Mr Alf Baxter and his wife Mrs Elsie Baxter (nee Baldwin), were born in 1899/1900, and 1898 respectively. They were interviewed on 16 May 1983 when they lived at 7 Dengie Close, Witham.
For more about them, see the People category for Baldwin family, which also includes Elsie’s sister Mrs Annie Ralling, nee Baldwin.
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.]
At times Mr and Mrs Baxter talk over each other, interrupting, etc and then it is difficult to make out, particularly with Mrs Baxter, what is being said.
[Tape starts, discussing Mr & Mrs B’s health, not noted]
Q: …Talking about the Oddfellows. We were talking about the Oddfellows last time. Because earlier in the year I wrote – I was interested in the Oddfellows because there used to be a chap called Mr Samuel Davies a long time ago …
Mr B: Oh yes, I’ve heard all about him!
Q: You know about him, do you?
Mr B: Oh yes.
Q: Have you? Oh good
[All talking at once, particularly Mr A interrupting Q]
Mrs B: Oh, but he was dead though before we came here.
Mr B: Yes, he was a [???] [noise on tape] agent. He was the Oddfellows’ secretary.
Q: Yes. I wrote to Manchester, you see, to see who the local person was, and they said it’s a Mrs Lee, is it?
Mr B: Yes, Mrs Lee. Well, she’s Kelvedon, but as Witham was – all Kelvedon, that’s all one now.
Q: She said – she phoned – and said they were just coming over and she might get in touch again if she found any papers or anything, but she didn’t so I don’t suppose there was any papers left.
Mr B: But she doesn’t know much about it, you see because she didn’t …
Q: I thought there might be some old books or something, you see, that you had to do with … But …
Mrs B: Well, there were. But you see, since the War, my husband had the Juveniles, and then, when that closed down, Mrs Last, she took all our books and the desk and everything that we had, and it could have been, she went to …
Q: She moved, didn’t she?
Mr B: Tollesbury.
Mrs B: No. [laughs]
Q: Was it Brightlingsea?
Mrs B: Brightlingsea, yes.
Mr B: She’s got them all at Brightlingsea.
Mrs B: But then, she’s given it up and then the man from Kelvedon took over from Mrs Last. And now Mrs Lee’s taken over from the man at Kelvedon.
Mr B: [Interrupting] Because we’ve amalgamated with Kelvedon. Witham has amalgamated.
Mrs B: Oh, Colchester or somewhere, I don’t know. You know, they’ve had several …
Q: She said something about Colchester, that’s right. They would take the records or something.
Mrs B: Because Colchester is more of the head, or place. But, and then, so several – so where all the books and papers went to, goodness only knows.
Mr B: Well, she had them in a big chest,
Mrs B: Yes, Mrs Last. (Mr B: What happened to them after that, I don’t know.) What she did with them …
Q: And that’s the last you heard of them? Oh, well, that’s something, anyway. So what did you know about Mr Davies, then? He was …
Mr B: Well, anyhow, he was one of them what used to live at Newman’s. (Q: Oh, was he?) Yes. When he first come to Witham. What they call them? They’ve got a nickname for them. Well, anyhow, his grave is in the Witham – in the Guithavon Street churchyard. And that’s a scroll, you know …
Mrs B: Well, they did have. If they haven’t moved it.
Mr B: With ‘Davies’ – all about given by the people of Witham, this stone was. And me and my brother, we used to go and clean it, at one time. (Q: Oh, really?) Yes. We used to go and keep it clean. Until it began to get so old. My brother painted it up once, because he was a painter. He painted all the names in, you know, it was indented, just painted it in. But that ain’t been done for some years now.
Mrs B: But whether that’s moved now, since those children have taken over –
Q: Well, they were talking about moving them anyway, weren’t they?
Mr B: Yes.
Mrs B: And all the stones and putting them somewhere.
Mr B: Yes he was a wonderful man.
Q: Really? What did you know about him, then?
Mrs B: But I think that’s saucy, moving them.
Mr B: Do you know, he used to audit the books of all the – several of the clubs and of course, in those days, he had to walk! To Tollesbury, for instance. Or Tillingham! Halstead!
Mrs B: No, they didn’t walk very often, they’d have a car/cart.
Mr B: He used to do it in those days.
Q: What, when he was doing it you mean? How did you hear about him?
Mr B: Papers what I had at one time. And of course one of our old members told me all about him.
Q: I see.
Mr B: And he’s been dead years. Yes, he told me all about him.
Q: Oh, isn’t that nice? Because there was a book about Friendly Societies …
Mr B: Like that one, look. That’s Albert – Albert Poulter, here, you see [showing photo]. You see it?
Q: Oh, that’s at the school. Yes.
Mr B: That was sent in by Charlie Poulter.
Q: The National School.
Mr B: My brother is on that, top row. Because he’s seven years younger than me. About the age of …
Q: Yes, I think Albert said you had a brother – Albert Poulter, when he told me about you. He said you had a brother. Was he – he’s younger than you, is he? I’ve forgotten what you said his name was.
Mr B: Yes, he must be older than me, because I’m nearly 84!
Q: Yes, quite.
Mr B: And my wife’s nearly 85!
Q: Yes. So, what’s his name – your brother’s name?
Mrs B: Bert.
Q: Did you have any other brothers and sisters?
Mrs B: Oh no, not Alf.
Q: Just the two of you, was there?
Mr B: I got a sister but she lives at Romford, she’s went there when she married and she’s been married fifty years now. So she left Witham altogether. Yes. Now …
Q: So Mrs Last had the papers from the – I could always write to her.
Mr B: I don’t know what she done with them. Yes. I’ve read all about it when that was the Maldon District before it was the Colchester and Maldon District. And now they’re going to amalgamate now to the – into the Bury District. Because as they go downhill – that’s that Co-op treat again, see [showing photos/papers] – that where I gave it in there. So they put it in the magazine.
Q: What, the parish magazine. Yes, lovely.
Mrs B: That’s all the families – that’s when the War was on. [laughs] We turned out a lot of old church magazines. And the amount of news that’s in them. We’d forgotten all about it.
Mr B: That’s the piece, see.
Q: [Reading] ‘Witham as it used to be’.
Mr B: That’s about the same as we’ve been telling you, of course.
Mrs B: ‘1971’.
Q: ‘1970. No.3’
[Talking about magazines and keeping copies, not noted]
Mrs B: And there’s a piece in this book about the Young Almshouses of Witham. Now they’re pulled down, but it tells you about them.
Mr B: That’s what I was telling you about. (Q: Oh, that was the one about the church) 1942. One hundred years, All Saints Church. And we was married there – well, I was baptised there. And we were married there, and my children were baptised there, weren’t they?
Mrs B: Yes, our Freda was confirmed – oh no, she was at the other church in Witham.
Mr B: We went into Winchester Cathedral and that one – one of them there, that I told you, that’s a ‘wizard’[?]. That’s got a plaque up – in Winchester Cathedral. He went there from Witham.
Q: And that’s the one you were telling me about, Canon Galpin?
Mr B: Yes. Canon Galpin. And there’s ‘Daddy’ Ingles, next to him, here somewhere. Yes, there he is in old age. He used to wear his pince-nez on the end of his nose in the pulpit. And he’d lean over like that and all of a sudden he’d say [shouting]‘What did I say, boy?’
Q: Did he really?
Mr B: Yes. ‘You weren’t listening!’
Q: What, that was actually in Church was it?
Mr B: Yes. Chipping Hill church, we used to go up there from Witham, once a month. And we used to go to All Saints because I was living in the High Street, you see. And I went to the Church school there, and the wife as well.
Q: Oh, you went from school, did you?
Mr B: Yes and my …
Mrs B: Yes, we used to walk through the fields …
Mr B: Through fields.
[talking over each other]
Mr B: Near Blyth’s Mill.
Mrs B: We used to cut down near Blyth’s mill. Well, it isn’t a mill now.
Mr B: Where Podsbrook is, there, somewhere, you know, we’d cut across the fields.
Mrs B: Opposite Podsbrook.
Mr B: And that goes right through to Chipping Hill.
Mrs B: And go through the footpath and come out and up into Chipping Hill.
Mr B: Moat Farm Lane.
Mrs B: We used to do that fairly often.
Mr B: Once a month, dear.
Q: That was in school time was it? Oh I see. So that was just children, really.
Mrs B: Yes. Because you see you always had a scripture lesson. At that school at any rate, in those days.
Q: So you weren’t able to nod off then? So Canon Ingles was beforehand, yes. When you were just a little fellow. Oh, that’s very good.
Mr B: [Showing photo] Here’s us. That’s Albert Poulter. That’s my brother. The shortish one there, look. The fourth one in. He’s 77.
Q: Yes. Does he still live round here?
Mr B: Yes, over at Pinkham Drive. (Q: It’s nice to have these pictures isn’t it.) He worked on the Council for thirty-three years. Painter, decorator and paperhanger, my brother.
Q: Because you – how long did you stay at the Co-op, yourself? You said you …
Mr B: Oh, I was only there a couple of years. Then my wife took over!
