Mr Henry Dorking was born in 1900. He was interviewed on 28 April 1981, when he lived at 14 Gimson Close.
For more information about him, see Dorking, Henry, 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.]
Mr D: I’d turned seventy by the time I, see, when I retired. (Q: Were you really?) I’d been there about sixty odd years, well fifty odd years, that’s at the forge, working regular you know. [i.e. at the forge at 18 Chipping Hill]
Q: How old were you when you started ?
Mr D: Seventeen (Q: Were you?) and then I used to mess about there quite a lot when I was a kid at school you know, after I was about ten or eleven, like children I used to be messing about there all the time and so I was sort of half a blacksmith before I left school.
Q: Really ? You used to help out did you ?
Mr D: Oh, yes, yes. I used to have old Mr Quy’s, well I worked for his father, (Q: Really) but when I was about ten I used to help him with the sledgehammer and so on, oh yes. I was quite a blacksmith before I left school. Yes I used to take the shoes off the ponies and that when I was at school
Q: Quite a hard job I should think. Was any of your family interested ? (Mr D: No, no.) So what was your father ?
Mr D: A bricklayer my father was. Yes, oh yes. No, I just took it, and took the [???]. The old man used to take me, ‘cos he wouldn’t let any other children be anywhere near the shop, but he used to take to me, he used to wonder where I’d got to if I didn’t go for two or three weeks. Well, children you know what they are, they’re crazy to go somewhere for a little while and then after a little they em (Q: Get fed up with it.), get fed up with it. They’d stop and play about. If I used to be away for a week or two or three weeks and old man used to wonder if I’d been ill when I went back. Oh yes, I used to enjoy the work. I know it was hard work but hard work is nothing if you enjoy it, is it.
Q: So you never really thought of doing anything else ?
Mr D: No, never thought of doing anything else.
Q: So how long that the old man been there, do you know ? How long had he had the forge for ?
Mr D: Oh he had it for a long time and his father had it before the 1900s and that (Q: Really).. There’s been a forge there you see over 700 years. And then old MacMurdo, he told me, he’s an old gentleman who use to live up at Wickham Bishops, he was in the shop one day talking to me and I said how old the place was about 700 years old, and he said ‘Well I’ve traced it back over 1,000 years’. (Q: Really) He said they used to shoe pack mules here on this same spot over 1,000 years ago. (Q: Goodness.) Of course the old Roman Road used to come in from where the Catholic Church is now. Up Avenue Road, across the railway, round Albert Road, down White Horse Lane, then to Faulkbourne, to Braintree, see. And that was the old Roman Road round …. See they wouldn’t, he told me you see at that time of day in the Roman time, they would never go over a hill if they could help it. They’d go round it what are called a hoe and that’s the original, the proper name for the Roman road from the Catholic church to the White Horse, you know, where I was, is Hoe Lane.
Q: Oh is it ?
Mr D: Yes, so he said. You know round the hoe.
Q: Of course, yes. I didn’t realise it went that far back.
Mr D: [???] Course I don’t know whether its still there or if they’ve taken it away but there was a piece of wall in there with the old mud and straw and wattles you know. All tied with string. That was in there behind the [???] there. Oh yes.
Q: Did Mr Quy live … ?
Mr D: Mr Quy lived where I lived.[i.e. forge house, 18 Chipping Hill] (Q: Yes.) Then when he was going to give up he bought a bungalow down The Avenue (Q: Yes.). He told me, he said to me one day, ‘I’m going to retire. If you would like to take the shop over you can’. Not much [???] been working there for you for several, for about twenty years and then in letting somebody else take the benefit so I look it over.
Q: So how old would you be then ?
Mr D: I suppose I was about in my middle forties, something of that.
Q: So were you sort of apprenticed to start off with or … ?
Mr D: No, no, I just took the job. I had another job when I left school and I finished with that and my father saw Frank, [???] Quy, in the White Horse one dinner time or one night and said Henry wants a job, how about it, and he said ‘Yes he can start Monday’. So of course I half knew the job you see, I could forge weld and all that before I started there regular.
Q: That’s right. Was anybody else working there ?
Mr D: There was another man. Man working with me, an old man, Mr Wallace, used to live up Church Street, he was a good old blacksmith he was. You know. Do anything but there’s no real blacksmiths now to make ironwork (Q: No.) Most of it’s all metalwork and engineers now more than anything else and farriers the sort of the two trades now. But when I was there they were all one thing, all blacksmiths. (Q: Mmm.) All the time you see, you used to do and make all manner of things with straight bits of iron. All the stuff they wanted for horses for agricultural working. All agricultural work we used to do as well. Harrows. (Q: Did you? Goodness.) When they used to rake the harrows you know, on the fields. They used to bring the teeth down about four or five, about four inches long and they’d want them made up you see. So you had to lay a bit on them and weld a piece, forge weld a piece on ‘em to make ‘em six, seven inches again. Oh yes.
Q: And did you do anything for ordinary people, like cooking things or anything like that ?
Mr D: Oh we used to put new ovens in fireplaces sometimes. Yes, these old fashioned ovens. (Q: Yes.) with a fire and oven on one side. Oh yes we used to put new ovens in sometimes. Oh we used to do something of everything you know. Everything they wanted done they used to do it at the blacksmith’s.
