Tape 40. Mr Cecil Ager and Mrs Christina Ager
Mr Cecil Ager was born in about 1901, and his wife Mrs Christina Ager in 1906. They were interviewed on 8 April 1981 when they lived at 4 Rex Mott Court, Witham
They also appear on interview tapes 37 and 41.
On side 4 there is also Miss May King, Christina’s sister, noted as Miss K. She also appears on her own on interview tape 26.
For more information about them, see notes on the “King family and Cecil Ager”, and on “Ager family, Cecil, Frank etc.” in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at 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.]
[when tape begins, Q & Mrs A looking at photos of Co-op. Groceries & Provisions World War 2]
Mrs A: That’s Mr Rayner who used to be on the bacon counter. That girl and that girl and that one and that one and that one were on the grocery counter. That man was the warehouseman. That one was the shop manager. And me and that one were on the provision counter. That’s me.
Q: She was a gay young thing in those days, wasn’t she?
Mr A: Yeah.
Q: Goodness, and who’s that there?
Mrs A: Shop manager. Mr Warner, George Warner. Mr Heard the warehouseman, and that’s Frank Lang, Francis, I think they used to call him.
Mr A: He was the butcher.
Mrs A: That’s my sister-in-law! She’s trying to pull my dress up, see! [Q: laughs]
Q: That’s ten; was that all the people that worked there, then?
Mrs A: Worked in there, in the shop, when I worked there in the War. Second World War.
Q: But the actual manager …
Mrs A: He – well, he was too old to go, you see.
Q: Yes, would you say Mr Whybrew was …
Mrs A [interrupting]: And that one wasn’t – Mr Whybrew was the general manager.
Q: The floor manager.
Mr A: He’s not on there, dear.
Mrs A: And Francis, he weren’t passed, I don’t think. Fit. Because he was too old. Charlie Heard.
Q: So this is just the food …
Mrs A: So we were the girls who were all in the shop, you see.
Q: So this is just the grocery and provision side?
Mrs A: And provisions side, yes. That’s right.
Q: Not the whole place?
Mrs A: There’s all us who worked in the shop.
Q: Goodness. That’s lovely, yes.
[General conversation about other photos, not of Witham]
Mrs A: So we were all the girls who worked in the shop.
Q: Must have been a big concern, then, really, wasn’t it?
Mrs A: It was then, yes, a big concern then. They’ve got it so altered now, into a supermarket, isn’t it?
Q: Yes, they only have the …
Mrs A: I haven’t been there, in it, since it’s been a supermarket.
Q: Do they have the …they just have people taking the money now, more or less, don’t they really. And then a few at the back.
Mrs A: That’s right, yes. They have the girls check out now, don’t they?
Q: Was there a separate cashier when you were there?
Mrs A: That’s when we used to put them in the cups.
Q: Oh yes that’s right, that was the sort yes. So there was somebody to do the desk, to do the money.
Mrs A: Somebody in the desk, yes. There was another girl up in the desk you see, taking the money. They’d send the change back to us, you see. We used to give the change over the counter. This has altered a bit, hasn’t it?
Mr A: Not a lot.
Q: I suppose, not a lot.
Mrs A: Got older, you see, haven’t we?
[General conversation re keeping photos, not noted]
Q: You were in the Co-op, before, as well, for a little while, weren’t you?
Mrs A: Yes, when I married. It was a very old Co-op, then. (Q: Was it?) Very old shop. (Q: Was it different, altogether, was it?) Different altogether. Had just one long counter.
Mr A: Oh, it’s nothing now, it was nothing then to what it is now.
Mrs A: Provisions to one end and grocery to the other, you see. But they were all joining, like. But they were two separate counters, opposite each other.
Q: So, let’s see, did I ask you what hours you used to work? Yes, I think I did. You wouldn’t have had so much spare time as they do these days, because you had longer …
Mrs A: Oh, goodness, no.
Mr A: You didn’t have time to get bored, dear, we always had plenty of work to do.
Q: What did you do in your spare time, if you had any there? Before the War, this was.
Mrs A: Weigh up in the shop, weigh all the stuff up. Nothing came in weighed up, you see. No, all in block. Weigh sugar, soda, pepper, fruit, sugar. Everything we used to weigh up. And we used have to weigh – of course – we had the – used to – lard and butter used to come in bulk. And of course, you see – the people only had two ounces. Had to weigh it exact, you see.
Q: So, did you see much of the manager, the overall manager, Mr Whybrew? Did he come in the shop, much?
Mrs A: Well, he used to come down sometimes, not very often, no. He didn’t worry us so much, then.
Q: So you didn’t know him very well?
Mr A: Very nice people, though.
Mrs A: Very nice man, he was. He’s dead now, though.
Q: Yes, I think I met him once, he used to live at the back of the Co-op, didn’t he?
Mrs A: That’s right, down them houses at the back.
Q: And the manager when you were at the International …?
Mrs A: He lived in Mill Lane. Mr Turner.
Q: So he didn’t – nobody lived at the shop then?
Mrs A: No, he never lived at the shop. No. He’d serve in the shop. That one would serve. But he really done the parcelling up of the orders. (Q: The shop manager) We had no end of orders. (Q: Oh, really?) We were doing orders all day. And when we’d finished them we’d start on the weighing up, you see?
Q: So when you’d done the orders, how did they get taken out to the …?
Mrs A: A roundsman. We had a roundsman take them out in the van, he’d go all round the country with them, you see. All the orders came in from the country, and we used to get them all up, you see, and do them …
Q: Because, your husband was saying that in the butcher’s they used to go round to the big houses and that. Would they do that from the International or …?
Mrs A: No, they used to – the people used to bring their orders into us, books you see. They wrote the order down in a book and then we used to get them all up, you see.
Q: Did you have any of these wealthy people (Mrs A: Well, some of them.) shopping at the International?
Mrs A: Well, some of them were, but that’s more of a ‘Labour’ shop, weren’t it, Co-op.
Q: Co-op, yes. But you still went out in the country?
Mrs A: Yes, they still went out in the country, they had the van take all the things out. Then they had a mobile shop. (Q: Really?) Yes. Used to go out. That was after I finished working there.
Q: That was later on? (Mrs A: Later on, that was, yes.) So what about the International, did you have wealthy people shopping there, too?
Mrs A: Yes, everybody used to come in there. And they also had country rounds there. One fellow used to go out and get a lot of orders, out in the country. He used to go on a bicycle. (Q: On a bike, yes? So they didn’t have horses?) No. There used to be a man called Mr Marven[?], used to come in from Wickham Bishops, and bring a lot of the orders in what we’d – or did he call for the – No, he called for the orders in the International, and took them to the people in Wickham Bishops and Totham, and all that.
Q: I see. So you didn’t have anything like these cartloads of stuff?
Mrs A: No, oh no, not at the International, never had no carts and horses, no.
Q: So, I mean, people like the Parkers, and …
Mrs A: Oh, they wouldn’t deal with us.
Q: They wouldn’t deal with the International, even …?
Mrs A: I don’t remember them dealing that.
Q: Or the Laurences or Luards or anybody? No.
Mrs A: But I wouldn’t be old enough – I wouldn’t work there then, you see.
Q: No, The International, I was thinking.
Mrs A: I wouldn’t work there, then.
Q: You wouldn’t go that far back, no.
Mrs A: Not in those days.
Q: But there was still quite a big – did people buy quite a big amount at once, at the International?
Mrs A: Yes. Yes.
Q: What sort of size of orders would you have for the – did you have at the International?
Mrs A: Well, you could have what you like, there, you see. As much as you liked. But then, when I worked in the Co-op, you couldn’t there, it was all rationed.
Q: So, I remember somebody telling me – it was right when you started working, I should think. In the old days they had these – people used to get these tickets from the church. The poorer people.
Mrs A: I don’t remember that.
Q: And spend them in the shops. (Mrs A: I don’t remember that.) They didn’t bring them to you? Maybe it was just certain shops.
Mrs A: I don’t remember that.
Q: Would you have say, farm workers and …
Mrs A: Agricultural[?], every year we used to get an order up from them. What they used to have, what they called, er, can’t think of the name of it now. [Pauses] Harvest. They had a harvest (Q: Oh really?) orders. And they used to have three quarters of cheese. Or a pound and a half, or something like that. And they used to have a bigger order because they used to work late hours, you see. Work later.
Q: So when you were at the International, did you get farm workers?
Mrs A: No, I didn’t do that there. I didn’t want to work in the …
Q: Would they shop at the International? The poorer people like that?
