Miss Margaret Mens was born in 1913. She was interviewed on 27 March 1999, when she lived at ‘Cavaliers’, The Street, Bradwell juxta Coggeshall.
For more information about her, see Mens, Margaret, 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.]
Miss M: So then it was taken over by the Council and that monstrosity put on the site [i.e. the Health Authority Building in Collingwood Road on the site of her family home, number 10, Langleys]
Q: So your father was the, your father was the bank, your grandfather was the bank manager?
Miss M: Bank manager.
Q: Yes, and he was Alfred?
Miss M: Alfred, that’s right.
Q: I remember reading about him, yes. So it was him that had all these children?
Miss M: They had the eight. Apparently he was a lot older than grandma. She was very young and very pretty and very extravagant, so I’m told, when they married, course I don’t know. And my mother said that, you know, he had to put the brakes on quite a lot. [laugh]. She was a very very determined old lady. Actually she was a horror when she got old. But, you know. I can remember lectures at home, ‘You must have your mother for Christmas day, she’s your mother, you’ve got to invite her for Christmas day’. She would come, and tell us that she’d starved herself the day before and eat everything that was put in front of her with about three helpings. And then complain about my mother ‘Such extravagance, never seen anything like it’. In the end they put, I didn’t know anything about it [???] to a hotel for Christmas. And I was horrified you see. But I was about sixteen, seventeen then, and we never stayed at home for Christmas again. No. I think my father thought we’d had enough. [laugh]. Because the language[?] was never her home. Now somebody wrote an article in some book on Witham isn’t it, with a picture of her in a porch, well that is not the porch of Langleys, and I don’t know which porch it was, but I know it’s not Langleys, and she never lived there. It was my father’s house, he bought it in 1917. Now I had an argument with what’s her name, Miss Woollings, she wrote an article about it and said it was it was built in 1917, and I rang her up and said it wasn’t.
Q: No, I see, it was there before.
Miss M: It was built in 1900 for the solicitor Mr Blood and his two sisters, and my father bought it in 1917, and I’ve got a picture of that when it was very wide and open, I was about three. And then, he had half, the solicitor had half for his offices, and he and his sisters lived in the part that we always lived in. And I always remember it because they said ‘We’ve got a pets’ graveyard, would you please not disturb it’. And I can remember being told at three or four ‘Well now it’s a job you can do, you can weed that. And we always left it and the little, they’d got a ‘Chum’ had got a carved stone, he must have been special. The others had slates with the name painted on. And I used to go down there and weed this little bit of garden, and we never disturbed it. Of course it’s all under asphalt now, the car park.
Q: So were you born there then?
Miss M: Well actually my parents lived, for the first few years lived in Avenue Road, which one was it called, is it called the Hawthorns. Let me see, there’s the, you know where Beechknowe is, where Mr Hedley used to live, he doesn’t now he’s gone to Colchester. Well next door to that was, there was a pair and we lived in one of those.
Q: On the right hand side?
Miss M: Yes.
Q: I know someone that lives next to …
Miss M: Well one was Dr Foster’s for a long time, then he moved off. But I don’t, other than that I’ve no recollection really. That’s where they lived, and then we moved to Collingwood Road in 1917. That’s when he bought it and these two, the old people and Mr Blood apparently, was the solicitor, he was always in a wheel chair. That’s why we had such an extraordinary staircase, it was because he had to be got up in, attendance, and it was all turns, squares, not a curve or anything, you went up [???] and then there was a landing and then you went up six and there was another landing, and my mother told me that he used to be taken through into the office part through a swing door, half way up the stairs, and he always slept over the strongroom, she said, which was very important. I don’t know what good a man in a wheel chair would have been [laugh].
But of course when we went the swing door was nailed down and never opened again. So I don’t know what happened after, eventually it became, oh, various offices, and then the Food Office and then the Council.
Q: You told me on the phone I think about having soldiers staying. Was that at Avenue Road or at … [Second World War]
Miss M: No. Yes. First of all, we’d got three stories you see, and there were two big bedrooms up at the top, which we used, and they came round and said first of all we had to have evacuees. And they only stayed ten weeks fortunately, we got rid of them. And then they said, after Dunkirk, we had two soldiers, and eventually they moved on. And my mother said, ‘Now look, we’ve had enough, we’re not going to have this plonked on us like this, I’m going to sell that furniture. If the rooms are empty they can’t say you’ve take anybody in.’ Cause the billeting officer used to come round, if you’d got empty rooms, you’d got to fill them up. So then we got some friends, course I mean even the war, things happened, somebody we knew who lived in Ireland and then Torquay, they got bombed out, so we turned it into a flat for them and after that it always remained a little flat up there.
Q: So the soldiers, were they, were they waiting to go somewhere?
Miss M: They came back from Dunkirk and I don’t know what, they were something to do with the Ordnance, because you don’t, now what was his name, you didn’t say Sergeant Major, he was a, commander, he had some queer name anyway, and their officers or billets or whatever they were supposed to be was up Hatfield Road, I think somewhere where that garage is. But they used to go out every day. But of course both of them that had been through Dunkirk, and the older man was shot to pieces, his nerve had gone, he used to get us out of bed every time the siren went and roar us downstairs into the cellar and sit there, and, oh, he couldn’t help it, but I used to say, for God’s sake I’ll die in my bed, I want to sleep. But he, they eventually moved on and as I say, then we thought, mother said ‘We’ve had enough of this, we’ll do something different’. For one thing, you know, it’s very awkward, they would come in at tea time, we’d be having cups of tea. ‘Well what have you got to do, will you have a cup of tea?’. Well we only had two ounces of tea a week each, and I can remember my mother saying, ‘Look, if you’re going to keep coming in to tea, I’m very sorry but you’ll have to pinch some tea from your canteen’.
Q: Did they not bring their own?
Miss M: Oh no, they were supposed to be, didn’t bring their own food.