Mrs B: Well, I was there, you see, all through the 14-18 War. [Sound on tape drowns Mrs B’s voice] 1915 – 1920, I should think it was.
Mr B: Just have a quick look at these. We were talking about them.
[Discussing Mr Turner’s paintings and art classes, not noted]
Mr B: Rex Griggs used to take the classes, didn’t he? (Mrs B: Yes.) He was my officer in the Home Guard, Rex Griggs. (Q: Oh, was he?) Yes. And Dr Denholm.
Q: Was he really? What did they … ? (Mr B: Home Guard) Where did you used to meet for the Home Guard, then?
Mr B: Bridge Home. That was the medical part, stretcher-bearers etc. Because I was Red Cross, you see? Thirty years in the Red Cross. So of course I automatically again, took that up. There was a chemist in Collingwood Road was the corporal, I was the lance-corporal, he was corporal. And Stoffer, Edward[?] Stoffer, he was Sergeant Stoffer, and Denholm was a lieutenant and Benjamin was the major. Home Guard. [laughs]
Q: So what did you – did you have any exciting adventures in the Home Guard?
Mr B: No! Two stripes that the highest I got. That was when …
Mrs B: They didn’t do much but they used to go out to Braxted Park, didn’t you? (Mr B: Yes.) And do the drills and whatnot [laughs]. He used to go out doing rifle shooting with his Red Cross on his arm. That used to … [Laughs]
Mr B: They took it away from me afterwards. But that was when we first started, you see …
Mrs B: [Laughing all through] Because he was a First-aider really, see, so he used to wear a Red Cross. But he also had to carry his rifle!
Mr B: Yes, well, when we went down to Bridge Home, we done it properly, you know. We had to go on proper footings. Of course, I weren’t allowed to have a rifle. (Q: Oh weren’t you?) No. But we did do, you see because I had the rifle first before we started up the – stretcher bearing.
Mrs B: But Alf, during the War, when you were hurt with the bomb, when that dropped at Crittall’s there and you had to go into hospital and they had to give you a light job, they put him on the gate. (Mr B: Yes.) Well, then he wore his uniform with his Red Cross on his arm, but he had to have a rifle! (Q: Really?) On guard! [Mr B laughs]
Mr B: But not after they got it settled properly, no. That was when they first – when it was … [both talking together]
Mrs B: Because they’d got the munitions there, you see, during the War (Q: Yes) and various things.
Q: And how did you get hurt then? How did that happen?
Mrs B: Well, actually, you see, there was a bomb dropped on the works, and there was a boy – chappie got caught while he was running to get out and he got caught in a pile of windows, didn’t he? (Mr B: Yes) Well, my husband didn’t realise it, he stepped on the windows to help this chappie out, and there was the hole underneath! Of course, and that hurt him, so he had to go into hospital [laughs] to be put right!
Q: Oh dear, What the hole …?
Mrs B: The hole the bomb had made, you see, was covered by these windows and they gave way and – hurt him.
Q: Was that the same day? I mean, had the bomb just fallen there or was it an old – an old bomb?
Mr B: No, no.
Mrs B: The bomb had just fallen outside.
Mr B: That fell outside but that blew it all down, you know.
Mrs B: That had happened about seven o’clock in the morning when the men were all just coming to work [talking over each other]
Mrs B: And some were in the …
Mr B: Just going to work, say, about quarter past seven. (Q: Yes?) And I was in hospital, weren’t I, at the time?
Mrs B: Oh, no, that’s another one! (Q: Oh dear!)
Mr B: Well, anyway, I was in hospital when they bombed it and the horn went and one of my cousins came diving underneath our shelter, in Braintree Road, and that was – I found out afterwards, that that was my cousin! I – she didn’t know, but I knew of course.
Mrs B: Well, I didn’t realise, well, I was hardly up …
Mr B: Well, that wasn’t far from Crittall’s, you see, was it?
Mrs B: Just before …
Q: Of course not, no.
Mr B: I know when they were dropping bombs when – my wife had got my eldest daughter, in the sink, washing her knees because she’d been out in the garden. As she was looking, ‘Mummy, look at those little bags falling!’ She said ‘Oh dear! They’re bombs!’ And she jumped out and run and dived underneath the shelter. And they dropped round about Crittall’s area. (Mrs B: Wide of Crittall’s.) As I run down the road with my tin hat on, the pieces of brick were still falling.
Mrs B: We had several bombs drop about here, you know. Because up there – now where is it? Powershall Road – along Powershall Road because …
Mr B: Yes, I had an allotment up there.
Mrs B: That was all allotments.
Mr B: There was two bombs – they made a – they reckoned they were fastened together with a chain. There was a hole like that and a hole – you could put a house in them. In the two holes. Right in the allotments.
Mrs B: And that was our allotment and our neighbour’s allotment.
Mr B: And I was – I’d been on duty and I was coming home, with a nurse. And she lived at the White Horse. So I said ‘Shall I come down with you?’ And she said ‘ No I’ll be all right’. She said ‘ You go and get into bed and get some sleep’. I was just getting – taking my trousers off when I heard this coming whistling over and that’s the two they dropped into there. From Braintree Road, so I wasn’t very far. But I heard it go over. Because if you hear it go over you’re all right! That’s the one what you don’t hear what gets you! Yes.
Q: Oh dear! So you were at Crittall’s – they were making – what were you doing at Crittall’s in the War, then? What were they doing?
Mr B: Oh, just ordinary work.
Q: In the wartime?
Mrs B: They did windows, but they also did munitions.
Q: I see.
Mr B: I had – when I tell you I was in the hospital when they bombed it. They told me up there that Witham Crittall’s had been hit. Well, anyhow, I had a hernia one side and then they put me on a light job moving these big shells. And by the time I went into hospital, the other side had gone. So I had double hernia, and that was 1942. See. And that was when – I tell you they bombed them again when the – she phoned up and asked them to tell me they was all right though Crittall’s had been hit, they was all right. They wouldn’t tell me, but one of the stretcher men what used to take the men round from hospital into the different wards and that, you know – his father used to work with me so he see that, he knew that the – so he said ‘Crittall’s has been bombed this morning’. And they wouldn’t tell me! But he told me, you see. So I knew.
Q: So word got about then, didn’t it? Yes.
Mr B: The funny thing, the sister said to me – she said one day – she’d just come in in the morning. And she said ‘Did you hear that plane?’ I said ‘I should think we did!’ She said ‘ I thought that was going to come right down into here!’ She said ‘It looked as if it was coming into our front door!’ She said – well, Marconi’s had got guns. They’d started firing and they went straight up and into the cloud, come down the railway line and bombed Crittall’s instead of Chelmsford! See? That’s how that happened!
Yes, she said ‘That looked as if they [???] And all of a sudden the guns started ‘Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang’ and that just dived and instead of bombing, that come down the railway line as far as here, right against Crittall’s, you know, well, it was on that way, at the back. And, er, dropped four bombs, Crittall’s.
Q: Were there any guns at Crittall’s?
Mr B: And there was another time, another time … [talking over each other]
Mrs B: They was never very, never any …
Mr B: They used to go circle round Chipping Hill church, and run in to drop the bombs at Crittall’s. Well, they’d got a gun there and they reckon they must have hit the pilot.
[Hum on tape and then it repeats itself]
Because he swung round quick and dropped, got his range with his bombs – you know where my – opposite Chipping Hill church – the houses there, they’ve just built a new house? Well, her sister, Mrs Ralling used to live there. [55 Chipping Hill] And just out – away from their garden was the first one, and they dropped them right across to Powershall to Highfields Road, all across, seven, seven bombs. (Q: Frightening.) The nearest one was not much more than a hundred yards from her house. They just dropped them, they went right across. Because there was a great big field in between, wasn’t there?
Q: (To Mrs B) Did you work in the wartime at all? [Second World War]
Mrs B: I didn’t do war- not actual war – I didn’t do any paid war work but I did a lot of voluntary.
Q: What sort of things did you do?
Mr B: Collected penny a week for Red Cross. (Mrs B: Yes.) Church Street area. And she said she never had any trouble at all – all the poor old dears up there used to be – never have – because they were all elderly widows …
Mrs B: Well, they weren’t all …
Mr B: [interrupting] Most of them were …
Mrs B: Even the children used to give me money for it. But if I went down Collingwood Road! Oh lumme! You had to beg and pray! [laughs]
Q: Really? Is that so?
Mrs B: But, er well, I went round the town so much for – different things for the war. Collecting the names of boys that were prisoners of war, find them out so we could collect money for them and send them out gifts at Christmas. And I’ve got a letter from the Duke of Gloucester. And we – then- what else? I dunno, I used to do all sorts of things. Entertain the troops. And –
Mr B: Especially in the First War, with the Chapel concert party. (Q: Really?) Annie was in it and my sister Grace, weren’t they? (Mrs B: Yes.) Rose Coppin.
Mrs B: We used to – Sunday night we used to have – open the school room after church service and they used to have refreshments, cups of teas, and buns and what not. And then a concert and get together. That schoolroom used to be packed!
Q: This was in the First War, was it?
Mrs B: Yes, because we had lots of troops about here.
Q: What staying here?
