Miss Elfreda Griggs was born c 1909. She was interviewed on 11 May 1999, when she lived at Beverley, Chalks Road, Witham.
For more information about her, see Griggs, Elfreda, in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Q: When you gave your concerts, when you were little, what you call all the aristocracy came to your concerts. You said all the aristocracy came.
Miss G: Yes.
Q: I wondered [???] who were they? Do you remember any of them, like Miss Vaux and people like that? These ladies that came, the aristocracy, that came, who were they?
Miss G: They were the people that belonged to the Church.
[period of silence, restarts about 6 minutes]
Q: You reckon you didn’t start till then.
Miss G: I didn’t do any [???]. Nobody told me cause nobody could.
Miss G: And there was a Mr Howlett, he was the organist of All Saints Church, and he used to have a few pupils, but he thought you could afford to pay three guineas a term. Him. Well, we had a lady living next door to us at the time, and she had a daughter, Grace, and she used to come and stay there sometimes, and she said you ought to go and have some lessons [???] No, he said, you could do the exam work, but I shouldn’t enter you for the exams. Meant he couldn’t. He hadn’t got the … And I think he’d two or three lines of letters that he didn’t supposed to have, and Canon Galpin I think, got them all took away from him.
Miss G: I think that was, something like that went on. However, I used to do that, and every day, we had this grace, morning hymn, grace at twelve, grace again at one, I was in and out [???] and four o’clock. [probably at school]
Q: Did you always have a hymn then?
Miss G: Yes. [???]. They were all hymns. I found a scripture certificate up in my back window there. We used to have a specialist come from school with us once a year I think. And he’d talk and he’d talk and he’d talk. And the next day, which we dreaded, we had to write to what he said. [???] Most of them were sucking their pens. Couldn’t think of a word. So that was a waste of time. Other days we used to come over at four[?] and make daisy chains in the fields and trim ourselves up. Everything was leisurely and easier. Now the poor kids are all rushing home to do their homework, and their mothers are having to hear them do French late at night. It’s hard, isn’t it. I don’t know anybody’s any better for it. I don’t think they are. I think you can work too hard when you’re young. Provided you can read and write, that is essential of course. My mother taught us all our sums, tables, before we went to school. Used to sing them. ‘Twice one is two, ta da da da’. And I had to [???] twelve times. Yes. My mother won a scholarship in London for English, and went to the Grosvenor House [???] school. I think it was just a big house made, used as a school.
But it must have been lovely in those days. The easy way it was to live. Now nobody’s got time for anything, dear. I know my pupils, they do dancing one hour, next year they’re doing something else, so they fill the days right up. And then when they’re about seventeen or eighteen, they get meningitis or all these things, it’s only the pressure. I think.
Q: But you had quite a hard life though, didn’t you? You had quite a busy life when you were little, because you had to help at home a lot, didn’t you?
Miss G: Oh yes. Well my mother couldn’t do anything you see, and we’d got a big garden. And cooking. Used to have a little stool so I could reach the table, and whatever she was doing, I would do. [???] And my grandma was a cook at Gale’s the auctioneers. She was a good cook, and immaculate house. People did those days.
Q: Was that the one in Walthamstow.
Miss G: Yes.
Q: Was that your mother’s ?
Miss G: My father’s.
Q: Your father’s mother.
Miss G: Everything, if we went to stay, everything was served up, with serviettes and things just as we were the people that she’d worked for. Just if we were lords and ladies. She liked that sort of thing. And we had six, about six white wooden steps, which they used to scrub. There was about three floors in my grandma’s house, and they used to scrub these three steps after every meal, never left alone, all done. And in the mornings she had the bacon and eggs first thing, on a big [???] oil stove in a little alcove, you could get all that wafting upstairs early. And with the wash stand and the basins, cause [???] pitcher and cold water all brought up. [???] they are now. They’ve got everything they wanted but I don’t think any of them were like that in those days.
Q: That was quite different. You liked going there then, you liked visiting her?
Miss G: Yes. Yes. That’s wonderful really, and all the cooking, beautiful cook. Well she would, she’d cook for that big house, lovely.
Q: Was your mother a good cook?
