Tape 37. Mr Cecil Ager and Mrs Christina Ager
Mr Cecil Ager was born in about 1901 and his wife Mrs Christina Ager (nee King) in 1906. They were interviewed on 3 April 1981, when they lived at 4 Rex Mott Court, Witham.
There were five voices on the tape: Mrs Ager (Mrs A): Interviewer (Q): later, Mrs Meekings (Dolly, Mrs Ager’s sister) (Mrs M), and later still, a male voice, Mr Cecil Ager (Mr A), and Mrs Betty Vale (Mrs V) (the latter was Cecil’s sister’s daughter; the sister, her mother, had died the year before)
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Mrs A: …in the old International for years. And I worked there all the hours God made, really. About twenty-three shillings a week, when I started.
Q: How old were you when you started?
Mrs A: Fifteen or sixteen. And I used to work there from eight till six Mondays and Tuesdays, eight till one Wednesdays, eight till six Thursdays, eight till eight Fridays and eight till ten on the Saturday. (Q: My goodness). Because every week we had stocktaking to do. We all had our own things what we used to stock-take. I used to do sugar. And time I worked there I met my husband, and I was courting him. And he used to come and fetch me out of there ten o’clock on a Saturday night. He’d say ‘Here, you’ve had enough of this. This is long enough.’ And then after that, I left there and went down to work in the Co-op.
Q: How long were you at the International then?
Mrs A: I was there two or three years, I should think. And we used to make checks out and they used to go and pay at the cash desk.
Q: Was that at the International?
Mrs A: Yes, in the International. (Q: Oh I see.) And then I left there and I went down the Co-op for another two shillings a week. Twenty-five bob [laughs] a week. And, er,…. (Q: Goodness, that was a rise was it?) …. that was in the very old Co-op. that was.
Q: And where was that, then?
Mrs A: I was the only girl there, all the others were men, when I worked in there. And they had this one long counter where they used to do the bacon and all that one end and all the groceries and things the other end. And I worked in there till I married. Which was in 1928. And I got twenty-five shillings a week working in there.
Q: I suppose that wasn’t bad money in …
Mrs A: No, it was good money then you see, good money in those days because things were cheap, you see. Well, then I got married and I didn’t work at all. And then during the Second – World War Two, I hadn’t got any family so I was forced to go out to work again. So I went down there to try to see if I’d get a job down there, and of course they’d altered the Co-op then and they’d got a grocery counter one side and provision counter the other. Well, I worked on the provision counter. And everything we had to weigh up. Everything. Nothing came in weighed up. Because, you see, we were all on ration. So you got two ounces of butter, and two ounces of cheese and things like that. So we had to weigh everything exact. (Q: Oh, goodness.) In those days. And I worked – we used to have a tea break – I think I went home to tea on a Saturday and then went back. I think I worked till about half past seven on Saturday. And, er, but I liked working down there better than I did in the International. And then in World War Two I went back there, and I got a job and I worked in there – oh – years I worked in there till the men came back out of the War. And we were all girls in there then. Because we took the place of men, you see. And, er…. [pause]…. I told you I got twenty-five shillings a week, didn’t I? (Q: Yes) And then we had to do fire-watch down there. We had to sleep down there one night a week, two of us girls. And if the fire went – the alarm went we had to get up and we were walking the streets nearly all night and we had to go to work next morning at eight o’clock though, just the same. But, they don’t know anything now? (Q: No) Not really, they don’t, no. But I can’t tell a lot about the shops, you see, because I haven’t been up there.
Q: No, well if you can remember what they were like then which is …
Mrs A: Not for such a long time. I know there used to be Bellamy’s on the corner where that record shop is [64 Newland Street].
Q: You’ve got a visitor …
[Visitor arrives – Mrs Dorothy (Dolly) Meekings, Mrs Ager’s sister]
Mrs A: I was just telling Mrs Gyford I can’t tell her a lot about the shops because I haven’t been up there.
Q: Well, you can tell me about the ones you were in, can’t you. You seem to know a lot about those.
Mrs A: I only know where I worked at the International and in the Co-op you see. And some of the very old shops that used to be there when we first came to Witham. (Q: So what….?) when we were children.
Q: So when would it be that you started at the International?
Mrs A: When I was about fifteen, I should think.
Q: Yes, because- dare I ask how old you are?
Mrs A: Yes, and then I worked there several years and I left there and went down the Co-op as I told you. And that was a very old shop when I worked in there. And er – but when I went back in, after the war, World War Two, they’d got separate counters each side. You see. (Q: There was just the one before, was it?) Just the one. One long counter and they were all men bar me. And I was the only girl in there. In that time.
Q: That’s strange, isn’t it? Because they are all girls now, really, aren’t there?
Mrs A: Then you see the War broke out you see and – they had – all the men had to go to the War so they had girls in there and we were all girls in there then. With one manager on the counter. Mr Warner. So I got two bob more down there a week more’n what I got in …[laughs].
Q: Did you get more while you were there, at all?
Mrs A: Oh yes. Bombs and all that.
Mrs M: No, increase in wages.
Q: Did your wages go up while you were there?
Mrs A: Two bob more than I got at the end there. [laughs] Twenty-five bob there. And twenty-three bob at the end of it. I didn’t work so many hours in the Co-op as I did in the International.
Mr A: [first words indistinguishable] ..as well, you see. All blackout.
Mrs A: All blackout. No lights anywhere, you see. Everywhere was pitch black. (Q: Yes) And if the fire alarm went, we used to sleep down the Co-op one night a week, two girls. My friend and I. And if the fire alarm went, we used to have to go on duty. Put our helmets on and take our gas masks and everything with us and go on the streets. And perhaps we were up several hours. But we had to go to work just the same next morning. That was really compulsory, weren’t it? Fire watch. Yes.
Q: So, when you were – how many people worked at the International, when you were there?
Mrs A: Well, I’ll have to think now. There was about three men on the provision side. And about three or four girls on the grocery, I think. And then Evelyn Shelley was in the cash desk. You wrote a check out and they had to pay at the cash desk. But when I worked down the Co-op, they had them cups what you put the money in and you pulled it and it went up to the cash desk. And then it came back with the change in.
Q: Oh, on a wire?
Mrs A: That’s right, you wrote a check you see, and put it in this cup with the money and you pulled this thing and that went up to there and she put the change in and it came back to you.
Q: So you really didn’t have to do the money?
Mrs A: Not down there, no. No money at either places. Just write the checks out, you see, that’s all.
Q: And at the International, did you have to weigh the stuff?
Mrs A: Yes, weigh everything up. Just the same.
Q: Did you wait till the person came in, or did you have it all weighed up, lined up?
Mrs A: Well, if we had time we used to weigh it up in between. But otherwise we had to go and weigh it up time they waited. But down the Co-op we weighed up everything. You see, rationing, you had to give the exact amount, you see. You weren’t allowed to give anything over.
Q: Yes. Still, did you work at the Co-op before the War, a bit, as well?
Mrs A: No, no, no.
Q: You went there in the War?