Q: Did they ? What, sorts of pots and pans ? Did you sort of make pots and pans or mend them or anything like that ?
Mr D: Oh just mend them, just mend them you know, solder them up and all that sort of thing, you see. We used to make all that sort of thing.
Q: Were there other blacksmiths in Witham?
Mr D: There was another one down in Witham down the High Street [130 Newland Street] next door to the Crotchet. (Q: yes) Well matter of fact now the Crotchet’s took the old blacksmith’s over and made a bar out of the old forge haven’t they ? (Q: Yes that’s right.) So you see. When I was young that was a Mrs Brockes but then after then George Shelley, what used to work for her, took it over, he was there for years and years and his son.
Q: So he was promoted like you really ?
Mr D: Yes, that’s right. He sort of made it, done the job and sort of grew into it.
Q: They did much the same sort of work ?
Mr D: Oh yes, yes, used to do the shoeing and all agricultural work.
Q: How far did your customers used to come ?
Mr D: Oh we used to have them sometimes about seven or eight miles (Q: Really.) Of course there was quite a lot of blacksmiths everywhere then you see. There was two in Witham and there was two in Hatfield and one at White Notley, one at Black Notley, two in Braintree I think there was, one at Bocking. See you’ve got to, do the job properly or you didn’t get no work.
Q: Yes. That’s right. How did you get the customers ?
Mr D: They just sort of … Someone at these markets sort of recommended somebody, you see, and you got it through doing the trade. We didn’t advertise for trade. People used to come. This time of year the gyppos you know they used to come round for the cabbage cutting and one thing and another and doing field work and we used to do their horses as well.
Q: Oh of course, yes. Did you have to, you didn’t go out, did you go out to the farms at all?
Mr D: Oh yes, we used to go out and do cold shoeing there you see. Used to phone them and say so-and-so wants shoeing. So you’d make them a set of shoes, make them in a size you know they want and take them out and put them on cold. (Q: Oh, I see, yes.) Never used to worry about forging, putting them in the forge or heating them [???]. them cold.
Q: Did you go out to, did you do any of the big houses, the work, like for em, let’s think, like the Parkers or … ?
Mr D: No, if they wanted anything done they used to bring it in. Same as fencing and all that sort of thing. Chance time, chance time if they’d got some railings round the place and they were bent and broken and that used to have to go and …. But now when fencing was broke there was no welding them up like they do now. They just bring together and set the electric welder. Then we used to have to fit a bit of pipe on one to the old piece each end, then slide it together so bring the two joints together, over the, piece of pipe over them.
Q: Did you get that work from the big places ?
Mr D: Oh we used to get the work, oh yes.
Q: Did they have a blacksmith at Terling, for instance. Did they have a blacksmith at Terling ?
Mr D: Oh yes, yes, they had was one there, yes. Fred Humphreys used (Q: So he’d do most of the work for … ?) Oh he used to do most of the, on the estate, yes.
Q: I suppose it was quite good, if you could get a big job like that it would be quite a good regular business wouldn’t it ?
Mr D: Oh yes, yes. (Q: But you had more small, smaller jobs … ?) Oh little jobs, yes they used to come in and bring their little jobs, we used to do … We used to fit out all the iron on wagons you see and then put new tyres on the wheels and all that sort of thing. All those tyres used to come on a straight bar you see, long straight bar, then we used to, used to, upset what you call it, set the ends a bit, cut them off the right length you see. Used to put a chalk mark on the wheel and start it at one end, run it right round till the chalk mark come again, then you chalk marked on the iron. That was the length we wanted. Then you’ve got to allow so much for forge welding you see, well we upset the ends, we had what we called a tyre bender and used to bend the tyre around so that would come together like that and then weld it up in the forge. There wasn’t no butting them like they do now and just electric welding. Got to forge weld it. Of course it was harder work. That used to make the sparks fly.
Q: That was much more difficult you reckon ?
Mr D: Oh yes. You’d got to know more about forge welding. There’s not much forge welding done now I don’t think.
Q: But you just picked it up from the …?
Mr D: I just picked it up when I was a boy in the shop. I used to, when I was a kid at school, I used to mend my own, you’d have them iron hoops. (Q: Mmm.) If mine was broke I used to have to mend it myself. Oh yes, used to forge, and put it in, you’d go and see the old man, say ‘Broke my hoop.’ He say, ‘mend it then, fire there!. And Saturday mornings he used to, we had the two main forges and then we had a little portable one in the middle. And same, Saturday mornings he used to call me, ‘Come on mate, light your fire, there’s a job for you.’ Because at that time of day it used to be nearly all wooden hurdles for sheep, you see, and they used to have what they call the hurdle hank[?], a loop of iron on the end of each hurdle. When they put the hurdles in the row they used to lap them over each other and drive a stake down between them. (Q: Oh I see.) So you keep the hurdles all in a row. And if they got so, perhaps you’d have a couple of dozen of these each hurdle hanks in a bundle, he’s say ‘Here you are mate, get them right.’ and you had to straighten them out and if there was any broke, weld them up.
Q: Did he pay you anything, when you were still at school ? (Mr D: Pardon?) Did he pay you for it when you were still at school?
