Miss Barbara Rice was born c 1922. She was interviewed on 9 and 11 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.]
Continued from tape 180
Side 3 (9 December)
Q: Were they new then, the houses at Cressing Road. (Miss R: Pardon?). Were they new, the houses at Cressing Road?
Miss R: Yes. Cause they used to have to wait a long time when they were first built, didn’t they, because the walls didn’t dry off so quickly. And, no [???] cousin lived next door, cause everybody knew anybody anyway, because.
Q: I mean do you remember what it was like going up there? Was it a lot different, to what it had been before, for you? Did you like it, yourself? Did you like it up Cressing Road when you first went?
Miss R: I don’t know, never thought about it. [laugh] You don’t do you, when you’re …
Q: Cause you were quite little then I suppose, you were still quite little then?
Miss R: Yes, three. Three and a half. You didn’t sort of think about things like that do you?
Q: It was a long way away though wasn’t it.
Miss R: Yes, it was. There was no other. That school down Church Street wasn’t open to take little ones then, it was closed. All it did was have one day a week for cookery classes for the girls for both the Board School and the Church School, and one day a week for the boys to do woodwork.
Q: So, did you play, what did you do in your spare time when you weren’t at school?
Miss R: Play about, come over in the fields and things like that. But I mean, I know, Sheila and I we went to Sunday school and we came home one day, one Sunday, afternoon, well we’d got our best shoes on see, all togged up, and we thought well, we go home, we going to have those whipped off us quick, so we’ll go for a walk. So we walked right up there towards the water tower, you know, the deep dip [Cressing Road]. Well, there was this man, we knew his name, we never told anybody his name though, we knew his name, and he stood in the hedge, and as we got very close to him he turned round and he showed us all he’d got. [laugh].So [???] we weren’t about eight or nine you see, and kids were more innocent then, weren’t they, so Sheila said to me, we never mentioned it much after, but I know years after, she said to me ‘Never seen such a big one in all my life’. So anyway, she was facing a bit different way to me and she saw two people coming back. I forget what he said to us, he said something. Anyway he saw her looking and turned, and he saw these two people and he said, ‘Do you know these people’, and Sheila said ‘Yes’, which was quite likely she probably did. I didn’t recognise them, so, with that he turned and he cleared off quick. So anyway we thought we’d go home then. So when we got home she went in her house and I went over there to mine, and we told our parents we saw we saw this rude man, so Dad said ‘Who was he?’ ‘Don’t know’. So, anyway, somebody got a bike or something, motor bike, went round looking for him, they didn’t tell the police or anything, because nobody heard much about that then did they, so anyway, we didn’t, nothing more was said about it and Sheila and I forgot all about it, and one day months after, coming over the bridge, walking over the railway bridge in Braintree Road with me dad, and he stopped to talk to this man, so when we got up the road I said ‘Dad’, he said ‘Yes’, I said ‘You know that man you’ve just been talking to?’ He said yes. I said ‘That was that man up by the water tower.’ ‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me in the beginning’. But I don’t know, I said to Sheila, ‘Why didn’t we say his name?’. You never know how children … Nothing would have made us tell anybody his name at that time. Don’t know why. So we didn’t go wandering off any more.
Q: I wonder if your dad ever said anything to him?
Miss R: No, I don’t reckon so, cause there was no proof was there. Not after all that time. No. I bet he had, I never heard he and mum discuss it, so I reckon that they did have something to say on the quiet.
Q: But as you say, you didn’t hear so much about it then, did you?
Miss R: Then we used to play over here [top of Church Street] and used to be the river, you could go in the river if you wanted to.
Q: So they still let you out wherever you wanted to go?
Miss R: Oh yes. (Q: [???]) Somebody else told me years after he was a funny bloke, but, he’s dead now anyway. We were so surprised, cause I mean, we didn’t know there were people like that about?
Q: Nowadays, I don’t which is worse, nowadays they’d be warning you wouldn’t they.
Miss R: Mm. You see, actually, we never thought any more about it. I don’t suppose we ever told a soul at school. By the time we’d got home and told them it had gone. It was, he was just a rude old man, fancy a rude old man going up the road like that, you know.
Q: So it wasn’t that you, the reason you didn’t tell people at school, you think that was just because you didn’t think about it?
Miss R: No.
Q: Rather than because you were nervous.
Miss R: I suppose by nobody keeping on about it, it didn’t get embedded in our minds, did it?: Don’t think I ever mentioned it to Sheila again until years and years after, and we were saying something once, and she said ‘Do you remember that old man?’. ‘Oh yes’ and we laughed. And then, it didn’t have any lasting effect on us cause it didn’t worry us. We put it down to, he was a funny old man, and that was it. I mean there’s always funny people about isn’t there. You know, funny people you might laugh at or do funny things.
Q: Yes, I suppose there was other funny people you reckon, were there?
Miss R: Not all that funny.
Q: But not the same as you.
Miss R: There was just this old woman up Bridge Street, everybody called flannel foot because she walked like that. You know there was all sorts of different people like that, but you forget about them don’t you.
Q: So you were brought up quite innocent really?
Miss R: See there was nothing on the, no television was there, and the wireless you didn’t bother about much, not kids, and there was the pictures, but the pictures were, they were all, they’d got nice things like dancing in, and all the comical, but they weren’t vicious. I mean you didn’t really know that, I never knew that men and women argued, I never heard me mum and dad arguing. If they had an argument it certainly wasn’t in front of me.
Q: So you didn’t hear other people arguing?
Miss R: No. Didn’t know. I mean I didn’t, I don’t suppose, dad never hit me. Mum hit me once, I remember, she was in the middle of moving and when we moved from one house in Cressing Road to the other, I expect I was playing up. I was so surprised. I never forgot it. But I mean other than that, of course fathers don’t hit kids anyway, do they, not girls, so …
Q: So, were you naughty do you think, or were you quite good?
