Tape 187. Mr Ken Miller, sides 1 and 2

Tape 187

Mr Ken Miller was born in 1935. He was interviewed on 15 December 1998, when he lived in Langford.

The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk 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.]

Side 1

Mr M:    We are Witham people, I was born in Dovercourt, but we got evacuated in the summer of 1940 back into my grandfather’s house which was Moat Farm, which is what I rang you up about on the phone. So I’ve never ever seen a picture of the back view, which is in the book. That was much smarter when we lived there, and that was scruffy then. But, so we got evacuated back into Moat farm, where my uncle, my grandfather, was pigman and cattle man, running the farm, oh, the early part of the century. And we lived there till I got married. And then, by that time I’d started working at the blacksmith’s shop just up the road, with Henry Dorking [18 Chipping Hill].

Q:    So you were still quite young when you moved there?

Mr M:    I was five. It was about three days after my birthday, yes, I was born in 1935.

Q:    So you were there quite a long time then, you were there a good long time?

Mr M:    Yes. Till I was twenty one and two. Yes, done my National Service when I finished my apprenticeship, came out, met Maureen, and that was the end of that [laugh]

Q:    So tell us a bit about the forge then?

Mr M:    Well, yes, I used to go there part time, on a, well go back a bit, there was a family behind the forge called Aldertons, I don’t know if you ever heard of them, they lived in the first house round the corner [probably Church Street]. Well, they had a paper business, and my brother and myself run the, well he run it and I used to help him, and when I got big enough we used to start delivering round Chipping Hill, then got up to the station, then I got Avenue, then Avenue Road, and in the end, the man was called up, and he run the business, and he was only fourteen, he was five years older than me. And the two of, I used to go round with him, he had a trade bike, and we used to sit in the carrier at the front, he rode the bike and we used to deliver the papers, the boy next door and myself. And that went on till the man came out of the RAF, who was an Alderton. So we know, the blacksmith was my first job in a sense, and the paper shop was just round the corner, where there are some shops now, there are some shops, like a little arcade, well the shops were level with the front of the road [bottom of Church Street]. And there were some little old derelict houses past there, about half a dozen, which one or two people had a workshop in, and then, I started work with Henry on a Saturday morning, going in, you know, just pulling shoes off and general help sweeping up, and bits like that, and then when I left school I started full time. Till, then of course we had to do National Service, and when I came out, we both worked for a man called Quy, Q U Y, Frank Quy, he moved to the Avenue after that, and …

Q:    He was there before Henry do you say?

Mr M:    Henry, yes, Henry was an employee and I was an apprentice to Henry, Henry Dorking. He was quite well known, you must have heard of Henry Dorking.

Q:    I met him once or twice, yes.

Mr M:    Cause he was a great character, he was thick through the chest as he was across the shoulders. He was about my stamp, but much stockier, and he, he’d pick the anvil up which weighed just over two hundredweight, well I used to sweep the dirt, cause the anvils rock, when they get dirt under them, they rock, I used to sweep under them with a [???] and he’d hold and stand the anvil, and oh, he’s got some great tricks, he used to, we have a, the basic tools on a forge is a long-handled shovel with a little spade end about two inches by three inches, and a poker. And he used to get all the kids, he was everybody’s grandad and uncle, Henry was, put a little drop of water on a shovel, and get it to run down the half inch handle, well that’s impossible, because it’s like quicksilver, because of the soot on the handle. What you do, you just wet it, and make a little trail down the, and oh it was great, we used to have great fun, and another trick he had was holding a sledgehammer up and letting it down on his nose. And, but, he was a great character. He, we was working at the forge one day, cause, we started off, like, I wasn’t allowed behind the anvil when he was in the shop. So my place was with the sledgehammer in front of it, we was what we called a striker.

So, and, it’s ever so pretty, I mean, to watch good strikers, I mean, you don’t, I’ve got a 1926 chain making film, and there’s two men strikers, and I’ve got, where there’s ten striking, and not a word between them, and you have a language because you ring on and ring off, so he taps the anvil, and wherever he hits you hit, cause you don’t know, you don’t do it consciously, you do it, that’s just, it’s like music, you know, so when he’s finished he rings off, so he taps the anvil and you stop, and if, but, if you was making a cart horse shoe or anything like that, big, you’d know he’d want, so you’d never put the hammer down, you’d still do it with it on your shoulder, ready, and then you’d ring on again, when he got to, and in you go again. And like, when we were doing a cart tyre, he’d have two sledgehammers, and you know the rim round the wooden wheel. And the old guvnor used to help us, and, you would split the tyre, like fork[?], and you put one half over that way and one half over that way. So you lay it in the fire like that and you weld that half, and then you turn that over and you weld, just using the fire to weld, and then you take the final heating [???], but what you have to do, if you’ve got two bits five eight thick, say, like as thick as my fingers, you’ve got make them into one five eight thick, in one go, you don’t get a second bite of the cherry. And so you have two sledge hammers and a hand hammer, the bloke the holding the rim working with a little hammer. And so you dodge in and out the ring, so you go in the rim and then back again, but it’s something you just learn, and you never forget.

Q:    When you say Henry himself would ring on the anvil, was that a signal you mean?

Mr M:    Yes, that’s the signal, yes, that’s what you call ring on and ring off. Yes, he’s standing behind and he’s got a hand hammer, and he just taps the hammer and that means stop or start. And wherever he is, if you’re drawing a piece out, like a pick, what we call a pick, pick [???], wherever, you follow him, and if you’re drawing a point[?], you drop your back hand, so the face of your hammer is on the anvil, that is creating the shape you want to form between the anvil and the hammer face. So as you’re drawing, like the big horse’s heel on a big shoe, you go down you see, but you do all that in one movement. And what happens, your hand comes down onto your leg all the time, so you’re leg just cocking it up. As I say, it’s really pretty to watch to a good striker at work. But I should think, they still do it in competitions, we have a shoeing competition at the Royal Show every year, well it’s the International in August, and people come from all over the world, and they actually present a sledgehammer to the best striker. But, our lads are good strikers, a lot of foreigners use hammer, it’s what we call strangle a hammer, so they hold the hammer too near the head, but you’re not getting the force, cause we use the length of the shaft, three foot shaft, you’re getting ten times the blow you are with strangling it. Cause we went to America with the blacksmiths, to Texas, and I sat at the front of the crowd watching, and there was a little fellow I knew from Wales, he’s a Welsh miner, ex-miner, doing pit ponies and what have you, and his name’s Glyn Owen Davies, and he stamps his work GOD. And anyway he was making a shoeing hammer which is rather peculiar, it’s got quite a big bend for clenching the nails over, and, making one with his son, well his son was only about fourteen, and he was using him as the striker, well of course the boy couldn’t do it. And he spotted me in the crowd, and I hardly knew him, and he said to me, Ken, you can strike, give us a strike. That must have been twenty years or more, twenty-five since I really done any striking seriously, cause we’ve got power hammers now, you know the latest, touch with your foot and, shut a box of matches with them. And so I stepped forward and we made this hammer, and course, when you’re punching a hole in the middle, it’s a bit [???}, you’ve got to hit it fairly hard, you lift the hammer right up to the full extent of your arm and hit this punch, about as big as your thumb, and all the crowd went gasping, I stopped and I said ‘What’s up?’. He said ‘You’re lifting the hammer above your head’. And they’d never ever seen it done before, and I, to me it was an everyday thing, to get more power, you obviously use your legs and your arm and the length in the thing, until you can hit it as hard as ever you can hit it.

Q:    That must have been hard for you when you were a young lad?

Mr M:    That’s why I’ve suffering now, yes.

Q:    How did you actually begin to learn to do that, when you were a little boy?

Mr M:    Well you just start off doing the easy things, like light pointing and peck[?] or something, where it’s, when you point you go over like that both ways, and so he’s blow one, and you just watch. Because them times there was no electric fires, all the fires were blown by hand, so all the time you’re blowing the fire you’re watching what he’s doing. So even though you’re not working, you’re only two or three feet away from him, perhaps four, and you’re watching every move he makes, because, soon as his back turned, you’re having a go, aren’t you? You’re picking up an odd bit of iron and having a little go yourself.

Q:    So your job was blowing the fire to start with, was it?