Mr D: Oh, perhaps if you were lucky you’d get something. [???] Oh I didn’t really worry about money. I was enjoying myself. I thought I was ever so clever. (Q: You were by the sound of it.) I just done it for the fun of the thing really, enjoying myself.
Q: So when you started there working properly, you wouldn’t get all that much of a wage I suppose, would you ?
Mr D: Oh, no, no. Fifteen shillings a week to start with, and I did forge work and do the sledgehammer and all that, take shoes off, and so all I had to learn after I got there was sort of to nail the shoes on. I could do all the other work, taking shoes off and trimming the feet up and all that.
Q: Is it a secret how old you are ? I was trying to work out when you started work ?
Mr D: Well I started in 1917, 1918, no March the, I think that was March the ninth, 1918. (Q: so you were born ?) I was turned eighteen then.
Q: You were born in …?
Mr D: I was born in 1900. (Q: Goodness [?]) Somebody told, and I never used to have a holiday. Never used to worry much about holidays. I think out of all the time I was there I had two odd weeks holidays. You see, that time of day, if you had a week off for a holiday, you had to lose the money. You didn’t get paid for your holidays. But then after I started on my own I think I had about one week’s holiday in all the time I was on my own and you see the trouble was I’d got so much work and I had so many horses each week. (Q: yes.) So If I had a week’s holiday I’d got to put all those horses back into the next three weeks hadn’t I ? So I worked out that I was going to work a lot harder after a week’s holiday than what I had been. Besides I was out, I told them I was gong to have a week’s holiday and I was busy all that week, ‘Well come and do me, they said, come and get my horses done’ and I think I was at work till about half past eight Friday night before I went on holiday on Saturday to get them so they were shared out ready. Then when I come back there was about seven or eight on order for Monday morning so by the time I had my holiday over I was about as tired as before I went ! (Q: I’m sure you would be.)
Q: So, in a day would you work set hours or did it just depend on how much work you’d got ?
Mr D: Well I used to work according, as you say, used to work the hours regular in the morning, just the same as if I was working for somebody else and if I’d got anything extra to do I used to go back in the shop after tea or go out shoeing Saturday afternoons, Sunday mornings. Oh yes, I used to have quite a lot. Some old bloke, some old gentleman who was out watching me one day, [inaudible because of clock noise!!] ‘What about your holiday ?’ I said I’d never had a holiday. ‘You don’t?’, ‘I never think anything about a holiday. My life is all holiday’. He said ‘is it ? ‘ I said Yes, I enjoy my work. Chance time things get above me, I get a bit fed up, but I beat that. Otherwise, I’m happy all the time I work’. He said ‘You’re lucky’, he said, ‘I never heard anybody talk like that before’. Well, I am. I don’t want a holiday. I said if I left here to go somewhere on a Sunday I should be fed up before Tuesday because I hadn’t got any work to do.
Q: So did have any spare time for things that you did about Witham, (Mr D: There was bad times.) Spare time, to do any hobbies or did you join any thing or ?
Mr D: I used to do singing. (Q: Oh did you ?) I used to sing quite a lot, yes. (Q: Where was that ?) Oh in all the churches, you know, concerts, music halls. The old [???] and that. Oh yes I used to quite a lot of singing.
Q: Was that just yourself, or with a choir or …?
Mr D: With choirs and solos. Used to do a lot of solos. All over the place. Used to belong to the Chelmsford choir, couple of choirs in Chelmsford.
Q: Did you always do that, even when you were quite young did you start that up ? How did you get interested in it ?
Mr D: Well, I used to like singing. Then somebody come along and said that they’d pay for some lessons for me and I once went to London for a term[?] at the College of Music (Q: Did you ?) For voice training. They wanted me to carry on with it but I then you see I didn’t get a lot of money and couldn’t afford to give up work to learn music you see. So I just kept hard at work and kept singing amateur. Oh yes, I used to love it.
Q: So did you use to sing at school or …?
Mr D: When I was a kid? Mm, I used to, not often at school, I used to sing in the church choir, same as David [grandson] does now. (Q: At St Nicolas that is?) Yes I used to sing, used to sometimes after the service they, or during the service they’d announce that I was going to sing a solo afterwards and I used to go back and take my surplice off and go back and stand in the middle of the chancel and sing a solo after the service that was. I used to love to do it.
Q: Oh, I never knew that, that’s good. People used to spend a lot of time at church in those days ? How many times did you have to go on ?
Mr D: Tuesdays and Thursday, yes, or Tuesday and Friday, I forget which.
Q: I suppose on Sunday, did you have to go several times on a Sunday ?
Mr D: Twice, mornings and evenings.
Q: So you kept yourself busy then. I’d have thought you’d have been tired out by the time you’d finished all that work [laugh] ?
Mr D: Oh no, after I got bigger I give the choir up.
Q: Where did you use to live when you were small ?
Mr D: In the middle house on top of the hill [28 Chipping Hill] near the church, next door to Mrs Scarlett. My mum, we went up there soon as, when I was a little baby. We lived there I forget know how many years. Then we got a, Dad got a council house and we moved up to Cressing Road.
Q: So you moved into the forge when Mr Quy …?
Mr D: Yes I forget how many years, I forget how many years I lived at the forge. I mean when I lived there I forget, when was it I took over. I was there I think very nearly twenty years on my own.
