Tape 41. 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.
On the tape there is also Miss May King, Christina’s sister, noted as Miss K. She appears on her own on interview tape 26.
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.]
Continued from tape 40
[General conversation, not noted]
Q: [re the Co-op]…So the warehouse part was that at the back part, was it?
Mrs A: Yes. This was taken outside the warehouse, look, see?
Q: But Mr Whybrew lived at the back, didn’t he? You said …
Mrs A: He lived in a house down there, yes. He died down there. His daughter still lives down there, Gwen.
Q: Does she, in the same house?
Mrs A: Yes, in the same house. Yes.
Q: Did she used to work in the shop at all? Or any …?
Mrs A: No. no. She worked at the Eastern Counties buses at Chelmsford.
[General conversation not noted]
Mrs A: Of course, her father married her down in that chapel down there, she married a man who was already married, you know. Gwen did. And she had a child by him. And of course he was imprisoned, bigamy, weren’t it.
[General conversation, not noted]
Mr A: Very funny coincidence happened. You know I told you about the 1905 disaster, the Cromer express? (Q: Yes). Coming from that way. After – during the Second World War, one … (Miss K: There was another one.) … another one come from Cromer, that way. And smashed into the … (Mrs A: Platform he means.) … platform, that’s right. Smashed into that and that would have tippled over, if it hadn’t have been laying on the platform. It held it up, you see. And there was a terrible …
Miss K: There was a [???], we remember it. When Glad and Jack were here. Was it her son that got hung up, all up his trousers.
Mrs A: A piece of the railway line went up his trouser leg.
Mr A: [continuing talking over top of ladies] … wedged in a carriage with a great big piece of metal line hanging right up – coming right up out of his clothes as well and hang over like that. And he was in it. (Mrs A: Never hurt him.) It was … [drowned out by Mrs A/Miss K repeating ‘Never hurt’] … never got hurt. Several of them got hurt (Q: I bet they did) but the old Cromer express, there was eleven killed. Because my Dad helped to get them out. Nurses, and – because you see they were going to Cromer. And a lot of these old toffs who all come out of London or somewhere, they were getting these patients down to Cromer you see. And they’d got their own nurses – lovely – nice looking nurses they was. And they were all – lot of them were killed. Terrible.
Q: Did they find out what caused it?
Mrs A/Miss K: Points. Points on the railway.
Mr A: Yes. I can tell you a bit more about that. They was hauling track up, up here. And it wasn’t properly … (Miss K: Done) … what – properly done. Well, they let that train come through. (Q: Oh dear.) (Mrs A: Don’t shout.) And when that come through, that – (Q: That wobbled, yes.) – that smashed – derailed itself and smashed right through into the station. But the second one – World – one – you know in the old days they had trains with the big con-rods? (Q: Yes.) You know the big con rods. (Mrs A: Steam engines, he’s talking about, now.) Well, that was a-churning the track up, as it was coming along. Punching the sleepers all out. And that landed on the platform, in Witham. Oh, all full of soldiers and sailors, that was. (Miss K: Dreadful.) And if that had went – had got through Witham and on that railway embankment (Mrs A: Would have rolled down that bank, you see). There would have been hundreds killed. They’d have all been killed.
Miss K: That’d have come down that embankment.
Q: Yes. That would have been terrible, wouldn’t it? Yes, I suppose it would.
Mr A: Yes. I remember that one. We were sitting on the lawn, out there, weren’t we? We heard it.
Miss K: Yes, sitting on the lawn. And we had friends come from Guildford, didn’t we?
Mr A: Yes. And we went up there and had a look at it.
Mrs A: Went up and had a look at it, in the car. He took hem up in the car, didn’t you?
Q: Your father wasn’t still there then?
Mrs A: My father and mother were still alive then.
Q: Was he still working up there then? Your father?
Mrs A: No, retired.
Q: He’d retired by then, had he?
Miss K: No he was retired. He was an electrician, telegraph electrician.
Q: Yes, so he wasn’t up there then. No, that must have been terrible.
Mrs A: He was called out all hours of the night, that poor man was. Snow up to his knees, nearly. Had to go, see, to mend these wires.
Mr A: See, as the engine was proceeding up this way – going fast, you know, they were. That con-road broke off, or come apart and that was punching the track up as it was coming along. Sleepers flying all over the place. Of course, all the carriages were all tippled over, and everything.
Q: I’d never heard about that one, that was horrible, wasn’t it? Yes.
Mr A: Terrible.