Miss R: No. I was always one to do as I am told. I found that was easiest.
Q: You just sort of felt you had to, did you? (Miss R: Yes). When you say you found that was easiest, do you think that was because you …
Miss R: Don’t know, I suppose that was argumentive, I don’t know.
Q: What about school, did you do as you were told at school?
Miss R: No. I was just quiet.
Q: Quiet? [laugh] You must have got on pretty well there I should think, didn’t you. You’re obviously very good at figures and all that sort of thing in later life, so were you quite clever at school?
Miss R: Not really. No. Mum always said ‘I thought you’d never learn. Your father used to sit at night with your big books, thought you’d never learn. You did pick up’. And I found out why when I was at the History Group one night, it’s funny how things come to you. I sat there, I mean I don’t hear so good now, but I sat there and this man they’d got, we were the far end where we took the money, it was difficult to see sideways, and this man, he wasn’t a very loud speaker. And he’d got so the people at the front were asking questions and he was just making ordinary conversation, to them. And I sat there trying to hear what he was said, and all of a sudden I was in that classroom at school when I was little, it was just, it was uncanny really, because I was in that classroom, just for that split second. Then I knew why I hadn’t got on at school, I couldn’t hear. Because I can remember going to the doctor’s, I think I’d probably got what they now call glue ear, you have catahhr and that goes down, I don’t know. And I remember going to the doctor’s several times, and doctor Ted, taking his pocket watch out and saying ‘Can you hear it’. I mean he would have probably a very good watch so it wouldn’t have a very loud tick. And there’s no way you’re going to hear a watch, that’s all he ever did ‘Can you hear it?’ I don’t know what happened after that?
Q: So you couldn’t hear it?
Miss R: No, I just to say no I couldn’t. And that was the end of that. I think they syringed them out once, that probably didn’t do any good, and that must have just righted itself, glue ear does apparently, sometimes.
Q: So they didn’t sort of realise that you probably couldn’t hear very well.
Miss R: No, you see, nobody realised I couldn’t hear.
Q: Why did they check it do you think? Was he only giving you a general check up, with the watch, you hadn’t gone to the doctors about your ears?
Miss R: Yes. Yes. That’s why he said can you hear it.
Q: So you knew you’d got some sort of problem.
Miss R: I don’t know as he actually bothered with it. But it must have as I say, must have righted itself. And I think that then I got in a class and she was a good teacher and then I did pick up a lot. But until then I hadn’t. Well I suppose I wasn’t interested if I couldn’t hear. And didn’t know that anybody else could. But it must that, because why did that picture come. I’d never thought of it after at all, and when I was trying to listen to that man it was if I was in that classroom. And then I looked round at all the other people and I could see that those at the back couldn’t hear either. But for a minute I was in that classroom.
Q: But you didn’t realise then that that’s what it was?
Miss R: No. No. They say, children just don’t, if you can’t hear you don’t think ‘Well I can’t hear because I’m deaf’, do they.
[Chat about a friend with a young girl with glue ear, not noted]
Q: So did nobody ever say anything to you about your hearing and that? Why did you go to the doctor do you think, about it?
Miss R: Cause they knew I couldn’t hear, mum and dad knew, cause she kept saying , there’s that clock there that’s in the hall, that’s supposed to strike, I don’t like. It was a daft thing to say, cause that was in the hall there at Cressing Road, and I was in the back room, that end of that one, and that’s strike. Well if you’re doing anything you don’t hear anyway. If it comes on at regular intervals you don’t hear do you. And she’d say ‘Did you hear that?’ ‘Hear what?’ ‘The clock strike, did you hear it?’ ‘No’. Well it didn’t prove anything really, did it.
Q: [???] So when the doctor said, the doctor tested you but he didn’t really do it properly do you think>
Miss R: No, just put the watch back in his pocket.
Q: Were you disappointed that they hadn’t found anything.
Miss R: No, I don’t remember anything that was said after that, I can just remember him with his watch, and I just said ‘No’, I couldn’t hear it. Well you wouldn’t really if you think about it. He wouldn’t have a cheap watch that sounded like an alarm clock would he?
Q: [???] They didn’t do anything more about it.
Miss R: I suppose you see it righted it self and then I got on all right at school. But other than that I didn’t do marvels. I usually used to get top, but I mean that wasn’t anything brilliant, I wasn’t very good at school really, but I don’t think the headmistress, she was all right, but I don’t think, she was more into the old ‘This lark’ and nothing else. And she, I don’t know , she was a funny woman really. No, I just don’t know, it was funny altogether. They were short of books I suppose, real shortage of books now, and we had big classrooms you see, with two classes in a room. It was awfully offputting you know, some were [???], but this one, there was three in the last one, three classes. Well, we had ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. Have you ever read ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. Blessed thing, it should never have been written. I hated it. Well that was bad enough. The second term it went to the next class, so all you could hear was their ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and when they’d finished you’d think ‘Thank god for that’, would you believe, we had it the next term. So we had ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ then they had it and then we had it back again.
Q: Your class did it twice?
Miss R: Yes. We had it twice. Cause I don’t suppose they’d got any more books, I don’t know. I could have cried when they brought that out, oh I did hate it. I hate it now. I thought ‘Stupid old man’.
Q: How did you study it then, read it out, sort of?
