Mr Herbert Keeble was born in about 1898. He was interviewed on 28 February 1983 when he lived at 1 The Bungalows, Mill Lane, Witham.
He also appears on tape 65.
For more information about him see Keeble family and Mrs Gladys Smith, nee Keeble, 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.]
[chat about tape recording etc., not noted]
Mr K: [looking at book ‘The Pictorial Record, originally published 1890s, reprint since] This was the old Witham [???] and this is the ironmongers business and the man hung himself in the business [???] right on the corner. Is it a gown shop now. It was bigger than that at that time. (Q: Really ?). I didn’t tell you about the fishmonger, Cutts, he was renowned, a personality. Went to London every morning on the two o’clock train bought his fish, came down on the half past eight train with it and his two men met him with the trolley truck thing and took it down the Collingwood Road, six days a week.
Q: Oh goodness. So this would be some time ago ?
Mr K: Oh yes, I’m going back to the War. You see you’ve got the Angel there [39 Newland Street]. This is the Spread Eagle. That was a pork butchers shop.
Q: Oh really. That’s at the right next to the Spread Eagle.
Mr K: Yes, the yard is in between, you know you go down in your car.
Q: So this is when you were a boy I suppose, was it?
Mr K: Yes. That’s St Nicholas with all the gravestones up you see. That’s All Saints Church, and the School. (Q: Where you went?) Yes, and then you see this is the High Street. And that’s Batsford Hotel, there. And that’s The Avenue that they’re talking about with the forty-eight limes either side. (Q: Lovely, that must have been a shame.) It was a great shame when they went and that’s various pictures. You know where that is don’t you. (Q: Yes.) That’s the railway bridge [Collingwood Road] (Q: Yes, of course.) There’s nothing you see till you get down there. You see this was the garden and this was a meadow. That was the original Witham market. Then there’s [???]. And these are the old pictures: that’s the shop Crickmore. That was the Tesco’s of Witham then. [laugh]
Q: Whereabouts was that ?
Mr K: Somewhere about the entrance to the precinct ? (Q: I see yes.) In that area, generally, adjoining the boot shop. [latter 56 Newland Street?]
Q: And that was a grocer’s?
Mr K: It gives you the whole history of it. Afford’s that was another, that’s what’s Martins now. (Q: Oh yes.) And that’s going back into 1900. I didn’t tell you about that? (Q: No.) Know what that is? (Q: No.) The Sorrell shop. (Q: Really ?) This was an ironmonger’s. People Beards were there. This was the Coker & Rice’s then above here was the Constitutional Club and behind that was the Chapel (Q: Yes) and the town clock stood on there. But this was all burnt down in 1910.
Q: So there’s a gap there now is there?
Mr K: Yes, when this was all [???], they gave the land to the Congregational, the Reform Church.
Q: So this, Herrod’s, was ? [probably 88 Newland Street]
Mr K: They were ironmongers and there was no Mondy’s then. (Q: No, I see.) That was the main one. A pawnbroker’s shop next to it.
Q: Did many people use the pawnbrokers ?
Mr K: No, I mean they were the wrong[?] type of people who lived in Witham then. I mean we hadn’t got any of the London people or anything like that, they were just honest to goodness. [???] That’s where the children’s gown shop is next to Martins. (Q: Oh that’s Adams, yes, oh Bradshaw, I see.) [72 Newland Street]
Q: Its nice to see and that you remember where they all are as well. (Mr K: Yes.) What was that, a tailor’s, that was, yes.
Mr K: Oh yes, that was where you bought your school cap and … (Q: Really, you had to have a cap did you ?) Yes, we had a cap. And that’s a bit of old Witham. (Q: Oh yes.)
Q: That’s the chemist was it ?
Mr K: Yes, Green’s. [64 Newland Street] Of course the telephone box wasn’t there then. Not many motor cars.
Q: So you can remember all these places can you ?.
Mr K: Oh yes, quite distinctly, I seem to have quite a good memory. (Q: Yes, that’s very good.)
Mr K: That is really old. Get a lot of Witham history out of that. (Q: And the photographer.) Oh yes, Hall, yes that’s where he was. That’s the studio. [34 Newland Street]
Q: Whereabouts is that one?
