Miss Barbara Rice was born c 1922. She was interviewed on 9 December 1998 when she lived at 30 Ebenezer Close, Witham.
For more information about her and the Rice family, see Rice family including Barbara Rice in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Miss R: What words of wisdom do you want?
Q: [???] Where you used to live when you started out? [???]
Miss R: I don’t really know if the place is still there, you know Bridge Street, the houses with the [???] on, just past the Morning Star, up the back there. And it turned out that where my great or great grandfather lived he was one across the way. I think they just kept to their same little places didn’t they. And then you had to go where you could after that. It wasn’t bad down there cause you’re near to everything. It was all right I think what I do remember of it?
Q: Were there lots of houses down there?
Miss R: There must have been because if you look at the census returns, there seems to be loads more people. There was some opposite.
Q: Those were the houses that were round the back? How did you get to them, did you go down the side of the …
Miss R: You know then, I’ve forgotten what it was called now. There was another pub [???] and there was the shop, they had it as a florist then, it used to be Marshalls, and there was a passage about this wide [???] and after the First World War, people came out of the forces and he’d got nowhere to live, and I think my father found a flat for when he got married, and he paid the rent on it, and then just before he got married he goes to see the man again and he said ‘Oh yes boy, come in’, and so he said ‘This is the one’, so he said ‘no, that wasn’t the one, it was a bigger one than that, it wasn’t this’. He said ‘Oh yes that was boy.’ [???] So he walked out. So he’d lost all the rent he’d paid and everything else. So I don’t know, they went to aunt Mary or somebody I think and that’s how they sort of got on like that.
Q: Living with different aunts you mean? Was he married before the War or after?
Miss R: After the War. You see my mum and dad met when they were both in the forces in France and she came home, he was demobbed first and then she went back to Liverpool and then they married here[?] and she said it was a lovely town, she loved it, but she doesn’t like it now. Well they’d only, they hadn’t built it all when she died, but somebody said ‘I’ll take you and show you round’. She said ‘You won’t because I don’t want to see it’. But there you go.
Q: When did she die then?
Miss R: She died, 75.
Q: Was your dad already?
Miss R: He died 42 years before that, he died early.
Q: Were you quite young then?
Miss R: Yes, I was twelve. And so we kept moving about then, because you’d got to find somewhere you could afford, can’t you, we couldn’t pay the rent where we were, so mum moved, and she got a job, but there again you didn’t get paid for holidays or anything like that. But anyway …
Q: What did she used to do?
Miss R: She went to Crittall’s, where he’d worked, she wrote and asked the manager if there were any vacancies, and he said yes. I didn’t know at the time that she thought she’d got this job from Mr [???] but she said that he did offer her a place in the office, or a place in the factory. I don’t know what the office pay was but it was less than the factory. And the factory was thirty shillings and you did get like a bonus sometimes, and extra shilling. So you’d got not odds, you’d got to go where the …(Q: She went to the factory?) So she found a house for five shillings as opposed to eleven and fourpence, and, cause she’d got five shillings for me, they called it an orphan’s allowance, and then just now and again, not very often, but went you to school you had to take a form with you to say that she’d seen you live and well that day so you couldn’t do any picking like they do now. Which was OK, as long as you’d got the money.
Q: Where did she have to go to get it? Did she have to go somewhere to collect it then?
Miss R: Yes like a pension, she had a book. Yes.#
Q: Did you have brothers and sisters?
Miss R: No. The only one. Just as well really wasn’t it?
Q: It must have been very hard.
Miss R: She never moaned, you never once ever heard her say she was hard up or anything. But she’d got this manager. But this house we went into, it didn’t have any water laid on, the water was at the end of the block, and you had take a big jug, pitcher thing, it’s ever so heavy water, it makes you respect it. [laugh] And yes, what else. That was in Mill Lane. You know where those new houses are that they’ve built. The last lot. Yes they’ve got sort of, yes, where Shelley’s was. There was four that way on, by Beehive cottage, there was four small ones there, and then as you went further along they were bigger. They reckoned they were very very old. But they condemned them before the war because they’d got no back door.
Q: Why was that then, did they back onto something else?
Miss R: Yes. You know what is now that chemist’s shop opposite to the doctor’s surgery? [124 Newland Street] Well his garden went right the way along and went right past the side of this house, and their garden. All of those came down, they pulled them all down.
Q: So were you still living there then? Did you stay there till they were pulled down?
Miss R: And they put us into Church Street. Mum said to me ‘I don’t know what your father’d think of this lot’ [laugh] She said ‘he wouldn’t like this a bit’. Anyway that was all right and then we could get out we did.
Q: Why did she think he wouldn’t like it.
Miss R: This one’s better but it would be better if it was the other end of Witham really. In fact I tried to, I had a look at some more houses a few weeks ago, but, they’re building down Maldon Road. And I did have a look at those but wasn’t really sure so I didn’t bother.
Q: Why was that?
Miss R: Cause you never know who you’re going to have as neighbours now do you, and [??] and half a dozen kids.
Q: You’ve in this one since it was built then have you.
Miss R: 1950 it was finished.
Q: How long were you in Church Street?
Miss R: Eleven years.
Q: So why did your mum think your dad wouldn’t like it?
Miss R: Well dad didn’t like Church Street apparently from what he’d always said. I mean he didn’t envisage that he would keep having to be moved about because he thought after, when he came out from the War, and they got a job then they all got the sack. There was most of Witham all out of work, it was a very poor place. Cause she said that when she came here after [???] ’22 they started on about Crittall’s, and she said all the old die-hards, oh terrible to have a factory in Witham, terrible to have a factory. But she said they did a lot of good for Witham because there was no employment really, they were only ag labs most of them, or working in shops, or when they had to go they were sent to Hoffmans when they came out of the forces. Well after they’d had them a few weeks they didn’t really need them so they gave them all the sack. The only way they could get to Chelmsford was cycling there you see. I know one man who walked every day.
Q: Walked to Chelmsford every day?
Miss R: Yes. And cycles were very heavy then, there were no three speeds or anything. I suppose they just took it for granted. They didn’t think that when Crittall’s came it would give employment to so many of them.
Q: You reckon they didn’t have the money to go on the train to Chelmsford then?
