Dorothy Hancock was born c 1915. Her talk was given on 7 March 1994 to the Witham History Group.
For more information about her, see Hancock, Dorothy, in the People category
The original recording of this talk 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.]
Good evening. I hope you’ll forgive me if I sit down to talk, and if you can’t hear me, please indicate. Your programme states that I’m going to talk about this history of Witham railway. Well this is not quite correct, because I cannot claim to be a railway historian. What I propose to do is to tell you about my personal memories of Witham station. But I must make one exception. One certainly couldn’t talk about Witham station without mentioning the wreck of the Cromer express, which occurred in 1905. And as I only had a very hazy idea about what happened, I consulted Mr John Newman, here. John started his career on the railway at Witham when it was still London and North Eastern Railway. After a short time in the goods office, he left for a few years to do National Service, and then when he returned to work in the booking office at Witham, it had become the London and North Eastern Railway. And then it came British Railways eventually. Were you there when it was British Rail? (JN: When I came back to it, it was British Rail.) Ah, right, thank you. Well I should think John knows more about the railway in general and Witham in particular than anyone I know, and I’m very grateful to him for lending me his collection of documents and photographs of the crash, and it’s nice to see him here this evening.
Let’s start with the wreck of the Cromer express. It happened on the first of September 1905. The train had left Liverpool Street at 9.27, and was entering Witham station at 10.30 a.m., at about sixty-five miles an hour, and it suddenly left the rails. It was drawing fourteen coaches, one coach mounted the platform, the island platform, and turned upside down, one coach crashed into the porters’ room, killing one occupant there, foreman porter. Another, which was the first class coach, caught fire owing to the ignition of gas in the cylinder under the framework. Trains were lit by gas in those days. Fortunately there was only one passenger in that coach, and he escaped. At this time the up express from Cromer was approaching at full speed. Normally the two Cromer expresses passed each other through the station. On hearing the crash, Mr Sainty, the signalman, slammed on all the signals to danger, and the up express came to a halt six hundred yards from the wreckage. The Norwich City team, with their manager, was travelling on the train, and they all went to help the rescue. Ten passengers and one railman, Mr Doole the foreman porter, were killed. Sixty-six passengers and five railwaymen were injured. Claims for personal injuries amounting to five thousand pounds were met by the Great Eastern Railway.
The off-duty railwaymen at Witham station, some having had St John’s Ambulance training, came in to join in the rescue. The lamp boy went to call the doctors; he was young Arthur Chalk. There was an exhaustive Board of Trade inquiry. A great many witnesses were questioned, but the precise cause of the crash was never established. But Lieutenant Colonel Von Donnop[?], who was conducting the inquiry, said in summing up, ‘It is impossible to resist the conclusion that the derailment was probably due to a weakening of the line, as a result of the work done by the platelayers. I have an idea that I missed out reference to the platelayers earlier, did I? Well, the driver of the wrecked train had noticed three platelayers working on the right hand of the rail on the down line, where the derailment occurred. They moved away only seconds before the train approached. So it appeared they were anxious to get the job done ahead of the train. There was a great deal of structural damage, the station footbridge and part of the down island platform were partially destroyed, and a cast iron column on the up platform was broken. Up to the time of the accident, the station entrance had been in Easton Road. When the rebuilding was carried out, this was closed. A new entrance was made on the opposite side of the station, in Albert Road, where it is today.
Now for my own memories of Witham station. These date from 1927. This was when my family moved here, when my father was appointed stationmaster. Until 1923 it had been known as the Great Eastern Railway. It then changed to become the London and North Eastern Railway, and continued so until the advent of British Rail. Witham was a great contrast to father’s previous station, which was at Wood Street, Walthamstow. In 1926, the year before we moved here, at Wood Street there had been stressful times during the General Strike. All the staff were on strike except the station master, who was marooned in his office for two days and nights. There were no trains, and father used to walk along the line to the engine shed every now and then, to make sure no-one ran away with anything. Stones were thrown at him on these forays, and he kept one as a souvenir. And one day he was tidying the drawer of his desk, this was at home you see, and I said, ‘Oh what are you keeping that old stone for?’. He said ‘Oh I had that thrown at me during the strike.’ My mother managed to smuggle some food to him, she couldn’t get into the station, but Mrs Kenny, who saw the papers outside the station, showed her a private way up the side of the embankment.