Mr K: Well, there’s the George, (Q: Oh I see.) then there was a gown shop, that wasn’t a gown shop then, [pause] ; [???] along the High street, nearly opposite the Stoffer’s[?] there’s the George and there is a gown shop now and then there’s oh, the writer,
Q: Yes, Dorothy Sayers. Yes, of course. That’s lovely.
Mr K: Got a record of him.
Q: The photographer, he’s the one who took the photos I expect.
Mr K: He took all those photographs, yes.
Q: Did you used to do a lot of shopping yourself when you were …?
Mr K: No, well only personal stuff. I mean my wife did all the, I mean it wasn’t, men didn’t go to shops those days [laugh] (Q: And so when you were a boy?) Oh, we’d run errands oh yes, for my mother.
[chat about pictures of other places in book ‘Grandpa’s Essex’, not noted]
Q: In your best clothes. [Laugh] Is that the sort of thing you used to wear to school in, or were these dressing up clothes ?
Mr K: No, it had to be something fairly unusual for someone to have long trousers before they went to work. You see all these boys have got short trousers, the girls have got longer and there’s a sort of pinafore arrangement. (Q: Yes and you had these sort of knickerbockers?) Yes they had a buckle at the knee.
Q: There were a lot of you to get dressed up for school weren’t there ?
Mr K: Oh yes, it was quite a business. That’s Chelmsford. Remember that don’t you?
Q: I don’t think I do -except is it …
Mr K: At the top of Springfield Road Corner, you know you come up this road opposite. Boots and that were there then.
Q: Did you used to go to Chelmsford very much ?
Mr K: Not a great deal, no, went to Maldon more than anywhere, because of the water and the swimming you see.
Q: So that was when you were children was it?
Mr K: Oh yes, I’ve walked to Maldon many a time to swim. (Q: Walked? – did you really.) Oh yes. Well you didn’t have the money [???] only pence on the train. If you go right across and across to Beeleigh and so on, you could do it in about five miles you see if you knew your way across the fields. Yes, then have a swim and then come back. Tired and hungry.
Q: Did they have a swimming pool thing there or did you swim in the river ?
Mr K: There was a swimming pool in Witham then or there was a place, well its actually the rear of Ebenezer Close and there was a part of the river there where we used to bathe – it had a sandy bottom and well, it wasn’t deep, only three or four feet deep (Q: Really ?) that’s where the boys used to swim there. Of course there was no houses or anything up there, it was all meadowland.
Q: I see, but you could get up there could you ?
Mr K: Oh yes, you went down the side, what they used to call the cut, just where the horses went you see. There was nothing up there at all after you left that row of terraced houses until you got to the crossing gates. [Church Street] That was all.
Q: It was just the boys was it that swam or …?
Mr K: Oh yes, only the boys, not the girls, no no. No, we’d play about down there and take a costume and perhaps play about down there half the day you know. Jumping in the river and running about and jumping out again.
Q: Of course that was just near where you lived wasn’t it?
Mr K: Yes, I lived in Church Street a number of years.
Q: That would be sort of weekends this swimming ?
Mr K: Oh yes, yes there wasn’t time after. You see we came down to the school in Guithavon Street and that was … You’d got to leave home about quarter past eight to get down there as you’d got to be in school at nine o’clock and then we used to have two hours for lunch and we used to walk right back up to the top of Church Street and back again and then home at night. There wasn’t any buses. There wasn’t any motor cars !
Q: Do you remember any of the masters at school when you were there ?
Mr K: Oh yes, I remember them all, yes. Headmaster was a man name of Cranfield. A brilliant man. I always think that if he was alive today he’d be at Cambridge. Oh yes. Assistant Mr Fairs[?] he was, and Mr Isom[?], they were both in the Scout movement as well.
Q: Were they very strict then?
Mr K; Oh yes, oh yes he was a strict disciplinarian then. Oh yes. Dare not step out of line. And if he knew of anything that you did on the way to school – punishment just the same (Q: Really ?) Oh yes, you were reprimanded. Had to stay in and you know, they’d give you a hundred lines as we used to say.
Q: Did they have the cane at all ?
Mr K: Oh yes, cane, not many boys missed the cane. (Q: You got it did you?) Oh yes. [laugh] Yes I did.
Q: What did you do to deserve it?