Mrs A: I married from the Co-op, 1928. Well, the War was over then, weren’t it? (Q: Yes, I see) But I was there when the – finishing World War Two, I worked there then.
Q: You went back. I’m with you now.
Mrs A: Mmm [agrees] We worked there till the men came out the Army, and then we got the push then, you see.
Q: So where were you – in the First War, you were at the International?
Mrs A: I didn’t work anywhere in the First War. That’s before the war, I worked in the Inter …
Q: May I ask how old you are, then?
Mrs A: Seventy-four, I am, yes.
Q: So when you were at the International, it was …
Mrs A: There weren’t no War then, that was over, the 1918 War, weren’t it?
Q: You were only there a few years then, you said.
Mrs A: I was only there a few years, yes, and then I went down the Co-op. Then I married you see. And I didn’t work any more till the War broke out, World War Two, then I had to go to work.
Q: Because people didn’t work so much when they were married, then, did they?
Mrs A No, I did not work then, no. Didn’t go back to work then. No.
Q: But there was quite a lot of men working in the shops, then, from what you say (Mrs A: Yes, mmm.) I didn’t realise that. Did they get more money than you, did you think?
Mrs A: Oh, yes, I expect so. Some of them were married, you see.
Q: Yes. And at the International, was there – who was in charge of you at the International?
Mrs A: Er, a man by the name – Mr Turner the manager. Very nice he was.
Q: Was he a Witham person?
Ms A: Yes, he lived in Mill Lane, in Witham.
Q So he didn’t live at the shop at all? (Mrs A: No) Nobody lived at the shop?
Mrs A No, there wasn’t anything over the shop.
Q: And what did he – did he help with all the weighing?
Mrs A: Oh, he served in the shop and everything. Yes. (Q: He did, too? Yes) He served.
Q: So it was sort of groceries …?
Mrs A: He had two or three daughters, I think. He lived in Mill Lane. Up that yard, you know, opposite where you lived.
Q: Did his daughters – family help in the shop at all?
Mrs A: No, they were only children.
Q: Oh, I see, yes. Did you have – what sort of people used to shop at the International? Were they rich people or….?
Mrs A: Oh, well, anybody came in there. All sorts.
Q: Did you have some sort of big – big orders?
Mrs A: Yes, big orders. And we used to run a Christmas club. (Q: Oh, did you?) Yes. Because we had to work late when that used to come out. To get all the orders up, you see.
Q: Yes, of course, yes. So, people would save up – put down so much a week, would they?
Mrs A: That’s right, so much a week. They paid on the card.
Q: And then Christmas …
Mrs A: Christmas card, mmm. And that all went to the cash desk, you see. We didn’t handle any money. No – didn’t handle any money in the Co-op. When I first worked there, I did. Because we had our own tills. (Q: Yes. Oh, did you?) Yes, when I first went there. But when I went back, we had them things what you pull, and it went up to the cash desk. (Q: Yes, I remember those). Yes. We didn’t handle any money then.
Q: No, it was quite organised then.
Mrs A: I worked there several years during the War.
Mr A: Oh, they had a good time in those days, with the blackout and the bombs …
[Mrs A talks over]
Mrs A: We had to work hard, too, different to what they do now. Yes. Especially weighing everything up. Even the pepper we used to weigh up. (Q: Really?) Mmm, pepper and soda and sugar and everything, we used to weigh up.
Q: What did you put the pepper in? In a bag or something?
Mrs A: Bags, little bags. Make our own little paper bag, you know. Twist the bottom, tuck the top in. [laughs].
Q: You said you were in charge of the sugar?
Mrs A: At the International, I used to take stock of that every Saturday night, sugar. We all had something we had to take stock of. And we used – because you didn’t get finished till ten o’clock at night.
Q: Because – were you open late Saturdays, as well?
Mrs A: Eight o’clock.
Q: Eight o’clock. So you stayed after that?
Mrs A: Mmm. And then you had to do it after that, you see.
Q: So what, was some of it still in big – did you have to count the …
[Mrs A interrupts]
Mrs A: Some of it was in sacks you see. So that was in hundredweights. But you see you had to count all the loose stuff and that – and work that down into hundredweights, as well you see. (Q: Oh, I see. Calculate it up) Yes. Some done fruit and some done jams and marmalade. Some done biscuits, and see, everyone had their own job what they used to do every Sat’day night, you see.
Q: And then you’d sort of write it down and …
Mrs A: And the men on the other side used to weigh all the bacon and all that sort of stuff, you see.
Q: So you did sort of – grocery stuff (Mrs A: Grocery.) and the men did …
Mrs A: I done grocery in the Inter but I done provisions in the Co-op.
Q: So what – provisions is …?
Mrs A: Butter and margarine and cheese – we used to have them great big cheeses (Q: Oh I see) they used to bring in from the warehouse and put on the cheese-board and we used to cut them with a cheese-wire. And they’d cut two ounces for such as you and me in the ration. But the agricultural worker had three quarters of a pound. (Q: I see). So I used [laughs] to give them that with all the rind on it. And try to give people with two ounces with no rind on it.
Q: Oh, so they had more did they? I didn’t realise that.
Mrs A: Mmm, so they had more cheese, you see.
Q: It was a bit complicated wasn’t it?
Mrs A: I loved working in there, I enjoyed it. (Q: Did you?) Yes. Meet all different people, because we used to talk to people over the counter, when we served them over the counter, you see. In those days. (Q: Yes, of course, yes.)
Mr A: Old Rayner was a bit of a character in that shop, wasn’t he?
Mrs A: Up that end. On the bacon, he was. Yes, Francis Rayner.
Q: What did he do?
Mrs A: [Laughs] Every Monday [?], first day of points, there used to be – every month[?] was the first day of points. The points in the book – because you wouldn’t remember that.
Q: Yes, just about.
Mrs A: And of course we used to have all different tinned stuff in and all that. And they used to crowd in and that shop used to be packed. And of course, all women used to be standing there keep talking, and you couldn’t hear yourself talk, hardly. So he’d say to me ‘Don’t be frightened’. And he used to get a knife and bang it on something and it used to make a deuced of a noise and then you could hear a pin drop after! [Both laugh] They all used to shut up! Oh dear.
Q: And there was a manager there, as well, was there?
Mrs A: Yes, on the grocery side, George Warner, his name was. Shop manager, he was.
Q: I see. So that was different from the Co-op manager?
Mrs A: Because there was the general manager upstairs, Mr Whybrew. In the office.
Q: Yes, of course. Did they have the dividend?
Mrs A: Yes, had dividends then. (Q: As well as the rations.) Yes, had dividend then. (Q: How did you …?) They used to do that up in the office, We didn’t do that. See, we used to give them checks you see, and I suppose they were all added up in the office. And then you see, they used to pay them dividend out on how much they’d got. (Q: Oh, I see. So you didn’t have to …?) I didn’t have anything to do with that.
Q: Were the checks paper?
Mrs A: Yes, paper. You wrote them and they had carbon underneath you see. You each had your own check book, you see. And you each had a number. Everybody had a number. See. And they gave you your number and you wrote it on the check and what they’d spent. And that used to go up to that cash desk, you see.