Mrs B: Billeted in the houses.
Q: Did you have any billeted with you?
Mrs B: My mother did, she had two. Two or three. Yes.
Q: That was quite – did you tell me when you were married? I can’t remember.
Mrs B: When were we married? Just after – 1924. (Q: But you were …) And the war was over then, of course.
Mr B: I came out of the army in 1918. And I met her in 1921. Well, because I’d known her all my life.
Mrs B: Because I was friendly with his sister, you see.
Mr B: I ‘d known her all my life because I lived on one side of the road and they live just over the other, you see. But that was only the old girl Baldwin in them days, you see. [Q & Mrs B laugh]. But anyway the first time we was – she used to go about with my sister Annie, you know. And so I said to her ‘How would you like to take me to church tonight?’ 1921.
Mrs B: And actually I was going out …
Mr B: [interrupting] She’d gone up to it with her father, mother and brother, they’d gone up to her brother in Powershall End. So I went right up Powershall End after her and we went to Chipping Hill church. And I’ve got the church … the prayer book there she gave me ‘In commemoration of Christmas 1921’ – in there. [laughs]
Mrs B: [laughs] There aren’t many people who started their courting in a carol service in church! Oh well, I’d known him a long time and I used to go out with his sister. [noises on tape]. And used to go over there. But in the Second World War, what did I used to do? Oh, well, of course I worked for the British Legion and we done all sorts of things with the British Legion.
Mr B: [showing Prayer Book] There are, that’s where it was. And the …
Mrs B: [???] day’s work I ever did! [laughs]
Mr B: And of course, that was over sixty years ago, of course.
Mrs B: I worked in the Food Office in the last war.
Q: Oh did you, What did that involve, then? What, was that do with the rations and everything?
Mrs B: Rations and identity cards. And I had to do …
Mr B: You see, I lived in the High Street in those days.
Mrs B: And I had to – we used to make …
Q: That would find you, would it? ‘Mr Baxter, High Street’?
Mrs B: Yes, it would, because they were the only ones then. But there seems to be a lot of Baxters about nowadays. And yet we’re not related to them. Only his brother in Pinkham Drive. There’s another Baxter just along the road here. We’re no relation.
Mr B: They lived in Guithavon Road. And there were three or four sons. And two girls. They were nothing to do with – they were a Witham family and we came from Heybridge in Maldon. That’s where all my relations lived. They don’t now – well, I’ve got two sister-in-laws, their husbands both dead. Both of them about 84 or 85.
Q: Both your parents came from that way?
Mrs B: No, his mother came from Kelvedon.
Mr B: Yes. My father came from Maldon, and my mother, Kelvedon. But they spent most of their time in London. Because my father worked at Samuel’s at Ludgate Hill, and my mother was a cook for a Dr Mackintosh at Onslow Gardens, Chelsea. So that’s …
Q: So they’d gone up there when they were young and they came back out?
Mr B: Then they came back when they married. They came back to live – well, they lived at Heybridge first because that was where I was born. Then in 1900 we came to Witham.
Q: What was your father’s first name?
Mr B: My father? Walter. Walter Baxter.
Q: I’ll have to look out for him. And what was your mother’s? (Mr B: Hannah) And what was her – before she married?
Mr B: Allen, from Kelvedon. Miss Allen. Yes. My grandmother was a Baptist. Yes. And all the family, there was four or five of them – Sam, David, Ruth Orbah[?], one sister, Hannah, see. Right biblical names.
Q: Which side of the family was that?
Mrs B: His mother’s side.
Mr B: We found a card, when we was looking these thing up, when I was belonged to the – when I joined the – what was it?
Mrs B: [laughs] The Temperance Society.
Mr B: [laughs] Oh yes! The Temperance Society, 1901! So I was only two! [Q laughs] Miss Docwra, she was a well-known old lady at Kelvedon (Q: I know the name, oh yes.) (Mrs B: We used to have one as well.) Well she was the one who signed that card at the bottom. 1901! Of course I could only have been one and a half or two years old. [Q laughs] Temperance Society. Of[?] course, that was my grandmother, you know. That was her business at anyhow.
Mrs B: We used to have a Temperance Society in Witham. At one time, quite a lot of people joined, you belonged. But you know, all that sort of things got dropped …
Mr B: [interrupts] You used to belong to the Girls Friendly Society, didn’t you?
Mrs B: No, Nell did. I used to take her up there sometimes.
Mr B: Yes, that was at Miss Luard’s, wasn’t it?
Mrs B: That was Miss Luard had that.
Mr B: Girls Friendly – that’s her older sister she’s talking about. She’s been dead years.
Q: Were you working at the Co-op before the War started?
[Mr B & Mrs B talking together]
Mr B: No, during the War.
Mrs B: No when the men …
Mr B: When the girls, they never had girls in shops till then.
Mrs B: Not in a grocery shop there wouldn’t have been. No. When the men had all gone, you see and they needed …
Mr B: Three of them – two or three of them were killed. At the battle. That went away from there. They went away in August 1914, because I was there, then you see, then. And three of them never came back.
Mrs B: I should think it was about 1916 when I went, wasn’t it?
Mr B: Mmm, I should think so.
Mrs B: In the shop and then I worked on until about 1920.
Q: I see. And what sort of work were you doing?
Mrs B: Carving up the bacon and cheese, and butter. Provisional. Provisions.
Mr B: Provisions. That’s what she said to them ‘That’s no good you telling me what that is’ she said. ‘Because I know!’ When they say …
Q: [???] shop now, yes. And how did you learn what to do?
Mrs B: Oh, it comes natural. [Q laughs]
Q: Does it? Your father was still the manager then was he?
Mrs B: Oh yes.
Mr B: Yes, he was about twenty-five years. He was a member of the Bowls Club for forty years. Then I took over his woods and the wife took over his woods, in 1951. He died in 1950. You see, he’d been a member for forty years, so he joined – he was a member in 1910. I was just reading in one of these books, all about the Bowls Club, weren’t we? (Mrs B: Yes.) And about the Football Club ninety years ago.
Q: Did your mother used to do any hobbies or anything? [to Mrs B] Your mother?
Mrs B: [laughs] Had too many children. (Mr B: Only chapel.) Well, she used to be in the chapel and belong to various things. But she didn’t go out and about like I used to. Collecting and whatnot.
Q: Because how was the Co-op run in those days? Was there a sort of committee or something?
Mrs B: They did have a committee? (Mr B: Yes.)
Q: In those days, was it the same?
Mrs B: They had a committee. Oh yes, they must have a committee.
Q: Because it was …
Mr B: Had a president and a secretary.
Mrs B: I mean, if you wanted a rise and you asked the manager, but it had to go before the committee and the committee – and you had to go up in front of them and let them have a look at you! [laughs] Although they knew who you were, but …
Q: What sort of people were they?
Mrs B: What, the committee people? Oh just ordinary common or garden people. Railwaymen. One of them worked down at the tan yard! [laughs] And, you know.
Q: And what, they were sort of chosen each year, were they?
Mrs B: I don’t know! I don’t know how they got the committee. Yes, I suppose – yes, if I’d have gone to a committee meeting – (Mr B: Yes, they were elected.) They had their annual meetings when everybody can go.
Mr B: Members though, not everybody.
Mrs B: Well, members. Anybody knows – and I suppose they vote for various – to go on the committee.
Q: So your father had to sort of ask their advice on things, did he or …?
Mrs B: [laughs] Not much! (Q: No ?) I don’t know if he asked, he told them more! [laughs] But – yes. I used to go out with him in the First World War. We used to take bread and cakes to the Terling camp. They had soldiers camped at Terling. (Mr B: Oh yes.) Why we took bread and cakes over there I do not know. Wednesdays, he used to take it – I suppose that gave him a ride out and get away from the shop. And the chappie – the baker that used to drive the van used to have a half-day off. And he used to say to me ‘Come on. Come over with me to Terling’ and we used to go over there with – you had to stand, you see there, while he was in the office part because of the chappies coming around and having a look to see what you’d got! [laughs] Help themselves, if there was nobody there.
Mr B: [interrupting] Yes, I was saying to you about the …
Mrs B: We used to drive over to Terling Park where the camp was.
Mr B: Mrs Poulter, she had a piece of the – there were the allotments in the front – there was a big piece of what weren’t – left, about an acre or two. And this oldest boy, Tom, he used to do this. They only had a pony so they had little pony plough, you know, for ploughing it. Because they never dug it, they ploughed it. And they used to grow nasturtiums. And my mum, and us kids when we were young, we used to go up there of an evening and pick the seeds off the heads, you know, the green ones.
Because they used to use them for pickles, put them in the pickle. Yes, we used to go up there and hand pick them for them. And I tell you, I wasn’t about five or six though when we used to do it. I remember we used to go up there.
Mrs B: Children used to do that and go out in the fields. They didn’t muck about, breaking windows and pulling everything down like that, when we were young. There was always something you could be doing out in the fields.
Mr B: Pea-picking or fruit picking in the summer.
Q: You used to do that, did you?
Mr B: Yes yes.