After this, Witham must have seemed rather peaceful. I still remember the names of some of the staff, Mr Davey and Mr Webb in the booking office, Mr Arthur Chalk, ticket collector, very smart, always wearing a buttonhole, and he had been the lamp boy who went to fetch the doctors during the crash. Other names which come to mind were Mr Ashby, and Mr Collins, who were signalmen, and Mr Griggs and Mr Howells. There were a lot more but their names escape me. I dare say John will be able to put you right, because he’s brought a photograph of the staff taken a few years before, 1920 was it?
Wood Street was on the suburban line from Liverpool Street to Chingford, and it catered almost entirely for passenger traffic. Witham was a double junction with branch lines to Braintree and Maldon, but was also important for passengers. There was a great deal of goods traffic such as sugar beet, peas, cattle etc from the farms, and from Crittall’s, locally pronounced ‘Critt’lls’. So there was a lot of shunting, moving trucks about, and goods wagons. Two important members of staff were a pair of lovely Shire horses. Their job was to give the initial pull to get the trucks rolling. After this, the man in charge controlled them by a hand lever. The horses were stabled in a brick shed near the Maldon line, and they were lovingly tended by Mr Pounds[?]. Sometimes they would be put out into a paddock in Easton Road. That is where there is now the commuters’ car park, and it was lovely to see them, great creatures, gambolling about and rolling over like kittens when they were off-duty. They had new shoes every month, and in John Newman’s day, it was part of his job to call and pay the blacksmith every month.
The 8.24 am was an important train for passengers commuting to London and Chelmsford. Hardly anyone had a car, so they walked to the station, and a lot of the business men lived round about, Chipping Hill and Avenue Road and so on. And of course this was only nine years after the end of the Great War. Many of the business men must have survived from active service, as they were known by their army titles. Captain Evitt, Captain Hill, Major Blackett, these are names that came to mind. We used to think they worked on the Stock Exchange, but I dare say it wasn’t quite, I think some of them were in banks, and Lloyds, one of them was an underwriter at Lloyds.
Anyway, they wore the uniform of a City gent of the day, black bowler hat, black suit, rolled up umbrella and newspaper under arm. In contrast to these, there were two handsome young men, informally dressed, wearing broad-brimmed hats reminiscent of the French Impressionists. These were the sons of Mr Geoffrey Holme, who was editor of ‘The Studio’. ‘The Studio’ was a very prestigious arts magazine, with offices in London and New York. One well-known passenger on the 8.24 was Mr Christopher Parker of Faulkbourne Hall. He was the grandfather of Mr Parker who resides there now, and he used to be driven to Witham station by his groom, in what I believe was a pony cart. He travelled to Chelmsford, where he was local director of Barclay’s Bank. Other regulars on this train were people working in Chelmsford shops, offices and industry, because, although it was a busy station, it was a very quiet sleepy town, and there wasn’t much scope for employment, so a lot of people commuted to Chelmsford and elsewhere.
Also pupils going to King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford High School for Girls, and Convent[?]. I was one of those going to the High School. Some used to cycle in from villages, such as Coggeshall, White Notley, Faulkbourne and Terling, to join the train at Kelvedon, Witham or Hatfield Peverel. The Notley and Faulkbourne girls used to leave their cycles at the Temperance Hotel, Witham, which was opposite to the station [9 Albert Road]. Travelling on the train was great fun. We usually had a compartment to ourselves, possibly other passengers preferred to travel in peace without the disturbance of chattering schoolgirls. At the end of term, a bevy of excited brown-uniformed schoolgirls, bearing lacrosse racquets, used to come off the Maldon train. These were pupils of Langford Ladies College, they were going home for the holidays.