Miss R: Yes, that’s what was happening you see, they were all reading it out. So we had a quiet time with doing something, and they had to talk, and then it was vice versa. I don’t if anybody else was fed up with it, but I was. So you couldn’t avoid it you see. It wasn’t as if you were … It didn’t do us any good at all, did it, not at all. My mother did better in Manchester when she was a kid, she was better off there, because they were quite forward there. She did subjects I’d never even heard of. But she didn’t get on so well because she was left handed. Because she always said that her sister was better than she was, but you see her sister was right handed, well my mum had to learn to be right handed, and she said, of course it was mainly on the righting wasn’t it. And they had this master, big bloke, and they were only little girls. And she said I’d forget, and be writing with my left hand, she said and he’d walk down the aisle, and she said he used to carry a big heavy ruler, and he used to smash it across her hands like that, so they’d flatten. She said or if he came up the back way, he used to poke me so hard in the back, I used to splatter over the desk. And then she said ‘We did these samplers, you know, to learn to stitch’, and she said ‘Of course mine were never any good. Then we had one’ she said. ‘and I really tried, she said, and I was really pleased with it, she said ‘I admitted as black as hell and covered in blood spots’, but she said it was all neat stitching. And the teacher looked at it, walked up to the top of the class, took my mum with her, and held it up for the class to see how disgusting it all was.
She wasn’t satisfied with that, she sent to the next classroom and got her sister to bring hers, and held up them both and the whole class laughed. And mum said I thought ‘[???] then.’ Cause she said ‘There was our Florrie with a big smirk on her face’, well she would, her older sister, she’d done better than her, she was only little, she’d think she was so good wouldn’t she. So mum said ‘I never tried again’ She said ‘It wasn’t worth it’, she said. You’d have thought the teacher would have seen she was trying, wouldn’t you.
Q: This business about being left handed, they were funny about it weren’t they.
Miss R: She was a very good writer, she would write lovely with her right in the end, and most things, but it would hold you back, cause you can’t concentrate on your work if you’re concentrating on using the other hand.
Q: Did she keep in touch with her family up north?
Miss R: Mm. Yes, oh yes.
Q: Did you go up there at all.
Miss R: Yes. Yes I go up there a lot. She had one sister, one sister who died, and one sister and two half sisters, and a half brother, he went to, he joined the Seaforth Highlanders and went to South Africa in the Boer War, and he stayed out there. So I suppose she knew him, but I’ve never even seen a photograph of him.
Q: Did anybody ever come down to Witham from there? I mean when you were younger.
Miss R: Oh yes. Because her sister had three boys, she had three previously but they’d all died, and she’d got these three boys, and they used to come down every summer and play, and they used to like it down here for a change.
Q: Did they all talk differently? There weren’t that many northeners in Witham were they, did they talk differently and that.
Miss R: Yes. Mum didn’t talk very different, she was more ordinary because her mother came from Norfolk and her father came from Scotland, there were certain different words that were different, but other than that, no.
Q: So when you say your parents met in the War, what was she doing?
Miss R: She was in the, she joined the WAACs, and they, they went about a fortnight and then they sent them over, she was stationed near Rouen. She liked it.
Q: So when she out, she met your father when she came to live in Witham. But the Rices go back more, further in Witham? Did you have lots of their relatives?
Miss R: There’s some, not many left there, oh, I’ve got an aunt down the town, dad’s youngest sister, she’s about eighty six. And then another cousin down there. They’re gradually all dying off. Cousin at Feering, and the others are more scattered.
Q: When you were living here when you were a younger, when you were a child, were you aware of having lots of relatives about?
Miss R: Yes, cause they all, they all kept together. My dad used to be the one that organised them and set to. His mother died in the First World War and then his sister brought the family up. She was married to Herbert Keeble, do you remember him? Yes, well he was married to my dad’s sister, and she brought the rest of the family up.
Q: Where did he meet them. Did people sort of visit a lot in the houses then, or did you go out to meet at the pub.
Miss R: Visit in the houses, like you’d go for a walk on the Sunday, my father and my mother and me and his brother and his wife and a couple of kids, well then according to which direction you took, cause there were some lovely walks round here, you might pass a relative so you’d go in and see them you see. Course he’d got a lot cousins, because it was his cousin we went to live next to and his daughter, I’m still friendly with here, she lives at Kelvedon, and, no there are quite a few about, you know.
Q: You played with the neighbours as well did you?
Miss R: Yes.
Q: So were there all different sorts of children at the school, I mean did you feel that some were better off than you and some were poorer than you, or didn’t you …
Miss R: Never thought about it. I know once when I was at school I sat next to this girl, she was a bit dippy, but she was all right really. So somebody. Oh, and there was two or three of them said ‘Put you next to old Lily. My mum’d go down and see Miss Welland’, I don’t reckon she would, I think they make it up ‘if I was sat next to her’. So I said ‘Well she’s perfectly clean’. They said ‘You want to tell your mum’. So I went home, and, that was when my dad was still alive, so I said ‘Mum, I’m sitting next to this Lily at school’. So she said ‘Oh are you dear’. So I said ‘Yes’. So she said ‘Oh’. She wouldn’t think that you shouldn’t be. But I don’t know why they said it, because Lily was all right really. But some I think do, and Miss Welland the headmistress was a dreadful snob, she was really, even, so that the children noticed it. There was a caretaker’s cottage, quite a big one, in the grounds, where the car park is now, and she cleaned all the school, and it was hard work, it was all wooden floors got to be scrubbed and that, all these coal fires got to be cleaned out, and she must have worked really hard, and she was very clean, and she’d got three children, and they were at the school, and if she’s got anybody coming to the school, I don’t know what they’d come for, I’m sure, but she’d give them a cup of tea, Miss Welland would, and she had these new people come, her father managed a shop in the town, so they were a cut above this girl and her caretaker. ‘Oh Beryl, would you run and ask your mother if she can let me have X number of cups and saucers, cause I’ve got somebody coming’. So Beryl duly went. And the other girl said ‘What’s wrong with that old woman, isn’t the [???]’s cups good enough for her. Which is quite true isn’t it. They’d be quite good enough and clean, and the woman … It was all things like that, that she thought anybody, one child might be a bit better than the other. And when they built those houses for sale in Millbridge Road, one of the girls who went to live there, she was in my class, she said to this girl once ‘Oh yes, you live in one of those Council houses, don’t you’. So the girl said, cause the mother and father were buying it, it didn’t matter who built it or how they lived there, they were living a decent life weren’t they. So the girl said ‘No, I live up Millbridge Road’. She said ‘That is what I mean’. And I never forgot it. I though ‘You rotten old snob, you, it sort of, it makes the kids feel. And another thing I notice that I though of one day, I didn’t think of it at the time, but when I took, the very few occasions that I had to take this form in to be signed, now I don’t know there was any other children that had to do it. There’d only be you know, fatherless or something. And, took it in and just said ‘Would you sign this please Miss Welland’. And you’d have thought she’d have said ‘How is your mother these days’/ They would these days wouldn’t they. No she never said a word, she just went like that with it, as if’ I’d asked her to jump over the moon or something.
