Mr Fred Gaymer and Mrs Evelyn Gaymer (nee Cook), were born in 1907 and c.1908. They were interviewed on 29 April 1983 when they lived at Grasmere, Stevens Road, Witham.
For more information about them, see Gaymer family, including Doris Goldsmith, nee Gaymer, 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.]
[looking at various papers of Mr Gaymer]
[general chat, not noted]
Q: How did you get into this, bypass ?
Mr G: That’s when it was first coming about, and being involved in the building trade, that’s how I got [???]
Q: Its all done now. I don’t suppose it’s secret any more.
Mr G: There’s me petrol coupons (Q: Really?) ‘57
Q: That must have been when it was the Suez crisis.(Mr G: That’s right, I think it was.) Better keep them safe, you never know. [Laugh] [???] And products from coal. You’ve done well to keep all these when you’ve moved house. Usually that’s when they go isn’t it ?
Mr G: Yes. [???] This about the bungalow opposite Richards’ yard. Right next door to where Captain Brooks lived. [Richards’ yard is 56 Church Street, Captain Brooks at 11 Church Street, bungalow 13 Church Street].
Q: Oh yes, that was, he had that built did he ?
Mr G: Yes, I think it was £290. He’d already got the ground you see.
Q: That was is in his grounds, was it, that was in the land of the big house was it ?
Mr G: No, there was two, three or four cottages there and they were pulled down. I had to repair some of the door frames in the old cottages before they were pulled down.
Q: It’s not a very big place. There were two or three there you say. Its not a very big plot, there used to be two or three cottages there you say ?
Mr G: I know there was two anyway.
Q: How did you come to live up Church Street. Because you say you built on that piece of ground and then what afterwards ?
Mr G: We built that in 1929 and moved in when we married in 1930 and lived there seven years [47 Blunts Hall Lane] Daphne was three when we moved, three or four, to Church Street  just before the War and Frank Fairhead, he was living at the yard and [???] the joinery shop. [???] [i.e. Richards builders] His wife died and he wouldn’t stay and then they offered me the job. It was an uplift for me. I know I left me bungalow which I didn’t like doing really. We went there seven years after we were married. (Mrs G: ’37) And then we were there.
Mrs G: We didn’t have to go but you know what I mean.
Mr G: It was a good uplift for me.
Mrs G: I hated it at first but then I got used to used to it, living right on the path you know, and living along the path but I got used to it
Q: Of course you’d know a good few folks up there. (Mrs G: Oh yes, I knew a lot of people) [???] That’s the secret one isn’t it about the bypass. (Mr G: Not for publications, that wouldn’t matter now would it.) [???] Actually I’ve brought something to ask you about.
[shows photocopy of a few sheets of handwritten wages book for farmworkers, c 1824, obtained from Powershall School, origin unknown, he doesn’t know it, not noted]
[shows price list for wood, and photo of Albert Edward, 1881, chat about papers etc. not noted]
Mr G: Oh yes, this [at Cuppers, where their present house is in Stevens Road] was a meadow. Had me own football team there. [laugh] We had to work hard but we were also able to play you know. We had the meadow,[???] we did have to work.
Mrs G: We all did, our generation, girls and boys. We had to work indoors, we all had our jobs to do, and if you didn’t to them, well you had to do them, you didn’t dare not do them.
Q: So what sort of jobs did you have ?
Mrs G: Used to have to wash up, and my sister and I had to make up our own bed and the boys’ bed and I used to go shopping. I liked shopping. I used to walk from the top of Church Street down to town. As I say I did all the shopping. I always had to go to the butchers. (Q: Yes.) And that was in Church Street. Of course the baker used to call so I didn’t have to go to the bakers, and then at that time of day the grocers called and we always had our things from the International. And I had to drop mother’s order in on my way to school, Maldon Road school, to drop the order in and they used to deliver the goods. And our next door neighbours, I used to take theirs as well. And then on Saturday morning I used to have to go down and pay the bills and I was quite young. I was quite young. I mean I left school when I was, I was in service at fourteen, so that was long before I was fourteen I had to do all that. And I did it automatically you know. The butcher, old Mr. Greatrex he was a dear old chap. And he used [???] to say ‘Watch out, here comes granny.’ [laugh] I wouldn’t have just anything. And I remember once to his son, it’s no giving her that, she won’t have that. I remember once his son serving me and he cut this piece of meat off and I looked at it and said ‘My mother won’t like that piece – could I have something different ?’ and I was only little. But you had to do it you see, I knew quite well if that wasn’t right I’d have to take it back. That’s why I was very alert, I mean I didn’t want to have to take things back. That time of day we would you see, if it wasn’t right. I’d have take it back. You see, it didn’t hurt us. You realise now, I used to feel sorry for myself sometimes, as they didn’t all have to work like we did. We weren’t hard pushed but you know what I mean, it was good training. It was discipline wasn’t it ?
Q: It was your stepmother you said. Was she very strict was she ?
Mrs G: Yes she was. But she looked after us and we were kept clean and fed and all that sort of thing.
Q: And your father was he strict as well ?
Mrs G: No, he was very lenient. But she sort of had power over him. He was, well they call it henpecked these days. She was the boss.
Q: Did he have to help her round the house ?
Mr G: [picture] [???].
Q: [???] [talking over].
Mr G: And there’s the father and that’s me brother. He was three years older than me.
Q: That’s your mother? She liked it there didn’t she?
Mr G: [???] Well, they were hard times really at Cuppers. We came there during the 14-18 War you see. [???] Father was the estate carpenter you see, at Freebournes estate. Richardson and Wakelin used to have a steam plough. My uncle worked for Charles Strutt, as a sort of personal assistant or whatever it was, and he lived at Cuppers and he had a small holding for himself. But he had to go in the army at 1914 and then we came to Cuppers to live and my father ran the small holding and then after the War he kept Cuppers [???] and all sorts of things, blacksmith’s shop,, workshops about here.
