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.
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 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.]
Continued from Tape 74
Mrs G: Well we used to go gleaning. We used to keep chickens you see and we used to, when the harvest was over we used to go gleaning. Get enough corn to last the chickens goodness knows how long.
Q: Whereabouts did you have to go for that ?
Mrs G: Oh, all round the fields you know.
Q: I should think that, I heard about that, I should think that must be, I mean did they leave a reasonable lot of corn ?
Mrs G: More than they do now, yes. (Q: Quite.) Oh yes you’d get to learn where there was a field. You couldn’t go in this field while there were still a sheaf.
Mr G: They used to leave one sheaf standing in the, or perhaps that was about three or four sheaves to support to make a little show. You weren’t allowed to go gleaning in there until the field was cleared and horse-raked. They raked up what they could and what they couldn’t rake up then you was allowed to go in and glean.
Mrs G: Mothers and all used to go with us, mothers used to go with us. And we used to go and get enough corn, take a day off, and we used to sit with sticks and thresh it all out and it was all put in the big bath and on a windy day the wind would take all this chaff stuff away. (Q: Even at home ?) Oh yes in the garden. All those sort of things. All this corn.
Q: That was for the chickens was it ?
Mrs G: Chickens. Oh yes, everybody kept backyard chickens you see. Oh yes that was for the chickens.
Q: You didn’t you manage to pick enough for yourself as well ? You didn’t you manage to pick enough for yourself as well, you didn’t actually it made into flour or anything ?
Mrs G: Oh, no. You’d need a lot for that wouldn’t you. Well I think perhaps some people used to if they hadn’t got chickens but we didn’t, we did it so we didn’t have to go and buy corn. Chicken food you see. I think we used to go and buy a bit of maize or something to put with it, just to help out you see. But all that sort of thing we did.
Q: So you say your step mother didn’t go out to work.
Mrs G: Oh she worked. She didn’t go out to work, well, ordinary working mothers didn’t, they couldn’t, they hadn’t got time. There was too much to do indoors. I mean everything was sort of …
Mr G: They didn’t have any labour saving things and then have to go to keep fit classes. [laugh]
Mrs G: And there was all open fires, in ordinary cottages you see.
Q: You say women didn’t go out to work but they were doing all those extra things as well, like the peas and that.
Mrs G: Oh yes, but that was only seasonal you see.
Q: You didn’t pick fruit ?
Mrs G: No, not at all.
Mr G: Well I went fruit picking at Morse’s at Hatfield, picking strawberries and when you was picking the small strawberries for jam, you had to take all the lot out every one. When they come to weigh them what you’d picked, you see, you weren’t paid so much for them if there was [???] ? You see.
Q: Did they just pay you as you went along or …?
Mrs G: Each day. At the end of the day.
Mr G: They’d weigh up twice a day or something. It wasn’t long hours because with the fruit picking you didn’t used to go fruit picking early because of the dampness on the fruit. You see it was always a later start, and you’d finish oh about three o’clock or something like because the fruit had got to be weighed and to market. So you’d always finish fairly early. (Q: Mmm.)
Q: Well that was a bit of extra money then wasn’t it ?
Mrs G: Well, you know, people were glad to earn that.
Q: Did your mother used to go as well ? [to Mr G)
Mr G: Oh yes, when we were down Maldon Road, and when we come up here first, used to go pea picking but then, when Dad started having a small holding here, they grew onions and all that sort of thing, and then mother used to help work on the fields you see hoeing or getting up radishes and that sort of thing you see and I used to be sent round Saturdays selling the green stuff. Oh yes, with a hand truck.
Mrs G: We didn’t take any notice of having to work when we were children because we expected, we knew we were expected to do it and there wasn’t anything else to do only sort of play around in the road or something like that. We just took it all in our stride you see. We thought it was the thing to do that.
Q: Did you used to go out and play ?