Mrs B: Good Lord, yes! We used to go fruit picking. And the doctors said they could always have a holiday in the summer because if everyone’s out in the fields, nobody’s ill!
Mr B: Oh, I found a [???] piece about the two Witham doctors. I’ve just been reading it. About the two Witham doctors, Dr Karl and Dr Gimson. And they was …
Mrs B: We used to go and pick the strawberries and pick the currants.
Mr B: They were lovely men, weren’t they, Mum? (Mrs B: Yes.) The two doctors. Their father was doctor here. And another one of the brothers was a doctor at Chelmsford. And they never married. And one of them used to be friendly with that nurse – (Mrs B: Wood.) in Collingwood Road (Mrs B: Nurse Wood.) Yes, that’s her but they never married. But anyhow, this was the sort of man he was. He – Dr Karl – my mother went over to see him; she’d got a bad tooth. And he said ‘Well, I will pull it out, but’, he said ‘it will be terrible!’ ‘Never mind, doctor’ she said. ‘You pull it out,’ she said ‘I can stick it!’ So she said to him ‘How much do I owe you? He said ‘My good woman,’ he said ‘if you’ve got cheek enough to come here and let me pull it out’, he said, ‘I haven’t got cheek enough to charge you for it!’ (Q: Really?) Dr Karl. Dr Ted, he used to come to see us. He said to me once ‘Stand up on the bed, boy! Let’s have a look at your tummy. He’s got measles Mrs!’ he said. Yes. When he come up to see me sister, Grace, he said ‘Come on, Grace, give us a kiss!’ She put her arms round his neck, because that was kids – all loved him. Put her arms round his neck and give him a smacker! He did.
Mrs B: He didn’t kiss me but he always used to call me ‘Nurse!’
Mr B: Because she had so many to look after.
Mrs B: I had several brothers and sisters, you see, and if anything was the matter with them I always used to look after them. If they – I always remember Claude crying one night and my Dad went through to see what he – ‘I don’t want you, I want Elsie, come on.’ [laughs] So I had to get up and go into him and he’d got measles and he was ever so bad. But he didn’t want anybody but only me. Doctor when he come, he said ‘Well, Nurse Susie, and how’s the patient?’ ‘Nurse Susie’, he used to call me. And if the kiddies were queer at school, when I got up into the top of higher classes – if they – and some of them, you know, the mothers would send them to school and not bother. And the head mistress would send them down to the surgery and I generally used to have to cart them down there. Why, I don’t know. [Q and Mrs B laugh]
Q: Did you say you used to do a job as a nursery maid at one time? When was that? (Mrs B: When I left …) After you left school?
Mrs B: After I left school I went as an apprentice dressmaker for two years. And then after that I went out as a nurse, you know, a children’s nurse, to Dr Horner, the veterinary surgeon. Funny thing, I had two private jobs as a children’s nurse. [laughs] One with the veterinary surgeon and then I went up to London and I was with a doctor up there. Well, with his wife and family.
Q: You must have been good at that, I think, with all the practice that you had.
Mrs B: I don’t know why. And then, I was out of, I got fed up with that and I come home. [laughs] And I was talking to this Miss Patten at the children’s home and she said ‘Well, why don’t you go in for Poor Law?’ she said, ‘and look after the children’. And they wanted somebody at Ongar. And I went out there. But I was in with the more bigger boys; they were the band boys really. I didn’t realise it was the band boys when I put in for the job anyway. And the bandmaster, he would never [bangs to emphasise] punish the boys when they did wrong at the time. They saved [bangs to emphasise] them all up till the end of the week. And then he’d give them all the cane! And that got on my nerves so, I couldn’t stand it. I said ‘ If he’d only punish them when they did it!’ Instead – because the kids had forgotten what they’d done!
Q: That’s right, yes.
Mr B: Then I married!
Mrs B: And then he didn’t liked cycling over to Ongar.
Mr B: I used to cycle over once a fortnight, to Ongar.
Mrs B: He used to cycle over to Ongar.
Q: Was that the ‘Union’, was it, as they called it?
Mrs B: No, it was …
Q: That was a special home, like the Witham one?
Mrs B: It was an estate and all cottages on this estate, and there was about thirty children in each cottage, girls in one lot and boys in another lot.
Q: Why did you give up the dressmaking?
Mrs B: I don’t know actually.
Mr B: Because there wasn’t much money attached to it, was it, really?
Mrs B: Well, if you went on as a …
Mr B: But that’s always been handy to her you know. (Q: Yes, Yes.)
Mrs B: Well, actually my Mum’s thought was that I might like to be lady’s maid, you see. And if you worked for them, then some of them, they travel abroad and travel about and you get the chance to travel about. [laughs] (Q: Yes) But I think she got that idea from Isobel, my brother’s wife. Because that’s what she was. But, no, I didn’t like that.
Q: You didn’t? You didn’t like needlework?
Mrs B: Oh, I didn’t mind needlework, I could dress-make and that sort of thing. But, no, I didn’t like – I did work in a house but, waiting on people and that sort of thing. But it done me good because you learn a lot of things differently to what you would do them yourself. You see how things are done. (Q: What sort of things?) Well, how to look after your house. I don’t do it now. [laugh]
Q: And that was when you …
Mrs B: I lived up in Chelsea. I was up there for about eighteen months.
Q: Interesting. Had you been up to London before that? (Mrs B: No.) How did you find that then?
Mrs B: Oh well, I don’t know – we was talking – I think Miss Luard came up to see my sister and she said this lady wanted a maid and would I go there and see how you get on. [laughs] And she gave me the address.
Q: Which dressmaker did you work for? [talking together)
Mrs B: Miss Smith. ‘Miss Smith, Robes’ [laughs]
Mr B: ‘Miss Smith, Robes’ she used to have on the brass plate. Right opposite the Jubilee Oak, you know, the tree in the road, Collingwood Road.
Mrs B: She was the …
Mr B: The first house opposite there. They had this big notice up the top of the steps ‘Miss Smith, Robes’. [Q laughs]
Mr B: That’s right, there.
Mrs B: We used to do them for all the big people all round about and people up the line used to come and …
Mr B: [interrupts] Especially the old lady in Collingwood Road, Mum. She was huge! Huge! Wasn’t she Mum?
Mrs B: She lived in Collingwood Road. And she was a big woman. If she had the cab she used to have to be pushed in sideways! [laughs] And how she ever got in the car with her husband – goodness knows!
Mr B: They used to have a little car and she used to take up that much across it – and the poor little man used to sit there driving the car. I bet he never had much room in that because she took up all of it!
Mrs B: That was a two-seater, you’d see her. But I’ll tell you one thing. She could sing, beautiful! And play the piano. I’ve spent ever so much of my time on the way to work and going back in the evenings, listening to her singing outside there. One day she had a frock made at Miss Smith’s and they couldn’t – we couldn’t get a big enough stand to see – three of us got into it! [Mrs B & Q laughs] And I wasn’t very small!
Mr B: No! Not I those days! You were quite well built.
Mrs B: There was two of my build and one a little bit smaller, three of us got in this skirt. Because they wanted to see how it hung. [laughs] If that old girl had only known!
Mr B: It made me think, about singing. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Peter Eckersley. He was the first one to the BBC when that was London 2LO. He was the engineer. And he lived at Batsford, where Batsford hotel is, he lived there. [100 Newland Street] And he lived used to play …
Mrs B: His wife used to sing.
Mr B: His wife sung and he played piano. And you could stand outside and hear them.
Mrs B: We used to – summer evenings they used to have people there. And we used to go to bed and open our bedroom windows and listen! And you’d lay there for hours listening to them singing beautifully! They used to be on …
Mr B: Peter Eckersley. I always used to read about it when they first started. Yes, that’s where he lived at Batsford, in Witham.
Mrs B: I was thinking about him the other day, when we were talking about who lived in the various houses in the High Street. You know, there has been some people in Witham, although there aren’t many now.
Q: And when you say you had all the grand people come to the dressmaker’s, what sort of people would they be?
Mrs B: Retired people, you know, gentlepeople (Q: From Witham were they?) and that sort of thing.
Q: So you reckon she was …
Mrs B: Oxley Parker, if you know the Parkers, Essex people aren’t they? Oxley Parkers from Brentwood? Somewhere up there, or just before.
Q: They came that far, did they?
Mrs B: Ingatestone way or somewhere out that way.
Q: What, they came to Miss Smith?
Mrs B: Come to Miss Smith. ‘Miss Smith, Robes’.
Mr B: Had a full life, you know, ain’t we?
Q: Yes. Exciting.
Mrs B: You see, there was Miss Smith, that was her business and her sister used to kept home for her. Then she had Katie Hills, Miss Naylor, Cissie Taylor, May West, me and then Ethel Payne, we were all there.
Q: And you were apprentice?
Mrs B: I was apprentice and May was an apprentice for a year then she was a finish – what they call a …
Mr B: [interrupting] we found the paper, that was May West we were talking about – those photos when we were talking about, when you were (Mrs B laughs) when you were something in the May meadow.
Mrs B: The May Queen.
Mr B: Yes, There was a whole of them, they had all different – round their heads, you know. All sitting there in a group.