Mr M:    You had to look after the fire, woe betide you if the fire wasn’t right, the fire, you know the first thing you say to your boy blacksmith is to control to the fire. That’s where a lot of them fall down, if they can’t control the fire, they’ll never get, you get too much metal hot or not enough, not hot in the right place. And when you get it out it bends in the wrong place or, you know, and of course if you’re, you’ve to earn money, especially if you’re self-employed and you want, you’re getting. So, we’d have six shoes in the fire, two straight bits lay on the back, two half made in the fire, and two perhaps clipping up on the front of the fire. Well, you’ve got to keep them in strict rotation so they’re ready to come out of the fire like cooking, you know, so the minute one, and all these things, you just, second nature.

Q:    So where did a lot of people come from that came?

Mr M:    Oh from right out Lyons Hall and Braintree, Cressing Temple, they used to have big horses there, all the Rayleighs had horses, and course they had milk ponies down at Chipping Hill where the veterinary place is [Spring Lodge], that was a dairy, Blakes, people called Blakes run that. And they had Doris and Rosie and little fat ponies, and the railway had two, Pilot and Punch, they had two great big Shire horses. They used to take, they had feet like dinner plates, and we used to stamp the numbers on the feet, and they’d have like a six or eight-figure number, and you’d easily get it round the foot, you know, inch letters, no problem. Burn them in with a branding iron. Yes, they used to actually move, all the shunting at Witham was done with these horses, and they just leaned, they’ve got so much power, they lean into the harness and move them trucks full of coal and whatever, it seems incredible, but it’s just the sheer weight and power. They were lovely horses they were.

Q:    That was during the War and since the War?

Mr M:    Yes, after the War, yes. 1950 I started full time there, yes.

Q:    And they were still with you?

Mr M:    Yes. Well. They had a lorry at Witham station, a bloke called, oh, he lived just up the road, got a whole family of boys, it said his name in the paper, the one went abroad last year, it’ll come back to me in a minute. But I think it was a Model T Ford lorry with half a door, and that was Witham delivery lorry for the station. And, Mead, that’s who used to drive it, a bloke called Mead, and you know Chipping Hill school, they’ve got a little nursery school there. [Church Street] He used to live in the first house back towards the, it’s like a little row of almshouse there, he lived in the first one, they brought a great big family of boys up there, I think there was one girl. Yes. And my granny lived up a little further, and there was a builders’ yard there, Richards and Son [56 Church Street]. And they still had a saw pit when I worked there, making coffin boards, cause a bloke called Gaymer lived in the house, his daughters went to school with us, Fred Gaymer, and I’ve met him, he’s been round the shop and I’ve done some work for him where I work now. And they actually still had the saw pit there, where the bloke was down the hole, seems incredible doesn’t it.

Q:    So really there was plenty of business, even though folks had tractors and so on.

Mr M:    Well, yes, that was the end of the era of the cart horse, and unfortunately they were getting old, the old ones. We had, used to have one or two come up from Tillingham and places like that, and they were really wild, they used to chain them to a tree, you know a log, and round and round the field to try and tire it before they brought it to us, but, I mean some of them had never hardly seen human being, I mean we think of Tillingham as nothing now, but then, I mean that was right, being out in the wilds, wasn’t it. But the only time I see Henry lose his temper, we went up to Powershall and they had a donkey there. It was one really hot day, and he knew it was going to be, cause he used to go out on the afternoons on his own, and then I used to be left in the shop with the guvnor.

And put handles in and all sorts of odd jobs. I used to do all the odd jobs. We used to do horses in the morning, and then the odd jobs in the afternoon. And anyway this donkey was not about to be caught, and we must have tried for two or three hours. And in the end he took his jacket off, threw it on the ground, he said ‘Leave the donkey for another day’. [Laugh] Used some different words from that. Oh he did lose his temper that day. There used to be an old boy come from Notley or Faulkbourne somewhere, and he had a tub cart, know what a tub cart is, it’s like a, hat box, round, you open a little door in the back and get in. And he had a Shetland pony in it, and of course the cart was four times too big for the Shetland pony. The shafts used to be level with the top. We used to have put a stick, wheat stack down on the cobbles in the, cause the horse was so small we used to have to get down on our knees to shoe it [laugh]. And many a time we threatened to turn it upside down, it was so small.

Q:    So, places like Powershall were there still, got the farmers?

Mr M:    Yes, they’d still got horses there.

Q:    There was farmers at Powershall?

Mr M:    Oh that was still farmed.

Q:    Who was …?

Mr M:    That belonged to Rayleigh’s, yes.

Q:    Was there somebody actually at Powershall?

Mr M:    There was a man, oh, half his face was birthmark, I’ve forgotten his name now.

Q:    Oh,  it doesn’t matter. You’d still got farmers round, in Witham, then?

Mr M:    They were all farms, Chipping Hill was still a farm, Moat farm was still a farm, Ebenezer Smith [actually Esmond]. That was still farmed, and a family Kildewers[?] used to run it, and they lived up, and Whitehead’s farm up on the Braintree Road. And Moe[?], he was, funny thing is, there’s a young lad who was apprenticed in the blacksmith’s at Chipping Hill recently, he’s left to start up, and he’s Moe, his name was Moe, I don’t know why, he had a real crop of curly hair, real tight curly hair, and he’s his grandson. He came in the shop in the summer, and he said could I help him out on a job, it got, that was too much for him, and that didn’t take off, but he said, ‘Do you know I’m Moe Ewers’ grandson?, and said ‘No’, and that’s funny, that’s small world.

Q:    So I mean did you always want to do that?

Mr M:    Yes, oh, yes, I lived for it, because we lived in Moat farm which was just down the Chase, and I mean I spent every living moment at the, from when I was five years old, to, watching Henry, I mean Henry was like as father to me. Used to go rabbiting with him, and everything. Every Saturday afternoon we used to go ra-, or he’d not always take me, but sometimes he’d take me. Fairhead, Cyril Fairhead who was at Rivenhall, he was a bachelor, and he had lots, Hoo Hall and all sorts of farms, we used to go shooting and ferreting up there, he used to sell a rabbit for threepence, the old threepence. [laugh] It was good money[?], we loved rabbit pie, my mum used to make it. My young brothers made the front page of the Braintree and Witham once, I haven’t got the, I might have the picture here somewhere. I’ve got two younger brothers, one’s born in 1943 and one in ’45. So there’s quite a bit of difference but there you are. And I’m nearly ten years before, that’s eight years older than him. Anyway. You know the viaduct where the road goes through, well that used to be all fields round there then. And there’s meadows, water meadows there. They got caught on the railway bank, well of course it’s forbidden to go on the railway bank, though we used to as kids. And, photog, somebody saw them, and they’d got a ferret, a great big polecat ferret, that belonged to our neighbours, well there’s these two lads and this girl, my two young brothers and the girl next door, and the story, it was all a whole, two or three paragraphs, and that said ‘How do you know there’s a rabbit down there?’, and he said ‘Well we saw one go down last week’ [laugh]. And I’m trying to get [???] it was a great big picture on the front.  Close to the main road, the main line, all the trains used to go down there to Harwich and that to go to the continent, and they were for ever trying to bomb that line, and cause the line was up high, we had a panoramic view of it, and they used to miss our house, Moat farm, they did blow the front door off, but, we used to, all them fields were peppered with incendiary bombs, and bomb craters,

