Tape 023. Mrs Elsie Hammond (nee Burton), sides 3 and 4

Tape 23

Mrs Hammond (nee Burton) was born in about 1900, and was interviewed on 10 and 15 July 1977, when she lived at 13 Chalks Road, Witham. Mr Cecil Hammond, her husband, was also present at times and added comments.

They also appear on tape 21.

For more about Mrs Hammond, see Hammond, Mrs Elsie, nee Burton, 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 3

Mrs H:    Are you fond of electric, stuff? I hate it. [Laughing]

Q:    No I don’t like it really. Useful though, isn’t it?

Mrs H:    Oh it is, I’ll say that. Yes.

Q:    You were telling me about holidays, anyway, weren’t you, aready?

Mrs H:    Yes. Yes

Q:    What sort of places would you stay in when you went for, to the seaside?    Mrs H:    Well we used to, actually when we used to go to Yarmouth, we used to board ourselves. See. They’d let you have, have a bedroom and a room, living room or they’d let their front rooms and we used to go boarding ourselves. Cause we couldn’t afford anything else, but that’s how we managed, we went to Yarmouth once, once or twice like that.

Q:    What, just have the one room, or so, would you?

Mrs H:    Yes, well, if the children were smaller, so, cause I only had two, you see. We used to manage like that.

Q:    Did you, when you were a little girl?

Mrs H:    Well, we never went and stayed anywhere. My mother couldn’t take all our family, could she?

Q:    You went for the day though, did you

Mrs H:    Yes we used to go on day trips really. Maldon was the place from here, you know. The special time was, really, for holidays, was the Bank Holiday, and they used to have a train, and they used to be just about packed, for Maldon. Cause, see people couldn’t go distances, although the money wasn’t much I know. You know like the fares weren’t much, were they? But, you see that was more than people could afford. And those trains back from there, well they, they used to be just about packed. I, I think the Maldon train, that was a pity that was taken off. Yes cause there’s no service there, is there, not now? And that would only take a few minutes.

Q:    That is a short distance, isn’t it?

Mrs H:    Yes, yes.

Q:    What did you used to do when you got there?

Mrs H:    Oh, just sit there in the sun or, paddle [laugh]. I remember one, Sunday School treats, we used to get them, you know? I remember once we went, my sister, the first thing she done was to slip in the er, water, in the lake, there. Fell in, got a-soaking wet, so she had to spend her day being dried out. [Laughing] She had to go somewhere, she had to go somewhere, you know, where they’d got a fire, so they’d dry her out, and that was how she spent her day.

Q:    They did have the lake there then, did they?

Mrs H:    Yes, oh yes, that’s, I think that’s natural.

Q:    Oh is it?

Mrs H:    I think so, it’s always been there since I remember. Yes, yes [laughing].

Q:    What you’d go on the train with the Sunday School, as well?

Mrs H:    Er. No, Sunday School outings were done by wagons. They used to put seats up the side, and we used to sit in them. Go by horse and cart, sort of business, only they were wagons. Used to love that, we used to go somewhere at, at Boreham. And we used to sing on the way and, shout, you know. We thoroughly enjoyed that. That was another thing, cause there wasn’t many really things to look forward to. And another day we always, was a big day for Witham, a Co-op treat. We used to par-, er, join the parade up the Avenue, and we had the town band. And we used to march down the town and go up Kings Chase, and into the meadow up there. There was a meadow up the back there, Beadel’s meadow, it was [on the right up Kings Chase, behind Mr Beadel’s house at 117 Newland Street]. And we used to have races and all sorts of things. Because, for a week or two beforehand they used to put all the prizes that you could win, in the Co-op shop window. They used to have some good prizes. So we, I wasn’t much good at running but they, you know that was something to aim at. And that was real good day, then dancing in the evening, you know. That, cause we had a decent band in Witham then but cause that’s a brass band but it’s all gone, now. But that was one of the days of the year, Co-op, treat, we used to call it.

Q:    Was the dancing outside, as well?

Mrs H:    That was outside, all outside, it was in the meadow. Yes it’s about, now I think, up where Doctor Denholm lives, up there [Gimsons, Kings Chase].

Q:    Were the dancing, would be outside too would it?

Mrs H:    Yes, oh we never had indoor dancing. I never did go dancing, myself, not at all. Don’t know what I, I don’t think we were allowed out much, not, not late. Wasn’t time for us to go to dancing. No, well my father had to get up early in the morning, and it didn’t matter what time you went in at night, he was waiting up for you. So, you know, there wasn’t the freedom, there is now. [laughing] There wasn’t the latchkey kids, you know. [laughing]

Q:    Were they quite strict, your parents, you reckon?

Mrs H:    Well they had to be, didn’t they? Really and truly, I expect my mother was really glad to see the back of us, after tea. So that was six or seven o’clock at night, we used to go to bed, when we were little. But when we left school, we could stay up to supper. But that was, that was the norm, really.

Q:    What would supper be?