Q: Did you have any brothers and sisters ?
Mr D: I had two brothers and sisters and I’ve got two sisters alive now. (Q: Oh have you?) Yes, one at Ipswich and Ena, you know Ena and now the two brothers are dead though.
Q: So your father worked in Witham ?
Mr D: Oh yes he used to work as a builder.
Q: How old was he? Did he live a long time like you have ?
Mr D: He was about, I think he died when he was about 74. (Q: And your mother?) No she died younger than that.
Q: So they didn’t come from Witham you said ?
Mr D: No. Dad did, dad came from Witham and mum came from Suffolk, Peasenhall, down [???] and down that way.
Q: What were their names, their first names ?
Mr D: Mother’s maiden name ? Quickmer[?].
Q: I just wondered, what about their Christian names ?
Mr D: Kate (Q: Oh, Kate and your Father was ?) Father ? Herbert Maurice.
Q: I just might have come across them. So you were quite a big crowd in that, it can’t have been a very big house ?
Mr D: There were two bedrooms that’s all.
Q: Still I suppose people didn’t have so much space in those days did they ?
Mr D: Oh, no no, they didn’t. They never used to worry about girls and boys all sleeping in one bedroom, did they, that time of day.
Q: Did you go to school up … ?
Mr D: Where I went to school? Chipping Hill. I went there soon after that was open. (Q: Did you?) Yes, dad helped build it and then soon afterwards I went and started school up there. So I knew my way about Chipping Hill fairly early on.
Q: You didn’t really have to come down to Witham much ?
Mr D: No, no, I never used to think about going down to Witham. You was in a foreign country if you went down to Witham at that time of day. Then after when we left Chipping Hill School we used to have to go down to, I went down to All Saints School, you know. Church School, where the car park is now. (Q: Oh yes I know.) because that was pulled down wasn’t it, the school.
Q: So you had to down to Witham then, then?
Mr D: Oh yes. There weren’t many places around Witham that I didn’t know one time. Now I should soon get lost. After all they’ve taken this estate, made this big estate, Highfields Estate, Powers Hall End, Cressing Road that’s all there.
Q: They were all farms ? That would be good business.
Mr D: Yes, They were all farm land. Used to know all the names of them. See them all filled up you see. (Q: Mm.)
Q: So when they wanted jobs done would they … ? Did a whole lot of horses come down at once or … ?
Mr D: Sometimes we had quite a lot to do. We had quite a lot to do during the Depression. Of course there was a Depression one time. Then after the First World War I mean ’18, there was a Depression, but we had a fair amount of work, we carried on all right. (Q: Really.)
Q: It was hard going for the farmers then really wasn’t it ? (Q: Oh yes.) You still had plenty of trade ?
Mr D: Used to get quite a lot of work off farmers.
Q: When the Depression was on did that affect your trade ?
Mr D: Not a lot, because we had so many horses to do we used to have to do so much shoeing you see.
Q: The work didn’t slacken off at all ?
Mr D: Well it slackened off a bit, of course but we had quite enough so that we kept on the go all the time.
Q: Were you working there when the First War …?
Mr D: I was there during the First War, fourteen-eighteen. I joined, I started there in the March you see 1918. So I saw the end of that.
Q: Because there were quite a lot of soldiers about in Witham. Did they come to you ?
Mr D: Yes, we see their horses harnessed to the waggons, and run away and see them smash up and one thing and another. [Laugh].
Q: Did they come to you to have their horses …?
Mr D: No, they used to shoe their own horses (Q: Did they.) They had farriers in the army you see. (Q: Yes.) That was a lovely time for me.
Q: You enjoyed it did you ?
Mr D: Well I shouldn’t have stuck there for over fifty years if I hadn’t enjoyed it.
Q: I suppose it was a good place to get to know everybody wasn’t it ?
Mr D: Oh yes, it was. I knew everybody at that time of day. Everybody knew me and used shout and holler at me ‘Morning.’. If I was in the middle of the shop and someone would shout ‘Morning Henry’, I used to know who it was and used to answer ‘em. Kids used to be [???] lots of children you know, interested. Girls and boys used to come while I was there. Now I can go down the town and hardly see anybody I know. One time I went down there I knew everybody. (Q: Different isn’t it?)
Q: I suppose your spot up there was a good place to stand and have a gossip isn’t it, as well? (Mr D: Oh yes.) You’d be able to pass all the news on I should think, or were you too busy? You’d be able to pass on all the news, to all the people that passed you by. (Mr D: Oh yes.) Or you were too busy for that perhaps? Did you have other people working for you when you were there. When you took over from Mr Quy ?
Mr D: No, no, I never had anybody. I used to do it all myself. (Q: Oh right.) I thought, looked at it this way you see. If you have somebody and train them they can just as easily leave you when they are finished and take some of your work away. (Q: Yes.) And that’s going to cost you so much a week to train somebody. You see I thought if that’s going to cost me so much a week, if I can afford to pay that, I might as well keep the money myself and do less work. I mean you’ve got to get twice as much work and all accidental money and the insurance stamps and wages and everything else. Well, that’s going to cost you, according to what they, it would be nearly a year before they can earn their own money, isn’t it?
Q: Its quite a job when you’re working on your own, you had to work out all the money for yourself ?
