Tape 196. Mr Peter Spall, sides 1 and 2

Tape 196

Mr Peter Spall was born in 1932. He was interviewed on 6 May 2004, when he lived at 7A Woodland Way, Wivenhoe, Colchester, CO7 9AP. His wife, Mrs Betty Spall, was also present.

For more information about him and his father, Fred, see Spall, especially Fred, father of Peter, 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 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

[also see JG’s photos M2036-M2052 from Mr Spall]

[preliminary chat, not noted]

Mr S:    [Re some people on photo M716] They lived in Rickstones Road, about half way down. He worked on the railway, he was married, but there was this younger version living with them, which he seemed to have, always have the children, and they produced a baby. Yes. [???] Spot, spot the round face [???], back row (Mrs S: Colin or Barry Webb?).Couldn’t remember the name. (Mrs S: Oh, Graham Webb. Bing Webb). Yes, Bing. (Mrs S: Oh that’s from the days of Bing Crosby, he must have been  named after Bing Crosby). Bing must have been younger than the others. Does he look small?

[chat about identity of people on photo M716 in 1945, etc., not noted]

Mrs S:    Cause Hugh Dibben’s father was a schoolteacher, wasn’t he, he was at the, what is now Bramston, he taught woodwork, didn’t he? Yes, it was called the Senior School.

Mr S:    Can I just chip in there? He, they used to come to school with wooden heels on their shoes. (Mrs S: The Dibbens?) Yes. Dad used to make them, to save buying leather or anything like that. And I can remember them now. [???] So he didn’t spend all his time teaching at school, must have been cutting out heels.[laugh]

Mrs S:    Mrs Dibben was a schoolteacher. Yes, cause I remember, when I was at the Church School [teaching], she came as a supply teacher once, and she was given a very difficult class. This wasn’t under Miss Welland, it was under the next head, Mr Smith, Maurice Smith. And she was having rather a difficult time, with this class.

Mrs S:    And I remember her husband coming in one afternoon and, I think she was finding it a bit difficult to say she wasn’t going to come any more, but he came in and gave the head a real fierce look and said his wife wasn’t coming back. She came home. I think Mr Smith was a little bit taken aback.

Q:    Yes, I knew Mr Smith, after he retired.

Mrs S:    Do you remember him?

Q:    Yes, cause he did a lot of collecting stuff about Witham, didn’t he, so we used to compare notes and things.

Mrs S:    Yes, he was a very, well, what a difference, I enjoyed working under him as a head, but Miss Welland was a law unto herself, a little old-fashioned maiden lady. She’d arrive on one of these big bikes. (Mr S: Sit up and beg.) And, yes, she would ride rough-shod over everybody, metaphorically, you know, she just didn’t care, it didn’t matter, because she was the head, and in those days you took notice of the head, and nobody argued with her.

Mr S:    Yes. The only children who stood up to her were the evacuees. (Mrs S: Oh yes [laugh]) I can see that in the playground now. She accused the evacuees of breaking a chair. Only a little pipsqueak of a lad came up and ‘Scuse me, madam, it wasn’t us’. And she was so taken aback, and we were trembling. (Mrs S: Nobody answered …) ‘How dared he speak?’.

Mrs S:    Are we getting anywhere? Is this all idle chatter, wasting your time?

Q:    No, this is wonderful.

Mr S:    You know how the children used to get their own back, by letting her tyres down, letting the air out of her tyres. (Q: No?) (Mrs S: They dared do that, though.) Well, she didn’t know, until she went to go home, find she’d got two flat tyres. She must have had her suspicions. She cottoned on very quickly. She used to have the nearest boy, to make him pump them up. [laugh]

Q:    So did you have to do that sometimes, then?

Mr S:    Yes, I did happen to be head boy, although I got the cane on the last day, and I’ll tell you why. (Mrs S: Scrumping apples.) No, no, plums. (Mrs S: Oh, plums, the fruit is immaterial!) [laugh] The evacuees were a little bit crafty. Once they knew, she didn’t suffer but the boys did. They took the valves out and threw them away. So we couldn’t pump them up. Didn’t affect her at all. She made some boy push her bike home for her, loaded up with books in the front.

