Tape 031. Mrs Gladys Smith (nee Keeble), sides 1 and 2

Tape 31

Mrs Gladys Smith (nee Keeble) was born in 1905. She was interviewed on 17 May 1978, when she lived at Michaeldene, Chalks Road, Witham

For more information about her, see Keeble family, including Mrs Gladys Smith, nee Keeble 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.]

Q:     You came to Witham when you were …?

Mrs S:    You know that my father worked on the railway (Q: Yes.) and the Cromer express. I was born in June 1905. The Cromer express happened in that September and through that my father got a job on Witham station.

Q:     How did that happen ?

Mrs S:    Well there was a bad train accident wasn’t there (Q: But I mean how did he?) Well he was working for the railway at [???], you know [???]…. and he got promotion and came up through this accident because a man got killed and we came to Witham through that and, as I say, we lived at, we came in the April so that made me one in the June. And we lived a year down at the top of the valley and then like 1907 we came to Church Street and we paid five and ninepence a week for the rent of the house and we lived there. I went to school when I was five so I went down to the Chipping Hill school in 1910.

Q:     What was it like there ?

Mrs S:    Lovely, really was lovely. It was just like a big family. There wasn’t any others of course and from there on. We stayed there till we was eight and then I went to the Church School in Guithavon Street. Which grieved me very much that that was pulled down. We had some happy times there and of course I stayed there till I was fourteen (Q: Yes.) And from then on you see, at that time, unfortunately there was just the Braintree Grammar, or Chelmsford High. You see I was quite, shall I say, I was lucky enough to come out top but there were no facilities for me to go. There was no grants. My mother had a large family. There were eleven of us. Therefore I couldn’t go any further. I was so happy at school and I loved school. I liked history and arithmetic and all that. And so I had to stop at home and I didn’t ever go out to work, I stopped at home helping my mother who had got all these large family and practically all boys. You see there was nine boys and only one sister.

Q:     Where did you come in the family ?

Mrs S:    Well, there was, my sister was twelve years older than me and there was, now let me think, Alf, Sid, there was three boys younger than me. So I would be about the eighth wouldn’t I ? [???] Of course my mother was worn out with domestic duties you could say and I just stopped and looked after her and then she died in 1928 at the age of 61 and from then on I looked after my father and he died in 1951. And as I say we lived in the cottage until 1937 and then he came up here with us and that’s how we went on. Of course then, we’d been here a couple of years and then we moved, my husband was made manager of the butchers shop in Church Street which was Mr Loveday’s. From then on he was called up to go in the War and from then on, I say we just managed the best we could. And then we let our house and I went to live with my other brother while he was away and then when he came back we came back and lived in the cottage. But, as I say, my eldest son was born at Silver End and then Peter was the second one, born up the shop and David was born here [Chalks Road] in 1943.  And then as I say they all married [laugh] and from then on well, that’s just how its gone. Just looking after my husband and meself.

Q:     What was it like having twelve children in that small cottage ?

Mrs S:    Well, they did you see. They used to. Of course some of them had got married and carried on their way in the trade you see. But we were ever so happy. It was a nice garden. It was a six room cottage. There wasn’t any bathroom but we managed very well. Never thought anything about it. We all went to church and Sunday school. We went to em. Our Sunday consisted. There was the Church House, and that was a nice place then, at ten o’clock for Sunday School and then at quarter to eleven we used to march all of us up to Chipping Hill to the parish church and we stayed there and took part in the service till twelve and then, as the sermon started, we all came out. Then, in the afternoon, we used to all walk down to All Saints Church, that was a lovely church, and then we used to go and have a lovely service with the curate who then lived at the parsonage [Guithavon Street]. Used to have a catechism service for about an hour. Used to come home and then we used to go to church at night again over here. And that was our life and that was very a happy, nice life.

Q:     I suppose you did have Saturday off school did you ?

Mrs S:    Yes, but you see I was fond of All Saints Church because, up see going to school, down near the church we used to go into that church quite a lot for services.

Q:     What, from school ?