Q: Or did they bring their own ration …
Miss M: I don’t think so. I always remember the Christmas, I shall never forget that, I don’t know which Christmas it was now, but they were in the house, and then somebody gave my father a huge turkey, I don’t know whether that was, probably Mr Cullen from Cressing Temple, and so of course then my mother started . Well now, we’d got two friends who were evacuated from Clacton, their son was home on leave so they came, then my mother said ‘Well is there anybody at your Ordnance affair who can’t go home for Christmas?’ ‘Oh yes there was Ian’. Well they hated Ian. Ian must have been a Scottish aristocrat’s son, he’d been to Eton. They hated him. He’d got the most the perfect manners, my dear, very very handsome, charming boy, of course we all thought he was the cat’s whiskers, you see, and they couldn’t bear him, and anyway Ian came. Then mother then rang up somebody up, I don’t know where there were some more soldiers billeted. And in the end we ended up with ten to Christmas dinner. And we had all this Christmas dinner and gave them everything we could, mind you we had lots of veg from the garden, and I can remember my father saying, ‘Now then, all the silver and glass is to go to Margaret in the pantry, and all the dirty plates to come out to the scullery to me. So he made them clear the table, but of course these fellows faded off, and I’ll always remember it because after it all was over and we sat back with our feet up, this wretched fellow, who’d been in the regular army you see, he thought because he was regular army he was the cat’s whiskers.
And he said ‘Well of course, you know, I ought to have arrested young Dudley’, that was our friend’s son. ‘Because’ he said, ‘under Queen’s regulations, you can’t, a serving soldier can’t appear in mufti’. Well of course my mother nearly hit the roof. She said ‘Look here, that boy was in a bank, he flung up his job to join up, he’s just a gunner in the, ‘ I don’t know what, it was artillery of some sort’, she said ‘he’s given up his job to go and serve his country, and you come here and talk like that’, you know, she really gave it to him, and after that we didn’t hear quite so much about what we ought to do. But he eventually moved on.
Q: So, the one who talked like that wasn’t Ian, it was, that was the one that staying with you?
Miss M: No, Ian was charming, you know perfect manners, always pulling your chair out, ‘Can I help you do this Mrs Mens’ and so on and so on. And they didn’t know, they thought it was the thing to sit back and be waited on. And then we had a lot of soldiers in the Public Hall. That was full. And they were a band of the Essex Territorials from Buckhurst Hill or Epping, but they were nearly all W C French employees or had been, from that area. And of course the Con Club, my father was something to do with, not the Conservative, it should be the Constitutional Club, but of course it’s got called the Con Club ever since, hasn’t it. But he said, the officers were made honorary members immediately, and he said, you know, anything we can do for the men, cause there was all these fellows next door you see. [Con Club nearly next door to Mens’ home at Langleys]. And I can never forget, the officer said, ‘Oh, they’d like a bath’. ‘Oh yes’, said my father ‘send them round, send them round’. So he said ‘Well how many can you take?’. ‘Oh ten’ said father. So Saturday afternoon, he stoked up the Ideal boiler, sat by the kitchen, and my cousin was home on leave, [???] invalid, he was hopping about with his foot in plaster, and I know they came out, because they kept saying to my cousin’s husband, ‘Go and fill up the coke thing’, you see. He burned all the enamel off the chimney of the Ideal boiler, you know that thing that goes up. It was nearly red hot you see. I always remember Maurice coming out hopping on one foot, saying ‘I think he thinks he’s driving one of his steam engines’. [laugh]. Anyway, we had ten, they all had baths, well then horror, mother went upstairs to look at the bath, and of course these fellows hadn’t had a bath for lord knows when, and the rim, I mean there were about ten rims all up the, you never saw anything like it. So of course father went round and said ‘You’ll have to send somebody round to clean the bath’, which did, and that was all right, we got over that episode [laugh]. Oh, it was very funny the things that happened.
Q: So did the evacuees, didn’t stay long then?
Miss M: No. My mother was on the welcoming Committee, she was on every blooming committee in Witham, that’s why I keep off committees now, she went down, they had to receive, they knew when the buses were supposed to be expected from London, and they went down to the, is it the Bramston School, it was wasn’t it, and there was a girl there who looked clean, with three little children, a baby eighteen, no, twins three and a half and a baby of eighteen months. And nobody wanted them because she didn’t want to be split up. And in the end, mother thought, ‘Well she looks clean’, which was something, because, you know, we didn’t know what we were going to get. So she said, ‘Look if you can manage in one large bedroom, I’ll take you’. So she arrived home and we, the baby slept in a drawer I remember the first night, course then we had the siren, and I said to the girl, look I will carry the baby if you’ll take the twins downstairs, so we all trooped downstairs and sat in the sitting room and had cups of tea and the all clear went. And mother said ‘Don’t discuss this, if you don’t say anything about it, the children will forget, and we don’t want them to be frightened’. About three days later the little girl said ‘When will the hooter go in the night again and we can all have cups of tea?’. So that was the good of that. Oh we had them, they stayed ten weeks, but she bathed the children and they behaved properly. But the baby used to wet the bed, cause we’d had to borrow, you know, a drop side cot from somebody. The baby used to wet the bed every night, and my father who was very correct about these things, walked up Collingwood Road one morning to see a baby’s blanket flick, blowing out of the front bedroom window.
So he came in and said ‘Look, we don’t that sort of thing, there’s a linen line down the garden’. However she wouldn’t go down the garden, that was too far, so the next day it was hanging out of the side window. Anyway, I don’t know what happened after that, but the room, the mattress was ruined, mother had to go and say to I don’t know it was that lent us this thing, quietly ‘I’m sorry you can’t possibly have it back it’ll have to be burnt’. And we had to have the room redecorated. She didn’t clean the baby’s bed at all. But the children were washed and bathed and fairly clean. And of course they arrived in bathing suits, my dear, with no clothes at all. The day War broke out was very hot, and I think they thought they were going to have a ride in a bus, and [???] [???] suddenly said, ‘Oh look, you’d better get on, you’re going to the country’, and so they arrived, and so mother, my mother was very resourceful, rushed up to Wickham Bishops where they had a rummage sale, and kitted these kids out, cause Wickham Bishops was sort of all the people who were wealthy were evacuated to a safer area, we were considered a bit near the coast, weren’t we. Oh it was very funny. Can’t stop laughing about it now.
Q: So you just had the children or the mother?