And there was huge one where there, used to be the garden field, opposite the Veterinary place was garden fields [allotments, now Saxon Drive], and they were really good garden fields, and in the middle of that was the biggest bomb hole that I’ve ever seen, and I mean I used to be, demolitions engineer in the army, and that was, and, till I got married I was still, everybody dumped their rubbish in that whole. So somebody’s got a house built on cabbage stalks and, that was enormous. But Henry told me a tale, is this all right what I’m …? [Q: Great, yes.] Henry told me that his father was a bricklayer, and he was a great big tall fellow, I think there’s a photo in some book I’ve got. He had three brothers, or there was three of them, there was Henry, John Dorking who lived just up Church Street, and Tubby Dorking, who was another bricklayer. Well Henry’s father was a great poacher, well not poacher, but rabbiter and lived by the gun sort of thing, and there was a hare that used to elude him in the garden fields, of course the allotment holders wanted it caught because of the damage it was doing. And down opposite Spring Lodge, there was a five bar wooden gate, I can see it now, and, into the allotments, and this gate was always open for people coming and going on their bikes and trolleys and what have you. And this hare always got away across the road, cause it was, it was all fields across the road then, and the hare’d get away. So one day he shut the gate, and the hare ran full belt into the gate, and he got it, killed it. And Henry always used to spin this tale, and how his father got that, cause he was a great big tall bloke, and as I can remember he used to call on his bike, and, he was a bricklayer for Crittall’s, and I used to sharpen his chisels for him. And he had a sister … (Q: This is his father?) Father, yes. And he had a sister called Edna [perhaps Ena], have you heard of her, she lived in Homefield Road with her father, she never married, and she was a bit of waif and stray, taking in cats and dogs that people didn’t want. And she worked at Rickstones farm I think it’s called, it’s the one past the church at Rivenhall, I think it’s Rickstones. (Q: Oh, past the church it’ll be Rivenhall Hall). Rivenhall Hall, yes, that’s it. Well, people called French lived there, I know the son, Dave French, he runs [???] a big contractor, anyway, Mrs French, she was a widow I think, I don’t know whether she lost her husband, I don’t know. But Edna was her mainstay on the farm, Henry’s sister. And there was a picture of her on the front of the Daily Mirror I think, she used to get off Hicks’s bus which, Hicks’s buses used to run, they had a garage in Silver End, and forty something cats used to come and meet her. And there was a huge page, front page on the national paper, of the cats coming to meet Hicks’s bus (Q: They were meeting her at Rivenhall?). From that farm, cause as you go past the church, you go down the dip, and she, course they used to come, the farm sort of stands back a bit on the hill, and they all used to troop down that hill and meet the bus. (Q: When I knew her she just had one dog.) You knew Edna? (Q: Ena, was it, lived in Homefield Road). Ena. She had a dog that made us laugh when I was apprenticed. That had been in a fight and its ribs were torn, and when they sewed the patch on, the patch went grey, it was a black dog with a grey patch and it looked most peculiar. It was, like somebody’d stitched a patch on, the hair went grey. And, oh she used to get some ribbing for that dog.

Q:    What did your father used to do?

Mr M:    He was a roller driver, drove, well he started off on thrashing engines, [???] engines, and then he worked, got onto rollers, doing the roads, and, unfortunately he died when he was fifty-seven. But that’s all he did, he went all over the place really. And I used to go flag boy to him when I was a boy. Which meant you, like, you had to, supposedly walk in front of it. I mean we used to move from Haverhill in Suffolk to Chelmsford, in one day, you can imagine walking that far, even if I was fit, I weren’t that fit. But he had an old 1929 BSA, with a Pilgrim pump, [???] pump on the tank, so every few miles you give it a few pumps, oil, to keep it going, and he used to have road roller, lovely wooden caravan, motor bike, we were all brought up on motor bike and sidecars, the whole lot of us.

And the 1929 BSA, behind on another draw bar. And that used to cause great merriment, people going along the road, but he, he was born in 1900, the same as Henry, Henry was born on Christmas Day 1900, and my dad was born in February, and so he would have been, he went with the years as they say. So, he was too young for the First World War, and too old for the Second World War.

Q:    They came from …?

Mr M:    He came from Moat farm.

Q:    So you come to …?

Mr M:    My grandparents lived in Moat farm, and when they moved out, we moved in.

Q:    So he was brought up there.

Mr M:    He lived there and he lived, Maltings Cottages [probably in Maltings Lane], near the Jack and Jenny, which used to be a derelict house, then the Upson family moved in it, Lawshall Upson and all his kids. And then they moved, my grandfather was a drover, he, drove, delivered beer from the brewery to the pubs. My dad never smoked, drunk or swore. And that was because his grandad, or his dad, used to come home blind drunk every night, because every pub they went they got free beer. And he never drank all the years …

Q:    So were they still living there when you moved, lived in Witham sort of thing?

Mr M:    No. Grandad died, and granny lived next, up Church Street, in this, a little row of almshouses, there’s a little paper shop up there on the left hand side, I presume it’s still there, it’s years since I’ve been up there. And there was a, opposite was a yard with steam engines, and things in, Randall’s. And there’s a little row of almshouses there and she lived in the first one of that. [probably not actually almshouses] And I used to look after her, cause Grandad died, so it fell on my shoulders to split her wood and do the garden and, look after her, do her shopping, cause she was crippled.

Q:    So they were Millers as well?

Mr M:    She was a Miller, yes, Ada Miller, yes.

Q:    So when, you moved into Moat farm when you were five, so where were you living ?

Mr M:    Before that, I was born in Dovercourt, Mill Lane, Dovercourt.

Q:    So you were there all that time, so your dad moved away again.

Mr M:    Yes, my mum was a Dovercourt girl. He must have met her when he was going, he used to go all over Essex and Suffolk with his thrashing engines and rollers. He used to park it near, there’s a church, Ramsey church, on the, and he used to park there. So all my, unfortunately there’s one left now, but my mum come from a big family, and of course they were all round Dovercourt and Ramsey. And my dad’s side was up this end, yes.

Q:    So, you were telling me a bit about the War, can you, you told me a bit on the phone about the War, but, can you remember anything?

Mr M:    A few things. I can remember the dog fight, you know, when they had like the, over the top there was dog fight, and I remember the doodlebugs coming over, and they bombed Crittall’s, they used to always after Crittall’s, cause that was munitions there, and I was saying, that little shop in Church Street, is it still there do you know? (Q: There was a paper shop, just after Chalks Road, it’s a house now [referring to 41A Church Street.) Yes, on the other, well that was a shop when we were kids, and that used to, that stood back from the road a bit and had a bit of concrete in front of it. And we used to have one roller skate between us, and skate there, and a bomber came over to bomb Crittall’s and he pulled the shutter back, and he waved to us kids to get down, and we all laid about the road, shows you busy the traffic was, because, you could lay about, we used to play rounders on the end of Chalks Road, and never moved, have a whole game. And he went round again and bombed Crittall’s, and the shrapnel all landed amongst us, and, the blacksmith’s shop had two girl evacuees from London, and one of them picked up a bit, I’ll never forget, she picked it up, course that’s red hot, isn’t it, and she got quite badly burnt, and … you know, that was quite unusual. There was a lot of talk after the War about he worked, he lived in Witham area before, but you know how tales get about. (Q: The pilot you mean?) He knew the area, yes, the German pilot.

Q:    He was the one that told you to get down?

Mr M:    Yes, he actually waved at us to get down. I remember the first VE2 rocket, that fell at Faulkbourne, and we had a great big bit, as big as that television, in our coal bunker for years and years. It landed up the other end of Witham, I mean that blasted for miles.

Oh, different things, I can remember, it’s quite funny really, the Queen Mary’s they called them, they were great big lorries and trailers, that used to recover the aircraft, if a Spitfire or anything come down, you know, sixty foot long. And they were like lattice work, and one came down by the station, down to Henry’s and he took the wrong, he should have gone to Braintree, you know the Braintree Road. But he couldn’t get up round Chalks Road, cause it was too long. So he turned round in front of Henry’s [18 Chipping Hill]. And he shunted this lorry, he was there all afternoon turning round, and not another vehicle came [laugh]. Seems incredible now doesn’t it. Not another car come. I can remember in the War, my Dad had a driving licence, and people called Hutley lived on the Green, and they had that, they years ago used to own Powershall I think. And they used to come and get him to go and start the tractors and to drive the car, cause he was the only one in that end of the town who could drive. And I mean it seems incredible now, we’re only talking fifty years, fifty years ago aren’t we. Things have progressed in fifty years. I mean I think we’ve lived in a lovely era, we’ve gone from horses to rockets haven’t we. You know, to go from that era to, it seems incredible.

Q:    Yes, I’d never have thought that, I mean you hear people played on the road perhaps in 1900 or so, but I would never really have thought it was …

Mr M:    No, I mean we still used to, when I worked at the blacksmith’s, especially when I was a lad and used to go in Saturdays and [???], we used to mend steel hoops, that was a thing that the Victorians had, and they were still bowling hoops about. It seems incredible now. We used to, the market was up, where the Labour Club is [Collingwood Road], that was the cattle market, if they’d got a wild bull in, do all the bit, they used to knock the place about, and I used to go up to there, and they had the hurdles on wheels, what they used to corral parts of the market off. And they were about thirty foot long these hurdles, twenty-five foot anyway, and they’re long. And I used to ride one, get on the, cause they had an axle about this wide, with iron wheels on, and I could stand on it like a scooter, and tow another one behind. [laugh] Down over the station bridge and down that road in the middle of the road. It seems unbelievable now, if you did that now, you’d, but there was no traffic.

