Miss Ruth Beardwell was born in 1892. She was interviewed on 29 March 1985, when she lived at 41 Avenue Road, Witham.
For more information about her, see Beardwell, Ruth, 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.]
[chat re booklet about shops, not noted.]
Q: One of the things that would be interesting would be to do one about school really because that was different I should think. (Miss B: Yes of course.) How did you get to Braintree? [i.e. to High school]
Miss B: From Faulkbourne? Cycled, four miles each way. I remember once we used to have to, we used to have to take a medical certificate at the beginning of the term to say that we hadn’t been mixing with people who had infectious diseases during the holiday and of course I forgot mine once and I had to come straight back another eight miles on top of the first four ! Served me right. I shouldn’t have forgotten it. (Q: Oh dear.)
Q: Goodness. I suppose the roads were quieter?
Miss B: They were quieter but they were just like cart tracks you know really until you got on the main roads of course then that was a bit better but country roads were very bad.
Q: And when you got into Braintree was it busy or …?
Miss B: Yes, it wasn’t very good, the roads were not then, at that time really. I was at the school the first day it opened. Braintree High School.
Q: Were you really? There can’t be many people who can say that, can there?
Miss B: No, I don’t think there are many, I can’t think there are many alive who were there then, not really. All the teachers have gone of course.
Q: So how old were you when you went ?
Miss B: Thirteen, I think.
Q: Did most people did they go when they were eleven as they do now or …?
Miss B: I think yes, but at that time I think they started at ten and then after a while I think they took them at eight and then they dropped it again to [???] of course its not a High School any longer.
Q: So how did you, did you have to take an exam ?
Miss B: To get there? Yes. I don’t remember much about that but I’m pretty sure we did.
Q: So did anyone else from your school go?
Miss B: No. I think that my sister and I had what they call bursaries, sort of scholarships you see.
Q: Yes of course, yes. Was your father alive then as well? What was your father in work?
Miss B: My father was a gardener at Braintree at the time. (Q: Oh I see. In Braintree?) No, at Faulkbourne. (Q: Oh at Faulkbourne. At the, where was he a gardener?) He was a gardener at the Rectory (Q: At the Rectory, I see.) and my mother of course was at the schools. I think they met in Stanway. He was at the (what’s the name of the garden – Cants’ rose growing. Mother was at Stanway School which was nearly opposite the grounds. And so they met and that’s how it happened. [laugh]
Q: They were lucky to get work near to each other in Faulkbourne (Miss B: Yes, it was rather nice.) Because didn’t a lot of people have to stop working when they married, or did teachers carry on?
Miss B: Well it was very unusual for teachers to teach really, but what happened in their case was that after they married they went to Fairstead to live, and the clergyman there was a Doctor Manning, a very dear old man, my father always thought such a lot of him, and anyhow Mother and Father they weren’t very well off of course, and the rector of Faulkbourne came over and asked my mother if she would take the school on, his school on at Faulkbourne, for a week or two because the teacher was away ill. So she was very glad to do that. Used to walk from Fairstead to Faulkbourne, it was about two miles across some muddy fields. I remember going with her. There were four of us at that time. Four children. And we used to have a mail cart. One of us rode inside and one on, or two in the mail cart and very often two toddling at the side. And she did if for a month I think. That was all right. I don’t remember her grumbling about it at all but she must have been pretty full up. (Q: Quite.) Anyhow she went, from there I think she went back to do a bit of teaching at Fairstead school. Well then the Rector at Faulkbourne came over again, and said his teacher was leaving and would mother go over and take it. So she said yes she would. The amusing part was, that was salaried and if she played the organ at the church we could live in the house, rent free. [laugh] So she played the organ at the church. Oh dear it seems funny doesn’t it.
Q: She must have been very good for him to pursue her like that.
Miss B: She was a very good teacher. Very good. She was a born disciplinarian, you know, some people are. She’d go into a room, into, I never remember the children taking advantage of her at all. You know she’d just walk in and there was silence.
Q: Did she have any training?
Miss B: I wasn’t like that. I tried to take up teaching but no, the children [???] [???] interested. I knew I wouldn’t be any good so I gave it up. But there is a difference isn’t there.
Q: I think it’s something, you have a presence.
