Mr Jim (Bert) Godfrey was born in 1906, and was interviewed on 27 January 1978, when he lived at 2 St Nicholas Road, Witham.
He also appears on tape 28.
For more information about him, see Godfrey in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
The tape begins as very indistinct – sound is slightly muffled-particularly Q’s voice- some thumping/banging noise in background, almost continually.
[looking at photo of 23-27 Bridge Street]
Q: ……there, is that where you were born, there?
Mr G: That’s right. That’s where I was born [27 Bridge Street]
Q: Which one was it?
Mr G: Number twenty-seven. That’s where the shop is now, isn’t it? Antique shop there now. [27A]
Q: …don’t go down there very often.
Mr G: That was a little cottage in those days, two-room cottage. [27A Bridge Street] You know for a single person or anything like that. This was ours.  That was the – those bedrooms – the ceiling went up to there.
Q: Oh, right up to the top?
Mr G: And I’ve seen my mother standing on a bed, with a broom, just able to sweep – reach the top. But now, I think they’ve had a false ceiling put in. Yes, that’s the old place – I’ve got a painting of that indoors. [Both laugh]
Q: So what rooms were there then – how many rooms were there?
Mr G: Oh, there were three bedrooms, going right through, and two downstairs, no kitchen. A separate washhouse across the yard. You had to go across there for all your water. In those days; been modernised, of course, now. And those timbers, you’ve got – inside there’s a huge beam right across the room. Marvellous old thing, really; carved. [???] [???]
Q: What – how did you use the two rooms downstairs?
Mr G: Ah, well, this one we used at Christmas!
Q: The front one?
Mr G: Seldom we used to sit in there but the other room, – we lived in the back. Quite a big room. Oh, big as this or bigger, you know. And, um, the second bedroom, not this one, the one behind that, we used to have two double beds side by side and there was room for two single ones. But were they cold in the winter! [Laughs]. Yes, but marvellous old place, though, really.
Q: So you’d have your meals all in the back room ….?
Mr G: Yes, and used the other one, like weekends or something. But not very often. We didn’t go in there very often.
Q: How many were there of you?
Mr G: Four boys. Four of us and the parents, so there was six of us in the house, most of the time.
Q: And where did you come in the family?
Mr G: I was the third one. Yes, two above me and one after. I’m the only one left now.
Q: Were your – were your parents Witham people?
Mr G: Yes, my father was. He was born – he went in there when he was six weeks old. He was born up the other end of Bridge Street. And he lived there till he was 60 – he was in that house sixty years. My mother came from Wethersfield.
Q: And what was your father’s first name?
Mr G: Harry. Well, Henry but mostly – everybody knew him as Harry. I’m still called Harry by some people now. [Both laugh] Young Harry, you know.
Q: Did you – I know there was that picture of your father in the cart- did he do that job for a long time – or was he……?
Mr G: Oh, he was at Spurge’s, for about nearly forty years, I think. Warehouse man, general – um, what can I say – well, he used to go out delivering. But he was in the warehouse most of the time. [???] In those days, they used to have the sugar in big bins and he’d have to weigh that up and all those sort of things, you know. You didn’t have it come in packets like they do nowadays. Um, there used to be bins all down the side of the warehouse. Granulated in one, brown sugar, lump sugar and all those sort of things and he used to weigh that up and bag that up, you know. Huh, good old days.
Q: How did they get the stuff in? Where had they got – get the stuff from, I wonder, in the first place, into the shop? Delivered [???]
Mr G: I don’t know. I suppose it come by rail, then, in those days. There wasn’t any – much road traffic. Mostly horses, there was no – very few cars. I think the first car that I know that were in Witham, the doctors had, you know. And previous to that I’ve seen the doctors go on bicycles to do their rounds. Yes. Dr Gimsons.
Q: You remember their car, can you?
Mr G: It was an old Belsize. And I’ve never forgot that. Plenty of brass on it, brass lamps and all the rest of it, all the trimmings. Yes.
Q: They’d be proud of it? They used it to go round, did they?
Mr G: Afterwards, yes. But it was bicycles first. I don’t remember the doctors having horses but I know they had bicycles. And then the car.
Q: Yes, a lot of people speak of them. Did you have to have the doctor, much, round?
Q: No. We were a very healthy lot, really. Yes, yes.
Q: Who lived in the other ones, do you remember?
Mr G: Yes, that [number 25] was a Mr & Mrs Woodwards; he was a postman, lived in that one. And his daughter, do you remember the Marshalls? Used to have a shop in Witham? Well, Mrs Marshall was the daughter of this woman who used to live in there. And that was Mr Marshall who bought these houses eventually. And so my father had to clear out, you see. Because he wanted it himself, that one. Otherwise, he lived in that one, to start with, the Marshalls, first. But, when I was a lad, there was an old gentleman, a Mr Coote lived in that one [number 23]. He was very deaf but he had a cuckoo clock. And if us boys could get round there when it was time for striking, you know, he would open the front door and let us see this cuckoo pop out. [Both laugh] Yes. Because we were well situated, there’s a pub there, the Morning Star [number 13], you can just see the part of it, and here was the George & Dragon [number 29]. So we were well away for drinks if we wanted them.
Q: I don’t know much about Bridge Street. Were there a lot of people actually lived there? Houses with people in them?
Q: Oh it was all houses then except…..
[Both indistinct. Noises on tape – movement]
Q: I’m not quite sure where – I borrowed those from Mike Wadhams [???] he collects old photographs and things. [noises] I don’t know really know old most of them are.
Mr G: [General view of Bridge Street] Oh, a good many years that one goes back, I know. I can’t recognise any of them on there – but, er…. I remember it being like that. But this one [Bridge Street, west end] now, these little places here, these are almshouses [50-58 Bridge Street]. Where the little railings are – of course, that’s all gone now. There was a butcher’s shop down here as well. (Q: What, past there, yes.) That’s gone of course. And round the corner there used to be a wheelwright shop. We used to spend a lot of time watching them, you know at the end of these, there was quite an open – a big open yard and then farther on there was a wheelwright’s place where we used to spend quite a lot of time watching them in there. [Howbridge Road]
Q: Yes? And whose was that? Do you remember?