Miss R: No, no, they wouldn’t have been able to afford it you see. And I doubt very much if there was much. Well not for the buses you see. So that’s what they did but they didn’t do it for long because as I say they all got the sack but then they were all out of work. So they were glad enough to live wherever they could for a time. When they were going to build they said you know where you are, those houses [Chalks Road]. Well that farm on the end was still there and the Council built for sale houses off Guithavon Road. They built those for sale and I know mum said that dad said somebody at work said to him, ‘Oh I see one of your brother has got one of those’. So he said ‘Yes’. He said ‘I wonder you didn’t have one’. He said ‘no mate, I waiting for the ones in Chalks Road to go up’. He had to wait five years before they were built so it shows you how long they were talking about them.
Q: They planned them far ahead? Ours went up in ’38 I think. And he died in ’32 was it?
Miss R: Yes, he died at the beginning of ’34. And yes, but mind you, people didn’t grumble much, they didn’t sort of say much.
Q: So your mother was quite a, what shall I say, well quite a survivor then. You said you didn’t hear here complaining about anything.
Miss R: No she never used to complain. She always used to say, if anybody thinks telling you they’ve got no money, you know full well that they have, because people who haven’t don’t keep on about it. Which is quite true really. Because it was looked upon as a – you just didn’t do it. But just as well really, because doesn’t make any difference does it.
Q: It must have been quite a change for her to go to Crittall’s really.
Miss R: Yes, it was hard work because they hadn’t brought out, I think it was ’62 they brought out an act whereby the temperature couldn’t fall below such and such a thing, and, or go above a certain thing, and they didn’t have then, so it was, where they worked was upstairs. They did all the lead lights and repairing church windows and things like that, and, till the war [Second] came. So they were upstairs, they looked over towards where the trial grounds were, and they, so it was hard work.
Q: I hadn’t realised they did they did there, lead round the windows and that.
Miss R: Yes, cause it was, course it would be cold or extra hot wouldn’t it, because you’ve got the sun all the thing, and then in the winter the stuff’s all cold isn’t it.
Q: Were there any problems with the, nowadays they’d be worried about the lead wouldn’t they? How it was affecting people. Did you ever hear anything about that.
Miss R: No I never thought anything about it. She always had arthritis, she got it just after my dad died and they said you sometimes do get that if there’s any shock or anything can. And but there again you weren’t suppose to know. She retired and the pension at the time was two pounds, but she didn’t get one from work because they didn’t have women in the pension fund. And they hadn’t had a pension fund for that long anyway. And so when she left, she hadn’t saved a great deal but she’d got some, so she just [???] out and kept on and then what happened, oh I know, everybody said to her why didn’t she ask for some help. So she said ‘No I don’t go crawling to anybody for money. Never.’ It went on for a long long while. And then one Friday I came home and there was the Essex Chronicle and she’d got my evening meal, and she said ‘There’s a letter there to post, I’ve written to the’ whatever it was called at Braintree then ‘I’ve written to them’. So I said ‘What on earth have you written to them for’ She said ‘Oh, to see if I can get some money’. So said ‘Oh I didn’t think you were going to, what’s changed your mind’. She said ‘You read the Essex Chronicle. Front page’. She said ‘There’s a fellow there from’ Boreham I think it was. She said ‘He’s been had up for drink driving’. She said ‘He’s not only got a car and he drinks, he’s out of work’. So she said ‘If he can have it so can I’ [laugh]. So the man came, she said ‘Very nice man, lovely shirt and tie on’ [laugh] I don’t know what that’s got to do with it but everybody was judged by their collar and tie. So I said ‘Oh, what did he have to say then?’ So she said ‘Well, I had my Co-op divi book there, and my rent book, so she said he looked at those and he said to her, and put it all down and he said ‘how do you do your washing?’. She said ‘I manage very well thank you. I’ve got one of these little Hoover washers’ she said. ‘My daughter puts that together’, because you had to put the mangle in the thing. ‘My daughter puts that together, usually on a Saturday, and while she’s gone down the town I do the washing, and she hangs it out when I come back. So I said ‘Oh’. So she said ‘When he went he shook my hand and said well I think you’ve managed very well’. So I said ‘Well he asked about the washing because they give you a laundry allowance. That’d be just for yourself, it wouldn’t be anything to do with me but you’d get that’ But she said ‘But I do manage, that was the point wasn’t it’. Well you see they whole point was he shouldn’t have noticed her hands because she sat like this, so anybody couldn’t see them, because they were really [???]. But she did everything. I thought ‘Well that’s where he went wrong, he shouldn’t have mentioned that’.
Q: About how old were you then. When was it she decided to write up to them?
Miss R: I don’t know, it must have been in the sixties.
Q: She went all that time without. She retired …
Miss R: They thought it was a bit, disgrace I think, I don’t know, very independent, you see, a lot of … Yes I know Crittall’s, I don’t know whether the staff were in a pension fund but I know after the War, not long after, when they[?] worked at Witham, the boss came out of his office, and said ‘I’ve just had Crittall’s on’, somebody or other on from Crittall’s, they wanted to know details of our pension fund because they’re thinking of starting one up.
So where were we?
Q: We were talking about your mum retiring? So when did she retire again?
Miss R: ’55. ‘54’.
Q: So she went all that time without. Quite a lot of years without any help really.
Miss R: I don’t really remember exactly when it was but I know she did, and then they wrote and they said they’d allowed her half her rent, the other half being her daughter’s which was fair enough. So she was quite pleased by that. And then if the rent went up you’d got to let them know. Cause sometimes I’ve given her with my board I’ve given her extra my half like. And then she has an argument about that. And then I’d say ‘Well have you sent your book back filled, and she’s say’ Well it’s only a shilling or two, it isn’t worth bothering them with is it’. You see, they were different, weren’t they.
Q: So going back to when you were younger, can you remember much about how they managed the house and the shopping and all that sort of thing?
Miss R: While she was working you see, Crittall’s had a canteen and it was before they built that one at the front, it was all the works, I forget what it really looked like, but I know prior to that there was this place at the side and they did very good meals. So she went there, and I went to one of my aunts, and then, and then they built the other one, and then during the War they allowed where I worked, because we rented the ground of them they allowed us to go into their canteen.
Q: So where was this that you worked then?
