Mr Ken Thompson was born in 1934. He was interviewed on 21 April 2004, when he lived at 40 Guithavon Road, Witham.
For more information about him, see Thompson family, especially George, father of Ken, in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
[Discussion about names of people etc. on photos brought by KT (including his father, George Thompson, coal merchant) and copied as JG’s photos M2020-M2033; he also brought some others later which are M2195-M2208 and M2831-M2838. Details entered on Access database of M photos, not noted here.]
Q: Did he talk about it much? [George T re First World War]
Mr T: No. Hard man to get on with.
Q: Was he?
Mr T: Very very hard man to get on with. That’s the same one as what you’ve seen.
Q: Anyway, a lot of people didn’t talk about the War, after, from what I can see.
Mr T: No. I’ve been over there several times to find out about various things, like, as my father spoke a lot about Vimy Ridge, the Essex Yeomanry were never in Vimy Ridge, they were in Vimy. I got that from a fellow from a museum over there, and I took my records, only he wanted to buy them off me there and then. He wanted ‘Can I please?’ ‘No, no, no.’
[Chat about age of GT, was nine in 1901, details not noted]
Q: Would he [GT] have worked at the blacksmith?
Mr T: My father never worked there, no, he worked for Thomas Cullen. [seeds]
Q: Oh did he?
Mr T: He worked for Thomas Cullen, then I assume went into the army, and then he came out and started the coal business, in 1920.
Q: So he’d not done anything like that before or anything?
Mr T: No. He had ten horses, I know that, he had ten horses. Used to do cartage, telegraph poles to Maldon. I understand that he delivered all the bricks from Witham Goods Station, to, which was then the cinema, or Public Hall or cinema. [probably Whitehall, 18 Newland Street]
Q: When they were building it?
Mr T: Yes. But there’s nothing, any records that I’ve got, to prove anything like that. But I’ve got some photos of the old coal yard, which I took. [1a Braintree Road]
[more chat re photos, not noted here]
Q: Cause these were quite old places, weren’t they, down the bottom here? [behind 1a Braintree Road].
Mr T: Oh yes. Evidently the army were down there many years ago.
Q: Oh really? That’s interesting, well I suppose it would be a good place for them.
Mr T: And I can recall them down there in the ‘39-45 War. Cause they used to come up and pinch the coal.
Q: They did?
Mr T: Mm. [laugh].
[more chat about photos of yard etc; Thompson’s not all the way down. Argument over right of way with Ramsden Mills, carpet people at end, came c late 1960s, Mr and Mrs Addison, more customers than before. Before that was Christie’s, fridge people, before that, before the army, a wood firm]
Q: So you obviously from what you say, you carried on the business?
Mr T: I came out of the army in ’54, and got told by my father ‘Are you coming to work for me Monday or not, or you can find somewhere else to live’. He was that hard. And I went to work for him in ’54, and I worked for him until the sixties when he made me a partner. And he was that sort of man who, I went in one Monday for my lunch at dinner time, and Derek Bright was there, and he was there, and his first words that I got were ‘Sign here.’ And I said ‘I’m going to read it first before I sign’, which I did. When I saw ‘Sole survivor takes all’, I got my signature on there quick. Having not realised that that was it [???], it could have been me. And he made me a partner. And then he gave me notice that he wanted his share of the business in twelve months time, and obviously I couldn’t at that particular time find that sort of money.
Q: Quite, yes.
Mr T: And it was due on March the 31st and he died on February the 10th or 12th.
Q: What year was that?
Mr T: I wish I’d put these records in there. ’70 something?
Q: So it wasn’t that long ago. Well, it is now, but it doesn’t seem like it.
Mr T: Mm. Then I took it over and stayed until ’94. I come over with a sack on my back in Wickham Bishops, and I was round this house, I’d got, I can always remember, I’d got 25 to deliver, I’d delivered about nine, and it was an icy morning and I fell down these steps, with a sack on my back. Sack stayed at the top, I stayed at the bottom in a puddle. Nobody was in the house, nobody was in the house next door. Took me ages to get up. Having got up, I managed to finish that delivery, I went home, and four days later I got out of bed. And in those four days laying upstairs, it was just like the light flashing, ‘Get out before you kill yourself’. And that was what made me make my mind up, enough was enough. So that was it. You know. That’s me.
Q: So did someone else, what happened to the business?
Mr T: The business – I sold the yard privately, cause the fellow wanted, a fellow Garwood at Tiptree took my customers over. And I sold the yard privately and retired and got out of it and that was it.
Q: And that was in about?
Mr T: ’94. Sold it in July, ’94.
Q: As you say, there’s less coal used now.
Mr T: Oh, there’s no, compared with. I mean in the early eighties, I could not stop for dinner, nothing. It was just crazy. Then the strike came on [1984-5], never sold so much rubbish in my life, because we had to take whatever we could get from wherever we could get it. After that the trade went down quite quickly. So in ’94, yes you were able to make a living if you stayed on your own, but if you had people working for you, you wouldn’t have done. So that was enough. How does that one ring a bell? You’ve probably seen that one?
Q: Oh yes. I think I might have got it in the book, but this is a better copy of it. It’s lovely that, isn’t it, yes.
Mr T: My father was heavily involved, I think with Cullen’s, because he received this Christmas card.
Q: I think that’s about the best known picture, isn’t it, but that’s a really good copy of it [Cullen’s?]
Mr T: Having said that, I joined Colchester Golf Club many years ago, and Tom Cullen, who is the son of one of the Tom Cullens, I played golf with. And he was a surgeon, doctor, somewhere or other, I think somewhere around Kettering area, somewhere round that. And of course, me knowing his father and everything else, we struck up a great relationship, really have. He’s ninety-odd now, Tom is, and he’s a super guy, he really is. He was a prisoner of War and he escaped and got back to this country, but he will not talk about it. You have one hell of a job to get it out of him.
Q: So where was he, was he in Witham then?
Mr T: He has a son that lives in Kelvedon, as you go off the by-pass, the first farm on the left-hand side, up a long driveway. He’s got a son up there. And then he’s got some people in Australia.
Q: So where does he fit in with the seed people, then?