Mr D: Oh yes, when you’re on your own, you have to work according. You see, you think to yourself, well I used to have all my plans made out before I went to the shop in the morning. Used to sit there sometimes if I had time to sit indoors beside the fire I used to think to myself, well when I first started in the morning I shall have to do so and so. Then if nothing else comes along I’ll do so and so. (Q: Yes) I used to have all them jobs worked out and all worked out nicely, I timed them and all, but somebody would come in on the Monday morning, or in the morning and say well, ‘Can you do this now ? I want it.’ So if something broke down well you see you’d have to sort of put somebody else off and then if you saw somebody, if you’d told them you was going to the job today. Saw them coming down the road because you could see nearly everybody coming down the road, used to pick it up and say ‘Just going to start on it, I had a busy job. I had to do so-and-so for somebody what broke down. I’m just going to do it so you can have it in the morning, you know’. And then when they’d gone, throw it down on the floor again.. [Laughter]
Q: You didn’t want to lose the customers ? (Mr D: Q: Oh, no, no.) How did you decide what to charge people ? Or was their a regular … was there regular prices for everything ?
Mr D: You charged what you thought. (Q: Mm.) It wasn’t one of those sort of, like it is now, you’ve got to charge so much and you’ve got to charge so much and you’ve got to do this, and so much an hour. Some jobs you see, perhaps you’d got a biggish job but you’d get it over fairly quick. (Q: Yes) But another job would take you some time. You always charge all these poor people for the time it took you to do the job. (Q: No.) Same as if it took you about an hour so, say ‘A couple of bob.’ or something like that you see, or a shilling or something like that, according to how poor people were, I used to say ‘Oh, that’s near enough’ (Q: Mm.)
Q: So you used to charge what you thought they could pay ? (Mr D: You’d do them a favour.) That was good, yes. And you could make it up on the people that could …?
Mr. D: I used to make them pay what could afford it. [laugh] I mean you’d get somebody like same as these big farmers and that. Well you could always put a couple of bob on their bill, for different items, and sometimes you’d have a bill as long as that with all the different items on you see. Well you could put threepence on there and sixpence on somewhere else and it all added up and they didn’t notice when they came for that. They just gave you the cheque for what was at the bottom.
Q: I suppose that was the best way to go about it anyway. You had to be clever though didn’t you, (Q: Oh yes) not to overdo it. Did you ever have, did you have difficulty getting your money sometimes ?
Mr D: Sometimes used to have. (Q: It’s a bit of a worry when you’re on your own.) Oh yes, sometimes used to. Well I used to sort of, if they were sort of a bit slack paying and they wanted me to go, you’d say ‘Well I’m a busy, I can’t come for a couple of days’ and perhaps the next morning a cheque would be in the post.
Q: I see, they got the hint. Did your wife help with any of the book work or anything?
Mr D: No, no she was never interested. (Q: Wasn’t she?) ‘Cause, when I first went, when I went home and told her Frank was going to retire and I could take his shop over, of course I was a bit excited, you know. And she wasn’t a bit thrilled about it. She said, ‘I don’t want to go and live down there’. (Q: Oh dear.) I said, ‘Well there’s two chances, I said. I said I’m going to take it and there you are. You can stop here and live on your own and welcome.’ I said ‘I’m going down there’. But she come.
Q: Its quite a nice part to live.
Mr D: Oh it was a lovely old house you know but I remember it the time when it was two, now they’ve made it one two now haven’t they ? (Q: That’s right, yes.) Well I remember the time when I was a child a young chap working there. There was two houses there then. [18 Chipping Hill] Then when Frank took it over and his father and his mother died, his wife didn’t want anybody living next door and coming into the back yard, because that was all one, one wash house and one toilet in the yard you see for the two houses. So they knocked a couple of doorways in and made it, had the two houses as one. (Q: So was it one when you?) It was all one while I was there. Then after Council bought it you see they made it into two.
[talk about making garage onto Church Street, traffic, car parking etc., not noted.. Continues about Chipping Hill]
Mr D: Because, at one time of day there was only one road up there (Q: Yes.) to the Church instead of two. (Q: I see.) I remember the time when they cut that newer one down there. Used to come in nearer the forge. (Q: Yes.) In front of the two bay windows [20-22 Chipping Hill] there used to be a roadway up there into the Church and a circle round and (Q: I see.) then come down into the, what they made that into, the vicar, Canon Ingles lived there then. You see his daughter married Admiral Luard’s son. Up at the Lodge, so then they, they got permission to make a road way down along in the middle of the hill so the carriages could go up the first one round by the church and then down the other one and away. So there really should be all one green. I remember the time when that was all one green. (Q: Mm.) And I’ve got a very old photograph in there and there’s no pathway there at all. (Q: It went all the way across.)
[more about making path, car parking etc., not noted.]
Q: When you were there presumably you had to get the iron and stuff from somewhere, how did that to you ?