Q: Did you have just one brother ?
Mr G: Just one brother and twin sisters.
Mrs G: The twins were, they were born the beginning of the War, weren’t they. (Mr G: That’s right.) Then we had our twins at the beginning of the Second World War. [laugh] (Q: They seem to come in families don’t they). There’s twins both sides of the family so [???]
Q: Hard work was it in the War with the children ?
Mrs G: Yes it was, but I coped. It was harder for his mother than it was for me. When she had hers times were harder then weren’t they. She hadn’t got the conveniences. She hadn’t got a tap to turn sort of style.
Mr G: The well is still here you see at Cuppers. Beautiful spring water, of course that all had to be dipped from the well. There was no pump. Then after a time, they did have a pump fixed up, with a washhouse and a tank in the washhouse and that. And underground pipes into the kitchen you see, but then one day that [???] and that never got repaired. Oh they were hard times really.
Q: You say your father had his own business ? So he was reasonably off, but you wouldn’t say …
Mr G: Oh, no, didn’t make much at that time of day, not much.
Q: Did he have people working for him ?
Mr G: Oh yes, at times he did. They were still hard times really. After the War you see. Then he started cartage contracting and all that sort of thing you see. We had perhaps four horses, perhaps more, not many more than four horses, you see and they used to go out on contract work. In the 19, about 1928, times were very hard. There were all the unemployed about. He had one man come and work for him for nothing for six weeks, provided he’d stamp his own card and sign it. So that he could go back on the dole again. Because they used to go so long on the dole and then they were off. That wasn’t the money like there is today. [???] That was very hard.
Mrs G: But even so, things were different somehow. People helped each other and cared for each other didn’t they ?
Mr G: Yes, they didn’t want to so much. They’re not prepared to work [???]
Mrs G: Of course they haven’t grown up in that world have they?
Q: I suppose you still knew, the place was smaller, you knew, (Mr G: Knew everybody.) This person he gave the work to I expect he knew, did he?
Mr G: Oh yes you knew him for years and years, known him since boyhood days, you see,
Mrs G: In Witham you knew everybody really.
Q: I suppose a lot were related as well weren’t they?
Mrs G: Families were related yes.
Mr G: We weren’t related to the man I’m talking about. But they’d have known him from boyhood days.
Mrs G: Families didn’t move away years ago like they do now.
Q: Did you ever work out of Witham yourself ?
Mr G: After I left my father?
Q: Well, you went straight to your father’s didn’t you?
Mr G: When I left school, I started working for my father you see, that’s right, yes. And then, when times were hard again, you see we weren’t very busy but Richards, they were building the Peculiar People’s Chapel and Hatfield Co-op, an addition to Witham Co-op, two houses at Coggeshall. They were the builders of Witham really at that time of day. And they were busy and Charles Richards came and offered me a job. That’s when I left my father [???] and then of course, I worked for him for several years and then as I say, we’d been seven years and a job came up at Church Street, you know, to run the yard. So then I wasn’t always working in the yard, I was running the machinery and that sort of thing, sometimes going out on jobs and then when the War came, had to go to Culver Street Colchester, for a medical exam you see. Passed Grade A1 or whatever they call it. I got the idea that we should be going in the Army. I didn’t want to go in the Army, I would rather I went in the Air Force. So a friend of mine from Witham who we had been on the same medical exam with me the day before, we both went down to Culver Street to try and enlist in the Air Force. But no, they wouldn’t take us. They wouldn’t take us. Reserved occupation you see. Carpenters and joiners. (Q: Really?) And they wouldn’t take us in the shipyards, May and Butchers, or [???], they still wouldn’t take us. They’d take cabinet makers that’s the funny part of it, but they wouldn’t take a reserved occupation, carpenters. And then we were made up into a bomb squad you see and called in in emergencies. Colchester for instance, we went when Colchester was bombed and Chelmsford was bombed and Romford was bombed. We were called in. When there was a quieter period you went back to your employer again.
Q: So when you were called in at these places, that was to …?
Mr G: Well for first aid repairs on buildings. [???] Only just emergency repairs. And then we got made up into a permanent squad but you were still on your employer’s books. You never left your employer. You were still on his books although [???] the government really, you see.
Mrs G: And they had sort of to take you back didn’t they. (Q: I see.)
Mr G: Then we got made up to go on full time, repairs and first we had to go up by train from here. We were based at Woodford, South Woodford. And Harry Mortimer was in charge. [???] He was more or less in charge of the squad you see. And we used to go by train to Ilford and then by bus to Woodford and that was when the doodlebugs started, when the damage first started to get worse I suppose. We saw or heard twenty-one doodlebugs one day. We were greenhorns when we first went and we used to watch what the others did, as soon as they heard these doodlebugs coming of course they were down underground and under covered from the air you see. but we saw or heard twenty-one doodlebugs one day I shall never forget that day really. But then we got made up into sort of a bigger squad, thirty-six of us, in a thirty-six seater coach and there were one or two extra seats so there were more than thirty six of it, and we used to go up by coach every day to South Woodford. Saturdays and Sundays and all, you see. And then, do you know where Rubins[?] Lane is off Eastern Avenue, no, well the turning Rubins[?] Lane off Eastern Avenue, where a doodlebug fell. There was other places as well. Well this doodlebug fell at Rubins[?] Lane anyway. And they rounded up all the emergency squads you see, and we were rounded up, and we were all drafted into that area, different squads, just on first aid repairs, putting linen over the windows, or felt on the roofs, all that sort of thing, you see, just emergency repairs. And that was our Sunday off. We were there on the Saturday, well from about the Thursday to the following Saturday. And it was our Sunday off. And so we were called back to Woodford and taken to our depot. We’d hadn’t hardly got unloaded before we were sent back to Rubins[?] Lane, there’d had been a rocket fall, the same weekend, our Sunday off, [???] so we had to do it over a vast area with first aid repairs. (Q: Mmm.) And when things got quiet. They called us the Witham squad and we’d got sort of a decent reputation, we went for instance to work for Mr Prime, Deputy Lord Mayor of London, they had a house in Snaresbrook, beautiful houses, one or two nice people lived there. So we had to go. So we got picked for nice jobs really because we had a good reputation.