Miss R: At the British Oxygen which was at the side of it. That was, British Oxygen went there because of Crittall’s originally. I don’t know whether they were asked to, but they said we were suddenly told we could go there, and we did it love it there because Crittall’s had their own farm still, and they had at Silver End and all round there, and the fruit and stuff was collected from their farms, they must have had orchards or something. And the women in the canteen used to bottle the fruit so all through the winter we were having lovely fruit tarts, we were really all right. And we used to have lovely things like that, tarts and puddings and we were so greedy we used to have one of each. There wasn’t a lot of meat but I mean it was really good. And in the shops, well the shop down the road at the cash stores that was old Howes that’s now that other one, you used to put your book in there every Tuesday and he’d bring the stuff up and leave it on the back step. And the baker and half a dozen greengrocers used to call. It was getting the extras that was different. And we had to work Saturdays mainly. We managed quite well.
Q: So you went to school, which school did you go to?
Miss R: Went to the Church School in Witham.
Q: Do you remember much about that?
Miss R: Had to stay there until I got a job because you would lose your orphan’s allowance you see. So I got a job at Witham Co-op in the cheque office. It was a brilliant job that was. There were thirty of us applied for it you know, and we had to have a written exam, all to sort a few lousy cheques. I suppose it was to see if we could actually read or write. And then two of us got the same mark, the top ones, and I didn’t know, I didn’t that, it was the other girls in the office told me.
We went before the Committee, and the Committee decided that as I had no father I’d have the job. Well it did the other girl a favour really because she got a job with the Creamery which was nearer where she lived, possibly a bit more interesting. But it’s a wonder I did get it because I wasn’t a Peculiar. And this other girl was.
Q: Why would that make a difference?
Miss R: Well they were all Peculiars at the Co-op. The Managing Director was like the, took all the services, and the other girls in the office all went to the Peculiar People’s church. The secretary was Congregational and the bloke under him went to the Baptist. It was comical really. And lots of those in the grocery, they went to the chapel. So I was really the odd one out in a way. But, it was such a mind-boggling job. You had all these little cheques. They used to tear them out and they were about that big, about the size of a bus ticket, and you used to tear them out and sort them out into all the customers’ names and then they all had to be individually listed on an adding machine. Well I hadn’t progressed to the adding machine. And they were, I think it taught you a lot in it really, you learn by everything you do, don’t you. Because it taught me to really, you know, they’d got to be done and you settled down and did it. And after that you could take any old boring job there was. Ten bob a week.
Q: That’s why you’re so good at counting the votes, isn’t it [Miss R used to help with the count at elections].
Miss R: But they… did get twelve and six after I’d been there a year.
Q: You say that you had to stay at school a bit more than you would have done? You said you had to stay at school a bit longer, so how old were you when you started this job.
Miss R: Fourteen and a half.
Q: Whereas normally you’d have left when you were fourteen would you?
Miss R: Yes. So, fourteen and a half in the January and I, I learned shorthand and typing cause Mum sent me to typing lessons and my dad’s brother taught me shorthand. I didn’t like typing though. I thought that was a most … and the typewriters were heavy. I never did get a job as a typist, darned good job, I hated it. I liked shorthand, that was different. But, that was handy for odd things, shorthand was, but I went to the Co-op, er, BOC, somebody, oh, my godmother, she told me there was a vacancy there, she’d been talking to a fellow in charge, so I applied for that, at least I didn’t apply, she dropped me a line and said she’d heard that I hadn’t applied, so mum said ‘Oh for goodness sake write’ she said ‘you don’t have to go’ she said, ‘just write, just to keep her happy’. So I did and of course I got it. Anyway it was a good job I did because I liked it there, I liked my job.
Q: How long had you been at the Co-op then?
Miss R: Three years. So I went to the BOC, so by that time we’d had to move up here so that was nice and handy and I liked the job.
Q: What were you doing there?
Miss R: I went into the sales ledgers and I was there for five years and then we got a vacancy somewhere else, and said he thought that’d me more interesting for me, and I did. It was interesting for me because I like a bit of change now and again, and it was, the branch was big enough for you to see each job through, instead of several of you perhaps doing a bit, I did my bit through. I was doing the bought ledger, I did the stock records, and when the man was away I did the wages, and it was interesting, I did that for years. It sort of altered a bit over the years but, there was a lot a statistical work which was just what I liked doing.
But the whole thing was, he took me on as a part time shorthand typist. When I got there every girl in the place was employed on the same basis, so we none of us got to that really, some did it, but they didn’t have all that many letters and stuff. Then of course they went down to Ipswich.
Q: When did they go up to Ipswich about?
Miss R: They went in 1955. They went because well, they were getting larger themselves and Crittall’s really wanted that ground and there was nowhere else, the industrial estate hadn’t started then. And they’d got this place which they opened early in the War at Ipswich, it was this side of Ipswich and it was, they wanted to put a filling station there because of all these aerodromes and they found they could get a place there, they had it cheap, looking back on it it was very very cheap what they rented it for. And then,. because they’d stopped producing oxygen at Witham. They used to produce it. Well then they found that there were better ways of doing it, that they brought the liquid down from a central point and then you started from there. And they went to Ipswich and they built a dissolved acetyline factory as well, so they had, well you had to have a big gap in between because of the danger, the oxygen there and the DA there. That’s since gone because DA isn’t used so much now it’s mainly electric welding. But it wasn’t a bad factory. It was a dreadful office. They scrapped the plans because they thought they were going to be too dear, and made one enormous office it was disgusting, and for years they were always altering inside, and there was a man there once, two men, building another little office within an office, and as I passed I said, ‘See you here again in a few months time, you’ll be pulling that lot down’. So he said ‘[???]’. I said ‘You will’. Well lo and behold about eighteen months to two years later he was there pulling it down and I go walking through again, and he said ‘I didn’t believe you when you said that’. I said ‘This place has had more boards up and down than you’ve had hot dinners’.
Q: I’m not very clear what they actually did at British Oxygen really?
Miss R: You don’t know what they did? Well they produced oxygen, they also, had in all the other gases, all the rare gases and everything. Well, during the War, I don’t think probably people realised that it was as important as it was, because they supplied from that little place there, they supplied all the aerodromes in the area, because it was all high flying oxygen you see, and they used to, all these aerodromes, there was supposed to be one every five miles or so, there was one at Rivenhall, there was all those round Braintree, there was Chelmsford way. They suppled them with all the high flying oxygen. Without it the planes wouldn’t have got to, over to do their nice little bit of bombing.