[As the tape progresses, Mr B seems to get more and more deaf and doesn’t always hear the questions. Also when he talks over Mrs B he stumbles over words, presumably tiring during interview. Additionally, when he is explaining his job at Crittall’s, describing the windows, angles etc, he stumbles over his words and does not finish sentences]
Mr B: May West.
Mrs B: She used to sing here for a while. And her cousin, who used to help in the Conservative Club, because her aunt was the caretaker there (Mr B: Miss Shelley.) Miss Shelley, and then her niece lived with her. And she could sing too, and she used to sing beautifully.
Mr B: She used to take a leading part.
Mrs B: And then we had the Miss – Mrs Mondy and her two daughters from the High Street. [laughs] They were [???] And then we had another person, her husband had a private school up Bridge Street. She used to sing contralto with us.
Q: This was in the Operatic, was it?
Mrs B: Mmm. And, of course we had the Miss Murrells, they were schoolteachers.
Mr B: They had a school in Witham.
Mrs B: One Miss Murrells had a private school.
Mr B: Didn’t Miss Algar have a school in Witham, one time?
Mrs B: Yes, Miss Algar had the one – Miss Algar had the one the Conservative Club took over for their place when – after the fire.
Mr B: After the fire.
Q: Oh, I see.
Mrs B: And then she went across and had the house which is now Byford’s, the furniture place. [92 Newland Street] And that was her private school. And then, of course she retired. And then Miss Murrells – Myrtle – she had a private school. But when they lived up next door to Haslers, which is now – what is it now? That’s the charity shop. You know, next to –
Q: Oh yes, Sue Ryder’s. [51 Newland Street]
Mrs B: That was a little greengrocer’s shop. But her father was the manager of Spurge’s.
Mr B: The grocery manager of Spurge’s shop.
Mrs B: Because that was the – he had two shops, Spurge’s. Going from one thing to another. One was a classy shop and one was for the ordinary people.
Q: Oh, I see. Yes.
Mr B: And I used to work there, between school hours. (Q: Oh, did you?) When I was about ten, until I was about twelve. (Q: What did you work at?) Errand boy. Half a crown a week.
Q: Which one were you at? Both of them?
[Talking over each other]
Mr B: London House. Where …
Mrs B: Nearest to where he lived. What I call …
Mr B: London House it is now …
Mrs B: That was a big grocers …
Mr B: What they call London House was Spurge’s – one shop. And there was a grocer’s shop next to it. Now that’s all Rumbelow’s. [74-76 Newland Street] And where the – where the flower shop and Richards, that was the house, where they had a housekeeper there.[78 Newland Street] Where the girls what worked in these two shops used to live in. There was about six of them. There was two what used to work in London House and there was at least three or four of them – weren’t they – from the – up there? They used to live in there. And they had a housekeeper. And I used to clean the knives and forks.
Mrs B: Well, coming back to Miss Murrells.
Mr B: [interrupting] Well, one of the things I done – cos half a crown a week was good money. Because I only got four bob when I went full time!
Q: Just one thing was London House the one you would call the ‘posh one’ or the other one?
Mrs B: No, the London House was just – you know …
Q: That was the ordinary one.
Mr B: The left hand one was London House and the right hand was Francis the grocer.
Mrs B: And then – I don’t know what they did with it, they closed it down for some reason. Because we all used to go to the other one when Tom used to – and our Freda worked there, didn’t she?
Mr B: Yes.
Mrs B: And then when Miss Murrells retired then Miss English came and took over. (Q: Oh I see.) And she took her shop – she took her school first into this house next door to the grocer’s shop. And then she moved to a house up …
Mr B: Lawn Chase – where I tell you – General Howard-Vyse used to live.
Q: I just about remember that.
[talking over each other]
Mr B: Where – but of course they’ve built all bungalows now in all those dwellings now – they’re all built over. They were big grounds you see.
Mrs B: There was only one bungalow – two bungalows up there weren’t they and a big house …
Mr B: Well there weren’t none those days. The first one was up the Chase …
Mrs B: Well, the garden of the big house – one of the bungalows and then they improved it and let it to other people.
Mr B: I used to go there a lot …
Mrs B: And now that’s full of houses I believe, I haven’t been up there for a long time.
Mr B: During the War, early in the War, [First World War probably] they had a couple of maids there and my sister was very friendly with them. And they used to ask me to go up with them, you see, and we used to have little dos there of an evening, you know, to pass the – and the old housekeeper used to keep out of the way. She was a little dear little old lady, she was. She had a little tiny dog, one of those rough – little rough-haired little thing. It was a proper little yapper! Not a Pomeranian? A very small dog like that, the old housekeeper. I used to always go up there quite a bit.
Q: What sort of places – how much space did the girls have?
Mrs B: Oh, quite a good bit. They were big rooms, weren’t they?
Mr B: Yes.
Q: And were they Witham girls or people that had come …? Presumably they hadn’t come from Witham then, these girls?
Mrs B: Oh, they came from round about. Some of them lived in Witham, yes, some of them were Witham girls.
Q: But they still stayed there, did they? Still stayed in the place?
Mrs B: Those who worked in the big houses.
Mr B: I remember one Christmas, we had a heavy snowfall. And we was all in the High Street throwing snowballs at each other. Yes. Elsie Howells and Minnie Payne, the two girls who were the maids, and my sister Grace and myself. And then they used to come down to ours and they would sit – happy evenings.
Mrs B: There’s a book about Witham. You know, with all the snips about Witham.
Mr B: Yes, that was printed. I’ve got them all, 1971. This one is the chantries[‘?]. ‘Football 90 Years Ago’ and ‘The Naughty Vicar’.
[Quoting] ‘The vicars of Witham have not always been paragons of virtue, but the precise shortcomings of Francis Wright who was ejected from the living in 1642 are unfortunately not known to us. In 1630 Dame Catherine Barnardiston gave the property now known as Barnardiston House on Chipping Hill, which she had purchased for £100 to find a preacher to preach on Sunday afternoon. If, however, the vicar undertook the duty, he was to preach on Tuesday, market day in the forenoon. The market was held on the Green at this time so a congregation was close at hand. On no account was the vicar to have any say in choosing the preacher. This is perhaps aimed at Mr Wright, the vicar at this time, who, according to Dean Bramston, ‘was very neglectful of his duty and grossly immoral’. Nevertheless he was still vicar seven years later and remained so until he was ejected on the pretext of his loyalty to the Crown at the beginning of the Interregnum. This meant that, at the Restoration in 1660, he had to be reinstated though this was to the great dishonour of the Church.’
Q: Oh, there’s quite a lot in there.
Mrs B: This couldn’t have been the paper I was looking at when I saw that picture of all the kids all going to for a school treat, in a wagon.
Q: [to Mr B] Your father was a farm worker, you said?
Mr B: Yes. Then he worked at Crittall’s when they opened. When they opened he went to Crittalls. So he was there till he retired. And I was there forty-four years.
Q: Because I see you said in your bit of the Parish Magazine that Crittall’s wasn’t – do you remember when Crittall’s came, what people thought about it?
Mr B: In 1920.
Q: What did people think about it?
Mr B: They were very much against having it. That was all elderly people – people with money, lived in Witham. Mostly elderly retired people and mostly spinsters. There were lots of them, weren’t there? The Miss [???].
Mrs B: Coo – I can remember when that field where Crittall’s is, was a cornfield, we used to play in there. I can’t remember when it was built. But I remember – (Mr B: 1920, Crittall’s.) But it seemed to come all at once. Yes. [laughs] But I know I went there with old Blanche once …
Mr B: I started in 1921.
Q: Did you really?
Mr B: Yes.
Mrs B: … to hear one of the Labour men talk about Crittall’s and that sort of caper and I think there must have been an election coming up.
[talking over each other]
Mr B: That was the first – it tells you in one of them – that was the first …
Mrs B: But that wasn’t half so big as what it is now.
Mr B: Oh, they built on afterwards. But that was only three or four …
Mrs B: And those houses that are in that lane, what do they call it (Mr B: Panshaven? Albert Road.) they all belonged to the Co-op. That was Co-op property, really.
Mr B: All those houses, that field belonged to the Co-op.
Mrs B: Panshaven.
Mr B: So that was the Co-op sold it to Crittalls.
Q: Oh, it was all their fault was it?
Mrs B: Yes. [all laugh]
[GAP ON TAPE]
Mrs B: I suppose he was getting on for seventy.
Q: Did he have anything to do with the land or anything?
Mrs B: I expect he would – he wouldn’t tell us.
Q: You didn’t talk about it? About work? No.
Mrs B: No.
Q: Because you said you went to an election meeting there. Was there much fuss about elections and that in Witham in those days?
Mr B and Mrs B [chorus together]: Oh, dear, oh yes.
Mr B: Yes, they were marvellous dos in those days.
Mrs B: Because when Mr Strutt put up …
Mr B: Because there was only Conservatives and Liberals …
Mrs B: And they used to be local people, more or less, put up – Mr Charlie Strutt was a Conservative, wasn’t he?
Mr B: The Honourable Charles Strutt! [Q laughs]
Mrs B: Oh, I beg his pardon!