Mrs A: Yes. Yes, they’d come in there. But you never handled any money in the International, you see. You just wrote a check out, in a check book, with a carbon. And you wrote the check out, and they took it to the cash desk, you see. And you had a cashier there. But in the Co-op we had – we handled the money. Because it used to go up in that thing and come back to us. And you gave the people the change over the counter. But when I first went to work there, before I married, you had your own till, and you had a pound float to start with.
Q: I see, you had to do it all yourself.
Mrs A: You see, at the end of the day, you had to add up all your checks and that had to correspond with the money you’d got in your till.
Q: Did you have more time off, later on? Or did you still …?
Mrs A: I did work. It was a long while I was in the Co-op. It was only when I was in the International – no.
Q: So you had more time. What did you do in your spare time then?
Mrs A: We were courting! [Laughs]
Q: You courted, did you? And then of course, did you stop as soon as you were married? (Mrs A: Yes.) Stop working, the first time? Yes.
Mrs A: Because we have had our ‘Golden’ wedding.
Q: That’s right, yes. So who would your friends be? Other people in the shops, or …?
Mrs A: Yes. One of them girls on there, I was very friendly with. One of my friends is on there. That one. She’s dead now, she’s been dead two years.
Q: That was at the Co-op.
Mrs A; And of course, that was my sister-in-law. We were all friends together.
Q: Had a good time, then?
Mrs A: Had a good time, oh, we used to have wonderful times.
Q: Because – did you have a car? (Mrs A: Yes.) How long ago did you have a car, first of all? When did you start having a car?
Mr A: In nineteen thirty-three. (Q: Really?) I had motorbikes as well.
Mrs A: Motorbikes we had as well.
Mr A: I called it – the BSA Sloper – the big one. And we used to go miles. We formed a club. And we all had a – [Mrs A interrupts: – Orange and black, our colours were.] – had berets[?] and clothes all the same. So we all belonged to the same club. We used to go out – twenty or thirty of us at a time. Go to all the seaside places and it was all arranged. All arranged where we were going and all the rest of it. And everything booked up. (Mrs A: Every Sunday we used to go.) Every Sunday, we used to go.
Q: And that was before you had the car?
Mr A: No, we used to have – had that as well. (Q: At the same time?) That was before I had the car.
Mrs A: Before we had the car, yes. We had a motorbike, then.
Q: That was fun, yes.
Mr A: I had motorbikes until about nineteen twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Because – beautiful car – motorbikes we used to have. And then we had a – we used to – it was all arranged with the club, used to have motorcycle football. On the old Grove’s football field.
Mrs A: Yes, they used to play football.
Mr A: So many on a side. Dangerous, though.
Q: Sounds like it, yes [Laughs] I’ve never heard of that.
Mrs A: His sister and I used to go to High Beech dirt track. (Q: Did you?) Racing, yes. I used to love that.
Q: That was after you stopped work, was it?
Mrs A: That was after I stopped work.
Mr A: What?
Mrs A: Dirt track racing. You used to go Saturdays, didn’t you? High Beech.
Mr A: Yes. We used to go to High Beech and see ‘em racing round the tracks. And we used to have – arrange to have a motorcycle rally. [Mrs A agreeing in background] Here. Years ago. We used to go through the water and rivers and all that with motorbikes and that sort of thing. Through the town/tunnels and that – that was all arranged to go through there, and various places round the country.
Mrs A: Used to go on scrambles didn’t you?
Q: And that was on a Saturday? Was that Saturday and Sunday?
Mr A: Saturday and Sunday.
Q: The shops didn’t – you weren’t working Sunday?
Mr & Mrs A in unison: No, oh no.
Mr A: Sundays mostly we used to go out all day.
Mrs A: He worked some Sundays, when he worked at Crittall’s, only through the War. He was a spotter, you see, on the roof.
Mr A: That’s coming back this way. You were talking about the old times.
Q: [Laughs] So, in the old times, did you go to church a lot?
Mr A: Oh, about once a year!
Q: Once a year, even when you were little?
Mrs A: We used to go when we lived in the house over there. Mother used to – all us girls were confirmed and we’d get up with Mother …
Mr A: Oh, they were all churchy.
Q: Where did you go – St Nicolas?
Mrs A: No, All Saints.
Q: So you didn’t bother with that.
Mr A: No, we didn’t bother with that sort of thing.
Mrs A: He hadn’t got a mother, you see. Their mother died.
Q: No, it’s just people seemed – a lot of people seemed to go to church a lot – in those days.
Mr A: In those days, they did. They were proper – er – very close people, they were, in those days. All used to go to the services, to the churches. And I remember when I used to go to Sunday school. I had to go to Sunday school twice a week – twice a day when I was a little boy. And we used to have an old parson, well, he was a canon, really. Canon Ingles. (Q: Oh yes.) Used to live at Chipping Hill, round the Chipping Hill church. He had two daughters. And they were ever so nice to us kids. Yeah. And they used to make life really worth living, really. And the old Canon Ingles used to come round and see us and come to the school and see us. I went to school when I was just about two years old. The old Chipping Hill school.
Mrs A: That was the old school in Church Street, weren’t it?
Mr A: That was in Church street. The little Infant school, up there. And when you got seven years old you had to get out of it and go somewhere else. Yes. And I went to the – my father, he was a very nice man. He sent us all – sent me and my sister, because we were smaller, to the – when we had to come out of the Chipping Hill school, at seven years old; he sent us to the Catholic school. (Mrs A: Near the Catholic church.) Near the Catholic – I used to – I used to – I was there all my schooldays, there, at that school. Lovely old school. (Q: How strange). Lovely little old school; there was only about thirty of us there. In all. And the older ones, we used to take the little ‘uns, in the little classrooms, and try and teach them things, you know, yeah. And that was a very nice – being a Catholic school there was quite a lot of ‘toffs’ used to come and see us, and buy us sweets and all that. It was a lovely little school that was. The Luard family. They used to come up and see us at school.
Mrs A: They were called ‘The Grey Ladies’ weren’t they?
Mr A: Yes.
Q: Were they? Why was that? Because they were Catholics …?
Mr A: Well, they were …
Mrs A: They used to dress in grey. The used to belong to some …
Mr A: When we worked in the pea fields, when we had our holidays, they used to bring us tea round in a big urn with a donkey. (Q: Did they?) Donkey and cart, every day. Yeah.
Mrs A: He knows more about it than I do really.
Mr A: Wonderful. Wonderful, really. But going back to old Canon Ingles. They used to have what you call a lot of garden fields just the other side of that little bridge, over there. That belonged to the church, you see. And he let it all out in pieces for people to dig and cultivate. And they used to have a garden field supper. And old Greatrex the butcher used to do all the meat side. And various farmers used to do all the – all the vegetables side of it. (Q: Really?) Yeah. Very nice turnout they used to have – they used to hold that in the big old coach house – of course it’s all different up there now, I suppose. There’s nothing up there now to what there used to be. Great big coach house there, hold about fifty people in the – around the tables, you see. And they were all waited on, had a rare feed. Used to have beer, and the old clay pipes. All issued out with all new clay pipes and they all used to have a smoke. Yes. In the old days. When tobacco was about tuppence or thruppence an ounce.
Mrs A: [Laughs] One pound eight p an ounce now it is.
Q: That was for the people who had their …?
Mr A: Wonderful old days, they were. (Mrs A: Yes) I remember it when I was quite a little boy, that was. That all happened. And the people who all had the produce on the garden field all used to take a little of something in. When they went there. They used to take two or three potatoes. Or a nice cabbage or anything like that. Used to make all the – make up the party. Yes.
Mrs A: You got to tell her about the Cromer express disaster, didn’t you.
Mr A: Oh, I’ll tell her about that. In nineteen hundred and five, I wasn’t very old, ‘cos you know, I couldn’t have been – about four I was. There was the Cromer express crashed into Witham station. And killed several, being on the railway, including old Mr Doole. Old Reggie Doole’s father. What used to keep the Post Office (Mrs A: Grandfather.) Grandfather, what used to – yes, his grandfather. And he was a foreman porter in those days. Killed him and several more, others. But, the train come down Witham, come down this platform, this way right down here to Witham station and crashed right into the platform and smashed it to atoms! All of Witham station was practically smashed all to pieces.