I never forgot it because it was such a horrible way she did it. It’s not a nice way to treat a child is it.
Q: So this business with the cups then, she wanted to get a different set of cups cause the ones that were in the school already were the ones that …
Miss R: She just wanted it for that one occasion you see. And I think the girls were right. Cause I didn’t actually think about it at the time till they all started saying about it. And it was wrong. Cause she’d only got to send over there. Mrs LePage[?] would have probably made the tea for her. (Q: Mrs Le Page was the cartaker?) Yes (Q: So she was sending for the cups to come …) So she wouldn’t have the cups from there, she wanted to come from this other girls, right down the road, had to go right into the town. (Q: What, for the girl to bring some from her house you mean). Yes, she had to go to her house and borrow these cups off her mother, bring them back to the school. Can you see any sense in it. I think it was awful really, looking back. When my mother first went to live in Mill Lane, Bridge Street, see in this yard it was at the back, there was Mrs Marshall from the, the shop in the High Street, there was Mrs Marshall had one of those houses so she had to come round this way. And there was Mrs Woodwards, and there was a Mrs Godfrey and there was on the end there. And mum said now and again one of the Miss Luards used to go round. Well coming from a town like Manchester and latterly Liverpool, Mum wasn’t used to those sort of, all the carries on you see. I said ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’. She said ‘The men were doffing their hats, the women were doing a curtsey, so I said ‘What did you do?’ She said ‘I just stood there’. She said ‘I couldn’t believe my eyes. She said ‘And every time they came round’, like Gertie Luard the younger one, the youngest, she used to collect something to do with, women weren’t covered in a health thing were they, just the men, and so they used to pay into this thing, nursing thing or something, and they used to pay every week, and when we lived in Cressing Road, she used to come to the door on a Monday morning. Mother always had the money ready on the window sill. So when Gertie knocked on the door, Mum said ‘I always had my foot in the door as well’. She said ‘She wasn’t just barging in as she thought she had a right to’. Cause this woman this side, she called at first, you see, she came down the road, and this one, was a bit the same as my mother, and she sat in, stood in her kitchen one day, getting her washing all done at the sink and that and there was the copper there, and she said she nearly jumped out of her skin. Gertie walked through the front door and through the hall and stood by her. She said ‘I wouldn’t to do that your house, Miss Luard, and you are not doing it to mine, will you please go’. So she didn’t call on either of them again. That was right wasn’t it?
Q: Was that your mother or neighbour that said that?
Miss R: Her neighbour that said that. Yes. Mum said ‘No, she never called at mine either, cause I used to put my foot in the door cause she used try and come in’. Well she didn’t think that was quite right. She said they’d come up in the old way, hadn’t they, they were still going the old way where you were all their employees more or less. And she said ‘You’ve never seen anything like it, the women did the bobs and the men … ‘ [laugh].
Q: Your mum didn’t suffer any for not doing it obviously?
Miss R: Cause I mean, you could imagine, if you’d never seen it before you’d wonder what they were doing, but it was just the country way and they were still in the country way. [laugh]
Q: Your mother obviously had a mind of her own, didn’t she. Did you ever see them at all. Do you remember yourself, were the Miss Luards still around when you were little?
Miss R: Yes. Gertie ran the Sunday school for the under sevens, and the other one, I forget what her name was, she was a tall thin lady, she used to ride a bike like that, she was very nice. But Gertie was the more scatty, she used to drive a little Austin Seven and go round like on two wheels. They were really, they were quite a nice family actually but it was Gertie that sort of, I suppose they thought they could … You could understand it, they were brought up like that, weren’t they. But, I don’t know, there was such. I don’t know, peculiar goings on. You don’t realise what probably it was like, specially in a small village.
Q: Before Crittall’s I suppose people depended on people like that a lot more didn’t they.
Miss R: Cause you see they worked, I don’t know what all the people did. Dad used to say they used to go fruit picking and all like that, and he said ‘Crumbs we used to have to walk about five miles before we got to the farm,. and then they had to tip the money up when they got home didn’t they. And as I say there wasn’t a lot. It was Crittall’s that made the place more, because people grumbled about Crittall’s and said ‘Oh they get their pound of flesh and all the rest of it’ but my mum used to stick up for them, she said they helped Witham a lot by giving them employment which was the main thing at that time, wasn’t it.
[chat about going home, last part not clear on copy of tape, mostly about Manchester]
11 December 1998
[General chat, not noted]
Miss R: It was all right at school but you felt as if like with history, you never got beyond, I don’t know whether it was lack of books or lack of their knowledge or what but you never seemed to get very far with. I’d think oh, blessed Stone Age and Iron Age and, you didn’t relate it to people that was the point. I was speaking to somebody on the phone at Sutton Coldfield, she was something to do with the Mickleburghs or Mecklenburghs as they were, and she was saying that, she said ‘When I was at school I wasn’t interested in history’ she said, ‘and since I’ve done this [family history] I’ve got interested because it relates to …
Q: I wasn’t interested in history either ….
Miss R: You see you just had to recite a few dates didn’t you, and, you all knew when William the Conqueror came here and that didn’t mean much to you did it.
Q: So what sort of happened in the lessons, did the teachers talk to you, did you have to do anything?