Q: You were mostly from Witham were you ?
Mr G: Witham and district, one young fellow that I palled up with came from Salcot, and they were from Tiptree, and Braxted and Wickham Bishops. Different ones you see. (Q: [???]) Mr Phillips another man from Snaresbrook, [???] the Witham squad anyway. [???] He used to bring the thirty-six of us a pound of sausages. That was useful that time of day.
Q: So you didn’t see much of him then ?
Mrs G: No, used to be glad when I saw him come in the door, because I never knew, you see. Never knew. I mean the way things were going, you’d hear the doodlebugs and that go over you see, and all this that and the other. You never knew where they were going to land. You knew they were going up that direction. And knew where it all was. But there was always that chance that … I mean we were still lucky, everybody was in the same boat sort of style and we’d gone through the worst of the War and all this that and the other but well, you just lived from day to day you know. And I’d got the children to consider.
Q: When they were small you wouldn’t get to do any work yourself specially ?
Mrs G: No, I had to, people had to take in, not refugees, but, what do you call them, Londoners and that sort of things, but as I’d got the babies I didn’t have to have young children but I always had people in. (Mr G: Evacuees) Yes, I didn’t have evacuees but I had people who had been drafted to work in Witham then from other places and didn’t have a place.
Mr G: For instance, people who were working on the Rivenhall aerodrome. When Bovis[?] when they done the Rivenhall aerodrome. If you’d got the accommodation you was expected to take so many.
Mrs G: So I was very busy you know. (Q: Quite). But I wasn’t expected to take in evacuees.
Q: But you had these others did you ?
Mrs G: Like , what was that woman’s name, her husband was drafted, not to Crittall’s, the other place, what was her name, he was little man (Mr G: Medlicott?) No Mrs Medlicott, we did have Mrs Medlicott, no, the first ones we had, he worked with Mr Wheeler. I’ve had so many different ones I’ve forgotten. But she went back to London didn’t she, this woman, she was an older woman. She went back after the worst of the blitz was over. But that was through the Wheelers that we had her. Well I hadn’t got time to look after anybody else.
Q: Because you had how many children ?
Mrs G: Three, twins and Daphne was five and the twins were babies. They were difficult times, still we survived.
Q: This squad of yours went right on through the War did it ?
Mr G: Oh yes, and after the War you see, and we had to do repairs in different places, in the Woodford Area, or Wanstead, you see. When that squad got broke up you come back to you own employer. And I’m not trying to shoot a line, but, being drafted on the squad like that, made me realise that I’d got something more to offer for remuneration that what Richards were prepared to pay me for. Because if there was any special job, any shoring up job or any special drilling, [???] they picked five men out who had got to deal with it you see. And I happened to be one of those ones that sort of got picked for this sort of, and in charge of [???] and that sort of thing you see, so then I started looking for a better job.
After I got back to Richards. And they weren’t very busy and they were doing undertaking you see, and I applied for a job with Chelmsford Rural District Council as maintenance foreman, and went for an interview and I got the job and I think the best move at that stage was, because I didn’t tell my employer about it at the time, you see, didn’t ask him for a reference, [laugh] I approached Mr Crook [clerk of Witham Council], because he’d known my father and he’d known me for years. I was in contact with him when the Witham Horticultural Society was on the go. And him and I got together on some special investigations for the Horticultural Society and so he knew me you see and he gave me a reference [???] what made the difference, but I had to have two more references as well.
I was there five years or so and another job came up with the Colchester Hospital Group. Maintenance foreman but it was in Notley, and Halstead and Braintree and this vicinity. I went in for that you see, of course I took my references with me and Mr Hadfield[?] the Secretary [???], and I got that job. Then the buildings supervisor, a Mr Field, and he and I got so well together and then I was made up to the General Foreman of the Group and made up to Assistant Building Supervisor, and when I was made up to General Foreman of the whole group and I had to travel to Clacton and all over the place and Colchester Hospitals you see. (Q: Mmm.) That hospital work was the most interesting time of my life really, you see you’re dealing with so many different things. Ordinary accommodation, theatres, animal houses[?], laboratories, and all these special things you see, that was most interesting. Anti-static floors for [???] theatres, where there mustn’t be a spark in the theatre because of the gas supplies you see. It was most interesting really.
Then Notley was being altered. Notley was a sanatorium and they had that made into a general hospital you see. The Canadians they were at Notley Hospital during the War and then they altered it from a sanatorium to more or less a general hospital. When they were altering what were the sanatorium walls that was when they took me on as well. And they [to Broomfield] and all then these walls had to be altered. And that was when we were busy you see [???] to look after the extra staff. Then there was so much work going on that they used to bring in contractors. [???] [???] ‘You will have to look after it’ ‘I can’t do no more’, I said, about twenty-nine men to look after and then look after the other builders as well. And that’s when I started being Clerk of Works and [???] What you’ll have to do, you’ll have to delegate some of your powers and make up one or two foremen so that’s what I had to do [???] and that sort of thing. And then the work eased up a bit, [???] didn’t need a Clerk of Works job. I went for an interview at [???] in Suffolk but it turned out for some reason that they never appointed anybody. And I went for interview there.
