Mrs Nellie Fisher (nee Mott), was born in 1894. She was interviewed on 29 April 1983, when she lived at 56 Laurence Avenue.
For more about her, see Fisher, Ellen (Nellie), nee Mott, 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.]
Q: Were you born in Witham ?
Mrs F: Yes, born in Witham and lived here all my life except when I was in service.
Q: So that was, you did tell me, you are eighty-eight so that would be, you were born in [Mrs F: 1894.] Good heavens, yes.. Whereabouts were you …?
Mrs F: I was living with my mother till I was em twenty-one. Because I was the last girl of the family. (Q: I see.) And you see as they left school they went into service. There was five girls and five boys and I was the last girl and my mother said to me she said, ‘Now what would you like to do now you’ve left school’. She said ‘You can stay at home with her and help me or you can go into service’. And she said, ‘Of course you could go into service. I should have to give …’, she worked at the Grove them days, she worked there thirteen and a half years, I think it was thirteen and a half years, never mind, thirteen, well we’ll say eleven. Then we kept the Catholic church clean, (Q: Mmm.) and then we cleaned, she was caretaker of the Catholic school, kept that clean because we went to the Catholic school, cos that was nearer home. She said ‘Well I should have to give the church up, the school up and she done three lots of washing, took in three lots of washing and we sorted over peas in those days. Have you ever seen that done ?
Q: No, what did you do ?
Mrs F: There used to be Cullen and Wakelin and they used to have these four and a half bushel bags of peas. Well my mother worked for them both so she had about six big bags in the living room and about four in the kitchen so we did not get them mixed you see. And then we had to do, [???]. And we had the sorting of peas out. And she said ‘I’ll have to give all that up if you’d like to go into service, I won’t stop in your way’, she said, if you’d like to go to service’. Now my Mum said ‘I’ve always liked working with you at home because we’ve always worked so well together’. ‘I’ll stay at home and see how we get on’. So I stayed at home till I was twenty-one. I left school at eleven. Teacher said she couldn’t teach me any more. [laugh] So ‘You could go home whenever you like.’ [laughs] So anyhow I stopped at home with her till I was twenty-one. Well then as time went on my father, he was a head horseman and he was a ploughman all his life. I’ve got a photograph of him here. [now JG’s photo M3009](Q: Oh lovely.) Now, I don’t know whether you know Benton Hall do you? (Q: I just see it going past on the way to Maldon.) Well that’s not my father’s horses, that’s, that’s that man’s what’s driving them, because they had two horses each you see. Well they only worked them so often and my father had taken his to the stable to give them water and food and brush them down to rest for so long. Well then he comes back in the field and helps the man with binder you see, ‘cos they’re cutting the corn. You never see them going now, do you. (Q: I can just about remember them). And so he, his horses were resting. They worked their horses so long. Then that man would take them back to the stable, and do the same by his horses as my father did his, and rest. That’s my brother, that’s the youngest one of the family. (Q: Goodness.) But they’re all gone. All dead except me. (Q: Mmm.)
Q: So how many were there altogether ?
Mrs F: Ten, five boys and five girls. And even there was none of them lived as old as I did. And my father and mother never lived as old as I did. Isn’t that terrible. Well I did say ‘Oh I hope I’m not the last one left alone’, but my sister was a year and three months older than me but she died. And they were all gone and I’m the only one in the family left out of the ten of us.
Q: He was the youngest, you say ? He was the youngest one?
Mrs F: He was the youngest one of the family.
Q: Were you the next one ?
Mrs F: Yes, then my sister, a year five months older than me and so on and so on, the five boys and the five girls have gone.
Q: How much older was the oldest one ? (Mrs F: Oh, he was getting on.) But when you were little was he still at home or would he have grown up ?
Mrs F: Yes. (Q: He was still at home?) Yes he, I mean they had families quick them days didn’t they. Large families and quick. I mean you don’t hear of tens and twelves and thirteens today, do you, no.
Q: So you reckon your parents started having their children when they were quite young did they ? (Mrs F: Yes.) What was his name ? [her father]
Mrs F: Mott. (Q: And his first name?) Walter, Walter Mott.
Q: I shall have to see if I come across his name anywhere.
Mrs F: Well that was in the paper you see, as someone had put it in the paper and I think the title was ‘hard work in early days’ or ‘easy work in early days’, something like that and they got every paper and they come to me and asked me if I would like a, they took a photograph of it and give me two. (Q: Lovely.) And I had it framed and then I had some more taken to give to my children. (Q: Oh I see, good.) Well they were dear parents, they were dear parents. Our days were very happy. I’d like to go through them all again! (Q: That’s nice.) I’d like to go through them all again, they were so happy.
Q: Well you say ‘easy work’ but presumably he had to work pretty hard did he. When did he start in the mornings ?
Mrs F: He was a boy, he started behind the plough as a boy.
Q: That was at Benton Hall as well was it ?
Mrs F: Yes, I mean before my mother married him he was on the land ploughing, yes. Oh but he loved his horses. Oh he loved his horses. That’s that man’s horses there.
Q: So what, they had two horses each ? (Mrs F: Yes.) And did he have to look after them as well as doing the work ?
Mrs F: Oh yes, they’d take it in turns to look after them, you see, weekends. My father was a head horseman, he was first, and then there was three behind him I think, two or three behind him, and on a Sunday they used to go and clean them all down. You see and then when it was my father’s turn, he’d go and clean them all down. There was, head horseman, there was three of them and there were six horses. And he loved his horses.
Q: So right through the year they did all the jobs, like ploughing and harvesting and all that ?