Q:    What, you just for a bit…?

Mr M:    No, I used to have to get them to bring them down the workshop to repair. And we used to repair them and I used to push them back up the road again.

BB:    Well I was the same, Ken, I as a lad, played football in the streets, and cricket, and during winter, and this was up in Newcastle, when the snow came, we lived on a hill, which went down, across a road, down, across road, down. And we just literally went straight at them, across these roads, and there was not a car in sight.

Mr M:    Course of all the hill, the people, kids used to get on there was Pinkham’s, there was two glove factories near the station, weren’t there, I remember the second one was build in 1944 I think, had a date on the front [probably 1948 actually]. And there was a hill behind that which used to go down to the river, Chipping Hill, and we used to go sledges down there. Cause that’s really like an encampment, isn’t it, Chipping Hill. Down in Moat farm, they turned that into a house after the War. Bloke called Nicholls. He was a Jew, and he, but there was a shed stand off of the main barn, faced out into the Chase, I suppose it’s still there, and there was another few, and they were all weatherboards, and along the weatherboards was nailed rats tails, hundreds and hundreds of them, and they were put there by my grandfather, and they’d been there since the turn of the century of just after, and they’d been there right up until the War, till after the War when they pulled it down. Well they didn’t pull one of it down, it was quite funny, cause we had the dairy in the farm as a shed, as a workshop, and my dad was unlocking his shed one morning, and the shed over the lane, on Moat farm, fell down, the roof collapsed. I think he aged ten years. Imagine the whole building going down behind you, just crashed, and he just stood there, he went white, and, times were hard then though, he, there used to be a willow plantation, and our garden and all that, and they grew the willow setts, well because the War came they never bothered, and the willows used to grow right up into big trees.

And we used to cut them down and we’d make firewood of them, cause, anyway all the small stuff, we were so hard up, I see him make a dog’s kennel, he’d got some about an inch round and split them, all in half and carefully nailed them, made a complete dog’s kennel out of little willow branches. The hours he spent on that.

Q:    So you reckon you weren’t very well off then?

Mr M:    No, nobody was, I mean I remember when he came home and he’d actually topped five pound a week, with all his overtime and his greasing money and his travelling money and everything else, he brought home five pound.

Q:    That was when you were …?

Mr M:    Still young, yes, like, fourteen or fifteen I suppose.

Q:    Did your mum work at all?

Mr M:    Yes, she worked, she worked at the people, she was cook in Faulkbourne Hall for a while. Yes. Cause I was horrified, I went there once and there was hundreds of pigeons, white pigeons in the proper dovecote, and I said what are they, of course they killed them to eat. And I was horrified as a kid to think that they actually bred them to eat. White pigeons. I suppose they were nice and tender cause they were corn fed and all that.

Q:    Cause, did women often work in those days, or was that …?

Mr M:    Not a lot of women did, because families were bigger and that, but Dad was away all the time, and I say there was four of us boys, and, though, he must have been quite well off I suppose, compare him with a farm labourer or something like that, but, I don’t know, she always done something. She worked in a café down the town for a while.

Q:    There were some extra cafes in the War time, there were some cafes in the War time, special …?

Mr M:    Yes, there was one just up Church Street {22 Church Street]. I remember going in and having fish pie. That was unheard of, I didn’t know what fish pie was, but it filled you. I don’t know, just where them shops arcade, there was a big house there, for some reason they used to do hot meals in there, but I can’t remember why, but we used to go there and have hot meals, but I can’t remember much about it, I say I was only eight or nine at the time.

Q:    So where did you go to school then?

Mr M:    I went in the Primary school there, or the little Infants’ school, and then I went to the Church school, I was there in ’44, because that was built in 1844 [probably 1842], and I can remember them taking us all out, cause the slaughterhouse was next door. And we, took us all out in the road when we were kids, and look up the school and look at the date, cause it was 1944. Funny things, you know things like that I can remember, they stick out in your mind.

Q:    Did you like school?

Mr M:    I hated school. I was average I suppose, I’d have liked to have been better, I wish I did school, you know, I wish, if I’d have been better educated, life would have been a lot easier in business and, and as life went on.

Q:    What didn’t you like about it?

Mr M:    I couldn’t do it I suppose, it all seemed to much for me like lots of kids. But I suppose I can’t complain, I’ve been president of one blacksmiths’ association and chairman of the other, I’m a judge for the Worshipful Company, I’m the only man ever held that position in eleven hundred years. I met the, Princess, I met Princess Anne last year for a presentation. So it’s got its compensations. My dad didn’t want me to go a blacksmith. Cause we were paper boys all the week, he wanted me to be a postman, and I said ‘I’ve had enough, I know every pavement and every tread in Witham, and every tree and every walk, you know, God, we knew every person, cause Witham wasn’t quarter the size then. I mean it used to finish half way up Hatfield Road. There was two houses stood there on the left hand side, just past the tyre place, they started before the War, and they got scaffolding up to the first window, the windows stood there, and they stood like that till about 1948, you know, and, things like that stick in your mind. But I said, ‘No, I’m going to be …’. He said ‘Oh, that’s a dead trade’. Which in a way it was, at the time, because through the fifties and sixties, we went through a terrible time in blacksmith’s. I mean I got married on six pounds fifteen, the old, and times, I mean you was twenty-six before you got man’s money, imagine somebody being twenty-six before you got man’s money now. That was hard, I mean our old boss he was really mean. He’d buy nuts with no threads in, and when it got dark, we used to have to, what they called blind nuts, and we used to have to thread the nuts by hand, and, I mean the taps we had, were like a hundred, you know fifty years old, they’d got no thread hardly left on them.

And we used to make washers by hand, was a bit of tin, cut it out with a pair of [???], and put it over a hole and punch a hole in to make a washer. And he’d, they had electric in the blacksmith’s, and they had electric drill, but there was no lights, when it got dark we used to have to make shoes by the fire light, and all the old tyres [probably metal ones], off the rims off the wooden tyres, we used to split them up, I mean when they’re stretched out they’re fourteen, fifteen, depends on the size, can be almost twenty foot long, some of them. And we used to cut them into lengths, all with a hammer and chisel, sledgehammer and chisel, and then split them up longways with a hammer and chisel, and then make horseshoes out of them. No wonder you can strike. And all day and every, and night, when we used to go back after tea, and make shoes sometimes if we were busy, and split blinking tyres up, God he was mean [laugh].

Q:    So that was just to save money, it wasn’t …?

Mr M:    To save money, yes.

Q:    So he could have got them ready …?

Mr M:    Well, you could buy ready made steel, that was in, that was shorter lengths, that was iron in them days. And that’s another thing, we’ve gone from iron to steel in my lifetime. People talk about wrought iron, but it was still wrought iron when I started. It [???] such a lot of work now, because, unless you’re my sort of age, people are not used to working with iron, because you had to work that differently from mild steel. You had to work it really hot, or else it splits. But all the bars were cut with a hammer and chisel, you know all the shoe length, we’d mark them, fourteen, sixteen, big Shire horses have eighteen inch for a shoe, we’d mark them in pairs and then you cut them [???]. Two blows each side, you push it forward and you crack the last one and that’d go over the end and fall off. You know, ten bars at a time. And where the steel lorry come every day, sometimes two or three a day, we used to have a delivery once in every three months [laugh]. And coal, they had a cellar round the back, and you’d buy a truck load of coal, and there was two, I can remember you went down two steps there was two missing, three steps and there was three missing, and there was a bucket weighed twenty-eight pound of cool, and you used to have to heave it up the three steps and then climb up, and we put twenty ton down there. So we had to put it down, and then we’d have to shovel it to the back and it was the same when I became smith at Doe’s, when I came out of the army I went to smith that had only started up the road, and that was the same, they had a long coal hole and they used to shoot it in the end, you’d have to shovel it that way and then shovel it again, cause the iron[?] rack[?] was in with the coal, so you couldn’t put a barrow in it cause it’d have got it full or iron[?] rack[?]. Oh, people say about work, but I mean, it was incredibly hard. I used to laugh and say it was a good job it was downhill to Moat farm or I’d have never got home sometimes.