And then a job came up in the Halstead Urban District Council, Building Clerk of Works and Acting Government Inspector and I went in for that did get the job at Halstead. (Q: I see.) I was there four years or something like that.
Then that was when the GLC [Greater London Council] were starting up here you see, and well that was advertised. Of course there were several of us for interview, [???] those offices up Rickstones Road, you see, and then I was offered a job there. There was two of us engaged then. Mr Burton who lived at Hatfield, no Great Baddow [???] and he and I were first appointed. They were expanding and I then I went to the GLC and that’s where I finished up.
Q: Is that when they were building Templars?
Mr G: Yes. Templars, and then Forest Road area. Well then the Clerk of Works who was clerk of handover works. Always had to see the houses were up to a certain standard before they were handed over to Witham Council. Because the GLC were building them, then handing them over to Witham Council, and they all had to be up to a certain standard. I was on the building section when we were first employed, and we were allocated so many blocks of buildings to look at and accommodation to look after, right from foundations to completion. Except for the final handover. We had certain blocks to look after and bring up to a certain standard you see and then they were handed over to the General Clerk of Works and he sort of finalised and handed them over to Witham Council. And then [???] he died and they made me up to Handover Clerk of Works so I took on from him and actually handed over to Witham Council over a thousand houses. (Q: Really ?)
Q: Ought to have your name up there somewhere. That was an unusual (I like it but a lot of people complain), that was an unusual design up at the first estate wasn’t it? How did you find that ? With all the courts …
Mr G: The court design wasn’t so bad really. They all had a back entrance and a front entrance. They most all got that you see. The sort of roofs, never ought to have been. You see first they wanted flat tops, that was what they were all designed for, flat tops. And then Witham Council, and I don’t know the details about that, but they didn’t want all flat top houses, so then they put these roofs on you see, but they still stuck to the layout of the houses, which was wrong really and some of those where the roofs are like that, they come into a valley you see and lead gutters, some of them lead gutters are thirty inches wide at the top end when they start at the top and get narrower as the fall comes down till they finish about a foot at the bottom. And all that lead, all the lead in there you see, that was only about four pound lead when we used to have what we called seven pound lead years ago, seven pounds per foot. You can tell the difference you see. And it all gets hot and cold three and four times a day, according to how the sun catches it, expands and contracts, expands and contracts and then cracks and that’s the worry. They never ought to have been done like that. [???]
Q: As you say people are so used to sloping roofs that they probably must have thought that would like nicer and didn’t think about the …
Mr G: Well I think they let the young architects have their head too much. That’s all right to have young architects but look at the trouble with different buildings today – I mean some of the big blocks. They sort of got away from some of the old principles of building.
Q: I’m thinking you must have found that difficult, having started off doing so much yourself, did you not find it difficult to be on the sort of organising side. Did you miss the actual getting your hands dirty or …?
Mr G: Oh yes, missed being on the tools, and then when you see people doing things, [???] [???] some of them. You can’t do anything about it, but the job’s got to be up to a certain standard, of course.
Mr G: Things had to be done pretty well, they were good builders, they did want a good finish.
Q: So how did you manage to still stay in that house after you packed up with Richards ? Did they mind about that ? Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked ?
Mr G: [laughs] Well that was a bit of a complication really, because you see the house and yard belonged to Harry Richards, didn’t belong to the firm, it belonged to Harry Richards really you see. And then when he was left the business, oh right from the start we had a rent book and paid rent (Q: Mmm.) a nominal rent you see, but we always had the rent book and we always paid rent you see. That was one reason why they couldn’t turn me out with the housing regulations that came up. Then they did increase the rent after I left you see. They were allowed to do that, of course. But they didn’t try to get us out really. But then the business was going down as Harry and Charles were getting old and the business was going down, only just sort of ticking over, they didn’t bother much.
Q: Because they’d been going a long time, that business was going when you were small, was it?
Mr G: Oh yes, [???] Mr Richards came from Great Waltham when the railway first came to Witham. M Richards and son, Maria Richards and son that was, Maria Richards, that was Harry Richards and Charlie Richards mother and their father [???] moved to Witham when the railway came to Witham and then old chap Richards died when Harry Richards was twenty-one and they still carried on the business. Harry Richards and his mother still carried on the business.
Q: I often wondered who M Richards was, now it makes sense to me.
Mr G: Oh did you, that’s how that was. Well then eventually Charles Richards went into the business but he didn’t go in the business for several years. He was a worker but he wasn’t in control. But in later years, when Harry got older Charlie was in the business and he used to run the business a lot you see.
Q: Did Richards always have that yard up there when you lived …?
Mrs G: Oh yes, the old lady and Harry were there then. We used to go down with our little truck dinner times and get six pennorth of wood.
Mr G: In that yard there is a saw pit. Do you know what a saw pit is ? (Q: Is that where somebody goes underneath ?) That’s right, where there’s a brick trench [???] the trees over the top, and you had a man at the bottom and a man at the top, or perhaps a boy at the bottom [laugh] and a man at the top, sawing the logs. And there’s one of those in that yard. And I’ve got the saw now. (Q: That must be a big thing ?) Oh seven feet long.
Q: Where was it ? Have they filled the saw pit in ?
Mr G: Oh its all filled in. But during the War well of course they had engines come into the workbench you see and big circular saw to saw up the trees. And that was sold off and they had a gas engine fitted and there was only a two inch gas main up Church Street and this big old gas engine and we used to start up on a Monday morning. And there’s a great big gas burner at the side of the engine, that sucks the gas out the main, into this bag ready for when the engine comes on to the suction stroke to suck the gas into the engine if you see what I mean, for the explosion. We used to have this engine on the run. Captain Brooks would come across ‘Ain’t got enough gas to fry my breakfast – stop that machine !’ So we used to suck the gas out of the gas main so he couldn’t cook his breakfast. [laugh] Then after that they had a diesel engine, oil engine which didn’t cost so much to run.