Mr K: The last time that was, em, a wet day, I know, I can’t remember, anyway I was going to leave school that night. Anyway I’d found a job and they used to have gas in the porch as we called it where we hung our bags and coats and that had flames. There weren’t even what they called a mantle on it, [???], And that hung up high and someone helped me up and I turned it out you see. [laugh] And he found out who did it. It was only, you know, a prank but that was enough to get two strokes of the cane on each hand anyway and they weren’t slight. (Q: No.) Yet he was an honourable man and everyone respected him. He was organist at Chipping Hill church for many years. (Mr Cranfield this was?) Yes, Cranfield. His grave is in All Saints churchyard. He died in 1915. He was the man who always told us boys there would be a War. Going back in 1910 and 11 (Q: Really ?) He certainly turned out some good boys.
Q: What sort of things [???] lessons ?
Mr K: He went through the ordinary and there was Christian, you know, religious teaching and then went through the three Rs, dictation and composition, as we used to call it, essays and all the usual. As I say he turned out men that made quite good positions in life and I know one man in particular, he became headmaster at Walthamstow. (Q: Really ?) And another started as a small farmer and became the, he had a herd I should think, at Ingatestone, I should think he had a herd of a hundred or more. (Q: And yourself of course.) He certainly turned out some men that made good.
Q: Yes – But when you say that he talked to you about the War, so you did do sort of current affairs ?
Mr K: Oh yes, he wasn’t a sleeping master. He was up-to-date. He’d give a talk you know, if you were studying history, of course that was the reading of the South African War then you see. (Q: Of course.) I’ve got another book I’ll show you. It’s the only book there is. I can’t tell you who compiled it. I found it in an old book shop in Colchester. There’s the names of every man who served in the First War that lived in Witham (Q: Really ?) and the names of those, the fallen. [This book is now at Braintree museum, with copies at various other places.]
Q: As you say [???]
Mr K: As I say I don’t know who compiled but they must have been, they must have visited every house to obtain information.
Q: Isn’t it wonderful, yes. And you got it in a shop ?
Mr K: It was found in a shop and given to me, by a man I knew very well. He found it and said I’m sure that is something you’d like. (Q: Yes.) And I shall give it to the British Legion. (Q: Yes.) Yes, he’s got them all in alphabetical order, never matter about the rank or …
Q: Yes, it doesn’t mention ranks, does it ? (Mr K:) PW, presumably that’s prisoner of war. (Mr K: Yes.) Is this your brother, JW?
Mr K: Yes, he was older than I. And we met in France on Christmas Day 1917. (Q: Did you really – how extraordinary.) Yes. (Q: What, accidentally?) On the Menon Road just outside Ypres. (Q: Good Lord.) I was on the ration party coming down from the Ypres sector – it was just getting daylight and we were going back and he looked at me and I looked at him there was a party, ten or twelve of us I expect, you see you had to go down to get the rations when things were quiet and always had to go down at night-time you see to headquarters. (Q: Yes.) Which were of course a bit further back than the front line. Then he was in the Royal Engineers and he was on the Menon Road. When I wrote home and told my Mum, and he did the same. We hadn’t seen one another for two years. He was two years older than me. He went right from the beginning you see. I didn’t go till 1916.
Q: How extraordinary. Did you have time to stop or did you just have to …?
Mr K: Well I only could stop for a minute at the time then I had to run to catch the others up. I couldn’t leave, we’d got two sandbags full of corned beef and two petrol cans full of water I mean that was your load to get back. There wasn’t any Christmas Day. 1917 in France was one of the worst winters we’ve ever had. Terrific. Some men had frozen feet and nearly killed them. (Q: Really ?) Mmmm very bad winter.
Q: Was there, I don’t know an awful lot about the regiments and things. Was there an Essex …?
Mr K: No, when I joined I was in England for about ten weeks in a training battalion. Then we were sent to France, and we made up regiments that had suffered, had bad casualties you see. (Q: Oh I see.) And I was drafted into the 12th Battalion Royal Sussex. (Q: So you didn’t really know …?) Well, I didn’t know the people. I got to know them and then became fast friends. Used to correspond for several years afterwards. They gradually died off and some were older than I was.
Q: So your Mother had the two of you? (Mr K: She had two sons, yes, in it.) Did you get back home at all ?
Mr K: Oh yes, came on leave, but my first leave I had to wait fourteen months for. (Q: Really.) Oh yes, a great day when you came home. (Q: How long were you home for?) Fourteen days, only fourteen days. It was supposed to be every twelve months but it was anything between twelve and fifteen months before you really got it.
