Mrs Evelyn Shelley (nee Marsh), was born in 1891. She was interviewed on 8 April 1981, when she lived at 12 Rex Mott Court, Witham.
For more about her, see Shelley, Mrs Evelyn, nee Marsh, 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 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.]
[She had a fall a few weeks before]
Mrs S: I had the little shop next the Spread Eagle. I didn’t have it until just before the War [Second War]. We lived on a smallholding down Maldon Road. I went there when I was thirty, when I married my second husband and I was there over sixty years. I used to come up, used to come when I was a girl for holidays here because I had three aunts used to live here and my mother was born in Rivenhall and my father in Heybridge.
[chat with visitor, not noted]
Q: Don’t worry. Its nice to have people in isn’t it. So what was your father’s name.
Mrs S: Marsh.
Q: What was his first name ? (Mrs S: William.) And your mother was ?
Mrs S: Young, Emma Young and she lived a little way past The Fox down at Rivenhall. They married in the Congregational Church I don’t know how many years ago. I can’t remember that.
Q: What the Witham Church ?
Mrs S: The Congregational. They belonged to the Evangelical church, the Peculiar People. They weren’t registered for marriages. (Q: Oh, I see.) So they married down in the other church. They went to Southend to live and that’s where I was born, Southend and came back when they wanted somebody to do some building here because he was in the woodwork. (Q: Oh, was he.) But as I say I can’t remember.
Q: So what year were you born ?
Mrs S: We didn’t come here, we came to Silvertown
Q: What year were you born ? Is it 90 you are ? (Mrs S: Yes.) Has your birthday been this year? Of course it was, I remember the cake. That was lovely wasn’t it [laughter]. So, when they came here, they came to Silvertown.
Mrs S: Silvertown, yes, where all the factories are. (Q: I know yes.) All the factories along there.
Q: So you lived there for a bit did you ?
Mrs S: I think I was about four when I came there. I lived there till I married first and then (Q: When was that?) I can’t remember what year. (Q: You were quite young were you ?) Oh yes.
Q: Never mind. Then you moved again ?
Mrs S: Then my husband was called up in the war you see and then he was killed (Q: Oh, I see.) and then I, well I went from one place to another, aunts and uncles you know, until I got a little place in [???], only a little place, and then I was there until I got married and came down here. I used to come for holidays you see when I was a girl, because I’d got the aunts here. (Q: of course, yes.) That’s how I knew some of the old places. There was, I don’t know what my little shop was, that went before I had it. It was empty a little while before I had it. Opposite there was Bellamy’s the chemist, next to him was a builder’s, Lewis’s, and next to them was a butcher’s, I think that was Loveday’s afterwards. I think it was then.
Q: So when you married again you came to Witham ?
Mrs S: Yes, and I lived down Maldon Road. They had just built a house down there and they were letting out the big fields and big places to tenants and split them up into four. We had one part, and then one other part was for cows, Robinson and then there was, what’s the name now, I think they’ve still got it but I don’t know what the name is, perhaps it’ll come to me.
Q: Was that near where Shelley’s Yard is now ? In Maldon Road the place still has Shelley’s vans sometimes. Was that where you were ?
Mrs S: That’s where I lived you see. That’s where my sons still continue their work from. It was down the lane you see at one time and then he thought he’d like to do something else and Mr Page was a second hand dealer in the town. He wanted someone to cart his stuff about. That’s how my husband started that little job. And from carting things about for him and for Lewis’s the builders he got into the moving business you see. And that’s what the boys are carrying on now.
Q: So he started that a long time ago did he ? When he started work with the Pages it was a long while back was it ?
Mrs S: Oh yes that was a long while ago. He was a second hand dealer. He used to go out and buy things and then he’d want my husband to go and fetch them for him because he had a horse and cart.
Q: So he went on the horse and cart to get them did he ?
Mrs S: Yes, that’s what he started with, a horse and cart and of course, it went from that to a lorry.