Mrs F: Oh yes, well he’s cultivated, well you know London field, where all they, at the side of the railway as you go by the Rivenhall bridge, (Q: Oh yes.) on the left as you go to Rivenhall. [along the Colchester Road] (Q: Yes.) Well they call that London field. Well he used to plough the whole of that field, and walk the land, they didn’t have no tractors in those days. And then comes Stepfield. You go down the steps and there’s two fields there, that’s why they called it Step field (Q: I see.) and then over the railway line which is all factories now, that’s called Big field. So he used to do London field, Step field and Big field and he used to plough every bit of them fields, and sow the seed and cut the corn, and help load it and stack it.
Q: So he would do that ? He would stick to the same fields and go right through would he ? (Mrs F: Oh yes.) Did anybody help him ?
Mrs F: No, nobody helped him. He had his two horses and he used to work, he used to plough an acre of land a day. But of course I don’t know what an acre is, not now. I mean they’ve all changed they’re different things so. But he wouldn’t come in from the field till he’d ploughed his acre of land a day, behind the plough. But you know you think of a man walking the land over all them clods of dirt, if one of them clods of dirt were to break as they were walking on them, he could have had an accident, couldn’t he? But he stuck to his field.
Q: Was he often ill or anything ?
Mrs F: No, he was only ill once. And I remember Doctor Ted Gimson I don’t know if you knew the Gimsons (Q: I didn’t but I have heard of them.) There was Ted and Karl and Ted was our family doctor and my father was in Stepfield, you see, not London field, Step field, and then Big field, over the railway line. And the bailiff of the farm which was Wakelin then. He said to my brother Bob, he’s dead and gone now, they all are. He said to my brother Bob ‘What’s happened to your father?’ So he said ‘I don’t what do you mean ?’ He said ‘Well he hasn’t come home to bait’. Well they called bait a ten o’clock meal in the mornings see, (Q: Yes.) And then they called three o’clock fours and then it was time to leave off at five you see. So he said ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with him’. ‘Why?’ ‘He said ‘He hasn’t come home to bait’. ‘Where is he working?’ he asked the bailiff. So he said ‘In Step field and you’d better get on your bike’ he said ‘and go down and see what’s happened’. When he got there my father laid on the ground, because you see working horses they stopped and he laid on the ground. Of course my brother went across to him ‘Hello father, what’s happened’. He said ‘I don’t know’. He said ‘I was a-ploughing and my leg give way, and I fell, and I can’t get up’. Well he said the best thing you can do is to lay there and I’ll go to the farm and get a horse and tumbrel – do you know what a tumbrel is? No, there was the tumbrels and the wagons them days, so my brother went to the farm and got this tumbrel and horse and tumbrel, took it down and picked my father up and put him in the tumbrel, brought him home, because we only lived across you see, where I was born. There was just this Step field, railway line, and my father’s garden you see. So my brother took him home, carried him on his back indoors and I can see him carrying my father upstairs now, across his shoulders. And took him up and undressed him and got him into bed. My mother sent for the doctor, doctor Ted Gimson. He came and he said ‘Well, Mrs Mott’,he said. ‘Your Walter’, always called him Walter, ‘has broke the sinew of his leg’. Under here see, you got sinews, they called them them days, I don’t know what they call them now. And he said he’s broken [???]
On the clods you see. So she said ‘Oh dear’. He said ‘Yes, I say oh dear too’, he said, ‘because your husband won’t be a very good patient’, because my father was never ill. It was the first time I’d ever known him to be ill. So they made him comfortable and left him, and of course I don’t know whether he had medicine or tablets. I don’t remember. And he left him in bed. When he got downstairs he said ‘Mrs Mott’, he said ‘If your hair isn’t turned grey now your husband will turn it grey’, because he worried so, he wanted to get back to his horses. But I think he was near as nothing in bed seven weeks, but they grew together, there was no operation needed. He had to lay with his leg up. And they grew together, that’s the sinew, you see, like you pull the sinew out of a chicken. And that was the only time he was ever ill.
Q: So he was all right again after ?
Mrs F: Oh, yes, he worked.
Q: Presumably, if he was ill what would happen about his wages ?
Mrs F: Well, I don’t know. They only had two shillings to pay for rent them days, see. They called themt a tied cottage you see, because they work on the farm you see. I think I remember my mother telling me their rent was two shillings a week. But whether they paid when father was ill I don’t know. Of course they’d got insurance, I think then, a little, a little. Oh but they were happy days. When I sit here sometimes and think about all my times, I think to myself ‘Oh I would love to go back to those times again’. Oh I would.
Q: Which time did you like the best ?
Mrs F: Well I liked all my [???] but we were such a happy family, I mean there was ten of us,. My oldest brother was a ploughman at Kelvedon, then come a sister, then come another brother and he worked for a Sir Cuthbert Quilter at Boysey Manor Dairy in Woodbridge, Suffolk. And when he went to Australia my brother went with him and of course he died out there and his family is there. I haven’t been to see them, I’d love to see them but my daughter don’t think I’d manage the flight. I’d love to go, provided there was someone with me. But my daughter went two years ago in February to Australia, for six weeks. I hear from them, get photographs from them and all that but I’d love to go and see them. And I said to my daughter ‘If you ever made up your mind, I‘d come’. As long as I had somebody with me I’d be all right.
Q: So they went when they were quite young did they, your brothers ?
Mrs F: Oh yes, he went when he was were quite young. Yes, Sir Cuthbert Quilter said he was going to Australia and he said ‘I’d like you, Charlie to follow me’. Because he was the dairyman you see. And my brother went with him, or followed him out. He’d got a house there ready for him.[???]
Q: Did your other brothers go into farm work as well ?
Mrs F: They were all working on the farm. They were all, I had five brothers and they, all but Charlie. The one that went to Australia. He was with Sir Cuthbert Quilter and went to Suffolk and he didn’t work on the land, cos he was a dairyman, worked in the dairy. But all the others worked on the land.