Mr D: We used to get it in long bars. There used to be some people at Stanford, Gray’s and Pledger’s, used to order from there and then used to be able to get it from Crittall and Winterton’s in Braintree. They used to stock iron bars and shoes and nails and Gripper’s of Chelmsford. There used to be the old carriers, Moore’s, the carriers what used to have the buses at Kelvedon. they used to have a horse and van go up to Chelmsford, let me see, when was it, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays I think, to Chelmsford and if we wanted a bar of iron or anything for new tyres we just used to put a, we had a card with an ‘M’ on, used to put that up in the window and Moore’s used to [???] [???] and used to Chelmsford to Gripper’s and bring the bar back at night. That was before we stocked a lot. Then after I gradually got the stock up higher, and if I wanted an iron bar or anything like that I used [???] to order it from Pledger’s, and Gray’s used to come you see.
Q: So you got more of a quantity then. Did Moore’s used to go past your way then ?
Mr D: Moore’s used to come up Chipping Hill, yes.
Q: Oh they did. I always assumed they went down the main road.
Mr D: Oh yes, that’s right but they used to come up Chipping Hill you see because they got several orders you see. So they used to do sort of [???] furniture for shopping and all that sort of thing. If anybody wanted anything or ordered it in Chelmsford they’d send it by Moore’s and that sort of thing you see. (Q: So the card, you’d just put in the window …) They used to have a big four-wheel van you see with a hood over the top.
Q: I didn’t realise it came up that way. So people used to send for things from the shops and so on as well. (Mr D: Oh yes.) So, when you were little, you said you didn’t go down to Witham, [???]
Mr D: Used to be a sort of general shop just opposite side of the road there. Where Willett, Willett lives there, well that used to be a little general shop. And we just used to run across the hill. And where they’ve just built that new house on Chipping Hill [55A Chipping Hill], that used to be a big barn where they used to keep the cows, Abbotts used to keep the cows. So we’d only got to go and run across there and down the hill to get the milk. (Q: Oh I see.) Butchers, there used to be a butchers round there [8 Church Street] where the bicycle shop is now, not Coates’. the other one, used to be a butcher’s shop there. (Q: Mm.)
Q: Very handy then wasn’t it ? Was that Greatrex was it ?
Mr D: Greatrex, yes.
Q: I remember somebody mentioning that they were up Chipping Hill. That was just near the corner of the new precinct then, Greatrex, was where the motorbike shop ?
Mr D: Yes, where the motorbike shop, that’s where it used to be Greatrex. Used to have the slaughter yard up there. Used to go up White Horse Lane, had the slaughter house up the top end.
Q: Oh they did their own slaughtering then. Did you use to go and watch them did you ?
Mr D: Oh yes, used to go sometimes, yes.
[Discussion about lunch and questions to be asked, not noted]
Q: You weren’t born in Witham you said ? (Mr D: I was born in Witham) You were born in Witham ?
Mr D: I was born in Witham, born in Braintree Road. (Q: Oh I see.) Then I was taken to Chipping Hill when I was a baby
Q: Yes. Your Dad was born in Witham ? (Mr D Yes, Dad was born here.) You don’t know when he was born do you ? (Mr D: No.) Oh, you said you did another job when you left school for a little bit ? You said you did a different job just for a little bit after you left school.
Mr D: Before I left school I used to mess about there and worked in the blacksmith’s shop and mess about there, help and do odd jobs.
Q: And after you left school I think you said you did another job ?
Mr D: Oh yes, I went to work on the railway. Horse boy on the railway, leading the horses.
Q: What, the horses for delivering, what did they use to do ?
Mr D: They used to, get a pair of horses and they used pull the carriages and the trucks (Q: What, for shunting?) Shunting and all. (Q: Oh, I didn’t know that.) They used to do all that with horses. They used to have five big horses up the station. One on the lorry for parcels and that and there used to be two horses on nights and two on days, on shifts to shift them around. To moved the vehicles at night. Yes, I worked there for a time as horse boy. Then I finished up with that job and went to start at Frank’s down Chipping Hill.
Q: You were always keen on horses ?
Mr D: Always were. I never had one frighten me in my life. (Q: Really.) I’ve had some funny ones you know, chucked you about a lot, but I’ve never, touch wood, I’ve never really been deeply hurt. All those years. (Q: I suppose the farm horses would be …?) They used to be big and heavy, yes.
Q: So, when they came, somebody would drive them down from the farm, would they, and hang about and chat while you were doing it.
Mr D: If you had to go out there you had to go on a bike and carry the shoes and all the tools on a bicycle.
Q: You didn’t keep any horses yourself ever ? Mr Quy didn’t ever keep any horses ?
Mr D: He used to keep a pony and trap himself to drive. (Q: Just to get himself about?) That’s right yes and if we wanted to cart anything you see from a farm or anything or harrows to take back we used to take them back, you see.
Q: I don’t know anything about Mr Quy apart from the fact that he was a blacksmith. It’s a funny name isn’t it ? Were they local ?
Mr D: No, no, I think originally his father or his grandfather, I don’t know whether they came from Sweden or somewhere abroad. You know, hundreds of years ago. (Q: Yes.) They were sort of invaders, sort of.
Q: Did you know him quite well then ? (Mr D: Oh yes, I used to know him well.) I mean when you used to sort of see him when you weren’t working would you spend time with him as well would you ? What sort of things did he used to do in his spare time ?
Mr D: Oh, he used to do all the jobs you see. The old man was as deaf as a post. If he wanted me for anything he’d just drop his hammer on the anvil two or three times and I used to look up and he used to beckon me to give him a hand with anything.