Miss G: Yes she was quite good. But I liked it so I took over most of it. She did. And then of course we had evacuees. And taught them the piano.
Q: Are those the two in the photograph? [photo M740].
Miss G: Yes.
Q: Do you remember their names? Do you remember what their names were?
Miss G: The names of?
Q: The evacuees.
Miss G: Oh yes, Godfrey. And, I think I’ve got a picture of one married.
Q: Yes, you showed me that, yes, that’s nice, yes.
Miss G: Now the younger one has had a stroke. And has to go out in a wheelchair. But luckily she’s got a husband who can take her, and they had one son, a boy, and the other one had a girl and a boy.
Q: What were their first names?
Miss G: The children, the evacuees. The evacuees were Doris and , I’ve forgotten the other one, Margaret.
Q: So did you have to go somewhere to decide who you were having, to choose them? How did it work?
Miss G: No. I went, after my brother was killed in Chelmsford with a bomb, and well, I mean, we hadn’t got much, we hadn’t got any relatives much around, and I thought well perhaps I’ll see if they’ve got any evacuees want a home now. That was in ’41, I think. Now I went to the Public Hall, and asked them if they’d got any more evacuees waiting, they said ‘Well we have’. I said ‘Well I’d like two little boys’. They said ‘I don’t think you’d better have two little boys, Miss Griggs’. I said ‘Why not’. ‘Why’, they said, ‘they’d be difficult’. ‘I know’. Well they said we’ve got two problem children, but they’re not boys, two little girls. I said ‘Don’t matter if it’s boys or girls, I just wanted something for mother to have to do, to do something’. And she used to make them cakes, and different things, and nightdress, we couldn’t have coupons, not enough to make them clothes, so my mother was a good needlewoman, she used to cut off, shorten my clothes, make clothes out of mine. So there was always something going on.
Q: Were they a problem?
Miss G: No. Not a bit. No trouble at all, dear. And they loved it. When they came, they saw the cat and the dog and all the other animals floating around, never heard a word from them. They used to be, they had the bedroom over here, and they’d sometimes call out and say ‘Auntie, we want a drink’. I knew what it was. And when I got up there, they’d have their head in a quilt in the sheets, and their backsides up like that, for me to smack them. Waiting for it. And they used to write home to their mother and father every Sunday, that was their job. Sunday morning, they used to stop in bed and write the letters. And then one was a bit more brighter than the other, so they both started, and ‘Dear Mum and Dad, we hope you are well like we are.’ That was the first bit they put. And that went on every one [???]. And then one of them, they’d say ‘Auntie, Margaret’s writing just the same as me.’ I said ‘Wait till I get up there’. ‘She’s got it down just the same as me’. I said ‘That’s no good, your mum don’t want to read two letters the same’. ‘Are you coming up?’ ‘Yes I’m coming up and you know what I shall do.’ ‘What will you do auntie’. ‘I shall tear the letters up’ [laugh]. I went up and they were giggling under the sheets. ‘Where are they, let me see if she’s got the same as you’. She had. And now, they said, ‘You can hear auntie tear them up’, put them in the dustbin, ‘Now start again, or no dinner’. They started and they done it. They [???] it a game, you see.
Q: Did their parents come and see them at all?
Miss G: Every month.
Q: Every month.
Miss G: They used to come down on the train, and of course I hadn’t got the grand piano then, I’d only got an upright, and so I used to lay out a lunch for the mum and dad and the girls, I said ‘Now you can have it all on your own, you two, and if there’s anything you want to say to your mum and dad, that you want to tell them that I hit you, and you want to go home, well then you can go.’
And they sat down. Then they were frightened when they went back, in case the bombs hit the train. Cause they used to go back about six. Come down. And they were thrilled when they had a gym slip and jumpers like other children and that sort of thing. My mother used to knit everything, vests, socks, everything for them, which was good for her, cause I thought it was therapy, something to think about. And we had a summer house then. And a big Bramley apple, what spread all over the garden, just about here, lovely shade. And in fact when we came in, the first thing I done was to plant trees all the way down and all the way back, damsons, cherries, everything. I don’t know what I was going to do with them. But they did bear. Peaches. We really, I suppose you could say, worked hard, although it didn’t seem work, cause we weren’t driven. It was lovely really.