Q: Did they run a lot of machinery off of gas in those days ?
Mr G: Oh yes, gas engines, oh yes, a lot of gas engines there was, till oil got cheaper.
Q: I’m surprised it wasn’t dangerous really ? With a spark or anything.
Mr G: Well its like the petrol that’s all enclosed and kept under control. All in [???] there weren’t no escape of gas.
Q: They’ve just put a new gas main up Church Street now, they’ve been managing a long time without.
Mr G: No. In the meantime there has been another main put up there. There was two mains up Church Street. There a four inch main right up the side of Thomas Pendle’s shop [48 Church Street] side.
Mrs G: Still call it Thomas Pendle’s shop ! [Laugh]
Q: It was Wadley’s before that wasn’t it: you must be really old if you call it Wadley’s !
Mrs G: And it was Hasler’s before Pendle’s. It was Wadley’s when we first went to Church Street I think, but I remember Hasler’s, called it Hasler’s for a long time after Pendles took it. [Laugh]
Q: [???] So when it was Wadley’s was it still a grocers ?
Mrs G: A bakers as well and they used to have pigs up around there, used to sell pork at certain times.
Mr G: [???]
Q: Did Mr Wadley live there as well then ?
Mrs G: I think so, but I don’t remember much about them.
Mr G: I think they had the house where Mrs Grape lives now. [Dean House, Chalks Road]
Mrs G: Yes, that was right.
Mr G: Did they have that built on ? [???] The shop progressed and they moved out of the shop or something I suppose.
Q: You had most of the shops you wanted up there I suppose but you went down the town as well ?
Mrs G: Went to the International because that was cheaper.
Q: Did you go to the Co-op at all ?
Mrs G: Well there was the Co-op right down the bottom but we didn’t …
Mr G: Chipping Hill Post Office was Doole’s. You know Doole’s ?
Q: Was that where that sort of window is ? [45 Chipping Hill]
Mrs G: Yes, that was the Post Office and that was groceries but us ordinary workers we didn’t shop there, that was posh.
Mr G: Too classy.
Mrs G: The Braintree Road houses, the people that lived in Braintree Road that time of day, were a cut above us (Mr G: And the Avenue Road.) And the Avenue Road, they went to Doole’s. (Q: I see.) If you went to Doole’s you were, you know. That was like, as we got older, Luckin Smiths was the place to go. But the real cut above was Teddy Francis, wasn’t it. If you shopped at Teddy Francis you were real posh.
Q: Oh, that was posher still was it ?
Mrs G: Oh yes.
Q: I’ve heard people talking abut Luckin Smiths. I never realised that they weren’t at the top of the tree. [laugh]
Mrs G: They weren’t quite the top. Francis he was a bit exclusive. He had real high class. Oh yes, if you went to Teddy Francis, like Mrs Gerald Bright. I used to hate going there. I used to have to pop in there sometimes for Mrs Manning when I worked there. I used to hate going into Teddy Francis shop.
Q: Really, why was that ?
Mrs G: I dunno, the atmosphere, didn’t like the atmosphere. I didn’t mind going into Luckin Smith, they were more helpful there, they’d come out with the groceries you see.
Mr G: But before Francis was that London House ?
Mrs G: London House was Spurges’ drapers, etc. Well there was two Spurges’. Spurges had got two shops hadn’t they ? The ordinary Spurges and then there was London House. But perhaps Teddy’s was part of London House sometime or other.
Q: Because Mrs Manning was the one who lived at the ….
Mrs G: Yes, at the decorator’s place.
Q: Its funny about Dooles, because I had always assumed that these little small shops were just for the locals.
Mrs G: Well they were but (Q: But it wasn’t quite as simple as that though was it ?) Well, you see the ordinary rank and file, you counted every ha’penny those sort of days you see and if something was a ha’penny cheaper somewhere else, the ordinary working people went. But people that were just that cut above the ordinary sort of not quite labour type but I don’t now they were a bit. Witham was a place very much like that you know, oh yes, very.
Q: So where did you come in ?
Mrs G: Oh, not quite at the bottom but nearly. [laugh]
Q: Who was at the bottom then ?
Mrs G: Well I dunno. The farm workers were the least paid, weren’t they. They were the ones.
Q: So where would they shop do you think ?
Mrs G: Well they would go to the International. (Mr G: The International a lot.) Yes. But we always had our stuff from the International.
Q: Did you have to settle up there every week or …?
Mrs G: Yes. Well, we used to. People did in those days. They wouldn’t get into debt you see. They used to deliver the groceries on Fridays and I used to go and pay the bill on Saturday mornings. Always.
Q: So you didn’t really go to really go to Hasler’s even? [54 then 48 Church Street]
Mrs G: Only if, on occasions, if we ran out of anything or if you’d got a ha’penny to spend you’d nip into Hasler’s, I said if ! [laugh)]
Q: There were quite a few farm workers living up Church Street, when …?
Mrs G: Oh yes.
Q: Presumably your house was rented. We were talking about that.
Mrs G: Yes, our house, where we lived they belonged to the three, we were in a row of six, and then there was another six and another six and each six belonged to a different landlord. We used to pay our rent to Joey Mens. Because when we first come to Witham Dad worked for Joey Mens, you see. We used to pay our rent to him.
Mr G: He’d been a bank clerk and then they started the Witham Cartage and Coal Company wasn’t it ? Because he became Secretary of the Witham Cartage and Coal Company and that was one of the ones her father worked for as a horseman you see, driving the horses, and taking the coal round or carting different things you see. Came natural to him.