Mrs G: Oh yes, we went out to play. Skipping ropes in the skipping season and the ball season, the marbles season, that sort of thing you know. We used to play hide-and-seek and all that sort of thing, you know up Church Street up there. Because that was all country beyond the parish you see. Oh yes, then there was the meadows down, we used to go down the meadows.
Mr G: We used to go and pick up acorns and I was told that when the acorns fell that was to keep for the pigs. Pigs love acorns you see and people who kept pigs, as my father did you see, were glad of these acorns and we used to go and pick up acorns a lot.
Q: If you made any money like that as a child, did you hand it in when you got home ?
Mr G: Well, we used to bring the acorns home for the pigs and dad would give us something for them, a few coppers.
Mrs G: If anybody give you a penny in those days, oh cor, you were a millionaire ! [laugh]. You could get four different things for a penny
Mr G: Sticks of liquorice, for a farthing. Sticks of liquorice, didn’t we?
Mrs G: We didn’t think about spending much. Never thought about always running to the shops and always got. I mean to have sweets was an absolute treat. [Q: Mmm.]
Q: What did you do at Christmas for instance?
Mr G: Have a fire in front room and sit up till ten. [laugh] That was when we did have a few extras you see and of course when my mother was making the Christmas pudding you see, we all had to have a stir of the Christmas pudding.
Mrs G: We looked forward to Christmas because we had those few extras you see.
Mr G: That was the time when people did have just a few little extras didn’t they you see, Christmas time.
Mrs G: Then your granny would buy you something.
Mr G: That’s right, I always had a stocking. I’d got a stocking you see, and things put, right in the toe of the stocking was always a brand new penny wrapped up. A nice shiny new penny.
Mrs G: Well, sometimes we’d get a threepenny bit. If you got a threepenny bit out the pudding, well.
Mr G: You was well off ! And you’d finish up with an orange on the top of the stocking. I remember how [???] [???]
Mrs G: Yes, you had an apple and an orange (Mr G: That’s right.) and perhaps a cracker sticking out the top.
Q: You say your granny used to give you something ? Did you have any other relations ?
Mrs G: Not near, we didn’t have any relations near but perhaps granny would send us a bar of chocolate or something like that. Nothing much. Well people hadn’t got the money to buy presents and that sort of thing. It took all your time to see to your own needs.
Q: Did you manage to go on any outings or …?
Mrs G: Sunday School trips, Sunday School trips, and we used to go down in the summer, we used to go, after pea picking, we used to go down to Suffolk to my stepmother’s people, they had a little farm place. We used to go down there for a week. That was it and then we’d come back and go to school. But that was, I mean you never went to the seaside or anything like that, not to stay.
Mr G: The annual summer holiday was a day trip on the train to Maldon and that was always Bank holiday. And there was all the extra activities over at Maldon you see. I remember one particular time. Of course, we hadn’t got much money, had we, you see, we used to go to Maldon like that on the train, and wondered what to bring home and bought a melon, a nice green melon, [???] [???] stood on the platform at Maldon and dropped this melon (Q: Oh no !) on the railway line. [laugh]
Q: Did you get it back again ?
Mr G: Yes, I believe we did pick it up, but of course that was damaged you see.
Mrs G: Yes, you did, because I remember your mother saying about you taking this melon home. But another highlight you see of our year was the Sunday School treat. (Q: Mmm.) Had to have a Sunday School treat, you see. Perhaps the Sunday School treat was to Maldon but otherwise it would be in somebody’s garden you see.
Mr G: There was a garden fete you see – children’s races and that sort of thing.
Mrs G: And then in the winter we had another treat you see, but that would be at the chapel.
Q: I remember you telling me winning two race and not getting two prize.
Mr G: Won two races but only got one prize, [???] was hurt[?] [laugh]
Mrs G: You see everything was so, so different.
Q: And that was [???].
Mrs G: Yes, well, you see, we didn’t expect a lot because, we didn’t expect it, we never had it and didn’t expect it. But the treats that we did get, we really appreciated you see, and that’s why they sort of stick in your memory, because they were a real treat. Oh yes.