Q: It does sound like hard work. But you were enjoying it?
Miss G: But we enjoyed it. They used to do it. Yes, that was good fun. I didn’t want them, they didn’t want to go back, and I didn’t want them to go, we didn’t want them to go, they could have stayed. I know Mr Hurrell came the first day of the War, and he said ‘Now you’ve got a bigger house, Miss Griggs, why don’t you take some evacuees’, and I was wild. I said ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well’, he said, ‘you could have one or two here.’ And I thought for a minute and I said ‘Look’, I said, ‘Mr Hurrell, if I’m going to have evacuees, I don’t want one and I don’t want two, but I’ll have seven’. He said ‘What?’ He said ‘You can’t …’ I said ‘I can manage seven’. He never came again. [laugh] Because he knew they’d be all over his garden. Seven Londoners. He never asked me to take any more.
Q: Where did he live then? Where did he live?
Miss G: Next door but one.
Q: Oh did he, right.
Miss G: He wasn’t keen on that. No, not Hurrell. He had a daughter Diane, do you remember Diane?
Q: I don’t think so, no. So were you, did they ask you to do anything else, like land work or anything like that? Did they ask you to do anything else like being a land girl or anything like that?
Miss G: Oh yes, I had to go to the Tribunal. And they said ‘What would you like to do, Miss Griggs?’ I said ‘Well, I don’t know what will I do’. I said ‘My brother’s been killed, we might as well all be killed, for all that matter, if that’s what they intend to do’. I said ‘I’d like to be a nurse or a land girl, but I don’t know whether I’d be able to do the land’. So they talked and they said .. ‘But I said I can’t do anything till I’ve got those children back to London’. ‘What children’, they said. ‘Oh, two evacuees I’ve got’. ‘Oh’ they said, ‘I don’t think we can interfere with evacuees’. They couldn’t touch one set of one war work with another one. And I said ‘I’ve got my mother who’s practically an invalid’. They said ‘Oh well you can get someone to look after her’. I said ‘Yes, but I don’t want anybody to look after’. I said ‘I’m looking after her’. And they said ‘Right’. And of course at the time, they were all the big pots of Witham on this Tribunal.
And they said ‘We’d better leave it …’ All the doctors were on it. Benjamin, and the Gimsons. That I’d had since I was a child, you see. And they said ‘Well’, they had to have another meeting ‘We’ll let you know what we could do’. I think then I’d got the flu at the time. And my mother said ‘What did they say?’. They said ‘They’re going to let me know, if they’re going to want me in the army, or, I said the WAAFS, or the WRENS’. I said ‘Sounds good fun to me’. I’d got several pupils at that time, you see. Who were ‘Tell them you’ll come in the WAAFS’. Another one ‘Tell them you’re going into the girls …’. ‘Yes, well’ I said, ‘I can’t go in all of them’. But they all went to something, you see. And they used to come with their bikes at night, it’d be dark, no lights, have their lessons. I still kept teaching. We had to stick black paper, right thick black paper over every window. And if there was a crack, and the Home Guard could see it, they’d come and knock on the door, they said ‘There’s a crack in your window, the Jerries’ll find it’. I said ‘Well they’d better come and mend the crack then, cause’ I said ‘I’ve put enough black paper up there last for the century. Just sheer black paper. And we had a wall built outside here, in front of that window, brick wall, and that was to keep the blast out. And I know I had three[?] rooms[?] then[?] and we had the outside toilet then, and I think I was coming out from out of that toilet, and when I got to the door, I collapsed, and I went onto that wall, and my arms were torn with the wall, and I held it to get home. It was pretty rough in times. To know what to do for the best. Wretched really. Then I was blown once, I was out walking from the Braintree, this side of the Braintree Road to the other. I didn’t know I’d gone, and I found myself on that side, that was the blast of a bomb.
Q: Really, you were lucky?