Q: So what sort – would all sorts of people go to the Co-op as well?
Mrs A: Oh yes. Any sort. Yes, all sorts of people.
Q: Because there were quite a lot of grocery shops, weren’t there? I just wondered how people decide which one to go to?
Mrs A There wasn’t many – there was the Co-op and the International. And Lipton’s, weren’t there, Doll?
Mrs M: And Spurge’s.
Mrs A: And Spurge’s.
Mrs M: Oh yes. There used to be a lot of old shops in that High Street. When we came here.
Q: So would they all have different prices, like they do now? I mean …
Mrs A: No, not then. Did they? No. No. They were all stable then, more, in the prices.
Q: How did they work out what the prices would be, I wonder?
Mrs A: They paid about the same in each shop, you see, then. But now they do as they like, don’t they? [Laughs]. Charge what they like now.
Mr A: There were more horses in those days. When the War broke out, in 1939 [probably he meant 1914] we was full of soldiers. They come and billeted the soldiers on us. A line – used to have – hundreds of soldiers standing in the street. Perhaps they’d been walking about twenty or thirty miles. There was no transport. And, er, an officer would come and knock on the door. ‘How many rooms you got? Is there a man and/or woman live here?’ So and so and so and so.
Mrs A: [Interrupts] That was the First World War, you’re talking about.
Mr A: Second World War.
Mrs A: Oh, I don’t remember that, didn’t do it then, did they, Doll?
Mr A: And, er, you wouldn’t know nothing about it. Er, the officer would say ‘How many rooms you got? Fall out three men’ or four men or whatever it was, what size house it was. ‘In you go’. You’d got to take them, whether you – they used to bring all their lot in, rifles and all sorts of things. Yes, and they’d got to live there till they got shifted out to the Front.
Q: Where did you live then?
Mr A: In the Maldon Road. Twenty-one Maldon Road. [probably 1914 – in 1939 he was living in Mortimer Cottage]
Mrs A: I lived over there. [Mortimer Cottage, Guithavon Valley and Lockram Lane] In that house over there.
Mr A: And Chrissie lived over there.
Q: So you were married during the War, were you? (Mrs A: I married from there.) But that was during the War, was it?
Mrs A: Yes, during – no, no, after the war. After the First World War.
Q: So, when you married you moved down Maldon….?
[Mrs A & Mr A talking over each other but Mrs A dominant]
Mrs A: No – he lived down Maldon Road, when I courted him. (Mr A: Yes) (Q: I see)
Mr A: I used to have to fetch our Chris out of the International ten o’clock at night. She was still working!
Mrs A: Yes. No extra money then, you know.
Q: How long were you courting then, a long time?
Mrs A: About three or four years.
Mr A: Rough old times, they were.
Q: So where did you live after that? After you were married, where did you live?
Mrs A: Lived with my mother for a little while. (Q: Oh, you stayed there?) And then I went down Maldon Road and looked after his father and his brother. And then we got a house in Cressing Road and went and lived up there. And then I was ill up there so I had to come back down here with my mother again. And then my husband bought that house, over there.
Q: I see, you moved about a bit then?
Mrs A: Moved a bit, yes.
Q: And were you born in Witham?
Mrs A: No, born at Beccles in Suffolk.
Mr A: She lived in that house over sixty years, that one. Chrissie.
Q: So how old were you when you came there?
Mrs A: Nine.
Q: So you went to school a bit in Witham?
Mrs A: Went to school in Witham. Yes. Little Church school in Guithavon Street. Where the car park is.
Q: That’s right, I remember seeing that …
Mrs A: It’s altered a lot now, Witham has. I haven’t been up in this precinct at all, I haven’t. No. I can’t tell you much about the shops up there, not now.
Q: It’s interesting to hear what you used to do. You remember that very well. You’ve got a good memory.
Mrs A: Yes, I remember what I used to do. And I remember a lot of the shops that used to be up there, you see …
Q: Whereabouts did you and your mother go shopping? What shops did your mother use …?
Mrs A: My mother used to shop at the International when I worked there. And then when I went down the Co-op [laughs] she used to come and shop in there. Yes. (Q: Yes. Yes.)
Mrs M: Well, at that time they used to have a young boy come round and … [Mrs A interrupts]
Mrs A: Come round for the orders didn’t they?
Q: Oh really? (Mrs A: Yes.)
Mrs M: Come round the houses, yes. Yes, he used to come to mine (Q: What, and ask you what you wanted?) (Mrs A: Yes.) And then that was delivered.
Q: So you didn’t even have to go in to give your order or something?
Mrs A & Mrs M: [together]: No, no.
Mrs M: No, you only had to go in to pay for it. Unless you paid him when he brought it.
Mrs A: [interrupting] No, same with the milk. There was an old man by the name of Newman; he had a dairy in Bridge Street. And he used to come morning and afternoons with milk. And dip it out of a big can, how much you wanted. Half a pint, or a pint. Mmm. Twice a day he used to come round with milk.
Mr & Mrs A [together]: Newman, Johnny Newman.
Mrs M: He lived in Bridge Street. (Mrs A: Yes)
Q: So he had a sort of cart with it on, did he? Did he have a horse? Or push it?
Mrs A: Yes. Give him a jug and he put it in a jug, you see. Mmm.
[Brief interruption as visitor arrives, not noted; then continues later]
Q: There was quite a big family, were you?
Mrs A: No, four. Three girls and a boy. And he died eight years this August.
Q: Still, you’ve both stayed near by, anyway. And you say you came back to live at home to look after …
Mrs A: Yes, I had heart trouble up Cressing Road, didn’t I? So I had to come back there.
Q: Because your father and mother were still alive then?
Mrs A: Yes, still alive then. Mum and Dad. Yes. And Dad died, been dead about thirty years, Dad hasn’t he?
Mrs M: I’d say more than that.
Mrs A: More than that. Mother’s been dead, twenty, hasn’t she? Mmm.
Q: Has she? Yes. Did they live to a good age?
Mrs A: Eighty-six, (Q: Your father?) And Dad was seventy-seven. (Q: Oh I see. Oh well.) A good old age, really, wasn’t it? (Q: Yes.) And my brother was seventy-three.
Q: So really, you were here most of your life then, weren’t you, really? In Witham.
Mrs A: Yes we were here – we were here more than we were in Beccles. (Q: You don’t remember…?) No.
Q: No. Because your Dad was on the – was he on the- your Dad – was it the railway? I think some one told me … [Mrs A talking over]
Mrs A: Yes, on the Railway, me Dad. Electrician, he was.
Q: So he was there all the time, was he?
Mrs A: Mmm, yes.
Mrs M: Yes, right from a schoolboy, wasn’t he? Right after he left school.
Mrs A: Yes, he came up from Beccles to better himself here, you see.
Mrs M: He used to be at Ipswich, one time.
Mrs A: Mmm. They were born at Ipswich, Mum and Dad.
Mrs M: They married at Ipswich.