Q: But then you said he, was that the job you said he had to pack up ?
Mrs G: After the War because he got wounded you see ?
Q: I see. You did tell me his name I’m sure. (Mrs G: Cook.) What was his first …(Mrs G: George. There are a lot of George Cooks about. And so your mother died when you were small ?
Mrs G: Yes, I wasn’t four. We didn’t live in Witham then. We lived in Suffolk [???]
Q: So they were both Suffolk people really. Have you any idea why he chose to come to Witham ?
Mrs G: Well, because he got a better job than what he’d got with …
Mr G: He used to work for a builders didn’t he at [???]. Then he got a job, [???] that was a better job than what he’d got in Suffolk. That was the general trend that as you got further away from Suffolk into Essex and towards London, conditions were better and wages were higher you see.
Mrs G: There’s some connection with Joey Mens. How he came to get this job at Witham or be offered this job. I forget now all the details because it is all such a long time ago, because I was only six when we came down.
Q: Do you remember anything about the First War in Witham or was that too long ago? I’m trying to work it out now.
Mrs G: Oh yes I can remember quite about it. We had to have soldiers billeted on us and I can remember, because there was quite a shortage of food wasn’t there (Mr G. Yes.) and I can remember the Army cart used to come up with the horses and bringing the rations for the soldiers. Whoever had got soldiers billeted on them their rations were brought to. And us kids used to hang round the cart. I know we’d have got a good hiding if Mother had known we’d been hanging round the cart, but the soldiers would give us an Army biscuit or something like that, but we daren’t say we’d been. We used to go off somewhere and eat it you know. [laugh] All that sort of thing that’s a sort of dim recollection. (Q: Did you have some with you.) We had to have soldiers billeted. Especially when dad was in the Army you see, oh yes. We’d only got two bedrooms but we had to, according to what age children you’d got you see.
Mr G: You know the entrance between Lloyds Bank and I think it’s the Westminster Bank, (Q: Yes, I think so.) Well that [97 Newland Street] used to be an Army supply depot in the 1914-18 War and the early part of the War, [???] no, be the latter part of the War, after the, well that was a supply depot, but I remember after dad came out of the army and first started having horses and that sort of thing. We delivered potatoes up there for that was still the Army depot and I remember delivering potatoes up there with the horse and cart. So that must have been after the War that we delivered potatoes. But during the War it was an Army depot for rations.
Q: During the War presumably they got the food from other places ?
Mr G: Well it was an Army depot during the War but how it was supplied I don’t know. But I think one time we had four soldiers billeted on us with father away you see and their rations were delivered to the house where they were boarded every week or something like that. So much food, I suppose, according to how many soldiers you had, this stuff was delivered every week from the Army. You didn’t have to buy their food, you see. You had to cook it and all that I suppose. They might have been delivered more than once a week I don’t know.
Mrs G: That made it so, you know if you’d got soldiers there, there was a bit more food in the house, sort of style. (Q: I see, so you reckon that was a benefit ?) Well that was up to a point.
Q: Of course your father was away as well.
Mrs G: I can always remember my sister, my brother’s often spoken about. We had one soldier and he was a bit. He was ever so nice but he was very simple. He used to sit in our little old kitchen and he would, more than likely he was writing home to somebody and us three were, my brother and sister and me, the younger one, he wasn’t old enough to do it. But anyway we were sitting writing letters to dad you see. Mum had written hers you see and we had got write [???]. So my brother said to ‘Oh what else can I put?’ So ‘I dunno’, I said, ‘Oh tell him the clock is ticking’. This soldier blowed if he didn’t write it down. [laugh] He said ‘Oh, I’ve just written that down, that you’ve just said, I’ve written it down.’ It was so funny you know. I’d finished my letter you see and my brother he was sort of slower than me. [laugh] This bloke, he wrote it down. Well we were all huddled together in this little kitchen you know, it wasn’t very big. But all those little things you know.
Mr G: Then down Maldon Road there was an RE store, the Royal Engineers stores during the War you see. I remember when they started to dispose of the things. And I remember my father bought about twenty odd [???] barrows and I remember them coming in the Army you see. Were they were sold out and we kept one or two and I’d got one until just before we moved down here. The shed in Church Street which I think they call the games shed, I had that for so many years [later 40a, 40b, 40c Church Street]
Mrs G: Right next to the school[?] you know.
Mr G: Where they’ve built the three houses now, you see. My father first hired that from United Charities for storage for something and then when I went up Church Street of course that was just ideal for me to take it all on and I’d got one of those army barrows that came from the RE Stores in Maldon Road, from the 1914-18 War. I’d still got that up in Church Street before we moved here and some men who were, they come to fell some willow trees at Cuppers, after my father died that was. They bought this barrow off me to put in a garden as an ornamental feature. Put it in the garden with dirt in and it wouldn’t last long. But it was one of these wheelbarrows. (Q: So that’s somewhere with daffodils in it.) Yes or something like. But of course I’d used it for carting stuff home from me allotment things like. But I’d always kept it in the dry.
Mrs G: Do you remember how much they gave you for it ?
Mr G: About two pounds, it cost about two bob, didn’t it. (Q: So you made a profit ?) Yes and had the use of it.
Q: I’ve often wondered about that shed. Because, when they were at school the children always used to tell tales about seeing ghosts and things in that shed. And a hand or something that they’d seen in there – I dunno, some tale they always had about this hand in the shed. [???] I don’t know what the hand was. Somebody once said there was a hand in there. I wondered if they’d seen some sort of, dummy or something [???] (Mr G: perhaps that was when I used to work there) I was going to say you might have been in there.
