Mrs Annie Ralling (nee Baldwin), was born in 1900. She was interviewed on 1 April 1981, when she lived at 3 Homefield Road.
For more about her, see the People category for Baldwin family, which also includes her sister Elsie Baxter, and her sister’s husband Alf Baxter.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Q: I’ve got this thing to do about shops and I remembered that you had a lot to do with them.
Mrs R: Quite a bit, quite a bit.
Q: Was it your father.
Mrs R: Yes, we came to Witham in 1904 and he was the manager of the Co-op. I forget now when he retired. [Pause] 1914-15 I should think, about 1914. [Directories show him there till 1926]. Yes, I’m sure he was there with the First World War, part time. But he had a duodenal ulcer you see and he never went back to work after that. I was just thinking when I was going out to work. I went to work when I was fourteen. He was there then, I’m sure he was. (Q: Did I ever ask you how old you were .. ?) How old I am, I was eighty last year, (chuckle) born in 1900, same as the Queen Mother, same month, but not the same date. I’m the 17th she’s the 4th isn’t she?
Q: Oh well you don’t look it.
Mrs R: That’s what they tell me. I’ve got a few aches and pains but
Q: You do go back a long way. So you were ? So you came …
Mrs R: I was four and we lived in Braintree Road then. (Oh did you?) Next to where the shop is you know. In Grosvenor Villas they were called. Well I don’t know, I suppose they’re still called the Grosvenor Villas. And then we lived up Kings Chase you know where the Co-op is now.
Q: Oh I see. When did you move ?
Mrs R: Well we were up here with the big train crash you know  and then we went to…I think we were only up Braintree Road a year and then we went down to Kings Chase and that was near for my father you see to pop in. Because he used to go to work at like half past seven in the morning and open the shop until the other men came in and then he used to come in to breakfast, you see. (Q: The shop actually opened …) At eight o’clock. Till, oh, late, about eight o’clock at night on Saturdays, quite late.
Q: Of course people worked Saturdays then ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, course it wasn’t a very big Co-op. I was only thinking the other day that on the butter and that sort of counter there was four men I remember and then on the grocery counter there was about six. Of course they had to do all the weighing up and everything didn’t they. You know, weigh out the sugar, weigh out the currants, weigh out everything. (Q: Would they be men …) Well girls n the War. My sister went in there. But they didn’t like the manager’s relations working there then, at one time, they debarred that. But my sister worked in the shop and then, of course, they had the baker’s at the back. Bakehouse at the back, done all their own baking and had their vans with their lovely horses and the coal merchant at the back there you see.
Q: And that was all part of the …? And he was in charge of the whole lot ?
Mrs R: Yes. He had a couple of secretaries I think. You remember Mrs Albert Wright, you know the builders. Were you here when Albert Wright, you know the house near the 1glove factory that was, before the new one.[1 Chipping Hill] She used to be one of my dad’s secretaries. (Q: I don’t think I remember her.) She moved into The Avenue. She was a big Legionnaire, British Legion person. She lived in The Avenue and then she went down to Mott Court. Had heart trouble.
Q: I know. Is it nice there ?
Mrs R: Well, I don’t know, I’ve never been in there. No, because Mr Howe of the housing, he used to be on the Housing Committee. He thought that’s where I was going. He said ;Oh I thought you was in a flat’. I said ‘I know nothing about it’.
Q: I see, the secretaries were women 1then ?
Mrs R: Oh yes.
Q: What sort of things did they have to do ?
Mrs R: Well, I wouldn’t know, I know my Dad used to have great big ledgers as big as that, oh he’d go up there like that, you know, three columns at a time (Q: To add them up?) I don’t know how he used to do it. Oh yes, no digits in those days.
Q: So he had to do the accounts.
Mrs R: Yes, they had the Auditors you see. They used to have the auditor come down from Leman Street. Used to come into lunch and we had to behave ourselves then.
Q: Leman Street was the …?
Mrs R: That was the headquarters in London, the wholesaler.
Q: So you mostly got the stuff for the shop from there ?
Mrs R: Yes, well a good bit, I don’t quite know how the buying went on then. I didn’t understand much about it.
Q: Did he have to go up …?
Mrs R: Oh yes, he used to go every Tuesday. Every Tuesday. By train. Used to go up on the nine o’clock and he was back in the afternoon. Oh every Tuesday he had to go up to London to the wholesaler.
Q: I suppose he had to order the stuff. Did he do vegetables and fruit and things ?
Mrs R: Apples and oranges and that sort of thing but I don’t think they done anything else much.
Q: They seemed to be separate more.
Mrs R Well people had their own garden fields didn’t they. In those days. People used to do all their own garden fields, you know. Like up Hatfield Road you know where the Fire Station is and the ambulance, that was all allotments.
Q: Did your father had have much spare time for …?
Mrs R: No he only had a little time. Yes he was one of the instigators of the bowling, Witham Bowling Club. And they started bowls in the Park.
Q: Behind the Co-op there?.
Mrs R: No, you know where they have the cricket and that now [Maldon Road]. They had a bit there until I suppose they got enough money to buy the bowling green where they are now [Collingwood Road]. I mean several of the business men you see they played bowls up there. There was no ladies or anything, oh no, no ladies. And then of course they could belong to the, oh what do they call it, the Operatic Society. Yes, he was in that, with the Gondoliers and you know, the Pirates of Penzance, and … [laughter]. Yes, yes, he loved that. (Q: Was it mostly the other business people?) Yes, quite a lot of them – Mr Mondy, you know where the Mondy’s shop is, Mr Mondy [63 Newland Street]. Mr Croxall – you know Miss Croxall ? (Q: Oh yes.) her father and oh quite a lot of the business men were in the Operatic Society and that sort of thing. (Q: And the Bowls too, I suppose.) Yes. I think they belonged to the bowls, because I was away from Witham. I left, I went away in 1916 and didn’t come back until about 1922. Well I used to come home on holidays but I was away all that long time.
Q: But you never helped in the Co-op ?