Miss M: Oh both. Oh the father used to come every weekend. I mean daddy used to come at weekends. My parents lived like, it was always ‘Come on in’, you know it didn’t matter any time do what you like, you had to pull the things in a bit in a War time, you can’t go on like that. We learnt, or they learnt I suppose, to be not quite so …
Q: What did your father do?
Miss M: He started off, all the boys were all put into the bank, different banks, and he was in various banks at Chelmsford and Southend, anyway he decided that wasn’t for him, he couldn’t make enough money at banking, so he started off in partnership with my mother’s brother, they had a farm down at Ulting, and then they started the Witham Cartage and Coal Company. And from that … Funny, I was reading, I turned out an old magazine, somebody had written an article about them, and it said that at one time he owned twenty cart horses, and I forget how many lorries. And he used to have the stables, which were behind the George, now didn’t Mrs Carr have an antiques shop there at one time?
Q: I don’t remember that but could well have been.
Miss M: But I can remember, and then he also had some stables down Maldon Road, where Mr Revett had his second hand furniture shop, cause I know I went to Mr Revett to buy something one day, and he said ‘You know, the hay racks are still on the wall up, which was where the horses used to have their hay’. But I don’t, I can remember, you know, Sunday afternoons as a little girl, ‘Would you like to come and see the horses, and we’d walk down to Maldon Road and I used to think it was terrific, these great things standing there in their stalls.
Q: That’s not very far down Maldon Road is it, just near the top, yes.
Miss M: I used to like that. And the ones at the, behind the George of course, they were there, and then my Shetland pony was there, he had a blue spot.
Q: That was nice, so you rode quite a bit did you?
Miss M: Not a lot, cause I fell off. I didn’t like it after that. He was, anything he didn’t like he went up, whereas most horses would bolt, but Peter didn’t, and my mother was, I don’t know, she turned nervous, and we, going up the Rivenhall Road one day we met a bus, well of course Peter didn’t like that so he walked through the hedge, which left Peter one side of the hedge and [???] and cart the other. I don’t know who extricated us, somebody did. And after that I began to say ‘I don’t want to go out in it’. So my father said ‘I’ll show you what to do, you get in, I’ll take you out’. So we drove all the way down to Ulting in this lovely little trap we had, little tub thing, and he kept flicking the whip in the trees as we went by, ‘There you are it’s perfectly all right, perfectly all right’. Of course Peter knew damned well who was driving, he wasn’t going to misbehave. So I was a bit reassured. But he flew up in the air, somebody stopped to ask the way when I was being, riding, out with somebody of course, to look after me, and they cracked the whip when they drove of, course Peter went straight up in the air, I fell off backwards, Peter careered down into Witham and was collected by somebody and brought back, and there was this great … [laugh]. So that put me off rather which was a pity.
Q: Did you have brothers and sisters?
Miss M: No. I was a spoilt only child. We had rabbits, or I did, rabbits, pigeons, a canary in a cage that I didn’t like, never liked birds in cages since, erm, cats that were always having kittens, but we always seemed to find homes for them, we never, there was never any bother about that, erm, and a puppy. And then I had a lamb. Somebody brought me a pet lamb, erm, that does tell you how long ago it was, my parents were very musical and I was taken to Colchester to hear Dame Clara Butt sing, and I can remember this, she was an enormous woman, you know she was colossal, did you ever see a picture, she was about six foot three I should think, huge, and of course she’d got this, I mean she’s slated now by all the singers because she sang tripe and she wasn’t a Pavarotti and all the rest of it, but she had a terrific contralto voice, and the lower notes were just like an organ, and as a child, I was very impressed, anyway we went, came home, went in the house, and Mr Upson, John Upson’s father, you know John Upson of Hatfield Peverel, his father arrived, the ewe had had triplets and he said I’ve brought you one, I think you can bring it up. Well of course that was just wonderful for a child. My mother said it was the most expensive pet we ever had, it wanted so much milk. We had to go and buy, it had a lemonade bottle I think, and you could get in those days what they called a lamb teat, and we used to [???] and about four pints a day, and then eventually had bran of course, be was great, I mean he’d follow me anywhere. Then mother thought it’d be a good idea to take him for a walk. My mother was an idiot sometimes. Took him out into Collingwood Road, he saw a child, ‘Oh gracious that was me’, roared up the road ‘Baa’, frightened this poor kiddie to bits. I don’t know how they brought him home. Then he got very clever he could open the latch in his shed, and he used to get out. And I remember coming home in the car, we’d been over to my cousin at Baytree farm, and my father said ‘You’d better get out and take your sheep home’, and there he was prancing down the middle of Collingwood Road. Course the moment I said ‘Billy’ he’d come. And unfortunately, he was afraid of nothing you see, brought up, he used to go and knock the dog over if he didn’t like the look of it, and he got out in the Avenue, and he butted the postman and upset the letters, so we had a letter of complaint from the Post Office, and poor Billy disappeared. I was very upset about it. By that time he’d grown into a sheep. But you know, it was a lovely way to be brought up.
Q: Where did you go to school?
Miss M: Chelmsford County High School. With pride, because now it’s so good, isn’t it. They do well, don’t they. I think, personally speaking, looking back on education today, I would have done better at more of a comprehensive, because the whole school was geared to getting through the Cambridge School leaving certificate or Matric, and the moment you started at ten, that was all that was on every year, was you’d got to get that far, and I mean, I wasn’t frightfully academic, and I think I would have done better with more manual …
Q: Practical, yes.
Miss M: But anyway, I did, and I passed, and we got through and that was the end of that. But they didn’t, there was no career mistress or anybody to advise you on anything you might like to do. I should think ninety per cent went into the County offices, the other ones that went to Higher Certificate went to the University and were teachers, and that seemed to be the end all and be all. I don’t know what it’s like now.
Q: So what about you then, you didn’t …?