Q: And where you lived, where was it exactly, your house ?
Mrs F: You know where the Catholic church? (Q: Yes.) Well, there’s a lane goes down there, of course they’re building another estate down there. [Chess Lane] But I often walk down there, I often walk down there. And before they touched the houses in the way of pulling them down I went down and I tried to get in my house, what I called my house. There was five and I tried to get in there but they were locked. I’d have loved to have just gone in and upstairs and look at my bedroom, that’s what I wanted to do but I couldn’t get in.
Q: How many rooms did they have ?
Mrs F: Three bedrooms and a big sitting room and a kitchen. But we had no water and we had to go to from the bottom where we lived, the house where we lived, a quarter of a mile up to the main road to fetch our water in pails and do you know my mother had taken in washing since when I was at home with her and she said ‘Well I don’t know what we’ll do for water for washing tomorrow, the water must have dried’, we never got no rain you see. That’s when we didn’t get any rain. ‘Well Mum’, I said, ‘All we can do is put our day off of washing on Monday, let me fill the water butts of water on Monday and we’ll wash Tuesday’. So we decided to do that. So I started on Monday morning and I used to go up the lane[?] with empty pails and a hoop. (Q: Yes.) Not a wooden one, an iron hoop, and I carried sixty-two loads, (Q: Oh dear.) that’s two pails you see. You get into this, stand in this hoop, and you get the, the handle of the pail is like that, you get the hoop fixed there, you get in the hoop, you carry them down the lane, that stops you from spilling. (Q: I see.) And I’d gathered, taken sixty-two loads, that’s two at a time and filled my mother’s water butts of water to do the washing when there was no rain. (Q: Goodness, sixty-two.)
Q: That was when she did other people’s washing as well ?
Mrs F: Yes, that’s right. She used to do the farm bailiff’s, and she used to do a school teacher’s, I can’t think of her name and then there was the wash for all of us. (Q: This hoop it didn’t take the weight at all, then?) It takes the weight you see as you’re walking those handles I got the hoop lodged to the handles and em I wish I could show you what I mean and walked with that and it stopped you from spilling any. And every drop of water we used had to come from the top of the lane and I’ve got a photograph of them.
Q: And then the hoop went right round you did it ?
Mrs F: No, we stepped in this hoop, iron hoop, and lodged it against the handles of the pail, and then you picked the pails up you see. (Q: So you were inside it then were you?) Yes. But it used to take me all day you know, I mean there was a quarter of a mile up to the pump and back from the pump.
Q: Because its heavy, water, isn’t it ?
Mrs F: I’ve believe I’ve got a photograph. I got some of these photographs out here if you’re interested. (Q: That was nice, yes.) [photographs from newspapers] That’s Bridge Street, and down here is the traffic lights now, its up this road and that’s what was called Fleuty’s Corner. (Q: Mmm.) That’s a wheelwrights.
Q: It says here that’s Mr Fleuty. Did you know Mr Fleuty ?
Mrs F: Oh yes, knew Mr Fleuty. My father used to go to the wheelwright’s when I was a little child, often used to go with you know, if the wagon wheel wanted repairing or anything like that you see. Oh he was a nice man.
Q: He did it while you waited did he ? Did they do it while you were there?
Mrs F: Sometimes, if the wasn’t too big a job, yes. And that’s The Grove.
Q: Oh yes – that’s a good one isn’t it, that’s The Avenue. And you said your mother was at The Grove. You mentioned The Grove earlier on ?
Mrs F: She worked there, yes, she worked there. That’s the staff at the Grove but I don’t remember them. It’s probably before she went.
Q: It’s nice to keep all these from the paper isn’t it ?
Mrs F: Of course these were years back. Mr Garrett, he was a dear old gentleman, he lived in Witham all his life. He was a dear old gentleman. They lived down there in front of the doctors’.
Q: What did he used to do ?
Mrs F: That I can’t remember. [???] I think he had one sister. Did you ever hear of the railway disaster ?
Q: Oh yes – I think so. That’s quite famous. Oh, you’ve got some pictures of that as well, isn’t that lovely. Well it’s not lovely but it’s nice to keep them. I suppose you would (I was going to school.), You remember that do you? Really? What do you remember about it ?
Mrs F: I remember when I went home at night, we usually come home to dinner ‘cos we only had the field to come, the meadow to come across, and when I got home to dinner that was about half past twelve to quarter to one as near as I remember, there was a note on the table to tell me ‘When you come home tonight put the saucepans on’ – because we used to have cooked tea you see. We all seven of us could sit down to hot tea you see at night. ‘When you get home tonight put the saucepans on. I’ve gone up to the station because there’s been a terrible accident and I’ve gone up to see if I can help.’ Well her and another neighbour put their white aprons on and their bibs you know and straps at the back, they used to look lovely, and they both went up to helped with the dead for they put them in a big shed up there, course the shed is taken down now, and they helped up there. So when I got home I knew what mother was going to have for tea, washed the greens and I peeled the potatoes and all that and got on with the tea you see for the men when they come home, cos there was seven of us you see.
Q: But you’d be quite young then wouldn’t you ? (Mrs M: Yes, I left at eleven.) Did your mother talk about it ? Did your mother tell you anything about …
Mrs F: Yes, she said it was a terrible sight, a terrible sight. And her and this other woman and other people as well, they helped carry the dead into this big shed. But she did say it was a shocking accident. Of course they had to repair the line and make it all different you see. But we used to walk over that, used to walk along there to get down to the station, to get down to the trains.
Q: So where did you get, where did you go in, was it on the other side ?
Mrs F: On the same side as, where we go in now. Only we have to walk higher. And of course they rebuilt it, made it altered.