Mrs S:    Yes, you see that was quite handy, we used to go in there and the curate would, we used to have what we called our scripture lesson there quite often. Sometimes we stopped in school but, at that time, from nine to ten it was always all scripture. Scripture lesson fromo nine till ten. And Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays was needlework.

Q:     And how long did you do needlework ? Mrs S:    Oh we used to do that for about an hour and a half. I tell a lot of people this little story. Our headmistress lived opposite All Saints Church and that was when we were taught feather stitching and embroidery and all that. And to do a buttonhole properly she told us it took you ten minutes. You had a square corner and a round corner. Well, being a girl and being clever, I managed to done mine in eight and I was very proud of it but she wasn’t. She said ‘You haven’t done it properly have you. So you will now unpick that one and do it again’. And do you know I never forgot that. Yes, never forgot that. And she said to me afterwards ‘I was teaching you a lesson.’ I said ‘Yes, I gathered that’. She said ‘if its worth doing its worth doing properly’, ten minutes. And I never sew a buttonhole but what I thought of that. Of course now its all zip fasteners. It was funny really, but it wasn’t to me. (Q: It was hard, wasn’t it.) Oh it was a lesson. It was very hard. And I can always remember myself crying these tears because I’d got to unpick and I thought it was lovely but that was how. That was the discipline you see, and you don’t forget do you ? (Q: No you don’t.)
[Talk about tea drinking etc. not noted]

Q:     It was different then. Of course, you see them round the other school now so you know. [Chipping Hill School where she helps]

Mrs S:    Yes, oh then I went to work down there you see. Well after that in 1963, when the other school [Templars?} was built they all went up there and I went up with them and I don’t know, I sort of thought I’d have it a bit easy and I gave it up and I left then and then Miss Griffiths said to me when I’d got about three years to go down here before I retire and she said ‘I know you, will you come and finish your time out? [i.e. at Chipping Hill School]. I said well I’m too old for that sort of thing. ‘I know what you can do’ she said. ‘I know how old you are and I want you to come’ and so I did. But you know Mr Harris down there was very kind to me and I felt very sorry for him because you see they brought in the regulations we’d got to leave at a given age and I said to him ‘Don’t worry, I’d have left before if this hadn’t of cropped up’. And he said ‘But you know …’ I said ‘The younger ones come on’. He said ‘But the younger ones don’t have the experience and they can’t control the children like you sort of can’. And I think as you’re older you’ve got the time for them. You see. This is it you’ve got the time for them to, how can I put it, give your time to them and children love attention don’t they ? You know that and, as I say, I left, it would be, the Christmas of ‘76. I was 71 then you see and they was very good to me because I hadn’t been there long with him. And they collected and  I had a beautiful basket of groceries, because I’ve got a daughter-in-law down there and they asked her what I’d like and she said ‘Don’t buy her anything like, anything about the house, vases or anything like because she doesn’t want them at her time of life’. They gave me a beautiful box of groceries and a big bouquet. That was lovely.

Q:     You were only there at dinners. I suppose when you went to school they didn’t have dinners at school.

Mrs S:    Oh no. When I went to school from Church Street right down to Guithavon Street we used to walk it four times a day. There was no free milk and there were no school dinners. If we did stay we took our sandwiches. But you know we didn’t make hard work of it. We didn’t mind. We weren’t used to anything else. See this is it. I do wonder sometimes if the children are, I’m not saying they shouldn’t have every facility but like I say, you can tend to take things for granted can’t you? Then of course all the school dinners came on because all the mums went out to work didn’t they ?

Q:     When you were at school, lets think, the First War was on. Did that affect your schooling at all.

Mrs S:    No, not to my reckoning.

Q:     I suppose in the Second world War what with bombing and that, …

Mrs S:    Yes, no, no, I should think they carried on more or less normal. That was the thing they wanted to do wasn’t it?

Q:     I can remember someone told me they had soldiers here,

Mrs S:    Oh they did. My mother had soldiers billeted with her when we lived in Church Street as I say in the First World War, 1914-1918. I had two brothers went into the War at that particular time, you know, but life was tranquil. There wasn’t all this. You see we were lucky. We always had this nice little shop and you see the bread was always baked there [probably 48 Church Street] and you had everything, our post office then was just over the hill you know. {In Chipping Hill] We had every facility. We didn’t want anything you know kind of things.