Mrs A: We’re all Suffolk people. (Q: Yes?) Mmm. Apart from my husband. Because he’s Essex. He was born at Rivenhall.
Mrs M: My husband was a Suffolk man. Bury St Edmunds.
Q: Funny, there’s quite a lot of Suffolk people, aren’t there? [To Mr A] What did you used to do for a living?
Mr A: For a living? I was – I used to be a butcher boy, years ago. (Q: Did you? And they were hectic old days because the 1914 War broke out then. (Q: Yes?) Yes. Yes. 1914 War broke out and we lived all through that with the old Zeppelins coming over. Night times and throwing all the – when they got hit they used to throw all the junk out – used to throw the chairs out and all sorts of things – the Zeppelins – to take the weight off, you see, so they could get up a bit. (Q: I see.) Oh, yes, terrible old time that was.
[When talking to Mr A, Q has to repeat things and Mrs A repeats or adds to answers, as it would appear Mr A is slightly deaf]
Q: So, you were living in Rivenhall, then, were you?
Mrs A: No.
Mr A: I was living in Witham, then. I come to live in Chipping Hill when I was about one year old. Or two years old. (Q: Oh, did you?) Yes. And I’ve been here ever since.
Q: That was a long time ago, then.
Mr A: Nineteen hundred and one, when I was born. (Q: Goodness). Yes. And then we went and lived down, in the Maldon Road, twenty one Maldon Road. Lived in me aunt’s house that was, in those days. Because she – they used to keep The Lion, Wager, and we went and lived down – I went down to Maldon Road when I was about three years old. We didn’t stop up Chipping Hill long, came down to Witham. And been there nineteen – we’ve been living in Witham all me life. Practically.
Q: What did your father used to do?
Mr A: He was a seed expert at Cooper Tabers. And he worked there for fifty-one years.
Q: Goodness, that is a long time, isn’t it?
Mr A: Yes he worked there all his life. Practically. Yes. And he died early, sixty-two. And he was a fine man, he was.
Mrs A: And you worked British Oxygen you worked, didn’t you?
Mr A: And he/I used to belong to the Witham Town Band in those days. We had a smashing band in those days. Oh, lovely uniforms. And Mr Naylor, what lived in the Collingwood Road, he was the master of the band. And we used to have all sorts of lovely turnouts and different lovely places – like Braxted Park we used to go. Faulkbourne Hall, have a nice evening out, dance on the lawns and all that. Laurences at The Avenue, at The Grove. (Q: I know) Used to be a smashing place.
Q: Dance on the lawn, you say? (Mr A: Yes) Sounds good.
Mr A: And used to have a smashing time in those days. You don’t get it these days. Not like they did then. Dancing on the lawns till ten or eleven o’clock at night. Because it used to be daylight then at eleven o’clock at night. Yes. Marvellous. Used to have all the fairy lights round and all that. And The Wilderness up here where Budgens is now, and all those buildings [52-54 Newland Street]. They used to have lovely dance and all …
Mrs A: Lovely lawns there didn’t they?
Mr A: Fir trees on the lawns, beautiful that used to be, about here. But now it’s all brickwork and roads now and motorcars. You never see no motorcars in those days. There was all horses, lovely horses. Carriages, with the drivers with the big high beaver hats on and the man – the footman who used to let them in and out the carriages – oh, beautiful! And talk about motorcars today, posh motorcars. They’re – they’re nothing so good as what those lovely carriages were. Beautiful carriages.
Q: So people were quite well off then? Quite well off, these people were with the big …
Mrs A: They were well off, people that had the carriages.
Mr A: Oh yes, wealthy people used to live about Witham. And round about. Braxted Park, Faulkbourne Hall, the Wilderness here, at Witham. The Lawn.
Mrs A: That’s there now, ain’t it? The Lawn, do you know that? Lawn Chase they call it.
Q: I think it’s come down, it’s Lawn Chase, there are new houses. I remember seeing the big house, that was nice. So what did you – when did you start work?
Mr A: When I started work? I started work when I was about thirteen. And I got a job – I was a butcher boy for a good while.
Q: Tell me about that. What did you do when you were a butcher boy? Where did you work when you were a butcher boy?
Mr A: Goodchild’s, the butchers. A big family butcher of Witham. They were the best butchers round here for miles. Goodchild’s. And he had a big butcher’s shop in the High Street …
Mrs A: What’s the name of that shop now – Doll- it’s still there, ain’t it?
Mr A: What’s the name of the people in there now, Doll?
Mrs M: Williams, isn’t it?
Mr A: No, no, right opposite the International. Loveday’s.
[Mrs M & Mrs A together]– Loveday’s. That was Loveday’s.
Q: I know the one you mean, anyway. [58 Newland Street?]
Mrs A: [to Mr A] You don’t know you don’t go up there, do you?
Mr A: Williams is further down, near the Home & Colonial.
Q I know there’s two, isn’t there? I can’t remember which is which, but I know the one you mean.
Mr A: And we used to have teams of horses on the road, every day. We had five carts running from our shop at Witham. Going all round country, delivering meat and getting orders and all that sort of thing. And the pork shop was right opposite – the pork shop was where Woolworth’s is now, in these days. [35 Newland Street] Or somewhere near it.
Q: Was that Goodchild’s as well?
Mrs A: Yes. Goodchild’s as well, that was.
Mr A: Goodchild’s as well. A butcher’s shop and a pork – there was a beef shop – the beef shop – because they never mix the meat in those days. There used to be all the beef shop and a pork shop, separate. And the only other old butchers in Witham was Sorrell’s. Opposite The Crotchet.
Mrs A: [talking over] Sorrell’s, right down the bottom of town, near the doctors.
Mr A: And they used to – we did all our own killing. Oh yes.
Mrs A: Had a slaughter yard up there.
Mr A: We used to do all or own killing. We used to go out on the farms and select the animals they wanted to kill. Used to bring in and bring about two or three bullocks a week. And sheep galore. And all the rest of the old stuff. Chickens and that. And we used to take it all round the country. Every day we used to have our rounds. Each chap had their own rounds and they’d go all round the country selling this meat. Because that was all cut up and got a ticket on it and you had to take the money, and all that rest of it. All ordered, you see.
Q: How did people order it? Did they have a certain amount every week? Or how did you know they wanted? How did you know what the people wanted?
Mr A: Oh, I used to go round and – now when I was a butcher boy in Witham. And all the others used to do the same on their rounds. I used to go – Monday mornings I used to go all round my area, what I had to do, and get all the orders. And I used to take them back into the shop. And they was all cut up, all ready for me for Tuesday morning. And I used to sell them all the week different orders. All round these little villages, all round the town and shops. I weren’t the only one. There was another one the size of me doing it. And then Saturdays, chiefly was the best – Saturday was the best day, I mean, for meat, because people used to have the weekend joints, you see. So Saturday mornings I used to load me old baskets up and take them all out. And on bicycles at the same time and we used to – that was beautiful meat. Get a lovely joint of meat like that for about two bob. (Q: Oh, goodness, Yes.) Yes, lovely. We used to carry tremendous weights, us chaps, round in baskets.