Miss G: I was still standing up. My mother said ‘Did you hear that air raid?’ I said, cause she couldn’t very well, she’s always been a bit deaf, you see. And the evacuees, we used to have a Morrison shelter in here, took up the whole room, with chicken wire all the way round, [???] chicken wire. We had to take all the bedclothes and anything in there, sleep in there. Three or four years. And the children, they used to say ‘Get gran in first, auntie’. That’s my mum. And she was a big woman. So they got her in. ‘Now you’ve got to get Bonny and all the animals, got to come in, the cat, I had to go out in the garden and collect them. They were all in. They said ‘Where’re you going to sit’. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘I’m going to watch out there for the Jerry’. ‘You’ll tell us if they’re coming, won’t you auntie’. ‘Yes’. I used to stand by the front door and wait for them. And the first, it must have been the first day of the War, a Jerry came right down, I was outside there, and, right down, practically I could see the man in the cockpit, and then, I could see the swastika on the plane, and I was cheering, cause I could see that swastika, I thought that was wonderful.
And they got a lot of bombs, and they took them all out on the allotments there, dropped them all out on the allotments. I said ‘I reckon that’s because I waved to them. Lovely’. And I had nuts off that plane that must have fell off. Doctor Nesper[?], Berlin, that’s where the plane was made.
Q: Really, what they fell off in the garden?
Miss G: Yes. Yes we had all that. Shrapnel. Loads of shrapnel we used to pick up. They used to throw it out I expect.
Q: It’s hard to imagine now, isn’t it.
Miss G: No you can’t imagine what it was like. No soon you get to bed, then that siren ‘Ooooooo’. They’d come scrambling down the stairs, these kids, ‘Auntie, did you hear the siren?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Can we have a lemonade now?’ That’s all they want. Lemonade and biscuits if the siren went. ‘Now what shall we do if the siren goes?’ ‘Well’ I said ‘you’d better come down here, and we’ll get the lemonade and the biscuits’.
Q: So they didn’t make you do anything different, then? They let you keep them, they didn’t make you go off and do anything different?
Miss G: No. They were very good. No trouble at all dear. Just as if they were my own. But the neighbours were the [???]. They used to be putting their linen out one side, and the other. They said ‘They’ll always enjoy your own children, but you’ll still have to join up if they’re someone else’s’. I hear her talking over the fence. I didn’t take notice, I pretended I didn’t hear them. But that’s what they were. (Q: Really?) And Mrs Hancock, you know, (Q: I know, yes.) Mrs Hancock. That was her name. I saw here in Woolworth’s one day, she said ‘It isn’t fair’. I said ‘What isn’t fair?’ ‘That you are still here, and my Winifred is working on the land’. ‘Well’ I said ‘I offered to work on the land’. I said ‘They didn’t want me. They thought I was doing more good looking after these two children’. ‘Yes, but they’re not your own, she said’. I said ‘What’s the difference, if they’re my own, if I hadn’t got them somebody else’d have them’. Yes. Oh, she was wild. And Winnie was. If I went in the delicatessen down there, she’d turn her head back. I used to speak to her, just to torment. I thought ‘She doesn’t want to speak to me so I’ll speak to her’. And turn her head, on her heels, couldn’t bear it. And that was years after the War finished [Winnie Hancock was also a music teacher]. Yes, she was a funny sort of girl. I don’t know, actually she died, I think, but her sister’s still alive, Dorothy. She’s different. I suppose that didn’t affect her.
Q: No, she’s a nice person.
Miss G: There you are dear.
Q: You had a lot to put up with, didn’t you?
Miss G: Oh yes. I always do. But I never took no notice. I thought ‘What’s the good?’ I was doing all I could do. There was nothing else I could do. They wanted me to teach at Braintree High School. They said ‘You’d have a regular salary and everything’. I said ‘I know I would’, but I said ‘Who’d look after my mother and my evacuees and all my pets and the garden. I said ‘Who’d be doing that?’ I said ‘I should want a host of servants to carry on what I’m doing’. You see people are nosy, and crazy to do things. Always think you’re doing something wrong.