Mrs R: Not in the Co-op, no. (Q: You say they didn’t like that at all.) That was only, they stretched a point when the War came on you see and the boys had to go to War you see and then they took different girls behind the counter.
Q: Were there any girls there working there before the War ?
Mrs R: Not before the War, no. Not to my knowledge.
Q: Then what happened after the War ?
Mrs R: Well I was away.
Q: But when you came back, say, were there mostly men in the shops in those days?
Mrs R: Oh quite a lot of them. (Q: That’s odd, isn’t it, because there’s far more women now.’ Oh they had a big staff down there, you know. (Q: How many?) Oh getting on for twenty or more because you know where the drapery is now – the Co-op ? [115 Newland Street] (Q: Mmmm.) Well that used to be a private house and that was a school for gentlemen’s sons and then of course then the Pattissons – you know Pelican Cottage in Collingwood Road well that was called Pelican House and if you look up at the top there that has still got the pelican – well you wouldn’t look. That was a private house you see and they had steps to go up to it. Then the Co-op bought that you see and that was turned into like the men’s part and then gradually they had a big drapery store there at one time. Had quite a lot of assistants there and managers like.
Q: There was drapery and grocery ?
Mrs R: Yes, yes, very good shop it was.
Q: It must have been one of the biggest shops in Witham ?
Mrs R: Well, yes it was. Of course there was Spurges, that was supposed to be the ‘elite shop’, sort of thing. They used to sell, now where would that be, where Liptons is now [42 Newland Street]. They had the grocery one side and the drapery and that the other.
Q: What made it the elite shop ?
Mrs R: Well, they used to sell, there were quite a few, what shall I say, private dressmakers, what used to work for the elite people of Witham, because there were some, it was a very elite place.
Q: And they worked for Spurges ?
Mrs R: No they worked for like The Grove where Percy Laurence lived. Well like there was Miss Laurence you see and then there was the Miss Luards, you have heard of them haven’t you? They lived up, like before we called it Pelly’s Lodge, well before Pelly’s, we called it Pelly’s lodge [Witham Lodge] That was always called The Lodge up there you see and then Sir William was killed wasn’t he in the High Street and Lady Luard died and then they moved to Ivy Chimneys, the daughters. And they were the, what shall I say, the ladies what used to come round and visit people.
Q: So they’d shop at Spurge’s.
Mrs R: More or less at Spurge’s, yes. (Q: So would they buy the material there and get …) I used to do shopping for one of the people who used to do dressmaking for the Misses Laurence and you could go and get an eighth of a yard on the cross or something I used to have to ask for and I had to remember everything. They never wrote it down on a piece of paper, no. I could remember then. [laughter]
Q: How did you get that to do ?
Mrs R: Well, she used to give me about sixpence a week for doing her shopping for her
Q: That was when you were little ?
Mrs R: When I was about twelve, thirteen, fourteen. Well when I was home from school, in the dinner hour, or that sort of thing.
Q: You wouldn’t have gone to Spurges, probably …?
Mrs R: Oh yes, well when we were girls you see we didn’t have coloured stockings, we always had black stocking and they had what they called, kind of double knees you see and we used to have to go up there after a pair of stockings with double knees and they were sixpence a pair I think they were. (Q: Oh so you did go there for yourself?) Yes, yes. Or if you wanted a hair ribbon, they used to have hair ribbons in those days and that sort of thing.
Q: They didn’t do them at the Co-op then ?
Mrs R: Well I don’t think they done that, special materials. I don’t remember if they sold an awful lot, perhaps they did but I just can’t remember.
Q: But then the Co-op drapery would be more ? Did they have ready-made …?
Mrs R: Yes, I think they did because they had millinery and all up there. There were quite a of, nice girls they were in there. I remember them.
Q: Was Spurges more materials rather than …?
Mrs R: Yes, well that’s where like the ladies, like the Miss Rounds and those sort of people would go and shop you see. And they had quite a staff there. Up in the workrooms and that you see. Oh I should think they had a dozen or more working there.
Q: They worked on things made specially to order.
Mrs R: Well they didn’t do any dressmaking at Spurges itself but, of course my sister, you know, what’s the name of the people who live up the top of Collingwood Road ? Oh, something to do with the Labour Party, can never think what their name is. There is a house that is all in one now, before you get to the Jubilee Oak, that end house there, Colebys.. Do you know the Coleby’s, Mr Coleby ? (Q: Don’t think I do, no.) Only one of those houses there was either two or three Miss Smiths lived there and they done dressmaking because my two sisters were apprenticed there to dressmaking. Never got any wages for a couple of years, never had no money at all. And there was about seven or eight girls in the workroom.
Q: So when you say the workroom at Spurges that was … ?
Mrs R: That was for millinery. (Q: Just for millinery, goodness.) Yes. And down where, what’s the name of the place, the electrical light shop in the High Street next to Martins, further down than Martins [Martin’s is 70 Newland Street]. Well there used to be what they called London House and that was to do with Spurges. That was another drapers shop and hat shop. We had to be with it sort of thing.
Q: When you went shopping that was for …?
Mrs R: That was for a Miss Jewell.
Q: You went to her ?
Mrs R: I went to her house. She used to make beautiful dresses. She was a dressmaker and she used to do like for Miss Laurence or those sort of people.
Q: So they went to certain shops you reckon, Miss Laurence and so on went to certain shops, you reckon.
Mrs R: I should think so.
Q: So what sort of people went to the Co-op ?
Mrs R: Well, ordinary working class people, you know, like ourselves, sort of thing. They done very well.
Q: Miss Laurence and those sort of people wouldn’t …?
Mrs R: I wouldn’t say, no that was more of a working class store wasn’t it ? You know what I mean.
Q: Yes, quite. And I presume they already had the dividend?