Mrs A: [talking in background] Yes, I’ve heard all about the Cromer …[Mr A: speaks over and drowns out rest of Mrs A’s words at times]
Mr A: Carriages all on top of one another. And the cry went out for help and all the fellows out of Cooper Tabers – there was about twenty of them there, you see – Cooper Tabers – they all run to help and all the various other people all round about went to help. There was no ambulances in those days. (Q: I see.) And my Dad, I’ve heard him talk in the latter years about the train accident and how they were getting the dead men out. Dead people out. They were wealthy people, you see. All wealthy people on that train. There were nurses and they were all killed. And several men, old gentlemen were killed, old doctors and that, they were all killed. They were all going down to Cromer for a holiday. (Q: Yes, I see, yes.) Yes. I remember it quite well. I was only a little old boy but I can remember it because – at Witham station in those days – instead of all those iron railings they have nowadays, there used to be sleepers, with a point on the top. (Q: Oh, I see.) And they were all [claps] joined up together and you could only see through the cracks. And us little old kids used to, you see … (Q: Peep.) And as they brought the dead and wounded out, up to the top, they loaded them on wagonettes and flies. You know, the coaches. George Ottley’s coaches. And Mr Hines, that’s right, Jack Hines, he had a – some carriages there. And they all helped and they were carting the people, the injured – because there was no hospitals in those days. They took them into different places, round about Witham. Houses, you know. Just put them in houses, where they could get them in. And of course the dead were all taken away to the mortuary, wherever that was. I don’t know where that was. And there was no mortuaries in those days or anything like that. It was all – when you had an accident in those days, you didn’t know what to do with the people, you see. And the doctors arranged all that sort of thing. And nurses out of the hospitals. No there weren’t no hospitals. Nurses used to be like – there was a nurses’ home in Witham. There was about a dozen, I should think, there. Because [???], she was a nurse there.
Mrs A: At the top of the Valley.
Mr A: Not the top of the Valley, that was near the ‘Albert’. A little further down. There used to be a lovely house [8 Chipping Hill], where they built that road through, to go round to – where they built that new road right through – back of Cullen’s what is now. There used to be lovely houses all along there, you see. And wonderful, there. I remember that quite well, the train disaster. Nineteen hundred and five, because I’ll tell you how I can remember that. Because a year or two after, when I started work, in George Rudkin’s greenhouse – because he’s another seed expert – at Cooper Taber’s – because they were all good experts, they were because they were men who studied their job. And they took great interest in their jobs. They didn’t – not like they are today, in one job and out of another and all that sort of thing. These was the men what carried on all their life, worked one place all their life. I told you previously that my Dad worked there for fifty-one years. See.
Q: What was your Dad’s name? (Mrs A: Ager) His first name? (Mrs A: Arthur)
Mr A: Arthur, his first name. They always used to call him Tom! (Mrs A: They called him Tom, though). Tom Ager. (Q: Bit confusing wasn’t it?) [Laughs] Tom. Everybody loved Tom because his father was a bailiff at Rivenhall in those days. That’s where they lived as youngsters. And – Pond Farm. Well, he was a well known man. And his tombstone still stands in Rivenhall churchyard. Right on the front. Thomas Ager. That’s my grandfather.
Q: So, it was your mother who died when you were young.
Mrs A: His mother died when he was young, yes .
Mr A: My mum died when I was about eleven years old.
Q: Yes, was she – she can’t have been very old then?
Mrs A: Thirty-eight, Betty said, didn’t she?
Q: Thirty-eight, yes.
Mr A: She was wrong there because she wasn’t that old, at all.
Mrs A I thought she was wrong, she wasn’t as old as that. No.
Mr A: She was wrong there, because she was only just over thirty. When she died.
Q: Yes. And what was her name?
Mr A: Jenny.
Q: Was she from a Witham family? What was her name before she was married?
Mr A: Barford, her name was. (Q: Barford.) Were they from round here?) And her father used to keep a …
Mrs A: No, she didn’t come from round here, did she? Came from Chelmsford, didn’t she?
Mr A: They lived at, er, nearest place as I can remember they lived was at Wickham. When they came over this way. Because they came up from Suffolk where the old Red Barn was. Remember that? ‘The Murder in the Red Barn’. (Q: A [???] wasn’t it?) They knew all about that, you see. Years gone by. And my grandfather, on my mother’s side, was a fishmonger. And he had a fish shop in – what’s the name of that place? (Mrs A: Don’t ask me). [Laughs] Near Polstead. I’ve taken you round there and told you all about it. I just can’t remember it.
Mrs A: I can’t remember, we’ve been to so many places, haven’t we?
Mr A: And eventually, they came to – up from that fish shop, to Wickham. And he used to supply fish round about on a pony and cart. Round about Witham you see. And I suppose that’s how my Dad picked the girls up. Because there were several girls. And they were nice lovely girls. Lovely girls. Lovely to look at, too. I ain’t got a photograph of my mother, have I?
Mrs A: I did have, I gave it to your sister Ethel, didn’t I?
Mr A: No, you shouldn’t have done. That was my affair. And she was ever such a nice girl. To look at, you know. Well, so she was, really, but we didn’t know much about her because she died so early.
Mrs A: Died of a heart attack. Didn’t she?
Mr A: Yes.
Q: I think you probably told me your brothers and sisters …
Mr A: She died, she died one night. (Mrs A: There was a thunderstorm on, wasn’t there?) Terrific thunderstorm and I don’t believe – I can’t remember what happened. She had something wrong with her. But, er – my Dad was a very smart man, in those days. Athlete bloke. (Mrs A: She’d got a boy a year old) Very nice chap. In his days he used to go and help anybody and anything. (Mrs A: He never remarried.) Yeah. Never remarried. (Mrs A: No.) There was five of us at home. Well, one died. My eldest brother died. At seven years old. They all had (Mrs A: Diphtheria, he had.) diphtheria. All had diphtheria, they were dying off all round here like flies. And we lived in the Chipping Hill – lived an old house (Mrs A: Next to the church) right opposite the church gates.[26 Chipping Hill at one time, later part of 30] Near the church gates on Chipping Hill in those days. Of course, living there, we had to go to Sunday school every week, every Sunday. And Old Canon Ingles …
Mrs A: [talking over] He lost his eldest brother a year ago last Christmas. And he lost his sister a year ago this coming August. And his youngest brother came home from work and dropped down dead one night.
Mr A: Yeah. He was a great big strong fellow.
Mrs A: He worked at Ashby’s Garage.
Mr A: [talking over]: Never had nothing wrong with him. It’s funny ain’t it? I’m the only one left now. To keep the flag flying [Laughs]
Q: Yes. Were you in the middle, were you?
Mrs A: There was Arthur, there was Eddy who died. Then Arthur, then Cecil, then Ethel, then Frank.
Mr A: Yeah.
Q: You were saying, so when you were little, you had to go to church?
[all talking together]
Mr A: Oh yes, oh yes. (Mrs A: We had to.)
Q: Not if you lived so near.
Mrs A: They used to give you a little tiny text and my mother knew if we’d been or not. If we hadn’t got that text, you see, she knew we hadn’t been. [Q & Mrs A laugh]
Q: So you lived – when did you move from Chipping Hill, down to Witham?
Mr A: Witham? When I was about seven years old, I think.
Q: Yes. Then you stayed in the same place.
Mr A: And I lived at 21 Maldon Road until I got married.
Mrs A: No, till Ethel married. And then you went to live with Ethel.
Q: And then you came up here, yes.
Mr A: But, 21 Maldon Road was our destination.
Mrs A: That’s where he lived.
Mr A: Lived next door to Mrs Andrews. And she had one son, and she was a schoolteacher. One of the head schoolteachers at Maldon Road school. She was a very nice person. And they eventually – Wallace, he got a job in the County offices at Chelmsford. And they went up there and lived. And we never see much more of them after that.
Q: So were you living there when you worked at the butcher’s? (Mrs A: Yes. Mr A: Yes.) You said the horses were down that road, did you?
Mr A: Yes. Because I started work when I was eleven or twelve years old. (Q: Yes?) Oh, yes. Used to do a man’s job when I was about twelve or thirteen.
Q: I don’t expect you got a man’s wage for it, did you?
Mr A: No, I used to get about sixpence a day, sixpence a week. [Mrs A & Q laugh]
Mrs A: Didn’t get much money in those days, did we?
Q: And so you – did the …?
Mr A: But the Goodchilds, Mr and Mrs Goodchild were very nice people. And I used to go – and they used to feed me well. Look after me, you know. (Q: Oh, good, yes) Yes, and they were very nice. I’d got no mother you see and they knew that, I suppose.
Q: How did you – do you remember how you got the job, at all? At the butcher’s?