Q: So the oxygen was, was the oxygen for the pilots, and so on had to have it because of the pressure. What form did that take then, they had cylinders, did they?
Miss R: Yes. I suppose they put it into, or however they carried it on the planes. Outside, I never used to take much notice of them, they used to be piled up outside the place, long thin tubes they were. These days it’d be done different, it’d be delivered by liquid form to them. See we used to have, I think, I remember rightly, we used to have liquid come down from Wembley anyway to keep our supply up, because at that time they said that ours was the most important one, regarding the …
Which was I think what they had in mind when they bombed the place. If you think about it. I mean I don’t know, but I often wondered if that was what they were after, because that was when they were sending all those bombers over to Germany and they really wanted to stop it didn’t they. Because during the day time, because we used to deliver to most people, but during the day time all those that wanted extra they were sometimes queued up right the way along that driveway we had and right the way down Braintree Road. Different little vans that had called for the stuff and [???] and what not.
Q: What else was it used for as well as the planes?
Miss R: Oh cutting and welding, all the munitions and stuff like that. Everybody used it. Plus garages and places like that (Q: Welding?) Yes. It’s got so much uses. And of course there’s the hospitals as well wasn’t there. Yes it was, really you couldn’t be without it. And then there’s all the other gases that go with it. And they use a lot for experimental purposes don’t they. There’s all the universities that have to have all these different rare gases.
Q: How do you make oxygen then?
Miss R: God knows.
Q: What was the factory like, was it very noisy or …
Miss R: They’d got this great big room on the offices, only a couple of little offices, and this big place at the back, I know it’d got two darned great wheels and stuff and different things, cause they came from Dover you see, they closed the Dover branch in ’25 and came there so they were there thirty years. And they used to have the water separators outside, great big things in slats, and they were always running water. Never did find out really what they did because they never bothered to, whether you knew or what, as long as you did your bit. It was a funny process really because as I say now, they found out that, well things alter don’t they, and they built this great big place in Lancashire where they produce the liquid, and ever since they had this contract with British Rail and they’re right on the railway line and it comes right through to Wembley and then, now it’s shipped through, still by train, goes right along here, right to Ipswich railway. If you’re in Ipswich and you’re in Princes Street and you look over this side where there’s this railway line you see all these tankers there. And our tankers, road tankers, go and fill up there. Because there was a case in the paper, it must have been about three years ago, a very alert signalmen or something, they don’t have signalmen, anyway whatever it was, he saw that one of these tankers were going through and they were dripping, so they duly had it shunted on the line, I had to laugh when I read it, duly had it shunted on the line, they called right to Ipswich for men to go down and have a look at it, there were men trying to stop all the trains, the best of it was it’s got nitrogen plastered all over it, well of course that’s an inert gas isn’t it. So, if it had been hydrogen you could have understood it but it was nitrogen which is inert.
Q: I see, so that didn’t matter. Well I wouldn’t have known you see.
Miss R: The only way nitrogen can hurt you is if they were say purging a tank that hadn’t been done and someone went in it, then it wouldn’t do them any good. But I mean that leaking didn’t make any difference. But of course they weren’t to know, they did the right thing, they could have blown the railway line up.
Q: So you are quite knowledgeable about it all really aren’t you, to know that sort of thing.
Miss R: I was there so many years you pick up things that nothing to do with you [laugh].
Q: Was it mainly men in the factory there?
Miss R: No. There weren’t many, I don’t know how many there were at Witham, not that many. And I think, they just don’t need that many people. They need a lot of drivers and that. Yes they were pretty good. When, it was the Labour government came in, Paterson, when they brought that Monopolies Commission in that, well they somehow got in for BOC because they were a monopoly. Nobody else, if there was anybody else they probably got brought up by BOC. So they weren’t very popular and they were first to be investigated, and they were stopped from doing one or two things, which really just showed ignorance on the people that were doing it. Of course they meant well. We were at Ipswich which was a daft place to be really because you’re too near the coast, you want to be say Bury so you could go round. Witham was ideal if they’d have only looked for somewhere else. But it was this cheap land probably that did it. And they, they wanted to open in Norwich because there was an American firm came over, and they distributed from Thetford. And we wanted to get into a place in Norwich so it was easier to go against them. But the thing was, the government wouldn’t let them do that. So they go in with old Archie King who had a place in Shotts[?] or something he had in Norwich, and they say he was a bit of a rogue, but anyway they got in with him, and they had 45 per cent of the place and Archie had the 51, so they got away with it, and they called it AIG. [???] now. But they had to do that to counteract this other. But anyway, the thing was BOC delivered to everybody, little men like say down the road the blacksmith who were one oxygen one DA, we delivered to them when they wanted it. We delivered to every midwife’s house in the whole of our big area, they did all the hospitals and they didn’t argue about, they didn’t stop taking anybody however small. But when Air[?] Products[?] came on they pinched our big customers but they wouldn’t entertain the one and one-er, they just wouldn’t have them. Now I think a lot of them have to collect, and they did stop delivering to midwives, there was a central point and, because they were going out along long country lanes in Norfolk and that was dreadful. But they did, what the government at the time didn’t recognise was that they were giving a fair service, cause it wasn’t cheap to deliver to people like that, but they did it.
Q: So before all this happened was Witham their only factory. Before they went to Ipswich. Did they have other factories in other parts of England.
Miss R: Oh yes, all over. But Witham served East Anglia. Then the little one up the line was Hackney. They were always on strike. They were awkward, they were foreign and came from everywhere and were a bit militant. You see the old Suffolk lot were not militant. They did have a strike once and our lot joined them. They had many strikes. Wembley one was another one that liked a few strikes.
And they went on strike, I think they were more or less forced into it. Well they were on strike three weeks. Well, later on, some while afterwards, Hackney were on strike again. And then I think Wembley agreed to join them. And then Sam the Union man came in for some money or something. So I said ‘Are you going to join them Sam’. ‘Not bloody likely girl’. We lost three weeks before and we haven’t made it up yet. So I said ‘That’s right’.
Q: So when was that, before the War.
Miss R: No, after. People didn’t do things like that before the War. This lot came and they, yes it was funny really, because they are a canny ones these Suffolk ones, they knew which side their bread was buttered and they weren’t doing so bad either. I don’t know what they were striking for to be honest, I don’t think they did.
