Tape 032. Mr Albert Poulter, sides 1 and 2

Mr Albert Poulter was born in 1907. He was interviewed on 4 November 1980, when he lived at 19 Cressing Road, Witham.

He also appears on tapes 91, 105 and 106.

For information about him and the Poulter family, see the notes in the people category headed Poulter family

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.]

[This tape is pf poor quality – loud budgie and clock and Albert’s quiet voice sometimes makes most of this very difficult to hear. Note that sometimes at the beginning he reads from a printed questionnaire that I showed him (not of my making)]

Mr P:    [Looking at printed questions] Comes down here, how did your employer treat you and how did you feel about him ? (Q: Mmm.) Well, my theory is, as you possibly know, as I see solicitors I think they are just professional rogues, right ? (Q: Mm.) I do. His advice, when I met the big chief, it was Bright and Son, [???], when I first met the big chief, ‘I understand you’re joining our staff. My advice to you is to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut’. Well you’re giving that to the wrong fellow, first of all, because, [???] I [???] very tactful and I splurt out.used to go about things and that and I think it still helped you know. {[???]

Q:     That was the first job you had was it ?

Mr P:    Well, the reason I got the job was because, with respect, this is scribble but I can write a very good hand, and I got a prize at school for handwriting. And I was recommended to go in a solicitor’s office. Actually I got a prize at the horticultural show for handwriting.

Q:     What school ?

Mr P:    Church of England. All Saints.

Q:     Did you stop there quite a long time ? When did you leave school ?

Mr P:    That’s another story if you want. I left school and had to go back. (Did you really?) Yes, Mother was anxious for me to earn. It was funny really, more than interesting. Mother, as you know, had a struggle. The rule came in that I’d got to leave at the end of the term, but I think. that I thought blow that, Mother said blow that too, he’s fourteen he leaves school, right. Incidentally I think she left school when she was about eleven. [???] Poor woman she had to pay a penny for the slate, pay a penny for the use of a slate. Where was I. And I went back to school because I had to abide by the law which said I could only leave at the term. So I had a spell in the office and then went back to school. There’s a fellow named Ernie Green, do you know him, he lived in the Avenue, an old fellow and a nice charitable[?] fellow he was and he was a bit of a [???] as well. He was very considerate and he knew mother and the struggle she had. He said ‘Well, look,  you don’t want to pay two guineas for him to learn shorthand. He can teach himself shorthand, and also he can come into the office at nights and learn typing get to know typing’  Well mother took it like he said [???] and he sort of, I often laugh about this, because he attempted to teach me shorthand and I thought this was pretty dry stuff, excuse me if I use adjectives like that wont’ you, that’s bloody dry stuff I reckon. And in other words I was a bad pupil [laughter]. Not that I was going to smash people’s houses or anything like that but you know. And I felt guilty after. I thought well I don’t know, I’m not going to let shorthand beat me, so I’ll tackle it. And I did, I really got down to it. And, the method that’s taught now is altogether different. [???] I was more or less self taught you know and I sometimes use it now but well I’m more domesticated[?] now rather than a shorthand writer. Any rate I was in the office for about four and a half years [???] I was in the office about four and a half years, so much for that and then I think I went on to a farm[?].

Q:     So, when you were in that office did you do shorthand most of the time, or filing [???] ?

Mr P:    Let’s refer to your question, how did you get it, it was because I was recommended to go in because of my handwriting you see.

Q:      The school thought you should do that did they ?
Mr P    Well now, actually at that time, you paid the solicitor for articles, until you become articled. You could learn the trade like. I came across two fellows the other day, one who earned a shilling a week on a milk round, right, when he left school, and another fellow who went into a printers’ trade and, at that time, he was expected to pay, parents were expected to pay to teach them the trade, whether it be a solicitors’ clerk or whether it be a printer. Right.  But mother being a widow I received the princely sum of four shillings a week you see, in lieu of wages. While  I had my L plates up.

Q:     So you didn’t have to pay to do it. But normally you’d have to pay?