Mr A: Yes, I remember it quite well. I was always interested in horses. Being a boy, always interested in horses and ponies. And little Shetland ponies and all them, we used to have. I got so that I got to know a lot of the fellows who worked at the butcher’s and then I used to have a ride all round the country with old Geoff Purle. He was the foreman of the shop. And I used to go with him and that’s how I got me job. (Q: Oh, I see.) I worked me way in like that. (Q: Experienced.) [Both laugh]. And I told you all about that. About the meat, carting the meat home.
Mrs A: Told you about the meat last time, didn’t he?
Mr A: Used to take a load of meat Saturday afternoons, clear the shop, as you might say. Because we’d got no refrigerators or anything, in those days. But we used to take a load of meat round – start from Witham and go up to the Victoria and serve those – all those people up there. They never ordered it or anything, you know. They just come to the cart and old Geoff used to say ‘How much do you want?’ Slice a piece off, sixpence or a shilling or something like that.
Mrs A: Yes, for half a crown you could get a lovely joint couldn’t you?
Mr A: Lovely beef. And that’s how we sold all our stuff out. And used to come back, all round Terling and Fairstead, and all the various places. And some of the toffs, they used to order theirs. Like Stuart[?] Richardson and several more other people, they used to order all theirs. And the farmers, they used to order all theirs. (Mrs A: Those with the money) (Q: Did they?) But in between we used to sell all the meat out just as people would like it, you know.
Q: So the farmers, and people like that, how often would they get – once a week would they get their meat or …?
Mr A: Yes, well you see, they were always back in the shop, always coming back in the shops, they were. (Q: Were they?) They’d got their own vehicles, you see. Their own ponies and carts and all that, you see.
Q: Oh, so they took their own meat.
Mrs A: Took their own meat.
Mr A: Oh yes, we had tons of meat.
Q: So the farmers took theirs from the shop, did they? Or you took it to them?
Mr A: They used to – send their order in, you see. People with a bit of money or like that, order what they wanted. Big joints of beef and all that. I used – we used to take it out sometimes, on bicycles or ponies and carts.
Q: How often would they get a big joint?
Mr A: Oh, they’d have three or four joints a week, some of them. Lived like (Mrs A: They had servants, you see, didn’t they?) fighting cocks in those days. And the meat in those days was very cheap, really. And beautiful beef, too. And the real best, because, in these days, they kill bullocks that are about eighteen months old! They got no taste in them! We never used to kill a bullock under nearly a ton. And they were about three years old. I’d go down with Geoff Purle and Goodchild himself – been out on these different farms and they’d select what they want. They’d go to these different farms where they got beef, beasts, bullocks and pigs and sheep. And they used to go and select what they wanted, you see. And they used to have them sent in, as they wanted them, you see. We used to go killing.
Mrs A: Christmas time, they used to have a bullock in the shop so you could see it. Before they slaughtered it.
Q: Really? What, live, you mean?
Mrs A: Yes. Live, yes.
Mr A: Oh yes, on show. [???]. The man that used to run most of the prize stuff was old John Polley at Rivenhall. He used to send some lovely cattle to Witham market with old Hugh Page, when he was the auctioneer.
Mrs A: We had a market, a cattle market where that Labour Hall is. (Q: Oh, I know, yes.) Yes.
Mr A: Yes. And they all used to have the rosettes on, and everything, you know. And if they’d got a rosette, red rosette, that was a first prize in its class. They – the butcher would probably buy it and have it in his – have it stand in his shop for a day or two for people to look at. (Q: What, inside the shop?) Yes, take it down the shop, live.
Mrs A: I’ve seen that at Lovedays, (Q: Really?) I’ve seen them inside the shop. At Christmas.
Mr A: Then we used to have them come down into the slaughterhouse. And the old slaughterhouse, Goodchild’s slaughterhouse – there had plenty of room. A big butcher, he was, really. And he had his slaughterhouse where the car park is now.
Mrs A: Back of Farthings, yes. [Farthings was 68 Newland Street]
Mr A: Instead of the car park. Well that was all laid up, a lovely place that was.
Mrs A: Yes, the old pigs a-squealing, you’d got.
Mr A: Used to do all the killing up there, during the week. If we – we used to generally kill Mondays, kill one bullock Mondays and kill another one about Thursday.
Q: I see, yes.
Mr A: And my brother, Arthur, when he was a boy, he was only about – just left school but he used to kill sheep. (Q: Really?) Yes. He was a butcher boy, went through the trade.
Q: How did people learn the trade?
Mr A: He learned it off the others. And they were all skilled butchers, in those days. And old Billy Carter used to run the pork shop. (Mrs A: Pork butchers.) He used to come and kill his own pigs. (Mrs A: Lovely brawn, he used to make.) Sit them on the – sit them down with the nozzle on them and cut the throat and the blood all used to pour out.
Q: So he’d do that in your – in the Goodchild’s place, would he? For himself?
Mr A: Yes. That was his shop, you see. (Q: Oh, that wasn’t …) And Mr Carter was only a manager; Mr and Mrs Carter were managers of the pork shop.
Q: Yes, because – did they used to do any killing for anybody else?
Mr A: Nobody else, only us. Used to be Goodchild do all his own killing. Well, that’s Purley and all them, all his men. Because they used to have a lot of men work for them, you know.
Q: Really? How many would you say?
Mr A: Oh, about four. (Q: Yes.) Four, including Purley, that’s five. The boss is six, and me – but my Dad used to do a lot of – he didn’t do a lot of the actual killing but he used to a lot of help in the way of dressing and all that, you know.
Q: He worked there for a bit, you mean? Or he just helped out?
Mr A: No, he didn’t work for them. He used to do that in the evening times. He used to come down the slaughterhouse and help us out. (Q: As an extra, yes.) And there was always a joint of beef for him or something like that. (Q: yes, of course. So did the …?) Best pork sausages were only eightpence a pound.
Q: So the same people as worked in the shop did the killing?
Mr A: Done all their own work.
Q: There was no separate people doing the killing?
Mr A: There was no abattoirs [says ‘abbertooers’] or whatever they call them now. There was nothing like that. The butchers simply went to the farmer and bought his cattle and had it driven home – drove home on the road, used to walk them home. Down into the slaughterhouse yard. And they were all in proper places there, for them to stay there for two or three days or perhaps a week or more. And the sheep used to be drove in just the same. And they had two meadows down the Maldon Road where we used to go and bring the sheep – take the sheep down and bring back what we wanted to kill. We used to drive them all back again and the butcher used to select so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so and hold them back and drive all the others back in the meadow again. We used to feed them on cake and all sorts of things.
Q: So you’d keep them a little while before you …?
Mr A: Oh, yes. Perhaps he’d buy up a flock of sheep, about thirty. And they’d all got to be fed and looked after until they were ready, you see. And they used to fatten them up in that time, you see, as well.
Mrs A: They won’t buy fat now, will they?
Mr A: My brother Arthur, the oldest one that’s just recently died. He was a good butcher. He used to dress – kill sheep, dress them up and dress them and everything. Make them look lovely when they were hanging in the shop. Yes.
Q: So the farmers …?
Mr A: Everybody took an interest in their job in those days. They don’t take no interest in nothing, now!
Mrs A: All they want’s the money now, don’t they?
Mr A: And we used to have – we never got much money.
Q: So you were skilled – how much money would one of the skilled men get, do you know?
Mr A: Not much, thirty bob – two pound?
Q: And so the farmers, where you got the animals, would they come from a long – how far out would they go to get the animals?
Mr A: Well, all round the fields. All round the fields. You see, the farmers themselves actually bred and bought – bred those cattle from calves. Sheep from lambs (Mrs A: Whereabouts?) [talking over] They kept them, you see until they were saleable.
Q: But, like, would you go out as far as Chelmsford or Colchester?
Mr A: Oh no, not all round like that. (Q: Just near…?) Only in the various …
Mrs A: In the countryside and all.
Q: And if they wanted – if the same farmers wanted meat, they couldn’t kill their own or anything?
Mr A: Well, they used to. They’d kill a – oh yes, they’d often killed pigs and sheep and that like. But the best place was the butchers. They used to poleaxe them – it’s a big big job killing a bullock and dressing that, you know. (Q: Yes) And you’d’ see, the skinnings[?] what you call the skinnings they’d – used to pull them up as they took the coat – skin them. And up a bit more and skin them all over the legs to look lovely. Plenty of water – keep washing them. Yes.
Q: So if the farmers wanted some meat, would they just kill their own for themselves?
Mr A: They probably would if they wanted to.
Q: Or would they buy it back off you?
Mr A: Well, they might. It’s just possible they done both.