Mr G: I believe I told you about how father was the estate carpenter you see on Freebournes Estate and when my grandfather who was foreman was ill dad had to pay the wages out to the men and he used to say about paying a man named Mott who was head horseman, nine shillings a week. He had to pay him the nine shillings but he had to draw two shillings back for rent. And this Mott, there was perhaps [???] something like that, you see, and he’d have a shilling out of that for his pocket. He’d come out on Saturday dinner time when they used to pay them you see and he had this shilling and come out and buy about three ounces of tobacco, sixpence, tuppence an ounce or something like that or penny, I wouldn’t be sure, and two or three pints or beer and a box of matches and that was his shilling gone. And that was his activities for the week. And then his wife had the rest of the money to keep house on. (Q: Mmm.)
Q: There were so many farm workers, farm work was a skilled job really wasn’t it, but they always had to have less money right through history.
Mr G: Yes, for years and years haven’t they, that’s right. (Q: Still have haven’t they ?) Well, some of the farm workers today are fairly well paid. They talk about the farm labourer but I mean when they used to have the labourer when it was all hand hoeing, and [???] cutting the hedges, and scythes to cut the corn. That was sort of just labouring work wasn’t it (Q: Yes.)
But whilst they’ve got skills and horses and drills and they have to know which drill to put on the drill, to put a certain amount of corn on a field and all that sort of thing per acre. I mean that did become skilled, didn’t it, you see. And of course it’s got more so today with all the machinery today. But some of them are fairly well off today or better off, aren’t they ? I don’t say they’re, the trouble is they’re paying too much money in industry aren’t they, producing the cars and that sort of thing you see, compared to the men that work on the farm who had to produce the food and all that sort of thing. That’s where things have sort of gone wrong in some ways.
Q: I don’t suppose you knew what your father used to earn as a postman ? (Mrs G: No I don’t know what he earned as a postman) Was that better paid ?
Mrs G: Oh yes, yes he was better off then and things were beginning to get a bit better then you see, after the War but, I remember something about once when we lived at Bures this was very in the dim and distant past, but he, I don’t know what happened. He used to be paid on a Saturday evening when he had finished work. I don’t know what happened but when he got home he’d lost his money. (Q: Oh.) And maybe he had a hole in his pocket or something like that, but I can dimly remember that he’d lost his money. I forget now the details but I know he’d lost his wages.
Q: I suppose that’d be quite a hard job. The postman’s work, I mean you’re out in all weathers weren’t you ?
Mrs G: Oh, the postmen were, yes.
Mr G: They all wore their uniform then. They ought to make them wear caps or some sort of uniform today but they come round in all sorts of things today don’t they ?
Q: But I suppose that was quite a steady job to have ?
Mrs G: Oh yes, well he only got that through injury that was after the War you see.
Q: Where did he have to go for the letters down the town ? To the main post office or did the Chipping Hill one have its own sorting place ?
Mrs G: No, in the town.
Mr G: Where Coopers is now [84 Newland Street]
Q: I was going to say it wasn’t where it is now.
Mrs G: You see the old Chipping Hill post office used to be on the hill. Doole’s.
Q: I suppose, they had Sunday collections and things didn’t they ?
Mr G: Yes, that’s right they collected then.
Q: If he wasn’t well at all I mean what happened? Did he ever have time off and that sort of thing ?
Mrs G: I can’t remember that much. No.
Q: [???] With your father, working for himself, you said he was always fit I remember. (to Mr G)
Mr G: Yes, that’s right. You see in the Foresters, right from leaving school down here, my father was with the Foresters the Witham [???] and he was in there right until the time he died. After he was ill, when he was getting on he was on the [???] but previously he’d only had a fortnight on the club, all the time he was working, all the time, and then that was for an injury to his hand I think at work, nothing else, but people didn’t give up did they like they …
Q: (to Mrs G) Your father didn’t have clubs or anything like that did he ?