Q:     Your father, would you reckon he had a good job or …?

Mrs S:    Well, yes, he did. As I say, because when people sort of say ‘The bad old times’, we were a big family but we were never, we always had plenty of good food, and we always had shoes. I am not going to say we had all the changes of clothes, but we had plenty of clothes. You see when I was a girl and I had a, what we called our Sunday dress. You had a pinafore on to protect it. To keep it nice and all that sort of thing. And we were happy enough. You know I often look back and think about it. I mean the children today have more than we had but you see it’s a different world. It goes with the modern world don’t it.

Q:     Your mother must have had quite a job though, keeping all those clothes and …?

Mrs S:    Oh yes, we had an ordinary copper in the kitchen. We used to stoke it up and all that.

Q:     Did you ever have to stop home even when you were at school to look after the children if your mother was poorly ?

Mrs S:    No, she kept well and looked after us. We all helped each other. We all had our sort of little jobs.

Q:     What did you have to do ?

Mrs S:    Housework and that sort of thing. I think that was good training. You see, it was good training for all your life really. That’s how I think about it anyway.

Q:     So even when you were at school you had to help ?

Mrs S:    Oh yes, well you see, we used to come home and have our little jobs. Help to perhaps lay the table and do our little things and all that sort of thing. I know my mother had to work hard but I never heard her grumble. She used to have her pleasure with her family didn’t she ?

Q:     Did she do anything else apart from …?

Mrs S:    Just looked after her family.

Q:    Did you have any outings?

Mrs S:    Yes, they used to have what they, oh yes, my father used to take us out on his holiday from the railway. And I mean, she used to go to her various things. They used to have the Mothers’ Union, what they called Church House every week and she used to go to church very regular. [???] Yes she had, I think, a good life.

Q:     Where did you use to go on your holidays ?

Mrs S:    Out for days to different places you see. He was on the railway and got a sort of free pass for the holiday, then we used to go like that. Oh yes, I’ve had a very happy live. I mean I’ve had a happy live all told. ‘Cos I married but unfortunately my husband can’t do what he wants but I mean, he’s been very very kind and good and we’ve always been very happy together. I’ve had a good happy life. (Q: He wasn’t a Witham person?) No, Kelvedon. (Q: How did you meet him?) Oh, I met him at a dance [laughter]. Oh yes, I’ve had a very happy life. Everybody then was happy. And its funny, just before I came out I was saying to him, I said how lucky I am I can get about and do what I can (Q: Makes all the difference doesn’t it?) Well this is it isn’t it. You know, not to take it for granted and you go and see different people. ‘Cos I go and see Mrs Hammond a lot. I mean I was there the day before yesterday and I mean you never hear her grumble do you ? I’ve never heard her grumble, I mean she lived in Church Street at the time I was a girl, up a little higher and I never heard her grumble.

Q:     I suppose you knew them all did you ?

Mrs S:    Yes, well I knew all the people up here. (Q: When you were kids you would play?) Yes, we all …You see at that time you could play in the roads. There wasn’t anything much in the roads then was there. I mean when we first to live here [Chalks Road] my sons used to play outside. There wasn’t that house there what do you call it and there wasn’t these you know these. It was all meadow land and a hedge you see. I’ve brought a photograph to show you. (Q: Oh lovely.). Now that is a photograph of my brother who lived here [Alf, at Blanfred]. Now that, talking about my pinny. That was me at five and a half. Look at me socks [laughter].

Q:     Is that your best dress ?

Mrs S:    That was me best dress with my pinny and all this all embroidery, lovely. And this was myself and that’s my brother who lived here and that one unfortunately has gone and this one lives round the corner. Do you know Chris Keeble the teacher. (Q: Oh yes.) That’s her husband. (Q: Yes.) Now this is …

Q:     That’s a bit old, that’s where your houses are here …

Mrs S:    Yes, this is the wall just below there you see. If you look you’ll see there’s the cottages. The little bungalows are not there are they ?