In those days, professional people coming to places like Witham used to come by train. During the twenties and thirties, well-known soloists came to perform in the Public Hall, at concerts arranged by Mr Bernard Afford. One afternoon, I was returning from school, carrying my violin case, and I was preceded through the barrier by a distinguished-looking man, also bearing a violin case. That evening I was taken to one of the concerts, and I recognised my fellow-passenger resplendent on the platform. This was Albert Salmons, and at that time he was considered the finest English violinist that we had.
Some of the well-known passengers at various times, who used the stationmaster’s office as a waiting room, were Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny and his family, Major and Mrs Fleming, Dorothy Sayers to us, and Mr Geoffrey Holme. Sir Claude was then in his eighties, and still very active. He used to settle his wife by the fire, and summon father to stroll along the platform with him, which he did at great pace, although in his eighties, and he regaled father with stories about the river Blackwater and the marshes. And he presented with a copy of ‘Mahala’, if you don’t know about ‘Mahala’, it’s Sir Baring Gould’s novel, set in West Mersea in Napoleonic times. Sir Claude lived at Champion Lodge, Great Totham, which is now a residence for the elderly. But he didn’t use the Maldon line, instead his chauffeur would drive him to Witham station. He was a colourful character, a keen huntsman and renowned shot. Some of the partridges used to come our way, when they had a shoot. There are all sorts of stories about him. On one occasion he is said to have challenged Mr Christopher Parker to a duel. Fortunately this never took place. His sons, one a General and the other a Commander, were also frequent passengers.
Mr Geoffrey Holme lived at Rivenhall Old Rectory, and he used to travel up occasionally. Once, when waiting in father’s office, he noticed one of my very amateur schoolgirl efforts, it was a calendar, I blush to think of it now, I’d given it to father for Christmas and he’d dutifully hung it up in his office, you see. And he asked who had done it. And father said ‘My little girl’, and he said, he kindly sent me a stack of back numbers of ‘the Studio’ magazine. They were very beautiful. Wonderful printing, lovely illustrations, and I’ve always been grateful to him, I’ve never seen him, mind you, but I’ve always been grateful for the introduction they gave me to the artists of the period, people like Augustus John, Eric Gill, Laura Knight and so on.
Mrs Fleming often travelled to town. At Christmas time, a goose was delivered by Loveday’s, the butcher to the stationmaster, with the compliments of Major and Mrs Fleming.
When we had weekend visitors, they used to be taken out at about 10 pm to watch a famous train, the Continental, thundering through Witham, a long plume of steam, sparks flying, and a streak of pink, pink light from the lampshades of the table lamps in the dining cars. This train took passengers to Harwich to sail on the ferries to the Hook of Holland and Zeebrugge. The boats were railway-owned, and there were very beautiful posters, with captions like ‘Harwich for the Hook’, and ‘Come to Holland’. Railway posters, those who are old enough, will remember, they were very fine, well-designed by top commercial artists of the day, and I think they used to be on sale. They’d be very collectible now. On rare occasions, when we were returning from a visit to London, this was, you know, when we were children, we sometimes saw the Continental, standing at Platform 9. I used to look at it enviously, wishing I might travel on it one day, but no such luck. Of course we came home on the notorious mail train, which stopped at every station. One day the continental did stop at Witham. It was returning from Harwich one morning, when a message was received that the staff at Witham must be prepared to receive two injured passengers. They turned out to be foreign seamen, who’d been in a knife fight.
Something our visitors did not enjoy was being woken up in the night by shunting. One friend described the noise as being like hundreds and thousands of cups and saucers being smashed. The family got used to this and didn’t wake. But something which did wake us, and it was usually a foggy night, the rattle of stones being thrown at my parents’ bedroom window. This was followed by the sound of the window being thrown up, and a husky voice calling out ‘Engine off the line, sir.’ Within minutes my father was dressed and out to spend the rest of the night helping to get the engine back onto the rails.
