Mrs Ralling was born in 1900, and was interviewed on 13 July 1977, when she lived at 3 Homefield Road, Witham.
She also appears on tapes 36 and 45.
For more about her, see Baldwin family in the People category, which also includes her sister Elsie Baxter, and her sister’s husband Alf Baxter.
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: You were telling me about the singing then ? Where did you do your singing?
Mrs R: In the Congregational Church. It was years ago when I was about fourteen I should think. My father, and my sister and my brothers were all in the choir and we used to go to Crystal Palace you know they used to have the nonconformists choirs up there and about five thousand singing and we used to go up there one day in July and used to be beautiful with the big organ up there, and they had Isobel Baillie and I forget who the other, contralto singer was but it used to be a lovely day out.
Q: Did you have to practice a lot ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, we had to practice an awful lot. I could sing soprano then but I went down to contralto afterwards.
Q: What about the Institute ?
Mrs R: Miss Luard, did you remember Miss Luard? They lived at the Grange and Canon Luard was there as well, and she used to take the Institute choir. We used to enter competitions and we used to win cups. We used to win for sight reading at Colchester and compete – very thrilled yes.
Q: Where was the Institute then ?
Mrs R: Public Hall and we used to go to Miss Luard’s to practice every Wednesday afternoon and it was quite big – there were about twenty of us. There used to be a set of sopranos and contraltos, you see.
Q: Was that when you were grown up ?
Mrs R: Yes, Mrs Gliddon was the President then. Did you know Mrs Gliddon ? She lived down in the Mill House.
Q: Was the Institute [???] Was that the Women’s Institute
Mrs R: The Women’s Institute, Yes. (Q: Were you in that for a long time?) Quite a while. I couldn’t go until my father died about 1950 I think it was and soon after that I joined the WI. They roped me in. And I was on the committee in that at one time. Well you only had to do three years, you see, at that time. And they found out that some of us could sing so we had quite a good choir.
Q: Yes I didn’t know Miss Luard had anything to do with that. Did she do other things in the Institute as well?
Mrs R: No that was her main thing you know.
Q: And which Miss Luard was that? (Mrs R: Can’t think at the moment). Several people have spoken to me about the Luards from when they were younger ?
Mrs R: Perhaps that was a different Luards, was it. Would that be those who used to live up at the Lodge ? Sir William Luard and Lady Luard and they had several daughters and they didn’t used to have a choir but then Miss Edith Luard she used to put on a kind of a play at Christmas time. Like Dickens’ Christmas Carol and other things what they used to call the Tuppeny and people used to pay twopence to go. But I remember one year, I was a fairy in there. My sister and I used to have lovely hair, you know curly hair and Miss Luard asked my Mother if I could go to be one of the fairies. (Q: That was when you were still at school ?) Oh yes I was only about ten I should think. It used to be thrilling.
Q: What sort of people acted in the Tuppeny ?
Mrs R: Different ladies of the town and that sort of thing. I can’t really remember all about it but I know my sister one year she was Belinda Cratchitt. (Q: Was she older than you ?) Yes two years older than me.
Q: Did you have brothers ?
Mrs R: Oh yes we were quite a big family. There was nine of us altogether. I was the middle one. Not many of us left, not now.
Q: Were you born in Witham ?
Mrs R: No, I came to Witham in 1904 and my father came as the manager of the Co-op and he was manager there for many years. I was born in Grays and then my father had his first manager’s job in Tilbury and then we came from Tilbury to Witham and that was in 1904 and we have been there ever since. Well I was away from 1916 until about 1923 I should think. I went away in the nursery and looked after children. (Q: Where was that?) Where did I go? To Stansted to the Charles Goulds. They were to do with the Gilbey Goulds you know the whisky people and I was there in the nursery for oh about seven years and used to have a little boy and a little girl. They had a grown up family, two grown up sons and then they had these two younger children you see. Lovely little children. We used to have great fun. They used to have a house at the seaside in the summer and they’d got the country house and they’d got a London house. And so we used to go to London in the winter and come back into the country and then have several weeks at the sea. They had quite a lot of, they had a parlourmaid, a housemaid, a kitchenmaid, cook, a gardener, gardener’s boy. And the old nanny what used to be with the grown-up ones, she used to come and help sometimes.