Mrs H:    Oh well, that’s funny thing, but my mother used to lay on a big meal, in a way. Make a pot of tea. Have cups of tea. There might be soused mackerel. This time of year, there’d be salads and, I, I think that was her best meal of the day because she’d been busy in the daytime. I’ve always thought that. But or, beetroot and cheese, all that sort of thing. We used to live alright like that. You see, but that’d probably be produce really from the garden, or the allotment.

Q:    You had an allotment, did you?

Mrs H:    My father had an allotment, yes. That was a railway allotment. It was a piece of ground, it’s still there; it’s derelict. It’s the other side of the main line. We used to have to go over there to do it.

Q:    Did you have to help him?

Mrs H:    I wasn’t, I was never, only to pick the stuff. Pick the beans, and pick up potatoes, or drop them, drop the potatoes in the first place. He used to have the long, rows and we used to drop them in, you see. And then that was bean picking, or, he didn’t grow peas cause we used to go pea picking. And they used to wangle enough home, so we didn’t used to. [laughing] Used to put some in the bucket with a coat on the top. [laughing] So they never had to grow peas, but all the other vegetables, cause they couldn’t really buy them, you see. Couldn’t afford to buy them. That’s how, people used to work their sets, you see. Potatoes, they used to do an exchange. People didn’t, couldn’t pay out a lot, they use to exchange, one with another. So they’d have a change of seed. It was the only way to work it.

Q:    So you said you had lots of suet puddings and things. Would that be dinner time, more would it?

Mrs H:    Yes. Oh we used to come home to dinner and get, we always had something.
She would cook at dinner time as well?

Mrs H:    You didn’t cook at night.

Q:    No. Your supper was just a cold, supper was ….?

Mrs H:    Well tea was, just sort of ordinary tea. Bread and butter, bread and jam, bread and dripping. Yes, that would be all about all we had. Cakes, and that was your lot.

Q:    But then when you …. ?

Mrs H:    I don’t know how many loaves of bread my mother used to have left every day. That must have been two or three, you see.

Q:    They were brought round, were they?

Mrs H:    Oh every day, oh yes, we had everyday service. They used to bring groceries too, you see. That was from the Co-op, baker used to bring the groceries, as well.

Q:    Used to get those from the Co-op, did she?

Mrs H:    Oh they were nearly a hundred per cent Co-op. Well they, you see, their dividend was two shillings in the pound, the Witham Co-op was. Well that was very good really. And, so they used to spend really all they could at the Co-op. But now of course things are different, aren’t they?

Q:    So the dividend, how would they used to do it in those days, cause it is the stamps now, isn’t it? You’d get the dividend kept for you, would you?

Mrs H:    Oh no you, oh no, you had it, had cheques. Oh I, I remember in the first place, while I was, while I was a child, they used to have cheques and you take your cheques in, you see and that was put onto your passbook. That was how that was done.

Q:    And they’d give you the ….?

Mrs H:    Of course latterly that goes on, onto a ticket nowadays, or it did do, before they had the stamps. But they were tin cheques, what we used to get from the Co-op.

Q:    What, tin?

Mrs H:    Tin cheques, yes, yes. And they paid what you’d paid in, you see. Then that, when they’d accumulated you could draw your money when you liked. There was, no, dividend night, oh that was, they had a dividend night, when they paid out the dividends, I’m not sure if it was six months, I don’t think it was three, I think it was about six months, every six months they paid out dividend, if you wanted it. If not you could keep it in.

Q:    So that was quite a big night was it?

Mrs H:    Well that was, actually that was the only way people could clothe their children, you see. Cause you’d go and spend your, little bit of cash there.

Q:    And these cheques they’d give you each time you got something?

Mrs H:    Yes, yes. You’d go to the desk and you got your cheques you see.

Q:    Can you remember, what they, what did they look like?

Mrs H:    Well I, almost like money, they were silvery things.

Q:    I see. They’d sort of give you the …?

Mrs H:    The value, you see, you got the value of what you spent. Oh yes.

Q:    I suppose that was, as you say, a good way to save really.

Mrs H:    That was the only way, you see. Cause people didn’t have enough money to save, not really. But if you could keep it in there, that was a save card, and they, then you got interest on, you know, like you would do today on the Post Office.

Q:    So what about the other shops? Can you remember any of the other shops, there were then?

Mrs H:    We had a drapers shop over the road. Yes we had some nice shops, really. Pilcher’s, er, and Spurge’s. They had, er, they had two shops in Witham. One was called London House [74-76 Newland Street] and the other one, up this end, that was drapery and grocery store, that was [42 Newland Street]. And a hat department upstairs. They were really the, nice shops. And then we had a nice pork butchers opposite there, next to where Woolworths is now [Woolworth is 35 Newland Street]. Erm, and we really had, you know, sausages were eatable, and the pork was lovely, but of course nothing in the summer. Because we never used to eat pork all the summer. They didn’t reckon that was good, did they? But now it’s good all the year, I don’t know why the difference, except for the deep freezers, I think they make a difference. Yes. Then Mondy’s shop, that was there [63 Newland Street]. Although I’m not sure if that was Mondy’s in, I think it was Mondy’s when I was a child, yes, down on the other side. Doctor’s surgery, that was this side of where it is now [now 129 Newland Street, formerly probably 119 or 125 and/or 127 Newland Street]. High House ….

