Miss Elfreda Griggs was born c 1909. She was interviewed on 9 March 1999, when she lived at Beverley, Chalks Road, Witham.
For more information about her, see Griggs, Elfreda, in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
[Before start, discussing the photo of her on the wall in her Diploma gown. It was just after her younger brother had been killed by the bomb at Marconi’s in the Second World War, and Mr Butcher the photographer sent for her to take it again because she looked so bad.]
[chat about dog, shopping etc, not noted]
Miss G: I’ve been teaching a long time.
Q: That’s the other thing I was going to ask you. Can you remind me when you started?
Miss G: Well I started dear, before I knew what I was doing. Eight years old. (Q: Really?) I taught the baker. And all the grown-ups about[?], they got to know. Cause I was playing when I was very young. And they said ‘Oh I wish you’d show me!’. I said ‘Right, here goes’. And I was eight. Been teaching ever since. (Q: I didn’t know it was that long ago.) I didn’t do it professionally, not until [???] exams[?]. I didn’t do it. I wanted to be a teacher. [???] Only did it just for fun.
My mother was a singer and my father was a violinist. And I remember, when I first, I learnt at, a teacher used to come from that[?] school, teach myself and my brothers. And [???]. (Q: Your brother?) He was good at art. He didn’t want to do it, he got our front room, we were at the shop then, you see, and we used to, my mum and dad used to play the piano, and the door for the bedroom was in the lounge. And [???] there were three of us in three years and a half, and my mother wasn’t well, never was any good. And my dad died the next year, with pneumonia [???]. And so when he died, I sort of took over, I was nine. Both my brothers were younger. And everybody that came in, we had the shop, you see, and everybody that came in the shop used to ‘Can you give me a lesson?’. Everybody that came in. ‘I’d like a piano lesson, would you …’ And no end. This baker, I’ve had his grand-daughter.
Q: What was his name?
Miss G: Brand. Dulcie Brand’s father, I think. He used to come in with a big basket with the bread.
Q: Who taught you? (Miss G: Who taught me?). Who was your teacher?
Miss G: I was at that little school for a while. I don’t think I went to school till I was about seven. My mother used to teach us [???] and won a scholarship in English, Grosvenor House School [probably her brother]. That’s a long time ago.
Q: So you’ve been teaching for 82 years.
Miss G: 82 years. I think they used to give me a bob. A lot of people in Witham know me. I had a picture in the Queen’s dolls’ house. And, when the Queen, [???] the villages, the size of a postage stamp. And a gentleman in Derbyshire read it in the Sketch I think it was, and he wrote to me and said if I’d do him [???] he’d send me the Lord’s prayer done on a threepenny piece. [???] Then they made a lot of it in the papers. And that’s really how I started.
[chat about dog, not noted]
Q: You did go to college as well?
Miss G: The Guildhall School of Music. Eight years. (Q; Really?) I used to accompany all the singers up there. A lot of people sang, cause it’s the Guildhall. It was noted. The Barbican now. The Strand it used to be.
Q: Did you live in London, then?
Miss G: No, travelled by train (Q: Did you really?) Two or three days a week. [???] Cause I’d got to do a tremendous lot of practice. Hours of practice. Mrs [???] used to say ‘Are you practising tonight’, she said. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘I’m always practising’. She said ‘Because my husband says if you’re going to practise tonight, he’s going to bed and open the windows, he loves classical music’. They were Scottish. (Q: That’s nice.) [???] You could hear the piano dear, from the bottom[?] of the road. (Q: Really?) [???] And you could hear. I had a new piano when I was, just before my dad died, my mother said ‘You’ll have to get her something’, cause they bought one early, and she could sing, and her brother used to sing in the choirs of five thousand voices. [???] complications. And my mother had it and I had it, that’s half my trouble. I went to the Guildhall on the Strand, that’s where it was. I got that picture on the wall when I was 23, when I got my diploma. I’d done all my exams. I didn’t start any exams till I took Grade five. The first one was I took was five, teacher in Chelmsford. [???] They’re only school pupils. And once the teacher was trying to knock out a hymn, ‘New every morning’, and the girl next to me, she said [???], and I told this girl She said ‘Who spoke?’ [???] She said ‘All right’, she said, ‘I will know’. She said ‘You can all stop in at twelve[?]. And the girl said to me, she said ‘My mother’ll kill me’, so she said ‘I shall tell.’ And she did. The teacher said ‘Come out here’ she said, ‘if you can do it better than I can, you’re welcome’. She was only picking around. So I was there. No problem, you see. People used to have the concerts, when the Church, and Canon Galpin, and [???]. I went to the Church School for a little while and they used to say ‘Now we’ve got Elfreda who can play, we’ll try a concert.