Q: Was that; your first job ?
Mrs R: No I was, my mother put me out to service really, because my two sisters went into dressmaking and she said I couldn’t sit still long enough so I went out to service to Miss Fowler’s. That was during the First World War, 1914. I was there until I was sixteen and then I went over to Stansted.
Q: Where was Miss Fowler’s ?
Mrs R: Where the Barclays Bank is now [59 Newland Street]. Next to the Midland Bank.
Q: And what did you have to do there ?
Mrs R: Oh housemaid you know. There was the cook and I was dogsbody like you know. I suppose it didn’t do me any harm. (Q: Can you remember anything about it?) They put their study to the soldiers, you know, to the use of the soldiers when they were billeted where the Midland Bank is now [57 Newland Street] and they used to come in and write their letters and that sort of thing. There used to be quite some nice boys there you know.
Q: Were there two Miss Fowlers ?
Mrs R: Three. There were quite a lot of gentry in Witham in those days you see. There was the Rounds, the Laurences up at the Grove, Miss Fowlers, Miss Pattisson, and the Luards and several others I can’t remember.
Q: They would be regarded as gentry ?
Mrs R: Oh yes. … I used to go to the Church School when we first came to Witham and then my sister left as she was fourteen and she left. Then I had another brother and twin brothers and when they were able to go to school, and when I was twelve I had yellow jaundice ever so bad and so I was away from school quite a bit and then when they started again in September we went through to the Council School, what is now Maldon Road and I there I stayed until I was fourteen. We used to sing at that school, used to go in for competitions. Another girl and I we went in for a competition but we didn’t win, we came ninth. I don’t think you can compete with boys singing can you when they sing treble and that. I mean they’ve got such beautiful clear voices haven’t they ? We used to go to Chelmsford. (Q: They did quite a lot of music at the school, did they?) Yes. Mr Quick that was the schoolmaster he used to take us. Yes we used to do quite a lot of singing there.
Q: I haven’t heard a lot about that school ? Was there a lot of difference between the two?
Mrs R: Well you see the boys at the Church School were separate to the girls. The Infants were all boys and girls and then when they were what, I suppose about ten, they used to go up into the Girls School, or perhaps younger than that and then the boys used to go to the Boys School. But at the Council School, that was mixed you see boys and girls.
Q: Did each class have a separate room or how was it organised ?
Mrs R: I think that was five, six and sevens were in the big, in the front room. Then there was seconds and thirds in the middle room and then infants at the back, down at the Council School.
Q: So would five, six and sevens be doing different lessons ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, we had different schoolteachers you see. I can’t remember it being confusing. I only know I wasn’t very good at mental arithmetic. I was never swift enough. But Mr Quick was ever so good. If you couldn’t manage he’d come and help you, come and sit down beside you and show you, you know, which was rather nice.
Q: Was he strict ?
Mrs R: Fairly, yes, yes.
Q: Do you remember being naughty at school ?
Mrs R: Oh I did used to talk. Oh yes (Q: What happened then?) Well you got the ruler didn’t you. I don’t think I ever got the ruler but the boys used to get the cane if they were naughty but he was kind, you know he wasn’t cruel, he was kind and that sort of thing. And then we had Mrs Andrews. She used to teach us needlework and the boys used to have drawing and that you see. Of course I never went in the Infants [i.e. at the Council School] I think I was about standard five when I went to change schools if I can remember.
Q: So even if the boys and girls were in the same class you’d do needlework ?
Mrs R: Oh no, that was separate lessons you see. The girls used to have to go into the middle room to do the needlework and then the boys I forget, I suppose they had drawing and that sort of thing. (Q: Did you have playtime ?) Oh yes, yes, and drill out in the school playground – we used to have to do drill out there and that sort of thing. And that was cold – used to have to wrap up. We used to get some cold days at that time of year. Lots of snow. We used to be wrapped up.
Q: Did you used to come home to dinner ?
Mrs R: Well I only came through the Rec you see. We lived in King’s Chase where the furniture shop is now. The Co-op. Because my father being manager he was handy for the grocery.