Anyone who remembers Witham between the Wars, will know about Hedley Cook’s famous pork pies. He had a pork butcher’s shop near the Red Lion. When the railway directors had occasion to travel down to Ipswich or Norwich, they used to look out of the window at Witham, and ask for someone to get pork pies to be handed to them on their return journey [laughter].
You will have gathered from all this that the job of running a station like Witham was very demanding. But it suited my father. He had gone straight from school to work for my grandfather, who was stationmaster at Woodford. During his time as a relief stationmaster, father had two interesting jobs which gave him the sort of experience which was useful at Witham. One was standing in for the manager of Temple Mills marshalling yard, when the latter was ill. And similarly, he relieved the manager of the Southwold and Halesworth line. This was a small independent company, and they applied to the LNER for the loan of someone who could manage the line while the official manager recovered from illness. By contrast, being a stationmaster on one of the rural lines could be very leisurely. We heard of one who used to take his gun and dog for a walk along the line, shooting rabbits. One day he took aim at something behind a bush, and he was horrified to see a man rearing up clutching his side, calling out ‘You’ve shot me sir.’ Fortunately the wound was not serious.
You may be interested to know about the station house, because there was always a station house that went with the job. And it was called ‘The Hollies’. It was at the bottom of Easton Road, and it was a charming little Victorian house, dated 1860. It had once been a farmhouse. There were several outhouses, and stables adjoining Moy’s coal yard. The horses which hauled the coal carts were stabled there, and sometimes in the night we could hear the stamping of hooves. Harry Butcher, Moy’s man who looked after them, said that it was probably because there were rats about. There was a charming garden and a small orchard. Also a field where we used to keep chickens. Sadly the house was demolished, and also ‘The Laurels’, the fine house next door. ‘The Laurels’ used to be occupied in our time by Captain Brice, who reared racehorses at Great Braxted. He liked to be near at hand, so that he could be there when his horses were sent off by train.
My father retired early in the Second World War, from what was still the LNER, still run on steam. Ideas of nationalisation an electrification were then very remote.
DH: I know nothing about the technicalities of running a railway. But John Newman does, so don’t hesitate if you want any technical information.
Questioner: We hear a lot about the Cromer express, but you don’t hear much about the crash in the ’50s, 1950s.
DH: It’s a funny thing. No, I remember very little about that. It was on a Bank Holiday, wasn’t it?
John Newman: There was another one in ’52, is the one …
Questioner: That was Colchester side of the station, wasn’t it.
John Newman: This was when the up mail ran into a freight train just before you get to the loop, in fog, in dense fog.
Questioner: That’s right, yes. You don’t hear nothing about that, do you?
John Newman: Yes. B1.
Questioner: B1. [???] was completely scrapped.
John Newman: Yes. I was actually down [???] [???] down on the crash, cause that was when I was working in the booking office, to check the parcels out, including one which was a live rabbit which was going up for experiments.
Questioner: Didn’t they have a bit of loop[?] and all go on there?
John Newman: No. [???] [???] was killed. He was in the guardsvan at the rear of the train. The fireman in the engine was killed and the driver was seriously injured.
Questioner: I do remember it.
DH: Was there a picture of it in that folder you lent me? In the folder, there was something about it wasn’t there?
John Newman: There was a report of it.
DH: Oh yes, there wasn’t actually an illustration. There are a lot of photographs of the crash here [probably 1905] on that table, which John kindly lent me, and you’ll see the engine is actually still standing up. Nearly everything was haywire, but the engine is still recognisable, isn’t it?
Questioner: You mentioned the branch lines to Maldon and Braintree. [???] the Braintree line ran right the way to Bishops Stortford and other places.
DH: I think it did.
Questioner: It wasn’t a branch line as such.
DH: They called it a branch line, and they had this system of the staff.