Q:     No, but this was here then probably because that’s quite old. [Dean House]

Mrs S:    Oh yes, that’s been there a long time.

Q:     What was there behind the wall there ? I wonder why there is a wall ?

Mrs S:    Well that was the builders, Richards yard you see. That’s still there now. They won’t let you touch it. They won’t have that wall taken down. Now this is a photograph (you may not be interested) but I’ll show you. This is a photograph of the Scouts. Now there, the Labour Hall is there now. [Collingwood Road] And that one with the drum is my brother who lived here. And that’s another older brother. And this is a similar sort of thing coming from the other direction, coming up, the Labour Hall is in here, see. (Q: I see.) They had iron railings then, ‘cos at that time there was a market, cattle market.

Q:     I’ve never seen a picture of what that was like then ?

Mrs S:    Haven’t you (Q: No.) Oh I must have another good hunt then. I got these quickly ‘cos I said to my husband ‘I wonder if Mrs Gyford would be interested in these’. (Q: Oh yes.) We had a wonderful Scout troop here you know (Q: Really.) Oh yes. (Q: Were there Guides as well ?) Oh yes, I was a Guide.

Q:     I’ve never seen a picture of ……[talking over]

Mrs S:    Haven’t you ? You see this was the auctioneers place that was, ‘Cos this was the cattle market. You’re coming over from the station bridge aren’t you ? And this one ………..[talking over] Well, that’s what I say, you wouldn’t do that now, would you. You see that tree and all has gone you see. (Q: Shame that isn’t it?) Yes it is. I’ve got some quite, if you are interested, (Q: Oh yes.) at some future date, I’ll bring ‘em and show ‘em to you. All of them (Q: Great.) Of course, this meadow here and this hedge started there and that came right the way up the top, ‘cos at the top there was the farm, Cocks Farm. [Chalks Road] As a child I used to come up and get the milk. You see, with a milk can. [???]  Well they came round, but if you came up you could get the skimmed milk and, as I say, we came up there and we used to have treats on there, Sunday School treats [probably Chalks Road] (Q: Did you?) Yes, the man used to, heat our water with his traction engine, Mr Bill Randall, and that was a wonderful sight to see this traction engine going round there. (Q: Just to heat the water?) Yes, you can see now at the bottom there Mrs Tunstall’s, they’ve got a garage [11 Church Street]. Now they’ve got a garage put in there you see.

Q:     I couldn’t work out what was different.

Mrs S:    Yes she had a garage put in there and as I say there’s the road going all down there because now of course there’s three little bungalows isn’t there, you see, where Rosie and them live [Almshouses, Chalks Road].

Q:     I’ve never seen a picture (Mrs S: Haven’t you?) of the farm. I remember seeing something of the church, of that corner there before but not the farm. [Cocks Farm]

Mrs S:    Well I’ll have to. (Q: Everyone says how nice it was but…) Oh it was lovely it was lovely. Oh it was a thousand pities when that went. The house was em all stone, flintstone and they had lovely little tiny windows and it really was well a sin to have it taken down, as I say, as I knew it then and that, and that sort of thing that really was lovely. It was very tranquil and nice. But anyway, there’s a few.

Q:     Well if you have got some more  [???]?

Mrs S:    Yes, yes, I’ll have a good. I’ve been having a sort of sort out, you know how it is over the years that you collect these things. I’ll have a sort out and see what we can find. You’re writing a book aren’t you ?

Q:     Well I might some day, write a leaflet or something. I’m not actually writing at the moment I’m collecting what I can. It’s not easy when you have got children to get things down. That’s some way off.

Mrs S:    No, you can’t that’s true. I’ll have to sort of sit and think about a bit you know.

Q:     Your brothers, did they work at at ?

Mrs S:    Yes, they worked in various different places you know. When there was work, then, you see there was the glove factory then wasn’t there and different sort of things.