Q:    The surgery wasn’t in the same place?

Mrs H:    It went next door, as you might say, before you get to it, yes. That was where doctor, that  was Doctor Gimsons. There were two brothers, see we had there.

Q:    Did you have to have the doctor much at your house?

Mrs H:    We didn’t have to. We couldn’t afford it. You’d got to be ill. But they did used to attend a lot, you know, they were very good, they used to attend perhaps nearly everyday, whereas now you got phone or contact the doctor first, haven’t you? But they didn’t do that. They came as long as they thought you needed it. And they were very friendly. They knew the families, you see. But we didn’t have, we never had really any serious illness in the family, I would say that. Which was quite good.

Q:    You were talking about the drapery shops. What would you do for your clothes?

Mrs H:    Well my mother used to make, used to make her own underwear, and we had, used to have a little dressmaker along in one of the cottages, along here, ‘Sunnyside’. We used to go there and get something made. We had something about each year cause we always had week day clothes and Sunday clothes, you see. And, woe betide us if we had a tear anywhere [laughing] Which kids do, don’t they?

Q:    What about boots and shoes and things?

Mrs H:    Well we had long black stockings, I can tell you that. Everybody wore long black stockings. I did, er, I have knitted them but they were too thick. But, yes. Shoes they were, had to be pretty substantial. We used to, Dad used to put blakies in, in the toes, and, round the heels, so they didn’t wear down, you see. Cause he used to hate mending shoes, but course he had a lot of feet to contest with. And he, cause he used to work till about seven, or didn’t get home until about seven at night, and he got something facing him, you see, if he’d got shoes to mend, and he didn’t like that [laughing].

Q:    Well, all his gardening as well, I should think. I surprised he had the time.

Mrs H:    Well no. He didn’t used to start digging, funnily enough, till about Easter. Easter always came the same week, you see, didn’t it, years ago? And er, he had to spend his time there but mother used to go up and do some digging there. But, they used to say, I, well I wasn’t any good at digging. It looked as if an old hen had been scratching [laughing]. I didn’t really want the job anyway.

Q:    Did you used to help in the house, then?

Mrs H:    No, no, Dad never had time, did he? You see, you, you go to work when, he used to be gone about seven in the morning get home seven at night.

Q:    What about looking after children or anything? Did you see much of him when you were little?

Mrs H:    Well.

Q:    I suppose he didn’t have much time really, did he?

Mrs H:    No he didn’t, no, no. He was alright on Sundays, you know, that was about, but then I think he was mending shoes up in the shed. We, we didn’t bother about social life, really, because time went. If I went out to play, I’d always go take one or two children with me. Cause my sisters, you see, there’s about ten years, over 10 years difference between them and me, you see. So I never went out by myself. You couldn’t, because there, we’d always got a little baby to take out.

Q:    So you’d help looking after them a lot, would you?

Mrs H:    Oh we had to. Although the houses weren’t big, but you’d got to do it, hadn’t you, really?

Q:    Was there much difference in how they used to look after the babies?

Mrs H:    I tell you this much, we never had any tablets, or anything of that sort, we didn’t live like that. I know, they used to use, one of my brothers, he used to have a cough, and they used to send and get embrocation for it, you know, and rub their chests, and do all sorts. But they never, never called him the doctor if they could help it. Got to be serious. Cause you couldn’t really pay a doctor’s bill. And my people were always very honest, they wouldn’t have anything unless they paid, you see. They, we always used to laugh, there used to be a shop down the corner, Freddy Hasler’s [first at 54 Church Street, then at 48 Church Street], and if what we bought came to over a, so we owed them a halfpenny, none of us wouldn’t go in the shop until we’d got a halfpenny to pay [laughing]. My mother used to say she’d never be able to get into debt cause we wouldn’t let her, we wouldn’t go in the shop [laughing]. Winter mornings, in the winter, in the snow, didn’t matter what the weather was, we used to have to go down to the butcher’s, one of us did, whichever one was that age, the oldest one at home, and get, some meat, if we wanted, a little liver, and that used to be about two pennyworth of liver, and three pennyworth of fat pork, and that was really fat pork, and that was that, for our dinner. But we used to have to go down at seven o’clock in the morning, and wait until, the butcher made us wait till he’d cut his orders off, and see if there was any to spare. And that was two or three times a week we had to go and get the meat, cause they didn’t deliver, not then, you see. Unless you got a joint. Well, my mother couldn’t have a big joint, not at the, only at the weekends, you see, she had a joint. Well, brisket, brisket used to be about a shilling a pound, I think, so you’d get a decent joint, say a pound and a half, about eighteen pence, that’s how that worked out. But, you’d got to fetch it.

Q:    So, I should think when you were sitting round at meal times, it was shared out pretty carefully, was it?

Mrs H:    No, we always seemed to have plenty. We, had enough. (Q: That was good, yes). Yes, oh yes. You, you’d give them a good suet pudding and fill them up, cause that was real suet, you see, it wasn’t processed, it was the sort you’d got to grate up. Oh no, we always had enough food, but that was very plain.

Q:    Did you have to help with the cooking?