Q: So when you went round the country, did you have a horse?
Mr A: Yes, pony and cart.
Q: Pony and cart? Yes.
Mr A: Pony and cart. I’m talking about just what I used to do in – when I was a little boy.
Q: Yes, you were quite …
Mr A: When I was about fourteen.
Q: You were still out on your own, were you? With the – you went on your own? Even when you were fourteen?
Mr A: Oh yes, all on my own. (Q: All round the country?)
Mr A: Yes, used to get the orders and when I got a little older, I had a pony and cart – and go all round and serve the meat round to my customers. Terling, Fairstead, all round the country, Hatfield, Nounsley. Because there were very few shops about, in those days. (Q: I see). And we had a team of five ponies in our stables at Goodchild’s. And on the pork side, they had about four or five – three or four horses in the Lion Yard. Because they used to be all horses in those days, you see. No motor cars. And it was a wonderful time.
Mrs A: And you left there, didn’t you?
Mr A: And – er- can’t think …
Q: How many people worked in the shop as well as you?
Mr A: There was Mr Goodchild, me on the side, you know, doing the different jobs. And serving as well.
Q: You used to serve as well, did you?
Mr A: Yes. (Q: Goodness.)
Mrs A: [laughing] Busy man!
Mr A: Because, I[?] was[?] a butcher in those days. And, er, Geoff Purl. And another wonderful old character, he used to live – he used to work for Goodchild. And he used to serve all the toffs, because he was a proper butcher, you know, with a big tray – he never used to take a basket – used to take a big trave on his shoulder. And carry that around.
[All talking over each other]
Q: What was that?
Mr A: A trave, you know. [trave = 4-ft long, wood]
Mrs A: A tray of meat.
Mr A: That was a piece of – about as long as that – perhaps longer. And it was all packed up with meat, all the way along – and he used to put that up on his shoulder and off he used to go with it. (Q: What, walking?) Walking. Oh yes, it was all walking for us in Witham. But, er, in between time, we used to have the …
[Tape begins late, i.e. 11.5]
Mr A: In between times, we used to have a pony and carts to go all round the big places like Faulkbourne Hall. They used to take a half a – load of meat in those days. Faulkbourne Hall – that was one journey. You couldn’t take any more. And Braxted Park was another one (Q: What, one journey…?) once or twice a week.
Q: One journey, with a cart – with a horse and that was full up for them? That was a whole cart for them, was it?
Mr A: Pardon?
Mrs A: A whole cartload of meat for them?
Mr A: Yes a whole cart-full of meat for them. Big joints like that. There weren’t no little joints like you see today. Like what you buy today, about fifteen bob and all that. There was nothing like that. You could buy the whole lot for about a couple of quid.
Mrs A: Fifteen bob, you ain’t getting it for fifteen bob. (Q: No, never mind.)
Mr A: I used to deliver meat at the Faulkbourne Hall and Braxted Park, and Faulkbourne Hall. A whole sheep’s – a whole sheep at different times. And great big joints of meat like that. Terrific size. And they used to …
Mrs A: Well, they had servants, you see, didn’t they?
Mr A: And I used to go down in the – Faulkbourne Hall and Braxted Park – I used to go into the kitchens with these loads of meat. Just walk right down – on the old slabs – with these big old places – right down into the kitchen and just – and – and deliver the meat and, er, the old cook used to often give me basins full of dripping. They used to have so much of it they didn’t know what to do with it. (Q: Really?)
Mrs A: Lovely dripping that used to be. [Q laughs]
Mr A: Ah, beautiful stuff. You never see anything like it now. You don’t have lovely bread and dripping – that turns to dripping in those days – in these days like you did then. Oh, handsome food.
Mrs A: Don’t get any dripping off your meat now, can you?
Q: No. And that was for you to take for yourself, was it? The dripping?
Mrs A: That’s for you? (Q: The dripping?)
Mr A: Yes, used to take it home, give it to people who really wanted some – for the children.
Q: They wouldn’t have any fridges or anything, would they? I wonder how they would keep it …
Mrs A: [interrupts] No (Q: How they kept all that …)
Mr A: They didn’t have fridges even in the butchers’ shops in those days. We used to have a big kind of safe as you might call it, and put all the meat in there. And used to have the ice van come every day. Every other day, with big blocks of ice. With big blocks as big as this, and deliver. And they used to put that in there to cool the place down, you see.
Q: I see, and what about Faulkbourne Hall, for instance? How would they keep theirs cold?
Mr A: Well, I suppose they did the same. (Q: They had the ice as well?) Had the ice van come the same, to look after it.
[Arrival of Mrs Betty Vale – Mrs V General conversation, not noted]
Mr A: We used to go round these big places with loads of meat at a time. Not just a basketful but a cart load. And they used to have big parties in these places, Braxted Park and all those places. Handsome affair. With all those lovely trees and the squirrels all running about. Lovely red squirrels in those days. Not these little old brown ones …
Mrs M: Grey ones.
Mr A: Used to have a wonderful time. Yes.
Q: Goodness. And did you take the money for all that, as well? Did you collect the money?
Mr A: No, that was all done by cheques. All done by cheques. We had nothing to do with the money.
Q: Not even the small …?
Mr A: No, not the big jobs.
Q: But you took some of the small people …?
Mr A: All the small people – I used to take – have a book! Write down all the prices and who they were and all that. I used to have to put my – my little round what I had in Witham – I was only a little old boy like that, you know. And, er, I used to take it into the shop, into the office. Miss Grout used to be in the office. One of the Miss Grouts. Violet Grout’s sister what lives in that old …
Mrs A: Violet Cullen’s sister. [Violet Grout married Mr Cullen]
[Talking in the background makes it difficult to hear at times]
Mr A: Yes. And, er, used to take it in there and leave my book in there and take all the money and everything was put right and then I used have me book back signed and everything. Yes.
Q: So did you have any trouble getting the money, sometimes?
Mr A: No. Hardly any – never had no trouble at all, with people.
Mr A: No. There might be one or two about, you know, what couldn’t afford it. And we used to let them off, very often.
Q: Altogether, you mean?
Mr A: Yes.
Q: So even quite poor people used to eat quite a lot of meat, would they? Even the people, who were quite poor, would they have a lot of meat?
Mr A: Yes. They used to have their meat. And oftentimes, they used to go to the shop. (Q: I see.) And old Goodchild and Purley, who was mostly in the shop, they used to know their customers and they knew what they could afford And they used to let them have it very cheap. (Q: I see.) Same as if you wanted to make a meat pudding, in those days. All you went up to the shop and got a piece of beef, and cuttings. What they left off the – cuttings – what they’d been cutting during the week, all in a pile, all lovely beef. The best you could get. Used to get three-pennyworth of beef, and two – and a pennyworth of suet and you’d got a lovely dinner for about five or six people.
Q: Yes. Yes. (Mr A: Yes) So they’d save them for the – save the cuttings for the people, yes.
Mrs A: Yes.