Mrs R: Oh yes. They did. (Q: How did …?) Well funnily enough, I was only telling my niece the other day, on a Saturday morning my father used to get me to go in there and they had tin checks, you know like the discs we get for the buses don’t you. They had discs like that and they were like a ha’penny and a penny and a shilling and he used to say ‘Would you come and sort these out for me?’ And I suppose the people used to bring them in, I can’t remember. Pam was asking me on Tuesday what they used to do. I know I used to have a lot to sort out and perhaps my dad would give me a packet of sweets for doing it. [laughter] But it saved getting anybody else and the other assistants doing it. I didn’t used to mind. I used to think that was fine, sitting in the shop you know when you were about twelve you would wouldn’t you. Oh I had a big head. [Laughter].
Q: So do you think the dividend was an attraction?
Mrs R: Oh yes, because they’d got their own bank up in London as well.
Q: Were the prices very different between there and other shops ?
Mrs R: I don’t there was much in it ?
Q: You now people go round comparing ?
Mrs R: Well, I don’t know I suppose. We were saying, I don’t know who it was, laughing the other day about it, my mother used to send us, next door to the electric light shop, there used to be a grocers shop called Mr Pearce’s shop. He used to sell all nice delicatessen sort of things and that and we used to have to go up there for Spanish onions, because my mother, when it was very cold, we used to have boiled onions with oatmeal you know for supper. Beautiful, used to be lovely. Go to bed on that you know. [???] And then, where, on the corner near Farthings, not Farthings but on the corner there where the [???] that used to be a chemist, Bellamy’s the chemist and you walked up three steps to get there.[64 Newland Street] That was where we had to go for the chemist. Because you see when anybody was ill you’d go down to the doctors and they’d got their own dispensary you see and you’d pay half-a-crown for your bottle of medicine.
Q: They’d get it straight from the doctors ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, yes. (Q: Bellamy’s would just do sort of …) Well, when mother wanted say, Steedman’s Powders for the children for their teething and all the rest of it. Then in the wintertime of course we had a kitchen, [???] living room and she used to make this thick liquorice, well I don’t know if they sell it now, she used to do that with honey and lemons and that was good for your chest.
Q: Did she work at all ?
Mrs R: Not my mother no, my mother didn’t. She’d enough to contend with us lot didn’t she ? (Q: How many were there of you?) Well I had, my mother was my father’s second wife and his first wife died. And so there was two boys and a step-sister, and then there was my sister Elsie and then came me, then we had another little boy who died, and then my brother Claude, and I had twin brothers and my sister Dora. Yes, we had a big family.
Q: So there was quite a wide age difference ?
Mrs R: Well, we (Q: Were you ever all at home at once?) Yes, we were. Amazing. And of course we had no bathrooms you know. We had the copper in the corner of scullery. It makes me laugh when people talk about their dining rooms and their lounges, well they only had kitchens and sculleries in them days and it makes me curl up really it does when I hear them talking about it. Because we thought we were somebody because our father was in business. Well, just a little bit different to country farm workers. We felt we were a little bit, up, you know. [laughs] Stupid wasn’t it.
Q: Oh no, I think everybody made those distinctions didn’t they ?
Mrs R: Well you had to, within reason, you see that sort of thing but …
Q: Would there be differences between the shopkeepers like, was there a Mr Spurge ?
Mrs R: Yes there was a Mr Spurge but I don’t think they lived in Witham, or they may have done but they moved away I think. Yes, he was a tall gentleman with a beard you know, oh yes, I can picture him and a Miss Spurge too. Then of course there was the wine store, the wine merchant, the Drakes you’ve heard talk of Mr Drake ? You know where is Farthings, then there’s the what you call it, the travel agency now then there’s like a little, that was a private house and wine stores that was owned by the Drake family [66 Newland Street] and Miss Drake used to be our organist at our church, you know, Congregational Church and she got a salary (Q: For the organ, you mean?) but now they have to do it for love. They had a big choir.
Q: Were you in the choir yourself?
Mrs R: Yes, when I was young.
Q: So what sort of people would be your friends when you were a girl ?
Mrs R: Oh, of course, shop people weren’t they [laughs]. One friend, her father, what they call Coker and Rice that’s where Lesters the estate agents are ? They had a furniture store there and then Norths down the Maldon Road Stella North she married the butcher, can’t remember what his name was now, and there was about four or five of us girls. We thought we were ‘it’ you know. [Laughter]
[knock on door, machine off]
Q: Where were we. Oh yes, you and your friends thought they were the cream of Witham. (Mrs R: Yes, several of us, you know). Miss Laurence wasn’t part ?
Mrs R: Oh no, they were the gentry of Witham you see. They expected you to say ‘Yes Miss’ or ‘No Miss’. You know. (Q: You would say that?) Well, we were supposed to if they spoke to you. But we got by.
Q: You went away anyway and then you came back ?
Mrs R: I was away from 1916 until about 1922.
Q: Your parents were still alive ? How long did they ?
Mrs R: Can’t remember. Oh mother died, my sister died in 1935, mother in 1937 and my father he died the same year as King George, 1952. 82 he was. Mother was only 69.
Q: You lived at home when you came back did you ?
Mrs R: For a time until I married. And I had my step-sister lived there you see, with my father
Q: When you came back what did you do ?
Mrs R: I went into the cake shop where the china shop is now and with people name of West. Then they sold out to Mr & Mrs Kuhn and they carried on with a restaurant up the top and cake shop down below and then there was the fruit shop where the Sue Ryder’s is now and I went over there [51 Newland Street]. They asked me if I would and I managed that for about seven years, the fruit shop. They had a shop in Clacton and Mr Price used to come up every Tuesday to check up and I had to make out a bill of what I’d sold and how much money I’d taken and what I’d put in the bank and all the rest of it. [???] All paid into the Midland Bank. But my father helped me and also my young man used to help me sort it out.
Q: How many did you have working there ?
Mrs R: Oh I only had a shop boy. I had a shop boy with me. We were busy at times, with fruit and vegetables.
Q: There wasn’t a market ?
Mrs R: Oh no (Q: So they’d have to come to you ?) I can’t remember if there was another one. I don’t think Mr Taber was there at that time.
Q: Where did you use to get all the stuff from ?