Mr T: I think it was his father.
Q: It was his father. Oh right, I didn’t realise they were still about. So he knew quite a bit about the business?
Mr T: He’s ninety-, oh he knows, I don’t know whether knows much about the business or not, but he and I sort of click with the golf and the Thomas Cullen, who, in my day I carted all the waste away from Cullen’s seed place, down to Alf Ashby’s farm, where they used to burn it. Down near the river, down the bottom.
Q: When you say the waste, the sort of …?
Mr T: Seed waste. Cause I worked in the seed, I worked in Cooper Taber’s. When you get the seed in, you clean it, dress it, and re-sack it to sell it again, obviously. And all the waste from that has to go somewhere. So …
Q: So you can’t use it for anything?
Mr T: Yes, you burn it off, but I don’t know whether you knew Alf Ashby at all, or the Ashbys.
Q: Not very well no, no.
Mr T: Wild man. Very very wild man. Unbelievable. I’ll give you an instance. We had a load of coal in that was not very good. And we got complaints from place to place, so we had the National Coal Board down. Took them all round all the customers who had the big amounts, and they all got money back from the Coal Board. Took them down to Alf, and he got warned before we went down there ‘Now, keep your little mouth shut, and just …’, and he absolutely blew his top and got nothing. He was that sort of man. But that’s life. They’re around.
Q: So when you were – how did you get into the seed business then? More or less straight away?
Mr T: I just left school, and went into the seed business. Basically I knew at that particular time I’d got only got, what was it, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, at eighteen I was in National Service. Came out there and then father threatened me with work. [laugh]
Q: Cause – was it Cooper Taber that Roy Gage up the road worked for ?
Mr T: Till it caught fire when I was in the army., the warehouse. [in 1953]
Q: Oh really, so you were in the old one?
Mr T: I was in the old, the wooden one that came right to the Avenue Road corner. Cause they had a little office for the side there, and then the big warehouse.
Q: I’ve seen quite a few snapshots, [???] a little office, a little room, office or something, that was left after the fire.
Mr T: Probably, cause the fire was in the main warehouse.
Q: So was the office actually on Avenue Road?
Mr T: As you, yes, just before where, there’s a little driveway up on the left hand side, just before you turn left to go round to the station. And the warehouse was slightly to the right of that. And the office was on, as you looked at it, the office was on the left, the big warehouse was on the right.
Because in my day, when I worked there, they used to have horses, bring trucks up from the railway, up the side there. Used to be a railway line up the side there.
Q: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Mr T: Yes. There used to be horse up there.
Q: So the horses would pull the trucks?
Mr T: Pull the trucks up, come up there and unload them or load them, and pull them back onto the main line, and then away.
Q: Oh I didn’t realise they had a siding, I knew Crittall’s did, but that was built specially.
Mr T: Mm. Yes.
[chat about Witham books and history etc., then about names of people on pictures of Masonic Lodge (JG’s photos M2020 and M2021), not noted]
Q: So was there a Witham [Mason’s] Lodge as well?
Mr T: There was a Witham Lodge. He was part of Witham Lodge, he was part of Hatfield Peverel Lodge, and he was also part of Tollesbury Lodge.
Q: Well. So that kept him busy.
Mr T: Yes, it caused a few problems but …
Q: Really, what way?
Mr T: It takes one person to stop anybody joining. Now when my eldest sister got married, and she married a Purcell, he would not would not have his, the fellow she married, his father would not have his photos taken with anybody, on the day. And that was a lot of other things, I think, that I don’t know anything about, that went on. Having that happen, this fellow wanted to join Witham Lodge. My father said no. And I can recall them coming to mother’s house regularly, begging him to change his mind, and he wouldn’t. So he never did join the Lodge. And that’s how secretive it is. Takes a bit of believing, but … And from that day onwards, I did get asked if I would like to join, to which I said no, and I told them the reason why. Said I don’t believe in that sort of thing. So that was it.
Q: So obviously it was a big important thing to him, the Lodge.
Mr T: I think it was in those days to most people that got into it.
Q: Yes, you can understand it can’t you.
[more chat about photos, not noted]
Mr T: I can recall when he died, the Witham Lodge were up my house, or our house, within twenty-four hours, collecting all his things.
Mr T: Cause of the little apron they wear, and various bits and pieces, they took the lot, before we got a chance to look at them, even.
[more chat about photos and papers, not noted]
Q: [reading] Wounded in right shoulder. So did he, were you aware that he was …
Mr T: Oh yes, he carried coal with it. He used to carry coal like this, [???] through here, he carried coal like this. I’ve tried it and nearly strangled myself.
Q: What, with his other arm round?
Mr T: Yes. And he carried coal like that.
Q: So his right arm was the one …
Mr T: His right arm was the one that was injured and they told him evidently that, as I gather, it would only last a few years, but it lasted him his life-time.
Q: You say he put his hand over his shoulder.
[more chat about papers, photos etc also about Essex Regiment Museum, not noted]
Q: So you didn’t really know much about this until he died? How much did you know ?
Mr T: No, didn’t know much at all, because basically he never spoke about it, could never talk to him about anything like that, any rate, he would never say anything about it. So, very difficult man to talk to, to get anything out of. He was a true old Victorian type, if you know what I mean, and, it’s difficult.
Q: So what was your mother like, then?
Mr T: Mother, if it wasn’t for mother, I would not have had anything, put it that way. I think, looking at it now, probably mother was a bit frightened of him. He was that sort of bullish sort of character. Maybe the fact that, when he was a young age, taken prisoner, we don’t know what went on, like the last World War, we don’t know what went on. A lot of them will not talk about it. And the more you go to France and see how close the lines were, it must have been hell. I mean, we went up onto a hill, Hill 62, over there, and looked down where the Canadians fought. And the fellow who took us onto there said all this area was one sea of mud. And you can’t imagine just what they’re talking about exactly. Very interesting, I got involved in it quite a lot, and been around all over the place over there looking at things.
Q: Well, you feel you’ve made a bit of contact with him, even if he’s not here.
Mr T: Well, that’s right, you know, very interesting and, it’s difficult.