Mr G: A Mr Bright was the last one that had it.
Q: I suppose they went on as long as there was some horse…?
Mr G: Yes – as long as – they used to make the wheels and everything else there, you know. From there they’d take them up to the blacksmith’s which used to be – it’s on one of these pictures. [West end of Newland Street, looking east]. There used to be a forge there and you had to go up [130 Newland Street].(Q: Near the Crotchet, was that?) That’s right. There used to be another pub on the corner, the Globe Inn, look [132 Newland Street]. Along here, and then a little farther up just beyond this bit of – where there’s a – dentists- now? (Q: Yes) There used to be the Carpenters Arms, another pub – I mean it’s going back a long time [141 Newland Street]. [But, er…. this was Ellis’s shop for – oh, years and years. It was a goldmine, there [probably 149 Newland Street]. That’s still there, it’s Keys there isn’t it? (Q: Yes) These have gone. There was another little shop, there if I remember. Wood, a Mr Wood used to keep that. And, of course, that was the butchers then, Sorrell’s. Probably in that, then… [last three places right to left between 149 and 141]
Q: Did you have to do much of the shopping? Or did your mother …..?
Mr G: No, my father used to manage that. See, he’d be at – working at Spurges, grocers and drapers, he’d do all that. I mean, in those days, Janet, it was a regular Sat’day night affair, to go out shopping. (Q: Really?) Shops keep open to about eight. Most people’d go out after they got paid, I suppose, then. Go and do it Sat’day evenings. Yes.
Q: What, so he’d be able to bring the things from Spurges…?
Mr G: Bring Spurge’s there, yes. And then they’d go and settle up Sat’day night. Spurge where – um, now who’s there now – Liptons. [42 Newland Street] And that dress shop on the corner. Spurges used to run right along there. Um, the grocery part used to go right up Lockram Lane into where the market is now, you know, on Sat’days. (Q: Yes) The warehouse. And then there was a drapers shop there as well, which was all Spurge’s. And then down – farther – where – Stanwoods? – past there, they’d have another place, a millinery shop. What do they call that – London House? [probably 72 or 74 Newland Street] It’s going back a long way, a long time.
Q: And would, there was a Mr Spurge presumably, was there?
Mr G: Yes. Originally, yes. I knew him, there. And then he had one son, I think, in the business as well. And I think they sold out to Luckin Smiths – they took it over from them. And of course, they closed down.
Q: So he was just a sort of local….
Mr G: He was a local man. They used to do undertaking as well, you know and all that and my father used to help with that.
Q: I wonder if that’s his hat here.
Mr G: Oh yes, with his high top hat, yes, He used to polish that up. Poor old boy. I had a photo of that somewhere. I can’t find it now. I think I got rid of a lot of ..
Q: That must have been about the biggest shop in Witham ………
Mr G: It was. And they catered for everybody. And they had a horse and cart to deliver and they used to go all in the country, Terling and Totham and all, delivering everything.
Q: And they’d have a lot working there, I suppose.
Mr G: Quite a number there were, you know, men and women. Even in those days they had quite a lot of women, in the drapery, more. And doing the grocery side as well. Yes.
Q: Did they have uniforms or anything? (Mr G: No.) Or overalls or you just…
Mr G: You wore a blue overall, generally, the women. But the men, my father, all he wore was ever an apron, a white apron. He used to almost live in that and [???] You know. [Laughs]
Q: But he sort of bag the stuff up and then.. into what – pounds? (Mr G: That’s right) And then took it through to the shop. (Mr G: Through to the shop, that’s right) Already wrapped into the shop.
Mr G: Yes, I mean, the butter used to come in big – you know, bits as big as that and then they’d cut it up as they wanted, or knock it up with – you know, with the wooden sort of pat things? And often there’d be a design on that so when they’d finished they’d plonk this other one on top of it and you’d get a nice flower on the top. Things like that. Don’t trouble now, of course.
Q: What about meat? They didn’t do meat as well?
Mr G: No, they didn’t do meat. No. Meat was only the butcher’s. And of course before refrigeration, that was. And you took a chance with the meat. Didn’t do any harm, though.
Q: Did you eat well, do you think? [Banging in background restarted]
Mr G: I think we did, considering. I was fortunate in that my mother, before she married, she used to – be in service as a cook. She used to be at Bolingbroke’s at Chelmsford. And I’ve heard her say she had to cook for thirty a day sometimes. So, she was a good cook. Make a good meal out of nothing, sort of. However, I know they said, well, when my father got married he was getting ten shillings a week. Not a lot you know, when you’ve got the – I mean I suppose, he got a little more by the time we were born, but not a lot to start with. Even, taking that that was more valuable than it is now.
Q: Quite. So what you’d have meat – every day?
Mr G: Yes, we had meat nearly every day, Janet. Yes. But it was made up, you wouldn’t get the joint – there was always a joint weekends, you know. Then we’d have what we used to call on Mondays, that was soapsuds and cold – what was it? Cold meat. That’s right, cold meat, potatoes and soapsuds. Because it was always washing day, you know. [Q laughs] And with a family like that there was some washing. I mean, it was all done by hand, Janet. You’d got no – no machinery to help you then. It was scrubbed out, and hung out on the line.
Q: And she’d no daughters to help her either.
Mr G: No daughters, no
Q: And did you or your father do that sort of thing?
Mr G: No, none of us. No, we weren’t, – my father was, you know, a general handyman, but he was no house worker. Neither was I. None of us, no. We helped washing up but that was about as far as we got sometimes.
Q: Keeping the house clean and tidy was a job, too.
Mr G: Well, I’ve often thought, you know, there was four boys and my father and my mother is six to wash for and look after the laundry. It’s a lot of laundry. Ironing the shirts and all that for the five of us, it’s a lot of work.
Q: There wasn’t any sort of laundry – you did it all at home, then, did you?