Miss M: No, I was very very bad at maths, absolutely daft at maths, in fact so daft that I think I might have been a bit dyslexic on that side because my cousin was dyslexic, only we didn’t discover that till she was about fifty, I mean she just got her head, her ears boxed and told she was a fool. But we’ve discovered since that, the other day she was here actually, she’s seventy eight now, and she picked up the newspaper and was reading me something. And she still has difficulty in reading. And I thought then, ‘By golly, you’ve never got over that, you know’. She can read, she can write and add up and everything all right but … And she’s a very well known international dog show breeder, travels all over the world, very well known and much respected, but she, it must be hard for her at times. Oh, when she was doing this reading I thought golly, you know, you’ve got to put up that façade all through your life, to cover up for the fact that you’re not quite sure you’re reading it correctly.
Q: So when you left school?
Miss M: Oh my mother said ‘Margaret’s going to do something with her hands’. Which was very silly, because I would have liked to have been, I mean afterwards I went to Crittall’s for thirty years, and, I would have preferred that, but I didn’t start that way, so I went, we couldn’t find, ‘Oh, Margaret like’s trimming auntie’s hats, she’d better go to a millinery school’. Well we couldn’t find a millinery school, I don’t think there was such a thing, but we did find the Barrett Street trade school so I learnt dressmaking. Which of course was very nice, has been always, it was a London County Council school, and they taught hairdressing, beauty culture, and manicure I suppose came in it, embroidery, tailoring, dressmaking, and hairdressing, and I did, in the mornings we did sewing, and in the afternoons, which was silly for me cause I’d just done it, we did[???] which was really a revision of the Cambridge Matric course, because we would [???], the only difference was that we were taught the parts of the clothes, which you didn’t learn. I mean I knew the parts of the body in French, and I’d done quite well in French anyway, but we had to learn enough French to be able to converse with a customer. We learnt enough bookkeeping to be able to keep our own books, they thought, if we had a business. What else did they teach us. It was quite a, I thought it was quite an unusual school, and of course it got bombed out in the War, so I don’t know what happened after that, it was just behind Selfridge’s, which was very nice, cause you could always go into Selfridge’s in the lunch hour, and walk round.
Q: So you travelled up there every day did you?
Miss M: No I lived in a girls’ hostel. Weekly. Hated London. Loathed it. All I, I didn’t want to do anything, I wanted to come home and play tennis, that was my ambition, it was all I wanted to do, play with animals and play tennis, so I never stayed, all the time I was in London I never stayed up there for a weekend cause I came home to play tennis. And, you know, I just, I loved the outdoor life and all that sort of thing, still do for that matter.
Q: So when you left there?
Miss M: I came home, and I thought well, I’ll have a little, oh I went to Bolingbroke’s to work for a little while in Chelmsford. My father, I know, I got the sack, I had flu, and they wrote, I forget where I was working, I worked at Jay’s in Regent Street for about a year, and they wrote and said they couldn’t keep the job open, so that was that, so my father said ‘Well that’s enough, you’ll have to get a job locally, cause this is absolutely ridiculous, it’s costing more money to keep you in that hostel than you’re earning. So I came home and about the next week I saw a job at Bolingbroke’s for a dressmaker, so I went and got it, and I worked there for about a year, and then I though I’d start my own, so I did that, but of course war broke out, I had two girls for a time, then war broke out, and course, the whole thing, the bottom fell out almost overnight, because for one thing clothes were rationed, you weren’t allowed to make things, you had to have skirts so many inches from the ground, and, you know, so much material this and that, so that fell out and I went to Crittall’s cause we’d got to do something.
Q: So then you were there for thirty years you said?
Miss M: Yes.
Q: What did you do there specially?
Miss M: I started off with transport, to do with the rail, which of course I loved because my father was a great rail enthusiast and I think, brought up with rail. Oh it was quite interesting in a way, because they, they were at the height, they were frightfully busy cause they were making munitions as hard as they could go, and windows, also, for all the RAF camps that were being put up and that sort of thing, you see, so the window trade was busy, we made shell cases, and Bailey bridge parts I remember, and my original part was getting in the railway wagon, we had a special train came down, from the rolling mills at Darlington every night, that was a scheduled run by British Rail apparently at that time. Then of course Dan Crittall, you’ve heard of him, he used to drive engines. Well I hadn’t been in the office about a week, when we were told we’d all got to go over to the station this afternoon, Mr Dan’s driving the, what was it, the East Anglian Express, or something, we’d got to go over to see Mr Dan go through. I didn’t know who Mr Dan was no more than the man in the moon, anyway we carted over there, sit on the platform, and of course this express came roaring through and a smoky face peeped out of the window waving madly and that was Mr Dan. He used to have his own steam roller, didn’t he, he was a great steam enthusiast [laugh]. Oh no, it was funny, all sorts of funny things happened, but I didn’t, in the end I got into the shipping, which was very interesting. Another girl and I were eventually left on our own, they cut down and cut down and we had been in a department of about five, but, as the countries overseas got their independence they didn’t want to import, they wanted to make them themselves, so we started off with Crittall’s building the factories out there, we had a factory in Lagos somewhere, they had another one near Nairobi I think. But eventually they didn’t even want that, so that all sort of petered and we, they were just, we did a lot a lot a lot of work for Aberdan[?] in the Gulf, and of course I still hold forth you see, and say ‘Well of course if the Labour Party hadn’t given the British Empire away, we’d never have had all this trouble, because there would have been a, there was always a garrison at Aden, that would have kept the Gulf in order, where else did we have garrisons, I don’t know, but I mean, I can remember as a child being shown all these red dots on the map of the world and thought it was marvellous. They were saying this morning on the box that it’s no longer, what is it, no longer the thing to be British or something, no longer to be proud of being British, that is the thing now.
Q: Oh I think a lot of people are, it’s a good place, isn’t it.
Miss M: Well, I should think so. Why do all these people want to come here? That’s why, isn’t it. We are, we’ve got a lot of freedom which you don’t get elsewhere, I think. But there you are. Oh Crittall’s was fun in many ways, and I loved the export department because it was, geography, and you know, we had fun, we had, one time there was this girl and I were on our own doing it, and we were told to pack, these windows had to be packed in small packages, sufficiently to go on an elephant [laugh]. We thought this was terrific. And then another thing we had to send some stuff to Ascension Island, which I expect we did quite a lot really cause they must have had a pretty big thing there for the Falklands, I don’t, cause at that time I’d got here by then.