Mrs S:    Did you know about the abattoir next to the school?

Q:    I’ve heard about it, yes, what was it like then?

Mrs S:    Horrible in summer. The smell ! But it was right next to the school, in Guithavon, Road or Street. (Mr S: Street.) There’s Guithavon Street and Guithavon Road. And of course sometimes the animals did get out to the road, squeals, it wouldn’t be allowed now, would it. And the smell in the summer was dreadful.

Mr S:    That’s how we got to these plums, running along the slaughter yard roofs, where the plum tree was. Chap named Squirrel[?], lived in the School House, it was sort of out in his garden, off the boys’ playground. Mrs Page, remember Page? (Mrs S: Mrs Williams lived there when I was there.) Who lived in the actual school grounds, at the cottage. Mrs Button. (Mrs S: She lived opposite, she was the cleaner, wasn’t she?) Anyway, we’d better change the subject.

Q:    You haven’t told me, so it was for the plums was it, that you got the …?

Mr S:    Yes, we, there was Tony Carey and myself, Crosby. (Mrs S: Colin Crosby?) Colin Crosby.

Mrs S: Now his father was a teacher at the Secondary School as well.) (Q: I’ve heard his name, yes.) Yes, I don’t know his christian name. His daughter, Colin’s sister, still lives at Wickham Bishops, she’s Mrs Byford, married Percy Byford.)

Mr S:    Anyway, one break time, there used to be a little low wall that you could get onto, to get onto the slaughter-yard roofs. Well we were sitting on this wall eating these plums. And I can remember his name now, Michael Baldwin, came out, he said ‘Come on, give us a plum’.

We said ‘Oh, if you want one. You go and help yourself.’ He said ‘Oh, if you don’t give me one, I’ll go and tell on you.’ He did. She came, she’d wear brogues, tweed skirt, big strides. For it. Caned. The other three got two strokes each, I had four because I was head boy and I should have known better.

Mrs S:    Fancy blotting his copy-book on the last afternoon !

Mr S:    Michael Baldwin asked if he could have protection on the way home. [laughter] Didn’t get it though.

Q:    So you, you didn’t regret it, did you?

Mr S:    [mishearing] Yes, I’m afraid he did have a little bit of a one to one at the bottom of the hill. Because he lived up Millbridge Road somewhere.

Mrs S:    Children did used to have gangs and fights in those days.

Mr S:    Oh, it was regular. (Mrs S: Yes.) Because [???] more than a third[?] of them, had to walk from the top end of Rickstones Road, all the way to the Church School. Not very far down the Rickstones Road, we met up with the Cressing Road. Rickstones gang, Cressing Road gang, we used to have a bit of tussle. Then we joined forces, so that when we got to the station, we’d meet the Church Street gang. Then there was all hell let loose. So although we used to fight each other, we also joined up if we were going to be attacked by the Church Street gang.

Q:    So you’d always got a bit of support. (Mrs S: Mm.) (Mr S: Yes.) You managed not to do enough damage to be noticed, presumably, by the …

Mr S:    I think we were noticed, but in those days …

Q:    Not by Miss Welland?

Mrs S:    They weren’t so vicious.

Mr S:    There wasn’t a dozen onto one, it was always a big circle round, you and you, right, one had a go. It was very fair.

Mrs S:    You fought fair.

Q:    You had your own rules though.

Mr S:    Oh yes, absolutely. Another favourite trick was going to Guithavon Valley, which you had to go, tall hedge, throw you in the hedge. That was your initiation to that school.

Mrs S:    You said the Church Street gang, but wasn’t there a school up at Church Street … was it infants only?

Mr S:    You mean Miss …?

Mrs S:    Miss Griffiths. (Mr S: Just round the corner.) Yes but had it always been …

Q:    Yes. Well briefly, it was closed for a little while in the ‘20s or ‘30s, and used as cookery and that sort of thing, but …

Mrs S:    I remember Miss Griffiths being the head there. [from the 1930s]

Q:    Yes, she taught my son.