Mr G: Oh yes, it was all done – no launderette or anything like that! No. There was a laundry – there used to be a laundry in Mill Lane. You could have it done there but I mean it was only the people with plenty of money that had that done. There was nothing for – my mother used to do a few bits of washing for other people. But there was nothing, you know, on Mondays you’d see people going with the bags or baskets to different houses where the women would wash them for them, launder them. But not – no launderettes as we know them now. There was a laundry where they’d collect it and deliver. That used to employ quite a few women. You know where Shelley has that – that shed, that long shed? [Mill Lane, behind 132 Newland Street] (Q Oh I know, yes) Well up that yard, the top of that, that used to be the laundry up there. The local one. Of course there was a tan yard round there, you knew that, did you?
Q: There was something about it in the paper, wasn’t there that they couldn’t use the ground.
Mr G: Couldn’t use the ground, that’s right. Well, that used to be on – like, on the riverside, you know, there.
Q: So, it would be just the better off people would go to the laundry you reckon?
Mr G: Well, only people who could –…..
Q: What sort of people were they?
Mr G: Who’d go to it, you mean?
Q: The better off people, what sort of jobs would they do? Or was it…..…?
Mr G: Um, shop owners and people like that, I don’t think the ordinary working people – I’m sure they wouldn’t go there. Because, on a Monday, I mean, you’d look out the back garden, you’d see all the gardens full of linen and so forth. I mean, everybody seemed to wash on Monday.
Q: Because, I would have thought they would have had servants to do it?
Mr G: Some of them might be able – from the bigger house, but (Q: ???) That’s right but you hadn’t got the servants. Because there was all servants about the – about the only job that women used to do in those days, work in service.
Q: Did you mother do any work, apart from the washing? (Mr G: No) Did she take in any work at home, or field work or anything like that?
Mr G: No, no, nothing like that, no. Oh, field work; in the summer I’d go out pea picking. I mean, when I was at school, our holidays used to coincide with the fruit season. So when the fruit was ready, then they’d arrange with the school and we’d spend, what, six weeks fruit picking. Get up early so you could start at work in the fields about six o’clock. And you’d work until four in the afternoon. I know, I’ve heard my mother say she’d think, that over the summer holidays, that it would set us up for clothes for the winter, if us boys went out all the time, you know.
Q: And did she go, too?
Mr G: She only went pea picking. She never went fruit picking for some reason. Didn’t like that. I mean, it was a hard life, really. Starting at, well, they’d start about six o’clock in the morning until four in the afternoon. She’d got her other work to do and look after a family.
Q: And whereabouts did you go for pea picking and fruit picking?
Mr G: Well, fruit picking, well, pea picking was more or less local, you know, round about, within walking distance. Fruit picking used to be nearly to Hatfield Peverel or Wickham Bishops, we used to go. So we used to leave home about five o’clock in the morning to walk there. It would take us boys about an hour by the time we got there. And then you’d work until eight, have half an hour for breakfast. Then you used to work through till, I think, about one, have an hour for lunch and then work until four in the afternoon. And then you’d walk home. So, it used to be quite a day.
Q: And did you get paid by the amount you picked, or what? (Mr G: Yes. Yes.) How did that work?
Mr G: They used to weigh up the fruit, each time. And they’d give you a ticket for how much it was worth, And at the end of the week, you’d stick these on a sheet of paper and hand it in, and they’d get all totalled up and they’d pay you the amount they owed you, then. Yes. But pea picking you paid – they’d pay so much a bag. And then you’d pick either a small bag or a big one. And they paid you that each time. Paid at the end of the day.
Q: And did you work all the time. Or did you get a chance to….muck about a bit?
Mr G: No, oh no. Not if .. we’d muck about if we could! Naturally! I know dinner times I know we’d probably – well, take a few sandwiches and probably a bottle of lemonade or a bottle of cold tea. It’d take you about ten minutes to get rid of that and the rest of time you’d play about, fool around, make yourself a nuisance everywhere! No, but it was a really good time, I enjoyed it, you know. But, you know, that’s what I think now, with the weather. Those days, I mean six weeks out in the fields, you might have a thunderstorm, a little rain. But you never had a wet spell like we get now, I’m sure. I mean, I’m not – because it’s so long ago, but I’m sure the weather was – that is, more – the sun was more reliable. But nowadays, you never know, do you? (Q: No, quite.) Yes, we’d start picking strawberries and then we’d go on to the other fruits, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants. And I know we always finished up with gooseberries. That’s the worst job, they’re always prickly. But when the season came they were later than other things, you see.
Q: Did you ever actually get taken off school when you should have been at school to do that?
Mr G : No, no. The holidays always coincided with that. They seemed to arrange that with fruit growers. That they’d come round, say, on the Wednesday or Thursday before and say the fruit would be ready on Monday. Well, then the school would break up on the Friday and we’d have the six weeks in the fields. No, they wouldn’t let me stay away for anything. I had to go to school if I was well. And fortunately I was! Most of the times.
Q: Do you remember what age you were when you started school?
Mr G: No, about four or five, I suppose, four I suppose.
Q: And how long did you stay there?
Mr G: Well, then the school – you know in Guithavon Street? You remember the school that used to be there? Well, the whole – there was three sections there. The Infants, and the Girls and the Boys, all separated you see. You started at the Infants, and I think I went into the Boys school when I was seven, probably, until I was fourteen. Because I left there, then. Didn’t go any farther.
Q: I remember you saying you were nervous when you went up to…. the Boys
Mr G: To the big school, oh yes.
Q: Be different there.
Mr G: Well, from being with infants, boys and girls together you go into a school all boys. And up to – some of them were fourteen – quite big boys for a little seven year old, you know. Of course, my brother didn’t – there was one brother there when I was there. He didn’t want to know me then, sort of business. [Both laugh] No, that’s [???] that is now.
Q: And what – if they were up to fourteen, how did they work it out with the classes? Were you all in with everybody or…..?
Mr G: No, oh no, you had, you know, your age group or ability. When you got up to Standard Four you were getting on well, I think by the time I left, I was in Seven. I think it only went up to there. Of course, that was the difference – from the Infant school – they were all women teachers – for men – to the Boys where they were all men. And you had quite a vast difference with them. You know that Mr Chalk that used to go to Mrs Bajwa, Did you ever meet him? (Q: No I never did.) Well, he was my first teacher in the men’s – in the Boys’ school.