Q: You had a sister as well, you say?
Mr T: I had two sisters. One still lives in Witham, Barnardiston Way, and the other one lives in, think it’s Horning in Norfolk.
Q: So you were the only son then, so that’s why you …
Mr T: Yes, I was the mistake of the family.
Q: Surely not. [laughter]
Mr T: I’m sure I was, because there’s a big gap between the last one and me.
Q: So when were you born, then?
Mr T: I was born in ’34, seventy this year.
Q: So your sister [??? short patch of poor sound], what’s her name now then?
Mr T: Irene, Irene Dobson. I mean I was born at 3 …
Q: Yes, you mentioned that, 3 Chalks Road.
Mr T: Yes, yes, and my grandfather lived at 5.
Q: Right, so your grandfather was your mother’s …?
Mr T: Skingsley. Yes, big family. Came from Wethersfield. I’ve seen where she used to live years ago. Yes, I’ve been over and looked at that.
Q: That’s your mother, where she used to live?
Mr T: Yes, yes.
Q: So what her family do?
Mr T: They worked on the land. My grandfather, all I knew was that he used to take me round in a wheel-cart, round Witham, and he worked for Cullen’s on the trial ground. But John Champ, who’s looking into my records, says that he had another job as well. Carman or something. Now what that would be with horse and carts I do not know.
Q: No, I think it’s just a, a carrier of some sort.
Mr T: Could be, I don’t know. So I remember them, obviously. I remember the ARP hut at the end of the road here [Chalks Road].
Q: Really? Tell me about that then.
Mr T: Yes. Well, my father was an ARP Warden [Second World War]. And he delivered the gas masks in this area on the back of his lorry, I remember that.
Q: Goodness me, do you really?
Mr T: Yes. And he used to go round doing that, many years ago. Yes, at the end of the road, same side as you live on [north] at the end there [next to Braintree Road], used to be a little brick-built hut, and that was their ARP Warden’s thing. Yes, there used to be one there.
Q: So that was put up specially in the War?
Mr T: That was put up, I assume, specially in the War, yes, for that purpose.
Q: So what did they used to do there then?
Mr T: Well, when the air raid warning siren went, they used to go there and meet, sort of thing, and then, like when bombs dropped round here, they were out, I assume taking control of the area.
Q: Yes. I never knew that was there.
Mr T: Small world. But …
Q: So what else do you remember about the War, then? [Second]
Mr T: I remember the bomb dropping in, just off Cressing Road. There was a land mine dropped in the allotments up Powershall, up there [now Saxon Drive]. There was a bomb dropped on Hodges’ house next to the creamery, which was the other side of the bridge [next to the railway viaduct at the bottom of Highfields Road].
Q: Oh Highfields Road, yes?
Mr T: Yes, Highfields Road, yes. Cause the house I live in now [40 Guithavon Road], it knocked all the ceilings down and that, I don’t live far from there. I don’t recall a lot else about the War, basically. I can recall a plane coming over here and machine-gunning. Cause it went through grandfather’s roof. Not his house, his shed, outside. I recall that. But not a lot more. Cause in 1939 we moved up from here to 9 Braintree Road, which backed onto the coal yard. I can recall going up there and, that’s when the Army, soon after, it may not have been 1939, it may have been a little later, were pinching the coal [laugh]. Which is obvious if you’re that close to the coal yard.
Q: But you lived near enough to keep an eye on it then?
Mr T: Well, I think they got caught a few times.
Q: So, you’d be at school?
Mr T: I started school, yes. I was at school, born in ’34, ’39. Five years old.
Q: So which school did you go to?
Mr T: I started off at Chipping Hill, then went to Guithavon Street, and then went to Spinks Lane, what you called Senior School in those days. Still got my school record at home, not very good, but I’ve got my school record at home. Could have done better if tried. School teachers – Miss Morris, Chipping Hill. Miss Welland was headmistress at Guithavon Street when I was there.
Q: So was that mixed then?
Mr T: Yes, yes. Next door to the slaughterhouse in years gone by. Cause you could see over the wall.
Q: Could you? And you used to look, did you?
Mr T: Yes.
Q: So did you actually see them, what could you see?
Mr T: You saw the cattle there, and fellows chasing cattle about, and this that and the other. Obviously taking them in to slaughter them, that sort of thing, now. And then at the other school, Senior School, Mr Sawdy was in charge. Crosby, Maidment.
Q: So how did you get on with all of them, then?
Mr T: Got on with Maidment very well. Crosby, I think you were a little bit scared of him. Because there’s nothing, he used to come down the classroom with a inner tube – ‘Twank’.
Q: Really, I’ve never heard of that one.
Mr T: Oh yes. Chap Cooper, who I think he was a parachutist, I think, wouldn’t be too sure about that. He got badly injured I think during the War, and then took up teaching there, and, he was a nice fellow, he was.
Q: So when you were at, going back to when you were at Chipping Hill, did you have to go in the shelters and things like that, or can’t you remember that part?
Mr T: I don’t remember going in the shelters there. I remember going in the shelters at the, what we called the Junior School, the one in Guithavon Street. I remember going in there, specially up at the other one, yes, they were in the sports field down there, used to go in those.
Q: So did you have to do that very often?
Mr T: Not really, I can’t recall doing it a great deal. I don’t know, only half a dozen times in the course of my life, probably.
Q: I see, yes.
Mr T: Mainly thing here was, the planes used to go up during the War, follow the line up to London. And if, which I know now, didn’t at that particular time, if they got bombs left on, they dropped them on the way back. This sort of thing.
Q: Cause Crittall’s …
Mr T: Crittall’s got hit. Mm.
Q: And they were doing War work in there, I believe.
Mr T: They were making ammunition. And in the 1914-18 War, I assume that ammunition was stored in, oh what would it have been called then, Hugh Baird’s [station maltings]. Cause I’ve got a photo somewhere at home of an Ada Smith, who lived at number 2 [Chalks Road], doing something with ammunition, in, there’s a truck, on that photo there’s a truck, railway truck, and they’re unloading it, into the warehouse. [borrowed later, JG’s photo M2195].