Q: What sort of things did Page’s sell ? Anything ?
Mrs S: Clothes and anything second hand. He was where, there was Affords the paper shop on the corner of Guithavon Road [Street] and going down that way …
Q: Anyhow it was down that part of the town.
Mrs S: Let me think. Afford’s the paper shop [70 Newland Street] then the clothiers shop, [72 Newland Street] and what came next.
Q: Did they have quite a big business Pages ? [86 Newland Street?]
Mrs S: Oh yes, they was the only shop in the town in that sort of thing. There was on the other side of Affords on the other side of Guithavon Road [Street] where the greengrocer’s shop is now [68 Newland Street] that was a clothiers as well but they weren’t second hand clothiers you see, although they had things outside the shop, that was Plucks.
Q: So when did you have your shop ?
Mrs S: Oh, not till just before the War – a little while before the war. [Second War]
Q: So before that you had the small holding and how big was that ? Did you sell the vegetables was it ?
Mrs S: We had part of it in for seeds for Cooper Tabor’s. (Q: I see, yes.) That was the seed part and then we had the other part left, partly wheat and then the vegetables and my brother-in-law went round with the horse and cart selling the vegetables. Not at first but later on you see. That’s how he ended up before he left off working.
Q: That was before you had the shop, you were selling just with the cart.
Mrs S: That was in between. Oh I had the shop while he was going on the rounds.
Q: But you would sell your own things from the shop ?
Mrs S: Sell our own vegetables but we used to buy some as well (Q: I see yes.) and during the war people from outside the town, all the big places used to bring their vegetables that they didn’t want into me and I used to buy them and then sell them you see. That’s how we got on because there was nothing there when I started. (Q: Was it hard work ?) It was hard work but still I liked it. And then we went from that to tinned fruit and other things. So we were partly fruit and partly em (Q: Groceries?) yes.
Q: Who helped you ?
Mrs S: I was on my own at one time and of course we hadn’t got enough money when we started that. We used to buy our goods one week over another and the travellers used to come in and they used to get the goods and I would pay for the week that I’d had. But I got on a bit and I was able to pay as I got them. That’s how we worked out.
Q: It was a very [???]. How did you decide on the prices ?
Mrs S: Well, I don’t know, we had to work it out somehow. (Q: And did you have it all labelled or did people have to ask you the price ?) Well, according to how they bought it in from wholesalers and you sold it with a bit more on. Couldn’t put much more because people hadn’t got the money then. That was before the war you see. (Q: Yes.) But when the war come they’d buy anything. (Q: Really?). You see there wasn’t many shops about here then and my children went to school then, they went to school down Maldon Road where the em …
Q: Where the Community Centre, was that the one ? You were still living on the smallholding then ? (Mrs S: Yes.) You didn’t live at the shop at all ?
Mrs S: No, oh no. It used to be a hut[?] shop you see. (Q: Were there rooms above?) There was, yes, but they belonged to the Eagle hotel you see. There were some rooms at the back that we could have, put our stock in there. And when I first went there I used to cook for my family because there wasn’t much trade I got time to put my things on and cook them then, but it got later on that I couldn’t have time for that. So I had to cook when I got home you see. And we used to keep open later then (Q: Did you ? – how late?) About eight o’clock, open at eight. (Q: Every day?) Not Sunday, no Sunday work. We used to do wreaths as well (Q: Did you, you did that yourself?) Oh no, somebody from Wickham Bishops came in. They would put in an order and I passed on the order you see.
Q: Did people use to buy a lot. When people came in the shop did they get a great lot ?
Mrs S: No, they used to buy little bits, always little bits. It was always busy and I used to get me tomatoes from Churches along the London Road, English tomatoes, used to get them from there. My husband used to go up there and buy them because he had the horse and cart and he had a small lorry after that. He had one of those what you have a hood and you could put it on the van, if you didn’t want, when he was doing Lewis’s and if you were carrying paint and ladders and things like that you could take the hood off.