Q: They could do either. (Mr A: They could do either.) Because I remember, like the grocers that had bacon often, didn’t they, in the provisions shops. (Mrs A: Yes.) Would they – where would they get the bacon?
Mr A: From the Dunmow Flitch they used to come from, all the bacon from. (Q: Yes) All the bacon.
Q: They didn’t get it done at your place, at all?
Mr A: They never done no bacon, no cooking of any bacon. I believe they used to smoke hams. Used to smoke hams – but mostly the butchers, if they wanted anything like a ham or anything like that, we could do them for them, you see.
Q: Yes, I see. So I suppose if somebody just kept a couple of pigs, say, and they wanted them killed ….?
Mr A: Well, they used to keep a lot of cottage pigs in those days.
Q: How would they be killed?
Mr A: Well, they used to come into the slaughterhouse and be killed and sent back to them split up, all cut up.
Q: Oh, really? That was good.
Mr A: Yes, they could be. But halftimes, some of these old cottages used to kill their own. (Q: Yes, right, yes.) But there’s a lot in killing a pig, you see, really. Because you got to skell [scald] them. Get all the fur off. You can’t skin them. They all had to be ‘skelded’ in boiling water.
Q: Oh yes, it was quite a job then. Did you use to help with the killing?
Mr A: Oh, yes. When I was a little boy, I used to help. Used to do all the odd jobs while they were killing, yes.
Q: Did you serve in the shop, as well?
Mr A: Yes, if they was – oftentimes when the butchers were busy, killing.
Mr A: They had just enough to carry on with and that was that. They used to have some lovely carts, lovely horses. Ponies. Used to look beautiful. And we used to go and fetch them up in the morning at six o’clock. I wasn’t very old then. I wasn’t, I hadn’t left school then. (Q: Really?) I used to go down and fetch the ponies up. (Q: Yes.) Bring them up to the Goodchild’s, feed them, brush them down, muck them out, that sort of thing. Get them all ready for the job what they’d got to do during the day. I used to take them down in the meadow at night. In the summer time, not in the winter. In the summer time we used to take them down to the meadows.
Q: So where did they go in the winter, in the back of the shop there?
Mr A: In the winter time we used to keep them at the back of the shop.
Q: So why did you say he didn’t make as much money as he could have done?
Mr A: Well you see, you can’t compare the two things there you see. Everybody was free and easy and everything was cheap, in those days. Today, it’s quite different.
Q: You mean you could have charged more and …?
Mr A: Charge more and … (Mrs A: Cheaper then, everything was cheap then, wasn’t it?) And be careful what you’re doing and all the rest of it. We weren’t like that.
Q: So he didn’t – he didn’t make a lot, then?
Mr A: All the people round about Witham, like who were in the trades, they used to help one other.
[General conversation about making coffee, not noted]
Q: You say all the tradesmen used to help one another? (Mr A: All help one another). How did they do that?
Mr A: And they all used to deal with one another. (Q: Yes, I see.) You see. If Goodchild wanted a new bicycle he’d buy it off the people who dealt with him. You, see, that sort of thing.
Q: Yes. I mean, were there any clubs or anything, just for them? (Mr A: Never had no clubs) The Chamber of Trade – or there wasn’t anything like this Chamber of Trade (Mrs A: No, nothing like that) or the Masons or anything where they all …?
Mr A: Oh, the Masons, they used to be the Masons.
Mrs A: Used to be the Masons, but you see, only the people who were well off belonged to them. (Q: Yes)
Mr A: In those days you got to be ‘Who’s Who’ if you want to be in the Masons.
Mrs A: You’d want to be a businessman in those days, you see.
Mr A: In the latter years it’s been altogether different.
Mrs A: But now they take anybody for a Mason, don’t they?
Q: Yes. So what sort of people would there be in the old days, when you say businessmen? (Mr A: All businessmen.) I mean, the Goodchilds wouldn’t be that well off, you mean, to be …? (Mr A: Yes) They were, you think?
Mr A: Yes, he would be classed as a well-off man. (Q: So would he be…?) I mean with what he – if he hadn’t got the money in the bank, (Mrs A: He had stock, didn’t he?) everything what he’d got in stock and all that, and business and shop and all that, it run into hundreds of pounds, well, thousands, now.
Q: Yes. Did he have any other property or businesses or anything?
Mr A: Goodchild. Well, he had his own shop, and then the pork shop. (Q: Yes.) And two big meadows down Maldon Road. They were all his own property. And he used have all the – lot of produce off of Wakelin, Bertie Wakelin. From the farm there. (Q: Freebournes, yes.) And they all dealt with one other. The doctors, and all the same. They all used to deal with one another, you see. Old Percy Laurence – we used to – tons of meat used to go up there.
Mrs A: The Grove, what they call The Grove.
Q: Yes, I know . So would these people meet outside of working hours at all?
Mr A: Working hours at all – they used to meet in clubs. In the club like (Mrs A: Constitutional.) Constitutional Club. (Q: I see.) And various places like the White Hart or the Spread Eagle. You never see them dipping down lower in the four-ale bar or anything like that. But they were all very nice chaps. They were good, real nice people.
Q: Did any of the shopkeepers get on the Council, for instance?
Mr A: Oh, yes. They’d all be on the Council. Any of them. That’s like old Bernard Blyth, what used to live over this place, here. ‘Cos this used to be a smashing place years ago. He was a councillor. And the old man Blyth, too.
Mrs A: He had the old mill down there. (Q: Oh, yes, of course, yes.) The Blyths. (Miss K: He used to have the – where the Mill House is). Yes.
Q: So the Goodchilds weren’t from Witham, but they settled here.
Mr A: They didn’t go from Witham, he just – he died in The Avenue, I believe.
Mrs A: He died in The Avenue, yes. So did she, didn’t she?
Mr A: I believe so, I remember picking them up one day, her and her sister, in my little Austin Seven. And they were waiting for someone to take them to Hatfield. ‘Cos, … (Mrs A: Violet?) … yes. [???]. When them two got in the back of my little old car, it nearly went – sunk in the ground! [Mrs A & Q laugh] I took them up there, though. And brought them back. (Q: Did you?) Yes. (Mrs A: They weren’t prams, were they?) Yes.
Mrs A: We started off with an Austin Seven, you see then gradually worked our way up. (Miss K: They were like a pram, weren’t they.)
Q: So what happened to the shop after they finished?
Mrs A: It’s still a butcher’s.
Mr A: After Goodchilds (Miss K: Lovedays.) Lovedays bought it. Yes Loveday bought it. Ah, that was never the same. Never the same. They’re youngsters, you see, to what these old ‘uns were. They never knew the idea of anything, really. And that’s gradually got worse and worse and worse.
Mrs A: They don’t want to work now, do they?
Mr A: Down near the bottom of old Goodchild’s shop, and his house as well, they used to have big brine tubs in cellars. And the great joints of salt beef we used to bring up from there. Beautiful.
Miss K: Because they used to slaughter there then, didn’t they?
Mr A: Slaughtering done in the old slaughterhouse. Down in Guithavon Street here.
Miss K: They don’t now, do they?
Mrs A: We’d hear all the old pigs a-squealing over there, didn’t we?
Q: But how long would it to learn to be a butcher, do you think, in those days?
Mr A: Oh, in those days you could keep on learning, dear. (Q: You could?) There was no end to it. (Q: Really?) They say – do apprenticeship, well you – if you did apprenticeship four or five years, apprenticeship, that’s all very well so far as the money goes, but they used to keep you poor. Well, you can still keep learning.
Mrs A: They were kept down then, weren’t they?
Mr A: You can learn all your life. Yes.
Q: Yes. So did they used to call it apprenticeship? Were they called apprentices? (Mr A: No.) In the butcher’s?
Miss K: You was called apprentice, weren’t you?
Q: In the butcher’s? Were you?
Mrs A: No, he wasn’t.
Mr A: I weren’t no apprentice. I learnt my trade as I went along with – off the others.
Miss K: He was a butcher, that’s all.
Q: So how long was it you stayed there?
Mr A: I stayed at the butcher’s until – I didn’t stay there wonderfully long.
Mrs A: I was going to say, you worked at British Oxygen, didn’t you, for years. And then you went from there to Crittall’s.
Mr A: I was a butcher boy. As you grow older you get different jobs, don’t you?
Mrs A: No, you went from there to Cooper Tabers, didn’t you?
Mr A: I went to Cooper Tabers.
Mrs A: And then from there to British Oxygen.
Q: So you had sort of a different job each time, really.