Mrs G: Don’t think so, no.
Mr G: I’m still in the Foresters, Court 6203, a local court and I’m off to the district meeting tomorrow at Colchester. I was Court Secretary. But there ain’t enough people take an interest in it today, you see. We’re supposed to have four meetings a year and you often go to a meeting at Church House and perhaps only one person turns up for subscriptions and that’s about all you see.
Mrs G: They’ve got so many other things now.
Mr G: It was a well-off Court. Had £27,000 invested and that brings in quite a lot of money you see, because being a Friendly Society, they don’t pay tax on it. [???] they’ve 207 members I think it is now, when there used to be 700 when I was in office. That makes it so they were able to pay good payments to those that are sick.
Q: When there were 700 members that was all in Witham was it ?
Mr G: Oh yes, Witham and Terling.
Q: Primarily it was sort of sick benefit was it ?
Mr G: Oh yes, sickness benefit, and grants towards teeth and surgical appliances or specs. You see when the National Heath came along they didn’t have to do so much. People fell out of the Friendly Societies but [???] [???] with our Court, once you reach about, well I don’t know what is now, but when I was 65 or so I never had to any more contributions at all yet you still had the full benefits. It’s a bit different to the National Deposit Societies. When you get 65 they turn you out ! (Q: I see.) Just when you begin to want it. [laugh] With the National Deposit you see, if you hadn’t been on the sick list or anything, there was more put to your name. They when they turned you off the books you had that money, but you had no more sickness payments you see.
Q: So it was quite an important thing the Foresters then ? What sort of people would be in that then ?
Mr G: All the workers. The fathers used to put their sons in you see. Grandfathers would put their sons in, you see. The class I was in used to pay two and ninepence per month and we used to get ten, twelve, fourteen, that’s right fourteen shillings a week sickness benefit if you were sick. But now it’s a pound and with revaluation which takes place every five years, that can be increased. But they can’t use all this money they’ve accumulated, they can’t use that for the benefit of all members, can’t wind the thing up. Responsible to the District Office and also there’s a High Court you see.
Q: It’s a responsibility. You say you can’t do anything and you’ve just got to carry on. [??]
Mr G: So many of the Courts have amalgamated, you see. The Court membership dwindles but the secretary’s got to be paid haven’t they and the treasurer [???].
[chat about tea, not noted]
Q: It always struck me that when Crittall’s came to Witham that must have made a big difference. (Mr G: Oh, a lot of difference to Witham, that’s right.) What was said, I mean did people want them to come or was there a lot of argument about it ?
Mr G: No, I think a lot of people welcomed them.
Mrs G: Well there wasn’t any trouble about it.
Q: Of course it put wages up. I wondered if people paying wages beforehand might have been a bit put out.
Mr G: That’s right, yes. That was a great benefit to Witham, must have been.
Mrs G: Oh yes. Used to say ‘Oh well, he works at Crittall’s, they’re well off’. (Q: Interesting.)
Mr G: Oh yes, people left the farms, a lot of people did, went to Crittall’s. It was always a Union firm. If you worked for Crittall’s you had to be in the Union. (Q: Oh I see.) And this was a bit of a farce sometimes because I was referee for the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers years ago you see and when they started putting wood surrounds round the Crittall windows then they started doing that in the Braintree Road factory, a section of the Braintree Road factory, and when they sort of called for me, that sort of thing, and some of the very men that joined Crittall’s then for putting the wood surrounds, butcher’s roundsmen, milk roundsmen or farm labourers as we used to call them, they’d got to be in the Union. But you see there wasn’t the composite sections of Unions at that time of day to take these sort of men. They were woodworkers, so they’d got to be in the Woodworkers Union, and we wouldn’t accept them. Because you see to get in the Union I’d got to produce either apprenticeship papers or be vouched that I’d served several years in the trade before I could get in the Union. The same with all the other members in the Union, that was in the Trades Union and we wouldn’t accept them. But then the Amalgamated Society, well the Transport and General Workers Union, they wouldn’t accept them, nor would the engineers, you see, because they were woodworkers but they’d got to be in a Union because they worked at Crittall’s, that was F G Crittall’s motto, every man had to be in a Union. And there was quite a tussle went on [???] a couple years in the Union and we had instructions from head office of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers that we’d got to accept them, and we had to in the finish but that was right against the woodworkers’ rules. But then afterwards they made up what they called composite sections of the Unions to take in same as case makers, box makers, you know who used to make the cases for them to put products in and that sort of thing. And then these assemblers they were allowed to go in that sort of section in the Transport and General Workers Union and that sort of thing you see.