Q: That’s interesting. Cause I’m sure I’ve read of people working on ammunitions in the First War, but was never sure where.
Mr T: No, where it was, I don’t know. I only got that from Charlie Smith who was a relation of Ada, who was a relation of me. I got that from him before he died, various bits and pieces.
Q: Well, if you ever find those I’d be very interested.
Mr T: Right, I’ll have a look. I’ve got a case full of goodness know’s what at home, I’ll have to have a look …
… catered[?] for the Army, for the services, in ’39. The first lorry that I knew the number of was AVX 985, which was my father’s, I can remember it, an old brown Ford lorry. Many years ago.
Q: So did he have any horses still, when you, when you can remember?
Mr T: No, no. He used to rent fifteen acres of farmland which is now the complete Sewer farm. He used to rent fifteen acres down there, to which he used to grow beet seed, corn, and stuff like that, keep some chickens down there. And I can recall Italian prisoners of war, going down there, working on the farm.
Q: Oh I see. I wonder where they were living then. There’s no reason why you should have known, really, they just came, did they?
Mr T: There was a place just outside of Halstead. Now when I was in the army, I used to do, I was driver, driver in the army, finished up as CO’s driver, don’t know how, don’t know why, but I was. But I used to drive a 7½ ton lorry. We used to bring these 3.7 guns, which weighed about, ten ton, something like that. Used to tow them, and I had to come one day from the Isle of Wight, three lorries with three guns, backs full of motorbikes, we had, we stopped off at Chelmsford, overnight, to which I asked the CO in charge of that, could I go home, as I lived in Witham and you were coming through there next day. To which I came home, brought the gun home, and nudged it into the coal yard overnight, and things like that. And went to Halstead, the other side of Halstead, with these motorbikes, and dropped them off there, and picked up new ones from there. Now I don’t know any more than that about, whether the prisoners were there during the War, I don’t know.
Q: But there was something there?
Mr T: There was something there, it was army property. So it could have been, they could have been there, I don’t know.
Q: Cause, I know that, like, from your blacksmith’s picture, obviously, there was a lot of soldiers about here in the First World War, but was there in the Second World War as well?
Mr T: Yes, Second World War was when they pinched the coal.
Q: So what do you think they were doing here then?
Mr T: I don’t know. I suppose when you look at army life, soldiers were stationed all over the place, because of a possible invasion, perhaps, I don’t know.
Q: Yes, I guess they’d have to be, and also they had to be all together ready to go off.
Mr T: Yes. Cause Fred Withers, who passed away many years ago, he was stationed down there, and he lived, married a Witham girl.
Q: You mean after he, he met her here, you mean?
Mr T: Yes. So, cause he used to, he told me what went on. [laugh] He was one of those pinched my coal, probably, who knows. I mean, that’s life, that’s life.
Q: So they were probably in other places as well then, not just in the yard.
Mr T: I would imagine so, but I don’t know where, I don’t know where. No. Ammunition down at Crittall’s was being made, so were they part of that, I don’t know.
Q: No, it’s all very interesting. To you and me it doesn’t seem long ago, but of course it’s getting forgotten quickly, isn’t it, now.
Mr T: Oh yes, oh yes, I mean, youngsters today don’t know anything about the War any rate, do they?
Q: No, well, when they get older, they’ll be interested, won’t they?
Mr T: Maybe, who knows. It’s a sad day that it’s forgotten, in some ways. I’ve got a photo somewhere at home of father, two or three others, at the Memorial at Witham, something to do with the British Legion. I don’t know where it is, but I’ve got it somewhere. I’ve got to find my birth certificate first [laugh].
Q: Well that’s not important!
Mr T: It is, cause I want my driving licence.
Q: Actually, you can always get another birth certificate, can’t you.
Mr T: Yes. But, you know …
Q: I’m glad you kept all these things, I mean I think they’re probably quite, I’ve always thought, down Guithavon Road, there’s quite a lot of old Witham people, isn’t there. Or perhaps there isn’t any more?
Mr T: Not so, not so much now …
Q: And they’ve probably all got drawers full of interesting things, keep your ear to the ground.
Mr T: I’m sure they have, yes, will do. I mean, all this [Chalks Road] has, these houses I can recall, that one’s been rebuilt over there, with the white [9 Chalks Road] …
Q: Yes, they’ve done a lot there.
Mr T: Miss Griggs. Used to keep lots of chickens. [Beverley, Chalks Road]
Q: Did she?
Mr T: She used to keep an awful lot of chickens out the back there. Yes.
Q: Even though she had a dog? Well perhaps she didn’t have a dog in those days.
Mr T: I can’t recall whether she had dogs or not, in those days.
Q: So that would be when about, when you were first living here, you mean.
Mr T: Yes. [chat re. old summary of electoral register, not noted]
Q: Cause I’ve always known the name [Thompson], I suppose it’s the first thing you used to see when you come out of the station. The first thing we ever saw when we came to Witham, I remember. I mean had he done anything like that before, do you think, when he started up the business?
Mr T: I don’t think he had, to be honest with you. He worked for Cullen’s before he went in the services. I can’t recall anything else apart from that, you know. Mrs Hayes, across the road [8 Chalks Road], Ireland [12 Chalks Road].
Q: Did you know all these people?
Mr T: Yes. Used to buy my fuel. That’s what all the marks are [on the electoral register summary]. Yes, used to go round here.
Q: So did you help your father when you were little.
Mr T: Lawson. Old the old adverts.
Q: So you knew everybody’s business, really, if you went round with the coal, didn’t you.
Mr T: Too young to take any real notice, to be honest with you. This is the whole area, Rivenhall, Tiptree, all over the place. Sorry for the state of it.
[chat re borrowing list, not noted]
Some friends of mine, Reg Miller who used to live down the Chase [Moat Farm Chase], down the bottom of the Chase.
Q: I know him, blacksmith, was he a blacksmith?
Mr T: No, no. We’re still great friends. And John Champ, we get ahead, so we sit hours sometimes, talking about Witham, and going down the roads. Like the High Street, going down the High Street, and things like that, and, quite interesting, get lots of laughs, lots of laughs about it all.
