Tape 038. Mrs Dorothy (Dolly) Meekings, (nee King)
Mrs Dorothy (Dolly) Meekings (nee King) was born in about 1904, and was interviewed on 8 April 1981, when she lived at 8 Rex Mott Court, Witham.
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.]
[General conversation regarding taping conversations, not noted]
Q: You are the middle sister, the older sister, middle sister?
Mrs M: No, I’m the middle sister. I’ve the sister what’s lame, what was in the coffee room that morning. And then the brother what died, they were the two next. Then there was five years difference between my brother and I. And, then my sister and I, there’s about eighteen months difference, I think, between us two. My mother had two – girl and a boy. And then she had two girls, you know, after about five years between the other two.
Q: So you are not as young as you look, then, are you. You are seventy …
Mrs M: I’m seventy-six.
Q: Goodness. You’ve kept quite well, have you?
Mrs M: No, I haven’t been well, these last two years, really. I kept ever so well till then. And I had, well, the warden … [telephone rings]
[Long general conversation re health and an accident to Mrs M about three years previously, not noted].
Q: It was Martin’s, you were at, you said, was it?
Mrs M: Yes, Martin’s. Yes. After I first lost my husband, that’s twenty-one years ago, I did – of course, when I first left school, I worked at the glove factory.
Q: Oh, did you?
Mrs M: Yes, I was up there.
Q: Were you there a long time?
Mrs M: Half a crown a week, I got, for a month, when I first started. I wanted to be a dressmaker, but Mother altered all that, because there wasn’t the money coming in. She’d got to pay out for me to be taught the dressmaking, you see. So – but she often wished she had, because I was that inclined to be machine-minded, you know. Work a machine. Well, of course, when I went up the glove factory, that sort of answered that purpose, because I made gloves. And then I went – and they put me on the sample. I had to make samples. Yes. And they paid me by the hour for that. And then we used to sometimes work from half past seven till eight o’clock at night. And then I used to earn about two pound a week. And that was good money, we reckoned in those days.
Q: Yes, it was, yes.
Mrs M: Yes, very good money.
Q: You earned more if you worked longer?
Mrs M: Yes. And of course, they give me more money than I would have got on piecework. Because the time they allowed me to take to do the gloves well, you see. They didn’t want me to hurry over the samples, because they went to the different firms. And they had to be practically very good indeed. And I was rather good at machinery work. You see I liked needlework and all that sort of thing. And darning we used to do, I used to do all the household darning for Mother. And then when we had – before, I ever went out to work, for our school holidays, I always went pea picking. And fruit picking.
Q: That’s when you were at school, was it?
Mrs M: Yes, I’ve walked from this house, and we’d got to be at work at six o’clock in the morning, in the fields. And I walked from there right to the terraced houses in Hatfield Peverel. Yes. And I was eleven when we came here. So I’d be between twelve and thirteen, I expect. Because, we never knew anything about fruit picking or pea-picking where we came from.
Q: You never did it up there?
Mrs M: No. So, of course, with the girlfriends I made at school here, I asked Mother could I go pea picking and fruit picking and I used to earn enough to buy us all our winter clothes. Yes. I worked every day practically when I was on holiday, for six weeks or a month if we had a month. I forget whether that was a month’s holiday we used to have then, but that has eventually gone to six weeks now, hasn’t it?
Q: Still, it was a long old while to work, wasn’t it? (Mrs M: Yes.) Did your mother work at all?
Mrs M: Mother didn’t work, no. Mother – where did she come to? I think – one day she thought she’d like to come out with us. My younger sister, the one what you’ve just seen, she couldn’t pick peas and fruit as quick as I could. And so some days she never came at all. But I used to love it and I always went. Yes. And mother used to pack up for me for the day, you see. But Mother did come, I should say about twice only and brought Chris and – with us. But Chris did used to come sometimes with us to Hatfield, because that was Morse, the fruit growers, yes, at Hatfield Peverel.
Q: So you got quite good – well, not good pay but you got regular pay, for that, did you?