Mrs H:    Couldn’t very well, cause, we, well, on an open stove, you see, with a little oven at the side. I think those fireplaces really have gone out, I, I doubt if you were collecting you wouldn’t get one of them now.

Q:    What about the housework, did you have to help with that?

Mrs H:    Erm, not until we got older, and we got, got into a house that was a little bit bigger, in the same row. There was more to do then, but you see, those rooms, when I look at them now, I don’t know how we lived in them. Cause we didn’t live in the front room, that was all, nobody went into it much, you see. Only at Christmas time we used to go in there [laughing], for a couple of days.

Q:    What did you used to do at Christmas?

Mrs H:    Well, we used to hang up a stocking, didn’t get a lot in there, only a few nuts, oranges, little, little, mice, you know, sweet mice, er, but nothing much in the way of presents, cause we couldn’t have them, you see. But there was always a stocking for each of us. And we were happier with them than what children are now, I’m sure we were.

Q:    What, you said you went in the front room at Christmas, what happened in the front room, that you went in there?

Mrs H:    Well, we had our meal there, we used, oh yes, we used to have our dinner and tea in there you see, yes. Cos my mother was a pretty good cook, she’d been a cook, you see, in service, but as she used to say, if you were a servant, if you went into a big house with a, at a farm, especially, well I think she did work in one or two farmhouses, she said you couldn’t help being a good cook cos you’d got some good stuff to work on. Plenty of milk, eggs, fat, and course lard was lard then, that isn’t now, is it? Cos that used to be really fat, you see. And her pastry used to be lovely, I’ve never known anybody make pastry quite like my mother. So we, we did used to live all right. But then, as I say, stuff was cheap, but I said yes, but you didn’t have that to work on, did you. And fruit, you see, you’d get plenty of jam. If they had fruit well, you’d go and get, used to sell it by the peck, rather a lot. But, it was at such a low price, that really you could afford to do anything, and sugar, I think that was only about twopence a pound. Flour, everything was, that was, that was ridiculous the price really, wasn’t it, when you think back, they couldn’t make much on it, could they. Dates at Christmas, they used to come in a big block, in the shop, and we used to go and get about two pennorth, something like that. It was a block that’d be about that high, and that sort of, and stand in the shop. (Q: Really?). Yes, we knew Christmas was coming when they, when they got the dates in, but they didn’t have them before. And they didn’t use to have oranges all the year round. Only in the seasons. So that was a real treat.

Q:    Cos there was a shop down here where Woods, where Woods was, was that a shop then? [48 Church Street]

Mrs H:    Oh well that was, yes, that, yes, that was a shop and a baker’s. They used to bake their own bread there, in the bakehouse. I forgot whether they’ve still got that bakehouse at the back there, I’m not sure. Probably used it for a garage. But that used to be lovely. John Wadley’s. Yes. Well these are John Wadley houses [11-14 Chalks Road]. These are, if you look up there’s a WJ, er, and there was another terrace up, in Church Street, there’s four more houses he had built there, they got WJ on the front. This is Diamond Terrace [laugh]. I don’t know what the terrace was up, further up, but they’d all got names. You see. (Q: Yes). Postal service, we used to get that three times a day. Yes, morning, dinner time, and er, seven o’clock in the evening. Now you’re lucky if you get it once a day, aren’t you. I expect you get plenty of post, though, in yours.

Q:    A fair bit. But that’s still only the once usually.

Mrs H:    But that’s business stuff, you know.

Q:    Yes.

Mrs H:    Well, I wrote off for something at the beginning of the week and I haven’t had it back, had a reply yet, and that does annoy me, when I think we used to have three deliveries a day when I was little, and now, we’ve come, well, you’re lucky to get things within a week, aren’t you?

Q:    Did they used to write many letters, or anything, your ….?

Mrs H:    No. (Q: Or get many?) No. We didn’t. I mean, you only wrote to your relatives you see, and course, they weren’t very close. People didn’t, well, some families aren’t very close now when you come to it, are they, not really, children grow up, go away, and such.

Q:    But you had your grandparents living near ?

Mrs H:    My grandfather, he lived in the next row, but he lived to be ninety.

Q:    Did you used to see him often?

Mrs H:    Er, used to pop in and see him, yes, sometimes. Mother always used to take him, we always [???] his Sunday dinner. You know, years ago they, never used to have pudding on the same plate as veg, so we used to have to go along and take him his pudding and gravy, then go back again in a little while and take him his vegetables and his meat [laughing]. I don’t suppose he’d have eat it if that was all in one plate. My father didn’t used to like pudding on the same plate, you know. His batter pudding’d got to be served first. And then the vegetables, and then you had whatever you wanted afterwards in the way of a sweet. Custard and all the rest of it. [laughing]. But no sooner had mother sat down from one lot, she’d got to get up for the next, hadn’t she. That’s what it amounted to.

Q:    Then there was washing up. I suppose, where did you get the water from?

Mrs H:    Tap outside. That, that had to do four houses where we were, in our yard. That’s outside tap. That was a nice little game, defreezing that in the winter. We used to, er, put a little fire, you know, light some paper and defrost it like that [laugh]. Baths, they used to have a tin bath in front of the fire, heat up the copper. I think we used to go in the same water most of us [laughing].