Q: What you must do is put your tape recorder on when you’re talking, and then forget about it.
Mr T: Alf Good. Have you heard about him? Used to be a garage fellow, you know where Lloyd’s bank is now [99 Newland Street]. There’s a little alleyway by the side of that, between the two banks. He used to be up there on the left hand side.
Q: What did he do, then?
Mr T: Repair vehicles and that, and then there was Goody’s café, on the corner there, and, it’s interesting.
[chat about JG’s old photo of yard, M1689, M1690, and about value of taking photos now etc.]
Q: You’ve obviously got a good memory, yourself, then.
Mr T: Yes, well I think working in Witham, being on the lorry, going round the streets, delivering coal and that, you saw a lot more and every fortnight, I was up this road delivering coal [Chalks Road], cause we did rounds in those days, so, you know, it made it interesting, in lots of ways.
Q: Yes, you didn’t just see your own little area.
Mr T: Oh no, you got around and saw various things, and some things you shouldn’t have seen, and some things you did and all the rest of it, but, I mean I can recall railway horses in Easton Road. As you turn left going into Easton Road, there used to be Slythe’s, then there was two semi-detached houses, or a semi-detached house. And then behind that on the same side, used to be a green field.
Q: That’s the car park now ?
Mr T: That’s the car park, yes, it is. I can recall horses being in there. My father used to take his horses from the coal yard, down Albert Road into what we call Cut Throat Lane, across the railway, Braintree railway line, and you know where the electricity [substation], that used to be known as Thompson’s field. (Q: Oh really, I never realised that.) And that’s where he used to keep his horses overnight. (Q: But that’s before you…) That’s before I knew anything about it. The only thing I can recall of father and horses was that I loaded a load of harness and goodness knows what up, out of the sheds, and took it down the dump. Many years before the present situation, I mean had I known, obviously I’d have kept it, but, took it all the dump, and then we knocked the sheds down, and, when I first started in the coal trade, used to be mangers in there, there was obviously water butts and things like that, so … (Q: So they’d probably not been long …). No, probably not, I mean I don’t know when he finished his horses.
Q: I mean most people, I say most people, a lot of people, it seems to have been in the 1930s, people have shown me pictures with the new van that they got then.
Mr T: I can recall him saying, taking telegraph poles from Witham railway station to Maldon, with a pair of horses, and that would take all day, to get there and back.
Q: How did he carry telegraph poles?
Mr T: I suppose he had the right sort of equipment to do it, I mean, what it would be and that I don’t know, but in those days, were telegraph poles as tall a they are now.
Q: Hard to say, I mean some of them look really enormous, don’t they, but …
Mr T: I don’t know. He used to cart a lot of bricks, yes, he’d do all that sort of thing.
Q: Cause he was well-situated near the station really, wasn’t he, because I presume that’s where a lot of the stuff arrived.
Mr T: Yes. I mean a lot of our work was carting coal to the creamery, Co-op creamery in Witham, which was in Highfields Road, and also to the Bridge Hospital, used to have railway trucks of coal going there. And then in my day I used to deliver for the Bridge Hospital concrete slabs.
Q: So would they, at the creamery, do you think they had machinery at the Co-op then?
Mr T: Cleaning bottles perhaps, I don’t really know to be honest with you.
Q: Cause obviously at one time, a lot of the machines would have been steam, wouldn’t they.
Mr T: I know when we used to take coal there, we weren’t allowed to put water, cause you can imagine when you’re unloading coal, it’s dusty and filthy, you weren’t allowed to put water on it. (Q: To damp it down?) We had long arguments with them to get a pint of milk every time we went down there to drink.
We finished up by saying we won’t do it if we can’t have it. We used to get, it was anthracite dust, and that absolutely clogged you.
Q: So normally you would have damped that down, would you?
Mr T: Yes. I can recall backing up to the building, putting it through a hole in the wall, many years ago.
Q: But Crittall’s didn’t …?
Mr T: Crittall’s I don’t know anything about at all. I think a place like that, a hell of a job to heat anyway.
Q: What about the gas works?
Mr T: Gas works, on the corner of Millbridge Road. Yes, used to get coke from there. Yes.
Q: Cause they presumably used, I don’t know a lot about making the gas, but they must have, did they use coal did to start with then?
Mr T: Yes. Yes, we, we went, and once that packed up we went to Chelmsford, picked it up from there.
Q: I was wondering who supplied them with their coal, cause they have got through a lot.
Mr T: That I don’t know, but in those days they had the Co-op up the road, so I assume that one tied up with other, because they had a coal merchants’ business as well, Co-op.
Q: Yes, I suppose that’s another thing to ask you, is how many coal merchants there were in the town.
Mr T: Er, there was Co-op, and I’m going back in the days when I first started, there was Co-op, Moys, W W Burrows, which he was down Guithavon Valley, where now the, there’s a new house being built, and there’s a little yard there. (Q: That was Trowles’s?) Yes, yes. And then a little bit further down there used to be the Council yard [corner of Guithavon Rise?], years ago. (Q: I know, yes.) Then there was ourselves. So there was four of us at one time in Witham.
Q: You all had plenty to do?
Mr T: We all had more than enough to do.
Q: So Moys was, were they in Collingwood Road?
Mr T: No, when I started, Moys were at the bottom of Easton Road. (Q: Oh, I see, at the far end?) Yes, just where, just in front of Hugh Baird’s, which is now, there used to be a little yard there. Used to be there. Then they moved to Collingwood Road. Then they moved back into the back of Hugh Baird’s, near the railway station, as you go up to the railway station, or as you go up to the, where the goods yard used to be, used to be on the left hand side up there. (Q: Off Avenue Road?) Turn left as you go down Avenue Road, and then turn right, past Hugh Baird’s and up there.
Q: There was an awful lot going on up there, wasn’t there. Again, Roy Gage used to take photos from Cooper Taber’s, and there was all sorts of other things up there, like as you say, the goods yard.