Questioner: Could you repeat the question, because we couldn’t hear at the back?
???: Can we ask you to speak up please because we cannot hear. Would you like to repeat that one, Ken?
Questioner: Yes, the speaker mentioned the branch lines to Maldon and Braintree. I believe [???] the line to Braintree, that went far beyond Braintree and joined up with Bishops Stortford, I believe.
John Newman: [???] the Braintree branch was worked as two separate branches, basically, because it came in two districts. Braintree was in the Stratford district, and beyond Braintree was in the Cambridge district, and it was basically worked as two branches. Or there were about two through trains a day. But basically it was worked as, although it was a through line, it was worked as two separate branches.
Questioner: Maldon had two stations, didn’t it, east and west.
Questioner (possibly Sid Gurton): I remember the Braintree line, I was, with my wife I went up to London, this would be back in the 1950s, to a show, came back on the last train, and I was intending to come back on the last train, and there was track work going on in the Shenfield area, so we were put on a train which went all the way round Cambridge way and back through Braintree to Witham. Well, there was a peppery old gentleman in our carriage, who actually wanted to go to Braintree, but he was prepared, if the train had come straight through to Witham from Liverpool Street, to try and find a taxi to get back to Braintree, and he was highly delighted to think we were coming through Braintree. But it didn’t stop in Braintree [laughter]. Miss Hancock mentioned Arthur Chalk. He was the ticket collector that night, and this was by then about half past three in the morning, and this poor gentleman was blue in the face with rage at having come right through, and so he tried to lead forth to Arthur Chalk about what had happened to him. Arthur said ‘You’ll have to pay the excess fare for it.’ [laughter]
[Questioner ] There was of course another Cromer express crash, wasn’t there, in 1939, those who read the ‘Essex Chronicle’, Stan Jarvis writes in there every week, and he mentioned this second Cromer express crash in 1939, one coming the other way, towards London, and something broke on the engine and ripped up the track for about a hundred yards, and the train came to rest leaning up against the platform. Nobody was killed in that one, though. I remember that, I saw that one.
DH: Something about the big end[?] dropping off and ploughing up the track.
Questioner: That’s right, yes. Remember that?
DH: I remember hearing about the big end, yes. When you look at the pictures, this, which is it, this one, there’s a nice picture of the station looking towards Colchester, and there’s a brick building here, with some little parcels and things, I think, and a lorry up the side. But that’s the building, it was part of that which is off the picture, where the shunting horses were stabled. [???]
Remember me saying that Mr Sainty, the signalman, heard the crash, slammed on the brake, all the brakes [meaning signals] to danger, and thereby saving what might have been another nasty crash, this is an address, and illuminated address, to, acknowledging his work from the High Sheriff of Norfolk and the Mayor of Norwich. So you can see that, but appreciated the job he did diverting an even worse crash. And these are all about the crash, That’s the one about the staff at the station. This was taken in 1923[?] and John tells me that most of these men were still there in my father’s time, of course people worked on the railway for life.
John Newman: Quite a lot of them were still there when I was working there.
John Newman: Olive.
Olive (Polly) Wheaton: Can you tell us why [???]
John Newman: Why did they change the entrance from Easton Road to Albert Road?
DH: I don’t know why, but it was quieter for Easton Road, wasn’t it.
Questioner: I think it was because it was smashed up so much, the other platform.
John Newman: It was rebuilt after the crash, 1907.
Questioner: Well, better access to it I suppose, too, from Albert Road than from Easton Road.
DH: Incidentally, that Board of Trade inquiry I told you about, they got that out in two months, which I think was pretty good going. I can’t see them doing it so quickly today. And the name of the inspector is interesting, Von Donop[?]. German, Dutch?
John Newman: [???]
Questioner: Were they not all Royal Engineer officers, who inspected. I think they were generally, weren’t they?
John Newman: Yes.
DH: Oh that’s why he, that’s why he had a military title then.