Side 4

Q:    I was going to ask you about, you mentioned a bit about going to school. Do you remember anything that you used to have to do at school?

Mrs H:    Not particularly, not really. Er, I used to like school. I, I got on very well at school, you know, I was generally among the top three. Cause we used to have our report come out once a year, and they put a list up, you see, so we all, well really crazy when we, they could go up, so we could look and see where we were. But there was three or four of us, we were nearly always in the first three or four. I, I did like school. But, course we couldn’t afford to go to High School. Or else I think that I probably would have passed, or I, but that was – out.

Q:    They had an exam for it, did they?

Mrs H:    Yes, oh yes, we had exams, so we went through everything, you see.

Q:    Did you take, take the exam for going to High School?

Mrs H:    No.

Q:    You didn’t even take it?

Mrs H:    No, well they didn’t used to do that, they used to have to go to Braintree and sit for, for it, you see. That’s how they did those, those that were picked for it. Or wanted to go, it was a matter of whether you wanted to go or not then. Cause there wasn’t really many people could afford it.

Q:    They had to pay fees, did they?

Mrs H:    I, don’t think so, I don’t know, whether they had to pay fares, I think they had to pay their own fares. But er, I don’t quite know, cause of course we never went into that. (Q: No, quite). No.

Q:    But as you say, by the sound of it you had a good chance of going if you could have afforded it?

Mrs H:    I think I probably could have done, cause I did used to be near the top, in about the first three.

Q:    What were you best at, or did you, were you good at everything?

Mrs H:    Well, pretty general, I’d say, you know. I loved reading, writing, all that arithmetic. Better than I am now cause I don’t know the money. I don’t go spending and I don’t really know much about it. But they were the three things that they, did work on.

Q:    Did you have to do sewing and things as well?

Mrs H:    Oh yes, we had to learn everything. Erm, buttonholing, darning, oversewing, hemming, er, knitting. We were taught everything like that. That was a special afternoon, you see, that was afternoons for, singing, we used to do quite a lot of singing. (Q: They kept you busy). Mm. Yes, then we used to bring our, there was our tables home, we had to bring them home to learn them. Write them out then bring them home to learn them. Then you’ve got to go through them the next day, you see. I think that’s a pity they don’t – and spellings, just the same, have a list to learn. I think that’s what’s the matter with the kiddies now, they don’t er, don’t seem to have to slog, do they? Only with us, you see, there was always somebody else, we used to work on it together. You know, repeat, and all the rest.

Q:    You were, were you the second in the family, you say?

Mrs H:    Second, yes, yes, second in the family.

Q:    An older sister and then ….?

Mrs H:    Then there was six more [laughing]. Mm.

Q:    But you left when you were thirteen, you said?

Mrs H:    Oh yes. Yes. Yes I was thirteen at the beginning of the month and I started work before the, just at the end. Mm.

Q:    Cause I wasn’t, I remember you said you were, you worked for the factory for eleven years. (Mrs H:    Yes, I did) Did that include the time at Chelmsford?

Mrs H:    Yes, yes.

Q:    So how long were you at Witham?

Mrs H:    Cause it was all the same firm, you see.

Q:    The same, yes. How long were you at Witham?

Mrs H:    I don’t know. Erm. Well, I must have been, I reckon I was about two or three years at Chelmsford, perhaps not so long. We didn’t use to take all that notice, you know, not ….

Q:    So you weren’t a supervisor at Witham, you had to go to Chelmsford to do that?

Mrs H:    Well, that’s right. Yes, well, the job was going, you see. And they’d got to pick somebody who knew the job, cause glovemaking wasn’t general about here, was it. (Q: No, quite). You see that was, really, Pinkham’s came up from Devon, that’s where they used to do the gloves, good bit. In the houses.

Q:    Did people, did they, anybody do the work in the houses in Witham?

Mrs H:    Yes. Oh yes. (Q: They did?) Yes.

Q:    That was at the same time as they had the factory there?

Mrs H:    Yes, yes. Well if you left, you see, you could get home work. (Q: I see). I did have a machine for a little while when I first married, but I, I didn’t er, really take to it, I didn’t like going backwards and forwards with the bundles, tell you the truth [laughing].

Q:    What, you had the, had to have a machine at home?

Mrs H:    Yes, one of their machines at home, you see. Cause they were chain stitch, and very fine needles. But erm, I didn’t do it, well I didn’t do it after I had John, or before, I don’t think. Cause I was stuck on, on that meadow, you see, in the bungalow myself [4 Rickstones Road], so I used to take a walk up to my mother’s a good bit [laughing]. Cause I’d got no neighbours for a while. (Q: Quite). That’s why I’m always a bit scared, you know I don’t, I’d, I wouldn’t want to be by myself, in a house, not in the country, I wouldn’t go for anything. My husband of course, he was on all turns, and I used to be scared stiff for, if it was foggy and he had to go out for a fog, on the railway, you see. I was stuck there by myself and that was like banging my door [laughing]. There was detonators. No, I didn’t enjoy that till some of the houses come up up there. See, when you’ve had a big family, been in a big family, you’re never alone. People don’t realise that until they are alone. (Q: No.) I wouldn’t want to move away, not now, not from here, not really, because you, even if you don’t see your neighbour you know you’ve got one. Cause I don’t see much of my neighbour now, you see. (Q: No) Course she’s older than I am, and er, creeps about a little bit [laughing].