Q:    What sort of hours did you do?

Mr M:    Well, we got in to trouble, funnily enough, because when I was an apprentice we did forty-eight or forty-nine hours, and that was when the time come that they started recognising the working man, and an apprentice mustn’t do more than forty-four hours. So I had to finish at, I know they, instead of half past seven I started at eight I think, instead of half past seven, I think that’s what it was, for a pound a week, and he paid me the first week he gave me a pay packet and I went home ten foot tall, my own pay packet. And I opened it and it had got two pound in. And I thought, I showed my dad, here I said ‘Do you think he’s that pleased with me?’. And he said ‘No, he’s testing you, take one back.’ And I went up and knocked on his door, and I said, ‘You’ve paid me too much, Mr Quy’. ‘Oh oh yer’ he went, took it out my hand and slammed the door. He was testing me to see if I was honest. What a terrible thing to do to a boy [laugh]. Bad enough, the first week, I creosoted the shop, and I don’t think that had been done for fifty years. That was a hot July day, I can remember, and I came out in an almighty rash all over with the fumes off the creosote, you know, and I did all that shop right round, cause it’s all weatherboards, all the shutters and that, the first week I worked there.

Q:    You must have been really keen to stay.

Side 2

Mr M:    … take the window out, well there is no window, you open the shutters and that was straight out into the … , and only when the snow drove in and got on the anvil would he shut, put the window, we had a window that slotted in, but I can’t remember that window being put in there six times all the years I worked there. I used to kick my boots out, trying to keep my feet warm, you know, up against the brick floors, you’d be only in shirt … but that was the other thing that’s incredible, we used to wear boots and buskins, we had breeches, you know, and leather buskins, and boots, like we would in livery, like we was in service, and that was a recognised …, and a waistcoat and a cap. (Q: Really?) Yes. I mean, now I laugh, we, Mrs Richardson came there when I hadn’t been there many days, and she was Lady Braintree’s daughter wasn’t she, yes, they lived at … (Q: Was it Karl Richardson?) Yes, [???] wife, Hungary Hall. Well, course I used to go up there with Henry, shoeing on a Saturday morning, and she used to ask us in the kitchen, to have a pint of beer, he’d have a pint of beer and I’d get a lemonade or something, and, course I knew her quite well. Well, when I started work she used to come, she’d occasionally call in the forge on a big hunter, and my boss, he, he was one of the real old, he used to turn inside out cause she was well to do, like, and he said ‘You’ve got to tip your hat’. I said ‘I’ve got to what?’ He says ‘You’ve got to tip your hat’. I said ‘No, I’m not tipping my hat to nobody, I said, you know, every man is equal in this world’. And I wouldn’t do it, and I nearly got the sack, I wouldn’t tip my hat [laugh]. Oh, he was old fashioned, yes.

Q:    So you did go out as well?

Mr M:    Henry used to go out every afternoon, nearly every afternoon. We used to make shoes in the morning, he knew every shoe by eye, and wherever he was going, we had a little Austin 10, with a box on the back, a tool box on a carry on, old cars had a [???] and carry on the back didn’t they. And he had two or three bags of shoes on the back seat on the floor. And everywhere in this Austin 10. He had a wooden trailer where he used to pick up jobs as well, you know, if they’d got to bring a bit of machinery in. And we’d make shoes, perhaps twenty sets of, twenty shoes, or six or seven sets of shoes in the morning, that was besides shoeing the horses that were standing, every time you went to work there’d be three or four standing outside, especially on a wet day like to day, we dreaded, because in the winter, they couldn’t get on the land, they’d go down the blacksmith’s shop to have their horses shod. And of course they were covered in mud, with all the mud up their legs where they’d been trying to work and that. And you’d go to work and be faced with three or four cart horses standing outside at half past seven in the morning.

Q:    So they didn’t make appointments or anything?

Mr M:    Oh no. They did for the ones that you went out to. And the well-to-do people did, like the riding schools, they made an appointment, and we had a slate, which I’ve got in the kitchen, and a slate up on the wall, and they all went up on the slate. And the riding, anybody with a half-decent horse like, but all the work horses, they just used to turn up. But we used to make appointments to go out. They’d ring up and he’d take the phone message and write it in the book, and go out and then he’d do, try and do a round, like he’d do Notleys and Faulkbourne one afternoon, and then perhaps Braxted, we used to do the Braxted stud, they used to do a lot, Brices, you know Brice? He’s died recently. Well Captain Brice run it then, but then his son just died a few, last year I think or the year before, Robert Brice. And there’s the young lad now, the grandson’s took it over, Simon Brice. They had racehorses there. Oh that was great to go there, because they were all the yearlings, and all the boxes, the loose boxes were made out of railway sleepers, stood on end, and they used to have three or four foot of straw in them, and we weren’t allowed to take the shoeing box in, cause the horse, that might damage itself. So it was my job to go in with the knife and clippers and, cause you were only trimming the feet, they’d got no shoes on. And these horses, cause it was like wrestling a monkey in the straw, you know, they were great fun these yearlings, they’d go absolutely berserk. I remember the first day I went there when I left school.

Henry was forty. No he must have been fifty, cause he was born in 1900, and I’d got my tools in my hand, and he’d got his, a few bits and pieces, and the, we stood at the top and I said ‘Come on Henry, I’ll race you to the bottom of the stack yard’. And I was fifteen and he was fifty, he beat me by a hundred yards [laugh]. Fifty years old. I never cheeked him again.

Q:    Was that just from the work, that made him fit do you think?

Mr M:    Yes, and he lived a good life, I mean, he sung, he had a terrific voice, he could have been an opera singer. When he was a young man, he used to tell me all these tales where he used to go round Mill Lane and all them big houses down the bottom of the town, singing, on a Sunday and Saturday night. And the end of the War, he actually led the whole town, did you know that? In the Park, you know the Recreation Ground, well the next, where the football ground is, they call that the Park for some reason, the bit with the wall round. And they had tanks there, and all sorts of things, and he stood up and led the whole town in singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. And he could sing. And he was a bellringer as well. And, yes he was a great character. He did ‘Down your Way’, what was it, Richard [???], he did ‘Down your Way’. That came from Chipping Hill forge once. Oh, the times that was photographed, makes me cross when I pick up jugs and things and I see them where they’ve put the forge in the penthouse, where they shoe the horses and things like that. But I nearly cried, I was in Korea, I got called up, and I went for my, medical in Ipswich, and they said to me, we want you to go in the Horseguards. So, I’m only five foot six and a half, I said ‘Me in the Guards, I says your joking’. So he said ‘No I’m not, he said, we’re desperate for farriers’. So I said ‘Where will I be stationed’. They said ‘London’. I said ‘That’s too far from home.’ [laugh]. I finished up in Korea. They got their own back on me [laugh]. Ah, I’d probably have had a different life altogether if I’d have done that, they were going to send me on a veterinary course, learn about anatomy and that to start with, and be stationed, he said ‘You never do any parades or anything, you’re to small’. But it didn’t happen. I, young and stupid.

Q:    So you didn’t be a farrier at all?

Mr M:    I didn’t take them up. No. I went in as an engineer, yes. But, I’d really had enough of horses, because at that time they were so old and chinky backed, we called them, where they’d got old and, you know, there was such a, I mean Cooper Taber the seed people had a horse, a pair of horses I think, and they used to leave them ten months, well the foot would be two, three inches, it was cruel really, you could have sawed three inches off with a handsaw, and they were so hard, their feet, you know, where they’d been turned out in the summer in the dry fields and that. Break your heart trying to cut their feet down with a hammer, you had like a toe[?] knife, which is really made out of an old file, and you sharpen the edge up and you hit that with a hammer, it’s as crude as that. I mean now they’ve got all fancy clippers and things, but I mean we used to, you’d hack them down the side and hack a lump off, I mean, God, you could burn it as wood, it was so hard.

Q:    How often would you normally …?

Mr M:    Well, a mill[?] pony’d be done every ten days, but you put the nails back in the same holes, anything like that, you know, cause the foot’d be riddled with holes if you tried to … but they, I mean six to eight weeks for ordinary horse. But they’d go the, you know ten months at a time, it’s cruel on the horse, cause it makes them walk wrong. It was a had time for horse then, you know, cause they were all dying out and nobody was breeding any new ones. And the riding schools, there were some riding schools, June Osborne had a riding school, and there were some at Totham, Tiptree, forgotten the name now.