Miss B: You’re born with. Yes, I’m sure. (Q: [???]) I’ll tell you a story about that because I always think its really funny. There was a boy, she had no trouble with any of the children at Faulkbourne except one boy. He was really a naughty boy you know. She couldn’t do anything with him. She really tried hard but she couldn’t make him behave. So at last she expelled him. Course you could do that you see in those days. Couldn’t do it now. And his mother was furious. Anyhow she went to the Vicar about it and all sorts of people, oh her son was expelled and there was no reason for it and all this. Anyhow they all stood by Mother, but after a bit the Rector did come round and he said ‘I think Mrs Beardwell we’ll have to take that boy back’, and she said ‘I’ll have him back for a fortnight’ she said, ‘but I won’t have him back for any longer unless he really behaves himself’. So he came back for the fortnight and behaved himself all right, but after a week or two it was too much for him and he started being awfully naughty again. So she expelled him and she wouldn’t take him back any more, he was finished with. Well, do you know from that day, from the time he was expelled, no that’s not quite true, I think it was from the time he started work. He started work on the farm. From the time he started work till my mother died in 1958, ‘59 he used to come and see her every Christmas or send her a parcel. He thought no end of my mother. He always sent her a Christmas card and always sent her a present for Christmas. Not isn’t that extraordinary? It shows doesn’t it?
Q: Just because she stood up to him. [laugh]
Miss B: It shows that sometimes a little discipline is a good thing.
Q: Because I suppose most of them left when they were quite young, did they?
Miss B: You could leave school at twelve I think then. If you’d passed the fifth standard or something of that sort.
Q: But you stayed on at the High School, did you.
Miss B: Oh yes, you could stay on if you wanted to.
Q: So you went to teacher training did you? Did you go to train to be a teacher?
Miss B: No, no I went to do a little teaching at Fairstead for about six months to see how I shaped. And I shaped badly.
Q: That’s a good idea to try it out. Mind you if your mother was so good that’s difficult to follow her isn’t it, really.
Miss B: Well yes it was. It certainly was. I couldn’t, I knew I wouldn’t. I loved teaching, I loved teaching individuals. (Q: Yes.) I had a job after that, two or three jobs, teaching privately you know, and I loved it and with single children it was fine.
Q: So what did you do after that?
Miss B: I had a job as nursery governess for three years and had a very happy time. Three little girls. Then the War [First, presumably] came of course and so I knew I had to do war work. So I left that job and went to Crittall’s in the office there. I was there until I left. I got to like it and stayed on …
Q: So did they do different things in the War in Crittall’s or did they just make windows? In Crittall’s did they just still make windows during the War or did they do …
Miss B: Well all sorts of War… Shells mostly. Shell cases and things like that all sorts of things to do with the War.
Q: So you mainly went because the men had gone away. [Miss B: Yes.) Were there a lot of women working there?
Miss B: I got to be head of the office and you know really enjoyed it. Of course it’s a long time ago since I gave up. (Q: Is it really?) Well, yes. I left in ‘fifty eight was it, or ‘sixty. I think it was fifty eight. It’s a long time ago isn’t it.
Q: Is it a rude question to ask how old you are?
Miss B: Well, I’ll be 93 in August. (Q: You’ve done well!) Oh it isn’t so bad you know. I’d be all right if I could walk, be quite happy but then.
Q: Still got an active mind.
[Chat about sister’s being in hospital at present for operation; she and her husband live here. Health of all of them. Sister is fifteen years younger]
Q: Your friend Jessie [Bajwa, nee Chalk] was marvellous wasn’t she? (Q: She had a lot of courage.) used to say when she was going to get up, ‘My knees will knees will creak now’.
Miss B: Oh she was wonderful. She really did fight for life didn’t she? (Q: Yes.) Mind you she was a bit, what’s the word, not domineering, that’s not quite the word but she expected people to do a lot for her which they did. She couldn’t have managed without. She had to have a certain amount of help.
Q: She did come from Witham didn’t she?
Miss B: Yes, the whole family.
Q: As we lived in Chalks Road I was interested, it was her road.
Miss B: I’ve forgotten which relation they were, I think it was her grandfather who built those houses.
Q: I think she said she lived with her grandfather. I think he lived in, there is a little house on its own nearly opposite Crittall’s, I think that’s where they lived.
Miss B: Yes, and that’s where Connie, her sister, died.
Q: So you’ve kept in touch since you were at school?
Miss B: Yes, well, we didn’t all the time, things dropped when she went to Africa. She was there a long time, about twenty years I think. And for that period I didn’t hear much of her but as soon as she came back to England she got in touch again. Poor old Jessie. We often speak about her. She was a marvellous person. Did you ever hear her play the piano (Q: No.) with those crippled hands of hers. You know they were like that weren’t they. And she played well. Sheer determination.
Q: [???] I’d forgotten that. They all played didn’t they when they were younger, in concerts and things. Did you used to come, if you wanted to go to a concert when you were younger, or to shop or anything, did you go to Braintree or to Witham?