Q: But you still had to go round to Albert Road ? (Mrs F: Oh yes.) You couldn’t get in the other side ? [not sure this is correct, JG}
Mrs F: No, I don’t like Witham now. (Q: Oh, don’t you?) No, I don’t like Witham now. I liked our old Witham. I mean that was so clean and nice. I mean there wasn’t a bit of paper laying about on the Sunday morning. Men used to get up and take a bag and pick them up you know, for nothing. I mean they used to work for nothing. But now what does the street look like on a Sunday morning. Terrible. But I don’t know if you’ve heard of Mr and Mrs Newman ?
Q: [reading from cutting]] ‘Mr and Mrs John Newman’ ?
Mrs F: He was a milkman, all his life. He was one of the twins. There were twin boys and (Q: 1962 their diamond wedding.) There, that was the High Street Witham years ago and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard talk of London House ?
Q: Oh, is that one of those shops wasn’t it ?
Mrs F: That was where Lipton’s is now. That used to be Spurge’s. And Mr Spurge he used to live down at Clacton way. And he had a big shop where Lipton’s is now, of course Lipton’s is further back (42 Newland Street). That used to be level with the pavement years ago. Then there used to be Davies, a children’s shop, clothes shop; then come London House, that used to be Spurge’s shop, the same as the other one. And then look, I say there was no fear of traffic there was there ? They were all over the road. Oh, I liked Witham.
Q: So what did you do, did your family get clothes at those shops ?
Mrs F: Dowsett. Where the shoe shop is now, in front of the International, that was Dowsett’s and he kept that shop open for years.[56 Newland Street] Well then come the butcher’s shop Barwell. Course all the Barwells are dead you see. There was three or four girls and one or two brothers, but they’re all gone. But that’s another photograph of the disaster. (Q: Oh yes.)
Q: Did the Barwells have any children that are still about or have they all gone ?
Mrs F: Well, I don’t know, I think they married. They were single the girls were. One got married but they’re all dead now. Now that’s Grove House.
Q: And what did your mother used to do when she was …?
Mrs F: Housemaid, and poor old dear she was, she used to go into Mr Percy Laurence, that was the owner of the house, and his daughters, two rooms, and she used to clean their fireplace, which was old-fashioned, I mean ashes and all that. She used to clean his fireplace and light him a fire before he got up you see, so the room was warm. And then she’d go into the daughter’s bedroom and do the same and give a fire before she got up, so the room was warm. Well, she carried on for years. And she would go downstairs in the morning after she’d done the fireplaces. You remember the housemaid’s boxes don’t you ? (Q: Mmm.) Don’t you? She had a housemaid’s box. With a handle. Then you put on another part and there was small brushes, large brushes, and then you put the ashes in there. And she was coming downstairs one day and she fell. She didn’t hurt herself, but she fell, but she was never the same after that. Never the same after she fell down them stairs with the housemaid’s box and all the ashes in. Oh she’s worked hard.
Q: How was she different. You say she was never the same ?
Mrs F: No, she never was the same. She soon gave up The Grove after that. She said ‘I don’t feel I can carry on up there any more’. No she give up then.
Q: How old would she be about then ?
Mrs F: Now what was her age when she died ? sixty, oh, she wasn’t seventy. She died in the July and in August she’d have been seventy to draw the pension at seventy in the September, but she died at sixty-nine.
Q: So what year would that be? So do you remember what year that would have been ? (Q: No.) Well how old were you be when she died? Let’s put it that way round? Were you married?
Mrs F: Yes, and my son was two and a half years old. My son was two and a half years old when we buried her. Because my husband’s sister, single sister, come over to look after the baby while we went to the funeral.
Q: How old is your son now ?
Mrs F: Sixty-two.
Q: So it was sixty years ago. Was your father still alive then ? (Mrs F: No, he died first.) Were they from Witham? Were your parents from Witham ? Were they born in Witham ?
Mrs F: No, my mother was born at Goldhanger (Q: I see.) I think it was Goldhanger she told me she was born and my father we could never understand where he was born. He used to say a funny name and then laugh. (Q: Really?) [???] And I said to him one day ‘You don’t know where you were born do you Dad?’ He said ‘I was born so-and-so’, a funny name, he never remembered it. (Q: You don’t know what the name?) Well, do you know this house ?
Q: Is that near the Library is it ? [22-26 Newland Street] (Mrs F: That’s right.) So was that much the same when you were little ? (Mrs F: Yes.) That would be quite near you wasn’t it ?
Mrs F: Where that house is there was two houses in line with it and one was Mr Gardner’s house and the other one was Captain Abrey’s house. Do you remember Captain Abrey ? (Q: I’ve heard his name.) Well, he was a dear old gentleman and he used to, when we lived down the lane, there was five of us, five houses, five very good neighbours, and he used to bring a pile of newspapers down. Captain Abrey, a pile of newspapers down to give to the neighbours down there. Something to read for Sunday. [laugh] Every Saturday night he’d bring these papers down. He’d give us two each or whatever he’d got, to read on Sunday morning. Oh he was a dear old soul, Captain Abrey.
Q: What sort of newspapers would they be, local ones or …?
Mrs F: Essex Weekly. I don’t know whether they were called Essex Chronicle (Q: But they were Essex ones?) Yes that’s right. Well that’s the Maldon Road and they had a carnival. That’s the Maldon Road up here when they had a carnival (Q: And that was the Coronation – 1902.) Yes, that’s from the paper, 1972. Now this was the corner of Collingwood Road, where Lipton’s is now that used to be a little shop in there, a book shop. (Q: Mmm.) Mr Winch, but he’s dead and gone now [40 Newland Street] and then we come up here and that used to be Glover’s. Glover kept that bicycle shop for years.
Q: Really, and that was there was it. Did you have bicycles ?