Fred Gaymer: Can you tell us how long the name of Cressing station’s been altered? It used to be Bulford.
John Newman: Yes. I could probably tell you a little bit about that. It was changed during the First World War, because there was an army train, with, I think it was eighteen carriages of guns, horses, and military men, going to Bulford instead of Bulford in Wiltshire. [laughter] Yes. Because I did see the correspondence, which was still in the stationmaster’s office in my day. It got as far as Witham, it didn’t get as far as Cressing or Bulford, it didn’t get to Bulford, it got as far as Witham, and they realised there was something wrong. [laughter] [???] [???]
Fred Gaymer[?]: My father worked on the station at Marks Tey, but this is nothing to do with Witham really, you see, but he used to be a porter on the Marks Tey station, and when the trains come in from Chelmsford, and people had got to go on the other line, he used to call out ‘All change for Chappel, Bures and Sudbury’.
DH: They did call out in those days, I mean father and the staff used to go up every train, calling out ‘Witham, Witham, change for Braintree and Maldon’. You never had to look up and read what was on the noticeboard.
John Newman: The stationmaster did the up platform and the inspector did the down platform.
DH: Ah, thank you.
John Newman: You were talking about Chappel. When I was at Witham, we used to get quite a few people go to Chappel, they had tickets to Chappel. But I’d never notice it, one person come down, and said ‘Have you ever looked at your tickets?’ And they were printed ‘Chappel and WC’, Chappel and Wakes Colne. [laughter]. Chappel and WC.
Don Pettican: I’d like to ask if the speaker remembers the somewhat colourful characters that used to frequent the area of the railway station, between the Wars. There, I think they were mostly male[?], there was one called Mossy. (DH: Oh, Mossy Hayes, yes.) Another old gentleman, I’ve forgotten his name, but he was quite short (Questioner: Hayes, Mossy Hayes). There was another old gentleman who was quite short, and always immaculately dressed in a green tweed suit, waistcoat, deerstalker hat, used to smoke a pipe, and I can remember, as a young man being completely enthralled, because on a sunny day he would always light his pipe with a magnifying glass. [laughter] And there were quite a few other characters as well, but I don’t remember the others. Do you remember any others?
DH: I don’t think I do. Oh, there was one, er, Tom Abrey, does anyone remember Tom Abrey? Very big man, he used to live in, next to Dorothy Sayers, that’s right. He was very very interested in railways, and he used to come on a Saturday evening. My father never came home very early, and at about eight o’clock, Tom Abrey would perhaps come in and engage him in conversation, and he used to go on long railway journeys, just to look around and see.
Sid Gurton[?]: I remember him.
DH: Do you remember? Very tall.
Sid Gurton[?] Huge man, with an Austin Seven, he used to overlap it.
DH: That’s right, yes.
Fred Gaymer: The first accident, what was going to be the first, probably the first accident was about 1907 or something like that [actually 1905], I wouldn’t be sure about the date, but they used the Corn Exchange, which was where Miss West’s shop used to be [on Collingwood Road bridge] if you remember, they used the Corn Exchange as a mortuary. There was about twenty bodies, weren’t there.
Questioner: That was [???] café then.
Albert Poulter: 1905, Fred, that was the 1905 crash.
Fred Gaymer: 1905. I wasn’t sure about that. My father helped with the bodies at that time.
Albert Poulter: The passengers that were able to go home, my father took them home in a buggy and trap.
DH: Did he? Gosh!
John Newman: Anybody else?
Questioner: I had an uncle who used to work on the line, maintenance, I think he was called a platelayer or something like that. And it was right[?] on[?] to be working for the railways because it was pensionable. I understand anyway [???] his pension was one and sixpence a week. The other thing I would like to draw your attention to. It was very fascinating to see the porters wheeling two churns, two churns of milk along the platform to put it in the goods van. And they …
DH: What, rolling them over? Not on the trolley?
Questioner: In each hand. No, on the rim at the bottom.