Q: How did people normally choose which school they went to ?
Mrs R: Well I think the mothers and fathers went to see if there was accommodation for them as far as I can remember ?
Q: Was the Church one more for …?
Mrs R: Well, you were supposed to go to Church really, but we were always Nonconformist but that didn’t make any difference. They used to think the Council School was more for the Nonconformist people really because at the Church School you see you learned the Catechism and all that sort of thing. Well we don’t have that, not in our church. We always had to go to church at certain times, you know, but my people didn’t seem to mind. (Q: So you just went along?) Well you went with your class you see. Like All Saints Day we all had to go for service in All Saints Church.
Q: There wasn’t any question of anybody not doing that because they weren’t Church …?
Mrs R: Oh no, no you had to do it and learn the Prayer Book but as I say it wasn’t any help to us not in our Church it’s totally different. And we didn’t use to have it down the Council School I don’t think. I can’t remember. We used to have prayers and hymns but can’t remember having to learn that sort of thing.
Q: Can you remember who your friends were there, when you were a little girl ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, yes. One of my favourite friends she was Connie Rice and her father used to keep Coker & Rice. They were cabinet makers where Lesters the house agents are. That’s where their premises were and then there was a bit farther down where the Braintree and Witham Times shop is [91 Newland Street] was the pork butchers shop and Muriel Gibbs the daughter about my age, and then there was Stella North, she lived in Maldon Road where the leather shop and the bag shop is now [4 Maldon Road]. There was several of us all clicked together. (Q: Were they all at the same school ?) Yes, and there was Ethel Cottee, well she lives down the bottom of Braintree Road. She was one of our school friends and oh, I can’t think of half of them. We used to have quite fun. Lots of boys. Funnily enough I was out last Wednesday with our ladies. We went to Glebe house in Spring Lane at Lexden and it’s to do with our Congregational Church, so it was all the ladies, what we call our Womens Meeting and that sort of thing and there was a lady there and she said ‘Do you come from Witham?’ and I said ‘Yes’. So she said ‘Do you remember the Baths years ago in Witham ?’ I said ‘Good gracious yes’. Yes, her father, I can’t remember whether he was the postmaster or what. Had four boys and she was counting them off and Mrs Craven, oh she was another one of our girlfriends, and said ‘Do you remember Hubertc[???].’, she said ‘Don’t we just, he was our sweetheart’, we used to like him. It was funny after all those years to hear all about them. He’s passed on and one or two of the brothers have passed on but it is extraordinary how small the world is isn’t it.
Q: I suppose it was quite a small place ?
Mrs R: Well you knew everybody really
Q: I suppose by the sound of it most of your friends, or a lot of your friends came from the other shops and things ?
Mrs R: Well some of them did, their fathers had businesses and that sort of thing.
Q: Were there any parts of the town you weren’t supposed to go or anything ?
Mrs R: Well we never came up Chipping Hill very often. We did when we were at the Church School. We had to come up there. There was a Canon Ingles. He was the not the vicar, well I suppose he was the vicar, but he was called Canon and I always remember that one of his daughters got married and we all had to come up and line the roadway for her to come up. Because where the blacksmiths was you see [18 Chipping Hill] there’s a road that was a proper road and that used to lead up to the church and she came up there in the carriage and pair and we had to stand as a guard of honour sort of thing. That was a big day. That was a half day holiday so we liked that you see.
Q: Did you ever have any special things, were there fetes and those sort of things ?
Mrs R: Well we used to get summer holidays you see and when I was about ten or twelve I think it was they had a big pageant in the town. The Miss Luards and Mrs Percy Laurence and the Rounds and all those other ladies. We were dressed in summer and winter, spring and autumn in all different little long dresses with fishu, you know a lace fichu thing, and bonnets and that and we had to dance up in Rec I think it was and they had the Pageant in the park. Well we thought that was thrilling. One of the ladies in the town she used to make all the dresses, it was wonderful. Well you know the Hilton’s shop [56 Newland Street] well next to that was a big house and they lived in this big house and we used to have to go there for our fittings and that sort of thing. (Q: What was she called?) She was Mrs Maisey and she had two daughters and two sons I think and one of the Miss Maiseys was a dancer. I think she used to help put us through our hoops if I remember rightly.