Q:     Your brother, the one in Mill Lane, he was at the glove factory? [Herbert]

Mrs S:    Oh yes he was Managing Director there and then …

[Discussion about visiting Herbert, not noted]

Mrs S:    [Re the glove factory] Oh there wasn’t anything else until Crittall’s opened you see and my sister worked at the glove factory she was manageress there and she went to Chelmsford, Devon, Barnstable, all those places to manage factories for them but, she was that much, like I say, twelve years older than me. But I didn’t go to work. I helped at home. Course them days they did, one daughter sort of more or less ….

Q:     I suppose it was more unusual for a woman to work in a factory really, that was a new thing when it …

Mrs S:    Oh yes, they used to work. Well I mean it was the booming[?] thing then, the factory in Witham.

Q:     I suppose Church Street would be like a village on its own really ?

Mrs S:    Oh it was, it was. Definitely, Oh yes. We didn’t go down there, perhaps once a week. No, we didn’t go down. See as I said we’d got everything up here. More or less as I can remember, a community of our own. You see there was no … Well there was a lady come to live in the bungalow, just in Church Street. Do you know the one I mean, opposite Miss Chinnery’s there’s a little bungalow [probably 15 Church Street] And this lady came from the other end of the town. Quite elderly and they’d got to get out of this big house and they came here. She’d been up here a few months. Actually I went to see her and I said ‘and how do you like living up here?’ ‘Well, my dear’ she said, ‘I have never been so happy in all my life’. She said ‘Everybody’s kind, everybody calls and’ …’

Side 2


Mrs S:    You see my mother died in 1928, that’s fifty years ago. I mean the way of life was very different to what it was then.

Q:     You didn’t have to go out fruit picking or anything ?

Mrs S:    We did go occasionally as children but that was more or less the, well we used get a few extras you know. But women[?] didn’t work like that, not doing …

Q:     Was she a Witham person ?

Mrs S:    No, she came from Fordham, near Colchester, yes.

Q:     And what about ?

Mrs S:    Me dad come from the same area, yes. His father was a businessman and that and he liked the railway, got on the railway and he stayed on the railway until he retired.

Q:     Was it a good …?

Mrs S:    Well, this was it, it was then. You see there wasn’t all these factories and that. It was, as I can remember, it was the railway or the farm or then of course then they had the Pinkham’s factory. I have got a photograph of that when that first one was built. I’ll bring it one of these times [laughter].

Q:     Its easy to forget what it was like isn’t it ?

Mrs S:    It is, as I say, you see the thing is, like I’m saying about me brother, what you forget, because as you get older you do forget, what one forgets the other would remember probably. That’s why I really think you’d find him interesting.

Q:      [???] there’s so many old Witham folks up this way.

Mrs S:    There is, you’ve been over and seen Mrs Hammond. Did she record for you ?

Q:     Yes. I mean I’m not going to write and say ‘Mrs So-and-so said such and such’, I’ll keep names out (Mrs S: Yes, I suppose.) You may think that’s not fair but ..

Mrs S:    This is what I was going to say we mustn’t commit ourselves, must we.

Q:     I’ll stick to places and you know such.

Mrs S:    Well this is it you see [talk over] you can’t commit yourself. I mean that’s not fair.

Q:     I mean, there were people who didn’t get on and that, [???].

Mrs S:    Oh, no, you have to be very careful, oh yes, but you see whether it was because, my mother was very strict. Well I say strict when I mean that things had to be done right. We had to keep our place and you can imagine a girl coping with all these boys. You’ve got to be. She’d got to keep a tight reign, hadn’t she, sort of thing. I mean, nothing was discussed like it is now, nothing, believe me. Nothing. You know sort of thing. And I don’t know what you think, but sometimes I think it’s a good thing and sometimes I think it’s a bad thing. But I often think, you know how its put into books and how my little grandaughters talk to me [laughter]. I’ve [???] how my little granddaughter talks, I’ve got one, round the corner, one 13, and the other one is 10.

[granddaughters cooking at school etc., not noted]

Q:     And you only take ten minutes. Does it still only take ten minutes ? I mean what what about the writing and that, were they as strict as that with your other work at school.