Q: You must have been there the longest of anybody.
Miss R: Yes I think I was. The old boy that worked with me, he retired, in 1960 I think, he’d been there over forty years. I was there nearly 43[?]
Q: You went to Ipswich yourself?
Miss R: Yes. There was nowhere else to go.
Miss R: [???] who’d been there a long time from another branch wanted to be upgraded, and they said what she did, and she’d been there a long time, and she was asking to be upgraded, and they read it, and they said ‘Oh yes, she ought to be’ so they said to me ‘What do you think?’ So I said ‘Well, as things stand, no she didn’t.’ I said ‘I can sympathise with her, I know just what she’s doing, but in her job, that is C grade is what it is’. ‘Now’ I said ‘I’ve no doubt that what it says is that she does probably do more than some of them. But I said nevertheless it’s still a C grade job. ‘Yes, well you’re right’. So the one who was representing the management sat next to me, so she said ‘Yes but something or other’. I said ‘Do you remember with gas orders what they said’. She said ‘No’. I said ‘Well they were B grade and they made them up to C grade, and they took responsibility for the whole of their module. Said they deal with their own queries, everything, and that’s why they were put up to C’ She said ‘Oh, ‘I’d forgotten that’. She said ‘Oh yes’. So I thought ‘I don’t think you ever knew myself, but still’. See it was. They said ‘We’re very sorry but C on it, all put C on it’. When it came back to us, the copies of it at the end what they’d done, they’d put C, typed C, the girl had typed C and it had been crossed out and a D put in, so I thought ‘That cunning old very devil’, that’s personnel, they never are any good, and rang through to Wembley where he was, so the girl said ‘Oh I’m sorry he’s not in’, so she said ‘What did you want?’ So I explained it all, she said ‘I typed that’. So I said ‘What did he alter it for’. I said ‘It’s no good putting it through a panel if he’s going to go behind our back and alter it. So she said ‘Well I just typed it and he walked in and looked over my shoulder and he picked it up and he crossed it out and put D’ So I said ‘Did he?’ So I rang up one I knew’d make a bit of trouble at Hackney, and had a word in her ear. I said ‘It’s nothing to do with me’, I said, ‘but we’re wasting our time. If we’re going to have a panel he’s got to abide by it or not. But I said ‘He can’t have his own way over this. Then I wrote this old Ernie Kent at Wembley, he was off sick. So I don’t know what, never did know what happened, cause I was, I’d already decided if I hadn’t have been leaving I would have come off that Union and off that panel, because it’s a waste of time, isn’t it. Why pay for us to all go to London and talk about it if a personnel bloke who doesn’t know his job anyway …’
Q: So how long were you on that for then, on the panel?
Miss R: Oh a long while. A waste of time. And there wasn’t enough difference in the pay to warrant any argument really but right was right.
Q: So this time when you queried your money, was that after the War?
Miss R: Yes. That was the same time as all this, they’d started, they didn’t have a Union at one time, and then we had this Union, waste of time, I used to be quite embarrassed at the meetings because the fellow that took it, it was the Transport and General and they used to have it in Smith Square, and his name was Todd Sullivan. And he was very good because he wasn’t a hothead he was reasonable, and he called[?] BOC for everything, but he was, if somebody got up and suggested something, and it wasn’t right, and if you listen to these people, listen to what they’ve got to say, there’s no need for a lot of questions is there. And there used to be this girl from Glasgow, and she used to jump up and ask questions and I used to feel so embarrassed cause the fellow’s just explained that, but she’s so anxious to be, you know, she lets them, she tells them, sort of thing, and in fact she doesn’t, because she’s not listening.
Cause somebody said once could we have tea breaks. And I said to somebody ‘What the devil do we want a tea break for, we get them[?]’ So then when they discussed it, they were nearly all against having a teabreak because, somebody brings me a cup of tea and I’m busy, it’d probably be cold by the time I got it, but on the other hand if not very busy I can sit there for half hour can’t I. You start having a ten minute tea break, and they’re going to be hot on you wasting five minutes later aren’t they.
Q: So what did you normally for your tea then? You had tea but you just had it at your desk you mean? How did that work then?
Miss R: If they said it ‘Right everybody can have a tea break’, very awkward according to what your job is to stop work and have a tea break isn’t it.
Q: So did you not have a break at all?
Miss R: Yes we did, they did, they used to go down to the canteen and get perhaps a roll or something in the, oh I don’t know, I don’t think half of them had any breakfast so they were anxious to get there. And they used to bring it back and sit and chat and didn’t really, I don’t know, sometimes you just stopped and talked and another time like on a Monday if I was anxious to get all the wages through I’d got no time for tea breaks or anything else, so just got on with it.
Q: So it was sort of unofficial …
Miss R: Yes. But if you make things too official, that’s what they all said and that’s what Todd Sullivan said. He said ‘You’re asking them then to pounce on you for every other little thing’, because I mean I’ve known the time, or perhaps according to when the month goes and you’re not all that busy, well you don’t care you can sit and have your tea and not bother. You didn’t leave your desk anyway.
Q: So did it change much there, from when you first went?
Miss R: Yes because in the first place we didn’t have any tea mid morning at all, any coffee, nothing. And we started at nine, but there was some girls came from Silver End and in the summer they used to cycle. There was one girl came from Black Notley, and no buses, so she cycled winter and summer. Could really do with a think sometimes, couldn’t you. Well then when the war was on, we then had our hours increased. That was a crafty move. They made us work an extra, that’s it, going in at half past eight instead of nine o’clock and extra time on Saturdays. But they didn’t increase the money. No extra money at all. And stopped all their holidays. Well now I think we must have been stupid because there the work was increasing and they were making more money, weren’t they, and we worked this extra time. Well we got so really and truly we wanted a drink mid-day. So as stuff was rationed and we’d got nothing to take to make a drink with, we’d got cocoa, which was unrationed, and dried milk which was unrationed, and no sugar of course. And the works was here, there was an office we went into and I worked in that little office, through there, in a corridor, through the works door, and by some stairs there was a little gas ring. That’s where we had tea in the afternoon, there. So somebody used to, there was an upstairs as well, somebody crept downstairs, go in there and put the kettle on, made a bit of cocoa up, and then go in this cloakroom, it wasn’t only about this big, you couldn’t all do your hair at the same time, and in there, and the door’d open, [whispering] ‘cocoa’. Old Sharp’s door was always open, had to come from the stairs, creep round and go round the back[?] Well this went on for a long time, and cocoa was lovely because it was illicit wasn’t it. And one morning I go creeping past his door and he said ‘Oh miss.’ ‘Yes Mr Sharp?’ ‘Bring me a cup of cocoa when you’re having yours will you?’ [laugh].