Q: So when you started there was the two of them ?
Mr D: No, the old man was dead when I started. This was the young one Frank.
Q: Did they do much sort of in the, I mean the farmers and the big people in the town and on the Council and all the clubs and things. Would the blacksmiths in those days do that sort of thing. Did they mix with the farmers ?
Mr D: Oh yes, farmers, do all the jobs for the farmers, and shoe the Council horses, all the bread van horses, and the milk horses, there weren’t no lorries and that then. Used to come and have to shoe a couple of the horses they were going to Maldon tomorrow, with a load of corn. They used to cart to take the corn down to Maldon. from the farms.
Q: There were pretty big farms around about, weren’t there, Powers Hall and …
Mr D: Powers Hall, used to be quite a lot of quite big farms, Parkgate farm and all them, Joe Smith’s farm was quite big.
Q: Did the farmers use to come down to the forge themselves ?
Mr D: Not very often, sometimes the foreman used to, they had foremen on all the farms, you see, they used to come down.
Q: You said if they had a big bill they would just send the … (Q: Oh yes.) I suppose Powers Hall is still there but not many of the others ?
Mr D: Oh, no, they ain’t got no horses nor anything there now.
Q: When did they start using tractors ? (Mr D: Oh, before the War.) So did that affect your business then much ? Did you notice ?
Mr D: Well no, it didn’t affect us much ‘cause there weren’t many people had tractors for a time you see. We used to alter the tumbrils, take the shafts off and make irons to fit onto a cart, onto the tumbrils, to fit on the back of tractors.
Q: People getting their pots and pans mended and everything. Did that go on for a long time or …?
Mr D: Well, no, for they started buying them fairly cheap you see.
Q: So you reckon it was more when you first started that they used to do that?
Mr D: Oh yes, when they started, when there was so much of that sort of stuff in the shops, they could buy it. (Q: You didn’t actually make anything like that?) No, not actually make them no.
Q: It must have been handy, I don’t know where you would go now, you wouldn’t, would you, if you wanted anything mended.
Mr D: No, no. I don’t know, where you’d come across a good old blacksmith or man, good old blacksmith what could do all the jobs, same as we used to have to. Start with a straight bit of iron, and you couldn’t look up a catalogue and order so and so and so and so. We had to start and make it off a straight bit of iron, according to what you wanted you had to, you could, have it up in the air to make it. Same as with all these ornamental hinges we used to have to forge all them together, all these ornamental hinges, had to forge all them together, and same as with gates. All gates, used them all down so that you could rivet them all together and then join the bars up with a rivet in those days. Wasn’t sort of just laying it on a bench and ts ts ts.
Q: It was quite a different job by the time you’d finished wasn’t it ?
Mr D: Well, I suppose really they couldn’t sort of afford to have them done the old fashioned way. (Q: No) because it would take you so long you see. (Q: Yes.) Whereby same as they do it now, it would take them about five minutes or ten minutes it might take about an hour to do one job in the fire. (Q: Mm)
Q: Were there times of year when you were specially busy ?
Mr D: No, we used to be fairly busy all the year round. Chance time we’d be a little bit slacker, but nothing much, because if we had a sort of a slack time you could always make up some shoes. Now, if they have a slack time they cannot make up stock. (Q: No.) that time of day, you see when we used to, when we had had our breakfast, if we was a bit slack, we used to make up three or four sets of shoes for carthorses. Hang them on the wall and then when they come you see they were ready to put on. Now they buy nearly all the shoes ready made so they don’t have to get out and make any stock. That’s what I used to do when I was on my own. If I was a bit slack one afternoon I used make perhaps three or four sets of shoes. Then I’d think to myself ‘Well I’ll want so-and-so tomorrow, a set for so-and-so and so-and-so tomorrow’, then I’d call in there and have my tea and then go back in the shop after tea and make a couple of sets of shoes, just to stock up you see. That’s how I used to do it.
Q: That kept you ahead then ? Did you have much paperwork ?
Mr D: No, I used to do, I used to make me, of course I used to put all the jobs and that down in a day book and then I used to, every Sunday morning, I used to put them up into the ledger. Then at the end of the month I used to make all the bills out. Used to go upstairs (Q: Oh I see.) and have all the bills and everything laid out on the table and make the bills up and sent them out.
Q: It took quite a fair bit of time then ?
Mr D: Oh yes, yes, if I weren’t in the shop it weren’t because I wasn’t doing anything, I would be doing the books and all that sort of thing.
Q: I suppose that was mainly the farmers and so on that had the monthly … I mean if somebody came in for an odd job of their own, you’d …?
Mr D: They’d pay cash, a little job, yes.
Q: You had to be good at all sorts of things then didn’t you ? An accountant as well as a blacksmith ?
Mr D: Yes, still I used to enjoy it.
Q: I suppose it would be much the same for Mr Quy. He had to do all the work himself ?
Mr D: Oh yes, he used to work the same.
Q: Did he have any wife or children ?
Mr D: I don’t know. I mean I know he used to work, well he didn’t used to work so long as me, but he stopped behind when I used to work for him but I mean when I was on my own I did [???] the books and everything.
Q: So I mean when he was the boss and you were his assistant you’d work longer hours then ?