Q:    Did you used to know her when she was younger, she was from Witham, wasn’t she?

Mrs H:    Didn’t like her. (Q: No?) Never did like her. Don’t like her now [laughing]. Didn’t ought to say that, did I. (Q: Well, it takes all sorts.) But I don’t, I should, I should never like her. No. And she goes back into the past too much. You know. No, but she speaks, er, occasionally. But then I can’t stand and talk now. (Q: No.) You see, my legs won’t bear up. If I could, I’d be out.

Q:    Yes. Well, she’s, can get about, she’s lucky really, isn’t she?  (Mrs H: You what?) She can get about, she’s lucky really, isn’t she?

Mrs H:    Oh, I’ve never seen anybody like it. (Q: No.) She’s eighty-two and she goes down that garden at a rate you, well, it’s unbelievable, how she does that. But then she’s never had, she never has a decent cold. I’ve never known her to have a good cold. No, she doesn’t. I go weeks and I don’t see her. No. And yet {???] our doors [???]. They weren’t, they didn’t used to be, we had this covered in, cause I knew what she was, you see, before I come here [laughing]. And er, I said, well I can’t have my back door open to, that, cause she does watch. She doesn’t miss a thing. No she doesn’t. About the front door or back door.

Q:    You used to know her?

Mrs H:    Knew her as a girl, oh yes, yes. Not, not friends with her, I, I never knew anybody who really liked her. But I’ve got a dear little neighbour next door. Ivy, she’s nice. [Mrs Bradley, 14 Chalks Road]

Q:    So you, who would be your friends when you were little?

Mrs H:    I think most of them have gone, more or less. (Q: Yes?) Or they’re further away. Be neighbours, but you see, people marry, they go away, you don’t know anything about them, do you?

Q:    No. I suppose when you went to work, did you know most of the people that were there?

Mrs H:    Oh yes, everybody. Well, everybody, you knew who people were in Witham, you see. And you knew if, same as if somebody died you always knew there was somebody who, somebody died, because er,. the church bell used to toll. If it was a man that tolled three, if it was a woman it tolled two, and if it was a child that tolled for one. At intervals, you see. And er, course the next thing people’d – ‘Who’s dead?’ They’d ask the milkman or else the baker, and that’s how all the news used to go round, then. (Q: Yes.) The local news, that’s how we used to know more that we do now. There’s people who I’d be afraid to really ask how, how somebody was, because you don’t know if their alive or not. And you can embarrass people like that, can’t you? By doing that.

Q:    Yes. Did they used to have a local paper?

Mrs H:    Oh yes, yes, yes, Essex Weekly.

Q:    You got, did you get that?

Mrs H:    We used to have that, oh yes. But didn’t used to have a daily paper so much. (Q: No) News, London news, used to come through the signal boxes. (Q: Really?) And that’s how they used to get that.

Q:    What, you mean they’d, erm along the wires?

Mrs H:    Yes, well, they used to, erm, send the messages through, from one signal box to another, and of course there used to be a lot of signal boxes then. I mean there was two, two or three in Witham. One at Blunts Hall, another one here, another one down at the east gates, you see. And that’s how it went. So all the messages used to get passed on, but by a different system.

Q:    So if anything important had happened? (Mrs H: Oh, we knew.) It would get passed round the circle would it?

Mrs H:    Yes yes yes. You see, and the milkman used to go to everybody’s door, the baker used to go to everybody’s door [laughing]. See, that was, it was a good system, really. But the only thing was it was all local, wasn’t it. I think now we get too much, you know too much, don’t you. Life’s a bit of a worry. I get a bit scared, myself, to know what’s going to happen in a few years time. Say ten, twenty years time.

Q:    Yes. I suppose when for instance the First War was on, erm, would you hear what was going on outside of Witham?

Mrs H:    Oh, yes, we always used to know if there was a troop train coming in the station [laughing]. Or if there was a Red Cross train coming in. We used to like to have a look. Oh yes.

Q:    Was it quite busy then, was it?

Mrs H:    Yes, yes, oh yes. Oh, we had a lot of soldiers about here. My mother had to have four billeted onto her. You see there was no choice. Cause my husband he was in the War, in the First World War, mm, mm.

Q:    Cause you were, yes, you were working then, weren’t you?

Mrs H:    Yes, I didn’t know him then. You see, but he was, he had two years in France, yes. And that was when things were very bad for Britain, I can tell you. And he comes from near Stow-, not far from Stowmarket, I don’t know whether you know the east coast, I don’t suppose you would do. [Pause] Now I don’t know much about the south, or west. Been up to Blackpool once [laughing]. (Q: Did you really?) We had a week up there, yes.

Q:    I suppose, when your mother had the soldiers billeted, they were paid, did they, did she have to feed them as well, or ….?