Q: This was in the Witham office all the time was it?
Miss M: Yes, I didn’t, I was fortunate in that way, I never got sent to Braintree. About once to relieve somebody, and I did go to Silver End a little, also when somebody was sick or something. But other than that, no. And then when I retired, I got into a bother with the house, I sold my house in Avenue Road, and it didn’t go through and we got in a bit of a muddle, and they, and they, I forget why, we had a High Court action in the end anyway. I hadn’t gazumped cause I’d under, but I’d sold it to somebody and the other man said he still wanted it, and was a perfect pest, but anway, we got over that in the end, but while that was going on I went back and said ‘Look, can you give me a part time job?’ so I went to Silver End part time for a bit. But if this house [Bradwell] hadn’t belonged to my cousin, I reckon I would have lost it, because I couldn’t complete the sale of the one in Witham, and I rented this from my cousin till I could buy it, cause this was the wheelwright’s house.
Q: Lovely, isn’t it?
Miss M: Outside used to be the village pump which isn’t there now, next door was the shop, that was a Tudor cottage, belonged to my other cousin, and she’d got deeds going right back to fifteen something, it was very quaint. But this we don’t know too much about except it was a wheelwright, and he had a great big shed up there, and also there was a saw pit somewhere. It’s quite interesting the history of the village. Actually somebody’s just lent me a history of Rivenhall aerodrome which is very interesting. Apparently it’s, do you know Carol de Coverley who is the historian for Kelvedon, well his brother in law’s written that, and it’s very interesting, I found it so, apparently was quite a late aerodrome. I can remember the Marauders and the Mustangs being there, the Yanks, and then apparently they had Sterlings at the end, but I don’t remember so much about that. The Sterlings I think had a twin tail didn’t they?
Q: I’m not good on planes.
Miss M: Lancasters had a twin tail.
Q: Did the Americans, did you see much of the Americans?
Miss M: They used to come into Witham, they used to cause us quite a lot of amusement, and they used to have dances in the Public Hall every night, or every weekend, and they used to kick up all sorts of riots in there. One night they turned an Austin Seven right over I remember, but we just used to watch the things and entertainment out of the window, do you know, and they didn’t interfere with us. But I can remember my mother and I, no, they were playing cards one night, that was funny, we had some friends who were evacuated from Clacton because for a long time you couldn’t get within ten miles of the coast, and they came to live in Witham, so they used to come and play bridge with my parents every Saturday, and they were sitting there playing bridge, and I was sitting on the settee with the old dog, and all of a sudden the sitting room door opened and a Yank walked in and said ‘Can you tell me the way to the Dance Hall, please?’ [laugh] And of course, I grabbed the dog, cause he was going to have a go, and my mother, my father’s friend and the gentleman he got up and said ‘Look I’ll show you out’, cause it was pitch black you see, no lights on anywhere, and he ushered him out and he came back in and he said ‘With your permission Mr Mens, I’m going to lock your front door’. Well I mean we never ever locked the door, but you see we had to learn, all sorts of things happened, didn’t they, but we never locked anything?
Q: How long did your parents live for?
Miss M: My father died in ’58. And of course he had all this beastly argument with this rotten Labour Council who wouldn’t let him build a bungalow down the bottom of the garden, cause we’d got this huge garden, you see/
Q: Was your mother still alive then?
Miss M: No, she died the year before, two or three years before.
Q: Oh I see, that was a hard time for you then.
Miss M: Well, she’d been an invalid, in and out of hospital for about ten years.
Q: Did his business?
Miss M: Well it gradually, he got rid of the farm, he got rid of the Cartage Company. But he did keep his insurance agency which was a very big one. He’d taken that over from his father I believe at the bank. And he did that right up till he died. But it was only, it wasn’t of course so big by that time. And I actually, it was a pity because we didn’t really know at the time, but I could have taken it over, cause they did give the relatives a chance. But he’d arranged for Malcolm Smith to have it, so Malcolm Smith took it, and that was the end. But know, he used to sit and have all the [???]. It turned out, Conservatives were back into office and set these papers strewn all over the place, cat’s on his lap, and it was very very nice out the back there cause it was sunny and warm and looked onto the garden, which he loved.
And I was reading a cutting I found in one of these books, said that he was, well he was very interested in birds and wild life, and I am too, I’ve inherited that. But it was a huge garden and this Mr Blood had laid it out with absolutely everything, I mean there was espalier fruit trees all over the place, there were, what else was there, oh one of those sunken greenhouses which the old fashioned people used to have apparently, but we didn’t have that. Then my father built a garage, and I remember the sheds were rolling[?] down where my lamb lived, and so my father liked carpentry, he was always fiddling about with things, he built a new shed sort of over the top, so they didn’t pull the under one down [???] he used to enjoy doing all that sort of thing. And then we had, oh we had a conservatory, a greenhouse, a heated greenhouse there, that was nice, because my mother was always into flowers, and it wasn’t I grew up that I became interested really, and I think in her day it was carrying the water pot, and I didn’t like that of course, not interesting enough, but I did, I remember the flower club came I was delighted, at one stage I belonged to flower clubs all over the place, used to go out two or three nights a week, and I loved it, and [???] I found going to flower festivals very interesting, I always enjoyed that. And I learnt everything I know about flowers from flower clubs, because people who gave these talks had to know the botanical names, for a start, and I learnt everything I know really, because we didn’t do much botany at school.
Q: Did they have help in the garden, your parents, then?
Miss M: Yes, a gardener. You see then the war came, the whole thing fell apart, you couldn’t get anybody. And I can remember coming home from Crittall’s in the evening and digging. We had two old men, there were two lovely little old men, who lived in a frightful, funny little, tiny cottage at the back of Witham High Street, goodness knows, it was a bit of a back yard somewhere, they were two brothers the Grimseys, there was Joe and Bill, and we all, June Osborne, do you remember her, she always called them the gnomes because they were so short and tiny, but anyway they used to come and dig, and they came right up till my father died, and when I left they did everything, the whole garden was left in perfect condition and of course the Council let it go to rack and ruin right away, but there you are.
[chat about photo brought by Q, M825 of group of women indoors, not recognised by Miss M, not noted]
Q: You started to tell me about Gertie Luard, the grey lady.