Mr A: Yes, keep stepping up, you see. (Mrs A: Different every time.) I was at Cooper Tabers about eight years, or nine years. And I wished I’d never left the place; I wished I hadn’t never left the place. (Q: And why is that?) I liked it. (Q: Did you?) And everybody liked me. And I liked me jobs. But when I went to the British Oxygen, of course, that was – running around with Londoners, then you see. That was all London work and all that, you see. Still we – took it right out of me stride altogether. I didn’t want it, really. Although I did it.
Q: So what sort of things did you do at Cooper Taber?
Mr A: Cooper & Tabers was my job. (Q: What did you do?) Used to drive the horses and carts. And then we gradually stepped up till the motor cars come along. In nineteen – when the T-Ford come out, that was in – I can tell you the year now – about nineteen seventeen or eighteen. (Mrs A: Your Dad used to drive it.) Yeah, I know, my Dad was an old driver. But, when the T-Ford come on the road, Henry Ford made a fortune. You remember that time?
Mrs A: No, she wouldn’t remember that. (Q: I’ve heard of it, anyway.) It was before her time.
Mr A: Old Henry Ford, he was an American, you see. And he flooded Britain and everywhere else with T-Fords. The model T-Ford. That was a different type of machine altogether to the ordinary car what is today. I drove one of them when I was eighteen. I couldn’t drive it on the road till I was eighteen, that was when I got my first driving licence, in nineteen eighteen. And I used to cart all – take all the people on these – off, out of the warehouses and into the – round the fields round the countryside.
Mrs A: That’s what they call ‘trial grounds’, you see, didn’t they? (Q: Yes, I know, where the …)
Mr A: I used to – learnt the trade, right from the very start. Used to go and estimate stuff. (Q: Really?) Yes, and the farmers used to bring it in and all that sort of thing. When that was ready. But, I used to drive gangs of fellows about all over the country. Not all over the country, all over Essex, you might say. All over Essex. Where we’d got seed growing. And Arthur Wallace, he was the under manager, he used to go further afield, he used to go to Holland and all them places. And go up the north of England.
Mrs A: Get the Dutch bulbs, he used to, didn’t he? Arthur Wallace.
Q: Your father worked there as well?
Mr A: Father worked there, yes. He used to drive different people about. Like I did in my little way. In my little lorry I used to take loads of people – loads of fellows out on different jobs. Round the farms.
Mrs A: He worked there until he died his father.
Mr A: Pea fields, especially. Used to do all that sort of work, to keep the stocks right. What is called ‘rogueing’. Get all the rogues out of the different seeds. If there’s a rogue one standing there, you are supposed to know it and pull out – get rid of it. Burn it, get rid of it.
Q: You say your father worked there – (Mrs A: His father worked there.) Still working was he, when he died? (Mr A: My father …) (Miss K: When he died.).
Mr A: He worked there right up till he died.
Q: When was that, then?
Mrs A: When he was sixty-two, his father.
Mr A: He died early but he was – he died at sixty-two. And he was still in the same place as when he started work. When he was about eleven years old. But he stayed in the trade all the way through, he was a pretty good scholar. And that’s how they used to go on in those days.
Q: So you were still there then, were you? When was that? Were you still at Cooper Tabers then?
Mr A: Oh yes, I was still at Cooper Tabers.
Q: When was that, about?
Mr A: I was at Cooper & Tabers until I started on the British Oxygen. (Mrs A: Yes) That’s what busted me up, really. I didn’t really like that at all. I used to be travelling about all over the country, great big old lorries. Took me out of me stride, really.
Q: So you were still quite young, then, when you moved on?
Mr A: Oh, yes still quite young.
Mrs A: We weren’t married then, you see.
Q: No, I see.
Mr A: I was quite young. I was about twenty, twenty one or twenty two, twenty-three when I worked at British Oxygen.
Q: So you’ve always done driving.
Mr A: All me life.
Q: Beginning with horses and that, yes.
Miss K: Always done driving.
Mr A: Yes I’ve had some rum jobs in me time, in the way of driving, yes. Of course, in the, lorries in those days, those lorries in those days, they were lovely lorries, but they’d got nothing to use! No electric lights.
Q: No, I suppose not.
Mr A: We used to have to drive on … (Mrs A: Lamps.) Oil lamps. I’ve driven a great big six-ton lorry all over the country on oil lamps. It wanted a bit of doing, you know. Yes.
Mrs A: Go over a bump, they’d got out!
Q: When did they give up the horses, like at the butchers or somewhere? When did they change over?
Mr A: Well, they gradually changed over through the years.
Q: Gradually, over a time?
Mr A: There was always ponies and carts there, because the ladies liked the ponies, you see. And we used to have the tub carts for the kids. To ride in. But, I never did have a – a car at the butchers. Always ponies and carts, all the time. Even so, a lot of people had cars and ponies as well.
Q: So when you took these great carts-loads of meat out, was it covered up or wrapped up?
Mr A: Oh, they were in proper-made carts, dear. There used to be like a covered-in cart. And inside there was all lovely clean and lovely. There was no messing about.
[General conversation about evening meal, not noted]
Mr A: I was going to tell you about the fire. Nineteen-fourteen, when peace was declared.
Mrs A & Miss K: [in unison] Eighteen, nineteen eighteen.
Mr A: Nineteen-eighteen when peace was declared. Come up the road, from the basket makers. Old Billy Smith used to do a lot of – make the baskets in there. In there, in the …
Mrs A: Where Johnsons have got their shop now.
Q: Oh, I know, in Guithavon Street [number 1]
Mr A: He was walking along, not much better than me now, when he walked up here with a basket full of shavings. Where they’d been making baskets and trimmings and all that. And he plonked it right in the middle of the High Street. And set it alight. And before the police or anybody could get there stop them, there was loads of people brought all their stuff out, chairs and furniture. All threw it on it. And old [pause] Johnny Horner in his yard, he had a big stack of faggots. (Mrs A: He was the vet, there.) And not long before they went all went on there. And Witham House, in those days, which is the Midland Bank now, that was empty. [57 Newland Street] Dr Coombe used to live there. A wonderful old gentleman. And he had a lovely place there, really. Because that was old-fashioned, but he died apparently, and the place was empty. Well, that weren’t long before the doors were off! The floorboards were up! (Q: Really?) [Mrs A laughs] And they made a hell of a fire and the flames went right up through the telegraph wires – because there used to be loads of telegraph wires in those days …
Mrs A: We had the gas works at the bottom of the town. And they got barrels of tar. They poured that all over it.
Mr A: Wait a minute. And the flames were so high, that they went through and burnt all the wires in the High Street, the telephone wires. (Q: Yes?) Oh, they all fell and broke down, and red-hot, and all the rest of it. And in the evening time – of course, this was – I’m talking about the afternoon, like. And in the evening time when the people all finished work, they went down the gas works and smashed their doors down, and got barrels of tar, loads of tar and rolled them up the street and chucked them right into the fire – whoosh! – they went up there. Terrific! And there was huge fire there for two or three – well, a week or more. (Q: Really,? Goodness.) And the tar you see what run down the drains, blocked the drains up. [Mrs A laughs] There was a hell of a mess around here.
Q: What, nineteen eighteen, was it?
Mrs A: Yes.
Mr A: The tar run down the drains and blocked all the drains up all down the High Street, what drains there were. Because that was all red hot, you see. When it got down there, it cooled off.
Q: It went, solid, yes. Goodness me.
Mrs A: I was working in the shop when the Second World War ended. So we packed up when we heard that was over, we had the day off then. Yes.
Mr A: The pubs were all open.
Mrs A: The pubs were all open, yes.
Mr A: All the pubs were open. Especially when peace was declared. I’m talking about when peace was declared, nineteen-eighteen. Well, the soldiers were about here. There was – everywhere was full of horses and soldiers. All the yards were full of horses and soldiers. Just like you might see cars today.
Q: Really? And that was nineteen-eighteen?
Mrs A: Yes, nineteen-eighteen.
Q: Because there were a lot of soldiers about here, in the First War, were there?
Mr A: Oh yes, they were all about here.
[All four talking together, difficult to distinguish what each were saying]
Q: Did they use to have the- I was wondering about that …?
Mrs A: They billeted them on you, yes.
Mr A: Used to go on leave at times.
Mrs A: When we lived at Beccles my mother had three. They was put on her.
Q: Going back to the shops. Did they used to have their own shops? Or did they shop around the ordinary shops in the town?
Mr A: What, the soldiers? No they were all self supplied, dear. What they call, we had what they called a RE dump. Down the Maldon Road. And I knew the officer there. And he was a very nice man. And he used to send his butchers all round, serving the meat out to where his men were billeted. They all had lovely meat, tins of jams, butter, cheese and that was all supplied – got plenty of men and carts and in those days, you see.