Mrs R: Mr Price used to bring it from Clacton and all local people, from Mr Wheaton, you know up at Freebournes [3 Newland Street] and I used to get my cabbages and stuff and from Alec Buchanan from Benton Hall, that’s right. They all used to come in, and Shelleys down Maldon Road. They used to do quite a lot of wholesale stuff. Buy locally if we could you see.
Visitor: I can remember that as Shelleys.
Mrs R: Well they took over after Mr Price gave up. (Visitor: During the War?) Mr Price sold after I left. He sold out and Shelleys took it over. (Visitor: ‘Cause I can remember it during the War, Shelleys.) They took over from Prices.
Q: Was Mr Price local ?
Mrs R No, he er Mrs Price’s father was mayor of Colchester at one time. His name was Berr and they were big fish people.
Q: Did they have fish shops or ?
Mrs R: Down at Colchester. They were very big people down at Colchester.
Q: Did he have other vegetable shops or just.
Mrs R: They had a shop at Clacton in Rosemary[?] Road, and then he used to come down.
Q: What was it before it was Prices ?
Mrs R: Well it was a little tiny, what you might say, general sort of shop run by a man named Mr Hasler and he had a very sick wife well, she was arthritic. I worked in there for a little while, not for long (Q: That was general?) yes, yes. And then they came after me to go up to work at Wickham Bishops with the Harcourt-Goulds and I worked up there.
Q: You were in demand weren’t you ?
Mrs R: Well I’d been with the Gould family you see. Charles Gould’s family for seven years you see and they wanted a housemaid up there. I wasn’t up there long.
Q: And when you were manageress of the shop you had to do all the ordering and accounts ?
Mrs R: Oh yes,
Q: Did people use to have accounts ?
Mrs R: Yes we did. We had some bad payers and some good ones.[???] I must tell you, one old lady she used to come in and ‘Please would you write a letter for me?’ I said ‘Well wait till I haven’t got a customer in’ you see, and I used to write her letters, ‘Dear so and so, we are all well hope you are well’, and that was about the lot you know. She was very grateful, you know, very grateful. She was an old peapicker. They used to go down to Freebournes and the farm and do all the work on the farm I suppose didn’t they ? I don’t know what happened to her poor old soul. And they said ‘Oh, fancy serving peapickers’. I said well the money was good but my hands used to get filthy. Still it was good money. Some of the people in Witham they ordered things but you had an awful job to get your money. One person, who thought they were the tops, I never did get the money from her. I tried and I tried, but she didn’t want to know.
Q: So it wasn’t people who were badly off, you mean.
Mrs R: Oh no they were the people what used to pay. Well I mean I think things were cheap really. You’d get about 24 oranges for a shilling or something like that, you know small ones.
Q: If someone ran up a bad debt what did you have to do about it ? It was a bit of a worry I should think ?
Mrs R: Well it was. I didn’t have many bad debts but there was only just this one person who was a bit of a trial. You had to stand to lose perhaps but on the whole people were quite good.
Q: So at that shop you had all types of people ?
Mrs R: Oh yes. We had Dr Ted and Dr Karl Gimson you know and there was a person she lived up Collingwood Road and she was Nurse Wood and she used to take people’s, like Lord somebody or Lady something’s babies. One morning she came into me. I was busy and she said ‘Will you hold this baby for me ? Be very careful, I just want to pop into the bank, be very careful because he’s an earl’.[laughter] I thought well, my goodness, so there I had to stand with him in beautiful robes while she went into the bank. [Q: Well she couldn’t leave him outside on the pavement.) No. She used to carry him, no pram, just this lovely cape over and she had her blue uniform.
Q: So with writing letters and babies, you didn’t have much time ?
Mrs R: I saw life a bit. Yes I had some. It was a funny thing when I went to the hairdresser the time before last, I said to one of the girls working there, ‘I knew your great-grandmother’ She said ‘Did you?’ I said ‘Yes, she gave me a wedding present. She gave me a blue sugar bowl, you know like chromium with the blue glass. Would you like it ?’ She said ‘Oh, would you part with it ?’ I said ‘Would you like it?’ and she said she would so I took it to her. I don’t know what she said to me. I said to her, ‘Be careful with it because it is just on fifty years old’ and her great-grandmother we used to call Millie Stoneham. She was a funny little lady. She took it to my mother you know and she comes into the shop one day ‘Did you get that present what I bought for you?’ She wondered whether mother gave it to me. Oh I had lots of presents from my customers when I married. (Q: What sort of things?) Tablecloths and teacloths and afternoon teacloths and goodness knows what. (Q: That was when you married?) Yes. I’m using, matter of fact, some of the fruit dishes what I had. I’m afraid some of them have gone, the big bowl but I use some of them every day what come from one of my customers.
Q: My memory isn’t like yours you see. I wouldn’t be able to go home and remember all these things.
Visitor: I think the older ones have got better memories than we have, I do.
Q: [???] You know all about the Co-op and everything.
Mrs R: Of course we were there when the big fire was [Q: Oh were you?] Mm, in 1910 at the Constitutional.Club. It was just across the road, about half past six in the morning. (Q: Did you all go and watch?) I should think we did. There was great excitement. Because our church was tucked behind there you see wasn’t it. Well there was, you know where Byford’s is now, that used to be Dibben’s hairdressers [90 Newland Street] and there was a little gate just at the side there and we used to have to go up the steps. You see nonconformists, they weren’t really recognised were they ? Not like the Church of England, but we had some wealthy people come to that church. Our church used to be full. Come in their top hats and tail coats, and their carriages, yes we did.
Q: [???] What sort of people would these ones be then, can you remember any of the names ?
Mrs R: Yes, there was you know Smiths, Joseph Smith the builder, and Mr Dixon, Mr & Mrs Dixon they were big Congregational people. (Q: Where were they from?) You know the top of Moat Farm. There’s a big house there, I think it is now people by the name of Wood, is that the same one. That’s where, you knew Norman Dixon down Collingwood Road, well his father and mother used to be there. (Q: And they were all Congregationalists?) Yes they were.
