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.
They also appear on tapes 78 and 80.
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.
Continued from tape 80
[As tape proceeds- from about halfway, AB begins to stumble over words more and more, making it difficult to understand]
Q: …Because, what about, when he did the farm work, did he have a special job on the farm? [Alf’s father]
Mr B: General labourer, general farm work.
Q: Whatever was going, sort of thing?
Mr B: Do anything and everything. You see, he wasn’t a regular farmhand, you must see that. I mean, he was only a part-time man, wasn’t he like, for the summer. I mean, during the harvest and the haymaking, and that sort of thing. When they used to – one time when they used to cut round the edge with a scythe, before the machine used to go round. Two horses, you know. And you know where The Grove is now? Well the Grove field was behind that and that’s where Witham used to play football on. Ninety years ago. They used to play football on that. Well, later on, Crittall’s used to play cricket matches – used to be played on there. Well, anyhow, my father – I’ve seen a photo where they were cutting hay there, with scythes. About five of them in a row. He used to – he told me about it and I’ve seen these photos, I don’t know what happened to them, I never see no more of them. Of course, that must have been about, about 1910 or something like that, I suppose.
Mrs B: Yes, they used to do a lot of things on that, behind the Grove.
Mr B: When he first come to Witham, he used to drive a furniture removal van, with either two or three horses. And they come from Grays. [probably Elsie’s family] And the people who kept the sweet shop nearly opposite Mill Lane corner, that shop along there, people named Ellis. He moved them up from Grays, with horses. Yes, three horses.
Q: That was a performance, wasn’t it?
Mr B: And that’s quite a good way, isn’t it?
Mrs B: We didn’t, we come by train. I remember coming by train. [when they moved house]
Q: Did you really?
Mrs B: Because that was a biggish station at Grays. And then we had to go up to Romford, which was a bigger one still, and then when we got to Witham, that was a funny little station.
Q: Was your father manager at the other places, then? [i.e. of the Co-op]
Mrs B: Yes. Well, he was at the Tilbury one. Of course, I was too young then, I didn’t worry and didn’t bother.
Mr B: She was only about five or so moving to Witham.
Q: I just wondered why he came to a smaller place?
Mrs B: Well, I suppose that was growing then.
Q: It was developing.
Mrs B: It soon got bigger.
Mr B: You know where Hollybank is, in Guithavon Street? [actually Guithavon Valley] (Q: Yes.) Well, it used to be, it’s all built up on there now. Well, there was a big house there and the people that were there, when I was three or four. (Mrs B: Butler.) Miss Butler. And last Sunday week, we had ‘All things Bright & Beautiful’ and I said Miss Butler taught that in the Infants’ Sunday School in about 1904. Miss Butler. And she was an elderly lady, about eighty, wasn’t she? (Mrs B: Yes.) She had this stringy neck, you know. Old (Mrs B: Proper old soul.) – she must have been about eighty because I was only very very young.
Mrs B: They used to drive about in a carriage and pair, more often.
Mr B: They had a one horse carriage, didn’t they – the Butlers.
Mrs B: Because old Mr Trowles used to be the groom. And he lived in the house which is now Miss Croxall’s, Mrs Chappie Croxall’s. I laugh when they talk about that, ‘Oh, my house’, Chappie’s house. I think, yes, little do you know when I used to go round there [laughs] when the groom used to live there and half of it was the laundry for the other (Mr B: Yes, belonged to the house) for the other house. [probably 51 Guithavon Street]
Mr B: Yes. Old Tommy Trowles was there, wasn’t he?
Mrs B: Yes, that’s what I’m talking about. He was the groom and the daughter used to go to Sunday school, you see, with us and what not.
Mr B: And Tommy Trowles worked at the Co-op.
Mrs B: She used to sing and I used to play the piano for her when she used to sing solo.
Mr B: She used to play the organ for Sunday School.
Mrs B: I have played the organ at the Wesleyan Chapel. [laughs] Those were the days. Oh, I’ve done a little bit of everything.
Q: You did well, didn’t you? When you say the Sunday School, that was the church one, still, was it?
Mrs B: No, the chapel. We went to the chapel.
Q: You said you went to the chapel in the end.
Mrs B: We didn’t go to the church Sunday School for long. You see, when we – what my mother and father belonged to were a sect of the Baptist Chapel which they hadn’t got in Witham. They’d got the Strict & Particular! [says ‘Partikoolar’] [laughs] The Peculiars! [laughs] (Q: But not your sort?) But we weren’t those. But after we’d been here a while and they found the – of course, the girls near where we lived used to take us to Sunday School and that sort of thing, which was good of them.
Q: Which did Miss Butler take? Was Miss Butler Church?