Q: I remember someone saying …
Mr A: That’s how poor people used to live. They couldn’t really afford a joint, they used to go to the shop and have all these little different odds and ends, cheap things. The ‘pluck’ and all that. You’d get a whole sheep’s head and pluck for two bob. (Q: Really?) as much as you could – cost you about a couple of quid now. Three quid now.
Q: Yes, if they even had it.
Mrs A: That’s what we used to call offal, didn’t we?
Q: Yes, that’s right.
Mr A: All offal was cheap in those days.
Q: So there was quite a lot of people went to the shop? (Mr A: Yes) Several people went shopping at the shop? It wasn’t all …?
Mrs A: Wasn’t all on the rounds?
Mr A: No. no.
Q: So when you were thirteen or whatever it was, you just went round Witham?
Mr A: Yes.
Q: And then when you were older you went on the …?
Mr A: A little older I went round on – with the carts.
[General conversation, not noted]
Mr A: Used to load a big cart up and all meat and take it round the country and flog it, to get rid of it for the weekend.
Q: Oh really? (Mr A: Yes.) How did you manage – where did you go with that?
Mr A: Terling, Fairstead and all the old people – nice people, you see. They knew us and knew what we’d got. And we used to …
[Noises on tape]
Mr A: Used to bring round – used to go round – and do you know – weren’t ordered, the meat wasn’t so they used to come and stand outside and have a piece – have the joints cut off what they wanted, you see. (Q: Oh, I see.) And that’s how we used to serve them all round, yes.
Mrs A: You left there and went and worked at British Oxygen.
Mr A: Oh yes. Well, that was during the …(Q: When was that?) Oh, that was years later, dear. I’m talking about old times now, you know. When I was a boy.
Q: I never you knew you was in the shop, too. That’s interesting. An extra customer you see.
Mrs A: That’s interesting, isn’t it? I think shop work is very interesting.
Q: It was so different then, you see. Yes.
Mrs A: You talked to the customer. I think they enjoyed it better, than what they do now, going round and getting the things …
Q: You enjoyed it then …
Mr A: [interrupts] One thing I forgot about to tell you, which was a very important piece. They had a very colourful turnout. Every Saturday there used to be a foxhunt. They used to go foxhunting a lot. In those days. And they used to meet on the Maldon Road corner, at the White Hart. That was their headquarters. And all the foxhounds and horses were down there every Saturday morning …
[Someone enters – general conversation in foreground, not noted]
Mr A: … and that was a lovely turnout every Saturday. And we used to cart the meat about in the – in between – between the hunt and foxhunt as well, and I used to have half my meat stolen – by the foxhounds – every Saturday! [All laugh] Yes. I’ve had an empty basket by the time I’d got to the other end of the pack! You couldn’t keep ‘em off you see. They were great big dogs …(Mrs A: There were too many of them, you see.) Great big foxhounds, they were bigger than what I was! (Q: yes, I can imagine. Goodness.) Yes. And the huntsmen were there. And Baron so-and-so, lah, lah, lah. Used to talk in all different – names of the foxhounds. They knew. Yes. Used to keep them controlled a bit. Otherwise they’d have eaten me as well! See, they’d never been fed, you see.
Q: [laughs] Oh, they keep them hungry, do they? I never thought of that.
Mr A: The day before they go to the hunt … (Q: They starve them?) … they don’t get fed, you see. So they’re all raving hungry. They’d eat – yes, I’ve often thought they’d eat me if they’d got me down! [Mrs A laughs] Yes.
Mrs A And he left there and went and worked at British Oxygen.
Mr A: No, no, no. I worked for Cooper Taber for years.
Mrs A: That’s right.
Q: How long were you at the butchers?
Mr A: I was there till I was about sixteen, I suppose. Fifteen or sixteen. And I worked for Cooper Taber, come home …
Q: What did you do there?
Mr A: I lost my mother in those days. The home was broken up. I had to live at Chelmsford.
Q: She died when she was young, did she?
Mr A: She died when I was eleven.
Q: How old was she, then. She was quite …
Mrs A: About thirty.
Mr A: My mother was only thirty.
Mrs V: Thirty-eight. (Mrs A: Thirty-eight) My granny. My Mum was nine and she had to run the family.
Q: So how many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mrs V: Two brothers and one sister.
Mr A: That’s right. There was three of us. Three brothers, three boys and one girl.
Mrs A: There were three brothers, Betty.
Mrs V: Oh yes, one died.
Mr A: Five of us.
Q: And was your father still alive then?
Mrs A: Yes.
Mr A: Yes, he went on till he was eighty, one of them.
Mrs A: He used to everything for them. Come home from work and do the washing and everything.
Mr A: [interrupts] And the younger one, he used to work and drive the ambulances. And in those days there was only one ambulance used to do the whole area. And he used to do – have a busy job.
Mrs A: He used to work for Betty’s father. He had a garage up London Road, Betty’s father. Ashby’s, do you remember? (Mr A: In those days …) That was Betty’s father.
Mr A: Betty’s father and my brother, they used to do all the ambulance work. (Q: Yes?) Instead of three or four ambulances running about Witham like they are today, empty. There was only two – only two – one ambulance.
Mrs A: Dad was over there sometimes, Betty, wasn’t he?
Mrs V: We were, answering the phone and putting the ambulance calls through to the different – we had a switchboard, you know, putting them through to the different people, when we were about six. We were, answering the telephone about six years old and plugging it through to the people who were on duty, Mr Razey, from down in Bridge Street. He was one of the ambulance drivers. Then there was Uncle Frank, and my father. And we used to have to plug them through, if it was Uncle – you know, if Dad was out, we had to get Uncle. Put it through to Uncle and Jim. Turn the handle. ‘Ambulance call so and so and so and so’. We were about six years old when we were doing that.
Q: Really? Goodness.
Mrs A: I remember that.
Mrs V: We used to scrub out the ambulance every weekend. Us kids. Literally scrub it out, on our hands and knees, from top to bottom. And Mother would wash all the blankets. (Q: Really?) Never had laundry then. It was all done.
Q: Who ran the ambulance then?
Mrs V: Well, my father was the main one. Yes.
Mrs A: Then Raymond.
Mr A: No, Raymond wasn’t.
Mrs V: No, Ray went and he was the chief on the Fire Brigade.
Mrs A: Oh, fire, oh, I get mixed up.
Q: I mean, nowadays, it’s part of the county, isn’t it?
[General conversation re reason for interviews, not noted]
Mr A: Ah, happy days.
Mrs V: They were lovely days.
Mr A: They were happy days.
Mrs A: They were happy days, they were happier than what they are now. I wouldn’t want my time over again.
Mr A: We had to get up in the morning at six o’clock and get the ponies up. We used to come up the Maldon road full gallop. And feed ‘em and brush ‘em down. Then go and have a breakfast.
Mrs A: He used to love that.
Mr A: I often used to have my breakfast with Goodchild, because they were – I think they took a little bit of pity on me and I was – I was a handy little old boy. (Q: Yes?) And they used to give me the food, feed me well, and I used to work well. And I used to work from six in the morning till ten at night.
Q: How much pay did you get, do you remember? How much wages did you get? Do you remember?