Mr B: Well, he was Lord Rayleigh’s second son.
Q: Oh was he? Yes.
Mrs B: He lived at Blunts Hall, you see.
Mr B: He put up at Parliament you see, got in for Maldon Division, when it was Maldon Division. He got up there once or twice. [???] Flannery put up and Bethell was Liberal, wasn’t he?
Mrs B: And they used to get really excited.
Mr B: And when they used to have the (Mrs B: The results.) torchlight procession at night, they used to have – the Heybridge Band used to come over, from Heybridge, where I was born. And my uncle was the first cornet and my father used to be the tenor horn in the Heybridge Band. And I could never play anything, were no good at anything! I couldn’t even play a mouth organ! My Dad would play a tin whistle, he used to have a melodeon. And he used to play that on a Sunday night, and we used to sing and play, you know. Till we had a soldier come there, billeted there in the war.[Probably First World War] And he said – and my father brought it out to him and said ‘Can you play?’ ‘Just a wee bit, just a wee bit’ he said. And he started and he was playing all Scotch reels and everything like that. And my father said ‘Well, After hearing you play, man, I come to the conclusion I know nothing about it’ and he never played it no more! (Q: Really?) (Mrs B: What happened to that?) No, he never played it no more. But this soldier, he was a quaint old boy, but he could really play that. He used to sit down and play, and we’d sit down and listen. There used to be a girl what lived in the Beadel’s house, what was right opposite, next to the Co-op, the first one. That belongs to the Co-op, by the way. And the next one down was the doctor’s. So we wasn’t far away from the doctor’s. So he knew that I was Alfred, and Grace was my sister, the doctors, you see. Because we lived right opposite to them. And anyhow, this maid, she used to come over – Ethel – when we used to have these singsongs. And the two girls from the Lawn. And when we went – when I married, I was single then, we used to go to her [Mrs B probably], they used to have a Sunday night. (Mrs B: Nearly every night!) One would sit down at the piano, Granddad brought his violin and we would all of us sing.
Mrs B: At one time we had a harmonium and a piano, and they were tuned together. So you could play the two together. And my father had the violin. My brother used to come home on leave and he had a mandolin. And Grace and us all used to sing. And we could all sing in parts. My neighbour [laughs] Auntie Kath – well we called her Auntie Kath, she wasn’t – lived next door and she worked in the Co-op. I went in and said ‘Auntie Kath’ because I wanted to see her. She said ‘I don’t want to speak to you!’ I said ‘Why?’ She said ‘ I wish you wouldn’t all sing in that room on Sunday’ she said ‘I’ve wasted the whole of the afternoon, sitting there listening! [Q and Mrs B laugh] And we used to have quite a congregation outside.
Q: Oh I see, so you went and listened to all these other people singing in their house and they then they came to listen to you?
Mrs B: No, I never used to listen to him …
Mr B: I was only talking the day and said ‘I wonder what happened to the violin?’ Well, her brother Claude had it and if he could sell it, you know, that would – because that belonged to the family, but we never did hear another word about it. And I said ‘I wonder where your Dad’s violin went to?’ (Mrs B: Yes.) Because that said inside that it was a Stradivarius.
Mrs B: That was a copy of a Stradivarius.
Mr B: That was a copy but it was a quite oldish one and ten to one that was quite a good one. But what happened to it, we never did know, did we?
Mrs B: No. Because somebody used to borrow it sometimes, to play – Mrs Simpson, you know from the Operatic. But, yes, we used to have quite a concert party in our house.
Q: That would be Sunday afternoons, sort of?
Mr B: [Talking over Mrs B] Evenings and after chapel, mostly.
Mrs B: Often [???] … Sunday afternoon, practising the anthems for the evening. But then – and then sometimes in the week, because when we used to practise the Operatic numbers, different pieces, ready for that. And if we were doing a concert, you got have your pieces, practise your pieces for that.
Mr B: Those were the days, weren’t they? Nothing like it now.
Mrs B: I can’t sing now. (Q: Can you not?) No more. I have got too much rheumatism on my hands, I can’t – couldn’t play.
Q: (To Mr B.) What did you used to do in your spare time?
Mrs B: Nothing!
Q: You didn’t do nothing in you spare time?
Mrs B: Oh, he did – he used to go with the sports …
Mr B: I was in the Scouts, you see.
Mrs B: And when he wasn’t scouting he used to go and help with the …
Mr B: And then you see, later on, of course, with the Red Cross …
Q: And bowls, later, yes.
Mrs B: And later on when he was at Crittall’s, he used to be on the committee for the football and cricket.
Mr B: I was the cricket secretary. I was assistant secretary of football. My wife and the two girls in turn took it to come down to do the teas every home match. And then when she went into the British Legion, she joined – she was secretary, assistant secretary. Then you took on secretary again till you got another lady into the running of secretary, didn’t you? (Mrs B: Yes.) So over the number of years … and then [???] we joined the Bowls Club and of course she done the teas down there. She was Captain for three years, won the cup one year – got that little cup up there, look – 1962. Then she had to give up because she had cataracts, because she couldn’t see! She’s still waiting for the second operation.
Mrs B: I couldn’t see properly to focus. And I used to get into trouble because I’d knock the wrong woods out! [laughs]. Then we moved down here and …
Q: Where did you live when you married, then?
Mrs B: Well, first we lived down the Maldon Road, because we couldn’t get a house so we had to share. Then we got a Council house, didn’t we?
[interrupting each other]
Mr B: In Cressing Road. Twelve years.
Mrs B: Then we moved from there into Braintree Road.
Mr B: Twenty-nine years.
Mrs B: Near the station. And then from there …
Mr B: Seventeen years down here.
Mrs B: When he retired, we come down here when these were built.
Mr B: Two more years – eighteen more months, that will be sixty [married] – with any luck!
Q: So where was it in Maldon Road?
Mrs B: Just at the corner of this road that runs along the top there.
Mr B: Maltings Lane, at the end there’s four cottages, along the front, the first one.
Mrs B: We lived at the end there.
Mr B: The first one. We had two rooms, you see.
Q: That’s what I meant to ask you. You said your father worked at the maltings in the winter. Was that this one, here?
Mr B: No, no.
Mrs B: At the station.
Mr B: Gray’s Maltings they used to be then, well they’re Baird’s now, in the Station Approach, you know, at the back of the station. That’s all done by machinery now, you know. Yes. All done by machinery. They do the levers and that. They don’t do nothing like they used to do years ago.
Q: What did he used to have to do?
Mr B: They used to have to lay – put it out on the floor, wet it. And then the shoots grow. Then they put them into the kiln, where there’s heat underneath. And burn all these little growth off then that was malt. Once they’d been burnt, the growth, they had to burn all that off and they called them malt combs. The pieces what burnt off. And then that was for making beer, you see, malt. Once they got that grown, then burn off and then what was left was the wheat kernel itself, the growth part was gone, because that wouldn’t keep. They used to have great big wooden shovels.
And they used to turn the rack, two hours at night, and they used to get a shilling for that. Go down and gradually turn it over, so they could – turn over – then come to it again and turn over, so that it had to be turned over every 24 hours, whilst that was being baked, you see. So that – one lot would be burned at the bottom, if that had been burned, the green part used to be brought down, turned it over, so that could go down and what was already done would be on the top. They used to say ‘I got to go back tonight, turn the kiln’. That what they – I used to go with them. We used to go up Collingwood Road, cut through the coal yard at the back of the station, and that was black as ink! So my father said to me ‘You follow me, you’ll be all right!’ Next minute he caught his foot and fell down! I said ‘Good job I didn’t follow you!’ [Q laughs.])
Q: That when you were quite small, was it?
Mr B: Yes, about seven or eight years old.
Q: You were allowed to go in with him, were you?
Mr B: I used to go with him at night because there was nobody there! [laughs]
[talking over each other]
Mrs B: My brother used to …
Mr B: Oh, they used to make a fuss of me though, (Q: Did they?) oh yes, I used to get on with the old boys.
Mrs B: Our Claude used to work there …
Mr B: Oh yes – her brother – he done it, didn’t he? Yes.
Mrs B: He done it for a while.
Mr B: Her brother, Claude.
Q: And that was just winter work – wintertime?
Mr B: What?
Mrs B: Winter work – your father – did he do it in the wintertime?
Mr B: That was in the wintertime, he did that. They didn’t do no, practically none – that was only a limited time, when that was first root. So the wintertime, after that, that’s when they used to make malt. So in the summertime they didn’t do any.
Q: Was it better paid than farm work, do you think?
[Mr B appears deaf and doesn’t always hear questions]
Mr B: He used to work on this farm.
Q: Did he get more money at the Maltings?
Mr B: Yes, eighteen shillings at the Maltings, nineteen when he used to go back and turned the kiln. Because on the farm, here – thirteen shillings a week. And my mother had twelve shillings and he had the shilling for pocket money. And there was me mother and me father, there was me sister and me brother and me. So there was five out of twelve bob.
Mrs B: Yes but Alf, twelve bob was worth a blooming sight more than it is today!
Mr B: Oh, well, of course!