Mrs F: Bicycles. Oh yes, I rode when I was eleven[?] years old. I only give it up when I came up here. When they laid that new road down, that bridge and my son said to me ‘I shouldn’t ride your bike no more Mum’. I said ‘Why, I’ll be all right’ ?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘now they’ve made that bridge that road is going to be very very busy and it’s the going out and coming in of your road I shouldn’t like it’. And I practically give it up. And I rode it since I was eleven[?] years old.
Q: Because the roads must have been a bit rough for riding then ?
Mrs F: Oh yes they weren’t smooth like they are now. Oh no they used to be very rough years ago. Well I liked my bike. Now that’s the road out of, you go up here to the station and then you go down to Chipping Hill church.
Q: Yes, I’m with you now, that’s a lovely picture isn’t it ? Did you go up to Chipping Hill very much when you were little?
Mrs F: Very seldom, although if we was out for a walk, my sisters used to come home from service. They used to go out for a walk with them, take them out. Now you see that’s Spurge’s corner and there stands the RAFA hut you see. (Q: Yes.) All these work sheds were. Ah this is the one I wanted you to see. Now, that’s the pump [in Newland Street at end of Chess Lane, opposite Avenue Road], and I used to go down there, down the lane a quarter of a mile and up the lane, two pails of water sixty-two loads a time. (Q: Oh dear.) Oh I worked hard.
Q: Was your house across the railway or …?
Mrs F: No, they’re the houses facing the Catholic Church. [Grove Cottages, not where she lived]
Q: But where you lived did you have to go over the railway? (Mrs F: No.) It was this side?
Mrs F: No, it was before we got to Maldon Railway line. [in Chess Lane]
Q: Did they belong to Benton Hall of Freebornes?
Mrs F: No, Benton Hall was across the fields. Across those fields that are cultivated now.
Q: So who owned your houses then ? Who did your house belong to?
Mrs F: Wakelin, my father worked for Wakelin.
Q: So that was Freebournes was it ? Which farm was Mr Wakelin ? (Mrs F: Bertie Wakelin.) And did he have Freebournes farm ?
Mrs F: Yes, he had Freebournes and Benton Hall and he used to have Benton Hall but he put Mr Turner in you see, the man with the pair of horses. He put him in to help him. Oh, but they were lovely days. Work didn’t seem hard.
Q: You worked hard though ?
Mrs F: Oh, I worked hard, since I was seven years old (Q: Really?) and I used to go in the field because our fields come right on the main road as our school was at the crossroads. And I’ve been in that field with my mother at seven years old picking up stones (Q: Really?) off the land for the farmer you see, that was so stony. He wanted those stones picked up and put in a [???] to carry away to make the roads. And I’ve been with my mother and then I’ve gone into school. My mother still be picking up stones, I’ve come out of school and my mother’d have some sandwiches and a bottle of lemonade or cold tea and we used to have a bit of, I used to have a bit of dinner with her and then I’d go back to school. And then when we came out of school, there was the cleaning of the school. And, do you know that little school ?
Q: Not really, the Catholic one is it you say ? Was that the Catholic one?
Mrs F: Yes, that’s right near the …
Mrs F: When my mother’s been ill and couldn’t do the school, couldn’t help clean the school, I said ‘Well I’ll do it, mum.’ And I’d be in that school Saturday mornings. I broke the ice on the water butt, I put my pail in and got a pail of water out with ice in, I’ve got on my knees on a cushion, with carbolic soap. You don’t know what that is do you? (Q: Not really.) it’s the colour of your blouse (Q: Red.), carbolic soap, cold water, broke the ice in the water, and scrubbed the whole of that school, two rooms. (Q: Goodness, and that was when you were how old?) That was when I was going to school. That’s when my mother was ill. Then when my mother was well I used to help and I used to take it and do it by myself and those boards used to look lovely. The teacher said to me ‘Oh the school does smell lovely and fresh’.
Q: I don’t suppose you know how much your mother got paid for that do you ?
Mrs F: No, the Council paid her you see. It was under the Council. They paid her you see, so often and that used to come through to the teacher. Then my mother used to go up to the school and take her money and sign for it. And that was under the County Council you see.
Q: Was she doing all those jobs at once ?
Mrs F: Yes, that’s why she wanted me to stop at home with her to help her. Had I gone out to service she’d have had to give everything up and that would have broken her heart. (Q: Yes.) But every job I done I enjoyed doing. (Q: Even the stone picking?) Yes, I enjoyed doing. I mean I haven’t got bad hands, considering I’ve worked hard like have, and broke the ice in the water for the school and the scrubbing of the toilets and all that.
Q: Did you have any, what did you do for lights at home ? (Mrs F: Oil lamps.) And for cooking ?
Mrs F: Fireplace. Just open fireplace, just that for cooking. Of course it used to be a business to keep the saucepans all clean, you see with the fireplace and the smoke, but we used to keep them clean, used to clean them every time. They never got …
Q: And the water you say, you kept water butts?
Mrs F: Now we never used to drink that water out of the water butts. We used to have a big pottery, earthenware, oh what d’you call it (Q: A sort of big urn?) earthenware, that used to stand on the bricks in the pantry and we used to fill that with water and then when my father came home he used to come up by the trees, we used to call it the trees up there by The Grove, when they got to the pump, our pails were there, my father’s and the other men’s pails were there and they used to bring a load down each. (Q: I see.) See, to help us. Oh and I was happy enough! I was happy as [???] doing my jobs.
Q: And did you help in the house as well? (Mrs F: Oh yes.) What did you used to do ? Did you have a special job?
Mrs F: Done the washing, done the ironing, and took the washing home and used to get a bit tired sometimes but I used to sleep well and I sleep well now. (Q: That’s good.) Yes, I sleep ever so well.
Q: I should think you found it hard to fit school in as well. Did you like going to school as well?
Mrs F: No, I didn’t like school, I wanted to be home with my mother, helping her. But I really have enjoyed my life.