Miss M: The grey lady, and the one I knew as Gertie. And I know one episode was, she’d been parading about trying to get free milk for some family that had got too many children, and my father said to her ‘It’s not a bit of good you doing this, all that happened was that the man went up to the farm and cancelled his milk order the moment he got free milk’, so he said ‘You’ve wasted your time’. And she was the one was that, she said ‘Don’t have so many children’, and this woman said ‘Well you’d better come and sleep with my old man, see how you get on’. I think their name was Bendall and they lived up Powershall Road somewhere in some cottages.
Q: That’s a lovely story. [laugh]
Miss M: I just remember her, she had some kind of a Sunday school for a time, in what used to be the YMCA hut, now of course that’s long since gone and a house has been built, but that was in a hole opposite what’s now the Labour Hall.
Q: I know, at the top of Collingwood Road, yes.
Miss M: And that used to be let out for parties and things, I remember my parents having a party there. But can’t quite ..
Q: You’ve done well. I think the other two, there were two others at least, they died just after the war I think.
Miss M: I know Gertie, she ran this wretched little Sunday school, and I was in my teens and she went to my mother and said could Margaret go and help her. So I was told off to go up there Sunday afternoons and help with these rather dirty smelly little children which I didn’t care for at all, and anyway fortunately it didn’t last long because my father came to the rescue and said ‘Look here, Sunday afternoon is ruined now, we can’t go out in the car cause we’re waiting for you to come …’
[looking at photos]
Miss M: Oh yes, this was during the War [First War] when Witham Avenue park was an army camp, and that was my mother’s, we couldn’t have a horse so we had a donkey. [re photo M520]. And that’s Captain Cullen who was billeted, they were a Scottish regiment, First World War, they were billeted with my parents. And I’m the baby being passed round apparently. Cause Mrs Cullen [different family] told me when I grew up with great amusement that I didn’t appreciate it a bit. Cause I used to be passed round all these officers to …
Q: What a shame. So that’s you there is it, how lovely.
Miss M: Yes, and that’s my mother driving the thing. Cause they couldn’t, you see you couldn’t have a horse, all the horses went to the army, straight away. That’s Captain Cullen.
Q: What was his first …?
Miss M: I don’t know, it was a Scottish regiment.
Q: That was one of the Scottish ones, I see.
Miss M: I don’t know who these were. There’s also another one.
Q: What was your mother’s first name, I don’t know if I asked you that?
Miss M: Margaret Amelia, and she was always called Milly.
Q: Ah, yes.
Miss M: That’s me as a fat infant. Well, I was a miracle baby you see, so, yes I only weighed three and a half pounds.
Q: Oh, goodness.
Miss M: Of course in those days … yes, this is the outing, isn’t it, now what have I got here.
Q: Oh yes, Baby Welfare. That’s interesting, I’ve seen something like that and wondered what it was. So that’s what it is. [photo M530]
Miss M: Well that’s, I think that’s, some of them I can recognise. Yes, that’s Mrs Percy Brown who lived at the, opposite to us at Collingwood House [15 Collingwood Road]. Now where’s mother, I think mother had a big hat on somewhere. …
Q: And that’s at the Lodge, I don’t think I knew where that was.
Miss M: They used to have, was it every fortnight or every week, at the Congregational Church Hall, there would be a doctor, and the District Nurse would be there, and these women could take their baby, they would weigh it, and advise them on, you know, if they were having difficulties.
Q: So when would that be about then?
Miss M: When I was a child I expect. I can remember going to this thing, I was told off to push somebody’s pram round and round the garden and keep the baby quiet while the lady enjoyed having her photograph taken.
Q: So what happened when they went to the, was this a special ..?
Miss M: This was an outing, a special tea.
Q: A special outing. So they all went there … And was it all outdoors, or did they go in as well.
Miss M: I don’t know, I can’t place anybody. Oh it always seemed to be nice weather in those days [laugh], seemed to have lovely summers always, but I can’t see anybody else I know.
Q: Anyway, you’ve got Mrs Brown.
Miss M: Yes, she don’t forget because she was so huge wasn’t she. I think mother was prancing about there with a hat on somewhere. Now you know there’s that booklet that the Countryside brought out on Witham, there’s a picture in there of something, and we were in fits because I said ‘Oh there’s my great aunt’ and, a hat perched on top of her head, you know, and my goddaughter Jill who comes to stay sometimes, and my goddaughter, she’s sixty now, but she said, ‘I can’t remember aunt at all, but as soon as I saw that picture I knew it was her’. This ridiculous hat perched on top of the head, cause that’s how they wore them didn’t they.
Q: That’s a great one, because as you say you’ve got the tents there [M520 again].
Miss M: Yes, that was an army camp.
Q: I’ve never seen one with the tents on it before, that’s terrific.
Miss M: That was when we used to get, I’m in a deckchair somewhere eating a banana. That was a bought thing, just happened that we were in it. We used to go to Clacton every year.
Q: What, to stay?
Miss M: Yes, we used to have three weeks at Clacton. My mother was always going on holiday. Always.
Q: Very sensible. Where else did she go?
Miss M: Clacton, Clacton, Clacton, then one year we went to Felixstowe and had a [???] beach[?] house. Then I think we sort of grew out of it. Oh then we used to go to Walton, cause we had relations at Walton. So we always went there. Yes, I remember that outing. Cause I can remember being told off. Oh then we had this Pastoral Play in the Park, look [photo M531]. Now I was a tulip, in pink, and they were the schoolchildren in yellow, they were daffodils.
Q: So this is you right on the front (left end)?
Miss M: Yes, that’s me. And that was Miss Maisey’s dancing class, look. [photo M532]
Q: Oh is that what it was?
Miss M: Now that was Betty Page and she was Night. That is me I was a butterfly, with the wings up, yes. Now there was John Pinkham, and I’m not sure whether that was John Pinkham or that one, and the other one I believe was Ray Horner. Now they were in toadstools and they lifted the lid off and then they came out at the beginning of this thing, and we all did our little bits.
Q: Who was that again, sorry?