Mrs S:    It’s still a school, isn’t it? (Q: It is, yes.) Still infants only? (Q: Yes.)

Mr S:    Surprisingly. (Q: [???]) (Mrs S: There’s so much building up that way, isn’t there?)

Mr S:    This Dersley, who you got the information from, the Dersleys played bowls. Now, I play bowls, at Wivenhoe. We often meet up, because we play, Wivehoe play Witham in a friendly. Somebody said to him, to Dersley, ‘Oy, you don’t know this chap Pete Spall, do you?’ He said a few swear words, and he said ‘Of course I know him, we were in the same gang’. [laughter]

[chat about Peter coming to Witham to talk at school a couple of years before about the War]

Mr S:    Where we lived, that was the entrance into the field [Cosgrove, 59 Rickstones Road]. Yes, this is all open space, nothing down there [looking at map he has drawn of what was there during War]. Then one of the Horsa gliders came down, came down in the Elm[?] farm lane, across the back, came over our house, into the trees.

Q:    Was that quite near then?

Mr S:    Yes, very near. Just past the Cherry Tree.

Q:    So you saw it. (Mr S: Yes.) Did you see it happen, or did you have to go back, go and look after? Did you see it actually happening?

Mr S:    No, that came down about dusk, and it had been practising, practising, overhead, by the Elms. Then we suddenly heard this swooshing noise, oh, that’s a bit low, and it didn’t land in the field, it went beyond the field, and the entrance from Cressing Road up to the farm was just a track, a lane, but it was much lower than the fields either side, there were rows of trees. And its fuselage went between two trees, tore the wings off, just staddled across [???]. That’s where we used to get our perspex for [???]. The most important part, you may have heard this before, was the rubber, the tow rope was made of about quarter square strands of rubber, together. So our catapult elastic …!

Mrs S:    You took risks, didn’t you, going in? (Mr S: No.) To take stuff from the …

Mr S:    Well, I mean, until they put a guard over there, depends how it was, there were sort of broken fragments of perspex.

Q:    So was it there for quite a long time?

Mr S:    Until they could remove it, but we were there the next morning. [laugh] (Q: How interesting.) So that’s …

Q:    That was from Rivenhall airfield, was it?

Mr S:    Yes. From the serving … I found some little snaps of the house we lived, so can actually see, there’s Cosgrove, it’s still there now. (Q: Oh yes.) And that’s my mother in the door, and that’s me in the bedroom window [JG’s photo M2049].

Mrs S:    It’s not called Cosgrove now, is it?

Mr S:    No. You can see between the side of our house here, and the next house, which is that one, is the fullest distance, that’s where the field was. And that’s me, Stanley and John, my two brothers  {JG’s photo M2050].

Q:    So you’re the little one (Mr S: Yes.) Stanley’s in the middle.

Mr S:    John lived, [???] in Maldon Road, before he retired, was clerk of the Council, Braintree. (Mrs S: Braintree Council). Braintree Council. (Mrs S: Clerk of Works.)
[chat about where house is in picture, not noted]

Mr S:    There were five pairs along there, from the corner. Shelleys lived in … (Mrs S: Just past the Cross Road, you know …) Past the Cross Roads. (Mrs S: You know [???]) (Q: Yes, I think I do now, yes.) Shelleys lived in the first one past the corner, next door were the Allards, then Webbs, but not that Webb [in photo M 716], Bert Webb who was a clerk on the station, then us, then the gap, there was Grays, Dibbens, Layzell[?], Owers[?], next to the Owers[?] were the Pennocks, the last pair, Stone and Malyon[?].

Q:    Was this all from your paper round, well you knew them anyway, I suppose?

Mrs S:    They were neighbours.

Q:    Yes quite. So what are you trying to do here then?

Mr S:    We’ve got a tin bath, and we’re sailing our little boats in the tin bath.