Q: You must have got on all right at school though. Why did she say she couldn’t teach you any more do you think?
Mrs F: She said, ‘Well, I think you can leave school, cos really I can’t teach you any more, you know’ and I left at eleven.
Q: Do you think that was because you’d done well ? (Mrs F: Yes.) So even if you didn’t like it you reckon. What sort of things did you learn?
Mrs F: Course they didn’t go in for what they go in for now. There was none of the examinations and that there was, not then.
Q: What sort of things did you used to learn ?
Mrs F: I mean my exercise books were full, and my writing was very good, better than it is now [laugh] and so she said ‘I can’t teach you no more than what you know’, so I was delighted when I left school. Although I’d have gone into service if my mother had liked me to, because all the other girls went. There was Emma, Liz, Rose, Kate and myself, five boys and five girls.
Q: Did they go into service in Witham ?
Mrs F: Yes, my first place, after I left home and I left home at twenty-one, I went into Wakelins, Freebournes as housemaid.
Q: What do you remember about that ?
Mrs F: Well, I was housemaid, of course I had to keep my top pantry and my bottom pantry all clean and all the silver and all the glassware and all that and wait at table at night, but I couldn’t get on with waiting at table. I trembled so. I was nervous. So, Mrs Wakelin had got one son Barry. I often think about that boy, and I don’t know where, whether he’s alive or dead. I often think about Barry Wakelin. He was a bonny baby. And I was in service with the cook, the nursemaid and me the housemaid. And I used to be housemaid there. Well of course they used to have bridge parties and big dinner parties and all that, but I really was a nervous child when I was young, yes I was. And when I knew I’d got to wait at table it used to play me up you know, get me all tense and Mrs Wakelin said to me one day ‘Would you like the nursemaid to help you with the housemaid’s work tonight as there’s a big dinner on?’ I said I would very much. And I shall never forget, one night, that was before, this was before the nurse used to help me, she’d got the baby to bed you see and she’d got no ties so she used to help me. That was when the big dinners were on. Well there was eight or nine at the table. I can see Bertie Wakelin now, sitting at that table. I was taking the dishes in. ‘Nellie,’ I didn’t ought to say it, ‘Why the hell ain’t you filling up that whisky decanter?’ Shouted this right out in front of all those people. I thought I was going to drop. I said ‘I’m sorry sir’. He said ‘Well, get it filled’. And I’d got to refill it. And that made me very nervous. That really upset me for that evening. So that was, the nurse did help me with the table. He was a very blunt man. And he would drink, he drank terrible. I felt very sorry for her. Because she was a lady. She’d got her lovely evening dresses and that. And after he died she took a bungalow round Mill Lane. Do you know Mill Lane? (Q: Yes.) And always spoke when she seen me and she said to me one day, she said, ‘Nellie, I’d like you to come to tea with me’. And I said ‘Thank you very much. I’d like to come’. So she said ‘Well you say the day and I’ll see if it suits me’. And I told her the day and she said ‘Yes it’ll suit me all right’. And I went about four o’clock. She showed me all her bungalow. And she was a rare one for cactus, those plants. Now I don’t like a cactus, only [???] and she’d got all these prickly ones, all up the stairs you know and on the window sills, showed me all over her house. And we had a lovely tea and a chat and looked over the bungalow, and she said, ‘Well, its been a lovely time having you and seeing you and having a chat and you must come again.’ I said ‘Well, it’s very nice of you, thank you very much.’ But she died, she died shortly after. So I never see her no more. But she was a lady. I felt so sorry for her.
Q: Did you see her, when you worked there did you used to have a lot to do with her? Did you see her a lot. Did she tell you what to do?
Mrs F: Oh yes, she’d come into the pantry, the top pantry, which I called the silver pantry and the bottom pantry and she’d come and chat while I was tending the silver or polishing the things up. Oh she was a real nice looking girl. I was sorry when I heard she’d died.
Q: Did you see much of Mr Wakelin then ?
Mrs F: Well, he was about the farm you know and used to see him in his office.
Q: He had an office did he ?
Mrs F: Yes, he had an office near the back door.
Q: Was it his farm or was he the bailiff ?
Mrs F: No, the farm bailiff’s name was Thake. His name was Thake. No he employed a farm bailiff. (Q: So he was the farmer, Mr Wakelin, was the farmer?) Yes. Oh she looked lovely in her evening dresses.
Q: Did they have a lot of dinners and things like that ?
Mrs F: Oh yes, quite a few. You see there was Percy Brown, the Hitchcocks out at Tollesbury or somewhere out that way, there was Wakelins, Browns, Hitchcocks and, now who was the other name, there was another one. There were all big families together in the area.
Q: What, they used to be the ones that came did they, they used to be the ones that came, and they’d come in the evening ?
Mrs F: Yes, but the only thing is, after he said that, that sort of made me nervous, (Q: Yes.) I mean some people they would have got up and filled it. (Q: Yes.) But he showed me up in front of them. [laugh]. When I went into the kitchen the cook said to me ‘Whatever is the matter with you, your face is crimson?’ I said ‘Well, Mr Wakelin’s just showed me up.’ and I told her. She said ‘That’s just like him’.
Q: She was used to it was she ?
Mrs F: He was a big fat man. He was all right if he didn’t drink but he used to drink.
Q: What did they used to have to eat for their dinners ?
Mrs F: You see cook was in the kitchen and she married my brother. (Q: Oh – he was well fed then?) Yes. They married and they lived on. My brother was what, sixty-two I think, my brother was when he died. So as I say they’re all gone.
Q: When you were with them at Freebournes did you go home for your meals ?