Q: So he knew really?
Miss R: I bet he crept around at night and found out where we kept it and everything, cause he wasn’t daft.
Q: He called you ‘Miss’ did he? I’m just picking up on that you said he said ‘Miss’. Is that what he called you always, did you not get your name?
Miss R: Oh no. Well he might Miss Rice if he wanted to be more explicit. [laugh]
Q: And he was the one that was in charge of the whole place was he?
Miss R: Yes he was very good.
Q: So he was your boss.
Miss R: He was very good because he sort of, how shall I put it, he was with us, and yet we respected him for the boss. If he told us off, we didn’t grumble about it, and he kept, he was good, and yet he’d, after the War when things got easier and Greenwich used to be a bigger branch and we came under Greenwich at that time, they had a Dramatic Club and they used to have socials and that, and if he, they’d ring him up and he’d arrange a bus for us all to go. He was good like that. But he did, cause he said to me once, I was working away, this old boy beside me. His door was open, and Mr Garrett was saying something, I was talking to Mr Garrett, and Mr Sharp called out ‘Miss’. So I said ‘Yes Mr Sharp’. I don’t what it was, he said ‘give me three and a half per cent for three months on such and such a figure’. So I said ‘Oh, just a minute’. So I wrote it all again, worked it out, took it to him, you see there was no adding machines and no nothing, you see, no calculators, so I took it in to him and he said, compared his, all I was doing was checking his figures you see, he said ‘Oh yes’, he’d got a full [???] sheet, and he said ‘Well now you can work those out’. So I said ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m busy’. He said ‘Really?’. You weren’t a minute ago, were you. So I just took it. [laugh]
Q: So who was Mr Garrett then?
Miss R: He was under Mr Sharp, they both lived in the Avenue in company houses, they’d come down from, they’d come down from Greenwich when it opened. And old Mr Garrett, he was a nice old boy, he helped me ever such a lot, so I used to ask him things, and I said once ‘I’m ever so sorry to keep asking you’. He said ‘No, not at all, rather you asked than I had a lot to put right afterwards’.
Q: So they were there all the time, right from the start were they?
Miss R: Yes. And then Mr Sharp died in ’53, and Mr Garrett moved down to Ipswich. But he was always good to me. He was a good old friend to me. But, yes.
Q: So did you ever know what their first names were?
Miss R: Oh yes. He always used to call me Titch …
Q: Mr Garrett did?
Miss R: You see when I got there, there was another Barbara there, and the boy in the stores said ‘Oh I’m getting fed up with this, from now on you’re Titch’. So latterly. After that, as time walked on you got other names, but even the Regional Office and the Wembley Office they all called me Titch they never called me anything else. And once when I went there one of them said, ‘Oh yes, aren’t you the one with two bicycles?’ So I thought ‘Well, fame travels fast doesn’t it’. I said ‘Two bicycles?’ So he aid ‘Yes, you’ve got one at Ipswich I hear’. So I said ‘Oh yes’. Cause there were no buses to go there from the station you see, so I got fed up with that walk, which was about as far from here as it is nearly to the town, and I had a bicycle .. So how did they…?
Q: So when they first came then, a lot of them came down from other places, or was it just the managers.
Miss R: No. They didn’t have much of a staff then when they first started here. They came, I don’t know how, Crittall’s must have contacted them and then they decided they wanted, I don’t know X number of thousand cubic feet a week, so they settled there by Crittall’s. They moved it from, they moved the plant as well including the, even the blooming old safe that they’d got, and they brought that there, and there was one fellow Jack Devine, he came from Dover and settled in Witham. Nobody else. Mr Garrett came from Greenwich, then Mr Sharp came, and there was one or two girls in the office.
There was a store, where they sold equipment. It was amazing the work they turned out really.
Q: How many would you say very roughly worked there altogether.
Miss R: How many? Er, how many did we have in the works? Latterly at Ipswich about fifty including the drivers. Then of course by this time they’d got big hadn’t they, they’d got [???] and everything else.
Q: So when they first came, before the war it would be roughly …?
Miss R: I don’t suppose there would be half that amount.
Q: About how many in the office was it?
Miss R: Oh it got, did they have, cause it rapidly grew you see, when I went there was one girl working on the sales ledgers and it got too much so I went. So that was two on sales ledgers, there was shorthand typist, there was two on the, I suppose there was about a dozen and a junior, it was a nice place though, it was OK.
Q: So in the war time, tell me about the war time then, you were working longer hours you said. Did you have to keep anything secret about what was happening to all the stuff?
Miss R: You just did it. I mean you didn’t have to be told that you didn’t tell anybody anything. I mean it wouldn’t strike me that anybody would have been interested anyway. No you didn’t bother. Mum was doing munitions then and they were doing Bailey bridges. I don’t know what else they did, I didn’t ask her, she didn’t really say. I think it was mainly Bailey bridges at the end. And mum when she went to work at Crittall’s, and she hadn’t been there very long, and this person came from Tiptree, she was London, that’s who’s just been on the phone. She started there because she was born and bred in Spitalfields market. And her father looked after all the horses, they had loads of horses there and he was in charge of all these horses and he put them in the Lord Mayor’s Show, and he got ill and it went to TB so they sent, her mother had come from Messing, so after he came out of the sanatorium they said to live in the country for two years. So they settled in Tiptree. She stayed in London because she worked with De La Rue the banknote people. She went there and, she had such dreadful lodgings and went to live there, well she could, she got a job, and then they folded up, and she had to walk to Coggeshall to sign on. That was the nearest place for Tiptree. So apparently she bought herself a bicycle, never been on a bicycle before I don’t suppose. And she took this, they sent to Crittall’s at Witham, and there was no bus from Tiptree to Witham that got there at eight o’clock when they started. It didn’t get there till five past. So they said they were sorry, she couldn’t come on the bus, she’d got to get there by eight o’clock. So she told the Labour Exchange who said ‘Well she took that job or else, but she’d got no money from them’. So she had to cycle from Tiptree, all down Braxted wall, can you imagine what that was like in the winter? So anyway she got soaking wet one day, and mum said to her ‘When it’s raining like this, you come home with me.’ She said ‘If it’s raining it’s up there they’ll know you’re not coming home’, no telephones was there, she said ‘they’ll know you’re not coming home so that’ll be all right. So she did that all through one winter, and then when it got through to the summer, she said, ‘Oh’, she said. ‘I’m not doing this, I’ll stop at yours from Monday to Friday’. And she did that. So she was with us for twelve years, because she went up to London at the beginning of the war for a few months because her mother died, and she went to live with, look after one of the brothers and her father, then the night of the big bombing, the first big bomb they ever had, she landed back at ours on the Monday, and her father went to live in Tiptree with her boyfriend’s mother, and then she got married, and she stayed with us till they found a house.