Q:    Ah. (Mrs S: We think Peter was about four or five then.) Yes. (Mr S: Before the War.) So how much younger than the others are you then ?

Mr S:    Well, between the January and the February, with any one year, we’re consecutive years.

Mrs S:     They were all under, they were under three, they were all close. Peter’s mother always said she had three boys under three. So there was a year and a few months between each. (Q: So which was the oldest?) Stanley.

Mr S:    Stanley was the oldest, the middle one.

Mrs S:     Yes. So his birthday was March. John’s birthday, he was born in June the following year, wasn’t he?  (Mr S: July.)  July, that’s right. So March, April, May, June, a year and four months. And then you were a year, John was year and six or seven months, when you were born, he was born in February.

Q:    Can you admit what year that was, then?

Mr S:    1932, I was born. Stanley was born in ’29, John born in ’30.

Mrs S:    She had her hands full, and she wasn’t a very big woman, either. She was a little woman.

Q:    So was she local? (Mrs S: Brightlingsea. She came from Brightlingsea.

Mr S:    She came from Brightlingsea, my mother came from Brightlingsea.

Mrs S:    And father from Colchester.

Q:    Yes. So did they come here when they married, then?

Mr S:    No. They lived at Langham, on the Essex Suffolk border, in their cottage, he was a chauffeur at Langham Hall.

Mrs S:    And they lived in a cottage called Cosgrove Lodge. Which is why they called the house at Witham Cosgrove.

Mr S:    They didn’t move to Witham. When they left Langham, they moved to Wickham Bishops. Cause I was actually born at Wickham Bishops, whereas the other two brothers were born at Langham. When I was three and a half we moved from Wickham Bishops to Witham. The reason why we left the chauffeur’s job was to start with Fortis[?] garage [at Rivenhall End, on main road, also known as Corner Garage ?]. (Q: [???]) Well, he started the garage.

Q:    So he had that many years then?

Mrs S:    Until the War, didn’t he?

Mr S:    And during the War. Although he wasn’t allowed to be open to sell to the public, he didn’t sell it till after. He sold it to a couple from London.

[chat about copying photos, and about writing books, not noted]

Q:    So had he done anything like that before? I mean, being a chauffeur, did he have to do a lot of repairs and things? Was that part of the job I suppose, was it?

Mr S:    Well he … (Mrs S: Had to maintain the cars.) Oh yes. I think he worked for Red Line{?]. He was a conductor on Bury’s buses when he was about fourteen, that used to run out of Colchester to Brightlingsea. That’s with the old [???] buses. That’s how he met my mother, she used to work at Baker’s milliners in Colchester, and she travelled from Brightlingsea, on his bus, well he was the conductor. So he was mechanical. (Q: Well I guess people taught themselves in those days, didn’t they.) I know he was very very disappointed that none of us three boys wanted to go into the garage. And so if we weren’t interested, that’s when he sold it. He obviously, looking back … (Mrs S: He ought to have waited a little longer, cause our son is in the motor trade!)

[chat about son, and about directory c 1960, and another one borrowed from Ken Thompson, postcards, not noted]

[chat re. photos of Peter’s father (Fred)’s motorbike ambulance (shown in JG’s photos M2041-2044), not noted]

Mr S:    My dad patented that. And then, it was in the Motorcycle, one of the motorcycle magazines, and he had enquiries from Canada and Australia, they were obviously they right departments of the country, but whether it was actually taken up or not, I don’t know. Because getting blown up didn’t help. Cause that was built in ’39, and him being out of action for quite some time.

Q:    Tell me again what happened to him? It was after the bomb went off? [7 October 1940, in Cressing Road; Mr Burmby reported then as Arthur Burmby, not George.]

Mr S:    After the bomb went off, he was blown up.

Q:    And was he working nearby, then? Or was on duty, sort of thing, at the time?