Miss R: Yes, that’s right. Well they used to have, blooming cold place, big fire with a big guard on it where the teacher sat, and we’re thinking we had the teacher’s seat, then they had the blackboard or something, you know, and I used live in dread she’d ask me to clean the blackboard because I couldn’t bear that feel of chalk, I hated that. You know you’d sit and hope she won’t notice you otherwise she might say ‘Come and clean the blackboard’ and I hated that chalky feel. And then I don’t know, they used to be, get a bit of arithmetic, arithmetic every day, you had hymns first of all, we all liked the hymns, we all liked that, cause you could sing the hymns and we liked that, and then it was always arithmetic after that. And then that varied, sometimes it was, English quite a lot, and you, one teacher she did used to pull you up a bit, even ordinary speaking, if somebody said ‘Can I do this?’, she’d say ‘Yes you can, but may you?’, which did sort of fix into people’s minds, they were quite good.
Q: So were they, presumably lots of people in Witham had a local accent.
Miss R: Yes.
Q: Did they mind about that at school?
Miss R: They didn’t take any notice of that, no. And I had sort of, and I sometimes, other kids said to me I was saying something wrong, cause I was still getting stuff from my mother that, who was brought up in Manchester you see [laugh]. And then hers wore off, she wasn’t really north, and I suppose I did get a lot of, but somebody said to me once, ‘Why do you say singing?’ [with the middle g pronounced], so I said ‘I didn’t know I did say singing’, but if you listen to north country people they don’t say singing just like that, they say singing don’t they. And I didn’t know I did until these children told me.
Q: So did you have to say anything in the class yourselves?
Miss R: Yes. You had to, we’d got a reading book, you had to take it in turn, ‘Now you, now you’ and, I thought that was good really if you think about it, because it did teach you to look at the book and read it.
Q: When it was history did you have to do anything, for instance?
Miss R: Yes. Far as I can remember, it was, you learned it and, we had geography of course, and this big old atlas shoved on the blackboard and I used to think weren’t we lucky to be English, I couldn’t believe me luck I’d been born English cause you were taught a lot of, we were patriotic you see and we were taught a lot about that. And when we had Empire day in May, May the 24th, we used to have a pageant in the morning, it used to be lovely that, it was really nice, with all the different nationalities you know, and then we had half a day, that was the best bit, cause we knew we’d got half a day off for Empire Day, and that faded away after a time. But I, we did learn geography, it was quite good really, and what the other countries made and did and didn’t do, but one thing stood out in my mind, I would think I was about nine, and this teacher was, she was, she’d got a bit of a short fuse, I suppose she was all right really, she was a bit plump, and she took the singing so we called her Tinny Davies, and she taught that as well, and she played the piano for the hymns, but we had to share the, we’d got this book of atlas things, you see, and I sat next to this girl, I don’t know who she was now, I was on the outer side of the thing, she was near the wall, and we shared the book. Well Tinny Davies apparently said ‘Turn to page so and so’. Well this girl was turning the page, and this girl at the back of me she always talked a lot, and she leaned forward and said [laugh] ‘There’s a better map on page eight’. So this girl said to me, I mean how they came to find, how she knew it was a better map if she hadn’t turned the right, I don’t know, but she was one of these you see. So this girl that was turning the page said ‘What did she say?’ I said ‘she said there’s a better map on page eight’. Well with that Tinny Davies stood beside me, she whipped me out of my seat and she said ‘What did you say?’. Well the shock was so great I honestly didn’t know what I’d said. I was so shocked, because one minute I was saying and … and she got redder and redder, she thought I was being awkward you see. She said ‘Well, what did you say?’. So I said ‘I don’t know’. I got a real good hit there, first time and last time I was ever hit at school, and, or anywhere else come to that matter, so I said ‘I don’t know’. She yanked me to the front, and I still didn’t know what I’d said, by this time I was a mass of nerves, so she just said ‘Go and sit down again’. So I sat down, and when all was quiet and Tinny’d got her back to us ‘What did I say?’ [whispering] She said ‘You said there was a better map on page eight’ [laugh]. I gave poor old Miriam a blinding look. I suppose I’d have been better if I’d have howled, I might have got a bit of sympathy, but I was too frightened to do anything. I was so confused.
Q: Did you tell your mother what had happened?
Miss R: No. You didn’t tell your mother, she’d have said ‘Oh well you should have behaved yourself, you should have shut up’. So I mean if you had all, you didn’t stop in individually I don’t think, but if you got home late and your mother said ‘Why are you late?’ and you said ‘Well we had to stop in’, she said ‘Oh’. But when you went to school the next day and she opened the door and you went through it, ‘And behave yourselves today’. They never took the teacher’s, you know they never were against the teacher.
Q: You know nowadays the parents go up to school once a term and talk about the kids at all, did your parents ever come into school?
Miss R: Oh no, they didn’t ever see the parents.
Q: They didn’t?
Miss R: No. I don’t think they were really interested. There was nothing …
Q: You mean the teachers weren’t or the parents?
Miss R: Oh your parents were interested but I mean they were, and the parents weren’t used to that, it had never been a thing so it never entered their heads that they would say anything to the teachers.
Q: So did this woman hit people very often …
Miss R: No, I think was just in a, I think she was a bit like that, and I think she was probably frightened of the head teacher, I don’t know, they lived next door to one another in the Avenue, there’s two bungalows as you get towards near the garage, and both have been altered a bit, and funny enough, my grandad was in the building of those because that’s what he was, he was a bricklayer come everything else and then he business with somebody else and they did those bungalows. And she always to go down to my grandad to get him, because he was a good worker. And get him to do any repairs she wanted. It didn’t do me any favours.
Q: Did she hit you round the head?