Q: Because he wasn’t well, was he?
Mr G: No he wasn’t at one time. I haven’t heard of him lately). And there was a Mr Cranfield was Headmaster then, and he was rather strict. He used to like to use the cane, you know. But still, it didn’t do any harm – well, I don’t think it did. [Both laugh]
Q: What sort of things did you get the cane for?
Mr G: Oh, talking in class, or playing about – which we often did, you know. Being regularly late, you got it for that. Of course, if you played truant you used to get six – I didn’t – I never played truant. You’d get six strokes across the hand for that. It did sting! [Laughs]
Q: And that was – was on your hand was it?
Mr G: Yes used to have it like this – across there sometimes. Funny little tale about him, you know. Um, you know where Johnson has his shop in Guithavon Street? (Q: Yes) Well, that used to be a basket – a basket maker used to be there. [1 Guithavon Street] And this Mr Cranfield, the headmaster, he’d say sometimes in front of the class ‘I want a new cane. Who would like to go and get me a cane?’ So, of course, several would put your hands up and he’d pick someone to go up to this basket makers and get a cane. You’d bring it back and he’d say ‘Now I think we’ve got to try it – hold your hand out’. Didn’t hit you hard but it used to sting, you know. [Both laugh] (Q: Yes.) Good old days.
Q: Was he was there all the time you were there, was he?
Mr G: No, he left and a Mr Thompson came. He left and went to Surrey and then Mr Rowles, he came just after I left school. So I – that’s as far as I can go with them. But the other teachers, there was a Mr Isom[?] I know, as well as that Mr Chalk. But I can’t think of any more.
Q: What sort of things did you learn?
Mr G: Well, they gave you a good grounding, Janet, you know. I mean, that’s all the education I had, from there. And they helped you continue if you liked to take – you could have sat for Braintree High School but my parents wouldn’t allow me to go there, you know. They said ‘Your brothers got away without it so – can’t let you go. I’ d like to have gone, but, there you are.
Q: What – do you think – the teachers – did they choose people who they thought should sit …?
Mr G: On the/your ability, yes. They did, because they saw my parents and asked them if – if, you know if they’d let me sit just to get my name up on the board at school but they wouldn’t allow me to go, so – I would have like to have gone.
Q: Did many go? From Witham?
Mr G: There wasn’t a lot, no. You’d get – sort of – policemen’s sons and daughters might go – a few of the better-off.
Q: Did you have to pay to go to the High School?
Mr G: That I couldn’t tell you. Might have to pay – you had to pay your own travelling expenses but I don’t know about anything else. But of course the other schooling, when I went, was free, anyway. We didn’t have to pay anything there. But I know my parents – when they went, they had to pay something, you know. Or, father used to have to pay a penny or tuppence a week, to go to school.
Q: Did he used to talk about his childhood or…?
Mr G: He would, sometimes, you’d get him on it. You had to encourage him. His great interest was funerals, actually [laughs]. He used to help, you know, Spurge with the undertaking. And you get him on – even when he laid up here, you know, before he died. He’d got a little book there, with all the funerals he’d been at and he’d often ask for that and he’d tell us all about (Q: Really?) the little things that happened with some of them, you know. [laughs]
Q: Have you still got the book?
Mr G: No, a cousin of mine borrowed it, he was looking up the family tree. And he wanted that. That’s – well, there’s some interesting names in there, anyway, the old families that used be about Witham. The Luards, and the Pellys. Laurence and all those sort of people. You must have heard of some of them, probably?
Q: Yes, I think so. Do you remember actually seeing them about?
Mr G Yes, oh yes. The Luards. There used to be an Admiral Luard. We used to call him – I suppose he was a retired admiral. He had three daughters, used to live up Ivy Chimneys. And he had an accident with his horse. Well, the rumour was it got stung by a bee. Anyway it bolted. He was injured and he died soon after that. And for his funeral – the whole streets were lined, you know, with people turning out. Because in those days, if you met a person like that, Janet, we were supposed to take our cap off or the girls had to curtsey to them. And if you didn’t, they’d go and report you to your parents. I got reported once or twice and after that I used to turn my head the other way or get out of the way. [Laugh]
Q: What, you did – you didn’t……?
Mr G: Raise the hat or something like that. But if you were playing you couldn’t be bothered But it seemed strange to see all the girls curtsey, you know, to these people. Just as well those times have changed.
Q : He was retired you say?
Mr G: Yes, yes he was.
Q: Did they come round the school, at all?
Mr G: Yes, they’d come round certain days. You know, like… Empire Day was the day. You used to have to get out and sing and have to raise the flag and all that sort of thing. Um, very patriotic then, they were. Used to try and make us that way anyway.
Q: Did you used to go to church from school?
Mr G: Yes, um, they used to take us up, you know, in a whole group. The whole school would march in, certain days. I can’t remember what days they were now. We always had to go in – because All Saints was quite near and handy then. And once a year we had a Scripture exam. Some special priest came and examined the class, more or less individually in Scripture. Or you had to a written exam, you know, for Scripture, then. I suppose the fact the church school [???] that. Because they didn’t have it at the other school, Board school, down Maldon Road.
Q: Your family were church people?
Mr G: Yes. All church people.
Q: And you used to go Sundays as well?
Mr G: Oh, Sunday I was in the choir, Janet, we used to go – often I’ve been there at eight o’clock; Sunday School at ten; church at eleven; Catechism at half past two. And the evening service half past six. That was my Sunday as a rule. [Both laugh] Not allowed to miss very often either!
Q: Did your parents go as well?
Mr G: Yes. They used to go in the evenings. And my father’d go in the morning as well sometimes, when he wasn’t doing anything about the home, or with the garden. But they didn’t do a lot in the garden in those days, not Sundays. Not as much as they do now.
Q: You had a garden there then?
Mr G: They had quite a big garden down Bridge Street, yes. Running up the back there, quite a long way. And then, where the fire station is, that was all an allotment field. He used to have a plot on there as well. Where he’d spend –he’d spend a lot of his spare time there.