Mrs B: Church.
Mr B: Yes, Church. Church school. What used to be the Infants’ school used to be at the back. The Girls’ school was on the front. The Boys were at the back. The house was on there, the Boys’ School was there, and the Infants’ school was at the back of the Girls’ school. So they were all in one block, you see.
Q: So all these ladies you speak about, did they mostly go to the Church or did you have some grand people at the chapel, as well?
Mrs B: Oh, quite a few. Because, I mean, the Smiths used to come. And who else was at the back there? I forget, it was a long while ago.
Q: Which ones were the Smiths?
Mrs B: The builders and people who had a lot of property about.
Q: I see, yes.
Mr B: Yes, there was a family of farmers about here. Now, the Butlers – Olivers Farm down here, that where the Butlers – they were there for years. The last one was Gerald Butler and he never married. He was the last one, but that was to do with that family. Well, we was reading a line here about the chantries. [referring to parish magazines] ‘1600. Olivers,’ Olivers Farm, that was a chantry, wasn’t it?
Mrs B: And the cottages in the High Street, what they call ‘ Dorothy Sayers’. They’re ‘Chantry cottages’.
Mr B: That was Chantry Cottage. So that was a chantry [says ‘chauntery’] in those days. Sixteen-odd. We’re surprised .It was interesting for us to find these up and have a read them over again.
Mrs B: Because I always used to joke about that old woman that came to live in that street – Dorothy Sayers. They make all that fuss about her. I worked right opposite to her. She was a proper old hussy!
Mr B: [talking over] Yes, this one as well. This one the chantries.
Mrs B: Yes, they used to make out she was such a penny marvel!
Q: What did she used to do that makes you so annoyed?
Mrs B: Oh, she used to snub people.
Mr B: She used to march about you know. She’d got a round flat-topped hat.
Mrs B: Yes, I worked …
Mr B: [talking over] Tweed costume. Thick woollen stockings, brogue shoes. With this flat hat. With this flat hat and pince-nez glasses, she used to look as fierce as a cock maggot!
Mrs B: She was very masculine to look at. (Mr B: Yes, masculine sort of woman.) When she walked the street. And she expected you to – you know – you expected you to get out of the way for her!
Mr B: My wife said ‘What ever did she do for Witham? Nothing!’. I said ‘Well, her husband done more for Witham’. Because he gave a cup to the Bowls Club. See. And I said ‘And he spent all his time in the White Hart drinking whisky!’[Q laughs]
Mrs B: And if anybody had one over the eight and couldn’t get home he used to take them home and look after them! [laughs] But she wouldn’t have done she never spoke – Nooo!
Mr B: [interrupts] What was his name? Major … ?
Mrs B: Fleming.
Mr B: Major Fleming. That was her name, Mrs Fleming. Her husband was a Major.
Mrs B: [interrupts] When I worked in the Food Office she came up for her books. And I was sitting at the table with nothing to do and she sat over on her chair. And I looked up and I said ‘Can I help you?’ And she looked at me and looked round and turned her head the other way. Well, I thought ‘You sit there all the afternoon, then!’
Mr B: Ken Cuthbe, you know Ken Cuthbe? Well he was her boss. In the Food Office, weren’t he?
Mrs B: Yes.
Mr B: When I first knew him he was a welder at Crittall’s.
Mrs B: The first time I met Ken Cuthbe, he was the Oddfellows children’s thingamebob.
Mr B: [interrupts] Silver End.
Mrs B: No, not Silver End, out through Maldon, where the …
Mr B: Tillingham.
Q: He came from Tillingham, I remember him telling me.
Mr B: He came from Tillingham.
Q: And was that paid? That job you had at the Food Office?
Mrs B: Oh Lord, yes. Oh I was well off then. I was getting more – as much money as him, then. [laughs] And I wasn’t a regular, I was only what they called a part-time. When I done a bit more I got a bit more money. [probably during Second World War]
[general conversation, not noted] …
Mrs B: Yes, I liked doing work at the Food Office, there, really. And I used to go into the Rating Office and do a little bit in there sometime. I used to keep the – oh, what do they call it? Where all the names are and where you take the names from?
Mr B: The roll. The electoral roll.
Mrs B: I used to keep that up to date. As people moved in and out, you see. You have to change their addresses and that always had to be put on there. [Mr B laughs] That was one of the jobs I used to do in there. Then I used to sell the babies milk and cereals. [laughs]
Mr B: What about when you used to take the – at night time take the ration books and take them to the Police station, and put them in the cells. (Mrs B: Oh yes.) And lock them up at night! Didn’t they? She used to go over …
Mrs B: Towards the end we had offices where … [hesitates]
Mr B: Somewhere where the Legion hall is.