Miss K: That was one Easter time when Glad and Jack came.
Mr A: That was Easter time, that was.
Mrs A: I know we were all on the lawn out there, over there and we heard it.
Miss K: And a man come and told us, ‘Did you know there was an accident up there?’ Oh yes, that’s right.
Mrs A: So Cyril took them up in the car and they went and had a look at it.
Q: Was it just over there, you said – Mr Keeble, Sidney Keeble, was it?
Miss K: Sid Keeble live on Moat Farm, yes. [???]
Mr A: That first accident. The first Cromer accident in 1905 there was no facilities. There were no cars, no ambulances …
Mrs A: [talking over] Oh, I wasn’t born then I know nothing about that one.
Mr A: … they carted people about in horses and carts. And supply – round the different people, who could take them in. People tearing up sheets. I can remember it – I was a little old boy but I can remember it.
Q: Yes, I bet you can, it’s not something you could forget.
Mrs A: It stays in your mind, don’t it?
Mr A: Yes, stuck in me mind.
Mrs A: I weren’t thought of then! [Laughs]
Q: Because they’d have a big job to sort the station out, I should think. It would take a long time, (Mrs A: To clear it all up) to get the trains running again.
Miss K: Oh, that was all …
Mr A: The tracks – they got the tracks going – hundreds of men working on the railways in those days. Nothing like it is now. Little gangs about. They’d lay a whole track in no time.
Mrs A: Too tired to work, people, nowadays, aren’t they?
Mr A: And all the people out the shops and in the warehouses and factories all went to help. Get them all out. Poor devils.
Q: Because there used to go into the station the other side, didn’t you? I thought someone told me when you used to go into the station, you used to go in off Avenue Road, to get into the station.
Miss K: Oh, we don’t remember that time.
Q: It was all the same when this happened, was it?
Mr A: The same thing as what it is now.
Mrs A: The same here, just the same.
Miss K: It’s always been the same.
Mr A: The same then as what it is now, dear. But there used to be a kind of a goods station as well, you see. Round by the back road. Round by Cooper Taber’s warehouses.
Q: That must be what I was thinking of.
Mrs A: That’s the one you was thinking of, I reckon, Easton Road.
Q: But passengers didn’t go in that way?
Miss K and Mrs A: [in unison] Oh no, no.
Q: No, as you say, that was a good job to have, really, being on the railway. It was quite a steady job to have, wasn’t it?
Mrs A: Yes, and you used to have passes every holiday. So we’d get all travel free. And when we lived at Beccles we used to go to Yarmouth and Lowestoft every Sunday. When we were children. Get there cheap, you see.
Mr A: I even remember years back when old Vic Beardwell who run these garages up there, these garages up here, when he was a porter boy. Going back a few years.
Q: But they’d have more people working.
Mr A: Oh, everyone was working in those days, dear. Everyone was eager for jobs.
Mrs A: Can’t get a job now, can you?
Mr A: Never had no money for it when they – different atmosphere altogether.
Mrs A: We were happier though, happier than what they are now with their hundreds.
Q: So you didn’t have any trouble getting your job, for instance?
Mrs A: No, no trouble getting my job.
Q: What did you do, for instance?
Mrs A: I heard this job was going down the Co-op; I went down and tried for it and I got it.
Q: What about the other ones earlier on?
Mr A: International.
Mrs A: Then, I just went and asked then. And they took me on. And of course you can’t get a job now can you? They don’t want you. Someone came in here the other day and told me if you’re forty they don’t want to know you.
Q: The young ones as well, they …
Mrs A: My home help told me yesterday that Tony Newton [M.P.] called on a woman yesterday who she goes to. And she said ‘I’m not a Conservative, and I never have voted Conservative and I never will! But’, she said, ‘Will you ask in the House of Commons, will you ask Mrs Thatcher if she can live on thirty-five pound a week!’
Q: I don’t suppose she’s ever had to!
Mrs A: [laughs] Oh dear, he didn’t ask her that, I betcha!
Mrs A: He wouldn’t ask her that, I betcha!
Miss K: He wouldn’t, no.
Q: Well, the thing is, it sounds a lot but it doesn’t go anywhere, nowadays, does it?
Mrs A: No, don’t go anywhere now, you see. Get twenty-pound rent out of it.
Mr A: When I was at Cooper and Tabors, I used to ride horseback a lot. Saddle and all. And deliver parcels of seeds and all that, all round the countryside. And in carts as well, if I had too many. And, er, gone out me mind again.