Mr G: Yes, yes. Used to grow most of our own. (Q: That’s where you learnt.?) Well, I got it from him and my father-in-law was a gardener by trade. So I, you know, had a good idea really. I’ve always been keen on it, well, since I’ve got old enough to do anything in the garden.
Q: You could have taken it up.
Mr G: There wasn’t much money in it, I did think about it once.
Q: How did you decide, what happened when you left school?
Mr G: Oh, you didn’t get any option then, the first job came along. And I was apprenticed to a printers. Which was where Martin’s shop is in the High Street. [70 Newland Street] New Martins; on the corner of Guithavon Street. At the back there was a small printing works, used to be. That’s where I was apprenticed there. (Q: Yes.) I used to do a paper round before I went into the printing works. Then this job came along when I was leaving school, so I – asked my father if I could go there, and they said ‘Yes’. I got, er, I was getting seven and six a week for doing my paper round – it was two rounds put into one. And I got five shillings a week for the printing works. Normally we would start at eight until six in the evening. And until one on Saturdays. The first year I got five shillings and I think by the time I was twenty-one I was getting just over a pound a week. That was seven years apprenticeship. I didn’t do a paper round all the time. I gave that up after a year or so. But that was how we used to have to …
Q: What happened to… Did you turn your money over to your mother or – ….?
Mr G: Oh yes I’d hand that over and she’d probably give me sixpence back for pocket money [Laughs]– not a lot – not a lot.
Q: What sort of jobs – was printing different in those days?
Mr G: Well it was a bit but it’s still the same principles there, I think, you know? But by being in a small place, I mean, I was apprenticed to that. You went through the whole thing. You could take the job in from a customer, for instance, you could lay it out and set the type; print it. Cut your paper yourself, you see. But nowadays each one is a separate job. You get a fellow in the warehouse and he just cuts paper and that’s all. One just sets type; one just prints it. But we went right through everything, you see.
Q: What sort of things were you printing –local…?
Mr G: Mostly local stuff there. Auctioneers’ work; we did quite a lot of that. Posters and catalogues and particulars when they sold a house. I don’t know whether they still have them, I suppose they do. But, um…..
Q: What sort of – what was the name of the printers?
Mr G: It was Davis when I started. Afford originally held the business. That’s my first memory – Afford, Bernard Afford used to have that. And he sold it to Davis & Co. It was with Davis that I started. It changed hands several times and finished up with Clarkes and they kept on until it finished and then of course I went – after the war I went up to Chelmsford.
Q: I suppose that was quite a good thing then to get an apprenticeship, was it?
Mr G: It was. Most – you had to get an apprenticeship most places those days, Janet. Either – whatever you went in for. Mind you, it was cheap labour because there was another fellow started the same day as I did – two of us were apprentices. There was two of them still in their apprenticeships there. So, none of them were getting a man’s wage – which wasn’t very big anyway in those days. Still they give you a good.. (Q: Did they give you a good …)..They’d give you a good grounding and, you know, kept their eye on you.
Q: Quite good – strict – you had to work hard?
Mr G: Well, fairly hard I think, you know, well, you were at it all the time. And something you had to do all the time. And of course, all the setting we did there was by hand whereas now, of course, they’ve got the linotype and lithotype[?] which is like tapping the keys of a typewriter.
Q: What sort of jobs did your brothers get?
Mr G: Um, the one above me was a baker. And the other one, well, he started in the garden for a little while. Then when the First War came he went to Hoffmans. He volunteered, joined up and he was killed when he was just over nineteen. But the one under me, Harold, what did he start at? He started with Marshall in the shop in High Street. Then he left there and went to Luckin Smith’s – shop and delivery, you know, driving the van. And after that, of course, he went into the Fire Service. That’s the one younger than me.
Q: And what was the elder ones called?
Mr G: Charles.
Q: Charles. That was the eldest one.
Mr G: He was the oldest one. He was just over nineteen when he was killed.
Q: So he was quite a lot older than you, was he?
Mr G: Yes, well he was – oh, I don’t know. He was killed 1917. He must have been born about 1898. I was born 1906. About eight years difference. And another one in between us. He died when he was 49. He was a baker.
Q: Was he apprenticed as a baker?
Mr G: No, he wasn’t; he just went in for that, you know.
Q: Was that in Witham?
Mr G: He started in Witham- oh now, people name of Pratts, opposite the Spread Eagle. That was the, um …. ….
Q:… [Re First World War] Do you remember much about it? In Witham?
Mr G: Oh, I remember it, Janet. Yes. We didn’t – I mean, you didn’t have any bombs here, not that I know of, anyway. We were in church one Sunday night and heard a Zeppelin go over. Which was rather frightening in those days, you know. All the lights had to go out. (Q: Goodness.) Because they started with – the Zeppelins started raiding in the First War. I know one night, mother was away somewhere, and there was one brought down, whether it was the one at – there was one went down at Wigborough. And one – and there was another one somewhere in the Southend area, I think. Anyway she said she saw the flames of those at night but I didn’t see that. And, you know The Avenue? (Q: Yes) I mean, in those days there were no houses there. It was just the avenue of trees and fields either side. On the field on the left from the station, the troops were there during the First War. Cavalry, all the horses picketed down there, you know.
Q: So you saw quite a bit of them?
Mr G: Oh we saw – they were all – billeted with us, you know, two during the war we had, I think there were three soldiers at our place, down Bridge Street. And they used to come round, with the rations, you know, bring a cart round. And dole out so much for each house with the troops. Yes.
Q: So, they more or less had their own food and that but your mother cooked it, did she?
Mr G: That’s right, she cooked it for them. But they delivered it in there, you know.
Q: Did you have better food or more….?
Mr G: They -. yes, they had stuff which we couldn’t get, I mean, cheese and things like that which we couldn’t get very well. They’d bring round. We used to share that with them. One thing I used to like really is condensed milk. But you couldn’t buy that, but they could always get that. [Both laugh]
Q: I remember wondering about margarine You don’t know when that came in, do you?
Mr G: I don’t, Janet, no.
Q: You didn’t have it then, I suppose?