Q: What about the other shopkeepers you said your father mixed with like Mr Mondy and so on ? Were any of them Congregationalists ?
Mrs R: Who used to come to church from there ? Well, Mr Coker and Mr Rice and they were big people in our church. I can’t think of any more at the moment.
Q: Your father used to do a lot in the church or was he too busy with his other?
Mrs R: Well he was in the choir. The Baldwin family were all in the choir.
[Background chat not noted]
Q: Somebody told me their family were Baptists, was it you ?
Mrs R: Well my people were Baptists before we came to Witham but you see well there was only like that Baptist Church in Maldon Road but that wasn’t the sort I don’t think my people ever went there. I think they called that the Strict Baptist that was and that’s why we went to the Congregational Church.
Q: It always looks very shut up there, doesn’t it.
Mrs R: No, its opened now isn’t it. They sell all things (Visitor: Oh yes, they do continental quilts) that’s right.
Visitor: What’s the other church down below ?
Mrs R: There used to be the Peculiars ? (Visitor: That stands back. On the other side.) (Q: down Maldon Road?) Yes that was the Peculiar. Well they’re the Evangelicals now aren’t they ? Yes the Masons took that over.
Q: Did there used to be Masons, I wonder how long the masons have been going. (Mrs R: I can’t remember) Your father wasn’t a mason was he ?
Mrs R: No he didn’t belong to that. You had to be wealthy to belong to one of these. (Visitor: People with money generally belonged to that.) I suppose he couldn’t afford it. Not with a big family could he? (Q: No, quite. I suppose he’d get quite good pay as a manager but not what you’d get if you had your own shop. I suppose it was a bit more of a risk having your own shop though, wasn’t it) I should think so. Well you had your wages didn’t you. But father never had a pension not when he, no he didn’t. How he saved his money I don’t know. With the family. ‘Cause he had my stepsister you see, to keep and look after. (Q: Was he working for the Co-op before he came?) Yes. He worked in Grays and then his first managership was at Tilbury and then from Tilbury he came here. (Q: He was always in the Co-op?) Yes, I should imagine, I’ve never heard his talk about anything else.
Q: How did you pick up when you did the accounts, how did you pick up what to do for the shop ?
Mrs R: Oh well, I had help from my dad and my husband, well he wasn’t my husband then but …
Q: It’s quite complicated business ?
Mrs R: Returns and pay-outs and all the rest of that.
Q: You used to pay out for all the stuff that you got, you dealt with that side of it as well, and do the books ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, ledgers. He [Mr Price] would come and check it over and he never used to grumble so I suppose it was all right. In the wintertime I used to do more than he did at Clacton you see. Because I mean that was absolutely dead down at Clacton in the winter. (Q: But he didn’t do more than just come and look?) Never used to say. When I had a holiday Mrs Price used to come and take over for a week. Only got a week’s holiday.
Q: You did get a holiday ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, a week’s holiday about September after the season finished at Clacton you see. I used to have to wait till that was finished and she could come down. She used to say it was a holiday down here. [Laughter]. Very nice people they were.
Q: What was the busiest time of year in Witham, any special time ?
Mrs R: Well, all through the summer and of course, Christmas time. Used to have wonderful Christmas. I remember my dad used to come up to the shop and straighten everywhere up and my husband …
Visitor: Did they have Christmas trees and that then ?
Mrs R: Yes, and used to sell all the celery which was filthy dirty, and the shop boy used to have to go down and wash it under the tap. June’s Uncle Ted, he was my shop boy, wasn’t he? And John Allbone, he’s still alive, he was my shop boy, he’s still about, well I haven’t seen him lately.
Q: Did they behave themselves ?
Mrs R: Well, more or less [laughter]
Q: You call them boys. Were they young ?
Mrs R: Yes, just left school, about fourteen. And they’d have only a bike to go on to deliver the goods. We did have a phone.
Q: And did people use to phone up and he’d have to go off ?
Mrs R: Yes, yes. One woman she was a pest. She lived round the back of the Avenue, she was mean as anything, she used to only want about a pound of onions and half a pound of carrots and could they be sent. Oh yes that sort of thing.
Q: You still did it though. Did people use to send the children shopping much ?
Mrs R: Some of them.
Q: And when it was Saturday night, late shopping, what time was that ?
Mrs R: About eight-o’clock at night. (Q: Did the family all come then?) No, they would all dribble in, sort of thing.
Q: Usually it was the mother that did the shopping ?
Mrs R: Yes, mostly, or they’d send the children. As I was saying, they used to have their own allotments, didn’t they, and gardens and they’d grow all their own vegetables and that sort of thing. Funnily enough it is only just about a week ago there used to be two little men, I used to think they were like the dwarfs, they used to live in Witham and they had a garden field or an allotment up Hatfield Road and I used to take their surplus and only about a fortnight ago I heard that the sister died. (Visitor: Mm.) Yes, you told me didn’t you. These two little men they used to have like a box on wheels, a barrow and bring their marrows and cabbages and things like that. (Visitor: They’ve built on them allotments now haven’t they). Yes all those houses up Hatfield Road.
Q: Good land I should think it was.
Mrs R: I should think so
Q: Of course with vegetables it’s more complicated than some things, you’ve got to have them fresh ? You can’t overbuy ?
Mrs R: Not really, not really.
Q: I suppose people with big families, they would need quite a lot ?
Mrs R: Well no, really they’d got their own garden hadn’t they. They’d grow their own potatoes and things but we used to sell lots of new potatoes when they came in.
Q: So the other shop you were in, was cakes, was it?
Mrs R: Yes, the opposite side of the road.
Q: Were you the manageress there ?
Mrs R: No, no just a shop assistant there.
Q: And there was a manager ?
Mrs R: Mr & Mrs Kuhn they were. Or there were Wests, they were nice people and they had a restaurant over the top and I used to have to serve up there and do lunches, bank clerks and that sort of thing. We done pretty well. And then serve down in the shop afterwards.
Q: Did you bake your own stuff there?
Mrs R: Yes make all lovely things, lovely cakes and things.
Q: Somebody else did the baking ?