Q: She made the dresses as well?
Mrs R: No not really but I suppose she must had help, Mrs Maisey must have done because there was such a lot of us. We had some photos at one time but where they went I don’t know. We used to have plays at school you know for Christmas and that sort of thing and down in the Church School for the first of May we always used to have a May Queen and all the Maids of Honour you know. That was for the bigger girls really. They always used to make garlands of flowers, it used to look lovely. A really happy time in the school playground, the Queen of the May, crowning the Queen of the May. You wouldn’t know a Miss West ? I suppose you weren’t here at that time. I always remember her being the May Queen. She used to be in the Operatic Society and used to take the lead sometimes in their plays and that. She used to sing beautiful, lovely singer. She was only a little tiny thing she was.
Q: The Operatic, can you remember how long the Operatic’s been going ?
Mrs R: O been going a long time. There never used to be the… They used to do more choral work you see and then my father and my sister used to be in the Choral Society. And several of them, Mrs Champ and them used to be in the Choral Society. I was away at that time. Then the Amateur Operatic came along. I don’t know who was the instigation of that but it used to be the main thing for us to go to the Public Hall to the Amateur Operatic Society.
Q: That was after you came back?
Mrs R: Well you see my people, my father and mother and family were all here. (Q: Your father died in 1950 you say?) Yes. My mother died in 1934. (Q: I think you told me what your maiden name was?) Baldwin. (Q: What were their first names?) My father’s name was Daniel Benjamin and my mother’s name was Lucy Kate. (Q: Well if I read anything about them I’ll know.) No, I don’t expect you’ll read an awful lot about them, no. (Q: Sometimes in directories they have lists of shops and things.) They may have done. They used to have wonderful Co-op treats in those days. My father used to get them up and they used to have a procession from the Grove, well the Avenue right through the town with the Witham Town Band and all the children in processions with flags and things all waving and Mr Woolnough he used to lead the procession in a red, white and blue coat, you know. It used to be great fun. It used to be, well its Dr Denholm’s field now, that used to be a Mr Beadel’s because where the drapery of the Co-op is, used to be a house called Pelican House and the other side used to be Mr Beadel’s and he used to loan my father and the Co-op people his meadow at the back for the sports and all sorts of fun they used to have there [Mr B at 117 Newland Street]. They used to put up all the trestle tables and things for the kids for their tea. They used to have the big steam roller up in the yard, what we called behind the bakehouse and that used to boil up all the water for the teas. Mm, we used to be thrilled. My mother and her helpers used to be cutting up all the bread and butter in the morning and cakes and stuff. The kids all had prizes.
[Chat about tape etc., not noted]
Q: It was called the Co-op treat. Did the Co-op provide any money for it ?
Mrs R: Oh yes that was for all the Co-op members, the members’ children you see.
Q: How long did that go on for, I suppose a lot of things like that stopped when the War came.
Mrs R: Oh yes when the War came along yes. Because you couldn’t get the stuff you see. Oh yes, my father was manager there for many years.
Q: How long did he do it for ?
Mrs R: Well we came in 1904. I think he was still, I can’t remember whether it was before my mother or after my mother died. He had a duodenal ulcer and of course he was very ill so he had to retire then.
Q: And Mr Whybrow was after him, was he?
Mrs R: Yes he was the first hand when my father was there you see. There used to be three on the provisions counter and about six on the grocery counter and that, and the drapery wasn’t a very big concern, not in those days – you see the Co-op bought Pelican House, originally that was a boys’ school you know, a private school. Then the Co-op bought it and turned it into the Drapery. [115 Newland Street]
Q: Do you remember anything about the school ? (Mrs R: Which school). The private school.