Q:    Do you think there’s, has it got better since?

Mr M:    Oh, there’s a lot more farriers. They say there’s more horses now than there ever was, I, on the television the other night, they said there’s more horses in England than there was in, you know, in the turn of the century. But whether that’s true or not I don’t know. But there’s two and a half thousand, there’s a thing called the farriers registration, and you have to be a registered farrier to shoe a horse now, and there’s two and a half thousand I think in part one, and there’s four parts to the register. See, I could grandfather[?] rights, if I wanted, I didn’t register though, because I didn’t, well one I didn’t want to, and two I didn’t believe in paying to practise what I was brought up to do, you know. That went against the grain a bit.
So when I started up in my own business, I gave horses up. And they were, you know, I hadn’t got any money, I started with twenty-one pounds, one week’s wages, and I thought well horse owners are notorious, you know, ‘I’ll pay you next month my good man’, and I couldn’t afford that, I had two young kids to keep.

Q:    Cause, did Mr Quy run all that business side of it?

Mr M:    Yes, his father was there before him, he was born there Frank was.

Q:    I mean, like, getting the money in and things like that?

Mr M:    Yes, yes. He used to deal with, that was a forbidden subject to talk about money. Oh that wasn’t, he was very Victorian he was. I used to go round on a twenty-eight inch wheel, delivering the bills, and Cooper Taber’s burnt down, I don’t know, the big seed factory. [in 1953]. And the people opposite that were Stoffer’s, the chemist, why we used to deliver a bill to Stoffer’s I can’t imagine, but I did, and I was delivering the bills one day on a bike, and, when that caught fire, and I remember standing watching it, and there was a huge wooden building, and I knew about it, cause me and Henry used to go in there and work, cause we used to repair all the lifting chains, and all on the front of the warehouses, they had a pair of doors open, and one dropped down, so they pulled the sacks up, and then pull them in and rest on the one that dropped down. And we used to have lunch in there and all sorts, we knew all the people there, Peacock, there used to be a bloke called Peacock used to be in there, lived in the Avenue. And this caught fire, well the seed, I mean, that burnt for three weeks, and they, all the tiles, I mean it was like a huge warehouse, five stories high, and the tiles lifted up like fishes’ fins, and of course they’d let the pressure, I know what it is now, it’s gas, and all of, the gas’d escape and the tiles’d settle again, and then ‘Bang!’, a window’d blow out somewhere, and oh that smelt for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks around the town, the burning barley and seed. They had some fantastic machines in there. They had a German machine for sorting peas, and that used to, because a pea had a hole in it, like a little black spot, there was all needles, and the needle’d find the hole, and flick it out, like, what do you call the thing that played music? Music box, like gigantic ones of that. And these drums with these needles on, and as the peas went through they used flick all the bad ones out, so simple but it worked.

Q:    I can remember talking to people who sorted them on the kitchen table.

Mr M:    Yes, yes. Well we still, I still do. There was a tale, am I telling you the right things?

Q:    Yes, go for it.

Mr M:    There was a bloke on the Chipping Hill, there was three houses where Henry lived as a boy up on there, the Horsenells lived in the middle one, and the far end the people called Scarlett, Will Scarlett lived. And he was, worked for Adams and Mortimers as an odd job man. Well he was more than an odd job man, he used to do all the odd jobs in Chipping Hill, used to push old Hutley to the Constitutional Club in his wheelchair, he used to sweep chimneys, he done everything. And we had to laugh when we were kids, he got the ‘flu, and rather than not do anything, he got his wife to bring in runner beans to the bed, so he could shell[?] these runner beans while he had the flu in bed. [laugh] And, he was a great big raw-boned tall bloke, not an ounce of flesh on him, and gaunt, and he’s always got this soot engrimed in him. And they had a real mad bull down at Blakes, and it got out one day, and it came up over the little water bridge, and Scarlett was coming down the hill, facing it, and this bull was in full flight over, up the middle of the road. I don’t know how, anybody else would have duck, he took his hat off, which was unheard of, you know, his hat was glued to his head. And he threw his arms up, and he wasn’t a very pretty bloke, and he ‘Ahhhh’ you know, and it frightened this bull to pieces, and it stopped dead. And we were kids all hiding behind the wall, and that turned round, and the bridge has got some pipe rails come up, and it jumped over these rails to get in with some heifers, and I remember its leg getting caught, and bending the two inch pipe and pulling it out of the socket, and that fell to the ground about ten foot or whatever the drop is, sort of lay there winded a minute, I mean you imagine, a bull weighing three quarters of a ton, and young lad Blackie, we called him, the boy on the farm the farmer’s son, he came up, and I can see him now, he put his little finger through the nose ring and led him home [laugh]. He was a bit tamer when he’d fell off the top that bridge.

Q:    Which bridge was that, sorry?

Mr M:    That’s the little water bridge, that goes over Chipping Hill, where it’s one way, down the bottom of Chipping Hill, the little water bridge.

Q:    I think I can remember Mr Scarlett, just.

Mr M:    Have you lived in Witham all your life then?

Q:    Thirty, thirty two years. They used to have some chickens in Chalks Road I think.

Mr M:    Yes. That’s right, he was tied up with Mrs …

Q:    The people at Dean House?

Mr M:    Yes, I can’t remember her name, she was going out with a bloke who was, Jim Askew, he was a guardsman, he carried the King’s coffin. Did you know that? You know when you go out of Witham, the Cherry Tree pub on the left hand side, you go a little further, and on the right hand side stand back, there were some, two farm cottages built with mansard roofs, like that, makes you feel old when you think, I can remember them being built, and I can remember them being restored. Well they built another pair near. Well he lived there, Jim Askew, he was a great big tall bloke, and he carried the Kings’, when the King died, when I worked at Henry’s, he carried his coffin. Well one of them, he was one of the six guardsmen that carried … Mrs., no I can’t remember her name now. She had a chicken farm just round Chalks Road. Not Gage. Gone.

Q:    What did you used to do in your spare time?

Mr M:    Me? Bicycling. Used to bike, yes. We used to make our own bikes, Dad[?} used to build bikes, he was son[?] of a prisoner of war. And I used to bike, and then I got real keen, and used to bike to Yarmouth, and Hertfordshire, all round, then got into the racing, not racing actually racing bike, but got into the club and helped run the races, and go all over the place. I used to bike to, I had a spot marked in the road, this side of [???], was twenty-five miles from Witham Post Office. And biked down there and turn round the spot and bike back again, fifty miles a night. Every night. I used to go Braintree, Halstead, Kelvedon, and if I’d got time across to Tiptree, round to Maldon, and home. Every single night, out somewhere.

Q:    I’m surprised you had the energy really?

Mr M:    Well, you’d do hundred, two hundred miles on a Sunday would a cyclist. Chelmer cycling club, used to meet in Springfield Road, they used to have their little café there.

Q:    Was that before you were married then?

Mr M:    Oh yes. I got bad knees in the end and I had to give it up. Still got bad knees. Still paying for the carthorses.

Q:    Is that a blacksmith’s …?

Mr M:    Well that’s the complaint, bad back and knees, cause they’re so heavy, they lean on you, you know, cause they weighed so much, I mean so much pressure on them, I was still growing wasn’t I. Really it was a form of torture in a way.

Q:    So you worked Saturdays there as well?

Mr M:    Oh yes, Saturday mornings till twelve, yes. And then that was off with a gun and the ferrets, ferreting for the afternoon. [laugh] With Henry if he’d take me. He’d only take me if I was especially good though. He was a hard master. He used to, to start with he’d always have beer at, go across at half past ten and have a pint of beer or two pints, unheard of today.

Q:    What, at half past ten?

Mr M:    Yes, in the morning. Every single day. Walk across to the (Q: White Horse would it be?) Oh it’s Greene King, erm, White Horse, yes. They had a television in there in the War. Well it wasn’t working, but they used to have it in the saloon bar. We’d stand there as kids looking through the window and hoping that was going to light up. Big console model with a nine inch screen. Hours and hours we stood looking at that. Blank screen. But crisps, when we were kids, I remember they used to come in every other Tuesday evening. A van’d come round delivering square tinful of Smith’s crisps. And they were rationed. You could only, they’d only let you have one or two packets. And cor, the kids’d all be there waiting, they knew to the minute when the lorry was going to come and have a packet of Smith’s crisps, that was such a treat. Threepence they were.