Mrs F: What at Wakelins ? (Q: Mmm.) No, I had my meals with the cook and the housemaid, in the kitchen. There was one particular dinner we used to love. They loved those as well as I did. I used to say ‘Florrie (that’s the cook), what are you doing today?’ ‘I ain’t going to tell you’ she said ‘but it’s something you like’. I’ll tell you what it was. It was a lovely suet dumpling, hot, with syrup on top, and thick cream. (Q: Mmm.) That was our afters very often.
Q: Did you eat the same as the Wakelins, did the Wakelins have the same as you had ? (Mrs F: Yes.) but when they had a dinner did you have the same food ?
Mrs F: Yes, the cook used to see to that. [laugh]
[Chat about having her dinner, and going with son when he comes along – arrangements for further visit, she goes to meeting on Wednesday afternoon, and once a fortnight another meeting and then shopping, so that takes up three days]
Q: You go to the Congregational church did you say?
Mrs F: No, I used to but I go to Chipping Hill. They come down with a car.
Q: Did your parents used to go to church ?
Mrs F: My mother did, my father, of course, had got his horses and garden, he’d got a lovely garden. I should think he had well over half an acre of garden. And he used to grow everything, even down to mint and sage and parsley, celery, oh everything, oh he had a lovely garden.
Q: So you didn’t have to buy much then ?
Mrs F: No, never used to. [???] I used to say to him as a child, “Dad I’d like a raw carrot’ ‘’Well [???] I’ll get you a carrot, [???] I’ll get you a carrot’, he’d say. And he’d get a carrot and he’d take it inside indoors and wash it and we’d eat a raw carrot. They’re good for you, you know.
Q: Did you get any food off the farm ?
Mrs F: No, we used to get, see I had father, Joe, Bob, Jack, there was four on the farm and they were all allowed a pint each of milk a day. So that was a help for my mother. A pint a day. That was only what they called skim milk, but better milk than we have today. (Q: Mmm.)
Q: Did you get any meat or anything else like that from the farm (Mrs F. No.) or vegetables and things? (Mrs F: No.) Because people often say its all right working on a farm you’d have lots of food but …?
Mrs F: No, only the milk. They might say, the bailiff might say if my brother was ploughing up turnips or anything, to help himself to the turnips. My father used to bring a turnip or two home. (Q: Yes.) When he wanted them, when Mother wanted them, when she was making soup. Of course we had to buy our potatoes. (Q: Really?)
Q: Where did you used to buy them ?
Mrs F: On the farm. (Q: You paid for them?) Then there were certain times in the year they used to take in turns to make home brewed beer. Better beer than you buy today. Better beer than you buy today. Well they put that on the stand in that entrance where that curtain is, a big barrel. High, it used to take four men to get it off the tumbrel and roll it up to the front, because it used to have to stand in the front room, and they used to stand on two big blocks of wood, two blocks of wood this way, and two blocks of wood that way. Used to be four men and my father and the farm bailiff used to roll it. Well after that was brewed and stood for so long then my father could have his two barrels in and the next man and the next man and so he served them all alike.
But we didn’t have to buy that. That was given to the men you see for their harvest, to drink on the harvest. That used to stand about that much from the ground. Then after so many days my father would tap, put the tap in this barrel here, huge big barrels. [???] And it used to be lovely. Well that was given to the men for when they worked in the harvest field and had extra work to do. (Q: I see.) I think it was, my best recollection, I think it was three times a year. But that was lovely beer.
Q: Was the barrel in the farmhouse ?
Mrs F: No, they used to bring it up in the tumbrel, down to our house.
Q: And you’d make it in your house when it was your turn ?
Mrs F: Yes, and then you see when it’s their turn again. But that was made with real hops and malt. It used to be beautiful, clear as can be.
Q: But if you had it in your house could you have it when you wanted it ?
Mrs F: Oh yes, it was given to my father you see.
Q: And then the stuff for the harvest (Mrs F: That’s right.) that was extra?
Mrs F: Then they used to take a little stone bottle in the harvest field to have with their meal. They used to work hard in the harvest fields you know. (Q: I’m sure.)
Q: Did you have any corn or flour or anything after the harvest did you get any corn or flour or anything ?
Mrs F: No, no.
Q: That all had to be bought as well.
Mrs F: That’s right, yes. No, we never used to have nothing. They’d give us a chance if you’d got chickens or anything. They’d give you the chance to go to the fields and glean odd pieces with the wheat to feed the chickens.
Q: I see. Did you used to do that yourself ?
Mrs F: Oh yes, I’ve been gleaning with my mother when we had chickens.
Q: But that was just for the chickens, there wasn’t enough to make bread or anything ?
Mrs F: Some of them had a couple of pigs instead of chickens. But we used to have a few chickens. (Q: Mmm.) We done very well on milk and a vegetable when that was given, or a swede, the farm bailiff’d give father a swede sometimes.
Q: They didn’t get very big wages did they ?
Mrs F: Oh no, very small wage. I think my mother couldn’t have brought up ten children if she hadn’t gone out to work, on father’s wage. My father used to get fourteen shillings a week because he was head horseman. And the under horseman used to get twelve shillings a week. Well what can you do on twelve shillings today!
Q: Even then you’d have a job wouldn’t he?
Mrs F: My father being head horseman he got the extra two shillings. But the Witham people treated my parents very well. Now there was a butcher’s shop called Barwells. Next to, well, the same shop opposite the International, it’s a butcher’s shop now [58 Newland Street]. Well that’s all been done different but this shop used to be Barwell’s shop. And my father used to go down the town after he’d get home from work on a Friday night. He’d say to Mother ‘I shall be a little later tonight because I’m going down’, I believe it was London House he used to get it, no Spurge’s, ‘I’m going in the town to get my tobacco’. So she used to keep his dinner hot. And Mr Barwell used to look out for my father, more than once he’d see my father coming along, you could hear his hobnail boots, and ‘Oh, you’re just the man I want to see.