Mr G: Oh, I think so, I think it was on the go then, I would say, yes. Because my father used to prefer that to butter for some reason or other. So I think it must have been on the go, as long ago as that. I don’t think it was because of, you know, vegetarianism or anything like that but think he just preferred that.
Q: What sort of things did your parents do with their spare time? Or didn’t they have much?
Mr G: Didn’t seem to have much, Janet, really! [Q laughs] I know Mother used to belong to the Women’s Institute, I mean or apart from – oh, and Mothers’ Meeting. They used to have a Mothers Meeting every week, she wouldn’t miss that and she wouldn’t miss the Institute if she could help it. But apart from that I don’t think there was much in the way of entertainment. You had to make your own. I mean, there was no television and I can remember before radio even. When we had radio it was quite an event. But, they didn’t go out socially a lot. You’d probably have friends in, you’d go to their friends. I mean, just for an evening out, and then that was only to play cards or any other games which were going. I mean, when we were so young, you only had an oil lamp. You didn’t have gas or electric lights in those days. And of course, then you’d sit round – all sit round the table and do whatever you’d want to do. Write, or read. You had to make your own entertainment, then.
Q: Yes. And was there any sort of, um, special occasions, like, you know, like a carnival, or …
Mr G: I don’t remember carnivals. I don’t remember carnivals. Oh, you’d get a school treat. They used to take us up to the field near the vicarage once a year. You might have a – you might be lucky and get to Maldon one day, for an outing. Then they’d give you a tea as well.
Q: What, with the school, you mean?
Mr G: Yes, the school, or Sunday School, or choir or anything like that. Yes.
Q: And how did you get there – if you went on a …
Mr G: Well, you’d go by coach or – actually I have been on one do; it was a horse – you know, drawn by two horses, a horse brake, used to call them. You’d have some inside and some on top. That’s a nice leisurely way of getting around. And then of course, when they got the – charabancs we used to call them. The hard solid tyres, you know, no pneumatic tyres, the hard tyres. It used to be quite an event to go out in one of those. Open ones. You know, no – well, there was a hood they could pull over if it rained. But otherwise you sat there, open. That was quite all right. We thought it was wonderful, really. (Q: Yes.) Maldon, we used go often but by train. That was a nice easy journey, that, you see. Didn’t take long.
Q: You always got – so you didn’t actually go away at all for holidays. I suppose?
Mr G: Oh no! Never heard of it. No, I don’t know that they ever had much in the way of holidays in those – I mean I did – soon after I started work, we were getting a week’s holiday but I don’t remember my father ever going away. Or even having a week’s holiday, then.
Q: Did he work Saturdays as well?
Mr G: Yes, all day Saturday. Wednesday afternoon he used to have off, you know. Apart from that, a Saturday, he used to be there in the late night. Because most shops kept open till about eight. Yes. Of course, the pubs were open from six o’clock in the morning until as late as they like to stay open. (Q: Really?) Yes, yes.
Q: Did they get plenty of customers, did they?
Mr G: Oh yes, they did. I’ve seen men often in the morning when I been going on my paper rounds, who’d go in the pub then for a drink before they went to work, which was anything from six o’clock onwards. (Q: Yes.) [Pause]
Q: Did your father drink much or…..?
Mr G: He used to like a pint but he didn’t – he never had a lot. He used regularly go in every Sunday lunchtime. I think it was more social than – probably have a pint and it’d last him, you know, all the time was there. He was not a big drinker.
Q: Were children allowed in then, or…? I mean, was that restricted?
Mr G: I think it was restricted. I think, you might go in if you were over fourteen, but I don’t think it was – not generally taken in, anyway. [Long pause]
Q: When you had a paper round, would – did many people get newspapers, (Mr G: Oh yes!) I mean, did you get a newspaper at home as well… or…?
Mr G: Oh, we used to have a paper every day. Yes. (Q: Every day? Yes) But I used to deliver from – start opposite that Martins shop and go down the town to Bridge Street, up as far as The Lodge, and then back across the – Maltings Lane and home by Howbridge Road, so, quite a long round every morning. (Q: Yes.) It was all right except if we had snow, you know. It took a long time then. But there was no restriction. I mean you could start at any age. Now, I think, they’re restricted about – they have to be thirteen or fourteen even before they can do it. [Pause]
Q: What sort of games did you play in your spare time, then?
Mr G: Oh, marbles! Hoops. Football and cricket of course, on the Recreation ground. Um, what else? Tops. Which you don’t seen now obviously, do you? Well, you couldn’t, with the roads as they are today.
Q: You played them all on the road, did you?
Mr G: On the road, yes.
Q: In all those old photographs all the people are standing casually in the middle of the road.
Mr G: That’s right, well, apart from horse and carts you’d got nothing to worry you, there was no cars then, not when I was a boy, anyway, or very few.
Q: I suppose – were the roads paved over, or not? Or was it just…
Mr G: No, they were made up, Janet, yes, they weren’t just … The by-roads were a bit rough. But I mean all the main roads were usually tarred. Tarred and well, all stones they used to throw on, chippings, sort of thing. But I think, you know, a little while before my time, a lot of the women used to go to the fields, picking up stones, to put on the roads. To – to make roads up. But I don’t remember that, of course. (Q: No…) [Both laugh] That’s a long while ago.
Q: Your mother came from (Mr G: Wethersfield.) Wethersfield. How did she, I wonder how they met, do you know?
Mr G: Well, I should think when she was working at Chelmsford, probably and my father… (Q: Of course, yes.) Mmm, I think so. He was an old Witham family. His father, his parents were Witham people. Goes back quite a long way, I think.
Q: What did they used to do?
Mr G: His father used to work in an ironmongers, in the High Street. Where – now – Holts is. That used to be an ironmongers shop then. [88 Newland Street] He worked there, he used to go fitting fireplaces and all sorts of things he used to do.
Q: Not Wilsons, was it?
Mr G: Yes, that could be the Wilsons. Yes, it could have been.
Q: I think they were called Carrington Wilsons, I’ve keep reading about them
Mr G: I seem to remember the name Wilson, yes. (Q: I don’t quite know where it was.) I don’t know. It was Beards when I – the first I remember – it could have be Wilson, I remember – the name is familiar. Um- I think my father must have said, you know, ‘My father used to work at Wilsons’ or something like that.