Q: That was useful. Did he help in the shop ?
Mrs S: No, never helped in the shop. He’d got plenty to do on the fields, and animals to feed and he had the horse for the round, and he had horses on the ground. He had another man working with him.
Q: So you used to have other people’s horses ?
Mrs S: No, they were ours.
Q: Were they for carts as well, all of them. (Mrs S: Yes [???]) Did he have any help other than the one ?
Mrs S: Just the one that used to help him with the horses, he was a horseman you see. And then, well there was his brother before he took on the round he would help him. (Q: I see.) He’d got three brothers. One who’d been in the war, he lost his leg. The other one went into the cabinet makers in the town. There was one little shop used to sell fancy goods. You know you could take presents when you went home anywhere or when the people come down they used to go in the shop and buy presents to take away with them. But after they left they turned it into a shop where they cooked meals you know, not a proper restaurant, but [???], labourers you know. My children used to like to go down there and get a meal sometimes. [possibly the British Restaurant at 67 Newland Street, or the Newland Café at 95]
Q: They ate them there, did they. It was like a restaurant, they could sit down there ? But why was it different from, was it cheaper ? Were they cheap meals ?
Mrs S: Oh yes, they were done for people what couldn’t afford very much. (Q: I see). I don’t think, well ‘cos they weren’t meals like we would cook today. [???] [???] You go in some places and you get on a stool and have a drink, well that sort of meal you see. They used to have eggs on toast and beans on toast and that sort of thing. But when I got so busy I never had time to their dinners you see when they came out of school, because they never done any at school. They used to love to go down there some times. They didn’t go every time because I couldn’t afford it every time.
Q: It was a struggle was it, it was difficult to make much of a living ?
Mrs S: You had to keep working all the time you see. You didn’t get very much profit. But1 as your custom increased so of course the profit increased. That’s how you worked it out.
Q: So did the customers mostly come from Witham, or were some from the villages ?
Mrs S: Some from round about but not many of them, most of them Witham. Of course it wasn’t a big town like it is now you see.
Q: So did you have mostly poor people who were customers or wealthy or all ?
Mrs S: Oh, all sorts. Those who’d got a bit more money they used to come in. There was only my shop I think and Mr Taber’s, that’s all there was in that line. So we done better than we should have done you see.
Q: That’s good yes, but hard work too.
Mrs S: We had eggs as well, eggs from the egg factory. Well, I don’t know if it was an egg factory or what they called it. But anyway it was where they used to keep the eggs and bring them to me. Used to have a crate at a time you see to sell them every week. A crate every week.
Q: So some people would perhaps, your husband would deliver things sometimes, would he ?
Mrs S: Oh no, we had a boy. (Q: I see.) As things increased we got to have a boy to come and take the orders out. Only on Saturdays. They used to take their own otherwise (Q: Yes I see.). When I first started I used to shut the shop up and take them out. I couldn’t do many at a time (Q: Quite) because of keeping the shop shut you see and then I used to come back and open it again.
Q: You carried them, you didn’t have a cart or anything ?
Mrs S: No, just a bag or a basket
Q: What about the boy, ? Did he have a bike or …?
Mrs S: Oh yes, the boy had a bike (Q: that was quicker.) He only came Saturdays. (Q: Was he a schoolboy?) Yes, we used to pay him half-a-crown a week I suppose. Then he got a bit more. (Q: That wasn’t too bad in those days.) No that wasn’t. That was good in those days.
Q: Do you remember who the boy was, or did you have different ones ?
Mrs S: I can’t think what the name was now. He lived halfway between here and Rivenhall, along the London road there. Of course I knew his mother and people.
Q: Did you enjoy having the shop ?
Mrs S: Oh, I loved it. I really did, I loved that.
Q: You hadn’t done any shop work before ?