Q:    So Moat farm, is obviously pulled down now. But you moved out before then?

Mr M:    Before. Yes, My mum, I left my mum there, yes. But they wouldn’t do anything to it. They wouldn’t spend any money on it. But it was a house like this. Lovely old houses.

Three people lived in it, Buggs[?], us and a woman called Snowdon with a wooden leg. She had a proper straight, peg leg, type thing. But I mean it was a great big house inside. I mean we had rooms we never used. I mean, our bedroom, we had a bedroom up the top of the stairs, mum and dad slept, there was a long passage at the back at the back of the house, and there was a door half way along the passage, and my dad was very strict, cause he didn’t own the house, he wouldn’t open the door to find out what was behind it. And we slept in a room at the far end, and that had two beds in, that was big enough to have three quarter bed and a single bed, wardrobe, dressing table, washing stand, chairs, it was a big room. And anyway, when I got married, these great big rooms, I mean we never used half the house. And, even with four boys. We had an air raid shelter in one of the rooms in the War. But anyway, it was sold, Ebenezer [actually Esmond] Smith, he died on the operating theatre table, he had a spur on his heel, and during the operation he didn’t come round, and he lived, the house has gone now, it was down at the end of Avenue Road, where you turn up to Hugh Baird’s, all them new houses there [Janmead] was one house, and he lived in there. And so they sold up the farm and what have you, and this bloke Nicholls bought the house and the farm opposite, what is now Moat farm, that was a barn, a bloke called Jimmy Fitch actually made that, and he worked there for two or three years, just building the house.

Q:    So that was new, the one that was a barn?

Mr M:    Yes, they put asphalt floors in, we’d never seen asphalt floors, that was all the rage then, this machine come. He made the furniture out of the boards, out of the pig styes and the cattle thing, and they were like sixteen, eighteen foot boards, two foot wide, he made a table out of two boards, oh, magnificent it was. Because the rooms were huge, being a barn, and it, like had kennels in there. Anyway, to get back to the house, he opened this room up in between the two bedrooms, and in it was a four poster bed. And all our years as kids we’d slept two to a bed, and then in the middle there was a four poster bed going spare. [laugh] There was another bedroom. But he was so honest my dad, he wouldn’t .. You’d have thought he’d ask, wouldn’t you.

Q:    The furniture was …?

Mr M:    No, the furniture, we had our own furniture, but that was just boarded, there was no knob on the door, it was just like a blank door.

Q:    So how old were you about when it came down? [Moat farm]

Mr M:    I don’t, I think I must have, I don’t know whether I was in the army or whether I was married I reckon when they pulled it down. I moved to Heybridge, then I moved up near Doe’s, past Doe’s, then I’ve moved back, I’ve always lived on this road all my married life sort of thing.

Q:    I’ve brought the pictures that you spoke about so that you can show me the bit you lived in.

Mr M:    That’s the back of Moat farm, and that’s the back room we called it where we had, that’s our bedroom, window there, and that’s the pantry window, and the pantry was like, that little one was the pantry, it was a walk in pantry, easy from here to the wall, but it was so high I had to stand on the bottom shelf which was three foot off the ground, to reach to top one. And it was that tall. It was huge. And stairs went up. But this room here was a great big room that the Buggs had, and they had a grand piano in that, that was like a ballroom. And the Buggs had the middle of the house, and, but at the end of the house was a great big wash house, which was enormous, and we would get in there when we were kids, it had great big coppers in there and, but over the other side, here, this is our, where my dad used to have the shed, that’s not quite right, but that’s an artist’s impression that is, that was the dairy, well in that, see the chimney, we had a copper and we also, beside the copper was a cast iron fireplace, and when I was courting my wife, I used to get the fire going in there and I used to saw logs up by hand, and she used to make jam and all that, so when we got married, we had the first year’s provisions all put away, and that was all done in that little place.

And the place that fell down is this one here, and there’s the blacksmith’s up there, look. This building here. That [???], there was actually a lean to on that, a lean to came out. This window here faced the road, we had a board across, and we used to keep white mice in it, and as the kids used to go up and down the Chase, we used to have little things for playing in the window, the mice used to live in the window [laugh]. In that place there, yes. There’s the wash house and the bit on the side. We had flush toilets down below, they were down here, down in the, that’s actually a little further away.

Q:    They were attached to the house, were they?

Mr M:    No, they were right down the garden, like a little block, like a little block of three toilets. It was cold, go down there a hundred yards to the toilet. There’s the ford I was saying to you about [bottom of Moat Farm chase].

Q:    Was that like that when you were there then?

Mr M:    Oh yes, we used to fish here. It was very shallow there. And then that’s where they put a pipe down here for Crittall’s, right down the side of that Chase, there’s a manhole thing in that Chase, and if you look, there’s a bit there where this two foot pipe comes out, when we were kids we used to get board on roller bearings, and go up that pipe, right up to Crittall’s, in the pipe, my dad used to go mad. In the pipe. (Q: Inside the pipe?) Inside the pipe. He said ‘If I catch you doing it’, and he did, he actually thrashed me one day, he caught me in there, and he did, he give me a real good hiding. (Q: How big was it then?) About two foot, two foot six I suppose, it’s still there. (Q: And it had water in?) Well, only when it flooded, it used to take all the roof water off Crittall’s, cause the buildings were so big, the roof water, I mean that’s tremendous, isn’t it, on a big factory, you must know, and of course they had to get rid of it, and I remember them building a, during the War, building a, that came down White Horse Lane, and they were all winter just coming down White Horse Lane, and across, and they had a night watchman, we used to go and sit round his fire at night.

Q:    That was when they were putting it in?

Mr M:    When they were putting it in, yes, they were a whole winter doing it, and had the Chase up and all down there. I nearly killed my wife when we were courting. This goes up, right up to Highfields, well there was no houses there then, and just over the bridge, there’s one go that way and the Chase goes straight up. And I had an old 1935 BSA, and I was teaching her to ride it, and we were going up the fields one summer’s day, and I said ‘No, let me show you’, and I jumped on the front and she was on the back, and that was a time when girls wore these skirts with about sixteen yards of material. And we came down the middle of this field, about sixty or seventy miles an hour, and her skirt’s over, you know, upwards, and I hit this rut this side of the bridge, and I went to change gear, and they had a lever on the gear box, and cause of the rut, the lever went and out jumped the clutch cable. So I had no clutch. I goes into this bridge, doing about sixty miles an hour, on this gravel, with a rigid 1935 B.., well we hit this wall, Smack, sideways, and right the way up the side of it. And just here where the slope is, that thing went down on it and I picked up, my dad was standing near that shed, and I went by him, and I was kicking the gears for all I was worth down, no clutch, you know, just kicking it down to slow it up, cause you daren’t brake on gravel, you’d be down in an instant. And I managed to stop at the top of the lane near the blacksmith’s. Gor, did he tell me off, anyway we went back and had a look at bridge, and that had cut my shoelaces off, that, and pinned the little bits of lace on the brick wall, and the sole was on the top, so it bent the sole over like that. And I had to get married in them next morning. [laugh]. I was soaking this shoe trying to straighten in out, it was the only pair of good shoes I had. Gor, my dad did tell me off, he said ‘You can kill yourself but you’re not killing that young helpless girl’ [laugh] She’s still here today. Yes that could be me on that bridge, hanging over there.

Q:    Was she a Witham girl, your wife a Witham girl?

Mr M:    No, she’s Irish. Come from Wexford in Ireland.

Q:    Where did you meet?

Mr M:    Met her in Chelmsford, yes, she lived opposite my brother’s, where my brother’s wife lived, they lived opposite and I got to know her.