DH: Gosh, that was a tough job.
Questioner: That was quite fascinating, that.
Questioner: [???] was butter by the time it … [laughter]
Polly Wheaton: During the War, I think our milk went to Letchworth, from the station, and go all the way through [???] arrived. It must have been all right, cause it went on for a long time. The other thing I remember as a child, a treat perhaps, we went to Maldon for the day, and on the Maldon platform were the Nestles chocolates (Questioner: machine, yes) [???] twopence or a penny or something. [???] [???] I remember the other time, perhaps going up to London, we’d all come back with black spots all over us. [laughter]
Fred Gaymer: How long [???] goods yard, has been closed for a goods station.
DH: Ah, John, can you tell?
John Newman: It must have been about the seventies, late seventies I think, cause I was already in London then.
Fred Gaymer: [???] great years ago.
John Newman: I can vouch for that that even in my day, it was very busy.
Fred Gaymer: Especially market days.
John Newman: Early seventies.
Fred Gaymer: Especially market days. They used to drive the cattle from the market, which was a busy market that time of day, you see, where the Labour Hall is now, they used to drive the pigs all together down to the goods yard, put them in trucks, and also the bullocks, you see.
John Newman: And also we used to get cattle coming for Loveday [butcher], cattle coming the other way for Loveday. Coming inwards as well. During the pig season, we used to have a train, a load of pigs, anything up to twenty-five, thirty wagons apiece.
DH: There’s a picture of one such here.
John Newman: During the fruit season, anything up to forty wagons of fruit would be loaded here a day, apples and pears. Within two years the lot went on the road.
[word about tea and coffee, not noted]
Pam Robinson: I wanted to say how kind the porters used to be on the station. I arrived during the War, the train had been delayed by bombs on the railway, and my father used to bring my cycle in from Silver End, and Bert Webb used to have it in his ticket office. But anyway, when I got to, I was the only one that got off the train, when I got to the ticket office, my bicycle wasn’t there, my father had slipped up. Anyway, the porter said ‘Never mind dear, come with me’, he took me to the little, you know, their little room, and he made me a lovely mug of tea, and I laid out on the bench and went to sleep, and he said ‘I’ll wake you up when Bill Anderson comes to fetch the mail for Silver, fetch the papers for Silver End’, which he did and I went to Silver End with him. [laughter]
[Break for refreshments etc.]
Polly Wheaton: This may be before your time, but in the photograph with all the gentleman, the photograph taken in the twenties, there’s a lady sitting in the middle. Who would she have been, what role would she have formed?
DH: Oh now.
Polly Wheaton: Because I think she’s in uniform.
DH: Which one is it in, Polly?
John Newman: This one, Dorothy.
DH: Ah, no, John, can you put that right?
John Newman: No. No idea at all.
DH: 1920. Who was it said … It wouldn’t be the guard, would it, that used to, there was a lady guard.
Albert Poulter: Yes, there’s a lady here that …
John Newman: What’s her name?
DH: Val[?] Would this [???] be your sister?
Questioner: We’ve got a good cross section here tonight.
Questioner: Yes, well it was during the War, that’s when she was, is there a name there, I wonder. [???] Polly Reynolds[?] But my sister was a guard all through the War, on, yes, on Braintree station, but she travelled to Witham, from a certain time in the morning till two o’clock. And I understand she was the only lady guard in the country. And she loved it.
John Newman: Any more?
Questioner: These horses, how long did they work for?
DH: You mean when did they stop having horses?
DH: Do you know, John?
John Newman: 1956. I remember them when I was there. So. They turned the field into a car park.
DH: Did you say 1966?
John Newman: 1956.
Questioner: Someone talked about going to Maldon, you talked about going to Maldon, no it wasn’t you was it, somebody else. Polly was it? Going to Maldon in the summer time. Do you remember the weekly tickets, ten shilling tickets, where you could travel every day for a week, but only to certain places, you couldn’t go as far as Southend, for instance.