Mrs S: Well yes, you see before I married I went into a little place when a lady wasn’t well enough to keep her shop going and I done, that was a tiny sweet shop. That was at Wakering. (Q: Hmmm.) near Southend. (Q: Oh so you’d practised.) I used to do the work and all there but I didn’t stay very long because I got asthma and then the air didn’t suit me. It was too strong for me. So I didn’t stay there very long.
Q: So, you had that when you came to Witham ?
Mrs S: [???] Yes, before I married I had it. Well I’d had it all my life really. Had some very bad turns but I don’t have them now like that.
Q: So you were …?
Mrs S: The Angel was on the corner of Maldon Road then [39 Newland Street]. Of course that’s all down now. The road wasn’t very wide, you see, there was only horses and carts coming through it. There wasn’t enough cars to come through it. And they used to have a market in the town in front of the paper shop there was a market.[70 Newland Street]. I don’t know what days they were, only one day a week and they used to hold the, what do you call it, when you are talking abut the council people ? Used to hold them (Q: Elections ?) Yes. Used to be some rare dos there some times. (Q: what happened ?) Oh they used to, one would be one side with one people and the other one another and they used to squabble and shout out at one another and that sort of thing but I don’t think there were any, not any brawls you know. nasty. I don’t remember them at any rate and that was before I had my shop when I used to come down when I was a girl that was. (Q: It was different then.) There was none there when I had my shop.
Q: The market wasn’t there any more ?
Mrs S: No, that had finished. That had gone up to the ground where the Council place is now, in the top of Guithavon Road [Valley?] near the station there.
Q: That was the cattle market ?
Mrs S: Yes, that was the cattle market.
Q: When it was in the High Street it was vegetables – but that was mostly when you were very young you remember that do you – the market in the High Street. (Mrs S: Oh yes, when I used to come down then.) I didn’t know there was one there. You must go further back than [laughter].
Mrs S: That was lovely in the park then you know. (Q: At the back of the Co-op there you mean ?) Opposite the, nearly opposite the school it was. (Q: Yes, and it is still there.) And that place up the Maldon Road a bit [???]. That’s all grown over now. Its all open ground at any rate. In the Maldon Road there was the Baptist Church then there’s that house there next to that. Next to that there was a harness makers, next to that there was North’s the barbers, and next to that I think there was two houses, one of them my aunt lived in, where I went on my holidays down here.
Q: So what did you use to do when you were on holiday ?
Mrs S: Go in the park. (Q: Did you?) We used to go on Sundays with my aunt when they went to Rivenhall. Because my Granny had died and they used to look after Grandad. They used to take it in turns [???], they used to take it in turn to go and clean up the house. Of course we went with them. Oh dear, we did think that was a terrible long way to walk. (Q: It would be.) Oh that was hot in the summer time you know. We used to have some hot summers. We used to like to go because there was a nice garden when we got there and gooseberries nice and ripe, we could have them. But to walk all that way oh it did seem a long way for us from the town you know.
Q: Did you use to go fruit picking out in the fields, did you ? When you stayed?
Mrs S: Strawberry picking. Yes. Used to like that because we got more money to spend. [laughter].
Q: Used to get the money yourself did you ?
Mrs S: Oh yes, I went fruit picking after I married too. (Q: Did you ?) Yes [???] and potato-ing as well, on other people’s land you know. Because our farm wasn’t paying very well you see. Couldn’t get the money. Grew peas but we had to send them up to market and you’d never knew whether they were going to sell or not. (Q: Really ?). Never knew what price you were going to get for them but you’d still got to pay the pickers you see (Q: Of course) That was a job really, to have a farm [???].
Q: How big, how many acres was the farm, do you know ?
Mrs S: Oh I don’t remember. It was half way across the meadow, half way across the fields to Bridge Street. That was divided in half, the other half was, where they had cows.
Q: So it was a lot of work ? But not to make a lot of money ?
Mrs S: Not a lot of it. It wasn’t very plentiful in those days. Because things weren’t very dear.