Mr A: I got about sixpence a week. (Q: Really?)
Mrs A: Oh, wasn’t that dreadful?
Mr A: In those days. And in between times I used to go to work – for old Goodchild. He knew it. I had that job for years really, when I went to school. For Miss Pickett’s, in the High Street. Where Dr – where the solicitors is now. What’s the name of those?
Mrs A: Where Janet used to work, Betty, what’s that called?
Mrs V: Bawtree’s, no, Brights.
Mr A: No, not Bawtree’s, Brights. [Mrs A & Mrs V agree] And I used to go there and scrub them steps down, down to the little door in the bottom there. And scrub the path, every morning. [probably 87 Newland Street]
Mrs A: Time he was working for Goodchild. He used to run from Goodchild’s and do them steps. [Mrs A laughs]
Mr A: That was – I used to wash down a big pathway of all lovely tiles. And old Miss Pickett used to – they used to give me eightpence for that.
Q: That wasn’t bad, was it?
Mr A: And I got a bit more money there. And I can tell you who was the cook in those days, there. That was old Gerry Mortimer’s wife.
Mrs A: What was her name, Betty? What married Gerry Mortimer?
Mrs V: Lee, no?
Mrs A: No, I don’t know her maiden name.
Mr A: And she was a lovely woman and she used to look after us kids. After me.
Mrs V: [over Mr A] The Mortimers and the Lees were relations, brother and …
Mr A: [over BV] And had another servant girl there as well. But, er …
Mrs V: [over Mr A]: Gerry Mortimer’s sister was a Mortimer married Lee. Must have married into the Lees. (Mrs A: Lee, Lee family). Lee family. Who lived here. Must have been. Gerry Mortimer’s sister married a Lee
Mr A: Ah, wasn’t his sister, it was his wife!
Mrs V: Oh. (Mrs A: Wife he’s talking about) I’m thinking of his sister.
Mr A: [over BV] She was the head cook at …
Mrs A: [interrupts] When I went back to work during the War, World War Two, in the Co-op I worked – I had two pound eighteen a week and out of that you had to pay your insurance and your income tax and had to belong to a Union. I’ve never earned three pound in my life!
Mrs V: My first wage packet was one pound twenty-eight. (Q: [laughs] Really?) One pound two and eightpence rather.
Q: I bet you were proud of that, though. Did you have to belong to a Union when you worked before the War?
Mrs A: No, no. During World War Two I belonged to a Union.
Q: But you didn’t have to, before at the Co-op? (Mrs A: No) No, I see.
[General conversation not noted]
Mrs A: Then he worked for Cooper Tabers and then he went and worked for British Oxygen. And then, of course, he used to be away several nights, you see, at a time. So he said he wouldn’t marry, time he worked for British Oxygen so he left there and he went and worked for Crittall’s. And he worked there when we were married.
Q: I see so he had quite a lot of jobs.
Mrs A: Crittall’s, yes.
Mr A: I worked there all through the – during the Second World War.
Mrs A: We had our fifty Diamond Wedding, Golden Wedding.
Mr A: [interrupts] I was a gunner on the roof in those days.
Mrs A: [talking over] Golden Wedding – three years September, weren’t it Betty? Betty done it. Betty and her sister.
Mr A: Ah, you’re talking about recent, I’m talking about old times.
Mrs V: In the War, I can remember Uncle [Cecil] coming up to Dad, up the garage, and there was a German bomber come over. (Mr A: Yeah, yeah). It dropped all its bombs by Crittall’s way. And when it came back, they’d got their rifles out and they shot at it and they hit it! They hit it! And I can remember standing in the garden and seeing them do that. And I can remember it as if it was yesterday.
Mr A: I was …
Mrs A: [interrupts] He was on Crittall’s roof as a fire watcher and one of those Germans must have had a big chain round his neck with a swastika on the end. And he either leaned out or else he threw it out. But where that went we don’t know. He picked it up, it was all silver. Lovely thing, it was.
Mr A: Lovely thing.
Mrs A: I don’t know where it went.
Mr A: Lovely thing, a swastika on a long chain, double chain.
Mrs A: I don’t know where it went to.
Mr A: And he dropped that out as he flew over. He flew over to get his bearings and turned and come into bomb, come into bomb and that’s when it happened.
Mrs A: He went to work six …
Mr A: [talking over] And there was so much happening in those – in that little while. There was a bomb hit the railway – hit the railway metals and they took – big pieces of metal – line – you know, the lines – was flying about in the air. One dropped right near me. And it hit me just on the side of the head like that. And …
Mrs A: [talking over] I went to work that morning down the Co-op. He went to work to fire-watch on Crittall’s roof at six. And I went to work down the Co-op. I didn’t know if he was alive or dead. Because I knew they were bombing Crittall’s, you see.
Mr A: Oh they were hectic times.
Q: Because, you know …
Mrs A: He come home, his helmet was all dented.
Mr A: Machine gun bullets were flying about everywhere and – and …
Mrs A: [talking over] He did say he shot one down, didn’t they, Betty?
Mr A: [talking over] And cannon shell. Cannon shells galore. All round me.
Mrs A: They always aimed at Crittall’s.
Mr A: And I was on top of the powerhouse, or just on the side of the powerhouse, three storeys up. And – ain’t got no chance at all. I was on the gun there and – on the end. But you wouldn’t stand a chance with all their stuff what they got.
Q: No, if it hit you. You were lucky then, weren’t you?
Mr A: I reckon we shot two – I reckon we shot a couple of bombers down in those days. But we didn’t get credit for it you see, because they wouldn’t allow it.
Q: No, I see, you weren’t really supposed to be doing it, you mean. [Q laughs] Well, you’ll know George Hayes, who lives near me.
Mr A: George Hayes, yes.
Q: He was there, wasn’t he, then?
Mr A: Old George was in the shop, yes.
Mrs V: He’s related to me. (Q: Is he?) On my father’s side, George. And his old father died a few years back. Remember me to George, if you see him. Tell him Betty Ashby that was.
[General conversation re George Hayes and his sister etc and their health, not noted]
Mr A: Then as the War progressed, we was bombed every day, practically. And we was shooting at the Germans every day, off those roofs up there. And we got away with it, so far. And then they started on the rockets. Remember the rockets? You don’t remember them, do you?
Q: Not really.
Mrs V: The doodlebugs?
Mr A: Well, you could see – we used to stand on that roof and watch them launch them rockets in France. You could see the big mortars go up. And they used to go up, right out of sight and they were terrific things They were rockets, you see. They were …
Mrs V: They were fired off weren’t they?
Mr A: Yes. And they used to …
Mrs V: They used to come on top us, didn’t it?
Mr A: And they used to go right over us in seven minutes, in seven minutes. We used to have five minutes. I think it was seven minutes, London. We used to time ‘em – when we see the rockets going up in France. They used to come right over, and in seven minutes you’d hear an explosion, in London. Terrific. And those what – those what took four minutes, dropped here. Four minute ones dropped here and seven minute ones dropped in London.