Mrs H:    Well, they used to bring the rations round. (Q: Oh I see.) Oh, that was a good time for us. Yes, because you see, for four soldiers you had quite a bit of meat. We, I think that really was a, absolute change in our house then. Cause we were growing up, I was, see I go with the years, so I was fourteen in 1914. And er, we had one fellow, he worked in the store, billeted on us, see, and so of course he used to look after mother for, the, butter, sugar, meat, they used to bring them every day, you see. And course they used to bring plenty. So we really didn’t do too badly then. I think that was a little bit of a turning point for having more food, to go to. Se she, she used to let them have her front room, for meals and that, and er, one bedroom with two big beds in it. Cause that was a bigger house we lived in there. I believe I had to sleep on the floor, me and my sister in another little room, what you could make into a bathroom nowadays. Yes. But you had to have them. (Q: No argument?) And do the washing and everything for them.

Q:    So there was, did you have the same ones for a long while, or were they always moving on?

Mrs H:    Well, it so happened we did. Cause I think that was one Division that was here for about two, nearly two years I think. From 1915 to seventeen.

Q:    What did they do all day?

Mrs H:    Cause my sister, well, my sister married one fellow who we had billeted. (Q: Oh, I see.) He was billeted, he wasn’t billeted with us, he was billeted at Mrs Tunstall’s [11 Church Street]. There.

Q:    What did the soldiers do all the time, all day?

Mrs H:    Well, of course they had horses. He was with the Army Service Corps. And, course they had their horses, and they used to go down Chipping Hill, next to where, there was a big barn there, I think, near where Mr Rallings lived, well, he’s dead now, he died a little while ago. [Charlie Rallings was at 55 Chipping Hill. The barn next door has gone and is now the site of 55A Chipping Hill] Well, there was, they used to stable their horses, run their horses there. All different places they took over, like that. So there was a lot going on. Then we had the, a Scottish Division, the Lowlands. Oh yes. They were busy times that four years, I think, when we erm ….

Q:    Cause you said they were busy at work then as well?

Mrs H:    We were, yes. And they used to get up dances and all that sort of thing, for girls who wanted to go. They, I think people really enjoyed that. (Q: Yes.) Put a bit of life into the place.

Q:    This, erm, you mentioned this strike business at the factory, was that after the War, or ….?

Mrs H:    Er, no. I think that was about in 1919. [Feb and March 1919, see reports in Essex County Chronicle 28 February, 7, 14, 21 March; outcome not given. Doesn’t seem to be mentioned in Essex Weekly News] Oh, that was after the War. (Q: Just after, yes.) That was just after the War. Yes. The Workers’ Union, you see, that’s when they were just starting up the Unions, and they, sorted wanted to, get us to join. That was when the trouble began for us [laughing]. Cause Pinkham’s were dead against it, you see.

Q:    Was there a branch of the Union in Witham, you mean?

Mrs H:    Er, we used to have a Miss Saward she used to come from Braintree, but I think that was area work. Really, more than anything.

Q:    And what, did people not want to join, or were they not allowed to anyway?

Mrs H:    Well, that was when it was, very dodgy as to whether they did or whether they didn’t. (Q: Yes, quite.) You see. Cause the employers were against it. But that was when the Workers really started going. But mind you, I, I believe now, if the people who started up the, Unions, they never thought they’d get to the state they’re in now. That was never meant for that. It was to equalise, so there wasn’t the, difference between the rich and the poor. But now, you see, they’ve gone too much the other way. I, I don’t think they would ever have had anything to do with, had they foreseen fifty years ahead. Myself. Because you see they’re, they’re sort of overwhelming governments now, aren’t they. And I think that’s wrong. But in those days there was such a big difference then between the rich, rich and the poor. And I think they wanted one class to help the other. That’s what it was meant for in the first place.

Q:    So cause, it sounds as if they were quite strict, the Pinkhams, were they?

Mrs H:    Oh yes. Oh yes. Well, Mrs Pinkham, she used to come and work with us, you see. (Q: Did she?) Oh yes, she had a machine, she used to sit and work as well. No time off. If you wanted half an hour off you had, you nearly had to go on your knees. That sort of thing.

Q:    Did, what happened if you did anything they didn’t like?

Mrs H:    Well. Well, you’d get the sack, I suppose.

Q:    You didn’t, nobody, did anybody get the sack over this strike business?

Mrs H:    I don’t think they did, but I don’t think we got anything out of it [laughing].

Q:    At least you kept your jobs?

Mrs H:    Oh yes, yes, yes, oh yes. Yes. Some did leave, and they went down to Devon. I think that was after the strike. They went and worked for another firm, you see.

Q:    Cause, was that, was that the idea of the people in Braintree, that you should do that, or ….?

Mrs H:    No, what, strike? That was, that was the Workers’ Union that was holding on to us, yes, oh yes.

Q:    Cause it seemed quite an, unusual thing in those days in Witham, for anybody to try to stand up like that, I should think?

Mrs H:    Oh, you, oh no, you daren’t answer back. {Q: No.) See. You just got to take what come to you.

Q:    So you were quite bold to do that, then?

Mrs H:    Yes, oh yes, cause that was, that was really a terrible thing, they wouldn’t have it. And that never did come to anything, cause you see, you daren’t lose your job cause you couldn’t get another one.