I didn’t want to play, I wanted to be in the concert. Now she said, you’d better do the playing, cause we’ve got nobody else who’ll do it. So we used to have all sorts of things. And then at Christmas time, oh yes, the Operatic [???] they said ‘Can you play that music?’ And I said ‘Yes’. [???] I couldn’t really. Although I [???] I mean it was just natural. Cinderella I think was the first one. [???] And Mrs Mone[?] lived down next to the school, well she’d got a son. She was really ‘A la’. [???] And he used to bring magazines from London, music magazines, and they’d always got a solo in them. He used to bring them for me to play. Well was called ‘The Storm’, a long piece, thunder and lightning, and [???] Everything was portrayed in it. ‘I’ll play that when the people are coming in’. I got the ideas then. I suppose I’d be about ten then. I was down at the Church School for a couple of years. And all the time I was there I was playing for the Infants, the Boys School next door. They all used to say ‘Can Freda Griggs come in and play’, cause we’re going to sing. I never learned anything at school, I was for ever doing it. I left then, so they didn’t have to. I said to my mother ‘I’m not going [???] there, cause I don’t want to keep on just playing the piano’. So after we’d done this concert, cause all the Vaux’s, all the lords and ladies of Witham used to come to the Church School, Miss Vaux, and we used to make programmes. [???] People could come and they could charge up. I think the top price was half a crown. And if they hadn’t got any money they could sit on the floor but they could come in. That’s the sort of thing. I had a very happy childhood. Very happy. Although we had no money, when you’ve got no money you know what you do, don’t you. Rig up a stage. Used to get a rope from one wall to the other, and army blankets, cause it was the War then [First]. [???] through the holes in the blanket. We were always doing that sort of thing. As I say it was real fun. Even though my mother had breast off one year, Dad died the next, she was 36 and he was 37. So there wasn’t anything to be pleased about. But my mother was very ambitious, and if she thought we could do it, she encouraged us. Well some parents would say, ‘Oh shut up I don’t want to listen’. She was not that type. She thought we could do it, and we all thought we could do it. [???] No tantrums, don’t want to do it, none of that. You see that’s what the difference is. You can get a child who’s very clever, and they don’t want to do it. [???] Can’t help it can you.
Q: I’ll have to come and talk to you again one day, it’s so interesting.
Miss G: Oh yes. I remember everything from the time I was looking at the sky, I was about three, we had a pump outside the door, when we lived at Hatfield Peverel. And I asked my mother what was up there. I can remember I was standing there like that, and asking her. [???] Both my brothers were good at art. The one that was killed was a draughtsman, and of course he was killed because he was doing night work [???] Marconi’s, and the Jerries came over [???] and caught Marconi’s [???] fire watching[?], left it, came back again, course it was all ablaze. [???] That was it. Rex, my other brother, he had to go and identify him, see if he could, wasn’t anything there. All he saw was a burnt wallet. I mean that’s enough to [???] you, with dad gone, mother ill, and my brother [???] the younger one, he had scarlet fever after my dad died, and I used to have to take him out in a pram, cause he was so [???] So up and down. We went up and down. Good and bad and bad and good. Like everybody does. There weren’t many people in Witham then. I mean there was no road up there, there was this, about as far as Dolly Goss’s [12 Chalks Road]. She used to be a servant[?] at Mrs Grape’s. [Chalks Road] I think she’d been left an orphan or something like that. And she lived to be 100. [???] I’ve had a bet with my brother, no not my brother, my niece, that I won’t make ninety. I don’t think I shall. Falling over, everything, it’s not pleasant. [???] You’re better off if you die young really. Old age is no [???]
Q: I think there are plenty of people still like your company. So it’s nice for us that you’re here.
Miss G: That’s what they say. [???] [???] I’m all right, I mean I’ve got nothing really wrong, only tiredness and general debility I suppose you’d call it.
[chat about dizziness, e.g., often had it when younger, e.g. at younger brother’s wedding, not noted]