Mrs B: Next to the British Legion hall, I forget who’s got that now. There was another lot – they used to come in, for – one part was the offices for some and we had the other part.
Mr B: When she first used to do it, they had what used to be a big house next to the Public Hall. There was a big house there. Where Mens used to live.
Mrs B: We had offices there. Upstairs and downstairs.
Mr B: That just reminds me, talking about that, talking about Mens. Miss Bradshaw, they used to keep the men’s outfitters in the High Street. Where that baby shop is now, Adams. [72 Newland Street] Well, she lived over here and she was a hundred when she lived over there, when she was a hundred years old. And I used to go over and see her sometimes. And take her things to do with Witham, you know, so she could have a look. And she used to tell me about things what happened. And she was saying about these Dr Ted and Dr Karl. She said ‘I used – I had a photo of them where their father was driving them in a little tub cart, the two boys.’ She said ‘I let Miss Mens’ – that was Miss Mens – ‘I let Miss Mens have that and she never let me have it back!’ And she’d moved from Witham then and she’s gone to Stisted, hasn’t she? [Miss Mens] She moved to Stisted. But she used to live in the second house at The Avenue, at the top, the second one down from the top. That’s where she used to live. After her father died in this big house she went and lived there. And she used to work in the office at Crittall’s. Miss Mens. Yes.
Q: Yes, because I remember reading about Miss Bradshaw in the paper.
Mr B: So I never – she wanted me to see that, you see. I never saw it, because she never had it back. And she died when she was about 102, didn’t she?
Mrs B: Something like that.
Mr B: But she used to tell me ‘ When I worked in the shop,’ [Bradshaws] she’d say ‘I used to sell braces for sixpence.’ And she said ‘Collars for sixpence or socks for sixpence.’ You know, those were the days, weren’t they? Do you know, I had a suit there one year, seven and sixpence! (Q: Really?) Mmm. That was one of those Norfolk jackets. You know, that had a piece come down there like that, you know. And in there you used to put your fingers in there for a pocket. You put your handkerchief in.
Q: That was when you were little was it?
Mr B: When I was about ten or twelve. Yes. Little knickerbockers, with a button just underneath your knee.
Q: So you dressed quite smart, sometimes, did you?
Mr B: Yes. Mmm. Because you had to make them last a year, you know. You had your best for a year or two. Then you had to …
Mrs B: Took them for school or work.
Mr B: Yes, take them for school. I was looking at a photo where I’m sitting a little [dear]. (Q: What you wore it for school did you?) – where I was about – I was in the Infants school, I was sitting there like this, with me arms folded. The little tiny one right on the front. We’ve got so many of them, you know. She was turning out the boxes looking for this and she’s got hundreds of photos, postcards of all different places we’ve been to, you know, what we brought home, and what we sent home and collected. And all the books to do with the big houses where we been to. Got them all there. There’s a hundred of them, nearly, ain’t there?
Mrs B: Got these books and then can’t find the one we want!
Mr B: Had them all out looking at them. All the photos when my children were little, when we took snapshots, when they were about threes and fours.
Q: So you’ve had a good time, rooting them out. [looking at photos] I see all these boys have got these jackets.
Mr B: All them boys, I knew all these boys along here. But all these were about seven years younger than me. There’s Albert Poulter, Bert Baxter, Bill Codling[?] Bert Godfrey, Joe Perry, Potter, Mr Care[?].
Mrs B: I never saw this yesterday when I was there.
Mr B: George Thurgood, he died last year.
Mrs B: [showing photo] You wouldn’t know who they were, would you?
Q: No, I wouldn’t. Who’s that, then?
Mrs B: That my sister and that’s me. You know, Mrs Ralling.
Q: Goodness, isn’t that lovely. You do look sweet.
Mrs B: There we are when we are bit more grown up. That was our family. You can’t wonder.
Mr B: Four of these boys on here. And they were all Bert. And when they had a birthday party, they all used to come to our house. There’s my brother Bert, Bert Godfrey, Bert Rice and Bert Duncombe. They were all about the same age, and all on this photo. They used to come when they had parties.
Mrs B: There you are, that’s Mrs Ralling. That’s me. That’s my sailor brothers. That’s my soldier brother. And that was a soldier brother and this one was an airman.
Mr B: And they were practically all in the choir, weren’t they.
Q: And that’s your father (Mrs B: Yes, that’s my father, and my mother, and that’s my eldest sister.) Well, as you say, there’s quite a crowd.