Mrs M: Yes. Yes. We used to have tickets. They used to weigh the fruit up at the end of the day. When we picked the strawberries or blackcurrants and that, when you got your basketful, you had to go to the shed for it to be weighed. Then they’d give you a ticket and you used to – I used to put all these tickets on a sheet at the end of the week. Take it with me on Friday and then I used to get paid. [Mrs M laughs] They used to give you a little ticket with what you earned for the day. And that used to run up quite a bit and Mother used to be delighted with that. But, when I came home, we used to get home about – we walked – left off about four o’clock in the afternoon and then we’d got to walk home. And I often used to get sent to – ‘Will you hurry up and get washed and changed, because I want you to go to the Co-op and get the grocery.’ And I used to walk down as far as the Co-op and get the grocery and bring it home. [Mrs M laughs].
Q: This was still when you were at school, was it?
Mrs M: Yes.
Q: Goodness me. You went to the Co-op, mostly?
Mrs M: Yes, went to the Co-op. Yes. Because they used to think a lot of the dividend. [Mrs M says ‘divident’ all through] you see. That used to help the families.
Q: How often would you get that?
Mrs M: They used to get that, I think, twice a year. Every six months, I think it was, that come out.
Q: Yes, I suppose that was quite a help then.
Mrs M: Oh, quite a help to the people.
Q: I suppose they went there for everything, if they could.
Mrs M: Yes. Because, I mean, I know that has got a political – now, but we didn’t take notice of politics in those days.
Q: You didn’t think of it as the co-operative movement?
Mrs M: No, no. Because, I mean, people say to me ‘Well, the Co-op is Labour now.’ I said ‘Well, I never thought of it like that.’ Because our people, you know, they never thought because you went to the Co-op you were a Labour person.
Q: No, I see, no.
Mrs M: But now that’s got like that, I don’t know why.
Q: No, odd, isn’t it? You just went there because of the dividend …
Mrs M: Yes, because of the dividend, you see. That’s all I remember Mother talking about. Because I was the one what did the shopping. I was the one what was looked upon to do practically everything. Yes, because my elder sister was lame. And of course, they didn’t look to a boy doing this and that in those days, did they? And I was the next eldest one, you see. And Mother and Dad used to look to me to do everything. They wasn’t cruel in any way to me because we had a real lovely father and mother really, Yes, we really did. We were lucky children. We had the love and you know. We were looked after well. Because my mother was a good needlewoman. (Q: Was she?) Oh yes, she used to make all our clothes, And when I got married and had my children, I made all their clothes.
Q: Goodness, well done. So did you have to help in the house at home, as well? When you’d finished your pea picking and your shopping? Did you have to do housework?
Mrs M: No, didn’t do any housework. No. No, that was the thing that Mother looked upon. She did that. And she did all the washing. If I liked to get the table going, you know. Set the table as they called it then, well, I could. But she never, my mother never once aid ‘You ought to do this, you ought to do that’. As long as I did what she wanted, same as the shopping, and that, that was practically all I ever did. And then, as I said, she never made me go pea picking, but I just liked it. And I got with my friends and we used to have a lovely time. Yes.
Q: It must have been hard work, though, wasn’t it?
Mrs M: Oh, well it was, really. There was a lot of bending to do. I often think that was what kept me so slim. Because my husband – when I married him, he used to say that I was like a ‘pull-through for a gun!’ [Q laughs] Yes. And you see, I haven’t altered this last twenty years in size.
Q: No, yes, well, that makes you look younger, doesn’t it, really?
Mrs M: Yes. Because I like walking about, I’ve always been used to it. And I – we always went – even after I got married, we always walked everywhere.
Q: You’ve always lived in Witham have you?
Mrs M: No, well, I’ve lived in Witham since I was eleven.
Q: So when you married, you stayed here?
Ms M: Yes, we stayed here because my husband was a gas fitter here. He was a first class gas fitter. And he came from Bury St Edmunds after the War, you see [First World War]. He couldn’t get a – he worked from Bury St Edmunds Gas Company, before he went to War and when War was finished, he couldn’t get the same – well, they couldn’t take him back because his job was filled. So there was a vacancy going here and he applied for it and got it and he came and lodged in Mill Lane with some old lady there.