They couldn’t, see cause she was going to buy one, her brother said ‘We’ll buy one’, and every time, there was no estate agents other than old Balch’s and he never had anything, and every time you heard there was a house for sale it’d gone, she just couldn’t get one anywhere, so she put her name down on the Council list and her husband came home from India, then she had this baby, then they heard eventually they’d go a Council house, quite nice in Glebe Crescent, they said ‘Well that’d do for the time being’ cause they were just, you just couldn’t buy one. So when her father had gone to hospital in London she went up to see him and took this little Michael with her and it was a Friday and Jack worked at Sadd’s and he came home, he was coming home, he wasn’t there then. Mum was cooking the tea and there was a knock on the door. And it was a woman from the Council. So she said ‘Mrs Meadows live here?’ So I said ‘Yes’. So she said ‘Is Mrs Rice here?’ So I said ‘Mum, you’re wanted’ and she went and this woman said to her, ‘You’re, Mrs Rice’, she came in you see so she said ‘Yes’, she said, and you have living here, your father. My mother said ‘No, I haven’t got my father living here’. She said ‘Yes you have, you’ve got your father living here.’ Mum said ‘Good God alive my father died during the First World War.’ [laugh] So she said ‘If you’re talking about a father it’s Mrs Meadows’ father’, cause he’d been staying with us as well, off and on, but he’d gone into hospital. So she said ‘And a Mr and Mrs Meadows’ she said ‘and their son’. She said ‘Yes’. ‘And your daughter’. Mum said ‘Yes’. So she said ‘Oh, can I see over the house?’ Well I don’t think she’d got any right but you were so afraid of upsetting them so mum said ‘Babs, you look after her’ she said ‘I’ve got too much to do’. So took her upstairs, so I said, ‘Well this is normally my bedroom if Mr Payne isn’t here. That’s why half my stuff’’s on the floor because there’s nowhere else to put it.’ I said ‘This room I’m sharing with my mother at the moment.’ And I said ‘And this room is for Mr and Mrs Meadows and the baby’. So as we walked down the stairs she said ‘You’re rather outnumbered aren’t you’. And when she got downstairs she plonked her bag on the table, she tipped it open, and she said, got a note and said ‘Would you give that to Mr Meadows when he comes home, because he can have the keys to a house’. So if that had already been agreed and the keys were there, oh and what’s more, as she came through, you had to go through the front room to get to the back, it was like going through here and getting in there. She said ‘Oh, this is different, they live separately don’t they?’ So Mum said ‘What are you talking about?’ She said ‘I see you’ve set the table in there’, well there was a small one, highish but small, set for one. So she said ‘They’re living separately’. I don’t know what difference that made, do you? So Mum said ‘They’re not living separately’, she said ‘I’m cooking his tea here now’. So she said ‘Yes but it’s all set in there’. She said ‘Look, it’s set in there for one reason, so they can have a little privacy sometimes’. She said ‘They have their meals together in there and we have ours in here. ‘Oh’ she said. Can you see any difference. She said something else about separate. Mum said ‘Look here, how the devil can anybody live separately in a place like this’.
Q: This was in Church Street was it?
Miss R: Church Street. Well you see there was a big kitchen cum living room, well you couldn’t all live separately, there was a cooker there, and she said ‘Have those two in there’ and they’d got a settee and everything else, and she said ‘That table there, do for their meals, gives them a little privacy’. Which was fair enough wasn’t it.
Q: So that was good of your mother to start with wasn’t it. It was good of your mother to look after her to start with.
Miss R: Well I suppose it was, but then you did that in those … I mean we didn’t only have that. There was a brother from London, who, he used to, he was a widower, and he’d packed up his house and gone to live in her father’s flat, and he used to come down weekends for a bit of peace and quiet I suppose. He didn’t worry about the bombing He said ‘Oh’ he said ‘sometimes the bed gets shot from one side to the other but I’m too tired to worry about that’. And then he’d come down, not every weekend but some weekends, and Mum used to say, cook what she could for him to take back, and then he had a girlfriend and the girlfriend came as well [laugh]. I mean it was like, you just didn’t know where you was going to sleep after a time.
Q: This was in the War especially was it?
Miss R: Yes. But it didn’t matter. I mean she didn’t worry about that, there was always somebody. Then one day, got home, and there was a woman arrived on the doorstep with a case, and this brother of Doll’s, she’d been bombed and he said, told her where to come and we’d put her up. Anyway she got fed up after a week. Mum said ‘Thank God for that’ she said ‘Blooming woman never stirred all day’. She used to sit there and wait all day and Mum’d come home and cook her tea, it was weird really.
Q: So the one you were talking, the woman, the one you go to see in Tiptree, that’s this Doll, Meadow is she?
Miss R: Yes. So then they went to Tiptree because his mother and father died, I mean they were only in their fifties and they died within a few months of one another. And the bungalow was his and he’s lived there ever since. Well he’s dead now, she’s on her own, and so I go over to see her every other week. Some people say ‘Oh you only go once every other week then?’ I said to one of them, I said ‘Yes, well I’ve done it for eighteen years, since I’ve been retired I’ve been going backwards and forwards, I said ‘If I did it every week I might not have kept it up for so long. Cause I went the other week and it took two hours twenty-five minutes, that was when it was flooded at the bottom near Safeway’s bit. And I didn’t know it was flooded and the buses didn’t come. So of course I stood ages. Well you wouldn’t would you, if you overdo a thing. But this. I mean as far as like the getting about is concerned in Witham it’s a lot worse isn’t it. Cause we would have more buses up here if it wasn’t for Church Street. It’s the drivers, I don’t blame the drivers, they’re so fed up with it, cause I sat on it one Saturday and I didn’t intend to get much shopping but I did because I thought well if I don’t want much I might as well get a lot of things I might want. When I got to the bottom end, the bus couldn’t get up the road. He said ‘I’m sorry girl, but you’ll have to walk’ and he had to back his bus, cause there was cars both sides of the road, and he hooted and hooted but there was a van there and they wouldn’t move it, so he backed it.