Q: Yes, because presumably that’s quite a different, making the surrounds, they weren’t trained.
Mr G: General repetition[?] working, the stuff was all machined. They only assembled them together. All they used was a plane and a hammer. (Q: Mmm.) And they couldn’t set it out and done it. They couldn’t set it out and done it. They could only assemble when things were all cut off to size.
Q: How did you get …? I mean were most of the woodworkers carpenters and so on in this organisation of yours, beforehand I mean ?
Mr G: The majority, oh yes but well, I dunno about that. All the carpenters sort of that worked at Richards they weren’t all in the Union, but the majority would be. One or two of the younger ones, not the older ones, they belonged to the Union you see.
Q: So when did you join the Union yourself?
Mr G: After I started work at Richards, soon after I got started work at Richards. But I mean I was a carpenter and joiner before I joined Richards you see, been working for my father and that [???] I was never approached to join the Union but after you got to work at the builders on some sites, then perhaps a District representative of the Union would come round and see how many blokes on that job were in the Union or try and get those that weren’t in the Union try to get them in the Union you see.
Q: I was surprised really that there were any at Richards for instance. I was surprised really, from what you say, that there were any at a relatively small place like Richards that were in the Union, because you’d think that the people wouldn’t want to be bothered with being in the Union in a local builders, but you reckon you were recruited when you were out and about. (Mr G: Yes.) What did Mr Richards think about it?
Mr G: Oh he didn’t object, oh no.
Mrs G: At one time Richards were the carpenters and builders, the builders of Witham.
Q: Yes, I [???]. When I say small, I meant the size.
Mrs G: At one time they were, you know what I mean. They were the builders weren’t they ? (Mr G: Mm.)
Q: I was thinking of a big firm like Crittall’s they would be in the Union. I wouldn’t have thought anyone else in Witham would have been in the Union at all until Crittall’s came but from what you say they were.
Mr G: Oh yes, they were.
Q: I suppose there are some benefits, did you get any benefits from being in the Union ?
Mr G: From being in the Union? Yes, one, for instance, I took up with Richards about tool allowance. It was only about a shilling a week which was something which was recognised in the trade for carpenters who’d got to supply a lot of tools. They had to buy their own tools you see and perhaps, I forget the exact details, but we got a shilling a week or something like that. And I approached Richards about it you see and told him about it and oh yes, I got the tool allowance.
Mrs G: A shilling then, you see, was a shilling.
Q: Quite a bit, yes, At least you find out what’s going on, don’t you. But then, as you say, did you have to, when you say you wouldn’t have the Crittall’s people, because they were unskilled, how did, I mean when you went in did you have to establish you had a certain level of …?
Mr G: Oh yes, I had to have been in the trade so many years (Q: Oh I see.) and perhaps got to be recommended by somebody or something like that, could also vouch that what you put on your paper was authentic.
Q: Because I suppose you were working for your father you wouldn’t actually be apprenticed technically, so, (Mr G: I was never apprenticed, no.) so if you had been apprenticed you’d have the papers to show.
Mrs G: Of course a lot of young people of his age, they weren’t necessarily apprenticed. They learnt their trade and learnt it thoroughly you see.