Mr T: Mm. Used to be a trial ground opposite the old Cooper Taber’s at one time [for growing seeds]. Then they had the farm as well, up at, as you go out of Witham, you know where Doe’s garage is, the next turning on your left, used to go, used to be straight up, there used to be a railway crossing up there, still is, now, but [???] you get to it a different way now, I assume [Mott’s Lane]. (Q: Oh, you can still get up there, it’s a bit overgrown.) Right, well, they used to have a trial ground on the right hand side, before you got to the railway line, up there.
Q: Now someone else, talking to me recently, I’m pretty sure that’s more or less where he said Crittall’s had a football pitch at one time.
Mr T: Witham Town had a football pitch at Half Hides farm. (Q: Oh, did they?) That’s where I first started with Witham Town Football Club, supporting them, selling programmes, selling bits and pieces up there, yes. From there, we used to meet in the Coronation café [by Collingwood Road railway bridge], railway station bridge. From there we moved to the Park [Maldon Road], and from there we moved up to the ground there on Highfields Road.
Q: So when would they have been in Half Hides about, then?
Mr T: Oh, god, I must have been a real youngster in those days. Because I’ve been Chairman, Treasurer, and goodness knows what of Witham Town Football Club all those years. I used to go out with my lorry, collect the newspapers, round Witham, for them, years ago, when we could make money out of newspaper.
I carted all their stuff from the Park up to where they are now. (Q: Right, yes.) Helped pull the Council, the old Council chambers down, which Witham Town bought, for their club house, years ago.
Q: Where was that to start with, then?
Mr T: Council chambers were at the back of, know where the Public Hall is, there’s a building stand back from that, isn’t there, it used to round the back there. (Q: Cause that was the offices.) Yes, used to be round the back of that.
Q: Oh, we were talking about that the other day, about where, so was that in a separate building?
Mr T: Yes, like a prefab building.
Q: Oh, I think, so when would that be about, that was when they went up to …
Mr T: Perhaps when they went up to where they are now, so …
Q: Oh I see, so, actually 1974 would be when they stopped using the Council chamber, cause that’s when they went to Braintree, yes.
Mr T: Probably, well it’s about that time when …
Q: Oh right, so that’s what, they’ve got that up there now, have they?
Mr T: They’ve got that, that was the, that is the, how can you put it, that is the basic of the lower part of the club house as it is at the moment. But obviously they, when they built it they remade everything different. Yes, that was part of that. (Q: Mm, that big, was it?) Not that big, but then the Football Club built another piece on the end of it, you know, so, yes, had some fun over the years. Bits and pieces here, bits and pieces there, you know, it’s all good fun.
Q: So the football, obviously, has always been a big thing in Witham, hasn’t it, though it’s probably got bigger …
Mr T: Yes, my uncle, uncle Charlie [Smith?], played for Witham Town Football Club, I’ve got an old photo of that, from many years ago, and he used to play, no, not Spring Lodge … (Q: Oh, the Grove, did he?) Yes, he used to play somewhere down there. (Q: Yes, yes, at the back I think it was, yes, oh, that’s interesting.) I’ve got, he gave me bits and pieces, cause he lived at Silver End, he gave me bits and pieces on them. I’ve got an old book on Silver End at home.
Q: Cause that, jumping about a bit here, but that reminds me that on the … I noticed on the, I’ve got a thing that I copied once of all the people who were in the First World War in Witham, (Mr T: Yes.) And there’s also one that is these two … [Roll of Honour, original now at Braintree museum]
Mr T: Ernest Thompson, I remember him, he’s father’s brother.
Q: Cause, looks like they were all prisoners of war?
Mr T: Could be.
Q: Because I think that’s what that must mean. [pw on list]
Mr T: Yes. Ethel was his sister.
Q: I mean this [census return] won’t have got the younger ones on, if there were younger ones. This is just every ten years, you know they do the census, and, anything that’s up to then, up to 1901, a hundred years ago, you can look at them now, so I’ve got the Witham ones. Copies of them. So that’s just who was in the family in 1901, and who was in the family in 1891. (Mr T: Oh right.) So they won’t necessarily all be there. This was the … so ones in between or before, might have gone off and lived somewhere else. So is this Charlie?
Mr T: Charlie Thompson I don’t know anything about. There was one that became a policeman in Kenilworth. Well, with what John’s getting out, I’ll know that.
Q: And this R.E., doesn’t fit in with any of these. [on the WW1 Roll of Honour]
Mr T: R.E., there was a bit of a, what I call a loner, who did thatching. One got killed on a harvester. Which ones I don’t know.
Q: Well maybe John’ll find out more for you, it’d be interesting. I just thought it was quite a co-incidence that it was all three, there weren’t that many had got ‘pw’ on the list, and all three of the Thompson ones. (Mr T: That, the RE, I don’t recall at all.) So it looks like he was, the Ernest was …
Mr T: Yes, Ernest was, I can recall him. I know him, cause he used to live down, well one time he lived in the prefabs, and then he moved down to Laurence Avenue.
That’s going back many years ago, that is. Ah, that’s interesting, this is [census]. 3 Chalks Road. [laugh]
Q: Oh, is that what it says, I’d forgotten that. Cause when you, with these ones it looks like some [???] Church Street.
Mr T: Father was, my, as I said to you earlier, I know nothing about my father’s side of, only my father full stop. But John came up with the idea that they lived in Church Street, there, which is what it says on here.
[chat about work on family tree etc., not noted]
Q: Well, obviously, the football was one of your …
Mr T: Football was my, shall I say, love of that day, in those days, and, it was hard work up there, I must admit, but having run a business and then go up there and work at night time on, run their bar and bits and pieces for them and so forth. Good days, good days.
Q: Especially if you got into it, I wonder how you got into it when you were so small?
Mr T: I don’t know, that I don’t know. I’m a life member up there, anyway. So, they made me a life member …
Q: So when you, going back to the Half Hides business, you go up, you went up the road, well where the pond is, and then the farm was next, the house was next to the farm. So where was the field in relation to that, then?
Mr T: Behind the house. Used to be, there used to be a walkway from the Park area in Rickstones Road, I can recall it going through and then turning right and turning left and then there was the house, and then the farm was, the field was up where the cemetery, as you look at the cemetery from the gate, the far hedge. Behind that used to be the field they played on.