Q: Going back must have been …?
Mr K: An awful time going back. Everything was strung on your shoulder and your back and everything, because you had to bring everything with you, you see. You had to bring it all home. That was yours. Yes there was tears then, naturally. Of course then I never thought about it but there was bound to be thoughts of this is the last time I shall see you. (Q: But you didn’t?) I didn’t, no. I don’t say I hadn’t been frightened, because I had, many times, really scared, you know, very scared. I don’t think any man, if he tells the truth, has been anything else. (Q: Yes.) Some men were quiet and said nothing, you know, others well, they couldn’t stop talking and it all depends on the personality and how it affects a person. But that’s a very interesting book that is. (Q: It is.)
Q: You knew most of them I expect, didn’t you?
Mr K: I knew them all. They were all Witham boys you see. (Q: Yes.) And the population of Witham then you, you see, well, after the War it was only eight thousand. And that included all of the surrounding farms.
Q: Did you have a special group of friends of yours or, when you were a lad, or? (Mr K: Oh yes.) People who lived near you or just ones you got on with or …?
Mr K: No, generally it was the boys in your own road or street, I mean you grew up with them and you went to school with them and there was always one you considered to be a friend and I suppose it is much as it is today. (Q: Yes.)
Q: I’m sure someone mentioned to me something about gangs between different, like Bridge Street Gang and the Chipping Hill Gang and all that. Do you know anything about that?
Mr K: Well, yes, but it wasn’t anything like it is today. I mean there was no, well, vandalism and cutting people’s throats or anything like that. No, it was well, probably fisticuffs. I wouldn’t say there wasn’t, I mean, especially if a big boy was after a little boy, that used to happen. It was more rivalry than anything else. (Q: Yes.) You see the boys that lived at Chipping Hill thought they were better boys than those that lived in Witham and of course, they thought the reverse. [laugh]. (Q: So what did they …?) Well, you see there wasn’t all that, there were two schools and so that split the population, of both Witham and Chipping Hill. The one in the Maldon Road. So I think there wasn’t em all er, I mean there might have been say a dozen boys from Witham and a dozen boys from Chipping Hill going to the school in Guithavon Street you see but there was no violence like there is today. I mean you wouldn’t go and knock down anybody’s fence, oh no. Because if you did you knew there’d be more trouble when you got home than what there was from the boys. You see my dad if someone told him that his boy had knocked down someone’s gate or put something through their letter box or something like that, there would have been …
Q: He was very strict was he? (Mr K: Oh yes.) What would happen to you?
Mr K: Go to bed without having any tea.
Q: Did you ever have to do that?
Mr K: No, I mean I wasn’t any better than anybody else but I didn’t have a destructive mind, I mean I was a choir boy and I belonged to the Boy Scouts, and so I didn’t get involved with them, but there was nothing desperate with them. Boys would climb up the lamp-posts and put the lamp out you know. Gas lamps you see that had a bypass on. It only meant that the fellow who come to light it had to get up the pole himself to reconnect. They were only boyish pranks really. I mean we didn’t knock fences down like they are knocked down the bottom here. (Q: No.) And I see along the lane you know that Mr Shelley you know that has that, he put up a fence and I see one section is down. (Q: Really ?) Only been up about five or six weeks. Broken right off at the base and they are expensive things. (Q: Yes.)
Q: Did you ever have to go to bed without any tea then?
Mr K: Oh no, that was always the threat. My mother used to say all right you can come down now. No I never remember my dad ever hitting me. Never remember it. (Q: Really ?) I don’t know if he did box my ears any time, but oh no. I mean it was a different home life altogether. Well, there were the odd one where the man who probably had too much beer or something like that. But the normal man he went to work at six o’clock in the morning and he knocked off at half past five at night and went home and probably had a cooked meal and that was his day. When he had any other time he’d got a garden or an allotment and he was doing good for his family. I mean you did get the odd one who didn’t care.
Q: Your father liked gardening I remember you saying.
Mr K: Oh yes a keen gardener. A much better gardener than I am and I like gardening. He was an extraordinary gardener.
Q: Did they have any other hobbies or anything?