When you come back just call.’ and my father went down the town and come back and he’d call and he’d got a lovely big parcel of odds and ends of meat. And beautiful meat. ‘There, Walter’, he used to say, always called my father Walter. ‘There you are Walter’, he said, ‘a few bits and pieces to help with the children’. And my father would bring it home and lay it on the table and open it. Pieces of steak, lovely steak, pieces of bacon, pieces of liver, pieces of heart. All kinds of pieces. And he’d give them to my father. [???] sometimes last us a week. My parents I will say, were treated very well in Witham.
Q: Do you think he’d be doing that for the other farm workers as well. Did he know your father specially or would he do that for other people do you think?
Mrs F: Oh he used to have a chat with my father, he knew them you see, and they were a big family in Witham. I worked for one of the daughters when she got old, and when I could go out to work, when I could spare the time when I was home with mother, I used to go and do a job or two. They used to be down, you know where you turn up to go in the car park. (Q: Yes.) Two lovely sweet cottages, two beautiful cottages and they must pull them down [Guithavon Street]
Q: So you helped her, you went to work for her?
Mrs F: Well I did do a little job. [???]
Q: So you say they were a big family. Were they friendly with the Wakelins as well, or was that a different …
Mrs F: Yes, they all knew each other, Browns and all that.
Q: I was just wondering, did you think your father got special treatment from Mr Barwell, or do you think he gave other people meat as well. (Mrs F: I don’t know.) because it was very kind wasn’t it ?
Mrs F: And I knew he used to treat my father really well. And of course, Sunday morning was the only morning we could all sit down to breakfast. And see, my father used to get up and make a cup of tea and have a piece of toast and take a sandwich to eat. He never sat down to breakfast with us. Only on a Sunday morning my mother would always like to get him something to fry, which he used to love a piece of steak. And of course when she opened this parcel there was a lovely piece of steak in there, she fried for his breakfast. And I remember now, I loved my, well we all did, we loved our Sunday morning breakfasts. We used to have pickled onions, small potatoes all thoroughly washed, and dried and when my father got up and the oven was hot, he’d put them in the oven and bake them. Used to call baked chats we used to call them, chat potatoes you see. My father would go out and feed his horses and do a job or two on the garden and when the breakfast was ready he’d come in. I can see my father now walking in and always took his shoes off. His slippers were on the mat inside, put his slippers on. The men used to help the women, you know what I mean, in little ways. And he’d get a tray, he’d get the paper, he’d open the oven door, and he’d put these potatoes on this tray, put them on the table. And that used to be our Sunday morning breakfast. We had bacon, he had his piece of steak, because if there wasn’t a piece of steak in there, which there wasn’t always, she’d buy him a little piece of steak. Because he was having breakfast with us on a Sunday morning. Pickled onions, chat potatoes, bacon and Father’s bit of steak. And we all sat down to breakfast. And there was some chatting going on on a Sunday morning I’ll tell you. We was all round the table together you see.
Q: I’m surprised there was room for all of you.
Mrs F: Yes oh yes. Of course there wasn’t a lot of room in the kitchen but we would have our meals in the kitchen and then went into the other room. Oh they were lovely days. I’d give all my time up, for what I’m living now, which is loneliness, for my time all over again. They were lovely times they were. We all lived so happily together. You know what I mean. That makes all the difference in life.
Q: You say your mother was ill sometimes, that must have been worrying?
Mrs F: Sometimes she was ill. Well she worked so hard you see. And of course she had arthritis in her hands. [???] I haven’t got a sign of it, thank the Lord.
Q: You must have had worrying times as well then mustn’t you. If she was ill and that, and couldn’t do her work that must have been a worry wasn’t it ? (Mrs F: Yes.) You don’t remember being upset ?
Mrs F: No, well of course, if anybody, if you get upset that will start arthritis you know, oh yes. But touch wood I haven’t a sign of arthritis in my hand. I mean I do all my washing, I wring all my clothes. I put all my clothes through an old fashioned mangle.
Q: You still work hard still.
Mrs F: I’ve got no machines or anything like that or spin driers. I put them all through the mangle.
Q: You still work hard, that’s the answer isn’t it.
Mrs F: I like my work you know. Of course, as I’ve got older, sometimes I get a bit tired and want to sit down (Q: You keep it lovely.) but I love my work.
[chat about Mrs F get on – getting later, time flies. Arrangements for coming back Not noted. [didn’t see her again in the end, she was always either out or asleep! JG]]
Q: Thank you for showing me all the pictures. I do like that one, its lovely isn’t it. [now JG’s photo M3009 – copy got in 2006 from Mrs F’s daughter, Mrs Halliday]]
Mrs F: Yes, I wish they’d have been my father’s horses. He had a mare and the name [???] was called Diamond (Q: Mmm.) And do you know, when she died, he cried. Oh he did cry when that mare died. He called her Diamond. That knew every word my father said.
Q: He had another one as well did he ? He had two horses ?
Mrs F: Two horses each. Only this man, he lived in Benton Hall. (Q: I see.)
Q: Did your father have special words for the horses (Mrs F: Oh no, he had to do the same as the others) Did he speak to them, did he have special words – you say the horses knew what your father said ?
Mrs F: Oh yes, only had to say anything in a low voice, or whoa and they’d stop. And he had the presence of mind to say whoa when he fell.
Q: When his horse died did he get another one ?
Mrs F: Yes, but it was not the same.
Q: Did he have to look after them when they were poorly as well or did the vet ?
Mrs F: He stayed up with them many all night. I’m afraid of horses. (Q: Are you really?)
[Crackling – voices go into background, chat about getting the photo from her son – the one she has is just a newspaper one. Feeding birds. Photos of children and grandchildren and great grandchild, not noted.]