Mr G: Used to have a workshop in there you see and had got a [???] carpenter’s bench and used to do a lot of work in there.
Mrs G: I reckon they looked through, because you could peep in through the keyhole.
Mr G: Peep in through the keyhole and the cracks in the door and see me working (Mrs G: Wouldn’t see more of him, they’d see his hand.)
Q: Its amazing how these stories grow up. You hear about various ghosts and often wonder if it isn’t something like that that started it off.
Mr G: You know what it was originally ?
Q: No, I was going to ask you that ?
Mr G: Well, the Woolpack. (Q: Oh I see.) You see the wool market used to have a sort of wool market in Witham you see and that shed was something to do with the wool market. (Q: I see.) And that’s how it came about with the Woolpack [probably not – JG !]
Q: It belonged to the Charity people later on.
Mr G: It did later.
Mrs G: Originally it was with the church, you see it was all connected with the church.
Mr G: That is Charity Row.
Mrs G: Yes, that’s what I mean, well they call it Charity but …
Mr G: It used to be sort of the workhouse, sort of thing. And above those [28-40 Church Street] there’s one long room in the roof (Q: Mmm.) and the entrance to it used to be from the house next door to this workshop, this shed. And so that shed might have been something to do with that years ago you see.
Mrs G: This room at the top there was where the master of the workhouse lived (Q: I see.) that was his.
Mr G: That was the end house but at that time of day they had to, well if they was in those sort of workhouses whatever you like to call ‘em, they had to do some sort of work. They were making things, mail bags, perhaps, I dunno. They had to work.
Q: I suppose that was why they called it the workhouse. I suppose they still had a workhouse somewhere when you were young ?
Mr & Mrs G: Don’t remember that, there being a workhouse.
Q: Because obviously at one time I think it was at the Bridge (Mr G: Bridge Hospital.) but I think that was closed. What was that when you were small ?
Mr G: Well when we were young that was called the Bridge Home and that was all boys you see. (Mrs G: Yes, simple.) They hired part of this land, that used to go with Cuppers farm, and they had the Bridge Home sports field and there was a large garden and they hired that off Rayleigh’s and then they used to have their own band. Bandmaster and all didn’t they. They used to march from the Bridge Home to All Saints church on Sundays with the band and the boys following you see. And they occupied several pews all at the back. But we had to go to church Sunday morning.
Q: I was going to ask about that ? Because your family were Church of England (Mr G: that’s right) and you had to go regularly did you ?
Mr G: Oh yes, we had to go Sunday mornings.
Q: Did your parents go as well.
Mr G: Mother did more than my father. My father didn’t go very often but mother did you see but then after the twins came along they couldn’t go so much. My brother and I had to go. My brother was in choir and I went to lots of choir practices but I never got in the choir so I packed it up. [laugh] But I’ve known a time when All Saints, at that time of day, used to be full up. There was a minister named Reverend Read. I don’t know what sort of man, [???] and then you see Mr Howlett was choir master, used to live in Colne House [19 Guithavon Street] where Bland Fielden is now you see. There was a good organ in All Saints. A beautiful organ. And they used to have a really good choir. And I’ve known All Saints be full up for normal service, not just special Armistice Day services you know. The evening service would be full up on a Sunday. It’s a job to imagine it now isn’t it ?
Q: Yes, because it is a big place isn’t it.
Mr G: Yes, a well built church that is with cut flints.
Q: Did they have a Sunday School as well ?
Mr G: Oh yes, that’s right, Sunday afternoons that was. I’ve forgotten the exact details but then there was something when we were older – can’t think about what it was. [???]
Mrs G: That was for the boys who thought they were too old for it. Didn’t like the idea of Sunday School.
Mr G: That’s right, thought themselves a bit better than Sunday School.
Q: [to Mrs G] But your family were ?
Mrs G: We went to the Congregational. (Q: Did you have to go regularly as well ?) Oh yes. (Q: Did your father go at well ?) Not very often, not after we came to Witham but when we lived in Suffolk he was in the choir and all sorts of things.
Mr G: When my father was a young boy he lived in Braintree Road. He used to go to the parish church then. He was in the parish church choir years ago and Reverend Derrett, he conducted my father’s funeral, he come and talked about my father you see before the service and mentioned about him being in the choir of the parish church years ago and [???]
Q: That was at St Nicholas. Did you say he lived in the Braintree Road when he was a boy. So what was his father ?
Mr G: My grandfather was a guard on the railway.
Q: I see. It was your other grandfather that was at Freebournes wasn’t it ?
Mr G: That’s right. (Q: Mr Gaymer ?) Thake was the name of the …?
Q: Was your grandfather a Witham man or did he come from …?
Mr G: From Whitechapel. I remember my father talking about that, about Whitechapel and they came down here, when he was a young boy I should think, but I remember him saying he was born in Whitechapel.
Q: I suppose the railway men did tend to move about a good bit.
Mr G: Well he progressed to being one of the guards on the main line and he liked trains and that sort of thing. He used to like to get away from Whitechapel I suppose.
Q: So Braintree Road, you were saying that Braintree Road was a little better, a cut above Church Street ?
Mr G: Yes I suppose it was really. But you see there were smaller houses in Braintree Road right opposite the shop. That’s where they first lived. Well then he had a house built, Grosvenor Villas, three storey town houses. That’s where they lived when I knew them but previous to that they lived lower down Braintree Road.
Q: I was saying they were one of the Braintree Road lot – so they were a good bit above everybody then ?
Mrs G: Yes, that’s how the next cut [???].
Q: When you, did the churches, how did going to the Congregational Church, did that make, how did that fit in with this business of where you were in the …?