Mr K: No, there wasn’t really anything. There was one football team which was the football club. Used to play at the back of The Grove. There was a cricket club that played on the Park and a small tennis club with half a dozen players perhaps. And that’s all there was. No swimming pool. No, the only meetings of the ordinary man, because he couldn’t afford to [???] play football and he couldn’t afford to belong to the cricket club. No, the first thing that governed most people’s lives in those days was the wages. You see to pay the rent, that might be half-a-crown or three and six a week. But their total income was less than one pound. If a man had got a job at a pound a week he was well off, (Q: Really ?) because a man that worked on a farm, ordinary farm hand, twelve to fourteen shillings a week was his wages and they had much larger families then than they do no. So what could they do.
Q: Did you reckon your father was reasonably well off, or where did he come in the …?
Mr K: Oh yes, that’s why he joined the railway, because it was better pay than it was anywhere else. That’s how he joined. He left home and at that time probably got two shillings a week more then, and two shillings was … He’d go and do a day’s work and go down the pub and have a pint of beer for tuppence. (Q: Yes.) [laugh]
Q: He used to go to the pub did he?
Mr K: Yes, they all went. I mean and had their little break and little recreation and chat and so on but there wasn’t much drinking and you never saw a woman, never saw a woman at all. Oh that was terrible if a woman went into a pub. I know they did in the East End of London, had their gin and all the rest of it. But it would have been terrible. My mother wouldn’t have gone into a public house and neither would my wife.
Q: Really, not even with their husbands ?
Mr K: No, no, just disliked it. I used to go out and have a drink sometimes if the others came in, and she never [???] once but my mother, oh dear, especially on a Sunday that was a terrible sin.
Q: Did she have any pastimes or was she too busy ?
Mr K: Well, she was busy bringing up the family and she belonged to one or two organisations at that time. She was a Church woman and there was the Mothers Meeting and the Mothers Union and that’s about all their enjoyment. I mean they were darning socks and all those sort of things, [???] and working with the paraffin lamp. There was no electricity or gas. To go to bed, you went to bed with a candle. (Q: It’s hard to imagine it really.) It is hard to imagine it, I mean, out in the country if they wanted water they had to go to the well. I mean in say in Faulkbourne or there, they had no water supplies. In the cottages that were built then or the houses there was no bathroom, no bathroom at all.
Q: So was there a tap then?
Mr K: Out in the villages even the toilet was nowhere near the house even. (Q: Really ?) So, I often hear people say ‘the good old days’ but we are far better off today than we were in those days. I know that things are far more expensive to our manner of thinking, I mean you would be happy to go to the butcher’s and pay about three and six and get a joint for the weekend wouldn’t you ? (Q: Yes.) Sirloin or something like that, but I mean then you wouldn’t have sirloin, or something like that. Then you wouldn’t have expected anyone to be earning a hundred pounds a week.
Q: What sort of food did you used to have, do you remember ?
Mr K: We had good food. I mean my mother was a good cook and my wife was. And as I say you would go to the butcher’s and and for a few pence you could get enough meat to make a casserole or a steak and kidney pudding and my dad used to grow enough vegetables to last all the year, potatoes and cabbages and carrots and everything that goes to make up a meal. And other men did the same. I mean take that, as you go over the bridge at Powers Hall, there’s quite a big estate there, on the left there, isn’t there? (Q: Yes.)You know the bridge and there’s two little cottages, (Q: Yes.) well, all that area all there was all allotments, going right back nearly to the railway. And they were all cultivated by men. [Saxon Drive area]
Q: But your father had the garden by the house?
Mr K: And also beside the railway you see. (Q: Of course.) Used to cultivate all the, and near Crittall’s there, I mean there was a huge piece of ground there one time. All the railway men had it. I suppose they had it on a reduced rental scheme. They didn’t go to the greengrocers in those days. [laugh]
Q: So on a Sunday you would have a joint would you?
Mr K: Oh yes, have a roast you know, Yorkshire pudding. Just the same as you have today.
Q: And you’d come back from school and have your dinner at mid-day would you?
Mr K: Yes, oh yes you had your dinner and then your tea when you got home and then you might go out, I mean if it was daylight you went out to play, you might say, I don’t know how else to express it. Of course in the wintertime when you got home from school you’d come out of school at four o’clock and get up there at half past four, and of course it was dark and I think there were about one, two, three, four, four gas lights in Church Street, that was all so I mean it wasn’t exactly Piccadilly Circus was it? [Laugh, no]
Q: I suppose your father was well off compared with his ? What did his father used to do?