Mrs B: Because I mean, look when we first married, we were unlucky, he got put on three days a week! And we had about two pound a week.
Mr B: [talking over] Yes we would get somewhere about two pound four – it used to vary you see, because you was on piecework, you see. We used to work in a group, you see. That used to earn us about two pound four and two pound six [£2 4s.0d and £2 6s 0d] a week. And then at summertime when they were short, we only used to work three days at that. So you’d got to divide that by five and that would be three of them. And that was when I got young children, weren’t it dear?
Mrs B: Well, there was Pam, Elfreda was small, of course. But, we managed. We used to beg [???] and barter[?]. Well, I’d got some money in the bank but I never reckoned on touching it! I always reckoned I could manage on what he used to bring home.
Q: Because that was when – were times hard at Crittall’s then? Why did they put you on …?
Mrs B: They were, you know, – soon after we first married, you know, there was a lot of short time. Then all of a sudden that picked up!
Mr B: My brother used to be used to be out of work for a long time in the wintertime.
Q: Did he work at Crittall’s?
Mr B: I didn’t, no.
Q: Did you ever worry you might lose the job altogether?
Mr B: Oh yes. You know, you’d be working, on a Friday night. And they used to come round with the envelopes to give them, and you’d just see they give it to one and you’d watch points and then they’d passed me and perhaps give one to the next man. Stood off. It’d make you really sweat. And made you think ‘I wonder whether that could have been me?’ Yes. One year, the day before Christmas, a hundred got the sack. Just before Christmas. See, because in the wintertime there was no building done. You could understand, can’t you? The building was done in the summer so they didn’t want windows standing about in the mud and the wet, so of course they didn’t buy them. So, therefore, there was no work to do. I’ve been in there sometimes, when they’d give you, the job that I was on. They’d give me one order and say ‘Here you are, make the most of that, you’ll get no more today!’ So that’s all you had to do because that’s all you had to get. And of course your money was down in proportion.
Mrs B: Piecework.
Mr B: You couldn’t earn, if you didn’t earn anything, you didn’t get much money. When they only give you one. But, there again.
Mrs B: And then, [laughs] that was the days before the Government used to give the money for children. And of course, he was doing that little job for the Oddfellows. And so we had the children on the Club. So that was a worry off our minds because when children are small they’ve always got something wrong that you had to go to the doctor’s for, well, we could take ours to the doctor and not worry.
Mr B: Used to be cricket and football, every Saturday, summer and winter. And that work I had to do on a Sunday, to do with the Club. And then when I was in the Home Guard, we often used to go out to Braxted Park and do exercises and things, you know, over there. Same as, so far as stretcher-bearer was concerned they’d have men all round in the area with guns, with dummy ammunition, you know. Just make a bang. Well, we had to do our job as a stretcher-bearer you had to go out and pick up people and put them on the stretcher. Laying on the ground, mind you, not standing up. There was a man from Hatfield Peverel. They used to call him Dr Russell. He was a fruit farmer. He stood up and shaking his [???] like that. ‘Bang, bang, bang, bang’ all around, shouting. Dr Russell. (Mrs B: Yes, I remember him.) He was a very intelligent man. But he wasn’t intelligent enough not to stand up. Because you had to drag the – used to put a bandage round your arm and round the handle so you crawled along the road and take the – dragged them, till you could get away from the open, where they were laying, you see. Perhaps you found they’d got a broken jaw, or a broken leg. Or gunshot wound somewhere. So you used to do them up roughly, then get them away. Then finish them off when you got them back under cover. Well, that was competitions, you see. Well then, you get points for or against you according to what happened. And according to how the bandages were done after you done them. Yes. And I was in charge – I had two stripes – I was in charge – well they …
Mrs B: Wasn’t that where – no, that was when you was in the Army, when you let the gun off in your ear – that’s why he’s deaf!
Mr B: Yes. We were on the[?] field firing down at Colchester. That was on the marshes, where there’s sedge grass, you know, sedge grass grows and there’s water lying about in places, you see. And you had to run forward about fifty yards, drop down, fire at the target, and when you get the order, you get up and run again and flop down. There’s a man popped down right beside of me. As I went down like that, he dropped down and when he fired, he deafened my – went ‘Bang’ against – not far from my ear. And I’ve never been able to hear from there since. That’s where I could have got a pension if I had know it! (Q: Really?) Yes [laughs] I didn’t.
Q: And you never did anything about it?
Mrs B: Well, nobody said anything to him.
Mr B: And there again, you know, when I – when I had hernia, the first onset, that was when we were doing Home Guard. And we had to run through and jump into trenches, you know. And then take up a firing position. And when we jumped into that that was when I had strain, that led to hernia, the first one. While I was lifting blooming shells about, a light job, I got the other one. There again, I never reported it. (Q: Did you not?) No.
Q: Because, I mean, at Crittall’s, there was a Union … ?
Mr B: [interrupts] I was in the hospital, I tell you, when they[?] [???]
Mrs B: Then there was another time, when he was doing something for them, he hurt his shoulder. And he had a lot of trouble with his shoulder. (Mr B: For years.) Till he was just on retiring and something he had to go up to the hospital for, because that was playing him up. And they said ‘How long have you had it? He said ‘Well, you should have been compensated for that’ and all they give him was a hundred pound. [laughs]
Q: Really? So that as at work, was it? Was there a Union at Crittall’s, then?
Mrs B: Yes, but they weren’t so mad as they are now. But there was a Union, wasn’t there? And they didn’t do a lot for you, did they?
Mr B: No.
Q: And how did they react to all the sackings and things? Did they try and complain, or anything?
Mrs B: No, no! No strikes. Good lord, no. Not like they do now.
Q: So I wonder how did they decided who to sack, do you think? When they were sacking people?
Mrs B: Well, that was the foreman.
Q: Was it?
Mrs B: He watched them how they worked.
Q: So you reckon it was how they worked.
Mr B: I [???] that no more. I tell you, many a time when I – really made me sweat if I was going to be the next one.
Q: What job were you on, mostly?
Mr B: I used to drill to/two of the mullions. That was the corner posts for bay windows. You see, the bay windows, they come off at angles. And some of were round, in a circle like that, you know. Well you used drill them and then put the adapters on, a little thing like that, what fits on, with the hole in the centre. Where you could get the – put the window, either there, say, and put the screws in. The four, went from top to bottom. Five on some, four on some, six on some. Then, you see, I had to get the angle, same as I’d get either thirty degrees, forty-five degrees, sixty degrees or square, ninety degrees. Forty-five, of course, is like that, see. Well, we’d got these circular plan, these bays, and then I’ve done some, special ones down in Kent. You can still see them now. About seventy foot high. (Q: Really?) But I had to do them in portions. About ten or twelve foot. And then marry them up and carry on again for another. Till I got – you got to put these windows …
Mrs B: Yes, where was that lot of flats that you did ?
Mr B: Sidcup in Kent. That’s where they used to have a place and they’ve got these …
Mrs B: Stand[?] very proud[?]
Mr B: That’s where some of them are. And we’ve been there and I said ‘There you are, that’s a job what I done!’
Mrs B: And we went to a hotel on holiday one time. And we went through into the lounge and we was looking – ‘One of my windows!’ And there was this bay, the whole end of the house.
Mr B: That was – right the way round. Took nearly – well, from wall to wall, easy, bigger than that. Was about five [???] high. You see, you have to get the angles – I didn’t have to work them out, that was done in the office. They’d tell me what degrees to drill them at. Might be fifteen degrees if there was maybe seven of them. If there was five, they were twenty degrees, six was eighteen degrees and then you could have them, the more and the straighter you want them, there’s fifteen or twelve degrees. Twenty-two degrees for four and that four made exactly a ninety degree. Four twenty two and a half just made it come round to make it – so actually it was like a ninety degree, with the whole lot, if you could imagine. Yes, I done that for forty-four years, forty years easy, over forty years. (Q: You must have been good at it.) And at one time I was the only one on it. And the manager said ‘We ought to do something about this. Supposing Baxter were to die in the night, then where would we be?’ Because I was the only one could do them! So they put a lad with me, to learn. And when we didn’t have much to do they took him off and put him on another job. When I injured myself just before I retired, and was ‘on the Club’ for about three or four months with a shoulder injury, they wanted him to go back on this job and he wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t go. No. He’d found a better job in the meantime. There was too much worry attached to the one what I had. See.
Q: Really? How did you learn how to do it yourself?
Mr B: Learn? I had to find out!
Q: Oh, I see.
Mr B: Oh, there was nobody could tell me. No, I started when there was only a few. I tell you, they used to set them out for several [???] bays. But the other ones, the forty-fives, well, you put it in a jig and turn it round to forty-five, turn it round for thirty, sixty. And then you had put the adapters on so they fitted exactly. So they made that – sixty would be like that. Forty-five would be like that, see. And of course, round here – and then of course we used to have straight ones. One hundred and eightys. So that they had two mullion down and then put the windows – well, then they made a window that was on the curve. So that used to fit on that like that but curve round to ninety. See. That was [???] that was drilled at one hundred and eighty. (Q: I’m with you.) That went straight across, you see. If a circle was three sixty, right through the middle is one hundred and eighty. Straight. Yes.