Q: I see, there’s houses there now I think. So I suppose really they had to get what they could from a farmer that was feeling friendly.
Mr T: I suppose so in those days. Used to be good days, those did, used to have lots of fun up there.
Q: So did you go to away matches as well?
Mr T: I can’t recall going to away matches early on. But as the years went on, yes, cause I used to play for them as well. So we used to go to away matches obviously in those days. But, yes I …
Q: So that was all Witham Football Club itself. (Mr T: Yes.) Cause I think in the old days they had different, [???] different names like Wednesday and things like that, all that sort of thing. So the Witham Football Club has been continuous all through that time that you’ve been.
Mr T: I suppose, I don’t know whether this is right or not, but when they moved off the, what was it called, where they used to play years ago. (Q: The Grove?) Yes, when they moved off there, I assume there again, they had to find another ground, to which they probably moved to Half Hides farm, I don’t know, I don’t know how it ties up and that.
Q: I think there might have been the odd time when the collapsed, you know, and then started up again. Sometimes I look at the old newspapers [???] [???] [???].
Mr T: I found an old newspaper this morning when I was looking through bits and pieces, 1970 something, a newspaper. ‘George calls it a day’. Which was when father put it in the paper that he was getting out of the business, getting out of the business and handing it over to his son on Monday, never did, never did. He never did get out of the business, he died in the business. You know.
Q: That’s nice. Did they have much about it in there?
Mr T: No, just a little tiny [???] piece in there, that’s all, he probably put it in himself knowing him [laugh].
Q: Oh well, it’s historic isn’t it.
Mr T: But. When I decided enough was enough, I said to my son, well, prior to that, ‘There’s a coal business here if you’re interested’. Well, he’d been to college, he did say ‘Dad, I’ve wasted four years if I come into that now’. Which I’m pleased he didn’t, cause he’d be out of it now, cause there’s not enough to keep you going. So …
Q: Like you said [???], was it every fortnight you said, you’d come round?
Mr T: Every fortnight, used to come to various parts of Witham. And we’d … you’d bring a load of coal into the top of the road here. By the time you’d done this, and a little bit up here, lorry was empty.
Q: And they all had their regular orders?
Mr T: Well, not regular, that was in the days when coal was on the ration.
Q: Oh really, right.
Mr T: When we were supposed to have kept records of what everybody had. Which, used to sit and do it at night, write about it. [laugh] (Q: What, make them up you mean? How many she had, cause I think 36 hundredweight was the maximum for a year. So you kind of had to bend the rules a bit. [laugh]
Q: Presumably you only got a set amount, did you?
Mr T: Yes, you were entitled to X number of tons per year, to which you could occasionally get an odd extra load, and things like that.
Q: So you couldn’t be too generous, then?
Mr T: No, but you didn’t keep anybody too …, you’d stop them from, shall I say, how can I describe it, having seven or eight hundredweight, drop them down to about four [probably in the book], something like that, for a fortnight, and this sort of thing, years ago. They used to have a fuel overseer that used to come round the roads checking on you. (Q: Really?) I won’t, because that [tape recorder] is on, I won’t tell you what I used to call him, and tell him. But you can imagine a wet morning, and him expecting you to write in a book as you go round, what people have had. And oh … chap named Green. Evil little man. [laugh]
Q: Not a very popular job, then.
Mr T: Well, no, I mean, he was like a spy, as you might say. You know, but he was doing his job, so, fair enough.
Q: How long did it stay on the ration for?
Mr T: Well, it was on the ration when I joined, I, so I started in ’54, and I think it went right on to near enough the sixties.
Q: Really? I’d forgotten that. Yes. A chore then, wasn’t it, to keep track of all that.
Mr T: Oh, there was all manner of things we used to have to do in those days. Yes.
Q: And when the strike was on, you said you couldn’t get your usual …
Mr T: You couldn’t get anything at all, I mean, once they closed the pits down, there was nothing coming from this country.
Q: I’ve forgotten when that was now, really.
Mr T: ’84 – ’85.
Q: Was it? Yes.
Mr T: And, you used to have to buy whatever you could get. Polish coal. The rubbish, really. All the heaps of rubbish around the country vanished. You sold it. You had to, to keep behind, you had to try and keep the people warm. Oh no, all manner of things used to go on in those days, it’s unbelievable, unbelievable. Stuff used to come in at night time, in the dark. Miners would sit outside the gate, begging you to stop delivering coal. What do you call that.
Q: Even in Witham?
Mr T: Yes. Yes, it went on for several months, and then they came out of their area to try and stop people delivering, to get the sympathy of the public. But, you know as well as I do, if you’re freezing cold …
One of those things, that, Arthur Scargill killed the coal trade off. Didn’t achieve anything, either. But that was life. I mean, I suppose when we look back in history and that, what killed off the horse and cart – the vehicles. So I suppose, looking at life, what’s going to be next. Tesco’s and so forth killing off all the small shops at the moment.
Q: So where did you normally get your coal from?
Mr T: Nottingham area. Wales. That was the early part. Then Germany came into being, for which we used to get a lot of fuel[?] from Germany, and stuff like that. Poland came in. Nowadays it’s Chinese and goodness knows what. Stuff I’ve never heard of. I’ve been down a couple of pits. (Q: Oh have you?) Yes, I went one in Nottingham, Hucknell, Hucknell colliery in Nottingham. And I’ve done Severjikover[?] in Germany.
Q: How did you find that, then?