Mr M:    It’s a pity they pulled, it was such a nice house. Why they pulled it down I don’t know, it wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t derelict or nothing. Sad in a way. That window there was our kitchen. And that was my mum’s bedroom. And we had a dog called Ruffy, and these are flint walls along there and this side, with red bricks along, and there’s, that, there’s a building, a long low building along there, with pantiles, and he used to climb the walls on the flints, he’d hit them, and scrabble up like a cat, then run across these tiles, and it’d be like a machine gun [Rrrrrr] chasing the cat. But all the kids loved Ruffy, and the kids’s come home, cause they all come home this way from the Church School and that, through Blyth’s meadow, and there’d be droves of kids come up this lane, and there’d be about twenty odd kids, they’d say ‘Hello Ruffy’, and they’d turn and set the dog on another group of kids, and the dog’d go, and he’d get right up to them and he’d wag his tail, then they in turn would send him back, and this used to go on every day. Well when I left, got married, there was a dog, this day it went mad, and it attacked Ruffy and tore his throat open. He had sixty-four stitches, but this time my mum was a widow, and all the kids collected and paid for the vets’s bill for the dog, they thought so much of it. My brother used to ride round with it on a trolley behind his bike. But he was a great character, we all had motorbikes and sidecars, and we’d all come down this lane at night when we come home from work every time. And he’d walk right up to the station bridge, for a ride home on the motor bike. Where the railway bridge is. And then he’d, we’d come home, he’d sit on the tank, anywhere, he didn’t care. He’d ride on the cross bar of a bicycle with is feet on the handlebars. Fantastic dog. And, when we moved, he wouldn’t stop down, she got put in an old folk’s home, he wouldn’t stop there, he kept going back, in the end, oh, he’s got a son, lives in the Avenue, Aga Khan they used to call him, Khan, he’s a bloke come to Witham, he took him under his wing and kept him. But that’s quite funny, we was working in the Chipping Hill blacksmith’s one Saturday morning, and this Khan bought an Alsation, supposed to have come from German police dog or something. And he’s paid a lot of money for it. And it was supposed to do anything he told it. And Ruffy could tell the time, I mean he knew to a minute where to be to meet anybody. And five to twelve, he’d walk up the lane and wait for me to leave off at twelve o’clock, and he’d look left and right and cross the road and wait outside the blacksmith’s and then come home with me. Well this Khan’d be standing with this Alsation, trying to show Henry how obedient it was. And that wouldn’t do anything he told it. So Ruffy strolls up that lane about five to twelve, walks across the road, sees this other dog, thought ‘I’m having nothing’, hops up and sits on the windowsill, which is, like a cat. Arnold Khan, Arnold Khan, that was his name, he packed his dog off and went off, but he thought so much of that dog he had him in the end, they told me, looked after him till he died. He was a character he was.

Q:    Can you tell us a bit more about, going back a bit to your paper round, then?

Mr M:    Well yes, we, I can remember certain things like, we used to have to go and get the papers off the train, that came from London, and we had an old pram, to get the papers, and we used to go up sometimes, quarter past four in the morning, six, quarter, half past five, and wait for it, sometimes the train never come, during the War, if they’d been bombed. Course, we didn’t know it, as kids, they never told you anything. And we sit dangling our legs over the side of the platform, we’d be there till twelve o’clock sometimes for the papers, and some days they never turned up at all. And we always used to collect the papers in an old pram, old pushchair-type pram, wheel it down to the little lockup shop, it wasn’t a proper shop, it was a shop, but we used to sort the papers out in there and then just lock it up when we’d finished. Yes.

Q:    Did you go, you did the whole of Witham?

Mr M:    Well, we did up as far, yes, right up as far as Hatfield Road, Church Street, Cressing Road. They made up the rounds, you know, so one go off and do Braintree Road and Albert Road, the Avenue and Avenue Road, up to Pelly’s Lodge [Witham Lodge]. There weren’t many houses up there then. I mean there weren’t.

Q:    Was this when you were at school still?

Mr M:    Still at school, yes.

Q:    How did you fit that in with going to school?

Mr M:    Well, we used to have to get up early, didn’t you. I got into trouble over it, I never forgave the bloke, I was actually quite ill, and I think had bronchitis or something, and this Jack[?], I didn’t know him from Adam, he was one of what we called the town boys, he told the [???] master that I was delivering papers. Anyway they hauled me up in front of them and said ‘You’ve got to give it up’, and I had to give it up for a while till I was a bit older. Cause you weren’t, you know all these rules started to come in, how you’ve got to be fourteen and all that. But I mean I’d worked, I can never remember not working, you know, as soon as you could walk, you worked. But he got, I don’t know why he did it, I don’t know, I never knew the lad even.

Q:    You had to take the money as well, did you?

Mr M:    Take the money, yes. We used to deliver to Sawdy, I think his name was, the headmaster of the school, the one up Spinks Lane. (Q: Bramston). Well it wasn’t Bramston then, it was … (Q: I know what you mean, the Secondary School.) Yes, it was just one block then, and then they kept building on it. Sniffer Sawdy we used to call him, he used to sniff all the time, and he lived in Avenue Road, and one house away lived the Geography master, French, Mr French, and he was a nice bloke, and Jeavons[?] down the Avenue. And you knew what people’d pay you, they’d always give you half a crown if the papers were two and threepence, so you always had a threepenny bit, the old threepenny joey, ready. And Mrs Jiggins, her husband was the police sergeant. I always knew she’d give me threepence for myself. So you always made sure she had a threepenny bit in the change. And, I used to get, go round, and people like the headmaster, he’d pay you with a pound, they’d have the Telegraph and the Financial Times or something like that, so their papers’d be quite, they’d be two and nine or something, and I’d have the change, and of course they had ten bob notes in them days, and pounds, didn’t they. And I always had the right change. Anyway, got the better of him one day, and he says, ‘Look, Miller’ he said, cause he knew me from school, he said ‘How come you struggle at school so much, and yet when you come here you’ve always got the right …’ I was in the top class at school, but it was a struggle. [???] ‘How come you’ve always got the right change?’ And I laughed. And he said ‘But you, every time’, he said ‘I can’t catch you out’, he said ‘whatever I give you, you’ve got the right change’. So I showed him, I had change for ten bob in one hand, and change for a pound in the other one, and whichever he gave me I had the change [laugh]. And so, fooled the old headmaster.

Q:    So you went to school there for a bit as well then?

Mr M:    Yes, four years, I did there, yes.

Q:    You didn’t like that either, then?

Mr M:    Not very much. I don’t know why we were so hard up as kids, but I mean, I never seemed to be so well dressed as the rest of the kids.

Q:    Really?

Mr M:    We always worked, all of us, I don’t know where the money went. Cause, well, we weren’t, my family never drunk, or, my mum smoked, but we never had drink in the house at all, or anything like that.

Q:    But you felt you weren’t as well, you say you weren’t as well dressed as the others, then?

Mr M:    Well, never seemed to be, but I don’t know. My mum was deaf. And of course she struggled to get on in the world, I mean she was in a different world really, to us, she was completely deaf, from when she was a teenager. And I suppose, things didn’t, she lived, as you say, in a different world. I mean she watched the television, and she put a complete story to herself, you know, what the film would be about, and, you’d try and tell her things …

Q:    Could she lip read or anything?

Mr M:    Yes, ever so well. And I know what I was going to tell you, about the window. Back in them days, because my  mum was deaf, we had these walls, and we had this dog Ruffy, and we had an old cat as well, given to us by Sainty, have you heard of Sainty the wireless doctor? (Q: Yes, yes.) He lived down Braintree Road. Well, he gave me a cat for Christmas in 1940, I had a cat for my Christmas present, and my mum, cause she was deaf, she couldn’t pronounce, and she always called him Nillercat[?]. She had seven, five or seven, all patches, black and ginger and white, and I reckon she must have been mother to half the cats in Witham. And she lived till she was twenty, till I knew Maureen.

And she was still having kittens, and poor old thing, she was in this shed here one night, sat up all night with her, she had one kitten dead, I know it broke my heart. Anyway, the cat’d want to come indoors, so the dog used to jump up on that wall, run along, stand on that windowsill, when we were kids, and block the light out the window. My mum, go and open the door, the cat’d walk in, dog didn’t want to come in the door. How did they know she was deaf? Incredible.

Q:    She did well then, didn’t she, to get on as well as she did.

Mr M:    Yes. But it was a big handicap when you’re kids, cause you know, help, she couldn’t help with homework, cause she couldn’t read or write or anything, and, you know, dad was away, cause he travelled with his job all the time. So really, we roamed all them fields, Highfields, where they dump, and all them, I knew every inch of it as kids.

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