Miss R: I don’t know where she hit me really, it was sort of whatever happened, of course it didn’t do me any harm and it didn’t really hurt, it wasn’t that it was the fact that I wasn’t used to being hit for a start [laugh] And then to, as I say, the thing was we were really wrapped up in what we were doing, you see, if we hadn’t have been, had been playing about, but we weren’t, but we were really interested in this geography lesson, and how that girl ever knew, I don’t know.
Q: Did you have to write stuff out as well, like about geography or something like that?
Miss R: Yes, yes, yes. I remember we did a, had to do an essay once on old Witham, I’ll always remember that one because they told us in advance, which was very unusual, so I went home and me dad had an evening with me, telling me all about Witham and the High Street and that, then I went back and wrote the essay, and that got pinned up on the cupboard wall. There was not very many on there but they were pinned up and you had to have it written properly and when I looked one day, she never said anything, when I looked one day it was on there but she never said ‘Oh that’s good’ or anything like that [laugh]. I remember someone else had drawn a jar of marmalade and that was stuck on the door for years [laugh]. Yes.
Q: What would your parents do at home if you were naughty or …?
Miss R: I don’t know really, just got told off, or if it was out, me mum’d just say, never made a show in the, I mean shout at kids in the road they didn’t, like they do now. I mean me mum just used to say ‘Wait till I get you home’ [laugh]. So I used to behave them, and she used to forget it by the time she’d got home. And me dad always stuck up for me. Yes. We went round, we used to call round sometimes an old aunt of his, and, because mum was with this woman’s daughter in law, [???] next door. I remember sitting having our tea one night, mum said to me dad, I was there too, she said ‘Oh’, she said ‘she does show you up’, meaning me. So he said ‘Oh?’. So she said ‘Yes’ she said, ‘we went round aunt so and so’s today’, she said ‘and she asked her to have something and she says no thank you. She always says no thank you round there’, she said, and then this aunt says ‘Oh you are a funny little girl, don’t you ever eat anything’. So she said ‘I wish she wouldn’t show me up like that’. So me dad said, looked up from his tea, looked at me and said ‘Don’t blame you mate, I never fancied anything there either’. [laugh]. [???] said anything wrong, that was just because she was a bit old I think. And I don’t suppose I was hungry anyway. But the, you know, I suppose if there’s more than one of you, you get into more mischief, don’t you. But when it’s a one to one with your mother, I mean I think you’re better off with brothers and sisters, but my mother couldn’t have any more children, or wasn’t supposed to.
because, well, funny thing, I didn’t know, well she did say it, I think what it was it was the length of the body, she wasn’t any taller than me, but she’d got very long legs compared to the size of her back really, so she said, she had to … Couple of doors away, her daughter in law had another baby several years after she’d had one, and they told her that she’d got a short body too, so you wouldn’t know to look at it, it’s just that, can only be a few inches I suppose, and so she did have this other child but it had to be caesarian, that had to be born about, oh, several weeks too early, but I suppose that was why, so she didn’t have any more but, and at the time you’re OK cause you’re all right aren’t you, do better than, you know like, if there’s several in the family, specially in those days, they didn’t do very well, did they, well they didn’t have so much say, but …
Q: So how did you feel about being the only one? Did you think anything special about being the only one?
Miss R: No, you don’t think about it when you’re a kid do you, you go out and play with the other kids and that. But looking back on it I’d have been a lot better to have had brothers and sisters but, mum had a sister, but ..
Q: How do you think you might have been better?
Miss R: Well, being so father had died, I always felt that you didn’t go out as much as you would, you know, you’d think oh, and you had that sort of care, where you wouldn’t have done.
Q: So you mean you felt responsible for your mother.
Miss R: Yes, yes.
Q: Especially I suppose as she got older.
Miss R: Yes So that. It does make a difference. I think it’s better if there are a few. I know sometimes they don’t get on and they say this and that, but, let’s face it, blood’s thicker than water in the end isn’t it?
Q: I mean that was another hard thing with your father dying wasn’t it, that was another different thing you had to cope with, with your father dying when you were young.
Miss R: Yes. It was an unnecessary death too that made you feel that it needn’t have happened. He was just diagnosed wrongly and he should have gone to hospital and he didn’t go till too late and, all he had was a, they called it a peritonsular abscess, it must have been a burst abscess on the tonsils, and my uncle said his brother said ‘Oh’, he said ‘he always had, he was always having tonsilitis when he was a boy, he should have had them out. Well of course when you’re the oldest of a big family and. Cause the, in those days I think they took the tonsils out in the surgery didn’t they, I don’t know about Witham, but when it was, whether it was just before the First World War or just afterwards, my mother had a job in a doctor’s surgery, like answered the phone and did anything else and tidied up and that, and she said she hated Tuesdays because it was his tonsil day, and he just used to cut them out and sling them on the floor [laugh].
Q: Where was that then?
Miss R: That was in Liverpool. Yes, so she said ‘I hated Tuesdays coming round’. You can’t believe it can you.
Q: I remember you telling me something about, you mentioned the doctor but you didn’t talk much about him, do you remember much about the doctors and so on in Witham?
Miss R: Yes. That was. Didn’t go much. They had this big room. The surgery was exactly the same as it is now, and this big room, you sat in the waiting room which was only like this shape, went like that, and they dispensed the medicines that side, so if you had to have some medicines you came out, and waited for the medicine and then, there was Dr Ted, there was Dr Little after a while, and Dr Benjamin, he was a good doctor.
There was, Dr Little was lovely with children. And that, I don’t know who the other one was. And they were in this big room. So if somebody had to have a medical examination, then they took them to another room. But other than that you could see in there in the thing and that was a glass top, that wasn’t open, but it was, there were glass panes you see, and that sort of let the sound in more, and you know people never talk much do they in a place like that, and they were all whispering [whispering] [???] somebody else, and you’d sit there, and then you’d hear, and of course the dispensary thing was part of that big room you see, and that hatchway was open so all the sound came out, and you’d hear one of them say ‘And what about your bowels?’ [laugh] And everybody in the surgery used to know. It was rather funny, so you’d go in and you’d have a look round and you’d see somebody talking to the one doctor there and another one here and there’d be Dr Ted holding out his watch to me. [laugh].