Mr P:    I would have had to pay. (Q: So was it the solicitors who were treating you …?) Pardon? (Q: The firm was treating you …) Generously. Yes. An exceptional case you see.

Q:     So you were doing odd jobs and things ?

Mr P:    That’s right. ‘[???] did you have to do in this job’, well I was an office boy. ‘How did you learn. Were any practical jokes played on you?’’. Well I was an office boy [???] ‘Practical jokes played on you. Saturday, Sunday, half day’. [???] Saturdays. Saturday morning I think. Saturday was a very slow day.

Q:     Did you start early in the morning ?

Mr P:    Half past nine. With a break for a meal. The typist was a Miss Moore who cycled to and from Hatfield and had an hour. I suppose she allowed herself twenty minutes to cycle and twenty minutes back and twenty for her eats. ‘What were you paid?’ Almost, almost [laughs] ‘What was it spent on ?’ Riotous living [laughter]. ‘How did you get on with the other people you worked with ?’ Well they were all right. They were quite nice fellows. One chap who was named Threadkell[?] and the other chap was named Green. There was Miss Moore the typist and he interested me in all kinds of things and, somewhere here, I’ve still got it now, which I had off him, it cost sixpence, and that’s an old Pears Cyclopaedia, he gave me it. Here you are look, an old Pears Cyclopaedia. The cover’s gone, I think I got that one off him for sixpence. No, he gave that one because he had a newer edition and he introduced me to stamp collecting. Mr Threadkell he used to be a fine writer as well. Mr.Green he had two types of handwriting. One he used for [???] and the other that was beautiful for documents.

Q:     But presumably there was some typing, but did they used to write some of them out by hand as well?

Mr P:    Oh yes, very few were typewritten. There were occasional typewriters I suppose when they were pressurised. ‘What were you paid? Did you think it was a fair wage or not?’. Under the circumstances I suppose it was. ‘Did you give any of the money to your mother ? What was it spent on ?’ Well, she had it all, didn’t she, the whole lot’. ‘How did you get on with the other people you worked with’. Well all right. [???] [???] Well, when the boss was out of the office they used to get – that asks this question up here, ‘Were there any practical jokes’, when the cat’s away the mice will play, you know. There was entertainment I suppose, particularly as they only had one girl typist, etc, etc. Won’t dwell on that one, right. ‘Could you play games in the breaks?’ Well I think it was an opportunity for this girl to relax as well and you know. He might have gone to probably visit Lord So-and-so about his deeds and, funnily enough, when Lord So-and-So came to the office they were expecting him at what time, say ten o’clock the office boy wasn’t allowed to answer the door. Normally if a knock came on the door the office boy answered it, but if Lord So-and-So came you see, oh no, no, no, couldn’t have the scruffy old office boy answer the door when they’d got a posh clerk there. ‘Was there a works club’ There was no club. ‘How did your employer treat you, how did you get on ?’ Well, I think they treated me very very well. They knew I was a sick man and I was privileged to take their Sealyham dogs out for walks [laughs]. It was exercise and I did go on shooting parties with him, you know. I never had a pheasant or a partridge but if he ran over a hare or a rabbit on the way back I could get that. (That was Mr. Bright was it ?) Yes, Gerald Bright, not Douglas.  Douglas was his son. Of course Gerald has gone now [???] [???] Gerald’s wife.

Q:     So you used to ……..?

Mr P:    I will tell you, there’s some funny stories about how things were. She had quarter to three feet, you know what I mean, quarter to three feet, to sort of [???] up. She used to walk like that you see [laughter]. Lifted her heels up a bit you know. That used to be one of the jokes in the office, to the clerks, you know how she walked.

Q:     Still, it sounds as if he was quite friendly to you. Was he ?

Mr P:    Oh, yes, I think so it was all. He was a character. [???] [???] [???]  bossy type.

[chat about tape recording, not noted]

Q:    This business of taking the dogs for a walk, that was weekends was it.. You say you took the dogs out.

Mr P:    Well, some of the time. It wasn’t a regular job because they had another fellow used to [???].