Mr S:    As far as I have ever been told, he had a phone call from the police station to go and turn people away cause one of the bombs hadn’t gone off. And wait for the other men. He went over the field, which wasn’t very far away, and he was turning people, the crowd back, while he waited for bomb disposal squad, I presume, and an officer and a corporal turned up, this is just memory. George Burmby was sweeping the road. Mr Bull[?] was up the pole repairing the lines. Father had taken a soldier to where the unexploded one was, so he was coming just away and the thing went up. The soldier was killed, father was sucked back, right to the centre of the crater, George Burmby was killed, all he had was a beret, always wore a beret, that just blew off. [???] (Q: What was his name, Mr Bull[?] that was? What was his first name?) I don’t remember, I remember his daughter’s name. Mary. (Mrs S: Mary, his daughter. So your father was taken to Notley Hospital, was he?) Taken to Notley Hospital. (Q: I did have some, did type up a little piece about the incident, I won’t distract you now, but I’ll get that out.) You see, this was taken up, this is happening now in Africa. The Riders for Health is an organisation that seek money.

[more about Riders for Health now, not noted]

Q:    So did your father get a chance to use this much then ?  It was so early in the War, the accident, I don’t suppose he did, did he?

Mr S:    The only time I can recall him using it was in the capacity of Special Constable. That was when one of those Heinkels came down at, I call that Langford, they probably call it Heybridge now, don’t they. And he went over there to pick up any injured, but unfortunately the, some jumped out but they weren’t high enough to, for the parachutes to open.

Q:    I suppose we were quite lucky in Witham that there weren’t more injuries and so on. But as you say, people would have got called round other areas where there was a lot more serious damage.

Mr S:    But he definitely went out there, and he, what I was told, obviously, took the remains to a mortuary at Maldon Hospital. (Q: From?) From [???] at Langford.

Mrs S:    That was in the news fairly recently.

Mr S:    Yes, there’s somebody done a book on Heinkels over Heybridge. I know my father, got a pair of German pilot goggles, which obviously he picked up. And also a map of the area, showing the oak[?] tree[?] just above us [???] their flight plan. [???] And a flying boot. [???] (Mrs S: Flying what?) Boot.

Q:    So you reckon he got them from going round crashes?

Mr S:    Oh, picking up, not crashes but this one particular crash. (Q: I see.)
[chat about another VE day picture in possession of Braintree museum including Mr S’s father dressed as woman, not noted. I think I noted the names and sent them to the museum. Also re JG’s photo M2036, old print of earthworks in Witham, and some of other Spall photos copied by JG as M2037-M2052, not noted]

[End of tape, 47 minutes]

Side 2

Mr S:    [re. bill for removal by A A Shelley of Witham, JG’s photo M2047] 3rd of August 1948 was when we moved from Cosgrove, the house, down to the bungalow [???].

Mrs S:    Dear, wasn’t it, four pounds.

Q:    Isn’t that nice. Cause Lester Shelley, as far as I know, is still about, that’s one of the sons. Yes, we miss the sheds, when they used to sell the second hand things.

Mr S:    Ray[?] Shelley [???], he was the son, Shelley, who lived three doors away from me. A bit younger than me. I often see him [???]. A couple of cards from the Crittalls, Christmas cards [???] Mr and Mrs John Crittall opening Senior Citizen’s club at Silver End [???].

Mrs S:    It doesn’t say on there, does it?

Mr S:    No, it doesn’t say on there, but you could recognise that, that door.

Mrs S:    There was a special club built for the retired, [???] it was open for a good many years. You could go during the day. And I think there was a canteen there, play games and that sort of thing.

Mr S:    And this is Mr and Mrs John Crittall again, that was a sketch of Francis Henry.

Mrs S:    He was the original Crittall, wasn’t he. Francis.

Mr S:    Francis was.

Mrs S:    Yes, the one who had the village built. So John Crittall, whether that was his son, was it?

Q:    There were several Crittalls, weren’t there, there was a Valentine.

Mrs S:    Yes, they were sons of the original one, yes, there was a Dan Crittall, and they had one or two daughters. [???] married Richardson. They lived up on the back road to …

Mr S:    [re Methodist scripture certificate for Peter, 1942, JG’s photo M2048] Just to prove that I wasn’t all just [???] and thuggery. [laugh] 1942. (Mrs S: Ten years old). Brother John.