No I’ve had a really happy life. Nothing to grumble about at all. I know we had our bad days and our good days, but we had all our own garden, fruit, gooseberries, apples, strawberries, we used to grow all the lot, all straw in them. Just like an expert. I knew what they ought to be done, and I was happy, guess I could do it. And the dog. We had a little corgi, now a corgi, a cairn, and he used to help to pick the strawberries, eat them. And we had chickens in a little hen house, and keep us going laying the eggs. Hear the old cockerel crowing, he’d go down to their nest box, and pick, he knew they’d laid an egg, and he used to go and pick it up in his mouth and bring it up here. Lay it on the floor. Never broke one. I said, Solas his name was, we used to call him Solly. I said ‘You’d better go and see if there’s any eggs, Solly, he’d go straight down there, look in the box, and come, and then he’d go back and get another one. Yes. And we had a goat. Mr Smith was a butcher and he, somebody brought a goat and they didn’t know what to do with it, so he brought it up here, and he said ‘How would you like that goat, Miss Griggs, for your animals’. I said ‘How much?’ Seven and six he wanted for him. ‘Oh yes’ I could keep the goat, keep the goat. The goat used to sleep in the summer house. And soon as she heard me draw the curtains she used to come out and go ‘Rrrrrr’, and come in and jump clean onto that shelter. [laugh] In the morning. And she used to have her breakfast on there. Yes, she was lovely. We could keep her till we couldn’t keep her any longer cause she ate everything in the garden. So I had boy lived down the Avenue that time, he said, if you like Miss Griggs, I’ll take her to Braintree market and sell her. And he said ‘I shan’t get much for her, I don’t suppose’. I said ‘Don’t matter as long as you get a home for her.’ I said ‘I can’t keep her, she’s going to eat us out’. Didn’t matter whether that was briars, roses or anything, eat them. So we did that. And she went. But every morning, soon as she heard the curtains open ‘hehehehe’ she’d start, and come out, scamper up, she was white, so we called her Sylvia. If you hear of a goat called Sylvia, you’d know that was her. They’re lovely, animals are. I know last night, Lisa over the road’s got a cat, and she came into me last night, and when she went out ‘You know where my cat is. Sitting on my doorstep’. She knew Lisa was in here. Amazing, isn’t it. I think animals are lovely. We did all sort of things. And one cairn, the first dog I had, he hated a car, if anybody took him in a car, he’d cry. But he didn’t mind trains. And there was a bookstall down there on the station, used to go down and get the books and papers. And he never had a lead cause he’d follow you. And when I went down there, there was one of the porters, a Mr Chalk, he said, ‘Look, where is your dog?’
I said ‘I don’t know, he’s here isn’t he?’ ‘No, he’s not here’. The porter left the door open, he’d gone in the train and was sitting in the corner seat ready to go to London [laugh]. ‘He’s off to London’ he said ‘You’d better catch him quick’. We used to have tickets at that time of the day, when you could go for one week for seven and six, you could go every day when you wanted to, as far as Clacton. Then you could go if you had another ticket you could go as Felixstowe. And the last one was to Yarmouth. He so loved these trains, this dog, and my mother couldn’t go out at all, she said ‘Why don’t you have a dog, it’d be something to take out’. I got him from the butcher’s in Brentwood somewhere. And the people said where I got him, cause he wasn’t a puppy, they said ‘He will have his dinner in a pram, with the kids’. I thought that was all right. But it didn’t stop at that. When I got him home, he wanted [???] something to have it, a bluebottle or a wasp, he’d watch and see if there was anyone coming around and then he’d go for them. Must have something easy[?] He was a funny little dog. Really lovely. Pretty little dog. Oh and he used to go on this train. Course we went on the first one, [???] and they said ‘Here comes that dog again’, every morning for seven days, you see. And they said ‘What would he like to have for breakfast I wonder’. ‘Well’ I said ‘I don’t think he wants any breakfast but he would like some coffee, with a sugar lump in the middle.’ ‘Right’ they said, and all these men on the train with the food, getting him a sugar lump, and a saucer. He loved coffee. And then they saw him coming the next day, they said ‘Charlie, get the coffee ready’. And they’d treat[?] the coffee and then crunch the sugar. Had to be a sugar lump. They said ‘There’d be others[?]’ ‘Oh no, he’s very aristocratic, he likes his sugar lump.’ Act daft, dear, stupid. But that made it fun.
[chat about her 90th birthday and getting message in local newspaper for thanks]