Mrs R: I can’t think who took it at the time. The Miss Pattissons, the bungalow in Collingwood Road next to the Conservative Club where, is it Mr Sparrow lives. Well the two Miss Pattisson’s used to live there.[16 Collingwood Road: not actually a bungalow] They had it built because Miss Ella Patterson was an invalid and she was always in her invalid’s chair and that was built for her so she could get about from one room to the other and they lived in this house at one time, next to the Co-op and that was called Pelican House and then they named their bungalow Pelican Cottage, I don’t know whether that was Cottage or not. But I think if you look over the top of the Drapery now I’m not sure but I think there is a pelican still up there. I am not sure but there was for many years, I remember that. Of course I remember when the big fire was in the middle of town. Consternation that was.
Q: What happened ??
Mrs R: Well we woke up about half past six in the morning and could see this awful glare and then we found out that this place was on fire. It was the Conservative Club or Constitutional Club and of course that was right in front of our church. Our church was right at the back. In years gone by they never had nonconformist churches right in the front. You know they were always kept up behind somewhere else and that was next door. This fire was next door to, well where Holt’s [88 Newland Street] is now. That was a china shop, with oil and stuff and it was terrible really in case that caught fire. But they saved a good bit of it. Of course they had the cellars underneath, and of course where they park all their cars now in front of our church you see was all filled in with all sorts of rubbish and stuff. It opened us up all right ‘cause where Byfords is used to be Dibbens the hairdressers and we had a little gate that’s all we had to go in to get up to our church you see at the side.
Q: What did they used to use the Constitutional Club for?
Mrs R: For the Conservative Club you know. Yes. That’s where the town clock used to be on there. You’ve heard of that haven’t you ? (Q: Yes I think so.) I don’t know if that was moved, I don’t think that’s the same one that moved over to the other side of the road, I’m sure. They saved the hands of the clock and I think they have that up in the Conservative Club now, or Constitutional Club. I’m not sure, but there used to be talk about it but, of course, that’s going back a long time.
Q: What sort of people would be in the Conservative Club?
Mrs R: Who would go? All different, like the Rounds and all those sort of people. Business people and all that sort of thing. Because at one time you see Witham was quite a big Liberal town. Because there was only the Conservatives and Liberals wasn’t there? Oh yes, there was a big Liberal following at one time. You’ll have heard of the Pinkhams what had Pinkham’s factory. Mr Pinkham senior he was the Liberal member at one time [actually the agent] and when that came round lots of the Liberal ladies, my mother being one, used to come and help write the envelopes and things. I think nearly all the Congregational people were more Liberals than anything. (Q: Can you remember who any of the other ladies were, that used to come and help?) Well there was Mrs Alderton and Mrs Rice and Mrs Hubbard Mrs Resborough I think they were. I can’t think but there were lots more if I could. (Q: That was when you were young was it) Yes, when I was a schoolgirl.
Q: That would be for elections and things ?
Mrs R: Yes, yes.
Q: Then what happened ?
Mrs R: Well Labour came in didn’t they, you see. (Q: Can you remember anything about that?) Well, em Crittalls, Mr Crittall he was the first one wasn’t he. One of the Crittalls put up as the Labour candidate didn’t they and of course that took away from the Liberal people you see. Lots of the Liberals went Labour didn’t they. I think they did. I didn’t understand a lot about it.
Q: Was your father involved at all?
Mrs R: Not really, he was a Liberal but he had to pipe down low you see because a lot of the Labour people belonged to the Co-op you see. So it placed him in a very awkward position you see. Well business people they had to be very careful in those days you see.
Q: What [???]
Mrs R: Oh yes, yes.
Q: Did they think they wouldn’t shop there?
Mrs R: Well within reason I suppose. They had quite a big committee. I suppose they have now, not that I know anything about it because we were real Co-op people in those days, you see. My father used to go up to town every week on the Tuesday up to the wholesaler and do the ordering. To the factory and all the rest of it. (Q: In London?) Yes, in LeMan Street. When I was up in London with the Goulds I used to meet him sometimes. It used to be lovely and then go and see him off at Liverpool Street on my afternoon off, used to go and meet him, used to be nice. Lovely, to see my pop. (Q: You didn’t get home very often?) No I didn’t get home very often and I know when I first went away I cried to go home [laugh].
Q: Had you not been away before ?
Mrs R: No, never been away before.
Q: I suppose that was regarded as an improvement, was it, from being a maid ?