Q: Did you always have your bike from when you were young?
Miss R: Yes. See there used to be a bus at ten to nine on a Saturday, come back at ten o’clock, but now it doesn’t run, it starts from Safeways.
Q: So were there buses and things in Witham when you were small, do you remember?
Miss R: No there were no buses then. There was, they did start, Silver End started a bus and it used to go up Cross Roads, not Cross Roads, Rickstones, and we used to cut down the gap that later turned out to be Cross Roads, so if you came from school midday you could have a penny on the bus.
Q: This is from school in, where were you coming from, oh you were coming from school up to hear you mean?
Miss R: Yes.
Q: Did you come back dinner time then?
Miss R: Cause when we started school you see, there were no buses or anything, we were then living opposite to where Templars School is now, well that’s a long long way to Guithavon Street isn’t it. We used to do that four times a day. Well when you’re only five, it’s a long way isn’t it.
Q: So you were living up Cressing Road then were you?
Miss R: Mm.
Q: In one of the, I’m just trying to work out the time now. You started off down in Bridge Street?
Miss R: Yes, then went up to Cressing Road.
Q: That was when your father died was it?
Miss R: Yes. We moved twice in Cressing Road, they weren’t much those houses, we went opposite and dad said ‘This’ll do for a time. And when we were in Bridge Street, you see, it was obvious we couldn’t stop there long, there were only two rooms, and there used to be a Mr Burrows, W W Burrows, he was the coal merchant, well he was a mate of me dad’s and he was round ours once and he, and he knew, cause there was no houses going for all these men come out of the forces, so they put their names down for these houses. And he said to mum and dad, ‘I’ve got a son in law’, well he said ‘he isn’t my son in law’, he was engaged to his daughter and he was looking for fresh digs, so he said ‘When you get your place do you think you could put him up’. So he said ‘Yes, yes, that’ll be all right’, so they did, he stopped with us till he got married, and then after that because of the Depression there was a lot of people came to Witham from places like Wales and things like that, and they’d land up at Crittall’s to work, and they hadn’t … Mum said there was one boy of twenty, he’d never worked since he left school, and he was sent to Crittall’s and my dad comes home, cause he did something with the Union, and he said ‘Couple of blokes mate, he said, were looking for digs, do you think we could have them?’ Mum said ‘Yes, we’ll have them’. So she said ‘Oh I did feel sorry for them, she said, they’d, you know hadn’t had anything and that. They were there six weeks then they got the sack you see, cause Crittall’s didn’t really want them, used to go back like that.
Q: What happened to them then, I wonder.
Miss R: Don’t know, they went back to Wales I suppose, I don’t know. Then we had a Scots fellow, well he was all right, he stopped a long while, and, I don’t know why we always used to land up with them, and his girlfriend.
Q: Did they pay any board these people?
Miss R: Yes.
Q: They paid a bit.
Miss R: She said once, many years later, ‘I never actually made any money out of them’. I don’t expect she did because she fed them well. She said ‘I didn’t make anything out of them, it just made money easier to manage’. But, no, they were all right. So we lived up there. You had to go right to Guithavon Street to School and you had to come all the way back midday, and go back again and back again, four times a day. So they couldn’t say we didn’t get any exercise could they. And the thing was, we used to go down the Valley, and there was, where they’ve now got sort of steps and car park things, down on that left hand side, it was all bushes. Well we’d play for, I reckon we were sent out early, because we used to play for ages round these bushes. Then suddenly someone’d come out and watch us, somebody’d think it might be time to go to school, so we used to run. So we decided that, Guithavon Rise had got there then, it was high wasn’t it, we went up there and through the churchyard and we’d be at school. So we went scampering up there the lot of us. And we never ran through the churchyard cause we were brought up not to, so we all walked along and then right back, not near the gate, it was a rotten trick, Mr Boughtwood who was the verger or something stood outside the church and said ‘Back’. He said ‘Can’t help that, go back’. So we had to come down the Rise, go round the Valley and up that steep hill, used to be terrified of Miss Welland standing at the gate looking at her watch. We tried it twice, and we said ‘How does that old man know we were coming?’ Course he knew we were going didn’t he, but, wouldn’t you have thought if we were walking, cause poor kids we’d already come from right up here but he wouldn’t let us.
Q: So was she a bit frightening, the head, was she?
Miss R: Yes.
Q: What can you remember about the school?
Miss R: I hated going at first because we had these two girls take us, that was my friend next door and myself. Well I know at the very beginning, I can remember creating about it now, I reckon it was more the journey or something, I don’t know. I screamed and hollered, I was back over the step. Mum said ‘Well now you’re in you’ll sit down.’ She said ‘You’re not playing. If you don’t want to go to school you can’t play, you sit there.’ So I sat there, had my dinner and that, and then when it was, I would have been home I was allowed up and I could play so I never objected again, cause the alternative wasn’t to play it was to sit in a chair all day.
Q: So why didn’t you like it do you think.
Miss R: Well I didn’t like going. I don’t suppose I liked the rushing, these girls made us hurry, you see, and we were only little.
Q: You got used to it you think.
Miss R: You didn’t think anything of it afterwards.
Q: Were they quite strict at school?
Miss R: Yes, and another nasty thing they did …
[chat about drink, not noted]
Yes so, if it was an icy morning, you know, all cold, and you’d run all the way to school, you didn’t need exercise did you. Well you got in there and we had the old hymn lark, and then she’d say ‘Right, all of you out’, and we’d get out in the playground instead of doing whatever else we should have done, while we did this business out in the …
Miss R: Well she thought she’d liven us up but we’d already had, a mile and a quarter at least to go, a mile and a half it must have been. And we’d gone all that way and then we’re doing this out in the playground. And it was always on a cold nasty day.
Continued on tape 181