Mrs R: Mr Kuhn used to do wonderful cakes. You don’t remember him ? (Visitor: No, no.) He had a little perisher of a son. If he saw us pinching a sweet he used to go and tell his mother [laughter]. Oh he was a perisher. We didn’t like him. But Mr Kuhn used to make lovely almond whirls, chocolate almond whirls and they used to be set out on a paper like that. It was a great temptation to have one of them wasn’t it? (Visitor: Yes.) ‘I’ll tell my mother’. We used to say, ‘You do’.
Q: They wouldn’t mind, would they ?
Mrs R: Well I don’t know, but she never said nothing about it. [laughter]
Q: That’s a strange name, isn’t it?
Mrs R: He was Swiss. She came from Tiptree and I don’t know how she met him but she was a shocker (Q: In what way?) You know, she wouldn’t give you a half pence over what was due. No, she lost a lot of trade up in the restaurant really because I said ‘Oh is that all you’re going to give ‘em?’ and she said ‘Well you can’t live on sentiment Miss Baldwin’ she used to say to me. And I would say ‘Well that ‘s not very much for one and ninepence.”[laughter] Like a plate of ham. And she really did lose quite a bit of trade really.
Q: Were there many café’s in Witham ?
Mrs R: No, there weren’t. The hotels, but like bank clerks didn’t get much wages did they ? (Q: [???]) Yes we used to have several nice fellows come, you know amongst the bank clerks.
Q: And was she mean with the wages as well ?
Mrs R: Oh, I don’t suppose I got very much money, I can’t remember. But when I married I only got thirty shillings a week, from the fruit shop. But I had tuppence in the pound bonus, see. Well that used to work out at a couple of bob or more. Oh I don’t know how we used to manage. The money I took, say I took twenty pounds well I had twenty tuppences see. Tuppence in the pound. Of course you didn’t get an awful lot in those days. I mean if you took 24 or 26 pound a week you were lucky (Q: What, in the shop?) Mmm. Of course Christmas time we used to do more. We were ever so busy at Christmas. I was glad of my dad’s help and my boyfriend’s.
Q: It makes you wonder how people made a living out of a shop really.
Mrs R: You see, you’d got you phone and you got your lights and all that, hadn’t you. (Visitor: And your rent.) And your rent. Of course the property belonged to opposite, well it was Mr Manning at that time. Lewis’s. You’ve heard of Lewis’s the decorators (Q: Oh yes and builders.). And builders, yes. He was the manager there and he owned that property. I think that was him we used to have to pay the rent to. I don’t think it was very much.
Q: It wouldn’t leave a lot for Mr Price would it ?
Mrs R: It used to help them out when there was not much trade down at the seaside in the wintertime.
Q: And the cake shop, for instance, if you were only selling meals for one and ninepence, you couldn’t make a great deal?
Mrs R: Not an awful lot, could you? (Q: But you had didn’t deal with the … ?) No I had nothing to do with that.
Q: What sort of people would come and get these fancy cakes there ? Were they really quite special ?
Mrs R: No, well they used to sell all Chelsea buns and scones and all that sort of thing. Well you see they were only about a penny each weren’t they? (Q: Did they deliver as well?) No they didn’t. He used to make Allison’s bread and, the wholemeal people and that was beautiful. We had special customers for that. People come down from Wickham Bishops. I’ll always remember, can’t remember who they were and of course there was some wealthy people lived up there. (Q: What they’d come down for it specially?) Yes, come down. ‘Cause the cars were running in those days. They’d started.
Q: Did the Co-op used to deliver their stuff ?
Mrs R: Yes, yes. Because they had the bread vans. They’d two or three bread vans. (Visitor: They used to have their own bakery at the side.) I was telling Mrs Gyford, yes at the back there. (Visitor: Even when I worked there they had their own bakery.) Oh yes they did for a long time didn’t they. (Visitor: And Alec with his horse and cart). Well Uncle John he used to be in the bakery. (Visitor: I can’t remember him.) You don’t remember your Uncle John ? (Visitor: not being there.)
Q: Of course there was the coal as well wasn’t there ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, the coal lorries.
Q: Somebody was telling me they did their shopping by Moores ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, from Kelvedon to Chelmsford. The bus people, Mr Moore, he was nice man. Then we used to Have Mr Marvin from Wickham Bishops. He was a carrier. He used to come down with his lorry, bring things down from Totham and around there. (And would he take things back?) All the different shops and then take things back if the things were ordered you see.
Q: [???] If you wanted things taken from one place to another it was easier than it is now?
Mrs R: Oh yes, I think Mr Moore used to charge about threepence for a parcel or sixpence or someting like that. I think there were two brothers in that. They come from Kelvedon. (Visitor: I think people were more helpful than they are today) Oh much more, much more.
Q: Did you ever buy things in Chelmsford or Colchester or anything ?
Mrs R: No, I didn’t. (Q: I suppose there was more in Witham.) Well I think we used to have stuff come from Covent Garden, yes we used to have stuff from Covent Garden. You know flowers when things like the narcissus and things come in the Spring. (Visitor: would they come down by train ?) Yes. You know Mrs – she lived opposite you, Mrs Hammond. [13 Chalks Road] Her father was on the Great Eastern Railways then (Q: oh yes that’s right.) and he used to deliver our big flower boxes like that and we used to have mimosa and all that lovely stuff come down.
Q: I suppose the train was the quickest wasn’t it?
Mrs R: Yes. The cheapest. There were no great big lorries and things to deliver on the roads then. There was no lorries at all were there ? (Visitor: No, no).
Q: So to get anything from London that was the only way ?
Mrs R: Come down by train, yes. (Q: And then they’d get them at the station?) They’d bring them down and we had to sign for ‘em you see and they’d take the empties back. Collect so many boxes and then ask them to pick them up. (Q: ???) They’d come from the firm at Covent Garden or something I suppose. I didn’t have anything of the jurisdiction of that.
Q: It really was quite a responsible job. Did you work after you were married ?