Q:    Were the whole family Methodists? Your parents, did your parents go to the Methodist?

Mr S:    My mother was one of the original Primitive Methodists, I think. (Q: Oh, was she.) (Mrs S: That was at Brightlingsea, that was.)

Q:    Yes, they didn’t have much success in Witham, which is surprising, really, the Primitive Methodists.

Mr S:    She was married in Brightlinsea Primitive church, 1928, and they closed 1931 or 32. They became the ordinary Methodists here. (Mrs S: Your mother was the ordinary Methodist?)

Q:    So when they came to Witham they went to the Wesleyan?

Mr S:    Yes. We had to walk all the way down on a Sunday, go to Sunday school, Guithavon Street. I’ve got pictures of me [???]. (Q: Oh, there was a bit at the back, was there, with all the stones, yes, yes.) Yes. Corley built that. [???]

Q:    Yes, I saw a picture of that in an old newspaper once.

Mr S:    Laying the foundation stone, picture of the …

Q:    Wasn’t one of them Rank, of the flour people, they gave a lot of money to the Methodists, and I think one of them has got his name on it. I remember going along and looking who they all were once. So that was quite a big part of your life, then?

Mr S:    Oh, three times a day on Sunday. We used to have to go to Miss Blyth’s mission. (Q: Yes.) Go to her Sunday school as well. Miss Corby[?] used to run it with Miss Blyth.

Mrs S:    Was that the one where the Evangelical church is? [probably the one in Rickstones Road]

Mr S:    Yes. The whatsername church was built.

Mrs S:    Did Miss Blyth have that built?

Mr S:    Yes. Because where our bungalow was built, my father bought that land from Miss Blyth. To build his own. [???] She lived in [???] Road. Her parents I’m sure, came from the mill, Guithavon Valley.

Mrs S:    Yes, I thought they were, Blyth’s mill, wasn’t it?

Q:    But she wasn’t strictly, she wasn’t a Methodist?

Mr S:    No, she was Evangelical.

Q:    That was quite a successful, oh, it still is very successful.

Mr S:    The Diapers[?] [???] the bungalow, it was the Diapers she negotiated with, for the church, she wouldn’t sell it. Wouldn’t sell it to anybody at all cause she promised it to the church.

Mrs S:    Their minister did live in there for a time.

Mr S:    I think he still does. Well we’re nearly at the end.
[chat about other pictures etc., other churches etc. including Braxted church where he was baptised, layout of Witham school and slaughterhouse, not noted

Q:    So Miss Welland lived there, did she [school house, Guithavon Street]

Mrs S:    No, no she didn’t, she lived, well not at all that I know of, she lived down the Avenue. When I was teaching there was Mrs Williams lived there, Olive Williams (Mr S: [???]) When you were there. Cause the lady, Olive Williams, worked in the school kitchens.

Mr S:    Whether he was the school caretaker or what I don’t know.

Mr S:    But that was the original reason, wasn’t it, either for the head to live there or the caretaker, when the school was first built. Cause it had 1842 on the front, didn’t it. (Q: Yes, that was actually on it, was it?) Yes, on the front above the door. (Mr S: Oh yes, beautiful, 1842). One of the main doors.

Q:    Cause that’s when the whole road was built then.

Mr S:    When it was pulled down, you could actually see where they used to come over and sharpen the old slate pencils on the masonry, you could see the grooves.

Q:    I’ve seen a photo of that, yes. That’s lovely.

[chat re more photos, eg lane near Silver End, Pond farm, Rivenhall, Bill Prime of Rivenhall knows about them, discussion about copying, copyright, etc. carnival pictures etc (JG’s M2041)., Collingwood House (JG’s M2037), Fred Spall and Nera-a-car (JG’s M2045), information about photos is on JG’s database re M photos; not noted]

[tape ends 28 minutes]

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