Mrs R: Well I was in the Nursery you see. I used to help the parlourmaid sometimes and help the housemaid sometimes. As a matter of fact my friend whom I am going to stay with in August was the housemaid there so I’ve known her, oh over fifty years and we’ve kept in correspondence, you know, been great friends.
Q: So you came back ?
Mrs R: Yes, I came back to Witham and, well the children got big enough to go away to boarding school you see. So then they didn’t particularly want me and I came back and then I worked well where they’ve got Sue Ryder’s was a cake shop and refreshments and I worked there [51 Newland Street]. Didn’t get much money. I worked there for quite some time and then, over where the wine stores is, was a fruit shop, Mr Price’s you see and they asked me if I’d go and manage that for them and they bought another shop at Clacton. I managed that I should think about seven years and my husband, before we married, he used to come and help me and my father was very good and used to put me in the way of it because I wasn’t very clever with figures but they used to help me with my books and things and we used to do quite a good trade there. Where the wine shop is, yes, that’s right.
Q: Was your husband an old Witham person ?
Mrs R: They came when he was fifteen, no fourteen because, I don’t know whether he went to school in Witham, I can’t remember quite. But he lived down Mill Lane, his mother lived down Mill Lane. They pulled those cottages down and built Bramston View. They lived next door to Hollybank.
Q: So was he always in the shoe …
Mrs R: Yes. He went to Mr Dowsett’s and learned the trade there. What is Hiltons now [56 Newland Street]. (Q: That’s been shoes all along.) Yes, ever since I can remember. He was apprentice there with Mr Albert Rudkin – do you know of him, he’s blind now – do you remember him? It’s very sad. ‘cause he’s 79 I think he told me this year. He was an old, he was born in Witham if I remember rightly, where the car park is there used to be cottages you see in Lockram Lane – you’ve heard of Lockram Lane haven’t you? There used to be two cottages I think there, they used to live in one of those. (Q: Where does he live now?). Rickstones Road.
Q: Quite a lot of the people in Rickstones and Cressing Roads are old Witham people.
Mrs R: I remember them being built. Mrs Raven you see what did she say, she’s been there fifty, fifty-one years and she came when the houses were built and my sister she lived up Cressing Road at one time when the houses were built she came up there.
Q: I suppose they would be about the first Council houses, wouldn’t they?
Mrs R: More or less as far as I can remember.
Q: Did your husband stay working at Dowsett’s after …
Mrs R: He worked there for a long time and then he went up to Chipping Hill where we were for a time and then, whether trade wasn’t very good I don’t know, but then he went up Bridge Home and taught repairing and making up there for several years up there and then we married and had a little shop in Maldon Road. Then that was condemned and then that’s how we came to go up Chipping Hill.
Q: Where in Maldon Road ?
Mrs R: Next door to where that leather shop is [latter probably 4 Maldon Road]. There were several houses and shops. Surprising isn’t it ?
Q: Was it busy there ?
Mrs R: Well fairly it was. You see there was always where Brown’s is there was Wager & Son. [east side of Maldon Road, builders yard] They were builders and decorators and that sort of thing. And lots of houses all down there. (Q: How far down were the houses?) They went right down to the Retreat isn’t it. Well that little shop there, I forget what it is now, I saw it the other day, anyhow that was a cottage and that was to do with what they call High House where Stoffers first started That’s where the restaurant is now isn’t it ? Well Dr Payne lived there and you knew of Mrs John Tabor. Well they lived there when they were young, Dr. Payne, and this cottage down there, Maldon Road was where his gardener lived I think. ‘Cause that his property went all along the back there, the fields and all that from …
Q: Was the house, the Retreat still there ?
Mrs R: That was a big house, The Retreat. Well that was more or less for an asylum or something like if I remember rightly. I don’t know much about that but it was quite a big place as far as I can remember.
Q: ‘Cause I suppose more people lived in the High Street as well with people living over the shops and things ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, there were. Because where, there’s the Spread Eagle, and where International is there was a saddlers, Mr Palmer the saddler, and I think there was an International there and there was the Angel, a pub, on the corner [of Maldon Road]. When they pulled that all down the rats were let loose. They were terrible, terrible in the town, everybody was pestered with them. Of course there has always been Mondy’s as far as I can remember, Mondy’s shop, well that was Orttelwells then. Then the Mondys took over.