Mrs R: Yes, I went down to Clacton and, ‘course I had a little daughter and I lost her. She died at three weeks and I gave up my home and went to Jaywick for the summer. ‘Cause Mr & Mrs Price they had a shop in Jaywick and I was down there about a couple or three months in the summer and I done that for two summers, managed down there, with the help of a girl to help me. Well, funnily enough her brother is my brother-in-law now – a funny thing isn’t it ? Yes he wasn’t married to Auntie Mary then was he? [Laughter].
Q: People didn’t seem to work as much when they were married ?
Mrs R: Oh no, oh no. You were looked down on nearly weren’t you if you worked when you were married. (Visitor: You weren’t allowed to in some places.) No, no they wouldn’t take you. (Visitor: like in the factories, were they?) No no. Crittall’s or anybody. (Visitor: Once you married that was it, you were out.) Yes, well you should have done.
Q: If you’d wanted work in Witham?
Mrs R: Oh I may have done, I never thought. (Q: You didn’t think of it?) Because my father was retired then you see. No, ‘cos I lived at Heybridge after I married. (Q: When did you marry?) 1933. It would have been my wedding day next Wednesday. April 8th .
Mrs R: The church was packed, when I married. Well known we were.
Q: Your husband wasn’t from Witham ?
Mrs R: No, he came from Haverhill, mmm to Witham.
Q: He was always in …
Mrs R: They came to Witham in 1915 didn’t they. When your Gran come to Witham ? And then when he left school he was apprenticed to Mr Dowsett the boot shop where Hilton’s is. And you remember Mr Rudkin, Mr Albert Rudkin (Q: I think so.) Well they were both apprenticed at Mr Dowsett the boots, for repairs and that. He wasn’t very tall. He used to have to pull a drawer out to stand on to serve the customers in the shop [laughter]. Not very tall. Well, you knew him didn’t you. (Q: Did they used to make …) They used to repair shoes, I don’t think they made them there. But he was taught to make them because he went up to Bridge Home and then taught up there for some time. Till he had his own shop.
Q: I suppose when he was apprenticed you had to go for nothing to learn?
Mrs R: I suppose, I don’t know. Never heard [???] say did you (Visitor: No, no.) No. I don’t suppose he got much, if he got anything.
Q: Was he working there when you first … ?
Mrs R: Yes, when I first saw him. Because he got me the job in the cake shop you see. Because that was almost next door but one, wasn’t it.
Q: When you say he got you a job do you mean …?
Mrs R: He said there was a job going there. ‘Cause I’d been out in the nursery all those years until I come back in 1922 I suppose it was (Q: So when you did come back ?) I was dodging about really.
Q: Did you consider any other sort of work at all ?
Mrs R: No, not when I come back to Witham. No I never went anywhere else, only shop work.
Q: So if you hadn’t done shop work then what sort of thing would you ?
Mrs R: Don’t know what I could have done do you? (Q: Was there much else to do?) No, no. Because my folk wouldn’t have let me go to the glove factory I know that. (Q: Wouldn’t they?) No. (Q: Why not?) I don’t know. They used to look more or less down on them who worked in the glove factory. (Visitor: they used to, I don’t know why.). I don’t know whether Crittall’s was going in those days, was it, for women? Yes, I suppose it was ‘cause Dora worked there didn’t she? (Visitor: Mum worked, that was up Maltings Lane wasn’t it?) That’s right (Visitor: Where they used to work. Crittall’s had a factory up Maltings Lane somewhere.) That’s right. That was after they’d made munitions up there didn’t they, during the War. (Q: Oh yes.) Then, of course, Crittall’s took over there didn’t they ? (Visitor: well I think it was Crittall’s when Mum worked there.) Yes, it was, I feel sure. (Q: This was in Maltings Lane?). (Visitor: I know it was up there somewhere, I don’t know exactly.). Well its like a mill there now. (Visitor: It’s Richard and Preece there now.) Yes that’s right (Visitor: And is that the same place?) Yes. Reconditioned and all rebuilt and all built on. I never did go up there. I didn’t do any War work at all.
Q: No, but you went to Stansted ?
Mrs R: I went to Stansted in 1916. Because my mother put me out to service you see because she said I couldn’t sit still long enough to do needlework so I went out. It didn’t do me any harm. Then through the GFS – the Girls Friendly Society – the Miss Luards used to do that. I think she must have contacted this Mrs Charles Gould and I went there and went in the nursery and they had a nurse there you see and a nursery maid and that and then when the children got a bit older the had a governess and still I looked after the children and that.
Q: And then you came back, what made you come back ?
Mrs R: Well I got fed up and said I wanted to come home. I was away a long time. Well, the children went to boarding school you see.
Q: Miss Luard was quite helpful that way?
Mrs R: Yes, well she used to do lots of things for the people, didn’t they, of Witham. Especially Miss Edith Luard.
Q: Were you actually in the Friendly Society ?
Mrs R: No, my stepsister she belonged to it. She was very good. Well Miss Luard was very good to different people you know.
Q: What sort of things did you do with the Girls Friendly ?
Mrs R: I don’t know what they did. That was quite a big concern, wasn’t it, at one time ? (Q: Mmm.) Yes, quite a big concern. They were something like the Mothers’ Union. You know (Visitor: To do with the church.) Yes, to do with the church. There were three Miss Luards I think and they were like Lady Bountifuls. You’ve heard of Lady Bountifuls haven’t you ?
Q: Were they more to do with the Church of England ?
Mrs R: Yes, oh yes.
Q: So that was probably why you weren’t in it, do you think?