Q: Did they have any different ways of doing it, at the end?
Mr B: The chap what plays bowls, he’s actually doing them now, what they’ve got now. When I was talking to him one day, I said ‘Who does then now ?’ He said ‘I do!’ he said ‘We don’t have many to do, though.’ I used to do hundreds and hundreds, thousands. Oh, I must have done a tremendous number. We used to do thirty or forty a day . Because when you think, forty years, you know.
Q: All over the country by now, mustn’t they? Did you have different way of doing it, at the end?
Mr B: No – Yes! Got new machines, different gadgets. They got different ones – they got another one come out just as I was leaving. So I never did do it – I never did do any on it. But the ones what I had – there was a chap named Reed, they used to – came round one day ‘How you getting on with my jig?’ Because he made it, you see. Chap named Reed.
Q: They made the machinery there as well? Did they make the machines at Crittall’s?
Mr B: Yes, drills, you see, drill holes with the drill.
Mrs B: Did Crittall’s make their own machines or did they buy the machines?
Mr B: Well, them sort of things they made themselves, you see, they’d got experts.
Q: And when you said you were paid piecework. How did they decide how much … ?
Mr B: They used to give me – when I first started I used to do ordinary – and that used to go into the group. But later on, they put me on – I had one [???] and we had a – Charlie Hutley. Then we – I went down the office and they said ‘We’ve decided we going to go – fourpence ha’penny each to complete it.’ So, you know, I’d do about forty a day to be about one hundred and forty, one hundred and sixty, one hundred and eighty, yeah, about that.
Q: So how did they decide, I wonder? Did they have a sort of time and motion?
Mrs B: Yes, at one time. And they didn’t half fiddle him!
[In the following paragraph Mr B is describing the techniques of his job and is slurring his words somewhat. I have had great difficulty understanding particular phrases]
Mr B: Yes. They came and test – how long I took to tap the holes, you know. So you could put a thread in them, you see, where the screws used to go in. And all the different jobs. They were whole lengths, and they used to be twenty foot long. And I used to put them in the saw and cut them off the length I wanted.
Then take them up and drill them. And then tap them, after you’d drilled them, tap them, to put the threads in. Then put these adapters on and put them in the rack and then they used to draw them out. At one time of day we use to do them just for the orders, what they had, what they wanted I used to have the order form come, ‘Ten bay windows, sixty degrees.’ Or what ever it was, you see. Or ‘four circle on plan windows , [???] six for windows. Five [???] and six. They would work it down in the office. People who would set it out. What they called ‘setters out’.
Q: I see. Why did you say that they diddled you? Who was this?
Mrs B: Well, they didn’t give him enough for what work he did. They didn’t pay him …
Mr B: [interrupting] No, I said ‘Can I go – [stumbling over words] I said ‘You’re to blame for this!’ I said. ‘Yes, Alf’ he said ‘I know, I was rather tight, on the prices’.
Q: Who was this, then?
Mr B: Fred Cook.
Q: Oh, I see.
Mr B: He was the one who had timed me, you see. And he said ‘ I was a bit tight’ . I said ‘I think you was.’
Q: What, you didn’t go back and suggest you got any more, or anything?
Mr B: I never got (Mrs B: No, not him!) I never got no more for years, no.
Mrs B: That don’t matter. You’re better than what he is now! So he didn’t …
Mr B: Yes. He’s a proper old cripple now.
Mrs B: You know Fred Cook, who lives near you? (Q: Yes). He’s as miserable as sin, ain’t he?
Mr B: Do you know, he was assistant manager and he said to me one day, he said – I told him ‘This machine is about three degrees out’. He said ‘That doesn’t make no difference!’ he said, ‘You can always bend the screws!’ I said ‘Look here Fred. I’ve been doing this job now for forty years, nearly. I never have done it,’ I said ‘And I’m not going to start now for you or nobody else!’ I said’ If you don’t like it, well, you know what to do. Put somebody else on it.’ And they hadn’t got anybody else! See?
Q: No, as you say, when you think you were the only person who could do it, they should have valued you a bit, shouldn’t they?
Mr B: That’s what I told Fred Cook.
Q: You mentioned the foreman, he wasn’t the foreman?
Mr B: No, he was the assistant manager. (Mrs B: In the office.) But he was in the office before that, to do with timing. (Q: I see.) With a watch, you know. And he was the one what timed me, for when he timed it. I got about fivepence each then and I got about fourpence ha’penny at the start. Well, when we first started, you see, the money was low then. Well that used to pay fairly well. I was quite happy then. But later on when other people were getting ten or twelve pound a week, I was only getting about eight. And I honestly, now, I won’t tell you a lie, I used to be the first one to start and I’d be the last one to leave off. And they used to be shouting at me and if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have earned the money at all. I had to keep going, to earn what you want is a living wage.
Mrs B: Even then he used to have to leave his work and go off and help the nurse.
Mr B: Oh crikey yes. I was First Aid man and when the nurse when they wanted any help they used to send for me. And when she was out ill, or when her mother was ill, I used to take over the surgery. And the other assistant manager said to me one day, he said ‘You’ve done a wonderful job of work for that man’, he said, ‘And I congratulate you’. He had a bloke – that was a man working in the boiler house – he had a blow-back – the flames you know, come back And burnt all his arms. And I had little squares of petroleum jelly, with gauze in it and got to pick them – and picked those out and I put them over his arms after cooling them a bit and do you know, he never had a blister. That’s why he congratulated me. And another day he said to me …
Mrs B: And they never give a him any extra for it.
Mr B: ‘Can you come in Saturday morning?’ I said ‘I can’t afford it!’ He said ‘Why not?’ I said ‘Well, here’. I said ‘I have to leave off. I have to put me things away’, well, that was because you couldn’t leave them out ‘cause you might lose them. I had to put me things away. I had to go down there and then clock on. Well, by that time that’s five minutes gone nearly. ‘Well,’ then I said, ‘When I come back, when I clock off, I’ve got walk back here, I got to get me things out, I got to think where I was, what I was doing, how far I’d got, what I got to do next. I said ‘By that time’ I said ‘I’ve lost a quarter of an hour!’ And if you have to do that about ten or a dozen times in the course of a Saturday morning, your money weren’t very much worth going for. So I told him, I can’t afford it. ‘Look here’, he said, ‘You book in an extra couple of hours’, he said, and I’ll sign your card.’ ‘You come in’, he said, ‘You put on two more hours and I’ll sign your card. And another one, another one, when they told the manager about the low price I was getting, and he said how much I was losing, he said ‘It’s up to the man.’ [???] to see that I didn’t. Lose money.
Q: So did you ever try to get any more for the job, for the rate?
Mrs B: No, it wasn’t much good of trying, was it? (Mr B: No.) They wouldn’t have given him any more.
Mr B: Oh, I tried. But you, see when you’re working on your own, you’re one. They don’t worry about one, do they now?
Q: That’s the trouble, isn’t it?
Mr B: I mean, if you was a gang and they was all about trouble, they could make trouble. But, I mean to say, when you’re one man on your own and I was a bit on the conscientious side, I never worried nobody much. I used to go down and complain and say to them ‘Can you do something for me?’ ‘We’ll see what we can do.’ But more often than not they never done nothing at all. On three occasions I was supposed to be – was going to be put on the staff, you see. Well, it come one day, a chap said who was something to do – the secretary of the shop stewards. He said ‘Keep it under you hat, Alf,’ he said, ‘You’re going on the staff’. I said ‘Thank you, Harry.’ So it didn’t come off. And I was talking to the assistant manager, and I said what had happened. And he said to me ‘Well you know why they never took you off? You’re too handy a man on the job you’re on!’ See?
Q: Still as you say, you see all these windows about and you think it’s worth it.
Mrs B: So the next time you see a nice big bay window you’ll say ‘Oh I know who made that!’
Q: Well we’ve got one but it’s wooden. Did Crittall’s make wooden ones.
Mrs B: No not wooden, all metal.
Q: It always struck me as odd that we should have wooden windows when we were one hundred yards from Crittall’s.
Mr B: I used to do those solid mullions as well. About that thick. Absolutely solid weighed ever so heavy. And I had to set one side out and measure – over the other side. Because they had a square piece built – welded on each end so you couldn’t put them in the jig. And had to set them out by hand. Get the measurements down and set out the three holes down here. Then get the – measure round and draw a line and then mark them out and then drill the other side. And them put them up and when you had – you only used to do one hole, with a quarter tap. And tap into it as far as you could you had to have the drill fairly deep to let this tap go in to put the thread in. And if it happened to break the tap in, oh, you’d have a terrible job to get it out. And while you were doing that, you weren’t earning the money, you know. Were you?
Q: All done by [???]
Mr B: While you doing that.
Q: Did you say your father went to Crittall’s a bit, as well?
Mr B: Yes, he worked there.
Q: How did he find it there?
Mr B: Well he was getting on, you see.
Mrs B: He worked there towards the beginning and there wasn’t a terrific lot doing then, was there.
Mr B: He’s been dead since 48.
Continued on tape 81