Miss M: Betty Page. She’s now dead, she married John May and they had a fruit farm at Heybridge. I knew her all my life. Her father was the auctioneer, Page, they lived at the Grange at Witham.
Q: So this is in the Public Hall.
Miss M: Yes.
Q: And that was presumably a special …
Miss M: Oh we used to do this, we did lots of things. And then there was an old girl … when grandfather Mens left the bank, Peecock took over, and his wife had been a schoolmistress and she thought to have something to do in the holidays. So every Christmas holiday she put on a show. And, it was musical. And one year we did Jan of Windmill Land, and [???] Pearce … there were three Pearce girls lived up Chipping Hill next to the Church, and they were [???] was just younger than me, Peggy was a bit older and Beanie[?] was the eldest. Albinia I think they called her or something. Anyway, she married Arden[?] Dixon a farmer and went to live at …, now that’s …that was the art mistress, she was the only one who looked respectable and had pretty clothes. You know children do notice. And of course I was practically brought up with the Richardson boys, Karl and Guy, and that’s the three boys. I was always with them, I practically lived there.
Q: And they lived?
Miss M: At Beechknowe [Avenue Road]. But I used to spend, we had the same governess, we all went to school together, until the boys went to boarding school of course. Oh that was Langleys when we first moved in, look, it was all open, right down to what they call the Swiss Cottage, that’s still there isn’t it. [behind Public Hall]
Q: I believe so yes.
Miss M: Well that had been a stable you see, Mr Blood’s stable. And he was very interested in boys’ welfare, and when he gave up carriage horses, and riding I suppose, and got his wheel chair I suppose, I don’t know, he had it turned into a boys’ club room. And he had gas heating and gas lighting, and we actually had a party down there one Christmas. It was, we used to let, oh girl guides used to have it and various things … what I was trying to find was … Oh now that was the original town hall which was burnt down, is there a date on that? [old Constitutional Club in front of Congregational church]
Q: I think it was in 1910.
Miss M: That’s right. Well now my father and my mother got married in 1910. And father had bought a set of carved oak with padded seat, dining chairs, but they were used as a furniture store, so he put five in store there and took one home to show mother, so we lost the five and had the one. And for many years, I eventually sold it. Oh that’s where my father went to school, Uphill[?] Grammar School.
Q: [???] the horse?
Miss M: Well that was at the back, you know Easton Road, when you go down there, and there used to be a large house at the bottom which of course isn’t there now, that was called the Laurels.
And when my mother’s father retired, they went to there to live, and that’s my aunt and her pony which she drove, and I was sat sitting on it. And that was the house. Well then eventually, what happened. Oh when the Everards left, the Brice[?]s bought it, and they stayed, and Olive had it for a time .[???]. That’s my father when he was young.
Q: I’ve forgotten what his first name was, did you tell me?
Miss M: Arthur Charles, but Joe.
Q: Oh I see. Well that’s probably why I got confused cause I’ve heard of Joe Mens, and that’s the same person as Arthur Charles, is it?
Miss M: Everybody, oh Granny hated it. ‘My son’s name’, awful drawl, ‘My son’s name is Arthur but everybody calls him Joe and I can’t think why.’. The reason why was cause my mother had got a brother Arthur, who was much the same age. Oh this was a great event in my young life. Tom Speakman and his twin sister Diana came to spend the day, and I loved it when the twins came over, course I’ve got my pants falling down, I’ve cut my leg presumably, but we had a great day, I can remember that. Then of course Tom only died a few years back. [???] But, what, I did find a picture of Wog[?] and I, first of all we were little baby bulbs and we were dressed up in padded things like brown, with a green sprouting out the top, and supposed to be the ribs[?], everybody thought it was our stuffing falling out apparently. But we did a little bit, ‘We are little baby bulbs, so brown demure and shy’, I can’t think of any more. And then we did ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, and I had quite a big part in that, I was the lame child that came back and told the story, and my father made a crutch out of a log of wood on a broom handle, for me. My mother said she couldn’t bear to look at it cause she thought I looked [???] was lame. Anyway I can remember doing that and it was quite a long bit I had to recite. Me I wouldn’t go anywhere I had to recite now.
Q: So who organised that then?
Miss M: Oh this Mrs Peecock, she thought we ought to have something to do in the holidays. And it was done for the, I don’t know what, Save the Children or something, charity.
Q: So that one where you a tulip, was that one of hers as well?
Miss M: Yes, that was Jan of Windmill land, then we did, what was the other one, there was one in which they had some gypsies, cause I can remember I was terribly impressed cause to make it look like a fire, they put lime[?] so it smoked you know, water and lime, I thought that was terrific. What else did we do. Pied piper was the last one, I, no I think that was the last one I was in, I grew. Once I went to the High School I mean I didn’t have time for anything else.
Q: So it was mostly little children really?
Miss M: Yes. But, oh they got the older ones in, to do the singing.
Q: I see, yes.
Miss M: They used to do that every year, she thought we hadn’t got enough to do. I think she liked organising. And they retired and lived in, was in Blakenham in Collingwood Road, quite a nice double fronted house. And, I always remember this cause when I was working at Crittall’s, one of the foremen was Cyril English who lived down Maldon Road, and he came back after lunch and he said ‘I’ll have to go back’, I said ‘What’s happened?’, he said ‘Well, I went home to lunch and my wife said “Oh, terrible news, old Peecock has died”. He said ‘I’ve just come by and he’s sitting there eating his dinner.’ He said ‘I must go back and tell her it’s not true cause it’ll be all over Witham’ [laugh]. Oh Witham. Then we had all the scand, did you hear about that, the scandal of the gossip, that was when I was in London at the hostel. Somebody in Witham, I don’t, oh Mrs Thorpe her name was, she was a widow lady and she made a great fuss of one of the curates that we had, poor man was a widow, lived in the Parsonage in Guithavon Street, awfully nice man, we liked him very much. And anyway, she made a bit of a fool of herself over him, and then she found that, I suppose it came to her ears that people were saying she was being a bit foolish, so she wrote this poem.