[short break then repeat of last line]
Mrs B: That’s what you call a family. Well, there was thirteen of us when we used to sit down at the table, so my mother used to have one table and then a little table so we didn’t all sit at one table. [laughs] ‘Cause that’s unlucky thirteen!
Mr B: It’s a good job some of you didn’t, I think, from what I could hear! Her Dad, Granddad used to keep a stick under there and then just switch them underneath the table. And if they weren’t sitting at the table, they didn’t get it, did they?
Q: They were strict, were they?
Mrs B: Yes. No talking at the table. No messing about, no. (Q: No talking at all?) You had to behave yourself. That was me. Because I come from a sailor’s family, you see, from on my mother’s side. [laughs]
Mr B: I don’t think you’ve got much more information, really, have you?
Q: Yes. Yes. More information, yes.
Mr B: What about the railway smash – in 1910, was it?
Mrs B: 1909, .was it? [actually 1905]
Mr B: I was at school. In the dinner time we heard there’d been a railway smash about nine o’clock in the morning. I run up Easton Road. You know Easton Road? Well, that was where we used to go to the station in those days. Till the station was wrecked so then they changed it over, into the other side. Well, I was there all the dinnertime watching. Never went back to school. Never had dinner.
Q: What can you remember about it?
Mr B: Well they were working on the line and that sort of thing, you know.
Mrs B: Crikey.
Q: What else have you found there? [referring to photos]
Mrs B: The Bowls Club dinner, don’t they look fierce? [laughs] There’s me, sitting on the opposite side of the table. In between two other old blokes. [Q laughs] But that’s me when I was with the Ladies [bowls team] and we are all of us telling a yarn, I reckon, by the look of it, doing a bit of a grin. That’s when we had the new gates opened. That was the Bowls Club. And that was Mr Turner with Mrs Hayward opening the gates. Now that’s quite different up that yard now, ain’t it? With all the houses. All up there.
Q: These gates are from …?
Mrs B: These gates go up into the Bowls green, from the yard, from the Chase.
[General conversation, not noted]. [Pause]
Mr B: Maurice Smith was the schoolmaster at the Church school. And he was a bowler. And we had four Smiths used to be playing, they were none of them were related to each other. And he used to write – he used to get all these photos of old Witham and collect them –
[talking over each other]
Mrs B: And he’s got a half of our jolly old stuff.
Mr B: He used to write little booklets – about different types – have you seen them? (Q: Yes) Well, I’ve got his address where he’s moved down to Bournemouth – Southbourne – Northbourne. We used to go to stay at Southbourne but he lives at Northbourne.
Q: Did you say he’d got some of your things then?
Mr B: I’ve got his books.
Mrs B: I think he must have because we used to tell him a lot when we …
[talking over each other]
Mr B: I used to give him all these photos you know, and he’d take a copy. – keep them …
Mrs B: Sometimes we had them back and sometimes we didn’t.
Mr B: … for posterity.
Q: I think all of his photos are supposed to be at the School over there. Have you been over there?
Mr B: Yes, they used to be over there. I used to work over the School, after I retired.
Mrs B: Well, he asked him if he’d come and help the caretaker and he then he stopped there …
Mr B: He asked me if I would like – ‘I’d like you to come’ and I said ‘Well, it’d pass the time away.’
Q: Because I think they’ve got his photographs at the school now. Mr Shelley, is it, that’s there now? (Mr B: That’s it, yes.) He looks after them.
Mr B: Well, when I knew him first, he was about seventeen and I got him to play football for Crittall’s, Witham. And then afterwards he went to Crittall’s, Braintree. Well that was a higher up, a better thing. They collared him off of us and took him over to Braintree – Ralph Shelley. Because I’ve always known him, know him well. Because they were our boys.
Q: Because they were doing something about Witham, recently, at the school, I believe. Did they come and talk to you then? Last year, I think. 
Mrs B: No, no they didn’t.
[Discussion about booklets and photos, and Maurice Smith, not noted]
Mr B: Our schoolmaster, in 1905, he was the organist at the parish church. Charlie Cranfield. And I found that in a magazine, a chap lent it to me, was when my little sister died. And there was fourteen of our little ones died of measles. Fourteen.
Q: Goodness. When would that be about?
Mr B: Nineteen hundred – well, she was nine months old when she died. She actually died of convulsions, but measles started it. She was nine months old. That would be – 1905? She was a lovely little baby and Miss – what’s her name? Her mother used to live with – Mrs Mann the school-ma’am. Miss Mann. She used to go and see my mother. And she said to her ‘Oh, what a darling little baby!’ she said. ‘She looks just like a little queen!’ She said ‘You’ll have to call her Queenie.’ And they did! Queenie Mabel Baxter. Yes. She said – and she [probably Miss Mann] married Bertie Wakelin who used to live at the farm. Wheaton’s Farm, where the farmhouse – where ‘Tommy Tucker’s is now. That was the farmhouse for – Wakelin’s farmhouse. [3 Newland Street] We used to go up there with a can and get milk – skimmed milk, ha’penny a pint. We used to go early in the morning, when they used to skim the cream off and then they used to sell the milk and we used to go up and get it. That was one job I used to have of a morning.