Mr K: His father had a bakery business (Q: Of course, yes, you mentioned that.) Had a bakery business and village post office.
Q: That must have been hard work I should think ?
Mr K: Yes, it was hard work. Of course nobody was making fortunes I mean, they just made a living but I mean, they didn’t buy a motor car because motor cars weren’t necessary, all they didn’t spend the money. All they’d got to do was make see that the horse was fed and shod.
Q: Where did your mother’s people come from ? Were they local ?
Mr K: I think they originally came from Suffolk but my mother’s father and mother were farm bailiffs and she was brought up on a farm. You know they had a house attached and kept chickens and a few pigs, nothing big. (Q: So she’d learn cooking and all.) Well, yes, they’d got to. I suppose mothers felt it was their duty that the girls should know how to cook and how to manage.
Q: Of course there weren’t many girls in your family. Did you have to help around the house with jobs or …?
Mr K: Well, I had two sisters. Yes, if there was something to be done. There was, you’d got to be prepared to light the fire in the morning. There was the coal to be got in in the coal bucket. All those jobs were boys’ jobs. And if you were asked to wash up or wipe up you did it. (Q: So you did that sort of thing as well.) You did it because, well, your mum said ‘It’s your turn to wash up’ or whatever, or ‘Do you mind washing up while I do something else’, you know or ‘while I have a rest or …’ I mean they did have to work very hard. I mean, what did they have. They had a copper and the mangle. Boiled the clothes in the copper with a fire underneath it. Wash them, put them through the mangle to squeeze water out and then put them on the line. There was no spin dryers, no. Just put through an old huge mangle with wooden, nor rubber rollers, wooden rollers. And then if you’d got a big family like that you know and that amoung of washing it’s going to take you two days nearly, you wouldn’t do it in a day, not with the other work. (Q: No.) After all, you’d got several beds to make and then you’ve got food to prepare for four or five children coming in at such and such a time. (Q: Can’t imagine it now.)
Well, I would say my mother was sixty-three when she died and she did die tragically really, but she was more worn out than anything else and the men were the same. I mean a man had been out say on the farm in the fields in all weathers. He didn’t have any wellingtons. He might have tied a piece of sacking or something round him and they’d tie it round their waist as well. At sixty-five they were bent. They were old men. Well they tell you today that people are living much longer than they used to. I mean they were. If someone said ‘Jack Smith was seventy years old’, you’d say ‘oh, he’s an old man’ but you wouldn’t say so today would you (Q: No, you wouldn’t, that’s right.) and you wouldn’t be amazed if you said Jack Smith was eighty would you, not today. I mean there’s plenty of men quite active at eighty years old. I mean its not old. Some men are and can carry on. Sir John Betjeman I heard last night (Q: I missed that.) I sat and listened to him, he’s Poet Laureate now isn’t he? (Q: That’s right – how old is he now?) He was 75 yesterday.
Q: I suppose there were farm workers living in Church Street were there then ?
Mr K: Oh yes, because there was farms, well, all round. I mean where you are, [Chalks Road] standing[???] was quite a big farmhouse. They farmed a lot. Then just past the Cherry Tree there was another big farm, Fairheads, [???] then when you got across to Faulkbourne there’d be Spearman the big farmer. I tell you they had what they called the binder, but I mean they didn’t have any of the methods they’ve got today of harvesting. A lot of them used a reaper and a scythe, and [???] then cut with a scythe and [???] carried it home in the wagons. I mean then they wanted several men because it was all manual labour. Now, today they of course, they want a tenth do they, because now its all mechanical. I mean look at the difference if a man’s got a tractor instead of a horse and cart and wagon. He can put the tractor in the shed or wherever he keeps it, keeps an eye on the petrol, and in the morning he’s all right. A man that’s got a horse when he finishes he’s got to take it down to the river somewhere so it can have drink or to the water troughs and then feed it. So you see there was far more labour involved in producing.
Q: And you reckon they were less well paid than your father for instance ?
Mr K: Well, it’d be only a matter of a shilling or two but a shilling or two, even one shilling was quite a difference. I mean you could go to the shop and buy quite a, as much as you’d buy for pound today. (Q: Yes.) A shilling made an awful lot of difference.
Q: So what happened if anybody couldn’t get a job or lost their job was there anything at all ?