‘Oh could there on earth be found, some little plot of sacred ground, where village affairs might go on without this endless prattle’ or something, ended up with ‘Stop this gossiping’. And she proceeded to send this anonymously to people all over Witham, and she sent one to my mother. Well we knew exactly who it was, they were pretty sure, and I was in London and it was all in the Sunday, in the evening paper, somebody said to me ‘Is your mother Mrs A C Mens from Witham’ I said ‘Yes’, ‘Well look at this’. And Mrs A C Mens had received it and she’d sent for the police. Well that didn’t of course, this woman came up and confessed, and said please don’t send for the police, that’s why my mother did it. But, her name was Mrs Thorpe, but she was a bit silly, I think a little bit short up her really, I didn’t really know her. I remember that happening. But somewhere in one of my books I found a copy of this thing, as it was sent to mother, all handwritten you know, ridiculous. It was such a joke, cause we couldn’t make it out. But Witham’s always been in the news for one thing and another, or so, look at the murders we’ve had in Coggeshall. I turned that up the other day about Bell, he shot three[?] [???]. He went to school with the man that lives opposite me, which he said ‘He always a loner at school’ but that’s all he could remember. But this is a nice village [Bradwell] It’s getting too urbanised now which is a pity, they’ve put up this … we’ve got a dogooder, I’m typically Essex, I mean if you don’t live in a place for thirty years you aren’t considered, you know, Essex. And I’d got a leg in here cause my relations lived up the road, and my cousin had lived at the cottage on the corner, so I came here and they sort of accepted me cause I was one of the family, and I used to do meals on wheels, and I went to a house up the road and took the lady her dinner you see, she said ‘Oh who are you?’ So I said ‘Well I’m Margaret Mens’ I said ‘You won’t know me’. I said ‘I live in’ Eddie Howell’s the builder[?], I said ‘I live in Eddie Howell’s house’. ‘Oh do you, well now’. So next time I took the dinner the old man was in. He said ‘She tells me that you’re a Mens, well who are you cause I know all them up there’. That’s how they are. [laugh]
Q: So you have to account for yourself.
Miss M: So I said ‘Well I’m one of the Witham, I’m the Witham branch’. ‘Oh’. It was very funny, we used to laugh. Oh it’s the same, but my cousin still lives in the same house there, though she wasn’t born, she was born in Baytree farm, but they retired and built a modern house, which she still lives in, she’s very lucky she’s been able to stay there. And she’s got lots of room so she’s got lots of dogs. And that’s why we’ve got the yellow labrador, she’s chairman of the yellow labrador club, and she has about ten labradors, and four cavaliers which are lovely. They’re lovely little things. I miss mine very much.
[chat about her own last dog and when it died, and about her various friends in Witham]
Course I can remember Dorothy Sayers when she used to be charging about.
Q: Really? What do you remember about her?
Miss M: Oh she always wore these very mannish clothes, and had a stick. My father used to like her cause she used to go into the butchers and say ‘I’ll have a piece of that’, she was a great cook.
Of course she bought that cottage, you know the cottage she lived in, [24 Newland Street] well they were friends of ours who’d lived there before, the Gardners, and their garden came up from the High Street, and then they had bought another bit which came out next to us in Collingwood Road in those old days, which was their orchard. And the old boy used to keep bees. I remember that. But of course after the old lady died and it was built on, it was a very nice bungalow [8 Collingwood Road], there were some nice people in there we were quite friendly with them, but of course this damned Council decided they were going to pull the whole thing down and then they go and sell it for a quarter of a million to the Area Health which I will never forgive them for [laugh]. But there you are.
[chat about buses home, borrowing photos, not noted]
Miss M: Now when that was, [???] you know it was taken over by a local consortium to be made into a cinema. And when we were children, this was …, and then they went broke so they couldn’t finish. And from our garden we used to get through into this, Karl Richardson and I, and we used to get right through into this and peep out of these front windows which we thought was terrific.
Q: That was at the Whitehall [18 Newland Street]
Miss M: But they dug out the sloping bits of the floor but they never finished it, and then all of a sudden Mr Gaze from Chelmsford turned up, and bought it, and turned it into a cinema and used that.
[chat about other photos, not noted]
Miss M: My mother’s relations all lived at the Garretts’ at Blue Posts House, which is Coates shop now [126-128 Newland Street].
[chat about other photos, not noted]
Miss M: And then the Crotchet was somewhere there, the pub, I remember that. And it wasn’t a cross person, it was a retired bandmaster from the Bridge Home, and he meant a musical note, the crotchet.
Q: Oh was it, is that right?
Miss M: My mother told me that. That was all wrong she said.
[other photos, not noted]
[other photos, not noted]
Miss M: Oh that’s Eleanor Roper, now I met her, we met up again at Christmas, she’s still, her brain’s as clear as a bell, well not, her memory’s very good, she told us all sorts of things, but she gets a bit rambling, because she rang me up one day and I was appalled, she kept me on the phone for an hour, and I thought ‘My godfathers she’s going off her head’, you know, and it was all about some episode which she had with the police, I don’t know, they were rude to her or something, she went to the police station or something and they wouldn’t attend to her, she was very annoyed, but anyway she got over that. She was great fun at Christmas. My friend, they fetched her over, they were very entertained with her, cause she’s a very clever woman, there’s no doubt. I didn’t know that she’d taught at Writtle [agricultural college], she told us she taught there at first. She taught dairying, and then she took a degree in agriculture after, so she did both, and then my, that’s right, that’s how I got to know about this, Dave Park and Sheila[?] both worked for the War Ag [Agricultural Committee] in Chelmsford, and she was there, and you know when we had the 19, well you won’t know but you will have heard of the 1953 floods, well apparently Elinor did a great deal of work in helping the farmers that were flooded with salt water, to getting them, teaching them or telling, arranging for them to get their land back into working order, and she got the OBE for that.
Q: I didn’t know that.
Miss M: No, well I didn’t, but they told me, Sheila and Dave told me. Oh she’s very interesting Eleanor, but she is getting old, she isn’t quite as old as me.
Q: I didn’t ask you how old you were, people don’t always don’t want to let on.
Miss M: I’m 86.
Q: Are you really?
Miss M: Wait a minute, 73, 1913 I was born so I’ll be 86 in August won’t I? That’s right, yes.