Mrs G: Well, actually I can remember the parish church. All the elite sort of went there, the Hutleys in their carriages, all those sort of people, but ordinary everyday people went, yes, but we went to the chapel because when we moved the people from the Bures church where we went, they didn’t call it the chapel, but it was sort of nonconformist. They contacted the Congregational people about us coming to Witham you see and I remember Mr Belsham, he was running it, he came to see us you see and invited us to the chapel. So that’s how we come to go. But my stepmother, she wasn’t chapel or anything, no, she was church but she didn’t go, only on rare occasions. But that’s how we come to it. But as I say my father belonged to the chapel. He was in the choir and that sort of thing.
Q: You say you went to Maldon Road school ? Like Mr Belsham, what sort of peoplewould run the chapel ? I don’t know whether you’d call it the chapel.
Mrs G: Yes they called it the chapel. There was a minister and he lived in the Manse near where the War Memorial [2 Newland Street] is but there were more business people there. They were sort of …
Mr G: Elders or something like that they called them. Do you know Aubrey Pettican, lived down Maldon Road, furniture and cabinet maker, retired now several years. He married Miss Copsey, he lost his wife some years ago then he married Miss Copsey. He was an elder or whatever they liked to call them of the Congregational. (Mrs C: Deacon) Deacon, that’s right, something like that. [???]
Mrs G: They were sort of people who owned the shops in the town, remember Coker of Coker and Rice, they were big noises in the chapel. But they weren’t, there was nobody right up in the bows, if you know what I mean.
Q: Yes quite. That’s interesting. And was there any difference whether you went to All Saints, if you were church, if you went to All Saints or when you St Nicholas? Difference in status ? Or was it just where you lived ?
Mr G: No, just that you were brought up Church of England if you were parents were Church of England, you see.
Q: How did you choose?
Mrs G: Between All Saints and St Nicholas. Because All Saints. You went to the nearest church you see, that was how it was.
Q: Were there any other chapels, churches, Baptist, whatever ?
Mr G: Oh yes, the Baptist down Maldon Road, the building is still there now. Dowsetts were Baptists weren’t they. Dowsetts’ shoe shop. I don’t know what it is now, Lloyds or something, used to be Dowsetts. He was a Baptist man. [56 Newland Street] [???] That was down Maldon Road, the building’s still there now.
Q: Its quite a big looking place isn’t it. From the outside.
Mr G: Oh it’s a fair sized hall that is. Then there was what they called the Peculiar People’s chapel, that was down Maldon Road. Where the Masons … That was the Peculiar People’s chapel down Maldon Road, remember?
Mrs G: But they weren’t very big concerns, there was only a few people went you see. (Q: You knew who they were?) Well you got to, well you knew everybody by sight and name in Witham then, after you’d been living in Witham a little while.
Mr G: And then there was the Roman Catholic church of course you see and I know when we were young, I don’t think I’d even left school but they tried to organise a Youth Club the Roman Catholics in what was the school room at the other end of the Catholic church there was school room and they invited boys from different denominations and we went there a few Sundays. But perhaps we did go to the Roman Catholic service but we never attended service regularly. But we were able to go into the Youth Club or whatever they called it.
Q: (to Mrs G) Did they have a lot of extra things like Sunday School and clubs and things at your church ?
Mrs G: Well, we used to go to Sunday School and then they had, I forget what they call it now, during the week they had gathering of young people. But it was like a club. If you had time to go or were allowed to go. You see you didn’t, and that was a long way for us to go from Church Street so we didn’t go to anything like that during the week, not until I was older and was working and then I was quite near there and then I used to go, forget what they called it now. But oh no, you didn’t go out after you got home from school, you didn’t go out any more.
Q: What did you used to do then ?
Mrs G: Well, used to help, used to have to get the tea ready, look after the baby and we had to [???]
Q: [reading] Fred Gaymer. For attendance, 1919, and you’ve got another one as well I think ?
Mr G: Yes, that’s 1920. My grand-daughter wants these.
Q: [???] You’ve got a different head teacher here.
Mr G: Yes, that’s right, Mr Thompson and Mr Rowles. Mr Rowles he was organist at the parish church as well and choir master.
Q: And Miss Pattisson.
Mrs G: Miss Pattisson she was the, she was Pattissons were very important people. They were, sort of, good people, you know. Real workers. People looked up to those sort of people. There was lots of people in Witham that you could look up to in those sort of days.
Q: What other sort of people would you say ?
Mrs G: Well, I can’t think of the names, (Mr G: The Pellys for instance.) the Pellys all those sort of people (Mr G: At Witham Lodge. They were a well-known Witham family.) They were well known. (Mr G: The Luards.) Yes but Miss Pattisson, she was with the people, if you know what I mean. You knew the Pellys were up there and you knew the Luards and that but Miss Pattisson she worked, she used to run the Girls, what do you call it now. She used to run a club for girls and that sort of things. (Mr G: She worked amongst the people) Amongst the people. She worked amongst us. She wasn’t aloof. There was two of them wasn’t there. (Mr G: that’s right.) And they were you know, as I say.
Q: Because, she sort of ran clubs and things ?
Mrs G: Yes, well that sort of thing but children didn’t go out, young people didn’t go out after dark not like they do now. They just didn’t go really. Be at home. I mean there was no stopping up till nine or ten o’clock at night then you see. You had to be in bed.
Q: Did your stepmother take any work in or anything ? Or do field work ?
Mrs G: We used to do field work and pea picking in school holidays. You see we used to break up for the summer holidays according to when the peas were ready. When there was an early season we broke up early.
Q: And did you go as well ?
Mrs G: Oh, good lord yes. (Mr G. We all went pea picking.) Yes we all went pea picking (Mr G: Six o’clock in the morning). And keep on, and you had to pick, oh dear !
Continued on tape 75