Mr G: This was one thing I realised when I went to the bomb damage squad you see. For instance, one house that belonged to the London Gas Board or whatever it was at that time of day, was badly damaged and had got to be repaired. It was a special roof and one hip was twenty-seven feet long, it’s surprising how I remember this, but that’s a long hip, when you put a hip on twenty-seven feet. And we had to go to dumps in the area to pick up wood for this and sort it out ourselves, and get these things you see. Well Harry Mortimer detailed about six more carpenters with me to repairing this roof, and but the very ones that he detailed sort of with me you see would boast about their City and Guilds you see, and all their apprenticeship papers and all that sort of thing you see. And then when it come to put the purlins in the roof I’d detailed two fellows to put the purlins in the roof and the purlins, that is a special job really because of the angles and the bevels you see, that have to be cut just so. And they said ‘Well how are we going to get the bevels and one thing and another ?’ I said ‘How are how going to get the bevels ? You’ve got them on the other end of the purlin there,’ and the purlin was the [???]. So you see they were apprentices who’d got their City and Guilds certificate that they used to boast about, didn’t just realise that the bevels that they want were on the other end of the [???]. That’s when I sort of realised that I’d got something that I could get more for than what Richards were paying me for, that’s what it amounted to really. Because that was one of the best [???] of my life really. And I was nearly fifty then.
Q: As you say if you hadn’t been to that, you might have stopped there you reckon.
Mr G: That’s right, yes, you see got a big pension at the end of the day, see I’d got sixteen years in pension you see. (Q: Quite.) Some of these fellows that have got forty years in pension they must be much better off mustn’t they ? The fellow I told you, the clerk who works on the site who died, who was Handover Clerk of Works, he’d got forty years experience on GLC books. His widow would get half pension, you see.
Q: It helps doesn’t it. Richards were running down a bit weren’t they ?
Mr G: Oh yes, they were. You see there was no young blood coming in the business. People used to come to our back door, I would say all hours, Sundays and that sort of thing, about funerals, and I was finding transport for Richards but I was getting paid for it and people thought I was in the business but I never was.
Q: And so you did that after you left you mean ?
Mrs G: Well people thought he was in the business for one thing because Charles, his aunt, Mrs Charles Richards was his aunt, was his father’s sister. And a lot of people thought that being related, he was in the business you see. (Q: Yes.) Oh they used to think we were well off because we were related to the Richards. [laugh]
Mr G: And Charles, when Harry was getting older and that sort of thing you see, there had been some talk about me going in the business, and they said when Harry gets out, that will be a different matter, then, perhaps we can put you in the business then, but when Harry did get out I never got in the business, and that was one reason why I left you see. (Q: Quite.)
Q: So that was your aunt, yes. Was your father’s a big family ?
Mrs G: There was one sister and another sister but he had three sisters and two brothers.
Mr G: Three brothers. Arthur, Bob Gaymer and my Uncle Frank he used to be an insurance agent about here you see.
Mrs G: Yes, then there was, how many sisters did he have, Doris, Edie and the one at Ipswich. There was seven of them.
Mr G: Oh yes they were a fair sized family you see.
Mrs G: Yes, ‘cos Doris, his youngest sister, was only round about your brother’s age wasn’t he ? Round about Charlie’s age. Only six months difference between them, Fred’s brother and Doris was his aunt.
Mr G: Dad did say about his oldest brother ran away from home and went to sea. Arthur.
Q: Oh really? Black sheep of the family was he ?
Mr G: Arthur, No, he made good. He done well.
Mrs G: That was the thing to do. You see years ago, if a boy wanted to join the Navy oh the parents were, no, wouldn’t want to be a sailor. Oh the parents wouldn’t hear of that, sort of style. Oh there were many, many, run away and went to sea, years ago.
Q: But then he came back here did he ?
Mr G: I don’t know about the exact details of that. At the finish he lived at Southend, and was Mayor of Southend, Councillor, got up to Mayor of Southend one time. He did do well. He did do well in life.
Mrs G: But he never actually came back to Witham.
[Discussion about papers, not noted]