encourage people to stay there too long. No we had that in our own private house, for our own personal use.
Q: Did you learn to play?
Mrs H: Oh yes, I learned to play, not very well but I did also at Miss Church’s.
Mrs B: Now I don’t think we could play a note hardly do you ?
Mrs H: No.
Q: (to Mrs B) Where did you learn ?
Mrs B: I learned at Mr, er Mrs Dibben’s. They kept a hairdressers shop in the centre of the town [90 Newland Street] and I used to go, well, five years I went with her but I don’t believe I could play now, or very little. It seems rather a shame doesn’t it.
Q: Perhaps it would come back to you ?
Mrs B: But you could play a bit Frances, because when we was in Stourton we used to sing round the piano.
Mrs H: Yes, we did didn’t we a bit. Yes. My piano is at the church. I should have to go up to the church. When I moved into the cottage I got rid of it. There wouldn’t be room for it here.
Q: There were the chapels and things as well as the church ?
Mrs H: Yes, there was the Peculiars. I don’t know what they call themselves now.
Mrs B: They were down in the Maldon road, weren’t they.
Mrs H: Yes, I think they were. I remember old Nurse Ager, quite well, you know, she was sort of the district nurse and everything else.
Mrs B: They used to go for the day when they went, didn’t they. Stay the whole day, (Mrs H: Take their dinner with them). Had their own refreshments and stayed the day.
Mrs H: They looked upon it as a day out I suppose.
Mrs B: It really belongs to that chapel opposite Pods-, Podsbrook down Guithavon. They don’t call themselves Peculiars now do they.
Mrs H: No, I don’t know what they call themselves now.
Mrs B: Then there was the Congregational. That wasn’t burnt, oh no, that wasn’t burnt down, that was the Constitutional Club was in front of that years ago, that was burnt down and left the chapel at the back.
Mrs H: (To Q:) How long have you been in Witham ?
Q: No time. Eleven years.
Mrs H: Oh eleven years. Oh well, you’re quite a newcomer ! (Mrs B: a newcomer to Witham).
Q: I read about the fire I think, at the Constitutional Club. Was that in your time ?
Mrs B: Oh yes in our time, yes. Used to have the town clock on the Conservative Club then and then I remember the day, and I also remember the day when we had the train accident. I just remember that. Several people were killed then. Do you remember that Frances? (Mrs H: yes I remember that) We weren’t very old were we ? [1905, Cromer Express.]
Mrs H: We were living in at the George then and the Doctor Gimson sent for my father to go up and help because he was a St. John’s Ambulance man and he went up and help, get the people out, you know.
Q: How did he come to be St. John’s Ambulance ?
Mrs H: I suppose he trained for it, I don’t remember. (Q: Did it take up a lot of his time?) Quite a bit of his time. I should imagine it was in the evenings you see. There was nothing much else and he was quite good at that type of thing. Doctor Ted and Doctor Karl sent for him.
Q: You can remember the doctors, can you?
Mrs H: Oh, remember the, oh, we were very fond of our Doctor Gimsons, oh they were ever such a nice men.
Q: Were any of your family ill often. Did you have to have the doctor ?
Mrs H: I remember as a child I didn’t have very good health. I think that’s why I never went to another school. Dear old Doctor Ted used to come and sit on the bed at the George. It was a very large bedroom nineteen feet long and he used to come and sit and read to me. He was such a kind man. Doctors today they wouldn’t have time would they, they hardly come and look at you.
Mrs B: I had bronchitis badly and I remember we used to have those poultices and put linseed poultice on our chest and back those days and have a steam kettle – I can see that steam kettle now and the steam, why the steam kettle I just don’t know. (Mrs H: That helped you breathe.) (Q: They still say to put a steam kettle, for children, if they …) Oh do they. I remember these poultices, they were too hot when Mother put them on, you know, back and front, and when they began to get cold they began to get a bit clammy and nasty [laughs].
Q: (To Mrs H) What sort of treatment did you have when you were …, apart from being read to?
Mrs H: What they thought, it was when appendicitis first started and they thought I’d got that, but they didn’t operate like they do today on people. They sort of starved me. I wasn’t allowed anything, only liquids for about three weeks and I was kept upstairs in bed, nice coal fire in the bedroom if it was cold weather. You see people had certain comforts then. They didn’t have oil central heating but houses were kept warm by coal fires and it’s true they had to carry all, somebody’d have carry the coal up and down.
Q: Somebody told me they had to do, a stocking round …
Mrs B: Oh yes, that’s right, for a sore throat. they used to put a stocking round your neck (Mrs B: Yes they did).
Q: That seemed to be very strange but she said it was quite normal.
Mrs H: [??? too, yes] Simple remedies they used to have. I don’t think people went, well of course they didn’t go to the doctors so much because you’d jolly well had to pay your doctor and no tablets. I tell these doctors now, that’s all they think about is tablets. When you’ve got headache, stomachache or any other ache.
Q: Would some people still go to the surgery to the doctor’s or would they mostly come round ?
Mrs B: Come round.
Mrs H: Come round, if they were sent for. And they didn’t have a, ‘cause I remember when we were children they didn’t have a car. Dr Gimson he, Ted used ride a bicycle, didn’t he. At most it would be a pony and trap.
Q: Can you remember cars first coming ?
Mrs H: Yes, I can, I can really, yes. (Q: I suppose at first it was just a sort of curiosity.) They were a curiosity. Very different to the little cars they have now. I don’t remember seeing many cars in Witham as a child, do you ? Horse and trap, dog cart..
Mrs B: Dog carts, and tub carts, and one thing and another but I don’t remember ….
Mrs H: My mother when I was a child, her and Grandma Richards Kathleen’s grandmother they used to about twice a year have a great treat. They used to hire a brougham I think they called it, and a horse, and the driver’s name was George and why these two ladies always wanted George and the best horse. Somebody was sent round, you know, make the appointment for him to come and I suppose the worst horse rolled over. It was always George and the best horse. And they came and used to take us a ride round, be round Wickham Hills, somewhere like that. That was an afternoon’s treat, you see. About twice a year. In summer.
Mrs B: We used to go up to Danbury to the Rodney, do you remember ?
Mrs H: Yes, yes, up there, people used to drive up there didn’t they? Up there at the Rodney.
Mrs B: Yes, all the bluebells in the woods and different things. (Q: You didn’t go to the seaside or …) We didn’t use to go to the seaside. We used to go to Millbeach didn’t we ?
Mrs H: Yes, in the latter years, but I don’t remember my mother ever going to Millbeach.
Mrs B: Oh yes, we used to. [???] Horse and trap and we used to go there. (Q: You were allowed to go in the water there?) We used to paddle. Yes, we used to paddle. I don’t ever remember going and trying to swim but I remember this paddling business. There was hardly anybody there then.[???]
Q: Would your mothers have any spare time? What did they used to do?
Mrs H: Yes, But my mother didn’t like the water. My father was a strong swimmer. I like the water and I like swimming, I do now. In fact I’ve still got a hut at Millbeach which I don’t use but my niece uses it. I know we’ve got a swimming pool here, but I don’t like fresh water swimming I think it is far better for you in salt water myself.
Q: I suppose, in the evening, say ? Well I suppose your mother wouldn’t have spare time if you were at the George?
Mrs H: Yes they’d have spare time. Well people used to come in and sit and chat and, as I say, they had the piano. Don’t think they played cards much. My people didn’t. You used to, your parents played crib didn’t they ?
Mrs B: We played cards more. That used to be our favourite game.
Q: Did you have people coming to visit you to play?
Mrs H: I think so. I don’t just remember that.