Q: No wonder you couldn’t hear it.
Miss R: Yes, it was most odd really.
Q: That went on like that. This business of all being in the one room, that went on till you were grown up did it?
Miss R: When I was seventeen I had a abscess just on my face there and when it got so like this and I couldn’t open my mouth, my mum finally persuaded me to go to the doctor so I went, and it was Dr Ted, cause you weren’t, and they opened the door and said ‘Next please’ so you went in, and there was no receptionist, and he said ‘Ah, that’s lovely’, called over Dr Benjamin, he said ‘Come and look at this beauty’. And he got his thumbs out to press it and he said ‘Ah ha ha ha, look at that, she’s frightened’, well I mean you would be, two thumbs coming, and he said ‘Would you like me to cut it’ and they say he was, liked doing anything like that. ‘Would you like me to cut it?’ And I’m looking right at him and I thought ‘Well I don’t fancy that a bit’, especially on your face there, and I just happened to look up and Dr Benjamin was just behind him at his shoulder, and he just went -, so I said ‘No I wouldn’t’. So he said ‘Oh go home’ he said ‘and put a good old fashioned bread poultice on it with some Epsom salts in it, that’ll do it. And it did, it just came down. He said ‘I’d better put you on the club’. So he gave me a note, and I didn’t bother to, well I had the next day off because the next day was a Wednesday and we had half day Wednesday so I went back on the Thursday, I really had half a day off. It was the only certified sickness I ever had.
Q: So that’s what he meant when he said put you on the club, you took a note?
Miss R: It’s so you’ve got the thing to show to work, and then you got, I suppose you, I didn’t get any, I don’t suppose I gave the certificate in, I think you gave the certificate to the National Health or whatever it was called then, and you got sick [???]
Q: So they were still all in the one room then obviously then if he called one over. So I just wondered how long that went on. I remember you telling me quite recently about you going to the doctor and them not having you on the books, you not being registered there or something.
Miss R: Oh yes, that was only last year.
Q: What was that again?
Miss R: Well I sat on my finger.
[chat about arranging to visit friend, and falling at home day before, and hurting back, and another day sitting in front of fire to warm back and sitting on finger and going to the doctor, and having fuss about not being registered at the doctor even though she’d lived at same address since 1950. Last went to surgery in 1953 or 1954, and before that in 1938. So papers had gone to Clacton because they must have thought she’d moved and not told anybody because she’d never been to surgery in that time.]
Miss R: I had chicken pox which I picked up when she went to see her sister in Wallasey, and she found out the boy had got chicken pox she brought me home, because you see, they didn’t go every year because they had to save up for it, and dad used to go as well, and he’d come back cause he’d had his week’s holiday and leave mum there for another week, and course I had to come back, and I came out in spots, and don’t know which doctor it was said ‘Oh it’s chicken pox’ she said ‘Yes, I thought it was’. So when he’d gone she said, that was the only case in Witham, they hadn’t had any other reports, so he said, so when he’d gone she said to me ‘And that’s going to be the only case cause you’re not going anywhere with that’. Cause I felt all right. So nobody else did get it because I wasn’t allowed beyond the back gate.
Q: How did you travel, you went on the train did you, up there, so you, I wonder if anybody else caught it on the train. Oh well, you were a very healthy family really then. Did your dad, he went to hospital in the end did he? [in 1934]
Miss R: Yes, he was ill for the week, and they couldn’t take him on the Thursday when he should have gone because he had this dreadful haemorrhage, from his head or throat or somewhere, and so she sent for the doctor, mum sent for the doctor, and when he came, this was tea time, and she’d already called out to me to get the tea ready because we had my two cousins come there for their meals because my dad’s brother got the sack from Crittall’s for swearing at the foreman, because he didn’t think, the foreman was telling him the wrong information and he lost his temper, unfortunately the manager stood behind him so he had to give him the sack, he said he was very sorry, and the only job he could find was up in Glasgow, cause this was in the early thirties and there was no work, that meant that he couldn’t afford to fully keep his wife because he’d got his digs to pay in Glasgow, so she had to go to work at Chelmsford, and she didn’t get back till about seven, and mum and dad said ‘Well if the boys come to ours for their meals, then you’ll be all right’, so that’s what they did, so I had to get them, then I had to go over the road and get mum’s friend and I had to stay with her little boy, and it was all coming and going, and mum said that afterwards that when the doctor arrived, he hadn’t been there about five minutes and Doctor Benjamin came, and he had a look, he said ‘Oh I was passing, I was somewhere else’, but mum said he wasn’t that was, Ted had talked it over with him, cause Ted was a nice old boy, but I suppose they weren’t up to everything in those days were they, and so Doctor Benjamin had a look at him and then he called mum onto the landing and said how many times has he been here today, so mum said ‘This is the second time and I’ve sent for him both times’. He said ‘Well he should have been in hospital at the beginning of the week.
So he said I’m very sorry we can’t take him now it’d be too risky that’ll send another haemorrhage so he said, seeing what he’s like in the morning and we’ll take him to hospital, which they did, and they operated and apparently he had another haemorrhage in the night, the operation was a success, but he had another haemorrhage in the night, well it wasn’t it was six o’clock, so the police came round about, soon after six (Q: In the morning?) He was in Colchester because that was, Witham came under Colchester. Yes that, if they’d have sent him at the beginning of the week.
Q: The doctor had been at the beginning of the week?
Miss R: Oh yes, yes, cause you see he wasn’t well all the week before. He’d got like a cold, not like a head cold, he wasn’t well and he’d got this dreadful head, and he’d already arranged that he would go to Feering British Legion to entertain the children for their after Christmas party like. Well the other man he should have been going with dropped out, I suppose he was ill, and he came in and must have said ‘How are you’ or something or about going ‘Oh, I’ve got to go’ he said, he took me with him. And he was full of beans there.