Mrs S:    Oh yes, very. I’ve got a writing book I’ll bring and show you. It was started when I think I was 12 so I mean that’s 60 years ago and you see if you did anything you always had that in front of you. Whatever you were doing do the best. The discipline was different, you know. And I’ll tell you what my mother was very very strict on, time for meals. One o’clock on Sundays, five o’clock tea. And woe betide you if you were late. They didn’t start till you got there so you weren’t very popular if you kept everybody waiting. That’s the thing, I can see it now we had a large round table, you know they used to be and we all used to sit there and if you were late in you got it afterwards, believe me. Keep us all waiting.

Q:     Were you allowed to talk when you were eating ?

Mrs S:    No, never (Q: Not at all?) No, never allowed to talk at the table. You can’t do two things at once and when I was at the school [mid-day assistant at Chipping Hill School] I never allowed that. They used to say they can talk if they like you know. And I said to Miss Griffiths one day ‘But, you know, they can’t eat and talk’ and she said ‘Well you’ve got a point there’ [???]. You see there’s two facts. Their food gets cold. Then if the person next to them who hasn’t been talking, has eaten theirs, they don’t want to pinch theirs. You’ve got a job to make them do that. But your Philip was good. He used to get on with his food.

[chat about Gyford children, and school dinners in general, and manners today, not noted]

Q:     But what about when you were small, were you ever punished ?

Mrs S:    Oh, yes. Well, you was kept in. You didn’t go out to play, or sent to bed early. But we were never deprived of not having our food. My mother always used to see that. I know some people say well you won’t get any tea and that. That’s their way. But we never, we used to have, well, you don’t go out tonight and you didn’t go. No good saying ‘Can I go.’  [???] You didn’t go, and you knew you wouldn’t go so you kept quiet.

Q:     Were the boys treated the same ?

Mrs S:    Oh yes, we were all treated the same. Because you was a girl you didn’t have any favours. You’d got to do your share and pull your weight.

Q:     Were your mother and father very strict, or was one stricter than the other ?

Mrs S:    Me father was more lenient, yes he was more lenient. Well I think he left it to me mother and he was out at work. I think that’s what it was more or less what happened there. But I’m not sure about it.

[chat about children today in paper, throwing brick, and working mothers etc., not noted]

Q:     Because I suppose in those days … What did your sister, she worked at the glove factory ?

Mrs S:    Yes she was a manageress there. But you see …

Q:     Did she marry ?

Mrs S:    Yes, she married later on in life.

Q:     I suppose you wouldn’t know if your mother worked before she married at all ?

Mrs S:    No, I don’t remember. I don’t think so, because. You see years ago they nearly all went into service didn’t they (Q: True.) or else the people were often if you look round, and with larger families, the girls, if they didn’t go into service, often they’d stop and help their parents. That was what they called family life then wasn’t it. But happy days (Q: Yes.) Very happy.

[Chat about tape recording etc., and photos, not noted]

Q:     She’s [Mrs Ireland of Chalks Road] older of course and she said all her friends are passing on and she likes to talk obviously.

Mrs S:    She likes to get me to talk to her you know and [talk over] She was maid to the big house there. [Dean House, Chalks Road] (Q: Oh I see.) She lived out before she [???] and those people kept the shop round the corner when they had the bakehouse. [48 Church Street] When they lived there they had that house built you see – Wadleys and Mrs Ireland used to, I think on there now there is a J W and that was John Wadley. [11-14 Chalks Road] I think it was just their [???]. And years ago Kate Wadley she was one of the teachers in the school when I went down there. {Chipping Hill School, Church Street]

[Chat about the school now, not noted.

Mrs S:    I can always remember [her dress in the photo] it was green and it was all tucked and at the top there was green velvet. Oh and I was proud of that [chuckle].

Q:     Were the dresses made or bought or… ?

Mrs S:    Oh there was a local dressmaker (Q: Oh, I see.) There was always a local dressmaker. And this particular local dressmaker, she was a maiden lady, she lived over there in them cottages over where the old post office was, next door. [perhaps Chipping Hill] You see that was another way they used to earn their living. Mrs Hammond used to do a lot you know. Very good she was. [13 Chalks Road]

[Chat about price of alterations to clothes in shops now etc., and needlework classes and other classes, and how she still does mending etc for family, not noted]

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