Mrs B: We didn’t. When I lived up Chipping Hill with me Mum. We used to go up to Spring Lodge for our milk.
Mr B: Because a lot of these – I’ve kept them all, you know – to do with Witham.
Q: I was going to ask you about Chipping Hill. If you lived down in Witham, did you go up to Chipping Hill, much, at all?
Mr B: No, no. I went to Guithavon Street School. And didn’t go there.
Q: Because I’m sure someone was telling me about the boys having fights. With Chipping Hill and …
Mr B: Oh yes, they used to have fights!
Q: Were you in one?
Mr B: Well, no, I wasn’t one of those who used to go in a lot for that sort of thing. No, the boys from our school, there was the Witham boys and them what used to come down to – when they came out of a night, they used to fight – they’d go across those meadows, fighting all the way!
Q: Really? [laughs]
Mr B: Yeah, yeah. They called them the ‘Chipping Hill roughs!’
Q: I see.
Mr B: In those days, you know. All the boys who come from Chipping Hill were ‘roughs’.
[talking over each other]
Mrs B: I used to live in Church Street.
Mr B: And they weren’t, those what lived in Witham High Street, and Bridge Street. There was only Maldon Road and Guithavon Street and – Collingwood Road was new, you know. That hadn’t been – there hadn’t been a road there long. About a hundred years.
Mrs B: [interrupts] When we lived in Braintree Road, and we’d come – when my father and that lived in Braintree Road – to go to school, we used to come down and where the (Mr B: Jubilee Oak) Jubilee Oak is, [Collingwood Road] there was a gap in the hedge there. And that was a field. And we used to cut through that field, and go through the churchyard to get to school.
Mr B: For years that was all a big open field – there was no houses there not once you get by Collingwood House. (Q: Really?) There was nothing.
[general conversation, photos etc, not noted]
Mr B: In that book there’s a bit about whether we used to – our old schoolmaster, Cranfield, he used to say ‘There’s apple trees in the [???]’, and he said ‘Nobody ever touched one.’ The boys never touched them. We was afraid to! But when we used to go to gardening class, that was a funny thing you know – if you was carrying a rake on your shoulder, how you could get that caught in the tree! You know. [Q laughs]. So I did – I have had them myself. But not very often. But I’ve had them. So of course he said – actually, those in there up against the wall, between the boys’ school and the thingemebob he used to grow a whole lot of tomatoes against there. So I went back to school after dinner one day. And the old boy used to come along – he’d got a stiff leg like this [demonstrating] – he’d got his hands behind his back, something like that, you know. So I was just going back after school, he says ‘Backer!’ Because he used call me – that’s my – everyone – ‘If a boy hadn’t got a nickname,’ he said ‘he weren’t worth a damn!’ so he called me Backer. So he said ‘Do you like tomatoes?’ ‘Yes sir!’ ‘Could you eat one now?’ ‘Yes sir!’ He put his hand in and he’d got one – big one, like that. ‘Just eat it!’ So I just had to eat it. He just stood there and he roared a-laughing. Yeah. Me, Backer. He used to say that ‘There you are, there’s Baxter.’ Talking about the derivation of names, how they’re derived. So he said ‘Baxter here,’ he says. ‘His name is derived from the Scottish baker. They used to call them ‘the bakester’ and now that’s the Baxter’ and that’s a Scottish name, Baxter. There’s lots of Baxters, there’s a lot in Witham now. (Mrs B: There are) Yes there’s lots of Baxters about here, now, ain’t there, dear?
Mrs B: There are.
Mr B: Surprising you see the number of people who’re Baxters. Yes that’s what he said. You know what he said to me one day? We were just going to break up for the holidays. I sat in the front row. Standard Five, must have been about eleven. So he says to me ‘Backer, are you on the tiptoe of expectancy?’ I said, ‘Yes sir!’ ‘What of?’ ‘We’re going to have a holiday!’ See! [all laugh] Yes, that’s what he said ‘On the tiptoe of expectancy’.
Mrs B: [showing photos] That’s the May Queen thing.
Q: Aren’t you lovely?
Mrs B: That’s an old one.
Mr B: He was schoolmaster here for thirty-five years. And he used to say ‘I taught some of you boys’ fathers’. He said ‘Some of them used to try to play me up.’ But, he said that ‘I’m going to see you that you don’t!’