Q: You had a job to, how many children did you have ?
Mrs S: I had one by my first husband. He was three months old when he [my husband] was killed. And then I married again and I had two more boys and one girl.
Q: That was when you were in Witham?
Mrs S: Just before I had the shop. I didn’t take it over until they were growing up. They were all at school when I took the shop over. And we had that offered to us by the builder, Lewis’s. I don’t know whether it belonged to him or he bought it I don’t know. Anyhow he offered it to us at a certain rent and there was nobody in there, it hadn’t been opened for some time. There was no trade. My husband said ‘Oh, we’ll try it’. But I didn’t go into it at first. They put my brother-in-law in it because he’d come down from London and got no work down there and we found him a place to live and he round came to help us a bit here on the land. But he wasn’t up to the land and so when we had this offered us we thought perhaps it would do for Bob so we put him in it. And we had a room at the back and they had their meals there you see. And then they got a place for him over the top of em, where the electric light is now, rooms over the top there. [38 Newland Street?] That’s where they lived for some time and then, after a time, he got fed up with the shop and so I had to take it over. And he wanted to go on a round. He wanted to work out for himself a bit. So he took up a little round selling the children’s clothes and that sort of thing. Not vegetables, fed up with them I think. [Laughter]. He come from London you see and he was not used to anything like that. He was an insurance collector before. (Q: Yes.) And that’s how it was I took it over. [???] give it up.
Q: Were you hoping you’d make a bit more money do you think ?
Mrs S: I think it picked up the market.
Q: Because women didn’t work much when they were married. (Mrs S: Oh no, they didn’t). What did people think? Did people think it was strange ?
Mrs S: I expect they did. [laughter]. Still they didn’t mind coming to buy things.(Q: No, quite.) In the war time they used to bring me things to sell for them. Toys you know, lots of toys and things. When it got to birthdays or Christmas and so on they used to bring them in and ask me if I would sell them for them. Well I sold them and just take a little bit of money from them, so that’s how that got on. And from one thing and another it wasn’t much of a grocer’s shop when I finished. There was some of all sorts you might say.
Q: When did you finish with it ?
Mrs S: Oh we didn’t finish, not then. We moved across the road to where the flower shop and the funeral [78 Newland Street]. We moved to that shop, (Q: Oh did you?) but I didn’t go. My daughter and her cousin took it over.
Q: Was that after the war ?
Mrs S: Oh, yes after the war. [Second War]
Q: So you stopped yourself ?
Mrs S: I didn’t go, didn’t go to work no more there. But I didn’t know what to do with myself. I papered my bedrooms because I didn’t know what to with myself. When you’re at work you hurry up over your work before you go out and then you see well you get used to that.
Q: You must to have a job to fit it all in.
Mrs S: Oh it was, I used to do my cooking at night and weekends, yet I never done anything Sundays.
Q: If you didn’t shut till eight o’clock. Then you used to go home and do your work then ?
Mrs S: Yes, to get ready for the next day’s cooking. And if my husband was able and he wasn’t out anywhere on the rounds, he’d come in and [???] the children you see. And then during the wartime my father and his wife lived with us, that was his second wife. Come and lived with us and that was [???] you see. Well, she had fits you see and you couldn’t trust her to do anything. And dad used to help a bit on the land, over there, till he died and she died. Well she had to go away into Severalls because she was so bad. There was nobody there to see after her, you see.
Q: Which church did you, you say you didn’t work on Sundays but which church did you go to when you came to Witham ?
[Brief chat from visitor, and about meal, not noted]
Q: You were going to tell me about the church in Witham ?
Mrs S: The one that’s across the road, now, them people [Evangelical]. But they had the church where the [???] Maldon Road, near the school. Down that. That’s where we went. [???]
Q: Did they have a lot of meetings on a Sunday ?