Q:     You didn’t stay there that long you said. How long was it you said you stayed there ? four years was it ? At the solicitor’s (Mr P: Four and a half). Do why did you give it up in the end ?

Mr P:    Well, health reasons you see. Health reasons. [reading from sheet] [???] [???] ‘How did your employer treat you ? How did you feel about it ?’ [???] Well, it was all right. I liked it. ‘Did you like it or dislike it. How did you pick it up’. [???][???]

Q:     That was only a part-time job when you were at school (Mr P: Is that all the questions, is that the only ones?). I think so. Then the idea is if you can remember any of the other jobs you went on to ? You say you worked on a farm after that. Anything you remember about that. You had such a variety of experience ?

Mr P:    Well I have, it’s inside and outside work. These have been for probably small periods, for instance like, with the coming of the Labour Exchange at Witham here you. There was almost a riot[?] to get a green card for a job. [???] and other firms had jobs, on contracts. And then, might be road making [???], and navvying. I used to have a go at that, anything to keep body and soul together.

Q:     So you’d just get what was going, casually, every week sort of thing would you ?

Mr P:    Yes, plus during the thirties I was out of work four years.

Q:     So, for instance, how long were you at the farm. You said you were at a farm after the solicitors ?

Mr P:    Oh, I’ve been on two farms. Seabrook’s fruit farm. One time I was on the farm at Ulting when the seeds place. [???] He decided to paint the greenhouses. I’m allergic to that. I used to like to be among the herbs. The herbal smell giving up when the seeds were drying. [???]

Q:     Did you say you were at Crittall’s ?

Mr P:    Crittall’s yes. Clerical officer. Work in the works. Various spells. (Q: You’d sort of been there and gone back again?). Or wages clerk.

Q:     Can ask you the questions about Crittall’s as well, just to make [???]. How did you get a job at Crittall’s ? Did you just go and ask sort of thing or ?

Mr P:    [???] [???[ There was a vacancy, I suppose, and they sent me up.

Q:     How did the Labour Exchange work? You got a card you say and then did you have to take what jobs were going sort of thing (Mr P: Yes, yes.). And they listed what jobs were going? You said earlier, Crittall’s hired and fired people quite a lot did they ?

Mr P:    That’s right, when there was a boom they’d take on people.

Q:     So, did that happen to you ? Did you get sacked from there or what ?

Mr P:    Well, I was sacked, I don’t know for sure. [???] I can’t make out. But various times I was. I don’t get anything for this now do I? [laughter] (Q: You’re being a bit too polite Albert) [laughter].

Q:     Did they have the Union at Crittall’s in those days ?

Mr P:    Oh yes, yes (Q: Was it quite strong?) The Crittall’s story is one, as you know, that the old man who was the Democratic Socialist, who thought about conditions and men having their hair cut at work [???] [???]

[chat about tape recording, not noted]

Q:     I’m interested because you said [???] they all supported Crittall. But if they’d been laid off quite a lot, would they fall out with them then [???]. Did anybody get upset, like the Unions or anything, when they were laid off ?

Mr P:    Well, men were attracted to the works because there were some thirty shillings to five pounds a week that was a big attraction you see and people went to the factory. [???] Crittall wasn’t the inventor of the metal window, actually metal windows were in London from [???] century [lots inaudible, not noted.]

Q:     I’m just wondering how they squared the business of being laid off with supporting Crittall politically. Didn’t they complain about being laid off or did they just take it politely and go away ?

Mr P:    Well, I think they just had to accept it. There were disputes at Crittall’s concerning er the Unions. There were two or three Unions. There was the AEU. There was the metal workers union, there was the glass workers union and also the transport and general workers union which I believe was the old one [???]?

Q:     I’m not sure or was it just the general workers union ? That’s quite a lot for one place isn’t it ?

Mr P:    Anyhow, they had an old boy named Hatton[?] and he was the secretary. I don’t know if i should tell you this.

[chat about tape recording then rest very inaudibla and not noted.]