Q: And that’s when you met him?
Mrs M: Yes, that’s when I met him, yes. And then we courted for a while and got engaged, and we lived in a flat in the Eagle yard. That’s when old Jones was there. And he’d got the toilet there for the men to use and that. This is it – we always laughed about that because I could always see it out of my window! [Q & Mrs M laugh] And then my eldest daughter was born, of course Mother looked after me here. [Mortimer Cottage, Guithavon Valley] She was born, well, both my girls were born in that house, over there. Because they have modernised it now, that hadn’t got a bathroom then. But it has now.
Q: So when were you married?
Mrs M: I was married in nineteen twenty-four.
Q: Were you still working at the glove factory until that time?
Mrs M: Yes up to then. And then, you see, after my youngest girl was about – she could have been ten, I think, I went back to work up there again and I was working right from the time till my husband had a bad stroke in nineteen – let’s see, he died nineteen sixty-two. I don’t know – how old could he have been? Have I got that muddled? [Pause] He’s been dead twenty-one years this year so that must have been sixty-two, mustn’t it? Yes. He’s eighty-three – if he’d have been alive he would have been eighty-three this year. Yes. And I went to work there till he was taken ill and that was about fourteen months before he died. And I got so – I was in – I didn’t go on a machine again. I went in the Finishing Department, because that’s where they needed the help. And I packed the gloves and then, Miss Ottley – I don’t know if you know her in Witham? Minnie Ottley? Well, she was the manageress or the supervisor in the Finishing Department. They use to call it ‘The Puffing Room’ – yes where you put the gloves on the irons, the heated irons and then you did them in – well, they were twelve pairs and then they used to be banded round. So I went through the whole lot and then they made me manageress there, or supervisor.
Q: Oh, so you did well, didn’t you?
Mrs M: Yes I worked my way right through there. Because they knew I could make the gloves. And then they knew I could ‘puff’ them as they called it. And I did all that. And then I was made a supervisor, because I went through the boxes, printing the boxes, the sizes all on and the colour and what they were and that, and the style.
Q: So you supervised all the packing?
Mrs M: Yes I supervised and I should think there was about – let’s see, a good twenty people in there, doing their jobs. Yes.
Q: Quite a big job you had there, then?
Mrs M: Yes.
Q: Did your pay get better all the time you were there? How did …?
Mrs M: Yes, well, we used to get an increase every year, yes, every year. Because you see I wasn’t on piecework, but they did put the girls on the puffing on piecework, how many dozen they did, they used to get paid by the dozen they did, you see. And that was very interesting work. I liked that.
Q: How long has the glove factory been shut own? Do you know?
Mrs M: Oh, let’s see. [Pause] After my husband died they did send for me, again, and then I said ‘Well, I didn’t know how things’ – if I could manage on that money that they were going to give me. Because that was poor – that wasn’t too good a money up the glove factory. And, no, I didn’t take the job on again. And I went to Budgen’s to work for a little while. Before that was altered, as that is now. That was on the path in the High Street.
Q: I think I know.
Mrs M: Yes, remember, and they used go down the cellar and everything else. And I helped in the cheese – the provisions. With Mr Coker what was working there then. And we used to work there, just the two of us. And I used to fill up the provisions, the butter, all that sort of thing and the margarine. But we had to go up the yard, right up the very top, in all weathers to get that. Quite a difference. Well, then I left there after a time, because I used to go into – no, where did I go after that? No, no, no. I know what happened first. I worked at the Wine Stores, first, before, after my husband died. I saw Mr Rogers and he’d got somebody leaving and he said ‘Well if you like to come and work here, you can.’ That’s right, I worked in the Wine Stores Department. I worked there over two years. And I didn’t get on very well with one of the managers there. Or his wife really. That was after his wife. Because she always seemed to be coming into the shop interfering and she shouldn’t have really.
[Rest of tape is Mrs Meekings listing the various branches of Martins, Newsagents where she worked, as a relief manageress at Moulsham Lodge, Meadgate and Witham. Then talking of her health and working with fellow workers in the 1970s. Not noted.]