Miss B: Well, when I was quite young of course we used to come to Witham. Then when I went to Braintree, I lived there for about nine years. (Q: Oh I see.) Braintree was in a way my home because I used to do a lot of playing at that time and, at that time, there were not so many pianists, and certainly not many who could play from sight, not very well. Well, my only qualification as regards music is that I can play from sight. Well I could, I can’t now. But I could play from sight very well. I could sit down and play any song or anything like that you know and it was very useful so I used to get called on for a lot of things. I had some funny experiences in my music. Oh dear.
Q: What sort of things?
Miss B: Well, do you remember what they used to call the old Geffes[?]. (Q: I don’t think so.) I believe they used to be travelling, very often third rate, players, they were. They used to travel from one town to another with a marquee. Don’t know where they got their piano from. They got it from somewhere or other. And they used to put on plays for about a week or a fortnight and then move on to somewhere else you see. They were always well attended of course, because you see there wasn’t easy to get to a theatre at that time.
I remember one night a man coming up to the door and he said ‘Are you Miss Beardwell’, I said ‘Yes.’ And he said ‘Well I wonder if you’d help me out.’ I said ‘What’s the trouble?’ He said ‘Well our pianist is’, I forget what he said was wrong, something was wrong with him, and he said someone had told him that I might be able to help out. Well, if you had seen him! He was a rough looking man, an old red scarf round his neck, but somehow or other, something in his manner rather appealed to me, and I said ‘I think it would be rather nice, yes I will, when do you want me to start?’. He said ‘For a fortnight, if you’d do it for a fortnight I’d be most grateful’ and he seemed very grateful. I went in and told my sister who was living with me at the time, and she said ‘Really you are stupid,’ she said ‘You don’t know what sort of man he is’. I said ‘Well I think it would be rather fun’. And do you know I had a lovely fortnight. They were rough people but they treated me wonderfully. They really did. They used to come and meet me at night and take me home and never took the slightest advantage you know. They really were awfully good. They couldn’t have been more gentlemanly, all of them. It was quite an eye opener.
Q: What sort of things did you play for them ?
Miss B: Things like Maria Martin and that sort of thing you know. But it was great fun really.
Q: And did they just set up in the village or something would they?
Miss B: They travelled, the whole company travelled from place to place.
Q: But when you were playing with them where were they ?
Miss B: Oh they had put up a marquee up in what they call the fairground. It was funny really.
Q: Could have been a new career for you. You didn’t work, between the teaching and going to Crittall’s you didn’t, apart from that. So was it difficult when you started at Crittall’s to get used to working ?
Miss B: Oh yes, I hated it at first. I hated working inside. I’d been used to an outdoor life. I felt cramped and I didn’t like it at all. I thought I’d give it up after the War but I hadn’t had any training for anything particular, and I’d got to sort of enjoy the work and company and of course the money was very good.
Q: What sort of things did you have to do when you first started?
Miss B: Wages I think. I didn’t make any mistakes, oh no.
Q: Did you have somebody in charge of you at first and were they very strict?
Miss B: Just at first, not for long.
Q: Then you were in charge quite soon were you? (Miss B: Yes.) Were there still some members of the Crittall family there ?
Miss B: Yes, all the Crittall family were there. The old man, we used to call him the old man, Mr Francis, he was there then. (Q: Was he?) We were terrified of him. [???] (Q: What did he do?) If we saw him coming through the office everybody’s head was down. Everybody was working hard. Then there was Valentine. He was the boss after his father. And another one Pink, and Dan, another one went to Africa to live so we didn’t see much of him. They’ve all gone now.
Q: They were all quite strict were they or just the …?
Miss B: They were fairly strict but the discipline was bad towards the end, after the War you know. And the firm was going down so they got Mr Small who used to – did you know him? (Q: No, though I think somebody mentioned him.) He and his brother came and they were terrors. They really were you know, but they got the firm round again.
Q: Where did they come from?
Miss B: Don’t know where they came from but they were very good. They were horrible people.
Q: But it worked. Did it change very much when you were there, otherwise, Crittall’s?
Miss B: Well no not really, I don’t think it did, except in that particular way you know. Discipline was bad and these very strict people came on the scene.
Q: Did you have to go into the works much?
Miss B: No, When I first [???]. but it was after the War and we had lots of young men come to learn the business you know. We had several clergymen’s sons, and they were the worst behaved of the lot. [laugh] They really were, I’m not exaggerating. They were much the worst. I think you know I would sympathise with them to certain extent. A clergyman’s son would come into my office. At that time, I don’t think I’d take any notice of them, not now, but at that time, the others looked on them with a bit of awe you know. And at the same time, they scorned them rather, and I think these boys were determined not to be different from anybody else, and so they went too much the other way. I think that’s how it was really a lot.
Q: And that was in the office was it?
Miss B: It was. They got me into trouble several times, because they’d do things they shouldn’t have done and then this Mr Small would hear about it you see, and ring me up ‘Miss Beardwell, what are you doing with the discipline in your office, or your department’. ‘It’s all right isn’t it?’ ‘No it is not, I was just passing the window that morning and someone threw an apple core and hit me on the head!’ I said ‘Well he wouldn’t do that on purpose, would he’. He said ‘He did do it on purpose, I’m sure he did’. ‘Well’, I said ‘I’m sorry but I don’t think he would’. [laugh]
Q: That really happened did it? (Miss B: Yes.) Oh dear. Did you have a lot of people in the office in the end?
Miss B: Oh yes, well, not in my office, no, there were about ten I think.
Q: That ran the whole works was it?
Miss B: No, that was only the Witham works. There was the Witham, Maldon and Braintree. It was only a part of, you know what I mean, a department office. I suppose in the office altogether at Witham there must have been fifty or sixty in the office.
Q: As many as that. It’s a lot isn’t it. How many worked in the factory?
Miss B: I don’t remember. Several hundred I expect.
Q: What did your particular part of the office do specially?
Miss B: That was what they called the Setting Out Department. We had to sort of prepare everything. When the orders came in, they came to me and I had to sort them out and see which men could do which job, and give them out to different men, and they had to write out all that was necessary for that particular window. Make a drawing of how it should be put together, drawings, all that sort of thing, all the materials and put instructions to the shops.
Q: It was quite complicated then wasn’t it. Who did the drawings?
Miss B: The men in the office. (Q: You handed it to the men in the office?) I didn’t do much myself. I used to see that they did.
Q: So it wasn’t really just clerical it was sort of design as well. Quite complicated wasn’t it. You did well to pick that up so quickly.
Miss B: It took a long time really and they said that to do that job properly, I did the simpler part but the more difficult part was done at Braintree. Takes about five years to learn that. I didn’t have the difficult ones.
Q: Yes, because they are all different shapes and sizes, and I suppose go in different sections. Someone has tried to explain to me the work there. They used to get orders from a long way away presumably would they?
Miss B: Oh they had orders from oil countries, even at that time. Yes we had quite a lot from there.
Q: It was all metal windows then was it?
Miss B: Mmm, now its mainly aluminium I think.
Q: Yes I suppose it is. I can never understand why our house has got wooden windows when we are so near Crittall’s, but someone decided that. They look like metal windows, because it’s in Chalks Road, the bars across. [???] (Miss B: How extraordinary.) Perhaps Adams and Mortimer had a row with Crittall’s or something and they decided to be different. It must have been quite complicated to make their own windows with thin bars. Really I suppose they weren’t bothered about the local people buying them if they were dealing with all these other places. They didn’t mind if the local people didn’t buy … (Miss B: Maybe.) I suppose, were there any times when they weren’t busy. I mean after the War it must have been difficult, people weren’t buying..
Miss B: They had a slack period I think, yes they did because a lot of people had to be dismissed. I think they are busy again now. I don’t know much about them but I think they are.
Q: Sounds noisy enough I must say. I didn’t realise you’d worked there because I suppose it was the main place in Witham for people to work (Miss B: Mmm.) When you went in there in the War time there were other women presumably in the same office. Did they all stay on as well or did some …?
Miss B: Several did stay on, yes, but as the men came back they had to go. Well, a good many of them had to. Those that replaced men.
Q: Did they mind do you think?
Miss B: Well, I don’t think so, not many of them. I don’t really remember.
Q: Because I think that happened in the First World War didn’t it. Women worked but then they had to stop.
Miss B: Well it was hard luck on some of them because they got interested and they liked their jobs.
Q: So you moved to Witham in 1929. (Miss B: Yes.) Whereabouts did you live then? (Miss B: Here.) So you’ve been here all that time?
Miss B: Yes. We altered it quite a bit and had that extension put on and a room put upstairs in the attic.
Q: It was a bit different then I should think. So you were in Braintree before that then came here to Witham. So when you came to live here, you could probably tell me more about the shops than I’ve got. Did you used to do your shopping in Witham or did you go to other places?
Miss B: No, we used Witham for all our shopping practically. Only occasionally go to Chelmsford or Braintree. I remember about the shops.
Q: People always talk about Spurge’s.