Q:    Mm. So I’m surprised they kept you, really. (Mrs H: Yes). Or perhaps there were too many of you, were there? How many people were there involved in it?

Mrs H:    Well, that was divided, really, there was just the few. And we weren’t a very big, firm, you see. Well, it’s the same now, with firms, isn’t it, really, when you come to it, only course, and they’re bigger firms, aren’t they.

Q:    Still, I suppose, if you hadn’t been doing that ….?

Mrs H:    We shouldn’t have had a job. Gone out to service, you see.

Q:    Yes, so they’d got you really, hadn’t they?

Mrs H:    Yes, oh yes.

Q:    Cause I suppose before that came, that was all the ….?

Mrs H:    I don’t know what there was before then, well, there was nothing much, you see. (Q: No.) Only to go out and work, for people, better off, little bit better off. Well this was more of a little, that was a town, cause we had our own market. Where the Labour Hall is, that used to be our market, cattle market it was, yes, that piece of ground [69 Collingwood Road]. So it was a small town, you see. Then there was the maltings, that was the only thing from here. Or the land. And the railway. Wonderful if you could get on the railway. (Q: That was a good ….?) You’d got to be recommended by the Vicar, or a magistrate, you know, you’d to get recommendations to get on the jobs those days.

Q:    What was so good about the railway jobs?

Mrs H:    Well, you never got the sack. If you were, if you were, unless you done thieving. That’s one thing they wouldn’t tolerate, thieving. If they knew it. Then you went. But other than that, you felt you’d got a safe job. (Q: Yes.) And of course that was a very big thing, in those days. And now they roll in and out of jobs like yo-yos, don’t they [laughing]. Don’t you think they do? I do, really.
Was there any work that women could do at home, other than, before the gloves, did they, (Mrs H: Well, they used ….) did they ever have any work in the house?

Mrs H:    Only pea sorting. (Q: Yes?) They used, to seed peas, during the winter. They picked them in the summer, yes, well then they dried off, well then they had to sort the good from the bad. They used to have the sacks took into the homes. Quite a few people did that. We never did, but, quite a few did. Oh yes. I don’t think there was anything else in the way of work. Not for the homes. (Q: No?) Unless you took in needlework. (Q: Yes.) [Mr H came in] You getting ready for your dinner [laughing]? (Mr H: Yes, getting on very well. Got a bit of gardening out there that I want to do.) (Q: Cold out there, isn’t it?) (Mr H: That is a bit, but I don’t mind it) No, he never feels cold. (Mr H: I don’t feel cold.) I never feel hot. [laughing] So we’re Mr and Mrs Jack Spratt. (Mr H: Jack Spratt) Yes, we always say that. (Mr H: Jack Spratt and his wife.) Yes.

Q:    I must be off soon and get my little girl from playgroup, I think.
[Chat about playgroup; reference to Matthew Simms who also goes to playgroup; he and his mother Val being ‘small’ people]

Mrs H:    It’s like Rose down the road, you see. [Rose Burch] When she was a little girl, she came here, she wasn’t very old, she was about five, I’m not sure? I remember them coming. And er, course everybody used to take notice of them, they used to say ‘Hello Rosie, when are you going to grow?’. So she’d say ‘Tomorrow’. [laughing] But the latter years I noticed she, was, very hurt about it in a way. She couldn’t buy clothes like other people. She couldn’t buy shoes like other people. You see, there’s all that. Because Val’s very much involved with the group, their Association, and she works hard for that, I think. Which is a good thing.

Q:    Was Rosie the only one in their family?

Mrs H:    No, she’d got, she had two sisters and a brother, oh yes. But she was the only one like that. (Q: Yes.) That’s just a freak of nature, isn’t it?

Q:    Did she go to school with you?

Mrs H:    No.

Q:    Or your school?

Mrs H:    Erm, I don’t know whether she went to the Church school or our school. I don’t think they did, now you speak about it. Joe’s the same age as me. [Joe Burch] But I don’t think he came to our school. So that must have been the Church, you see, you could go where you liked, which school you liked. You weren’t sent, no.

Q:    Still I suppose if you went to the Church school you had to, go to Church and things, with the school?

Mrs H:    Well, I think, the Vic-, curate that used to be, they used to have …

Further conversation with Mrs Elsie Hammond, 2 May 1978

I visited her with three children from Chipping Hill Infants’ school. Her picture of schoolchildren in 1903 from the newspaper shows herself front right on mat. Then 2½. Went to school when three. Just main building then. ‘Babies’ at back on steps, with forms and desks. Infants in front room – two classes together – with Miss Speakman and Miss Evers. They had inkwells. The playground was gravel. The roads were gravel too. They had blakies in their boots. Always boots until went to work when had shoes. Father had to replace the blakies. Long stockings. Two petticoats. Couldn’t keep washing the dresses so had pinafore on top. Some had just one dress – if lucky had one for winter and one for summer. They played games – hoops, diabolo, and tops, all the way to school. Played marbles into hole in the kerb. Then after the infants she went to Maldon Road school. Still came home to lunch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *