Mrs Marjorie Coleman (nee Brown), was born in 1907. She was interviewed on 20 May 1983, when she lived at 23 Avenue Road, Witham.
For more information about her, see Coleman, Marjorie, nee Brown in the People category
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Mrs C: I taught speech therapy and drama. You are always talking then, anyway.
[chat about public speaking, not noted]
Mrs C: … but I couldn’t do full time. [noise] … mother actually, I was looking after her. And then I used to rush back from the schools, Colchester, Chelmsford and have a few private pupils. Well, we lived over the road actually. Do you remember the Naylors? You know [???]? (Q: Yes) Well, next door to [???]. The twin house.
Q: This was quite recently, was it?
Mrs C: Oh, no. We’ve been here fourteen or fifteen years now. And then, when he [husband)] came back from London, you see, he was still going up to London, he didn’t want to come home and find children here. (Q: No) So I had to give it up. But I would have liked to have gone on with the sort of therapy part. I wasn’t a speech therapist. Because when I trained there were no speech therapists, you see. But we had to learn, of course – we did all the sort of speech defects but no medical training. So I had a lot of children with stammers and who couldn’t say [???] and [???] And even one child who wouldn’t talk, believe it or not. And she’d whisper! [Laughs]
Q: My goodness! How old was she?
Mrs C: About eight I should think, something like that. She was an extraordinary child, she was. She was quite clever. (Q: But you sorted her out?) But she left, no, she left – she was actually at the school in Witham, the Independent school. Well, it had over a hundred pupils at one time, which is now demolished. Up Lawn Chase. (Q: Oh it was that big was it?). And she – her form mistress was getting her going a bit and I had her as well. And she adored dressing up and being in plays. And I used to double the part, you see. But the other child did the speaking. And you could see her lips moving but she wouldn’t – she could talk! And she was marvellous because – not having to bother to memorise words, she knew the entrances and exits and movements of the children – she used to bring the house down by pushing them into the places where they should be! [Laughs] In the school plays. Anyway that’s beside the point!
Q: You’ve had a varied life. Anyway, where were we? You were saying you had quite a luxurious upbringing (Mrs C: Well, not really) Were you born in Witham?
Mrs C: Yes, I was born in Witham. I was born at Freebournes, which I refuse to call The Old Farm House! [3 Newland Street] Because there are lots of old farm houses. Freebournes. And the name came from somebody way back who lived there. That’s all I know.
Q: Yes, I read – I found his name once – I was very pleased. I think it was a John Freebourne in sixteen something or other.
Mrs C: Yes. The house is three different periods apparently.
Q: But I think that was just a coincidence.
Mrs C: My mother’s name – she was a Wakelin.
Q: Oh, was she? And they were the farmers were they?
Mrs C: Yes. He was a quite – yes, my grandfather, Joseph Wakelin. And then he died when he was about fifty-two. He was a very progressive – you know – farmer, ahead of his time. I never knew him, you see. And he farmed about a thousand acres when he died. He was a businessman, which was unusual in those days. You know, the first farmer to grow peas, apparently, for the London market. In Essex, I mean. You know, because they went in for cereals of course at this time round here.
Q: I suppose that made a difference.
Mrs C: And he had a dairy herd. And then his son took it over and my mother was keeping house for him, when she got married. My father got fed up waiting for her. [Laughs] So they lived there with my uncle for a few years until he married, you see. And then they bought Collingwood House.
Q: So your mother – it was her uncle that – (Mrs C: Her brother). Her brother that was farming – (Mrs C: When I was born.) So he was – which Wakelin was he?
Mrs C: Robert Wakelin. Bertie, he was known as.
Q: So you were actually born there?
Mrs C: I was actually born there. But I’ve never – all those years I never asked when they actually moved. But they moved before I was a year old and I’ve just had a birthday, on Tuesday. Because my sister was born at Collingwood House. And we are only fourteen months apart.
Q: Dare I ask how long ago that was?
Mrs C: Yes, you can. I was seventy-six on Tuesday.
Mrs C: Fortunately, I enjoy good health. So they bought Collingwood House because my father was very keen on gardening – the garden. And they really bought this large house to get the ground! And they had about – quite two and a half acres.
Q: What, he did the garden himself?
Mrs C: Oh no, no! We had two men in charge. One of the gardeners stayed with us for years and years and years. And we dared not even go and pull a cabbage without asking him, you know. In fact – he was so conscientious. And then another man who was there quite a long time. And they had a very early car. Because my uncle was not interested in farming at all, really. He had a wonderful foreman who really ran the farms for him. And he started a motor business, which is now the one down Maldon Road. And he persuaded my parents to have a car, you see, in the early days. And Mother never learned to drive and Father was a corn chandler in Witham. And we didn’t have any grand background or anything like that. (Q: No) And he also had a couple of small farms.
Q: And they …?
Mrs C: So they really – but the garden was his hobby, you see. And the man who built the house was somebody called Smith, somebody Smith in 1882, because the plaque was on one of the garden walls – and he had filled the ground with lots of lovely shrubs and trees and fruit trees. And a lot of them were unusual ones.
Q: Because, somehow, I’ve got writing to this chap in Australia whose a Smith. Now he’s related to them, some way back, I think. His ancestor emigrated to Australia in the nineteenth century – anyway he was interested in a Smith and he said he might come over, sometime.
Mrs C: Well, I don’t know anything about that Smith at all.
Q: I didn’t know that his name was …
Mrs C: Yes, well it was on the wall, but they demolished the wall, you see. And you see it’s the car park. The entrance to the car park.
Q: So your family name was –
Mrs C: My family name was Brown. My maternal grandfather was Charles Brown and he was a maltster at the Maltings which is now Nitrovit. And then he had several – everybody – really if they could – I mean the local – principal local auctioneer and all those people – they all had a farm somewhere or other. It was either – you know, if they’d got enough money, either rented it or bought it. Smallish farms, they ran as sort of paying hobbies – or hopefully they paid! [Laughs] It’s funny when I think back, you know, but all my mother’s relations were farmers and there are still a number of them farming, you know, third or fourth generations and that, all round D’Arcy and Goldhanger. So my roots are here, you see.
Q: So there was Charles Brown …?
Mrs C: But my grandfather, as I say, he had the maltings and he had a small brewery, at Hatfield Peverel on the Green. And the house is still called The Brewery House. And one of his other sons took that over. There were five boys.
Q: And they found something for all of them?
Mrs C: Yes, amazing. Another one’s got a farm there. And another one went to Northern Ireland, actually. He was in the rag trade. He got a very good job there, really. As a manager and director of a great big store, you know, a very good class store, like a mini-Harrods, really. But he worked that from nothing! He was the eldest one and he was only one who was sent away. My grandfather kept all the others – in a Victorian way, you know. But he went up to London and trained in one of the big stores in London. And eventually got this job – I don’t quite know how. You see, when I was young you weren’t told as much as young people are told today. And you took a lot for granted.
Q: Yes, quite. About why things were going on, around you. (Mrs C: Yes) But you saw these other uncles about …?
Mrs C: Oh, yes. Yes. And I went to stay in Ireland, too, with that one. Yes.
Mrs C: Yes. And they all rode. Except the one that went to Ireland – he didn’t keep it up. But they all rode.
Q: So your father’s main business was (Mrs C: Corn chandler) corn chandler. And that was in Witham, was it?
Mrs C: In Witham High Street. It’s difficult to say where now. Opposite the White Hart.
Q: So what did – I mean, they don’t have corn chandlers now, do they? So what did a corn chandler actually do?
Mrs C: Well, corn and seed business. In his case it was agricultural seeds, mostly, and they also supplied farmers, wholesale and retail. I mean, you could go in there and buy your – I don’t know if he sold actual seeds – I can’t remember. And dog food. Which wasn’t tinned, you see. I mean, puppies’ biscuits. My sister and I used to sneak in there and eat puppy biscuits. They were different colours – pretty tough – we survived well! [Laughs] [???]
Q: I should think they were – probably quite good for you, aren’t they?
Mrs C: And dreadfully tough! [Laughs] There were sacks of stuff, you see. It wasn’t all parcelled up like it is today. It all had to be weighed out. But they also had – either it was one or two – carts that went round delivering stuff. But that was mostly sort of wholesale to the farmers, you see. And we had a ‘phone early on in the business.
Q: So did he work actually in the shop much or …?
Mrs C: No, he was in the office most of the time, yes. He had a very good clerk in the office and then another man who was a slight relation. A William Brown, I can see him now. He looked like an owl! [Both laugh] Behind the counter. And when my sister and I were weighed – we always went round there and were weighed on the scale and it was for sacks weighing. Grandfather also had a maltings down – what do they call the lane opposite Collingwood Road? A building down there with old maltings, too. But I never remember the …
Q: Collins Lane?
Mrs C: I never remember – there was never any malting down there, you know. There was a little done down at the other – the maltings. But it was used for storage. He’d use it for storage for his business, you see.
Q: And did he have a farm as well?
Mrs C: Yes. He farmed Woodend, which was – it’s still Witham, just before you get to Hatfield Peverel on the right. With a lot of greenhouses now in front of it. Opposite where the ‘loos’ are. Up that chase there is a farm. He farmed another one at Dengie, which is near – the other side of the road. And he farmed Howbridge Hall for a time. Which joins – you see, there’s a bit of land with the maltings, really, a little bit. And it joins that land, joining up there.
Q: But he had – sort of – people there, running them, I suppose?
Mrs C: Yes. I – I think he must have had – yes, he had a foreman who lived in – I can never remember the name of the house – where the [???] – a nice house now. Almost opposite the maltings. You go down Maltings Lane and on the right, just opposite the buildings before you get to the house, at Nitrovit. The house stands back on the right. And this foreman lived there. But it’s been made into a nice house now. [probably Jacksons farm]
Q: You lived at Collingwood House all of your – how long …?
Mrs C: Until we married. 1935, we married. 1935. And then my parents sold – they went on living there and then they sold off the big kitchen garden. That was about three years after I married – I can’t remember. They had tried to sell the house before because it was too big and they didn’t want that big place, you see. Because my sister married in 1932.
Q: There was just you and your sister?
Mrs C: That’s all.
Q: So it was a big – how big a place was it?
Mrs C: We had lots of visitors! (Q: Did you?) My parents were very good about having – I mean – their own friends. But they also had friends who perhaps wouldn’t have afforded holidays. So they used to have them and their children. The house always – I said when I went to the opening of the – you know – I don’t mind, you know. Because it hasn’t been demolished – it’s been used. And I said then, well, it always was full of people and so it’s nice to think it is now going on in that tradition, you see [retirement flats now]. Because during the war we had an aunt who made a base with us. And my cousins when they came home on leave, two of them, came there. And we stored a lot of stuff – there’s a marvellous attic. [Laughs over top of words] [???] You know, it was open house, really.
Q: Did your mother have help in the house?
Mrs C: Oh yes! [???] Some of those girls who lived in and of course, women not much older than I am – but those who are still alive are some of my best friends. My mother used to say she’d think when she wanted a new help – you know – the maids we used to call them in those days. She used to say she thought she’d advertise as a marriage market! [Laughs] (Q: Really?) They nearly all stayed till they married and she used to give them the wedding dress. [???] [???] But we all mucked in together. It was not a stiff and starchy … And we had a lot of fruit you see and we all used to go out and – of course these very young girls used to love that! Down tools and we all went out to pick the raspberries or strawberries or whatever it was. For jam – and my sister and I had to help! We were taught. So when we both married we could cook [???]. My mother was a marvellous cook. Really, she was.
Q: She did the cooking?
Mrs C: She did a lot. She used to train the girls into it, you know. She’d do what she thought she … [Laughs]
Q: What they couldn’t do?
Mrs C: She was a very good organiser. And she and her friends were what they called ‘District Visitors’, you see. It annoys me when they say nothing was done for people – who were not so well off [???] I mean, we weren’t wealthy let me tell you. They sort of – went along – but of course it didn’t cost all that to live in a big house in those days, you see. And they used to go – have a district allotted them and they used to visit these people and they had cards – they were the clothing cards – they were clubs, you see, and they paid into this clothing club. And coal, and a little something if they liked, for the hospital. I don’t know what else there was. And those district visitors had to – or didn’t have to – it was all voluntary. They would report if they thought, you know, if they found anything wrong – in the treatment of children – I know my mother would sometimes [???] the NSPCC. And if they needed doctors, you see. And if they weren’t well, well, then she’d see that – you know – used to take them food. And my mother used to supply – cause they all had the babies at home unless there was something very wrong. And my mother used to supply the mother with a hot dinner for a week – I’ve taken those as a child. So things were done. And then my mother and some of her friends started a baby clinic. Before the National Health – it was long, long before all that.
Q: Oh, I’ve often wondered …
Mrs C: In the Church House and one of the district nurses used to come. Once a month it was. And the doctor I suppose. And then the only patent food in those days was Glaxo as far as I remember. So being, Collingwood House being central Mother offered to have the Glaxo there! [Laughs] And twice a week, the people could come and buy it. There was a door – not a back door – a side door which was quite easy. And the young girls who were working for us used to love that, you see. It made a variation. And huge tins they were. I can remember them. Yes.
Q: That was powdered milk, was it?
Mrs C: Yes, powdered milk. Quite – and tinned foods and all the other things we used to get.
Q: Because – that’s interesting that they had that that long ago because people – we often think that as being relatively new. I didn’t realise Glaxo –
Mrs C: Oh yes. That was way back in 19- before the war, it must have started.
Q: What, before the …
Mrs C: Well, I don’t know – I don’t know when they started it. I wish I’d written – you know you don’t think at the time. Dates – do you. I’ll show you one of the photographs.
Q: So when you say …
Mrs C: I keep meaning to take it over the road because Sam Hawkes’ mother is on this one. Over the road. I put it out the other day to take it to him.
Q: I think your daughter mentioned Sam Hawkes as somebody who lived – he’s an old Witham …
Mrs C: Who, Sam? Yes, over the road, yes.
Q: And when she started the clinic was this – that was just her initiative was it?
Mrs C: Yes, her and some other people. There was a Miss Gertrude Luard who was the – you know, who was very good – of the Luard family. And they rode bicycles and they had enormous baskets in the front and we had carriers on the back of the bicycles – and boxes or something strapped – there weren’t saddlebags, you see. And they used to cycle up from Ivy Chimneys – do you know where I mean? [Hatfield Road] (Q: Yes) Edith and Gertie. And loaded with stuff which they were distributing. They had no idea of dress! The sort of tweeds and Henry Heath caps – do you know what I mean? Henry Heath caps? Rather like a man’s felt hat, with a sort of – and that [showing photograph, JG’s M67] is obviously the baby clinic. (Q: Oh yes) But it’s got no date on it! I think they should have it down at the Health Centre, really, now. (Q: Yes) [Pause- looking at photograph] That’s Miss Vaux. She’s got a niece living in Witham now. That’s Mrs Mens, who lived opposite Collingwood House. That’s my mother. She was a very big woman. Look at the hats! And I think that’s Sam’s mother. (Q: This one here with the hat? Oh, I see).
Mrs C: I think it is. It’s one of those things – I fished it out the other day, and found it.
Q: So is this taken at your place, do you think?
Mrs C: Well, I don’t know where it was taken. I wondered if she had them in the garden, you know, in the summer and they had a sort of tea – bunfight or something. But I don’t – and yet I don’t remember – there weren’t all those trees together as a background.
Q: No. I suppose when you – you may be able to tell by the clothes – if anyone is good at fashion and so forth.
Mrs C: Yes, quite. I found them among her things when she died.
Q: But still I suppose …
Mrs C: My mother lived to ninety-one. Well all but a few weeks. Yes.
Q: Did she really? So that was –
Mrs C: She died in ‘65.
Q: Well, I suppose she must have been – I don’t know how you tell how old people were in pictures.
Mrs C: Yes, I’m not quite sure when that started.
Q: Well, was it in the twenties?
Mrs C: I think it was before the twenties, when she started it. Oh yes! It was! Before the twenties. And I remember taking the Glaxo – we were going – the house was going to be shut up. Or anyway she didn’t want people calling while we were away – we took this Glaxo on a hand-cart round to Miss Vaux who lived in one of the so-called Dorothy Sayers houses – it does make me so cross! The woman never did anything for Witham! [Q laughs]
Q: That’s what everybody says really. I don’t know how she managed to get such a …
Mrs C: Yes – and one wheel of this thing – my sister and I had a cousin – a boy cousin staying with us who was older and he insisted on riding in this thing. With my sister and I pushing him! And the cart – two great big wheels and a long handle – I can see it now! And we got one wheel stuck in a drain outside the George and Joe wouldn’t get out! [Both laugh] Eventually he got out [laughs] and Miss Vaux had offered to have the Glaxo you see, while we were away! We used to do all sorts of funny jobs.
Q: You helped her – did you help weighing the babies?
Mrs C: No, no, no. I wasn’t old enough. Oh no, we didn’t help …
Q: But they had the doctor come to …
Mrs C: The doctor and one of the – the district nurse – I suppose perhaps one or two really, but two for years, there. And of course the bungalow at the top here – that was the little maternity home. [46 Collingwood Road] They didn’t take many though but there were often – there was Sister Hines – I remember her. She was a large lady but very kind, you know, efficient nurse. It’s a pity when they closed that, really. Because the nurses lived there, you see, so they were in Witham. But of course it was so much smaller. (Q: Witham was?) We had a market; did anyone tell you about the market? The cattle market? (Q: Er, yes) Where the Labour Hall is. [Collingwood Road] We used to like that – oh yes, that was on Tuesdays. Mr Hugh Page was the auctioneer for that for a number of years – and a great friend of my father’s. And he had the estate business which is now Kemsleys in Witham. And his family – daughters – and son – the son tragically died of TB [???]. But the two daughters are still great friends of ours. And, yes, we used to love to go up there. We used to toddle up the road, especially with the market. [Laughs] And the oak tree at the top of Collingwood Road. I don’t – of course that was planted before my time. That was Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. And for years and years my sister and I called it the ‘Jibley Oak’! [Both laugh] I thought it was a Jibley Oak! [Giggles]
Q: So you had a – did you go to school in Witham?
Mrs C: No, no we had a – in those days we had governesses. Who taught us very little [laughs]. As a matter of fact I can’t remember when I couldn’t read. I did learn to read before I had organised lessons. Because I was very keen to read, you see. And I’ve always loved – words have always fascinated me, obviously. And we had visiting governesses and then – like the Pages – they had somebody who shared with one or two friends and we just had one friend or sometimes two sharing with us. And it wasn’t a question of snobbishness exactly, I mean there weren’t the schools – there wasn’t room in the schools you see. I mean, the work wasn’t enough for people – if you could afford to educate your own children, you were expected to do so. Well, my sister and I actually went away eventually. We went to Surrey. Because we were acquiring rather ugly Essex accents in spite of – because we played a lot on the farms, you see. (Q: Of course.) So my mother thought it would be a good idea if we went to a different county. So we went to Surrey, Ashtead in Surrey.
Q: And got a Surrey accent instead? [Both laugh]
Mrs C: And, er, it was a very happy school. And a very homely sort of school. But academically, it wasn’t very good, you know.
Q: That when you were quite young, was it? [Dog barking on tape]
Mrs C: I went away when I was twelve, or as good as twelve, and my sister was nearly – she was ten. And I stayed there for nearly five years.
[Refers to dog barking]
Q: So when you left there – you trained –
Mrs C: Yes, I trained for – I went up to the Guildhall School of Music. But they didn’t have the Drama course they’ve got now. It wasn’t a School of Acting. There was Drama but not so much. But I just went up – I had to fight actually to get a training because my parents felt there was no need to do that – ‘There’s lots for you to do at home’. And my mother wanted me – she never learnt to drive a car, you see. And she wanted me to drive her around – the old-fashioned idea of the daughter at home making herself useful, you see. And I fought against it. And got this training and got my diploma. LGSM, Guildhall and MRA, if you were at the Royal Academy. And then I did a little bit of teaching. But it was very difficult. There was another recession then. And people didn’t encourage you like they do now. I was always being told I was too young. Eventually I drifted into sort of free-lance entertaining. I was much better at comedy and I did character sketches and monologues and I toured around the Home Counties – sort of Women’s Institutes. Nothing very grand, well, I had some rather nice concerts, sometimes. But I mean, that’s my personal life, you don’t want to put anything like that in, because – (Q: No, it’s interesting) Because that’s me, personally. I mean my friends all know that – Witham – know that. Because I did a lot in Witham. And I belonged to the Operatic.
Q: So when you were doing these tours and so on –
Mrs C: I [???] charged, you see. (Q: You were based in Witham?) I was based in Witham, yes. But I wasn’t out all the time. Only part-time [???].
Q: It was very enterprising, though, wasn’t it?
Mrs C: But I enjoyed it and that’s how I met my husband. [Laughs]
Q: Oh really, how was that?
Mrs C: Well, actually it was a political meeting. At an annual general meeting at a tiny village outside Harlow. I had been to Harlow – somebody from Harlow heard me and asked me if I would be willing to go to her village one day, you see. And to do something. And she was the accompanist for somebody who was singing at this concert in Harlow. And I went and it was – I don’t really think really politics entered a lot into it. It was a good old ‘binge-up’ for the village, you see, once a year. And they had a – they had to have a speaker. And then they had a quite a good ‘nosh-up’ – as far as I remember – the refreshments were very good, the concert. And finished up dancing! (Q: Oh, I see) and my father-in-law was the chairman. And he apparently told my husband that he must put in an appearance, you see, and he drifted in during the concert time. And saw me dressed up in the most awful Cockney clothes! [Both laugh] And when I told somebody in Witham – as a matter of fact it was the Conservative agent who really started me off on all these things, because he knew I could do it – because he said ‘Do it and get a bit of money!’ you see. And he used to take me out to their meetings – I also went to Labour meetings if I was invited! [Giggles]
Q: If they paid you! Yes! [Laughs]
Mrs C: I told him afterwards, you know, how I had met my husband and he said ‘Well, what were you doing?’ Because he knew some of my sketches – I kept on learning fresh ones, but you know, he knew one or two old ones. And he said ‘Well, if he saw you like that,’ he said ‘You’re safe for life my girl!’ [Q laughs] But I will never forget him saying that! He was a huge fat man, Frank Moore. He was a very good actually, himself, with stories and singing and so on.
Q: Well, he was right, wasn’t he?
Mrs C: [Laughing over words] – Golden wedding next year! No, is it next year – the year after. Oh dear. Now what can I tell you about Witham? The Avenue – did anybody tell you about The Avenue?
Q: I’ve only seen the pictures of that.
Mrs C: Yes, well, it was all trees. Lovely trees. And pedestrians only. And of course it led to The Grove, belonged to The Grove. And lots of hollow trees, in which we used to play ‘hide and seek’.
Q: So did your people – now who was it at The Grove? (Mrs C: Laurence –)
Q: And did your folks mix much with the Laurences ?
Mrs C: No, not with the Laurences.
Q: They were a bit – sort of –
Mrs C: There were a lot of- lot of sections – class sections – although we always – I think my sister and I mixed up with – I mean we were taught to sort of – because my parents didn’t like that. And I mean, as I said, the people who worked for us – some of them are younger than me now – but some are older – I mean they all call me by my Christian name, now, you see. So I mean there wasn’t – but there were these – no – the Laurences were more ‘county’ people, you see. (Q: I see, yes.) But quite friendly to meet! But Mr Laurence, of course, endowed – he gave the cricket ground, to Witham. And my father was one of the original trustees. And now my husband’s chairman of the trustees. And yet of course he’s not a Witham man. But it’s rather nice isn’t it?
Q: I just wondered – I’ve heard of all these people – I just wondered how much they actually knew each other [???]
Mrs C: Yes, we were all on speaking terms, I think, and we met …
Q: But then they would have their friends outside Witham?
Mrs C: Yes, that’s right.
Q: I mean what sort of people would your – would you …
Mrs C: [Talking over] We were nearly all farming people, you see. With a lot of farming relations and er, mostly farming people –farmers.
Q: And did people have dinner parties – or coffee mornings? (Mrs C: Oh yes!) What sort of [???] [???]
Mrs C: Yes they had dinner parties. Several courses. But straight forward, plain food.
Q: And so your folks – what would have – farmers –
Mrs C: Yes, their friends. They had friends at Mount – Powers Hall – at Powers Hall End. I don’t think they owned it. Philip Hutley, a little bit older than my parents but – I know they used to come. And the Ratcliffs and Fairheads. And Hutley, [???] Hutley. And then my mother had a sister, a married sister at Tiptree. It’s so long ago now. They used to have fabulous dinner parties and we finished up with cheese straws as a rule. Not a cheese board. They were so full up they couldn’t eat any more! But they weren’t big – I mean, you see, they didn’t have enormous helpings!
I think they often started off with soup and then perhaps fish or some other little entrée and then a main dish. And then sweets, but not such elaborate sweets as they – they made cream – usually a trifle and – oh dear – charlotte rousse was a favourite dish. And lashings of cream! [Both laugh]. And then I can remember these cheese straws because I loved them! And one of the girls used to sneak bits up to my sister and I – because we’d gone to bed, you see. And have bits and pieces! [Laughs] And we used to hang over the banisters too. [Laughs] But they weren’t oh, all that sort of grand. My great grandfather – my grandmother’s father was a wine merchant where Woolworth’s is [35 Newland Street]. Robert Smith. Because I’ve heard of all these people I didn’t know and she was an only child and, but her mother had died. She was brought up by a housekeeper. And my mother used to ride round [???] on the delivery carts. They had horse and carts, you see. But that she used to tell us – she told me this.
Q: That goes a long way back.
Mrs C: Yes. That does, doesn’t it? But my grandfather Wakelin – his home was Goldhanger. But you see they both died before I born – so sad, really. I only knew Grandfather Brown. And he died when I was twelve – after I went to school.
Q: And what for ordinary – I know it sounds rather trivial but I always find this sort of thing interesting – what ordinary meals – an ordinary meal – did you have evening dinner or middle of the day …?
Mrs C: No, we had always had a mid-day meal – fairly plain. My mother was a very good cook really. She’d branch out into – we always had joints and casseroles. And in the evening they didn’t have a heavy meal at all. They used to have – you know not always meat. Great dinner – one of my mother’s favourites was a spaghetti dish which was an awfully fattening thing. But you see, no tinned food! You cooked your own spaghetti and you made your own tomato sauce and everything. It was all done like that.
Q: And in the week did you ….?
Mrs C: And made bread! My mother – for quite a long time bread was made in the old home. And all – and the bacon and hams were cured at home. She’d learned to do that, you see, at Freebournes. And there were hooks in the ceiling at Collingwood House, in the kitchen. And they used to have a pig [Q laughs] and it used to come from one of the farms or sometimes they bought one from a farm or [???] [???] and we used to – all the offal and stuff was used up – and we gave a lot away. And made lots of brawns. The smell – [???] used to hate[?] it.. And rendered your own lard down there, you see. And then there were huge – they had huge milk pans from the Freebournes days and shallow pans and they were down in the cellar. And we had no real proper larder at Collingwood House or cold place. We used the cellar and the hams and the bacon were put into those and the brine. And black treacle. And periodically my sister and I were sent down to help rub this – oh and saltpetre was another thing she used. And you scooped up handfuls of it which was in the pan, you see and rubbed it into these things – and it was always icy cold! [Giggles] At least, that’s what I remember. Actually we’ve done it since – we did it when we were still rationed with food. We had – we kept a pig over the road before they built behind us. My husband did, after he came out of the Forces and that was sent away. But we did try to cure half a one because we had a quite a good larder there but it was too difficult really. And Mother of course raked out all these recipes and told us how to do it. But I found the homemade – home cured bacon myself got very hard. I can remember disliking that when I was a child, the bacon. You see, there were no slicers, it was cut by hand and they were rather thick slices you know and you can imagine and sort of fatty for children. But a lot of people – all the farmers cured their own – own ham and bacon.
Q: A lot of work though.
Mrs C: Oh yes it was work but people didn’t seem to mind. There weren’t so many distractions, were there? You see there was no television. Still, I don’t remember life without the cinema. Well the silent films, weren’t there?
Q: Yes. When did – there was one in Witham ?
Mrs C: Yes, Whitehall, yes.
Q: Did you used to go there?
Mrs C: Yes, we did. The trouble was by the time they got the films, as a rule I’d seen it in Chelmsford or Colchester. [Q laughs] Not always, but we did go And then of course it was closed during the War [Second] and they reopened but it was never really, it wasn’t a success. No.
Q: No. I suppose more people could go to Colchester.
Mrs C: But it was a pity and now, I don’t know about now because people don’t go much, do they?
Q: Well, less and less I think. Especially with television …
Mrs C: I haven’t been for years now – I went to see ‘Gandhi’.
Q: Every time I take my children I say ‘Well, this might be the last time we go to the cinema – there may not be any left soon!’
Mrs C: I only take my grandson to – sort of what they’d like.
[General conversation, not noted]
Q: You think most people like you would be – would stay at home after they grew up?
Mrs C: No, no. The girls were just – were then branching – just starting careers. Even if your parents had the money to keep you, they were starting careers. My sister went to a school of dancing and physical culture in Kensington. But she never did much with it. She married young. And one of the Pages – she went to a school. There was a [???] of schools for dancing and she came home and had a big collection of – children’s dancing classes. In Maldon and all over the place. And my mother was a good pianist. My mother used to play for her, that was rather nice, wasn’t it.
Q: But how did you find – you say your parents weren’t keen on you doing anything. Once you’d done it, were they …?
Mrs C: Oh, they didn’t mind then. Because it wasn’t full-time. No. They accepted it. And whereas my father – we both learnt to drive. When we were – I learnt to drive by just eighteen and my sister had her licence on her plate on the morning of her seventeenth birthday. [Q laughs] She had no – you see, no tests in those days.
Q: No, of course not.
Mrs C: And I was taken out to Tiptree Heath four days in succession. And the man who gave me the lessons said ‘Now every fool can go forward. Go into reverse and follow me!’ So we played ‘Follow-my-Leader’ on Tiptree Heath. [Q Laughs]. And me in reverse and the clutch forward. And from this day I don’t find it difficult to reverse! And he’d stand and say ‘I’m one gatepost and the gorse bush is another’, you see. And I suppose he was ready to leap. [Laughs]. And then he took me to Chelmsford on the Friday, the market day. And that was when they drove the cattle and the sheep to the market, you see, through the streets to the market. And that was made [???] the traffic. He’d got the right idea, hadn’t he? (Q: Yes) And actually he was the man who worked at my uncle’s garage, you see. I think he was one of the clerks or something, really. But I mean – I’ve often – when I’ve thought back how sensible he was. Because going up to Tiptree – the cars – in those days you had to change down – I probably had to change twice to get up that hill, going up the Braxted wall. So I had a bit of changing there, you see. And then all this reversing on Tiptree Heath, it wasn’t a very good road as it is now, it couldn’t have been.
Q: So by Saturday you were a fully trained driver! [Both laugh]
Mrs C: I had a very quiet – placid father. He was excellent. And he drove a car – we always said that he drove a pony or – as children we had a pony and trap. And went all round the lanes in that. And he used to – when he was driving, my father was always the same – he’d driven a pony or horse and trap and he would lean forward when going up a hill to help the weight, you know for the horse and lean back going downhill And he did it with the car! [Both laugh]
Q: I’m sure it helped!
Mrs C: [Giggles] [???] number of years – [Laughs] but often I [???] lean back but going uphill I could see how my father driving and doing the same, yes! It was rather an amusing touch.
Q: So your father was – were they very strict, your parents? You say your father was quiet?
Mrs C: No they weren’t strict really. My father was ten years older than my mother, so he wasn’t – he was about 44[?] when I was born, I suppose. No, he had had five brothers but he was the most courteous man towards women that I have ever met. (Q: Really?) I haven’t met anyone more. And yet thinking – on hindsight – in a great many ways he taught my sister and I things which a boy would have been taught, in a very quiet way.
Q: What sort of things?
Mrs C: Well, he encouraged us in sport. And particularly, in my case, with hockey. Because he said it was a team game, a team game that every girl should play. Hockey or lacrosse. And, yes, he had no fear, you see. And he didn’t wish us to have any fear. As I say, driving the car and we had no brothers and he wanted [???] – and learn to drive the car. And he was very generous in lending it. Because there was only one – people – most people only had one car. (Q: Yes) And so that -you know, unless he wanted it for [???] reasons or something like that, then we’d have it. And [pause] well, you know – he was very good – he didn’t want us to be frightened of the – there was lots of old trees which we climbed and he never sort of said ‘You mustn’t climb, you because you might not get down!’ I did get stuck one day and I – he – fortunately he came along and stood at the bottom and directed me down. He said ‘Don’t get up something again that you don’t think you can get down again!’ No, he was very – [Pause]
Q: Because you think otherwise you think you [???] [???] young ladies ?
Mrs C: We were awful tomboys. That was one reason again we were sent away to school. [Laughs] We grew up with these three boy cousins at Tiptree. And we were either there or they were often at Collingwood House. And we had lots of outbuildings in those days and barns, you see, up there. And we were always climbing everywhere. We never seemed to have two feet on the ground! And we’d be – and the barns – we’d be up on the – I sprained an ankle badly jumping from a beam in Tiptree barns onto chaff which was hard, you know. And then we used to work the machines – by hand – the machines which cut up the mangels and things for the ….
[At beginning Mrs C is moving about and conversation starts and stops as she appears to be further away from the microphone and harder to hear]
Mrs C: The churches were more well patronised and if you didn’t go to church, you know the vicar would miss you …[Q: Really?) [laughs] … ‘What’s the matter with you?’ … Very dull services …
Q: Were they?
Mrs C: I still go to church.
[Long pause on tape – general conversation, not noted]
Mrs C: People say I never see anybody when I cycle – I concentrate so on the … And that’s another thing – we were never allowed to use the car for very short journeys. My sister and I, no, we had bicycles. Or two feet! That’s the one thing my father – to this day you see I … [???] [???] [Laughing over words and away from microphone] … Rather funny that. I do push it now, a lot. I don’t ride it.
Q: Well, it does help for carrying things, doesn’t it, I find.
Mrs C: The traffic now …
[Mr Coleman enters, general conversation, not noted]
Mrs C: That’s another thing – we had to help [Laughs] – in the summer when it got bad, we were given a penny to do a lot of weeding! And that’s another thing we did. So – and of course, during the War [Second World War] Now I came back to my parents – though that’s not the old Witham so much – I came back to my parents during the War – my husband was in the Forces. And then of course we had very little help, I had to do a lot then. And that’s when I really learnt – because my father died in – just before the end of the War. It was very sad – for him, that he didn’t see the end of it …
Mrs C: It was only through the War I came back to Witham. You see, I eventually drifted back here. Because we were living very near London, in Hertfordshire, with Lynette, you see. And that’s why I never had more children, really, because of the War. I think I needn’t have worried. Having three grandsons on my doorstep I’ve half dragged them up! [Q: laughs] I didn’t know that at the time. But I –….
Q: I was interested in what you said about the church (Mrs C: Yes.) Because – I’m sure some people have mentioned to me – it probably was the church visitors – the district visitors – anyway, they’ve said about the Luards, for instance. (Mrs C: Yes) Probably the mother too, I suppose. Certainly the Luards were going around – but they often refer to them as ‘church workers’, you see.
Mrs C: Oh no, they weren’t all church workers. Some belonged to the – well, to the other churches.
Q: I see. But your mother – …?
Mrs C: My mother wasn’t – my mother didn’t do it because she was in the church – no, it was independent of the church. Nothing to do with the church at all. Now I think there’s much more done from the church than there used to be.
Q: So really, it was – (Mrs C: No, it was just -) As you say….
Mrs C: I don’t know who started district visitors, but they were all over the country. It wasn’t just Witham.
Q: But your folks were active in the church as well, or …?
Mrs C: They didn’t do – oh well, Mother did the flowers – we did the flowers in the church and I still do them once or twice a year. When I’ve got, my husband grows lovely dahlias, I use those. My mother went in for flowers actually. It was a toss-up whether I did florists work or the – speech training they call it now – elocution in those days. And we tossed up between the two.
Q: So, as you say, the vicar noticed if you weren’t there?
Mrs C: Oh yes. Yes.
Q: Did you go …?
Mrs C: You went regularly, yes. And you had – you usually sat in the same pew. You paid a pew rent which helped the funds of the church, you see. I mean, everybody didn’t but those who could – you know – it’s like now we have covenants or, say, you will pay so much a week whatever it is. [???] covenants[?] And but the – and so you sat in the same pew and the church – the parish church – the sidesman usually led you up to your seat, [laughs] silly, wasn’t it? And I know we used to sit behind Blyths, who was the miller, Mr Blyth, you know where the old mill is in Guithavon Valley. (Q: Oh yes.) His family. And the Pages sat behind us. The Page family. Like that. And you supplied your own hassocks. Well, we were asked to, you see. Kneelers. Oh – the church, when I was a child – there were all brass vases actually on the altar. They all had to be polished. So that was another thing I used to go and help Mother do when I was little. Polish the vases and then I was promoted to actually arrange two of the smaller ones. They were sort of like ‘Father and mother and baby bears!’ Sizes, like this, six of them, I think, on the altar. And also when we were very small, a very large chair which is now beside the altar. In the sanctuary, they call it now. In the vestry. And we were bribed with a penny each we would sit – both of us would sit in this chair! [Laughs] It’s most ridiculous – the personal things that stick in one’s mind and important things, you know, have just gone!
Q: [???]. And who was the vicar – do you remember anyone?
Mrs C: The vicar when I was very small was Canon Ingles. And of course, then the vicarage has been – was all re-modelled. (Q: Oh, I see). They’ve still left it rather large. But it was a huge place when I was a child. And had a most beautiful entrance hall and a lovely staircase – a beautiful staircase – with a stained window – going right – and halfway up. It went round and curved. But after Canon Ingles …
Q: You used to visit it – go there?
Mrs C: Yes, not then so much. We went when – [???] He came from Hatfield Broad Oak. [???] He was made a canon whilst he was here. And he had a most terrific collection of musical instruments.
Q: Oh, I know, somebody told me about him, who was it? I should remember …
Mrs C: Galpin.
Q: That’s right, yes. Because that his name …
Mrs C: Yes. He used to be – give demonstrations. He had sold a lot before he came to Witham. But some of them were hung up the stairs. Now my sister and I used to visit there and play with his daughter. He had three sons and then there was a gap then Ursula. And she was a little bit older – about two years older than I am,
I think. And so we used to go there and she used to come and visit us. And my mother took over the Mothers Union from Mrs – she’d always been the secretary or something – Mother had, for the Mothers Union. And Mrs Galpin went on to diocesan work and asked my mother if she would be the – they call it ‘Enrolling Member’ not ‘President’ – it’s another word for president. And she was president for many many years. But my mother did – she said herself that she was asked to serve on committees – she was a good organiser – but because Collingwood House was central, and they knew they could have their committee meetings there! [Both laugh] Well, it was quite sensible, though, really, wasn’t it? You see, because it was central. I know there wasn’t a bus service but – and so, you know, there were lots of committees held there for different things.
Q: And the Mothers Union –
Mrs C: That’s still going strong. That’s quite a strong branch, really. Yes. I belong to that. Really, in memory of her as much as anything. She was so keen.
Q: Did they have all sorts of people in that – or ….?
Mrs C: Yes, all sorts of people. My mother taught in the Sunday school when she was young. I never did that but – and she used to encourage – as they grew up, you see, when she knew them – so she had quite a big branch, Mother did because – I don’t know, she seemed to know everybody. And there are some people in Witham now, of course, who remember her, you know.
Q: Yes, I suppose they do.
Mrs C: And Father, yes. It’s interesting, yes, some of the older people. And another thing she did, she gave Christmas dinners to the almshouses. Yes. I don’t know what they had. They didn’t[?] have chicken, they had – they probably wouldn’t want turkey if living on their own, or two of them together. They had – I think beef, two or three pounds of beef – and we used to take those round. And mince pies. One particular old person [???]. But she did that for years. [Pause] But we had this pony and trap, you see, which we went round in and we had a Nanna. She came to my mother when she was nineteen and she had a very unhappy home herself. And she told me afterwards, many years afterwards, ‘That’s the first real home I ever knew’. And she stayed until she was about thirty-two. When she married. And remained one of the closest family friends we ever had. And she was like a second mother. And she took over the house, really for Mother. When she married, my mother said ‘I didn’t know what was in my linen cupboard!’ We always called her ‘Nanna’. We didn’t call her Nanny, you said ‘Nanna’. And then our children – my sister’s and mine, you see – called her for some reason ‘Nanna Ann’. I don’t know why. And then of course she knew – I don’t know if she knew all the grandsons – she knew two of them. And the youngest – yes, she did know the youngest one, because William used to love to go and see her. [???] [???] And of course he was thoroughly spoilt, of course, when he got there. And she kept the old toys, you know, because she’d got grandchildren by that time. And she used to have Lynette, when she was a little girl; she’d have her all day for me, you know. Again, spoil her terribly! [Laughs]. But she – she really ran the house and she was a most accomplished woman. She learned to – she was a very good sick nurse. She took Red Cross classes and she could ice cakes better than anybody I know, I think. And she could do anything. She almost became, I suppose, almost like a housekeeper to my mother you see, after we got too big to need her. And it was she who taught me to read. And she drove us round the lanes. But she’d never driven a pony in her life! But she – she didn’t say she couldn’t! [Both laugh] And I could have told you in those days where the first cowslip would come out and the first primrose, you know. Today they come out long – they used to along the Fairstead road. And we used to go trotting about in this thing – we had a hut. Down on the Blackwater. Below Mill Beach. That was on the – we had to cross the – because the sea wall – once you were on the sea side is public. But we went down the Osea Hard and then cut across the meadows.
This little pony was left up at the farm and then we used to walk. It was quite a walk. But we kept our swimsuits and crockery and, you know, essentials things like sugar, jam and salt. And we used to go to spend whole days down there as children. And I should think my sister and I were two of the first girls to have a kind of shorts. And they were made of [Laughs] navy blue serge – this is very funny! – which used to scratch – navy blue serge, like bloomers. Old fashioned bloomers. Because, you see, girls didn’t wear shorts or trousers.
Q: They were sort of gathered – or …?
Mrs C: With elastic round the leg, yes, I think we did. With buttons somewhere round the top. We didn’t use much elastic in those days. And then the early jumpers, you know, and pullovers were only just coming in. Well, barely, they weren’t in fashion, because we had boys – boys’ jerseys, navy blue jerseys. Which were rather tight. And my sister and I were two ‘apple dumplings’! We were very fat, round, very round. We were fed all this fattening food! And we must have a looked a scream! You know, when I think of it. I should think I – [laughs]. But of course it was the most sensible thing to wear. Because we didn’t – we did have warm weather but we had a lot of cold weather as well. And we used to go catching crabs in the mud-holes, you see. So Mother had this inspiration of having these things made for us. (Q: The shorts?) Yes. And I learned to swim down there. And I can’t remember when I couldn’t swim. And I was four, then you see. I think I dog-paddled – I had proper lessons afterwards. But again, it was Nanna who took me in, you see. And encouraged me. And taught herself to swim at the same time. But she became a cantankerous old woman before she died. Oh, she was – well, I think her mind went a bit, you know, senile, really, but oh, she was so difficult.
Q: And where did…?
Mrs C: Oh course, I remembered her, because I used to visit her frequently so I remember all the happy times we’d had. She used to play cricket with us with my cousins in the summer. And she was pretty, too; went for holidays with us.
Q: Where did you go for – in those days?
Mrs C: Holidays? We went Scotland a few times because my mother – well, they became my father’s friends – had some good friends there. Who my grandfather had originally got to know through business. On the Clyde. A place called – near Helensborough. Rhu. I remember that, it was a lovely place. Oh, and we used to go quite a lot to Frinton; Clacton. We’d usually take in rooms, not in hotels because it was better for children. And then hiring a hut. And then when my father was very busy, which was a time when he had to – his brother became ill and he’d ran the brewery and Father had to do that as well, you see. He couldn’t take proper holidays – he’d come down there for weekends. (Q: Oh, I see). So we had a house at Clacton, sometimes, Frinton, once at Felixstowe. This was when it was difficult to go a distance.
And as I say, we went to Ireland, twice, north, where my uncle was. We didn’t go to the south coast much – we went to Cornwall. We didn’t drive there; we went by train and hired taxis. [Laughs] You see all these things were so much cheaper and wherever we went my sister and I swam! My mother said once we went into the water we never got out. It was very difficult to get us out.
Q: And did – Nanna went on these trips?
Mrs C: Yes. We went on a lot. Not to Cornwall. She must have gone – …
Q: Did you take other people to help or…?
Mrs C: No, no, no, yes, she went – not when we had – yes, she went on most of them. When we were small, but not as we got older. No, she didn’t come to Ireland with us. She came to Scotland with us. Because that was rather a grand place when we stayed, there, you know. But they were self-made people. And – um – but she sort of came to – there were no children in the house, you see. She came – I’ve been back to that house. We went to a wedding – there was a – Tony Cullen – you know?
Q: I know Mrs Cullen –
Mrs C: Well, Vi’s Cullen’s nephew by marriage –because she’s not a Cullen – anyway, he came from – Tony used to live in Collingwood Road and then his father was killed – no, he died after the War. And his bachelor uncle sort of made himself a sort of guardian to him and took him into the seed business and the farming business at Cressing. Anyway, he met his bride on a skiing holiday and she came from Helensborough. And we drove up through the night to this wedding, eventually.
[chat about visiting Scotland, not noted]
Q: I was going to ask you, but I forgot. About these shorts and things. What did you wear, normally? Did you buy your clothes in Witham or …?
Mrs C: No, they were nearly all made. (Q: Made, were they?) Nearly all made. We had – there were a lot of good dressmakers around in those days. But there was one old lady, Miss Woodwards – whom we called ‘Woody’. And Woody would come for the week. Yes, and she had to have her own machine. Which Father or somebody used to fetch and bring for her. And then she was installed – well, Collingwood House – because we had lots of spare – we had a room – it was still called the nursery! [Laughs] Although we never lived in it all the time, but we had our lessons there. It became a playroom, you see. And then, during the War, my father and mother took it over as their main sitting-room because it has three inside walls so it as safer and warmer. And Father tried to change the name to all sorts of things but it always went back. And of course, when Lynette came – as a girl of four- she was there – it was back almost to a nursery, again. She had the same cupboard, which was built-in, for her toys as we had.
Oh no, we had – we just had – I don’t know what we wore in the winter. I think more dresses than skirts and jumpers because, as I say, jumpers came in more when I was in my teens. So I think we had whole dresses. And, cotton dresses in the summer. And of course, you always had your ‘best’ dress, you see. Your best dresses, to go to church. We never had very partyish dresses, Kathleen and I. I don’t know we had the figure [laughs] for it!
Q: Was it – so how often was it….?
Mrs C: Well, Woody used to come and sew – she smocked most beautifully. We had smocks – yes – she smocked most beautifully. And she could cover eiderdowns. She could cover furniture – loose covers. And lots of mending, you know, sheets sides to the middle, that sort of thing she’d do. She’d do it all by hand. And she had a huge wide apron, which she wore. And she used to go to other people, like that. Not always for a whole week, she’d just come for a day, perhaps, or for a few days. And she – and then my mother introduced her to one if not two of her farming relations. I know she used to love to go to D’arcy. She used to stay there, because she’d live off the fat of the land, on a farm, wouldn’t she? And she had all her meals, you see. And years afterwards I said to her – because my father got her into one of the almshouses, eventually. She was – oh, she lived in one of the cottages in Maldon Road and then she lived in another of the cottages down this lane, to the Maltings and they were going to be demolished. So he got her – he was one of the trustees of the almshouses and he got her into one of those. And I used to go and visit her. I said ‘ Oh, we were naughty!’ I said ‘We used to run away from you, didn’t we?’ I said‘ We hated being fitted’, you see she was going to do the fitting. She said ‘I didn’t mind at all. I could get out and look round your lovely garden, so I didn’t mind!’ [Both laugh] She wasn’t the only one. There must have been other people who did that – these sewing women, you see. I mean, there was another one who lived in Witham, who could re-cover eiderdowns, beautifully. She died recently in Suffolk, she lived in Suffolk. But she was a bit younger. But it was what people did, you see, because so many – you didn’t sort of think of taking an eiderdown to a – at least we didn’t – to a shop or anything like that. But you see, they were clever and they – both those cases had been taught by their mothers. (Q: I see) And handed down.
Q: You say your father was a trustee of the almshouses – did he do a lot of things like that around the town?
Mrs C: Er, not a great deal. As I said he was an original trustee of the cricket and whatever the almshouses – the little charities or whatever they are – they still are. We’ve still got some, you see. I don’t know – he did – I know he was a Mason, like my husband is, you know, a Freemason at Kelvedon. But I’ve [???] [???] on the lookout[?] to help people. He helped a lot of people in his own quiet way. Well, he backed my mother up all the time, you see. He was a great support.
Q: Was he involved in ….?
Mrs C: [Speaking over] And he never minded the house being full of – if she would have a charity bridge tournament, that was another thing we used to do, play bridge. But if they played in the afternoon, very often they all put a little bit into the kitty or something and it went to a charity. And he’d come home from business quite happily and come to a roomful of bridge [Laughs over words] old ladies, you know. Some men would shy away, wouldn’t they? You know.
Q: Was there a local Council in Witham then? (Mrs C: Yes, oh yes!) Did he do that at all?
Mrs C: No, no, he wouldn’t take part in that. No, in some ways he was – he wasn’t shy exactly. No, he wouldn’t get up and make a speech and yet, they said, at the Lodge, the Masons – when he knew – he learnt – they memorise everything, you see. He would get up and train – he would prompt other people or take over from somebody else if somebody was missing and – but he would never get up and make a – propose a toast or anything like that. He didn’t like doing that. My husband will! He’s very good at it! [Both laugh]. No, Mother was the one who sort of took meetings. I’m trying to think what other people who were on the committees. No, I can’t think of anything else in Witham.
Q: But what sort of people would be on the – I suppose it would be Urban Council, was it, then?
Mrs C: Yes, yes, we had our own council – like Braintree – we had our own. And it such a pity that they separated it. Because what does Braintree know about Witham?
Mrs C: We’re a sort of Cinderella, aren’t we, now? Oh, it was a – I don’t know what you could say about it now. [Pause] As I say, probably not quite such a cross-section as there is today, I think. Probably most – more people – reasonably well educated people. But everybody has an education today – a good education today, I mean it’s so different isn’t it? And much better, you know, you see. Father was invited to serve on the Council and he wouldn’t do it. (Q: No?) No – he refused because he always said there was – bribery went on and he didn’t like it – I think it’s been like that always and still is, you see, I think. But – to a certain extent, in a small way. But he was invited to, but he wouldn’t stand, for that.
Q: I remember you saying there was a Conservative – was it the agent who invited [???]. Was he involved with the party?
Mrs C: No, he just supported it but he wasn’t – Mother did! (Q: Was she?) Oh, she was president of the women’s branch.
Q: Was she? That was quite forward –
Mrs C: Well, [Laughs] you see, she had help! And then she had me at home part-time, you see. Until I married. And eventually she felt – she was coming out of things then. But she enjoyed it. It was a hobby with her, if you could say, that way, really.
Q: Was she using her abilities, which as you say women didn’t always manage to do.
Mrs C: No. And she had a slight stammer, my mother. And fortunately my sister and I didn’t pick it up. But she said that she cured herself practically by having to get up and take meetings, you see. But she would always get up and say what she thought! [Laughs]
Q: So was the Women’s branch – I mean, did they sort of – often Conservative Women’s branches so often just make teas and things. So they were involved more….?
Mrs C: [Talking over] Oh, no, no! They met once a month in the Constitutional Club in the room, which I think they play billiards in, at the top. And I think they usually had a speaker of some description and they had some tea, yes. And then of course I suppose they had an annual sort of do at Christmas and they had a garden meeting, which was usually at Collingwood House [15 Collingwood Road]. We couldn’t have – although we had a big garden, it was cultivated but with a reasonable lawn. And they would have – in the conservatory they would have a sort of tea party there in the summer, which was nice. As far as I remember, yes, they did. And if there was anything on, they would use our kitchen. Because the kitchens at the Public Hall were very poor. And at the Constitutional Club – there was really nowhere there except a little committee room at the top there. I can remember now – I can see the people all round the kitchen – because we had a huge kitchen table. Cutting sandwiches, no cut loaves! Making sandwiches and things. And they could make them there, you see, and just take them over the road.
Q: As you say, it was very convenient! [Laughs]
Mrs C: Yes. And they never had – hardly ever had anything at the Public Hall without they borrowed – or they had plants. Because we had a big conservatory and then we had – and Mother – we all had a kitchen garden and had glasshouses. And they used to have – borrow plants to put along the front of the stage, you see, And very often, some furniture! (Q: Really?) [Laughs] For concerts. Yes. There was one particular chair – my parents were very interested in antiques. And gradually, from their own old homes, I suppose, and things they had collected – quite a few, you know, particularly some rather nice chairs. And these chairs used to [laughs] go, and that pedestal behind you.
Q: Oh yes, I’m not surprised!
Mrs C: Well, that’s a pretty one. We had some other pedestals that were much bigger. But I think that one used to go because the others were so tall. And that had flowers on it. And when I got older I used to do some flowers for them. But the – poor Mr Young – you know Dulcie Brand?
Q: I don’t know …
Mrs C: Don’t you know Dulcie? She’s almost square. And she’s retired now. But it was her grandfather who was Mr Young the gardener, and chief gardener. But he used to hate taking these plants over and I can see – cinerarias, which were all velvety and lovely. Because there were gas footlights in the Public Hall, you see. And of course it used to – well, I suppose they did survive, revive afterwards but if they were over there, you know, for a couple of nights or something like that …
Q: They were never the same again? [Laughs]
Mrs C: Yes.
Q: Am I holding you up now?
Mrs C: Well, I don’t think I have told you much, really, what you want to know.
Q: No, it’s been interesting.
Mrs C: If you think of something that you want and then come back and ask me. As I said, I don’t want this all put down, (Q: No, no, no) my personal things, it was more the life that I led (Q: It’s in the context …) and my friends led, I suppose. We had lots of parties in the winter, lots and lots of Christmas parties. (Q: Did you?) Children – we all had Christmas parties. And all gave ourselves whooping cough – Kath and I got whooping cough like that.
Q: What, at the children’s parties?
Mrs C: Yes and colds and things, you know. And played all the old-fashioned games and had a Christmas tree. And summertime we had hay parties! Oh, that was the thing we had. Hay parties.
Q: What’s hay parties?
Mrs C: Well, when the hay was cut in people’s orchards, Struck[?] the grass. Or in small meadows and places. We used to be invited to tea, it was usually strawberry time. And we used to just play about in the hay. The boys used to stuff this hay – which was full of thistles – down the girls’ fronts, as they called them in those days – we were only children! And we used to make great big nests in the hay. I don’t know – we jut threw it at each other. We must have had some organised games. And the Miss Blyths down at the – two of them who didn’t marry – down at the mill there, they used to cut it down in one of the meadows there. And they always had a children’s party in the summer. Now I have a great friend who I’m going to stay with next month, with whom I grew up in Witham. Her father was the organist at All Saints church and a great musician really. And she used to go there and come to all these parties with us. I’m going over to stay with her.
Q: Who is this?
Mrs C: She lives – Joan Howlett – well, Joan Howlett, she was. And I go over there every year and stay with her. I’m going next month. And she goes back to all these things. She almost – having been away for a long time – almost remembers – more than I do.
[General conversation regarding cooking meal]
Mrs C: She grew up – she grew up with us actually. And now that’s another person – her mother was delicate and then her mother died, when she was in her teens. And she practically made a home with us. And, you know, her father used to go out – he was a great conductor – he had offers of work – you know – churches in London – but he liked the country. And he lived in the house opposite All Saints Church, Colne House. And she could then come in our back way. And she’d come some mornings and say ‘Daddy’s going to be out tonight’, [???] [Drops voice, cannot hear words] – and Mother would say ‘ well, your/the bed’s there, it’s alright!’ [Laughs] And we used to sleep out in the garden in the summer. There were two May trees that were very close together and made a canopy. And we used to take mattresses – we had groundsheets- I suppose they were sack – they’d be stackcloths, I think. That they used to put over the stacks, which you don’t see today.
Q: Oh I know, tarpaulin things, yes.
Mrs C: Which you don’t see today, tarpaulin things. And then a mattress on the top. We’d wake up and the pillows used to be soaked in dew in the morning [Both laugh] and we used to sleep like that. And Joan used to come as well and if Mr Young came in early, he’d find three children in wet sheets! [Laughing over words]. And my father used to leave some French doors open. Because you see, we always want to sleep out when it was hot! And of course sometimes there were thunderstorms. So he used to leave these doors open so we could make a dash indoors.
[Talking over each other]
Q: As you say it sounds as if you had a good time really.
Mrs C: There were no tents! When I look back my sister and I had the best of both worlds in ways.
Q: Did you see your mother much? Was she …
Mrs C: Oh, yes, oh, we saw her a lot, yes.
Q: Was she strict or….?
Mrs C: No, well, she was quite strict. But we had – we never to the – you see, if anybody had enough ground they had a tennis court. (Q: Oh, I see). We played lots and lots of tennis. And had tennis parties. And we had a tennis court in the big kitchen garden. And my wedding photos were taken on the tennis court. Because I didn’t want them taken – we had – the wedding was in the garden – you had marquees in those days.
I didn’t want it in front of everybody else, you know. So we went through to the tennis court. And I say it was sold about two or three years afterwards. So that was rather nice. But – if they hadn’t – my husband’s garden where he lived wasn’t big enough but there was a field nearby, a meadow nearby where he lived and they were allowed to have a piece of that and kept mowing it and mowing it till they got it all right. And so did some friends at Chipping Hill, up there. But in the summer it was tennis all the time. And my mother used to play what I was going to say – played tennis with us. (Q: Did she? That was nice) Yes. And …
Q: Goodness, she was – I wonder where she got all her energy from?
Mrs C: She was! She used to walk right down from over the road when she was – in her eighties – I don’t know how old when she gave it up – right down to the – there was a little grocer’s shop, Mr Parker, just below the surgery. Where the little dress shop is now. [139 Newland Street] She used to walk down there once a week with her grocery order. (Q: Goodness) She liked the walk. But as time went on she used to arrive back a bit puffed, because it’s all uphill on the way back, isn’t it? But she did that for years, oh, a number of years. And Mr Parker used to deliver with a motorbike and sidecar! [Both laugh] If he thought we’d forgotten something, he brought it just in case.
Q: Oh, did he? What, you mean something that you …?
Mrs C: In our regular order, but sometimes we had enough of whatever it was, you see, and we didn’t want it! [Laughs]
Q: He looked after you! [Both laugh]
Mrs C: [Giggling] He thought we might have forgotten it!
Q: All Saints, I was going to ask you. You mentioned that but you went up to St Nicolas church?
Mrs C: We went up to St Nicolas, yes.
Q: How did people choose …?
Mrs C: Oh yes, quite a lot of people went to All Saints. Particularly people who lived – all in the town. And, of course, there weren’t all these estates then. There was an excellent[?] congregation there but it was a barn of a place. People who lived- well, it would be south of Witham wouldn’t it? (Q: Yes) Yes, who went there.
Q: But you didn’t?
Mrs C: … Maldon Road, but some people preferred the parish church. I remember the bank people used to go up from the town. Because they lived above the bank in those days, the bank managers. I still think they should live in the place where they work. But – the [???] they went to All Saints, oh a lot of people went to All Saints. And they used to have some of the big services like confirmations and things in All Saints, too. And if you attended that church you’d have a wedding there. But it wasn’t so good because there were two aisles and you went up one aisle, to a wedding you see, and stood in front of the thing and when you came down you just came down the other aisle. So that was quite fair! [Both laugh]
Q: And of course …
Mrs C: And then the United Reform – they had a good congregation, I think. I remember going to a big wedding there once. And my great grandfather went to that church. (Q: Which was this one?) The non-conformist one, the United Reform. (Q: Which grandfather?) Grandfather – my mother’s – yes, my grandmother’s father. My mother’s side of the family.
[Talking over each other ]
Q: The one who …you said …
Mrs C: He was a wine merchant … Wine and spirits merchant.
Q: Oh, I see.
Mrs C: And he was one of the port tasters or something. When the fresh port came over every year, you know, he used to go to London, and was one of the country’s port tasters or something. And he had a small brewery at the back there, too. Because the old buildings were there, there’s still some old buildings there, isn’t there? (Q: Yes) But of course, all that was before my time, you know.
Q: Yes, that’s something that has been handed down? Yes, because, probably in his time, there’d be more ….
Mrs C: Yes and he owned quite a bit of property in Witham. He invested his money in property. And eventually ended up almost living almost opposite Freebournes. In the house next to Roslyn House. Where[?] the terrace…. (Q: (Oh, the big one) And he was in the end one. And my daughter, Lynette – you know- do you? (Q: Yes) She’s got some chairs in her dining room which belonged to that great grandfather. And she uses them as dining room chairs and she’s had them all done up, properly, you know, and rather nice covers on them. And – but Mother said – my mother used to tell me that in those days you know, they – people sat in upright chairs much more. And of course they didn’t have back trouble! And she said they all sat round the drawing room, you see, or the main sitting room or parlour or whatever they happened to call it. And they’d sit round the edge! And they’re such pretty chairs. They’re really not strong enough for dining chairs really. They’ve got such – anyway Mother had them distributed over the house as bedroom – in bedrooms.
Q: You have just the one daughter?
Mrs C: Yes, that’s all. I’d have liked a family but as I say the War came but – I had the boys there you see.
Q: Were you living here when she was born?
Mrs C: No, I was in Hertfordshire. (Q: You weren’t in Witham?) Lynette was actually born in Hertford Hospital. We lived in – near Cheshunt. My husband was in the Cheshunt bank, you see. We hadn’t been there very long, built the house, and he was sent to London! But still that was nearer his home and he already belonged to Cheshunt Cricket Club – he was secretary in those days, and hockey. He used to play football before I knew him. And he also had a go at rugger which used to terrify me. But this club – it was a lovely club at Cheshunt. It had cricket and tennis which I was able to do. I used to push the pram round. And with one or two others with prams and we used to take it in turns, you know, in looking after the babies and play tennis. In the week, that was, too. And he played a lot of cricket. And he and a friend started up Witham Cricket Club after the War again. Got it going. And my father was yes, of course, he was – as I say, one of the Witham Cricket Club trustees.
Q: I see did he …?
Mrs C: My father played, yes. I don’t think he was brilliant. He played for the second eleven, I think. And now I’ve got two grandsons playing. [Laughs] Yes. Charles is quite good at bowling. His name was in the paper the other week. He’d taken five wickets or something. Most of the family are cricket fans. I’ve never got thrilled with cricket. No.
Q: I used to enjoy it when I was younger.
Mrs C: Too slow to watch. But Lynette did, she played at school.
Q: Yes, I used to play with my brother in a field and I used to like it.
Mrs C: Well she played at Chelmsford High School.
Q: I liked playing it. I think I liked playing more than watching.
Mrs C: Yes, she played. So of course she understood it better. But none of my/her boyfriends played! And my father had given it up by that time you see. Because the First World War put a stop to lots of things.
Q: Yes, I suppose – do you – I can’t work it out. Do you remember much about the First World War?
Mrs C: I remember bits of it, yes. And we had officers billeted on us. Yes, and we weren’t asked. They just sort of came round and said ‘How many beds have you got? Oh, all right.’ I know we had three at one time. And then we didn’t only have them we had the batmen; who weren’t living in but they used to come in and look after them and take up – we had a big scullery so that wasn’t so bad – and clean all their stuff, you know. All this harness they wore, really. And I think the maids had quite a good time! [Laughs] I can remember – I can remember one of these officers – and I suppose a lot of them were killed – sitting on the floor and teaching my sister and I to play whist. And that’s a memory I’ve got. And he – either he or he or another one …
Continued on tape 83