Q: Tough, was he? You did gardening classes at school? You said you were going along with your rake.
Mr B: Yes, gardening classes. Well there used to be – they used to have carpentry classes. And I used to go round to this house, where Mrs Mann used to live. Her school – she had a school there. (Q: Yes.) So at the back there was a schoolroom. So Mrs Mann’s schoolroom, they used to have a carpentry class. But the gardening class, he used to take them in his own garden. You see?
Q: So he got his garden dug!
Mr B: So I was in the gardening class. And I was only ten years of age, ten years, when the gardener at Howard-Vyses, his name was Walter Brenes. He had a piece of allotment next to my Dad. So he said to my father, ‘I’ll let the boy Alfie – I’ll let the boy Alfie have five rod of my garden’. He said ‘I’ll keep me eyes on him and see he does the job properly.’ And he said ‘I’ll let him have all his seeds’ ‘cos he could have them from the garden, being a gardener he’d get them, you see. So I had to do this top piece – five rod. And I was about ten or eleven years old. And there was an old boy named Loker and he used to work at the tanyard. And he come up there and he stopped with his spade like that and he looked at me. He said [does an accent] ‘Boy you don’t know how the way of that!’ He said ‘Let me – I’ll show ye’. So he comes and starts digging. I let him, couldn’t do it right! He carried on then so then he thought he’d had enough, I’d had enough, I cleared off! I’d done my share [Q laughs]. Yes, old Jim Loker. Do you know, when he was working at Crittall’s, the manager caught him, sitting on this barrow, cutting his corns with a razor! So he said ‘Whatever you doing, man?’ So he says ‘You can’t do that in working time!’ He says ‘That grows in working time don’t it?’ [Q laughs] He says ‘So why can’t I cut it in working time!’ Jim Loker. He was a case, he was.
[General conversation re photos and magazine, not noted.]
Mr B: That Reverend Snell, he had a son, he used to come and play cricket for Witham. After they moved away, every year, for Cricket Week, he used to come to Witham and play the whole of Cricket Week for Witham. Mr Snell. And the parson from Goldhanger …
Mrs B: [interrupting, showing photo] British Legion. That was in the carnival, our lorry. That’s my daughter, and that was me. And that’s Miss Leggett, if you know Miss Leggett? (Q: I don’t think I do.) And that was the standard-bearer, another Mrs Ralling.
Mr B: That’s May West, used to sing.
Mrs B: We used to – from the school, we used to do all sorts of things. Miss Pattisson and Miss Luard used to come and get up and take these classes …
Mr B: They had a big do …
Mrs B: And I tell you where we used to go – the bank is there now. And that was Dr Coombe’s. And we used to go behind there in his gardens, at the back.
Mr B: He had a big – a wonderful garden. They had – at one time of day Witham Cricket used to play on that garden. And England played there once, and the New Zealand – the Maoris played there once [actually Aborigines, in 1868], so I’ve been – years ago. And Billy Shee …
Mrs B: Cos that’s all been built on.
Mr B: And Billy Shee was playing football in one of these – he was the captain of the football club, and when these Maoris were in England he was a bowler for Witham Cricket Club and he bowled one of them. And that was the only time he was ever bowled whilst he was in England! Billy Shee of Witham. And he was the Registrar of Births & Deaths, Shee, Billy Shee. And I was just reading about that and him in there, when he played football.
Q: I’m surprised you had time for all these things. Because, I mean, there was a lot more work running – looking after the house and that in those days, wasn’t there, really? Did you have to help in the house when you were children?
Mrs B: Not me, I didn’t. Because I had to look after the children.
Q: Did you have any odd jobs around …
Mrs B: Did you do any jobs for your mother in the house? No!
Mr B: No! I had to go to work, didn’t I? [Mrs B & Q laugh] I think just when I used to come home on a Thursday, I used to have …
Mrs B: I used to do the shopping, before I went to school.
Mr B: Used to have liver – sage and onions. When I used to go [sniffs] when I’d get the smell of that – I never used to go out no more that day! I used to stop in. That used to be lovely!
Q: So you ate quite well, you think?
Mr B: Yes. Oh, yes, she’d feed us – she was a good cook. She used to make things, you know. Make them go. We never …
Mrs B: My mum was, too.
Mr B: We never – we was never hungry. We was never hungry. So if you can imagine how tight it must have been.
Q: I mean, just a small wage.
Mr B: Twelve bob. Twelve bob.