Q: So they brought that all in from outside, from somewhere? It didn’t affect your trade or anything?
Mr A: Yes, used to supply them all. They were self-supporting. All the soldiers.
Q: So it didn’t help your trade at all?
Mr A: And the people who they lived with used to cook the food for them. Of course, there was enough for them as well.
Q: Yes, quite. You mean the solders took the food in and then the people cooked it for them?
Mrs A: They had a cook down on that dump, didn’t they?
Q: Did they?
Mr A: Oh, they had dumps, they had cooks for their own selves.
Mrs A: They had their own cooks in there.
Mr A: Who weren’t billeted out. But all the people that were billeted, different people, the women and the men had to feed them. But they supplied all the food.
Q: Yes, I see. So really, if you were putting some men up you got some of their food as well?
Mrs A: Yes. We did as well.
Mr A: Oh, well, that was all cooked together, weren’t it?
Q: Yes. So really, people weren’t too badly off?
Mr A: They were very generous, they used to ‘bung’ it on. Yes. In those days.
Mrs A: You’d say how many rooms have you got and they’d push the soldiers on you in those days. (Q: Really?) Yes. My mother had two or three when we lived at Beccles when we were children. Two or three soldiers pushed on her. And she’d got us four children (Q: It’s a lot, isn’t it?) Yes.
Mr A: They were very nice chaps some of them.
Mrs A: Very nice fellows.
Mr A: Come from all walks of life.
Q: And they were sort of waiting to go on …
Mr A: For the – just ready to be trained, to get sent out to France – to be shot!
Mrs A: Shot, yes, poor things.
Miss K: We had two Scotch men, didn’t we?
Mrs A: Yes and one of them, his mother had got a butcher shop, like Cecil was talking about, a pork … And he had a birthday and she sent him a lovely hamper. (Miss K: Everything in it.) Everything in it, pork and pies and sausages and everything.
Miss K: My mother invited his pals and we had a lovely supper. Yes. We had a …
Mr A: You’d be surprised how the women – they used to work hard for those boys. (Q: Yes.) Because they were away from home, some of them had good homes. And chucked in the Army like that and they were sympathised with.
Mrs A: My mother used to [???].
Mr A: And when I was at Goodchild’s …
Mrs A: And do their washing and all that.
Mr A: [laughs] When I was at Goodchild’s, during the war, nineteen-fourteen war, I’ll always remember a funny thing. They used to line them up in the road and the officer used to come and find out what premises were like and who was in the premises, who lived in the premises and all that sort of thing. And then -‘Right, fall in six men’. [Laughs] I’ll always remember it well, old Goodchild nearly fell through the floor! [All laugh] Six men, in they marched, trampled in, with all their equipment on, rifles and bayonets and good knows what, kitbags. And they used to look after them well. Even though they were butchers. (Q: well.)
Mrs A: My mum had two or three didn’t she, May?
Miss K: Mum had a [???] …
Mr A: They used to have – they were all – all these soldiers had all their meat brought up from the RE dump.
Q: Even though it was a butcher’s.
Mr A: Even the butchers, everybody. They were self-supporting And of course, as I say, they weren’t ‘mingy’ with it. They used to ‘bung’ it on anyhow. Great big joints of beef, tins of jam, and butter, cheese. (Mrs A: They were lovely.) All sorts of things. (Q: Yes.) Of course, we were hard up so far as food was concerned to what they were. But they got – you got to prepare it for them, you see.
Q: I see, yes. So he must have had quite a big house, Goodchild, did he?
Mr A: Goodchild had the two shops and the bedrooms over the shops and he also had another house. You see.
Miss K: Had the lounge at the side.
Q: At the pork shop, there was a manager there you said, was there?
Mr A: Carter[?]. They all served the same as us. (Q: Where did he live?) He lived over the shop. (Q: Over the shop.) Yes, they all lived on the premises.
Mrs A: When we first came to live over here, we came from Beccles in Suffolk. Well they called brawn, pork cheese, in Suffolk. (Q: Yes.) Well of course when my mother said to my sister ‘Go up the town, go to the butchers and get a pork cheese.’ Well of course my sister went in there and asked for a pork cheese, and he said ‘Oh, don’t sell that dear.’ So she said ‘Oh, you’ve got a window full of it, look!’ she said. So he said ‘Well, point to it.’ So he said ‘Oh, we don’t call that pork cheese, we call that brawn’. (Mr A: Yes, lovely brawn.) If you went in Edwards[?] now you’d still have to ask for pork cheese. (Q: Would you really?) Yes.
Q: Well I never heard of that, isn’t that strange. (Miss K: They call that pork cheese. Suffolk and Norfolk.)
Mr A: Mrs Carter was a nice woman. She used to run the shop, like keep it clean, and dress the windows out and all that sort of thing. And old Billy Carter was the [???] and the butcher.
Q: Were they Witham people? (Mrs A: No, Ipswich.) (Mr A: Ipswich people). The Carters were, were they? The Carters were Ipswich people, yes.
Mrs A: His wife was Ipswich but he was Witham. I had a girl friend I used to be at school with. And we used to go out in the meadows and that. And she said we’ll go and pick some peggles. And I said ‘Whatever are they?’ So she said ‘Them over there.’ I said ‘They ain’t peggles, we call them cowslips’. (Q: That’s right, yes, I’ve heard that one.) (Mr A. Peggles we always called them.
Mr A: Of course when they dug these railway banks out to make these railways, they turned up a lot of earth, and all these peggles grew. All over everywhere. (Miss K: And marguerites.) And marguerites. So plants that had been gone and forgotten donkeys years before, you see, they all come to life again.
Mrs A: If you watch the gardening on now, they always call them cowslips don’t they. Don’t call them peggles.
[Chat about lunch etc. not noted]
Q: You said Mr Carter lived over the shop there, did he have any family Mr Carter.
Mr A: I don’t think so, no. He had about five men working for him. That was all Goodchild’s, you see. But they done all the pork side. (Mrs A: All pork in there it was. They had the most gorgeous sausages. And brawn too, what they called brawn.) The best sausages. They used to make their own sausages. (Q: And his wife helped?) (Mrs A: She helped in there.) Used to make their own sausages. And when the machine had finished making how much they wanted I used to empty the machine and take the sausagemeat home, two or three pounds of it. (Q: Did you have to pay for any of these things?) No. No, I had that for cleaning the machine up.
Q: When your dad got a joint, for instance, your dad helped in the evening at the other shop. (Mr A: Yes, he used to help both shops.) Did he have to pay for any of the – you said he took a joint home with him, your father, did he have to pay for that?
Mr A: Oh yes, down the slaughterhouse they used to help theirselves. (Q: Did they really?) Yes. (Q: And all the other people that worked in the shop?) That was all done above board, Goodchild knew it.
Mrs A: After this Mrs Carter packed the shop up, retired, she made brawn in her own house. (Q: Oh, did she?) My mother used to buy it.
Q: Oh, so she used to make a lot of the things. (Mrs A: She made the brawn.) Mrs Carter used to make the brawn. And what about the sausages, did she help with that? (Miss K: No. She used to serve.)
Mrs A: They made the sausages in the shop, didn’t they Cecil. (Q: She did serve in the shop, did she, Mrs Carter?)
Mr A: I didn’t serve in the pork shop at all. Mrs Carter and Mr Carter did. (Q: It seemed to be mostly men in the butchers.) And probably one or two of their men used to serve in the shop. That was a big shop too, that was. (Miss K That’s where Woolworth’s is now.) (Q: It seemed to be mostly men that worked in these shops. But Mrs Carter did?) Pardon. (Mrs A: Mostly men worked in the shops.) Mostly men. All men. (Q: But Mrs Carter helped.) (Miss K: She was the only woman.)
Mrs A: She helped in the pork butchers.
Mr A The only thing, if you’d got a good butcher in those days, and he got call-up papers to go, well he had to go. (Q: Oh really.) Had to get somebody else in his place. See. (Q: Did that happen to some of theirs, did it?) In the 1914 War there weren’t many women worked at all, not in that respect, only on the farms, on the land and all that. (Miss K: Land army.) Land army.
Mrs A: Second World War we had to work more.
Q: So when you went into the International, when did you go into the International, I’ve forgotten now?
Mrs A: I worked in there when I was about sixteen. (Q: Yes, so that was just after the War wasn’t it?) Oh yes, I was at school, I was only nine when the War ended.