Q: I never knew where it was??. . I keep reading/hearing about it. (Mr G: Yes, that’s where it was.) I remember as Carrington was a funny first name?
Mr G: Oh, Carrington Wilson, was it?. I don’t remember that, but I knew Wilson, the name Wilson that’s familiar, anyway. That’s was it. That’s why it is.
Q: Were your grandparents alive when you….?
Mr G: I only remember my grandfather, my mother’s father. That’s the only one of my grandparents I knew. And he used to be a miller at, er, Bulford Mill. That’s not far from Braintree. He used to be over there. But that’s the only one I knew. Because people didn’t live as long then as they do nowadays, Janet. Because you know, to get someone sixty or seventy they used to be – they used to be taken as old then. Exceptional. .
Q: Do you remember – you mentioned the old chap with the cuckoo clock.
Mr G: Old Coote, yes. He was an old…
Q: Were there quite a lot of old people around – I suppose because of that the old people would be more curiosities ….?
Mr G: They were really then, yes. Because of – not often – you know there were not many living so long and he used to live on his own, this old boy. Don’t know how he managed now but …
Q: Well, I was just wondering if he was – I don’t suppose it would occur to you in childhood to wonder how they – how he managed?
Mr G: No, I didn’t think anything about that, no. I t just suddenly dawned on me he was on his own and wonder how he did manage.
Q: No home helps or anything?
Mr G: No, nothing like that. No. No. But there were a lot of people though, who, when the wife died, they used to have housekeeper, someone coming in like that. (Q: Yes.) But, er, apart from that I don’t know how they managed.
Q: Because, I mean, although you obviously weren’t terribly well off, you – presumably it sounds as if you were reasonably well – you had enough to eat, sort of thing. (Mr G: Oh, yes we had …) . more or less sort of thing. Were there were other people around who were poorer than you (Mr G: Didn’t, probably didn’t.)
Q: Do you remember the children at school, for instance, being conscious that some weren’t as well off…..?
Mr G: Well you didn’t have school meals. (Q: No.) You know, nothing like that. You’d – if you could, you’d go home to lunch otherwise they’d bring sandwiches. But there were some of them really hard up, I know.
Q: Well, I suppose, like you say, if the father – died for instance, there wouldn’t be….
Mr G: There was not the help, the social help, the social security help there is nowadays. The old pension I think was about ten shillings a week, then. It’s not a lot, is it, to bring up a family, I think. I think you could get, what I think they used to call it, you could get help of a sort but I don’t know what it was called, now.
Q: I suppose if you were really desperate, you’d have to go to the workhouse, did you?
Mr G: That’s right, that’s what there used to be, over Braintree. I don’t think there was one in Witham, not in my time, I don’t remember one, anyway.
Q: What did you have to wear to go to school?
Mr G: You’d wear anything, you know. No uniform, we didn’t have a uniform anyway. You went to High School at Braintree, you had to wear a uniform. But down here, as long as you were tidy, they didn’t mind.
Q: So, where did you get shoes and things like that? That must have been quite an expense.
Mr G: Oh yes, there were shops, you know There used to be better, for those shops in Witham then than there are now, really. I mean, Spurge, and Co-op, Davies there used to be, Turner. Quite a number of places you could get things. But, we’re all right for grocery shops now but other things, we could do with some more dress shops, well men’s shops, anyway, well I think. In Witham.
Q: Could you get – presumably then you got what you wanted from the shops in Witham. Did you ever hear of anyone going to Chelmsford to buy anything?
Mr G: Well, you might have – especially if you were going up that way for something. But it wasn’t very often you went out there, you see. Travel – there were no buses in those days, you could go by train. Or you could walk, [laughs] if you felt energetic enough.
Q: Yes. Did you go out – well you went for fruit picking, did you go out into the countryside much?
Mr G: Well not – yes I used like to roam about the countryside. Yes, I used to roam about a lot, Janet. In fact, when I was on school holidays, apart from the fruit picking time, my mother would often give us a few sandwiches and we would go out for the day. One or two friends, and make ourselves a nuisance generally, I think. But – bird’s nesting, fishing. I didn’t do much fishing but I used to go down the river with the boys.
Q: Did you get chased off or was it expected that boys would….?
Mr G: No, you were often chased after but we used to – all part of the fun. So long as we didn’t get caught.
Q: Talking about being caught, do you remember about the policemen, what sort of….?
Mr G: Oh yes, they’d sting you with their gloves, round the ears or … They wouldn’t ….
Q: They wouldn’t take you in or anything?
Mr G: Oh no, no. They…
Q: You can’t remember anyone being really – being taken to court or anything.
Mr G: No, not for anything like that. No. You used to accept if you got caught you’d – he’d punish you himself there and then.
Q: You’d sort of…. Stealing fruit from people’s gardens and things, I suppose….. (Mr G: Oh that went on, I mean -) That was acceptable was it?
Mr G: Oh, you accepted that. You went after fruit and – went in anybody’s orchard if you could get some, you know. But I wouldn’t go – like someone did – come to mine, in the front gate. No, you used to go out the open a bit more. There used to be one orchard, used to belong – where Dr Denholm’s? house is, you know? [‘Gimsons’, Kings Chase] Stands back a bit – the back there – I don’t know, it might be there still, an orchard. Well you could get to that by going over the river and down through the meadows in Bridge Street and over the river, that used to be a favourite place to get. Over the river and up in this field – the orchard and get your pockets full and away you’d go. [Both laugh] But, you know, we’d do that but I don’t think we did the damage, not the wanton damage they do now. Mischief, yes. You’d play about with – well, anything, you could, you know. Upset dustbins on people’s steps and things like that. That’s bad enough but not to break windows or things like that.
Q: Playing tricks on people?
Mr G: Oh yes, you’d do that. Play – as I say, put the dustbins out on the – or knock the door and run away and those sort of things but not what they do now.
Q: I suppose really you‘d could be more easily caught, because you’d be known, wouldn’t you?