Mr D: Oh, no no I didn’t. Used to work, of course when I first started there I used to start at six in the morning, breakfast at eight till half past, one o’clock dinner till two then from then till six o’clock at night. From six o’clock in the morning Saturdays till two o’clock Saturday afternoon. See.
Q: Did he do the same sort of work as you, work alongside of you ?
Mr D: Oh yes, that sort of general work.
Q: But he didn’t do the same hours necessarily or start so early ?
Mr D: Oh, no no.
Q: Still I suppose everybody did that didn’t they, really ?
Mr D: Well, people never thought anything about it, working less than twelve hours a day, did they ? I mean if the people in the factories and all this sort of thing worked ten hours a day the country wouldn’t be in the muddle it is now. I mean after all you can’t do enough in four days, say six or seven hours a day, you can’t do so much as a good week’s work. (Q: No.) that’s what is it is. You see if I were to work from same as in Crittall’s, if they worked from half past seven till half past twelve, worked, and then from half past one till half past five, say eight hours a day they could get something out. But what I can never make out, they always used to reckon, if they put them on to working a four day week, they got as much work out in those four days as they did in the five. So, it’s common sense to say they were working harder in the first four. Still, I don’t know.
Q: I suppose you remember Crittall’s factory coming ?
Mr D: Yes, I remember when that was a field (Q: Really?) Yes a big field. That used to belong to the Co-op. (Q: Oh I see.) and Crittall’s tried to buy it to build a factory there and of course Witham was always was snobbish and they sent Mr Laurence and all these here high-ups they clubbed together, got together and said that they would object to Crittall’s having it. ‘Cause he was a Labour man see (Q: Yes) and they’d object to him building a factory there. So W W Burrows came, his agent, Labour agent. He bought it off the Co-op and, of course, sold it back to Crittall’s. That’s how it got there.
Q: Well, well. So it wasn’t very popular then ?
Mr D: Oh, no no he wasn’t. Burrows, I remember him. He used down, the Valley and where did he live first, Rivenhall way I think. Then they had those two houses built in the grounds, down the Valley. Him and Eb Smith an old signalman, he had, Burrows had one and Eb had the other. I’ve seen some changes in Witham.
Q: Well, Crittall’s must have made some ?
Mr D: If somebody had told me ten years ago you’d get lost in Witham I should say I know damn well I shan’t. But it wouldn’t take many minutes now to lose me. I mean if you took me in this Highfield Road estate. If they just blindfolded me, took me there in a car and then said get out here and find your way back, I should have a hell of a job to find my back here. (Q: Mm.)
Q: They’ve got some of the same trees, maybe you’d recognise them.
Mr D: I mean years ago there used to be a tall elm tree there, a couple of oak trees there and if you was miles away and you could see them and knew where you were. (Q: That’s right.) But now they’re all gone, it’s all houses now. I know somebody told me some time ago that I believe he’s up Church Street, come in round by Blunts Hall, down the road the [???]and he said he’d got to come in the estate and thought he was coming out into Highfields Road. When he come out the end of the road he was at the Victoria. He said I’d got lost and I didn’t know where the hell I was [Laughter].
Q: When Crittall’s came there must have been quite a big change then ?
Mr D: Oh, Crittall’s made a lot of difference. Then they built Silver End you see, Crittall built Silver End. I remember that when there wasn’t only an old farm or odd house or two about there.
Q: Was there still a fuss when they built it? You know you said these people didn’t like the idea of them building it but presumably they couldn’t do anything about it once he’d got it ? (Mr D: No.) That would be steady work, would it?
Mr D: I think all the buildings that’s done Witham good, but I think its spoilt it. There’s so many foreigners, you know. One time, as I say, when I used to go down the town I knew near everybody there was. Now I can go down there daytime and go down the bakers or anywhere down there anywhere else and perhaps I don’t see one I know. One time I used to know everybody.
Q: Yes, still as you say it is good for trade isn’t it ? Works both ways.
Mr D: Oh yes its good for trade. But one time when I was kid, if you saw a black man it nearly frightened you to death. Now, I mean down there there’s plenty of them isn’t there ?(Q: Mmm.)
Q: I suppose in those days if you had somebody walk past that you didn’t know, you’d know they were strangers in the area, wonder where they came from ?
Mr D: Oh, yes you knew they were strangers in the town and say ‘I wonder what the hell he’s here after.’
Q: But still people used to come, when you said the gypsies used to travel and that and pea pickers used to come to stay didn’t they (Q: Oh yes). It’s nice to talk to someone with such a good memory.
Mr D: I sit here sometimes, you know, all on me own, I just sit here and shut my eyes and bring back the memories. That’s one thing they can’t take away from you, your memory is it. (Q: Yes.) I mean they can take everything else away but they can’t take your memory away. And it’s surprising how I sit here sometimes and sort of lean back and shut me eyes it’s surprising when I look at the clock and see how the time has gone.
Q: Have you still got a few of your old friends around ?
Mr D: Oh yes, yes. Still got some friends, still, the majority of them of my age are gone. And younger, you know, what I used to know. And of course they are like me, they’re getting on, they don’t get about so much these days.
Q: I’m sure a lot of people, as you say, are still sitting at home but you don’t see them so you never know whether they’re there or not. (Mr D: No you don’t.)