Q: You could get all your food in the Co-op you didn’t have to go far did you ?
Mrs R: No, you see they had their own bakehouse and everything there you see and they had the coal merchants you see used to be at the back.
Q: With the shops there, did people used to have things delivered or did they
Mrs R: Oh yes, all the bakers carts and horses used to go round. They never had a butchery. Just the grocery and drapery. That was a big concern then really.
Q: What about the food, it was different from what it is now, I suppose you wouldn’t get so much of this packaged …?
Mrs R: Oh no, all the sugar and the dried fruits and things all had to be weighed up you know, and the flour was all weighed up and that sort of thing, and of course that side was the bacon and butter and cheeses and lard. [Visitor knocks and stays] (Q: You were just talking about the Co-op, weren’t you and what that was like) When we first came to Witham, you know, there was only the drapery, well the Grocery first and I was telling Mrs Gyford there was Pelican House next door and that used to be a boys school. We used to live up The Chase then. I remember when our twins were small you see Dad used to go and open the shop at half past seven and the other men used to come at eight o’clock and Dad used to come back for his breakfast. Well when the boys were big enough to go into little knickers and jerseys they went to meet Dad and he didn’t know them. They were sitting on the steps of this house and they ran after them. He didn’t recognise the boys.
Q: What did they use to wear before that then ?
Mrs R: Well pinafores and frocks didn’t they.
Q: How old were they when they changed ?
Mrs R: Well I should think about three, three to four. They used to keep them in little frocks and pinafores didn’t they. Oh yes, that was very thrilling.
Q: Where did you used to get your clothes?
Mrs R: My Dad used to get them.
Q: You got them ready made ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, Dad used to buy ours up the wholesalers, when he used to go up to the wholesalers. Like with my sisters and my frocks. We used to have a new one every winter so the Sunday one used to go for school you see and we used to have a kind of red, one year we had red serge dresses and they were smocked right across and we thought we were it you know. The next year we had navy blue ones and with our nice hair [???]
Q: You must have looked very smart on Sundays ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, we had all Sunday clothes and Sunday shoes, hats and always wore gloves, that sort of thing, and weren’t allowed to do anything on a Sunday. Mustn’t stitch a button on or anything on a Sunday until the War came. And when the War came our Dad broadened his mind and let you do a little bit of knitting and that sort of thing. (Q: What were you knitting for …?) I don’t know what we knitted. For the soldiers I suppose, we did scarves or that sort of thing you see. Because we had lots and lots of soldiers about Witham. No end of them billeted. Because there was no houses in Collingwood Road then you know. Not in the First World War. Because all down the left hand side they used to have the field kitchens and all that.
Q: The left hand side going down ? They camped there ?
Mrs R: Yes, they camped there. They used to do all, cooking had the ovens and all things on there.
Q: Did they have parades and things?
Mrs R: Oh yes, in the High Street. And when we had the Scots boys they used to have the pipes and drums you know and they used to go to church, church parade Sunday morning and you’d hear the pipers and that. Used to be exciting really. Well I couldn’t bear them at one time, no I could not bear them at one time. When little Brenda was alive and we used to have the radio on, course we didn’t have television, and she used to say ‘Oh, auntie isn’t that lovely. Oh keep it on uncle.’ She used to say. You see my sister died and left the little girl and we brought her up until she was eight and she had diptheria. That was terrible wasn’t it Jean? (Jean: Yes, it was.) She was a dear little girl. Fair as a lily white. Of course we lost our own little girl you see. She only lived three weeks and we didn’t have any more. But I looked after all old people after that. During the Second World War I had three old people over eighty in the house. When we was at Chipping Hill.
Q: You were going to tell me about the business at Chipping Hill.
Mrs R: We came back and opened up after the, well before the Second World War you see. Then trade got so bad. You see there was no money about anywhere. Then the War came and then of course my husband had to go and join up. It shook me. I wished he had gone to work – you know, to Crittall’s or somewhere but he said no, he would go back in his own trade and then he kept on you see. Things weren’t always very swift but they weren’t in lots of trades they weren’t very swift were they ? So we go according.