Miss B: I don’t remember. [pause: looking at booklet]
Q: Did you used to come to Witham when you were in Faulkbourne to shop? When you were a little girl.
Miss B: Oh yes. We used to come on our bicycles. When we got older we used to come to dances in Witham on our bicycles. (Q: Very glamorous.) [laugh] With our dance frocks up round us, you know. Oh dear.
Q: Where did they have dances?
Miss B: Well they were at the Public Hall mainly. We used to have some very happy days then.
Q: Where would you be during the First World War then? Were you at Faulkbourne then?
Miss B: Well, I was at, I gave up my job at Berhamstead, where I was nursery governess as I said. And I was teaching a little girl in Notley. And then of course we had to do war work. We were expected to. And I went to Crittall’s from there. Then I used to go backwards and forwards to Faulkbourne, you see. But that went on after the War was over, a long time, wasn’t it. The War was over in 1918 and we didn’t come here till 1929.
Q: What work did you do at first.
Miss B: That was when I started at Crittall’s.
Q: And you were there all that time. But there wasn’t a Witham works then, was there?
Miss B: No, there wasn’t. (Q: You were at Braintree?) Yes. (Q: I see.)
Miss B: I remember going to a dance at Braintree and Mr Pink Crittall, we sat out a dance, he and I, he asked me for a dance. And he told me all about the ideas, we’ve got a wonderful idea, he said, we going to build sort of a Crittall village. [???] He said ‘There’s only one trouble’, he said, ‘that it’s difficult to find a place where they’ve got water supply. ‘We’ve tried Faulkbourne, but’ he said, ‘Mr Parker who lives there, he wouldn’t allow us to go have this ground, wouldn’t sell us the ground. But’ he said, ‘we are trying Silver End’ he said, ‘Do you know Silver End?’ ‘Well he said, I don’t know it but I know of it. There are only about five houses, five cottages there’ I said. He said ‘Yes that’s right. Well’, he said, ‘I think we can have that, if we can find the water there.’ And then he told me all about what their idea was, they were going to have a factory, and they were going to have school buses to take the children to Braintree to school, they were going to have a big store as well, where people could buy all they wanted, and all this. Oh he’d got big ideas. And it all came true, exactly as he said. (Q: Oh, isn’t that wonderful, yes.) The only thing is that the stores, well they thought everybody would buy everything at that store, and it was a very nice store but people don’t like to be expected to buy in the same place. They didn’t patronise it awfully well. So that was a bit of a failure. But otherwise everything he said came right. Marvellous, wasn’t it?
Q: Yes. Can you remember them building, when they were building it, can you? Can you remember them building it as well? Did you see Silver End when they were building it at all?
Miss B: No. I saw it, before it was really properly finished. It looked very stark, then. It isn’t very handsome now, but it’s not too bad now the trees have all grown.
Q: I think that’s always the way with new buildings. They need trees. (Miss B: Yes) So were you in the, when you were in the office at Crittall’s were you in the Braintree one during the War, did you stay in the Braintree one, or did you move here when you came here?
Miss B: When we came here it was funny I was transferred to Witham just about the same time. (Q: Oh that’s nice.) So it happened to work out. And my sister was working and was transferred to the London office, so that was really rather good.
Q: You didn’t really have any choice about that sort of thing?
Miss B: Not really. No. It was very convenient.
Q: You were in charge of the Braintree office.
Miss B: No Witham.
Q: Oh the Witham one, when you came here. So you must have had a good bicycle.
Miss B: Yes.
Q: But you lived in Braintree as well.
Miss B: The last part, when I lived in Braintree the last year or two, I had a motorbike. Used to take my sister backwards and forwards to Faulkbourne. Cold job. (Q: [???]).
[pause, looking at booklet]
Q: Everybody always talks about Spurge’s. (Miss B: Interesting.) (Q: [???]] Miss B: [???].
Miss B: The shops. Cook of course I remember him, Goodchild, Greatrex. [???] Luckin Smith, [???], Page[?] (Q: A second hand shop). Price. Shelley. Spurge. [???] Wadley. Yes I remember all that.
Q: When you used to come, I suppose you had to come on your bicycles or walk from Faulkbourne, did you? Did anybody have a horse and anything you could ride on behind the horse?
Miss B: [laugh]. There was a carrier used to go from Witham to Braintree once a week. (Q: [???]) But we used to go into Witham for music lessons. There used to be a Miss Church, near the library [library is 18 Newland Street] one of those houses, and we had to either walk or come on bicycles.
[Door bell. Visitors. Walerian Wielezynski and a friend, had been to see Myrtle Wielezynsk, Ruth’s sister, in hospital. Chat about her]