Mrs A: Dropped down in France as well, didn’t they?
Q: Yes, I wasn’t round here then, I was in Peterborough. We didn’t see. There wasn’t much going on there, really.
Mr A: Terrific. And of course when they first come over they didn’t know what they were. They’d got no idea what had happened, you see.
[Next few minutes Mr A, Mrs A & MRs V all talk over each other, interrupting each other]
Mrs V: I remember seeing those and we used to wait for the fire to go out, the flame to go out on the tail …
Mrs A: The doodlebugs, they were.
Mrs V: And we knew then that we had so many seconds before it came down.
Mr A: The devastation was great.
Mrs A: Once the light went out they used to drop, you see.
Mrs V: Yes, within so many seconds.
Mr A: One dropped at Faulkbourne. (Mrs A: Yes) In those days.
Mrs A: I worked at the Co-op then. They rattled everything on the shelves.
[All talking together]
Mrs V: We had one dropped in – just over the back of Blakes Farm, over the railway line from Blakes Farm …
Mrs A: Yes, well, I was home in bed with your mother then …
Mrs V: That was the one we watched …
Mr A: Ah, they were bombs, they were.
Mrs V: No, it was a doodlebug, it was a doodlebug …
Mrs A: Doodlebug …
Mr A: That doodlebug, yes.
Mrs A: No, that was a landmine they dropped down there what …
Mr A: Course, we had the doodlebugs in between. They used to come over and all of a sudden the engine used to stop – and down.
Mrs A: They were trying to get that viaduct with a landmine and they dropped the landmine that fell the other side. And that killed all them chickens what …
Mrs V: Oh yes! I remember that.
Mrs A: Remember that? I was up your mother’s that night.
[Mrs V & Mrs A talking over each other]
Mrs V: All them stuffed birds. At the bottom of the new railway bridge.
Mrs A: And your Dad- and Uncle Cyril came rushing in …
Mrs V: [continuing] The next morning we went down to have a look.
Mrs A: [continuing] to your Dad and said ‘Go on go and get us some’. Something that was dropped …
Mrs V: He was a taxidermist wasn’t he?
Mrs A: Yes.
Mr A: Wonderful.
Q: Where was that?
Mrs V: Right against the railway bridge by the creamery.
Mrs A: By the bridge. By the viaduct.
Q: Oh, I know where.
Mrs V: The last house there, against the little path through.
Mrs A: That killed his dog, that killed the chickens.
Mrs V: The next morning my sister and I, we got on our bikes. Because you know it was excitement those, in those days for us kids – got on our bikes and we went round to have a look. And there was all these stuffed birds – he had an aviary on the side of his house, you see, with all the stuffed birds in it. And I can see this owl now, with part of its stuffing out, you know. [laughs] [20 Highfields Road]
Mrs A: Hodges, his name.
Mrs V: That’s right, Hodges.
Mrs A: Hodges.
Mrs V: That’s right, Mr Hodges. (Q: Goodness) And, um, oh, I can see it now, plain as, if it was yesterday. And if you look at the old house now, its got the ‘S’s where it’s all been bolted together and packed, you know.
Q: To hold it up? Goodness. As you say it doesn’t seem long ago, really, does it? No.
Mrs A: Yes, those doodlebugs were dreadful things, weren’t they?
Mrs V: Yes, because Uncle Alf had a landmine drop in his field, right next to his house.
Mrs A: Yes, one night they’d got a [???] on the hill over there. See, one doodlebug went down. He didn’t know there was another one coming and that blew nearly all his clothes off him. Blew all the buttons off all his clothes.
Mr A: Oh, that was a terrific thing that was.
Mrs V: [laughs] I’d like to have seen it. [Laughter] We laugh about it now but at the time …
Mrs A: It was frightening, wasn’t it?
Mr A: My cousin that lived at Edmonton, Russell, lived at Edmonton – that blew all his clothes off and he was naked. [Laughter]. Yes, that’s what they used to do, you see. (Q: The blast) The back from the blast – yes, blew all his clothes off.
Mrs A: Oh, they dropped landmines and everything round here.
Q: Was there many, any killed in Witham?
Mrs A: No, don’t think so.
Q: No, lucky.
Mr A: Hardly anybody was killed in Witham.
Mrs A: They dropped a bomb in Mill Lane, there. And we never heard the siren go that night, my sister and I, and we were laying in bed and all our window came out all over … [Laughs]
Mr A: We got blown out over there.
Mrs A: Had the front door blown out over there. And the living room windows blown out. The bedroom windows blown out.
Mr A: Oh yeah.
Mrs A: This war would be awful, won’t it.
Mr A: We was up and out on the field next day.
Mrs A: [???] shall we? The next one? (Q: No)
Mr A: No rest. No rest, really.
Mrs A: No, you’d got to work all day and couldn’t rest at night.
Mr A: I was a sergeant in the Home Guard then, and specialised in automatics. Because I was – used to guns in those days. And I was a sergeant instructor in those days. And I used to take classes. And train all the youngsters to use them. And we used to run about the fields half the night. And working in the factory during the day. And running about the fields all night.
[General conversation as Mrs V leaves and Mr A & Mrs A’s health, not noted]
Q: So she [Mrs V] was your … What relation ?
Mrs A: That’s his sister’s daughter, she died last year his sister. He’s the only one left now.
Mr A: I’m the only one, keep the flag flying.
Mrs A: He’s eighty in July.
[Discussion about Mrs A’s arthritis, had it a long time, Mr A has to look after her. not noted]
Mr A: During the War I use to have a little farmyard round here. Because I had plenty of ground you see. Had about two or three hundred chickens. And endless bantams all over the place. Everybody was shutting them up and keeping them. [laughs]
Mrs A: Ducks and geese.
Mr A: And I used to – during the War when you couldn’t get no food, I used to feed half the kids around here. [Mrs A laughs] With chickens.
Mrs A: [talking over] He used to give his stuff away.
Mr A: And shoots. I always had a shoot and I used to bring home the rabbits and give them a rabbit each – and feed half the kids. I’d forgotten all about that.
Mrs A: They had [???] as well. They had [???]. [Mr A drowning out what Mrs A was saying]
Mr A: And eggs – I used to take round to people for them.
Mrs A: I used to have to wash all them. Wash all the eggs.
Mr A: Because they was all on ration or supposed to be, but I used to do a bit of dodging. (Q: On the side, yes.) To look after the kids, you see. They never had no food. Yes.
Mrs A: They were good old days really, though. I liked them better than I do now.
Mr A: They were happy days really, although we used to work from sun up till dark.
Mrs A: You felt safer in those days, than what you do now. You don’t feel safe now, do you, anywhere now? (Q: No)
Mr A: I used to work in Crittall’s and look after all my stock and you [to Mrs A]
Mrs A: I looked after them daytime when you was away.
Mr A: And all my stock. And get some beautiful chickens about seven or eight pounds and sell for about fifteen bob.
Mrs A: Eggs what we had over, you see, I used to wash all them and take them to Powling’s[?] egg factory.
Mr A: Yes. And in the meantime – I had a big aviary …