Mr T: Quite an experience. If you can imagine going down a hole in Kelvedon, going straight down for whatever it was, 600 metres or whatever it is, down, get on the train, and off you go. And then you, then you, where the train stops, you then have to walk, they’ve got these, what they call air doors round there. Hell of a job to get them open. But, and then you walked on and on and on, and eventually, like at Hucknell, you suddenly come across a load of jacks, no more than about three foot six high, which you crawled through, and eventually you come to the pit face. Having come to the pit face, we’re talking about the size of this room, where they’re cutting coal that face there. And I can recall saying to the miners down there. ‘Well, why aren’t you taking that piece out?’ ‘Well, we have, that’s gravity, that’s brought the roof down.’ ‘Let’s get out of here!’ (Q: Yes, quite!) And, it was a laugh because, they had a conveyor belt that took all the coal they’d cut, away. And to get out of the pit, they used to say ‘Right, I’ll go and stop the belt’. One of the guides would jump on the belt and ‘Crash’, it’s darkness. All you’ve got is your little helmet light. And he stopped the belt. ‘Right, you all get on’. And you get on, with your hands out in front of you, on your knees. And they don’t tell you, there is a roller every three feet. So once they start the belt up, you can imagine what your knees are like. And that was the way we got out of the pit. Germany was totally different. You went, cause the Germans, only the boss men are Germans, the rest are Turks. (Q: Right.) And they’re dressed in a uniform of, like the Jews wore during the War, striped, blue and white stripe. Mm. I put my foot in it [laugh]. It wasn’t hard to do. But, we went down this pit, and all of a sudden, dropped us down, and we walked in, and just walked down for, I suppose, what, half a mile perhaps? All of a sudden they said ‘We’re going up this shaft here’, which was no more than the height of a table. And across every yard was a kind of a steel bar at the bottom, and a steel bar at the top. And he said, ‘Every bar has got a number on it. We’ll start at one, and we’ll stop at 130’. We crawled and crawled and crawled. By the time you got to 130 you were out on your feet. And, and then you go to walk out, and, while we were there, along come the cutter, taking this slice off, course that absolutely covered us with dirt and filth and …And then you went out the other end, then up, out. That was interesting.
Q: So how did you put your foot in it then?
Mr T: [Laugh] They, when you got there, they gave you your uniform, which was one of these striped clothes, knee pads, helmet, top clothes, everything. And I recall putting this yellow, this blue and white striped thing on, and saying ‘The only thing that’s missing here is the star!’ And then there, ‘Whoops’, the place went dead silent. You know, it hit me as that. And, it’s weird. They treated us very well, I must admit, over there, the food was excellent.
Q: So how did you get to go there, then?
Mr T: Just a chappie I bought fuel off of, said ‘They’re organising a trip to Severjikover[?], as it was called. I’ve got a photo of me in my mining gear at home somewhere, bits and pieces.
Q: So when was that about?
Mr T: I would think that would have been in the, eighties.
Q: And the other one?
Mr T: The other one was before that, fair bit before that.
Q: Was that the same sort of thing, an organised group?
Mr T: Yes, like that, coach, they’d get a coach and do it, and then we’d go so that sort of thing. But that was interesting, being in the trade, it was interesting to see just where it came from.
Q: Yes. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it, working in that space all the time.
Mr T: No, it took a bit of believing, that. Only, you can quite understand why, now, they’ve been recently advertising in the papers, regarding coal miners and dust and dirt.
Q: Still, I suppose, as you say, you had a fair bit of that?
Mr T: Oh yes, I mean, when I first started, everything was on the shovel. Then we got a conveyor belt, which took it onto the back of the lorry, and loaded it into bags on there. And from there we progressed to a hopper and tractor, and, then basically you could, it was a one-man job, in as much you could tractor it into the hopper, jump on the back of the lorry, and …
Q: And then that, the bags?
Mr T: Fed the bags, yes. With a footpedal to stop it at the side, you know.
Q: Whereas before that you …?
Mr T: Oh, it was hard work.
Q: When you started out?
Mr T: When I first started, everything used to come by railway truck into Witham, goods station. You’d go there, you’d load it with a shovel, in the bags, or loose, and cart it, if you took it loose you carted it up the yard, so you shovel it onto your lorry, off your lorry onto the heap, into the bags, lifted it on the lorry, and then stacked it on the lorry and then carried it round the house. That was one hundredweight of coal.
Q: And then you emptied it out the bag?
Mr T: Emptied it out the bag round the customer’s house.
Q: Into their …
Mr T: Yes.
Q: I’m surprised you’re as fit as you are!
Mr T: Well, if I tell you 51,000 tons been on my back in 39 years …
Q: [laugh] 51,000 tons !
Mr T: I know that by the records I’ve got. Yes.
Q: So you’ve still got the records from the business as well.
Mr T: I’ve still got lots of records, like, buy a lorry for about £900, and so forth. And the office desk I’ve still got at home today, £12 10 shillings. You know, little, only since I started the business like in the sixties, that I kept the record of the old ledger that I had of years gone by.
Q: So does that go back before you?
Mr T: No, no, that’s when I started, I just kept my own, and I kept a record of the tonnage that I had within the course of the year and so forth. Only for my own interest’s sake, to be honest with you.
Q: That’s a historic document, then.
Mr T: How much coal I had, how much furnacite, how much this, that and the other I sold in the course of the year.
Q: Well, especially as you say, seeing it’s all gone now, that’s …
Mr T: Well, it’s only interesting for my sake, you know …
Q: Oh I don’t think so, I think anybody’s be interested.
Mr T: But, oh, it was good fun years ago, used to have lots of, used to start work at half past seven in the morning, till half past five at night. Saturdays till twelve o’clock. But father always used to make me work till about one, half past. Crafty devil knew exactly how to get round that. You know what it’s like, father and son, you get more out of your son than… Ah, that’s many many moons ago.
Q: So you enjoyed it really?
Mr T: Lots of laughs, lots of headaches, lots of arguments, especially with father. Oh, threatened to kill him with a shovel one day, drove me that far. He, how can I put it, he’d push you so far, so far, he would push you and push you and push you. Till you just couldn’t take any more.
Q: What would he do, then?
Mr T: For argument’s sake, early mornings he wasn’t too bad, lunch times he’d go in for his dinner, like I would, hour for dinner, used to spread to an hour and three quarters, cause he wasn’t out, cause he used to drive a lorry in those days, wouldn’t allow me to drive. And this sort of thing. And then at, shall I say, twenty, when you were knocking off at five o’clock at night, twenty to five, he’d say ‘Go into the goods yard and put on two ton ready for the morning.’ Knowing full well that it’s be quarter to six before you got done. All this sort of thing. All these sort of things. But, as I say …
Q: Was there something particular, bad, that you threatened him?