Q: And the manager lived up above the shop?
Mrs A: No, Mill Lane, the manager lived. Turner his name was.
Q: Was he a local person?
Mrs A: Well, I don’t, he weren’t born in Witham I don’t think.
Q: You know you said the tradesmen like Goodchild would all mix together, be friendly with each other? Were the managers part of the same group?
Mr A: Oh yes, more or less. (Mrs A: They were all friendly.) (Q: Even if it wasn’t their own shop? (Mrs A: Yes. They were all friendly.)
Q: They were all friendly, yes. So it didn’t really matter whether you were a manager or whether it was your shop. (Mrs A: No.) You were still thought of as the same. (Mrs A: Yes.)
Mr A: And all the fellows used to pull their own weight. They were all good men. Men in those days took an interest in their job. Today they don’t. All they think about is the clock. Soon as it’s time they go. Doesn’t matter what’s got to be done and what hasn’t, they leave it, don’t they. They go home. In those days it wasn’t like that. I’ve been working at Goodchild, I mean six in the morning till ten at night. And enjoyed it. ‘Cause it was something to do. (Mrs A: Now they got bored, they’ve got nothing to do, don’t they.)
Q: And Goodchild used to help in the shop?
Mr A: Oh yes. Sorrell’s. further down the street, they were all the same. (Miss K: They were butchers.)
Mrs A: What’s that man further up who had a butchers. (Mr A: Gibbs.) No. There was a man lived in Bridge Street. (Mr A: Oh, Brown.)
Mr A: They had to kill all their own. Every butcher killed their own stock. What they bought. You see they bought the bullocks off the farmer and they’d got to make a living out of that. And pay for all the … It wasn’t an easy job. You see. They’d got to make their own living out of it. And a good living they used to have. Oh yes, they lived well. (Q: The butchers, that was? The butchers did well, you mean? The butchers or the farmers lived well?) They all lived well. Yes.
Mrs A: That was cheap then, you see. Get a pound of liver for about sixpence.
Mr A: The doctors weren’t so well off, though they were well off. You see, in the first place. The doctors in those days, used to treat you until you died. There was no hospitals or anything much. And then, I forget what I was going to say now. (Q: About the doctors.) What I was going to say was this. We used to run our business in the butchery line, as well as we could, and get the money off the people every week. And total our books up, make them all come right. But the doctors, oftentimes, old Doctor Ted, and old Doctor Karl (Mrs A: Gimsons.) What worked about here in those days. They’d keep treating people, they never paid them. (Q: Really?) They got paid when they could I suppose. They were owed hundreds of pounds. (Mrs A: You had to pay the doctors in those days.) See. (Q: Of course, yes.) There was not pills to take in those days. Only Doctor … (Mrs A: They used to give you, they had their own dispensary.) They’d give you a bottle of medicine. (Miss K: They used to give it to you in the surgery.
Q: As you said, people would find it difficult. If people got into debt at the International or the Co-op, what used to happen?
Mrs A: Well you see they used to have a dividend then, the Co-op, and if you were in debt, you see, they took it out of your dividend. (Q: But you could get into debt.) You could get into debt.
Q: So how did you manage that. If somebody came in and wanted something and they couldn’t pay, what would you do?
Mrs A: Put it in the book. (Q: And the International as well?) Yes. International the same. They’d send a man round after it at the International.
Q: So were there a lot of people on the book? (Mrs A: Yes, yes.) That was somebody’s job specially to go and get it? (Mrs A: Used to be a man go round and call on these people.) And you had a Christmas Club, for saving. (Mrs A: Christmas club, yes.) And if you had any bits and pieces left over, did you have them, like the butchers?) (Mrs A: No. We never had anything given us at the shops.) You didn’t have anything. (Mrs A: No, nothing. Had to buy it all.) You had to buy it all did you? So there weren’t any … (Mrs A: No, never got no discount or anything on it.) Oh well, there’s so much to say.
Mr A: I’ll tell you another little job I used to do. (Q: Yes, go on, yes.) During the last War, I was getting on then, I used to go and have a shoot, and used to go out and get about twenty or thirty rabbits some Saturdays. Bring them all home and give them to all the kids. (Q: Really?) Pigeons. Rabbits. ‘Cause we wasn’t allowed to shoot game. (Mrs A: No. He hadn’t got a licence for that, you see. (Q: But you were allowed to shoot the rabbits. Yes. That helped a bit then, didn’t it.) (Mrs A: Lovely rabbits in those days, lovely.)
Q: Did they have rabbits at the shop? Did they sell rabbits at the shop? (Mrs A: At the shop, yes. (Mr A: Used to get … [???] threepence for a skin in those days.)
Mrs A: Sold rabbits at the shop, didn’t you? Sell rabbits at the shop?
Mr A: I have sold rabbits at/to the shop, yes, but not many, I used to look after the kids more than I did them. (Mrs A: No, when you worked there you had rabbits, didn’t you? When you worked at Goodchild’s you sold rabbits.) Yes, oh yes. (Mrs A: They used to have them all hanging up.) Yes, breed his[?] own rabbits. Used to have about fifty rabbits, does, bucks (Mrs A: When you got them home you got so much for the skin, you see.) (
Q: Were they regarded as cheap? (Mrs A: They were cheap, yes. (Miss K: They’d have half a sheep hung up didn’t they?)
Mr A: I don’t know if you’ll make anything out of this. (Q: Oh yes, it’s very interesting.)
Miss K Interesting, isn’t it, Mrs Gyford. (Q: As I say, there’s so much to say about it.)
Mr A: At the latter end of the War everybody was getting hungry, and hard up on food. In the last War. (Q: Yes.) And I used to take them round half a dozen eggs, or a dozen eggs to the kids, and feed them. I wasn’t allowed to do it really. It was against the law really, but I did. I used to do it. And go out and shoot rabbits for them.
Q: You had eggs and dairy stuff at your shop, didn’t you? (Mrs A: Yes.) Where did they get all that sort of stuff from? (Mrs A: The farms I expect.) And did some stuff come from wholesalers?
Mrs A: They had what they called, they used to have a great big Mitre van come every Thursday. At the International. And that was unloaded and we had to pack all the stuff away. (Q: I see, you had to help with that, did you?) And at the Co-op I can’t remember. That used to be delivered down the warehouse and I didn’t see that you see. But it actually used to be delivered in the shop when I worked at the International. You see. Used to work damned hard in there for about three bob a week! All the hours god made. Oh dear.
Q: Did they have the prices on? (Mrs A: No, no, we had to know the prices. No, they didn’t have any prices on them.) So how did you, you had a list did you?
Mrs A: That was always the same price, you see, till anything came, that’d come in on a Monday, so and so had gone up or down, then they used to tell us and we just told the customers. (Q: So you didn’t have it labelled up. What about … ) They didn’t have labels on like what they’ve got now.
Q: Did they have the prices marked on the meat in the butchers? (Miss K: Used to have a ticket in, didn’t you?) (Mrs A: No, used to weigh it.) When you were little, when you were at Goodchild’s, and they had the meat, they had it all in the window I suppose did they? (Mrs A: They didn’t have it cut up like they do now and roll it.) (Miss K: Oh no.) Oh there wasn’t it a display at all. Did they have meat on show in the window? (Mr A: Yes, they used to have joints of meat, but there was no prices on them.) There weren’t? (Mr A: No. Not in those days.) So you had to remember the prices, yes. Funny isn’t it, they didn’t seem to mark them the same.
Mrs A: No, they didn’t do any of that, no. Nothing was marked. [???] by the pound when I worked in the Co-op and you had to work it out yourselves you see. (Q: Goodness.) (Miss K: Funny weren’t it.) When I worked in the Co-op in the Second World War, especially Mondays, I used to serve on my own, time the others were [???] my brain wouldn’t go any more. (Q: You must have been good at sums. [???] ‘I can’t do any more, Frank, I’m finished. I can’t add up any more’. Funny how you get like that, isn’t it. All day I was doing it you see.
Q: Did you used to like sums at school?
Mrs A: Yes, I liked working out all money and all that. (Q: So that was quite good for you then.)
Mr A: I remember old Browny/Crowny[?] at the school, if he had any tough boys, he used to strap them on the bench and thrash them. [laughter] That do them good. And the kids were better for it.
[chat about children now, not noted.]
Mr A: Old Browny/Crowny[?] was a cripple, but, he got a nasty boy, who, he’d have them strap on the bench and thrash them with his walking stick. Yes.
[chat about Council by-election, rents, pension coffee etc. not noted.]
Continued on tape 41