Mrs R: Well, I belonged to the Congregational didn’t I ? Well we used to have quite a lot of things, like the Christian Endeavour and the Band of Hope and all those various things, you see, to belong to.(Q: You were busy.) Well it was, because we had a very big Sunday School and all that you see. You’d get about a hundred children in Sunday School in the afternoon and that. Yes it was a very big concern. (Visitor: More people went to church in those days.) Oh they did. (Visitor: There wasn’t really anything else was there?) No, no. Oh for our outings – you might be interested in that. For our outings, you know a tumbril, what they have on the farms, like a big, where they put all the hay on. (Q: A sort of cart?) With the horses and that. Well, at Boreham, there used to be a farmer and he loaned his carts for our Sunday School and where Westminster Bank is [95 Newland Street] there used to be about three of these big carts and they used to scrub them out and they used to put planks on and we used to go up to Baddow Rodney for our Sunday School outings. Oh it used to be lovely. And they used to give us sixpence to spend. [Laughter] Lovely. (Q: Need good weather.). Oh lovely. You didn’t realise that when you were children. Always seemed to be lucky with a fine day. Oh we had some fun. Used to be beautiful up there. Up Danbury way that is – you know where I mean don’t you (Q: I think so.). (Visitor: Is that where what the Danbury Common is ?) Could be – We used to call it Baddow Rodney up there. But somebody used to put stalls up and there used to be swings you see and they used to play cricket and rounders and all that sort of thing. But children wouldn’t do that now would they ?
Q: That reminds me of something else. Do you remember Co-op treat ? What about that ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, that was a big …My dad used to organise that. Yes and my mother, and Mrs Goody, one of the head baker’s wife and oh a dozen of these ladies used to be cutting up all the sandwiches, bread and butter and cakes and things on the Saturday morning and we used to have, em a big steam roller and that used to boil all the water for the cups of tea and they used to have all, at the back of where Holt’s house is now [Kings Chase], you know you go up to Doctor Denholm’s [Gimsons]. (Q: Yes.) Well that belonged to a man called Mr Beadel and he used to loan that to the Co-op for their Co-op outings and they used to have a procession through the town you know. I lost all my pictures. It is such a shame. My husband loaned them to somebody and we never got them back. And we used to go up to the Grove and we used to have Witham Town Band in the front, and there used to be a Mr Simpson who used to lead it and he was dressed in a red, white and blue coat you know and a tall hat. And all the banners and the flags. They were wonderful. And they used to have races and, of course, Dad used to get all the prizes and that. And they had a stall, you know, and you could go and buy sweets and that sort of thing. I can picture that traction engine and all the cups of tea. Oh, some of the old Witham people will tell you all about that.
Q: Was this for the Co-op members ?
Mrs R: Yes that was really ? Of course, I used to think I was big because my father organised it. So we used to think we were it. [Laughter].My sister, Elsie. Mrs Baxter, I don’t know if you know her, probably you don’t. (Q: Is she younger?) Older than me, two years older than me.
Q: What time of year ..?
Mrs R: July, or August, so it was beautiful. (Q: So you had a nice sunny day. There was more snow in winter and more sun in summer.) Used to have a special summer, a new frock for that. (Visitor: The weather used to be more seasonable then.) Yes it did, you could rely on it. Oh blue skies, and the sun used to shine and I don’t think we ever had a wet day [laughter]. I can’t ever remember. And the old Town Band used to play there all the time. And the races. This Mr Simpson used to organise all these races, with the help of the committee men. I don’t know, there used to be half a dozen men, committee members you see, in the Co-op.
Q: The Committee, did they meet quite a lot ?
Mrs R: Yes, I think they used to meet once a week. (Q: Mmm – your father, [???] tell them …?). I don’t know, I suppose he did, I don’t remember.
Q: It seems to have been much more active, the Co-op Committee ?
Mrs R: Oh yes.
Q: Did they run anything other than the shop ?
Mrs R: No, they’d just got the Penny Bank or something and you all had your pass books because you was a member and that, for a long time, didn’t they. I can’t remember anything else that they did, do you. (Visitor: You wouldn’t know, would you.).
Q: It was quite a big business, running the shop ?
Mrs R: Quite a big affair.
Q: Do you remember any people that were on the committee ?
Mrs R: Well there was a Mr Chignal and a Mr Cottee and oh, I can’t remember who they were.
Q: But that was just a spare time, they wouldn’t be shopkeepers ?
Mrs R: No, no no, they all had their own jobs to do. Some worked in the tan yard, you know we used to have a tan yard down Mill Lane and quite a few worked in there. (Visitor: There used to be a slaughter house down by the school, down Guithavon Street, didn’t there, where the Church school used to be?) Somewhere near there. (Visitor: they pulled all that down.) Oh, its all gone for a burton now.
Q: [???] I remember somebody telling me they used to peek through the school fence at the pigs being … ?
Mrs R: Oh yes, well the boys would, because the boys they were separate to the girls you see, the boys school. That’s where the car park is now isn’t it. (Visitor: yes, that’s right).
Q: You went there …?
Mrs R: I went there till I was twelve. Then my sister left you see and I had yellow jaundice and I was away from school from May till the August and my sister left you see and my brother Claude was coming along and then the twins so we lived in the Chase you see and we cut through the Rec to the Maldon Road school. (Visitor: Went to the Board School.) Mm, Board School.
Q: So you tried both of them ?
Mrs R: Yes.
Q: I suppose more people lived in the town centre then. I mean if you go down there after the shops are shut it is quiet now. By the sound of what you said …
Mrs R: Yes, well they lived over the shops you see.
Q: So you wouldn’t have far to go to school ?
Mrs R: No, no. (Visitor: There wasn’t these new schools. I mean I went to the Church School – started at Chipping Hill, then I went to the Church School. You see there wasn’t no other.) No, only the Church School. You see we lived in Braintree Road and we had to walk all the way down there and they came from all around like Dancing Dicks and Blunts Hall and all over.
Q: So you were lucky.
Mrs R: But there wasn’t (Visitor: there was Chipping Hill, and the Church School and the Board School.) That’s all. (Visitor: and the Senior School, but that wasn’t there when you …) Oh no, Senior School wasn’t.(Visitor: Before the War wasn’t it ?) Just after the World War (Visitor: Just before the War then.)
Q: If anybody got on specially well at school ?
Mrs R: Well, they went on to Braintree High School (Visitor: They used to go out of the district.)
Q: You didn’t ever …?
Mrs R: Oh, I haven’t got the brains for that. Not to go to Braintree High School.