Q: So this business about the Kayes, was it Kayes ?
Mrs R: Kaye’s shoes, that was originally started in his workshop you know. That was Abbott’s they started the Kaye’s and then Abbott’s I suppose passed on and Miss Tyrrell, that was some relation of Abbotts, she lived in Manor House [55 Chipping Hill] you see. The shop was shut then after Abbotts went until Charlie came and opened up again. [Actually Kayes bought Abbotts]
Q: So did Kaye shoes …?
Mrs R: Kayes sold out to Lilley and Skinner I think if I remember rightly and that originally started there and a bit of his old bench was the original one wasn’t it ? Because there used to be a big old barn there you know where the carport is and next door [later 55A Chipping Hill] and they used to have, Miss Tyrell used to have all cows and things down in the meadow. The meadows all belonged to that property you see and they used to have the dairy down in our cellar and people used to go to the trapdoor for the milk.
Q: So the barn was part of the …?
Mrs R: Well that was a Tithe barn you see and well the cows used to go in there and that sort of thing and they used to come and pay the tithes to the church there. It was a tithe barn.
Q: When was that pulled down ?
Mrs R: Oh, my husband had pulled that down. His father helped him. That must have been about after the First World War I should think.
Q: I don’t think I’ve seen a picture ?
Mrs R: No, we never had a picture of the barn up. I don’t remember ever seeing one. We had lots of lovely Witham pictures. We loaned them to somebody on Moat Farm, I don’t know who, and they never returned them you see. Such a shame. But you remember Mr Maurice Smith, the schoolmaster. Well he had them and he blew quite a lot up and made a film with lots of the pictures of Witham. He had some lovely ones, didn’t he Jean ? We were so pleased with them. They were left to us by an old gentleman that used to live with us at one time.
Q: I suppose people have got a lot still, in albums and things….
Mrs R: They may have, they may have.
Q: But Mr Smith got some, got a lot of … [talking over]
[Chat about Maurice Smith giving slide shows etc, he moved to Bournemouth, also the tape recorder, not noted]
Q: Tell me about going to church, can you describe going to church?
Mrs R: Up at the Chipping Hill church. (Q: Was it the same at your church?) They used to have carriages and pairs down there and our minister used to come with his high hat and tail coat you know and people used to come in their ponies and traps. We had a lots of people that came to our church in those days. It was the Reverend Edmunds who was the minister when we first came to Witham. Then we had the Reverend Picton and he was killed during the First World War. A bomb went off near the War Memorial, you know. That first house there was the Manse at one time and there was a young officer and I think he was engaged to Mr Picton’s daughter and he was there describing the workings of a hand grenade and it exploded and blew the dining room Miss Picton lost the sight of one eye and I think Mrs Picton was hurt in the foot and this young officer was killed and so was Mr Picton. Oh it was dreadful for the town. It was indoors in the dining room. The whole of the front of that house was blown out. [2 Newland Street]
Q: Where [???] used to be?
Mrs R: Shelley’s, yes that’s right. He was ever such a nice man Mr Picton. He taught Connie Wright that I spoke about, and me, taught us to sing Aberystwyth, you know, Jesu, Lover of my Soul. We had to sing that to the Welsh tune because he was Welsh you see. He taught us how to sing it. Oh he was a wonderful man for singing. A very nice family. Miss Picton she married one of the Smiths, Leslie Smith. They used to live at Earlsmead.
Q: How many people went to church ?
Mrs R: Oh our church was full. Have you been in our church ? (Q: I don’t think I have.) We’ve got a big gallery up the top there and that used to be nearly full the gallery did, besides down below. We sat up there when we first come to Witham. (Q: Did you have your own place?) Oh you had your own pews more or less.
Q: Did you have other meetings during the week and things as well?
Mrs R: Oh yes, there was what was called the Band of Hope and the Christian Endeavour and I don’t know what else there was, and of course, the Women’s Meetings. Oh yes there was quite a lot going on.
Q: How often did you go to church on Sunday, just the once ?
Mrs R: Three times – Sunday school in the morning