Side 2

Mr P:    I think three things I’ve thought of [???].  Cold, loneliness, and pain, you know.  This is my company now (Q: Your little bird.) She’s a naughty girl, she’s getting old and a bit inclined to be on the lazy side [???].

Q:     You find these houses cold do you?

Mr P:    Yes, they’re not insulated for a start and the aperture, not necessarily on that one but the hall door, there’s an aperture, about quarter of an inch.

Q:     You’ve been here since it was have you ?

Mr P:    My brother – You haven’t still got this on have you. My brother was first tenant and my mother took it on after him and I took it on after my mother. So our family has been in here since it started which was 1922 I think.

Q:     ‘Cause that’s something else to [???] Your family. Did you have a lot of brothers and sisters ?

Mr P:    Yes, but I think there was one step-brother as well. I think there was [???] I don’t know whether my mother lost one, or two babies [???] [???].

Q:     So where did you come then in that ?

Mr P:    The end. (Q: You were at the youngest were you ?) I think I was the youngest.

Q:     So how old was the oldest ? Was there a big … ? Were they all at home together I mean?

Mr P:    You’re really entering into it. You see I was born at her change of life. Dad was sixty and Mum was forty which …

[Talk in background, not noted.]

Q:     So there was quite a gap between the rest of the family and you ?

Mr P:    Age gap, its only a matter of two or three years in between us.

Q:     Your mother was on her own for a long while was she from what you said? Your father died when you were quite young by the sound of it did he?

Mr P:    Yep, He was 65 (Q: and you were?) four and a half.

Q:     So how long ago was that ?

Mr P:    Four and a half off 73, 69, years ago. It was 1911 because my brother is [???]

[lots inaudible, including to chat about tea etc,  radio, not noted.]

Q:     So how did you meet her then ?

Mr P:    Well, she worked in Lucas’s and I worked in Lucas’s and I was working in the workshop.  She was working as a typist. [???]

Q:     Was that round here ? There’s not a lot round here. So you came back to Witham later. You went away and came back to Witham.

Mr P:    Oh yes, got married up there you see and we had a house in Birmingham and then we came back.

Q:     How long were you there ? Were you there for a long time?

Mr P:    About eight years. Anything on that paper that refers to this interview ?

Q:     Let me see. Oh, I was just asking about your family wasn’t I ? And what did your father use to do when he was alive ?

Mr P:    That’s another story I can tell you (Q: Go on then, I like stories.). Actually he was a er general man. He used to breed horses but he also did all kinds of things like chickens, taking them to market. I didn’t know much about him as you know. [???] [???]  Did I tell you the story about Lord John Sangers circus. My brother had a shop in London, a café and in the area where all the entertainers and that used to go in. My brother was a bit of a character, a laddo (Q: Which one was that then) Tom[?] and he had over the shop you know T W Poulter licensed to sell tobacco which was the thing, if you were going to sell tobacco you had to put a notice up and Lord John Sangers used to say to him, or said on one occasion, [???] ‘My father used to buy horses off a man named Poulter from Witham’. ‘Oh, he said happen that’d be my father’ That’s a coincidence isn’t it ? Well my father used to do all kinds of things. He also ran the taxi of the day which was horses and carts and things like that. As I say I don’t know much about my father so I can’t say a lot about him.

Q:     Where were you living then, when you were little ? Was that when you were living down the High Street, you told me once ?

Mr P:    Yes, I was born in the Spread Eagle yard, not in the Yard, in a cottage in the yard. Remember the [???] being there. (Yes, I think so, at the back there). Well, actually we had the stables in the yard which they really were stables you see.

[chat about name Newland Street or High Street, tea etc not noted]

Q:     Your father died and your mother, your mother must have had a job keep you all going. How did she manage ?

Mr P:    Well it was a struggle. She was a cook at Whitehall. My[?] father came from Finchingfield. But, I’ve told you about the works, with booms and slumps etc. and the same thing happened. He had bad luck, despite hard work, he was a hard worker. Everybody all respected him. The church was full when he passed away. Oh I’ve lost track …

Q:     When he died how did your mother …?