Mr K: Well yes, but there was not a lot of unemployment There was the odd one that perhaps didn’t like work if one might say that but no, the biggest trouble was in the building trade and so on when the weather was bad and they couldn’t work. I think there was two or three builders and they were always building. Then you see you had the maltings, they absorbed labour. The flour mills, they absorbed quite a bit of labour. Of course there were never any girls in shops then unless they were in ladies’ wear. Grocery shops and all that, well all men were employed. (Q: I see yes.) And then you take that in comparison to the population at that time unemployment wasn’t a problem. (Q: No.)
Q: Did your mother work at all before she married ?
Mr K: My mother. Well, yes up till the time she got married, yes, she helped on the farm you see. But when I married my wife she didn’t go to work any more. It just wasn’t done, that’s all it amounts to. One of those unwritten laws, a man when he married was expected to maintain his wife and she looked after the home. (Q: Mmmm) He was the breadwinner and she, he expected to come home to a meal, but now, today, men wash up, and [???] cook a meal don’t they. (Q: I expect you have to now, don’t you?) I learned to, my wife used to sit there for about four years and I was in the kitchen and received my instructions you see. [laugh] That’s how I learned. (Q: My boy is learning at school now, to cook, perhaps it’s just as well.) Well life will have its changes with you, yes life’ll have its changes.
Q: Did your mother do any of these odd jobs like people used to do fieldwork and things didn’t they?
Mr K: Oh yes, yes they used to grow an awful lot of em, peas in this area and people used to go out and pick the peas and then they were taken to the railway station and put in the trucks and taken to London that way. Used to go up at night-time you see. They’d be in the fields quite early in the morning, four o’clock, soon as it was light and then they’d pick these up into farm wagons and take them off to the goods depot at the railway and they were sold the following day you see.
Q: Did your mother ever do any of that sort of thing ? (Q: Oh, no, no.) And what about the children, did you have any odd jobs ?
Mr K: Children used to go. Some of the parents went of course. It was an opportunity. (Q: Yes, quite.) Then there was a lot of strawberry picking in this area too. If you went to the pea picking, then strawberries followed then the raspberries, then the gooseberries. And you had six or seven weeks holiday and used to have them then when they started in June. That’s when they used to pick the peas. Well if you did it every day for five days of the week and earned the money you know, you could buy yourself a suit of clothes to go to school, a suit of clothes for Sundays as we used to say and shoes. You could get a pair of shoes for half-a-crown. And that’s what we used to do. (Q: You’ve done it?) Yes, I’ve done it. (Q: Did you do it every summer more or less?) Well you do, I mean, well you can’t really earn very much, you get a boy about ten or twelve, well he’s leaving school at thirteen so he doesn’t have a, only two or three years of picking.
Q: It was hard work though I should think wasn’t it ? Can you remember much about it ?
Mr K: Well, no, not really hard work, though people did work hard then, because there was no mechanical means. I mean today they don’t pick peas do they ? They have what they call a pea viner. Its all cut by machinery. But of course you had to gather them in the peas and pick them and put them into a pail and put them into a bag. There was no other means.
Q: When you went was it peas or fruit ?
Mr K: I used to do both, yes. I mean there was nothing else to do. You could play about at home but you might as well go out and earn some money.
Q: So you went with your brothers did you ?
Mr K: Yes, two or three of us perhaps and probably chased one another round the field once or twice [laugh] but we looked for birds nests and so on. But that’s what we did.
Q: Did you have to go very far or …? (Mr K: No, no.) How did you get there ?
Mr K: In the Cressing Road. Top end, end of the terraces where the prefabs are [Church Street] they were pea fields and corn fields or whatever they decided to grow. Oh yes they. No, we didn’t walk to Wickham Bishops or somewhere like that. (Q: No.) Oh no they were on the doorstep.
Q: How did you get paid for work then ? By the …?
Mr K: By the sack. It wasn’t, well people wouldn’t do it today. I mean mostly then it was, as I say, if you went and earned two or three shillings in a day, by the end of the week you were earning more than your dad was !
Q: You got paid every day sort of did you?
Mr K: Oh no, they used to give you a disc and then on a Friday or whenever the field was finished, someone would come and exchange the discs for the money. (Q: Oh I see.) At least some of them did pay. I really forget you know, whether it was a shilling a bag or whatever it was.
Q: As you say they wouldn’t do that today would they ?
Mr K: No.
[Chat about arrangements to borrow book etc., not noted]