Q: What did he used to do for the entertaining?
Miss R: Oh just act the fool [laugh] But he loved children you see, and so anyway, the woman who was playing the piano, he said to her, she said, ‘Go on Wal, you’re doing fine’. He said ‘I can hear every note of that piano twice’, she said ‘Never mind about that you’re all right’. Then the next day he just stopped in bed and he did get up about tea time and he went back to bed and he didn’t get up any more and on the Sunday morning Mum woke me up and she said ‘Go along to ‘, there was a W W Burrows lived down the Valley, the coalman, and A N[?] Burrows his brother lived up where that nursing home is now in Rickstones, Cross Roads, and he lived there, and she said ‘Go and ask Mr Burrows’, cause he was a friend of me dad’s, ‘if he’ll phone up for the doctor’. No other phones about, nobody’d got a phone and there were no phone boxes. So I went up there it was dreadfully windy it was in January it was dreadfully windy and I pushed me way up there and I couldn’t make anybody here so I came back and I said ‘I can’t make anybody hear’ so mum said ‘Well I’m sorry dear, you’ll have to make them hear’. So back I went again (Q: You went to the one in Cross Road you mean?) Yes, I went there and he said, anyway the son got up in the end and he’d got his dressing gown on and I just said to him ‘Will you send for the doctor for me dad’ so he said ‘Yes’. Well the doctor came mid morning and he said, he looked at him, he said ‘Yes well you’ve got good old-fashioned flu mate’, so he said to me, come down to the surgery and I’ll give you some medicine. So then I had to go right down to the surgery, and mum said ‘Go and tell your aunty Nelly’, that’s me dad’s sister, she was only in Mill Lane, ‘about your dad’, and she bunged some more cotton wool in my ear because I’d an abscess in my ear, and she had to put a big piece in and couldn’t put it in too far because once one had stuck and I got frightened, so she bunged that in my ear and I put my hat on, you know your school beret thing, and when I got to my aunty Nelly, she was a right fuss pot she was, she was dreadful, so she said ‘Where’s the cotton wool gone out of your ear’ so I said ‘Well I think it blew out’ [laugh] She bunged another big bit in and she got my beret and she pulled it on my head and when I got up the road I [???] it up again.
Q: Was that the one that married Mr Keeble?
Miss R: Yes. So she said. So they thought that my mum shouldn’t have let him go out to that entertainment do, and my uncle said to me many years afterwards, he said ‘Course, if it had been me I’d have locked the door and threw away the key rather than let him go out’. I said ’I knew he was ill, I was working with him all day’. I said ‘Precisely, when somebody comes home from work, there was three kids there, there was my two cousins a bit younger than me’, and I said ‘she’d got their tea to get ready, dad comes in, she’d say ‘well how are you’, he’d put his bright smile and and said ‘Oh I’m all right’’. I mean you can’t dictate to anybody can you.
Q: Obviously nobody knew it was serious then, did they. It’s easy to say afterwards, isn’t it.
Miss R: But I don’t think that would have made any difference because that was just building up. It was something that should have been done when he was a child but then again things were different. So, he really, well, the best of it was, although what Ted said was flu, when I went down to get some more tablets on the Monday they were morphia tablets, they must have been morphia cause I’d never heard the word in my life before. I suppose he was doing it for his … oh he came on the Tuesday and I opened the door to him and he said ‘How’s the patient’, so mum said ‘Going mad with his throat’, he said, ‘Just what I thought it’d be, he’s got Quinsey’. But he never looked in his throat. Mum said not once did he look at his throat. So when May West came down, his cousin, she was VAD, so she comes down and she said ‘Well the treatment for Quinseys is linseed poultice’. So on the Wednesday he had this linseed poultice, when I reckon that’s what caused the thing to, caused the haemorrhage probably but she wasn’t to know was she. She did what the doctor had said, he said what it was. The whole thing was a mistake from time…
Q: It must have been an awful shock when the police came round. Were you here when the police came round?
Miss R: No I was in bed asleep, they were all in bed, cause that’s how they used to let you know, you know, by the policeman.
Q: Oh dear, poor things, how awful.
Miss R: It’s so unnecessary, but then a lot of deaths are aren’t they. It’s sort of being wise after the event, isn’t it.
Q: It was such a big blow to your mum and you and a change in your lives and everything.
Miss R: Yes. Yes. Yes it does. Cause you see like my dad was very much a family man. Weekends he’d get up first. I don’t know who was up first all the week cause they both got up very early always. But Saturdays and Sundays he’d be up about seven, and he’d always take my mum her breakfast up Saturday and Sunday, but she never, never in all my life did I know her have a cooked breakfast. She always had a couple of Shredded Wheats, well he used to do those and some milk and take them up, and for us two like Saturdays he might fry something, do an omelette or something. Sundays he always used to get the joint, cut the slices off and fry them up for us, they used to be lovely. My mum used to come down and say ‘That’s all right, you’re eating my joint, and Mrs is fobbed off with a couple of Shredded Wheats’. But he was good like that, he always took me out wherever he went, he had a little saddle on his bike, and I always, when I was little went on that. And I mean all the other kids, if some came in to mine, they’d say ‘Haven’t you got a lovely dad’. I used to, I mean I didn’t know dads could be any different so I didn’t know, but when we went to Wallasey and then came back, well sometimes it was Liverpool to her half sister’s, and he used to meet us at Euston, trains were a lot longer then, they could take up to about six hours from Liverpool to Euston, and he used to be there, so he had most of the day in London, but he always had a child with him, somebody else’s child, so that he’d take them round London, he loved that.
Q: When you say he was fooling about for the entertainment, what did he used to do then?
Miss R: I don’t know what he did, he was, he’d sing them a song, I’ve got a thing here I’ll show you.
Continued on tape 182