Mr P:    When he died, as like a good many other people, you see there was only the big houses that would take on people or hotels or the [???] [???] the Guardians as you know, [???] used to say to them put your children in the workhouse and go out to work. My mother had that fear all the time, the workhouse. She dreaded it. She thought she’d die in the workhouse. She didn’t, she died up in St Peters in Maldon. She didn’t die in the workhouse, but she had that fear all her life. [???] She used to take in lodgers, take in washing. She used to do field work of all kinds. She used to do pea sorting which was handed out in two hundredweight bags and her job was to sort out the peas and I can remember now I used to climb on them sometimes, you know upset all the bags, and my mother she wasn’t very pleased about that. [chat to cat, not noted]

Q:     So you helped with the peas ? (Mr P: That’s right, we used to.] But were your other brothers working by then ?

Mr P:    You might get some beans now and take the dud beans out from them ?

Q:     Would your other brothers be working before you, presumably if they older. So that helped a bit I suppose.

Mr P:    Well lets put like this. I was four and a half, my sister was six and a half. My other brother would be eight and a half, and a gap I don’t know between my brother Charlie and my step brothers. [inaudible, and chat about tape recording, not noted]

Q:     Your step-brothers, were they your father’s children were they ?

Mr P:    Yes. I was on a good line going to tell you something

Q:     I know I was asking if your brothers worked (Mr P: Oh yes.) to help out with the family and that ?

Mr P:    There were two step-brothers and one brother born out of wedlock though he had my mother’s name. He was in the Navy, a petty-officer, right. My other brother’s Tom. Now mother had a struggle with all of us when he was in the army and we lived in our house in Newland Street, near what we called Uncle Ellis’s house, I mentioned him in my, not my memoirs but er, you know, nostalgia and things like that, petty jealousies and as well as petty rivalry cropped up with my brother Charlie. He was an in and out boot repairer and my brother Tom, he wasn’t, but he learned it and they set up in business in the High Street and we was the tenant of Uncle Ellis in Newland Street there, you know where Keys is [149 Newland Street]. Well, they were the landlords and I think they got behind with the rent. Got a handsome gratuity and then the court case came up. [???] [???]. But Uncle Ellis you know he committed suicide.

Q:     Was he really an uncle?

Mr P:    No, it’s a nickname, a lot of these shopkeepers had nicknames, but he wasn’t really one of us. (Q: That was just a name.) His wife was a nice person.

Q:     What was his trade ?

Mr P:    Well, he ran a sweet shop. His wife looked after it mainly and his trade was boot repairing as well, you see.

Q:     Did they often get behind with the rent or was that just the once that you can remember ?

Mr P:    No, I think they kept debt down as much as possible.

Q:     I wonder why they took the trouble to take you to court. Did people use the court a lot in those days ?

Mr P:    Oh yes. The er it was a sort of. If you was to recover debt today, it would cost you more than what you were trying to obtain, you see. (Q: Mmm.) I can’t quote exactly figures but today sometimes recovery of debt is more difficult than it was in those days you see because of conditions concerning houses, conditions of houses, the landlord could keep you in the house, turn you over the house and inspect the conditions. A landlord had er, I don’t think there was anything like getting a surveyors, is it surveyors, no, health inspectors certificate for like three things, heating,.[???] and water, you see, like there is today. (Q: Mmm) I did go after a landlord on one occasion because he wouldn’t do this and wouldn’t do that. But in those days you could seek redress in the courts sort of, particularly it was coming from the old time then when you was enslaved to the farmer. See to the person that had the, property owning, slum owning person [???] recovery of debts. You see housing in those days was anything that become available which, in the main, was houses up yards or a square maybe, what shall I say, scuse me if I’m not too. I have in mind for instance various yards, Ardleys Yard we used to call it after the name of tradesman who was the principal fellow there or there was the, have you heard of Trafalgar Square? (Q: Down Maldon Road, was it?) That was really not too bad but more or less a slum quarter. Bridge Street was another one. [???]

[chat about construction of old buildings, and recent walk round Witham etc., not noted]

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