Mrs A: He had a more interesting life than what I had, really, when he was younger.
Mr A: I used to go round some farms where old men – talk about work – I’ve been on farms where there’s old men eighty years old still ploughing an acre a day.
Q: Have you?
Mr A: And ten miles walking behind a plough.
Q: Ten miles? Really?
Mr A: For an acre. (Q: Yes, I suppose it is, really.) And they’d never been to school. And they couldn’t write their own name. They used to put a cross in my book. Yes. Yes. Couldn’t write their own name. I didn’t know if they knew their own name or what. But they couldn’t write it.
Mrs A: They used to pay to go to school in my father’s day – my father’s time. And he won a scholarship and his people couldn’t afford to let him go to high school, so they had all the money back. What they’d paid for him to go to school. They couldn’t afford it in them days.
Q: Dreadful, wasn’t it?
Mrs A: There wasn’t the money about you see …
[All three speak at once, impossible to distinguish what they are saying]
Mr A: You know another old yarn, what they used to go about but it’s true. They couldn’t afford tea, so they used to buy this old twist tobacco and cut a few slices of that off and put boiled water on it. ‘Cos it looked like tea. I don’t know what it tasted like. That’s what they used to drink [Laughs]. And beer. Of course, they used to live on beer, really.
Mrs A: About a penny a pint, weren’t it?
Mr A: I mean the pubs were open at six o’clock in the morning. (Q: Yes?) Six o’clock in the morning old Billy Bull, at the Red Lion, he used to dump his matting on the path, that was to let people know he was open. Great big old door mat. And they see that laying there and in they’d go. (Q: Yes.) That’s six o’clock in the morning.
Q: Goodness me.
Mrs A: A penny a pint, weren’t it?
Mr A: Well, they used to get – [???]. In them days.
Q: Get a lot for your money then, didn’t you.
Mr A and Mrs A [in unison]: Yes. Yes
[General conversation, not noted.]
Mr A: You know the old days were interesting, because you done different jobs different days. Every day was different. Not like a factory worker these days. Just do the one job and get fed up and don’t do no more.
Q: No, I suppose there wasn’t really any factory work in Witham for men, when you started.
Mrs A: No, when Crittall’s, when you …
Mr A: Crittall’s they started in nineteen-nineteen, they started building it. And I worked at Cooper Tabers then.
Q: Because there wasn’t a lot of choice then …
Mr A: No, when Crittall’s got started they drew all [laughs] all the fellows off the farms. Messed them up.
Mrs A: Really there was only shops or service or the glove factory and that when we were young, you see.
Q: Yes. So did you ever think of doing anything else?
Mrs A: No. My mother used to work in service and said ‘If I have any girls none of them are going to work in service’. She said ‘I had enough of that when I was young!’
Q: So you didn’t try anything …?
Mrs A & Miss K [in unison] No. No.
Mrs A: No, I worked in shops.
Q: You didn’t think about the factory or anything?
Mrs A: No, I worked in shops.
Mr A: When Crittall’s opened they – they splashed the money about and of course fellows went out and got jobs.
Q: What did the farmers make of that?
Mr A: They didn’t like that! [Mrs A laughs]. I mean, a lot of these chaps had worked on the farms all their life, they didn’t know nothing different.
Q: No, right.
Mr A: And they have a job to train them now, on the farm.
Q: So you don’t think it was very popular – what did people think when Crittall’s came here. What did you think of it?
Mr A: Well, I don’t think they were very popular with the farmers, of course not.
Mrs A: They took a lot of people on though, didn’t they?
Mr A: Well, they’d take anybody on they got. If anybody offered them terms they took them on. They didn’t care what they knew or what they didn’t know.
Mrs A: You had to belong to a Union.
Q: Oh, did you?
Mrs A: You couldn’t work there if you didn’t.
Miss K: They wouldn’t take you on if you didn’t belong to the Union.
Mr A: No. You know really, that started to finish, of spoiling the whole of lovely old countryside.
Q: Yes. Did you notice a lot of difference in the shop, when Crittall’s came, did you have more people?
Mrs A: Yes, more trade, we had, you see. Yes, more trade.
Q: You reckon it made a difference?
Mrs A: Yes. We used to be packed out the first Monday of ‘points’. I don’t know if you remember them, point books. And the first Monday, you see, they thought we’d got a lot of stuff in the shops. Tinned stuff and all that. And we used to be packed to the doors there, Mondays.
[Noises on tape]