Q: So you didn’t really feel badly …
Mr B: And of course, when he used to be in the Maltings, you know, he used to get sciatica. (Q: Really?) He’d have about a week at home. He was in a Club when he was at Maldon. And he dropped it. So when he was at home, we’d got nothing coming in at all. So you know how she did then, don’t you?
Q: What happened then?
Mr B: Well, she’d owe it! Till she got some more money. Then she’d got to save it up to pay it back again.
Q: Because – she didn’t work at all? Or did she?
Mr B: No. Well, she went – she used to go out …
Mrs B: She used to work for Mrs Carter.
Mr B: She used to do so much blooming things for nothing, didn’t she? Anybody, you know, friends and that, you know. If they was ill, she’d do the washing for them, and look after them and do something for them. Time after time. When she was ill, later on, she never had nobody! [laughs] going to do anything for her! No. But she was a rare one for helping out. Well, everybody did in those days, didn’t they, dear? No doubt about it.
Q: So you say she went to Mrs Carter?
Mrs B: Well, her husband, he used to keep the pork butcher shop, didn’t he?
Q: She helped there, did she?
Mrs B: But she used to go in the house, and help Mrs Carter.
Q: Oh, I see, so that helped.
Mr B: You see, I worked at London House from when I was about ten until I left school. Then of course, about thirteen, just over thirteen, I left school.
Q: Then did she go fruit picking?
Mrs B: And pea picking.
Mr B: Well, we went fruit picking and pea picking. Well that was the only way you used to –
[talking over each other]
Mrs B: We used to …
Mr B: We used to earn enough to buy a suit. For the year.
Mrs B: Always used to buy a pair of shoes. You’d reckon to earn enough to buy yourself some shoes ready for the winter. [laughs]
Mr B: And then of course, you were out in the air all day, you used to eat like a trooper!
Q: I suppose, having such a big family, even though your Dad was in a good job, you would still have a struggle?
Mrs B: Well, I don’t know about struggle, but still. You felt pleased with yourself if you could go out and earn a few shillings the same as all the rest of the children did. That was the thing. If you weren’t too stuck up, like some of them were. [laughs]
Q: You mean they weren’t …
Mrs B: Well, some of the girls wouldn’t go out and do it, would they? No. Some of them thought themselves too much. But we didn’t, we used to have fun out there in the fields – it was as good as going to the seaside for the day! [Mrs B & Q laugh] And as well, look at all the fruit you had! Strawberries! Currants! Gooseberries!
Mr B: Raspberries.
Q: You managed to eat some, then, did you?
[talking over each other]
Mrs B: Good lord! Yes! And when …
Mr B: Be honest, though! About two days – that’s all. Once you got over it you didn’t want no more.
Mrs B: And if you had one extra nice one …
Mr B: You’d see a great big one – that didn’t go into the basket!
Mrs B: And the same as when we used to go pea picking you know …
Mr B: You’d have great big ones, real big ones. Well, I mean, after about two days, you got sickened on them, you know. You didn’t want them. And of course, after, the more you put in the basket, the more money you got! So what you ate you didn’t get much for, did you?
Mrs B: [laughs] That was like when we went pea picking, we always used to reckon we’d got enough for a good old bake, when we got home.
Mr B: Even when I was working at the …
Mrs B: And we used to go out and on the way home, call in at the butcher’s and get a piece of steak. And come home and dig a few potatoes from the garden and a load of peas from the pram and there you are.
Q: You got some peas?
Mrs B: Oh yes, you always had to have a sample!
Mr B: You know where the children used to put – you know where the prams used to sit – two, one each side – a big long pram. There used to be a well. You’d be surprised how that used to be full up with peas.
Mrs B: That used to hold a nice lot of peas in that well! [laughs]
Q: Did anybody know about that?
[talking over each other]
Mrs B: If they did they turned their heads away …
Mr B: No, they didn’t take too much notice …
Mrs B: Nearly everybody used to have …
Mr B: They didn’t take much notice – but I mean to say …
Mrs B: Not unless you were being greedy and took a lot, like some of them would and try and take a half of sack or something like that.
Mr B: They were only the loose ones, what you had over, you see. I mean after they filled them up you don’t know always know exactly the numbers what you want to fill a bag. Well, when they tied them up and the bags go in the well, the pram. [Mrs B laughs] So anyhow potatoes out the garden, new potatoes; green peas and perhaps …
Mrs B: And a nice piece of steak.
Mr B: Yes, either that or some bacon …
Mrs B: Because steak wasn’t as dear as it is …
Mr B: Bacon and a few spots of mushroom ketchup. Lovely meal. Ain’t it?
Mrs B: Is it? I don’t know.
Q: How often did you get paid in the fields?