Mr G: You would be known. Everybody knew everybody then, Janet. Because Witham was a much smaller place, you know, in those days. But with three or four it’s difficult to catch them all, you know. One might get caught and if he didn’t tell the tale, well, you’d get away with it all right. But usually, it got round to your parents somehow, you know. Someone would tell them and – trouble when you got indoors.
Q: Were there any parts of the town you weren’t allowed to go, or……?
Mr G: Oh no. (Q: Did it get rough or anything?) No, it was a very rough place on Guy Fawkes night Witham was. You used to be watched then. But apart from that, no, we used to go anywhere around here, really. And yet, from our end, down from Bridge Street end, we didn’t go much up Chipping Hill and Chipping Hill didn’t come much down our way, you know. They sort of – although it was all one place, you know, that was good enough to for a fight between boys at school, you know. One from Chipping Hill, and one from Witham. Strange.
Q: Whereabouts did your friends go to school? What part of Witham did they -..?
Mr G: Oh, in Bridge Street, most of them. We’d stick together. We went to that school, you know, the All Saints Church School. We’d stick together there. I have had friends from up this way as well, but not many, usually the other end.
Q: Did some choose to go to – was there any particular reason, do you think, why they chose to go to the other school? Was it where they lived?
Mr G: Might be, or some of the parents didn’t agree with the religious teaching at that place, they’d send them to Board school.
Q: So, you’d keep with the people at your school and they’d keep to theirs, would they?
Mr G: They’d keep to theirs, that’s right. That was a mixed school, down at the Board school. All boys and girls together. At this other one, as I say, we were separate.
Q: As you say, they wouldn’t have the church, keep attending church and so on.
Mr G: No, they wouldn’t have the services like we used to. Not from Board school.
Q: I suppose you were taught quite a lot in school, were you, to do with..?
Mr G: Oh, the first lesson every morning was Religion. At the church school. I don’t know whether – well, it isn’t there now, is it, it can’t be.
Q: Did you – were the playtimes separate from the girls as well?
Mr G: No, we had the same time, but there was a wall down the middle; girls one side, the boys the other. It was there. And do you know, in that playground with the boys, there was two or three apple trees and I doubt if they lost any apples, Janet. You daren’t touch one. You daren’t touch them. That was the cane if you got caught. I mean, some of them did and got caught. Well, they had the cane. But, you know, not generally you wouldn’t. And we used to do a bit of gardening at school, You used to have a little plot, some of us in the top classes used to have a little plot to look after. And that used to be a nice evening- afternoon out.
Q: That was in the school time was it?
Mr G: Oh yes, in school time.
Q: Was it you who was telling me about going to do woodwork….?
Mr G: Yes, there used to be a woodwork place, down the – nearly opposite the doctor’s surgery. Mrs Mann used to live there [124 Newland Street]. I believe at some time she had a private school. But at that part we had – we used to have woodwork classes in there. I used to go there. And then I think they finished – this little school, that was taken over for woodwork before – you know it wasn’t used for children then, only for woodwork classes. But I didn’t go there at all, I went to the other one.
Q And you enjoyed that sort of thing?
Mr G: I did, I was never any good at woodwork. But I didn’t do enough of it. I would have liked to have been. Good afternoon for getting out, anyway.
Q: Did you have any sort of PT or exercises?
Mr G: Oh yes, you used to have drill session in the playground. But, you see, the ordinary teachers would take that as well. And during the time I was at school, they started sport. We used to have one afternoon or an hour or so on the recreation ground. You know, take a class over at a time, perhaps. But that’s all the sport we used to get. You know, for the times, I think the schools were pretty well capable of teaching anyone. You got a fair ground – you used to take every thing. It used to give you a good grounding in everything. I mean some of the fellows went off to get quite good jobs. You had to work but you accepted it, you know. And if you got caught and had the cane, well, you accepted that too. Because you deserved it and if you thought if you got away with it you were clever, but if you got caught, well, you knew what was coming.
Q: Did you – I suppose you didn’t meet Mr Cranfield much outside of school. I just wonder what sort of person…….. ?
Mr G: Oh, he was all right outside, I would think, Janet, but in school he had to be a bit strict with them, really.
Q: Did he live at the school?
Mr G: Yes. There used to be a schoolhouse attached to the school, where he used to live. On the other side there was another house there, but I – I don’t know whether it was the girls’ headmistress. The only thing I can remember being is the caretaker used to live there or the verger who used to look after the church. But in the other one was always the headmaster of the boy’s school. He had that.
Q: I seem to remember reading that Cranfield was on the Council. It would be strange these days for a teacher.
Mr G: Yes. he might have been but I don’t remember anything about that. No, not going back as far as that.
Q: I mean people have described elections as great sort of exciting events but I suppose those were General Elections.
Mr G: And the council elections, I think, there used to be quite – what shall I say, you’d got to show your colour, whichever side you were voting for, sort of thing.
Q: So you’d know which side…….?
Mr G: Oh yes, which side you were on. Yes. I don’t know why, it never any difference to boys, but you used to take it up, you know.
Q: At school as well then?
Mr G: Yes. Yes. Yes
Q: What side did your parents…..?. Did they feel very strongly one way or the other?
Mr G: Not really, no I don’t think they were…….
Q: So you don’t know what colour they …
Mr G: No, no, I don’t think they were very fussy about that.
Q: No. Of course, to some people……….
Mr G: Of course, women couldn’t vote in those days – not then.
Q: I suppose not, no
Mr G: I think with the local elections, Father voted for who, you know, he knew and who he liked. Any one he’d not got much time for, he wouldn’t bother. But he wasn’t very strong on politics or local affairs, really.
Mr G: Very easy going. I think, I never seen him being put out. Never seen him get annoyed. I mean mother was the strict one in the house, really. Well, she had to be with four of us. But, my father would promise you something, you know ‘You do this, I‘ll punish you’ but you never got it. You’d rarely get it. But if Mother told you, you’d get it all right.
Q: So if you were in trouble or something, if you wanted to ask, if you wanted to talk to one of them about something, would you . ?
Mr G: Oh yes, I could ask my father – you could talk to them all right………