Mrs S: We used to have three then. They don’t now, they only have two now. Used to have three meetings then, and then when they moved and got this one built [Guithavon Valley] you see we used to come along to this one. Sometimes we came through the meadows, sometimes we came down the town. Didn’t make much difference which way you came it was about the same time.
Q: It was quite a long way, wasn’t it, from where you were ?
Mrs S: Don’t let it get cold [quietly saying grace for food] Thank you Dear Father for the food you see, bless it to my body. Accept my thanks, for Jesus sake, amen.
Mrs S: My sister was here yesterday, she cooked this. (Q: Mmm.)
Q: Does she live in Witham ?
Mrs S: She lives in Pelly Avenue, she lives now. She used to live up in Church Street but she moved this year.
Q: She was a Marsh as well was she ?
Mrs S: Mmm, she’s my youngest sister. That’s the only one I’ve got now alive. There were six of us. My mother died when I was fourteen and I wasn’t very well you see, I had to stop at home. [???] Dad had to get someone did to see after us, had several different ones but I expect there was too many of us really. (Q: Mmm.) People didn’t want to do for so many.
Q: Who was the oldest ?
Mrs S: [???] There was a boy older than me and the little one was two but Auntie took her, brought her down here and took her after a time. She took her in and when my Dad wanted her back, he went to get her and she didn’t know him and he cried. Oh it did upset him because she didn’t know him, but she hadn’t seem him for some time you see. He said ‘Never no more, I won’t let the baby go no more’.
Q: Your mother can’t have been very old ? Your mother must have been quite young when she died then ?
Mrs S: Yes, she was 38. I was just 14. I was going to stop at school because I wanted to be a teacher. (Q: Did you?) But I had to leave and come home.
Q: Was that because you were ill or because you had to help with the children ?
Mrs S: I had to do needlework for them you see. I made all the clothes, I could do that for all of them. I don’t know whether I should have got through the schooling because of my asthma you know. But we thought that perhaps I could pick up more when I got over it, but it used to come on me any time. Sometimes I couldn’t go to bed at all at night. Wouldn’t get undressed you see and I used to sit up. and I do have to lay up now. (Q: You still get?) But nothing like I used to.
Q: You would have liked to be a teacher ?
Mrs S: I would have liked to have done it, yes. When ours were at school. the latter part of the time, I helped out with different classes you know. Yes I did like it. But I suppose it wasn’t to be. I often wonder whether I’d have got through it now or not.
Q: You started to learn a little bit about teaching. [laughter] It was a long time ago.
[Chat about Q’s work, not noted.
Mrs S: My daughter was at work at Chelmsford. In an office there. She took over the shop for a time and then she got a bit fed up with it. I suppose it about three years I reckon she had it, and then she thought she’d give it up. My son, my eldest son, by my first marriage, he had got, oh no, I’m going before my time. When I was at home after I left the work and they started building on the land, but that wasn’t ours you see. We only rented it off the Council (Q: I see) and we wanted to buy it but they wouldn’t let us buy it. No wonder, they made a lot of it you see [laugh]. There was only the meadow across the road that was ours. Used to grow some vegetables on there too. Then we kept chickens. Oh, when they started building on the estate, they kept coming to us because we’d got stuff in the barn. Coming to us to get different things, you see. And I thought to myself I had to keep running over there. I said to my husband, I said, ‘We might as well have had a little shop here mightn’t we?’ ‘Well he said, well you can’ [???]’ he said. So we went to the Council and asked and they said well, we could have it but we’d got to build it to their estimations, we had to have a certain colour roof on the top of it. It was only for a time[?]. We only wanted a small one. Anyway we had it afterwards and then they used to come, we done quite well there. With odds and ends, you know, tinned stuff, and sweets, cakes, bread and all that sort of thing. They used to come and get it. Better than going up the town. They’d got to go right up the town for it and then they started building on there and they built a shop there [Laurence Avenue] and then they offered it to my son but they wanted such a high rent for it that he said he didn’t think he could do it. So, in the meantime, my eye had been bad …