Mrs B: Well, that all depends …
[What Mr B says is drowned out by Mrs B. sounds like:]
AB: [???] a bag, all depends how big – the bag was this high you know. About that height.
Mrs B: That all depends how big the field was, you see. If you were going to be there for a week, you’d wait till the end of the week and they’d give you a token, you see. But if you were finishing that day, they’d pay you up that day.
Mr B: When you used to pick them little tiny ones, about as long as that, you’d get about three shillings a bag. But when you picked – if you’d get those long ones, about as long as that, up Blunts Hall, tenpence a bag. See. But you’d earn more money on those tenpence a bag than all the hundreds of little one you had to pick. And up Blunts Hall they used to grow wonderful peas. Best peas we’ve picked anywhere what they grew up there. Charlie – Honourable Charles Strutt.
Mrs B: And now all the houses are built on the fields where we used to go out, pea pickling. Take a piece of bread pudding, you know. Bit of bread pudding, like that. And I‘d knock my neighbour up, because she lived opposite to me – ‘What you got in your bag today? Got any more of that bride cake?’ [laughs]
Q: As you say it kept you healthy, didn’t it?
Mrs B: Bread pudding.
Mr B: Bread pudding.
Q: What about the fruit. Did you go far for the fruit?
[talking over each other]
Mrs B: Well, you know where the big garage is up the road, there? [Lynfield]
Mr B: On the way to Hatfield. And all the area round there was all fruit farm, Latneys they called it …
Mrs B: All behind there was fruit farming …
Mr B: There was a big house there, Latneys Farm – there was all around about there …
Mrs B: That’s gone now. There’s a road down there somewhere and that used to lead us through the fields …
Mr B: We used to go through there – we used to walk through there, you know. Have a look round to see if there was anything in the fruit line. We used to walk through there. Well, if you go through the other way, you’ll come in through that road …
Mrs B: You’re right out of Witham …
Mr B: From Hatfield to Wickham Bishops – run through there and there was Morse’s greenhouses. Then there was Miss Dixon’s farm, fruit farm there.
Mrs B: I know. That’s where we went.
Mr B: Dixon used to keep the mills at Wickham Bishops. Dixon’s Mills.
Mrs B: And they had fruit farms there as well.
Q: Did Mr Morse have fruit?
Mrs B: Morse? Yes.
Mrs B: And that used to lead us through the fields.
Mr B: And we used to go through there – we used to walk through there, you know. Have a look round and see if there was anything in the fruit line. We used to walk through there, well, if you go the other way, you’ll come into that road from Hatfield to Wickham Bishops
Mrs B: You’re right out of Witham.
Mr B: Well, if you come through there, there was Morse’s greenhouses and then there was Mr Dixon’s farm, fruit farm there.
Mrs B: I know, that’s where we went.
Mr B: Dixons used to keep the mills at Wickham Bishops. Dixon’s Mill.
Mrs B: And they had fruit farms there as well.
Q: Did Mr Morse have fruit?
Mrs B: Yes, Morse.
Q: Somebody told me about his table with money on, or something, that he used to have.
Mrs B: Yes, I dare say he did. I don’t know. I didn’t work for Morse. The boys all used to go for Morse.
Mr B: [interrupting] Yes I did, Old Mr Lapwood, used to say to the boys. Said to me one day – I said ‘Morning, Mr Lapwood’. He said ‘Are you one of the young devils’, he said ‘That I used to come after with my stick?’ He said ‘I suppose you’ve had my stick before today?’ I said ‘I ain’t had actually had it but I’ve had to run!’ [all laugh]. That was when he was about seventy or eighty, you know.
Q: Was he the one who used to look after …
[Mr B and Mrs B talking together]
Mrs B: He used to walk round to see we were picking the fruit.
Mr B: He used to look after the boys – to tell you which ones to pick. And to keep an eye open to see they behaved. They didn’t behave, he’d come up behind and give them – with the stick. Yes, Mr Lapwood.
Mrs B: Yes, we had a …
Mr B: He used to live in a little cottage, right against Old Wickham Church. There’s an old church up there – do you know it? Wickham Bishops. Well, there’s a cottage right against that church. Well, that’s where he used to live, Mr Lapwood. So he had a good way to go to get to work where he worked at Hatfield Road, you know. Of course, he used to cut across the fields. To – that’s Wickham Station, isn’t it?
Q: Just near the station.
Mr B: There used to be a tree – that’s all been done up. Made it look quite respectable again now. But it was in a bad state when I last saw it.
Q: They still grow fruit up Tiptree way. I don’t know why not this end so much now.
Mrs B: Well, what have they done? They’ve took half those fields and put houses on them. And the A12.
[general conversation re photos, magazines, articles, etc, not noted]