Questioner: You could go to Walton and places like that.
Questioner: That’s right, you could get down to Clacton and Walton, and Maldon.
DH: Oh, I had one for a week, and we went to Frinton every day, except one day we went to Walton.
Questioner: Yes, and they were ten shillings for an adult, five bob for children.
Questioner: Did Witham station have one of those aluminium name plate punching machines?
Questioner: I found one [i.e.. a name] in my shed the other day, that I made when I was a boy. I couldn’t remember which station it was.
John Newman: They certainly had a Nestles chocolate machine ..
Questioner: Had a big pointer went round the alphabet [???].
John Newman: That’s right.
Questioner: There was one at Chelmsford. There was one there.
John Newman: Yes.
Questioner: I don’t think I would have been, I don’t remember ever going to Chelmsford station, so it was probably one of the seaside ones.
John Newman: Could I just [???] something about the chocolate machine earlier on. They had this chocolate machine that I think that Polly was mentioning. But it was a penny, you could put a penny in and you got a very thin bar of chocolate. Well the children of the junior school found that they had counting pennies at school, and they found the cardboard pennies would work the chocolate machine. [laughter] So when the old man went to empty it on a Saturday or Sunday morning, he found half the coppers were cardboard pennies.
Dorle Potten: This didn’t happen at Witham station, but there were a lot of machines where you inserted the old type of sixpence. And I had some French boys staying with me, my goodness, they found out almost the second day that you could use a sou instead, which was worth about a halfpenny. [Laughter]
Questioner (female): [???] did earlier describe putting a bicycle on the train. My father used to put my bicycle on the train at Maldon, and I would arrive at Witham on the last train, and cycle home to Maldon. And my heart was in my mouth, was the bicycle going to be there or not. Was there a left luggage office there, because I seem to remember having to go to the porter to get the bicycle.
DH: There was a left luggage, wasn’t there?
John Newman: Yes.
Questioner: What time did you come back?
Questioner (female): On the last train.
John Newman: Ah, the booking office was closed then, yes.
Questioner (female): I worked and I came back after [???].
John Newman: Albert?
Albert Poulter: Yes. Somebody said earlier, was there any looting on the 1950 crash. I was working on the railway at the time as a lengthman, and the accident was flashed pretty well in the Daily Mirror, rabbits and potatoes strewn all over the place. Well the Stratford gang came down, and one of the Stratford gang, I’m not going to use the language he used ‘Where’s all these bleeding rabbits lying about’ he said. They didn’t get any rabbits because there was no rabbits on it, but I believe all the lengthmen got free seed potatoes that year. [Laughter]
John Newman: There were rabbits on it, Albert, there were rabbits. They were live rabbits in cages going up for experiments.
Albert Poulter: Oh, live ones.
John Newman: Yes, because I was down there when they were taken out. Because I had to check them off. There were live chickens, rabbits and mice.
Albert Poulter: Oh I see.
John Newman: Plus the mail. The mail looked after theirselves and I had to go down and check the parcels out.
Albert Poulter: OK.
Sid Gurton: I mentioned Stan Jarvis who writes in the Essex Chronicle earlier on. A week or two ago, he mentioned Crittall’s being bombed during the War. When, well, attempts were made to bomb it three times as I remember, and I did see this one that particular morning. But Stan Jarvis said that the main railway line was badly damaged, but I don’t think it was, can anyone remember?
Sid Gurton: There was the Braintree line, just beyond the Crittall factory, between that and that little sub-station, was hit, but it must be [???] very small bombs because I remember going and looking at it, and it had blown the clinker out from under the rails, and left the rails and sleepers there. So Stan Jarvis was a little bit wrong there. I don’t think they hit the main line at all.
Questioner: [???] [???] damaged the crane[?] held[?] between the substation and the railway line.
Sid Gurton: That’s right. The sub-station was hit by a bomb that bounced, went through the railings, slid over the roof and took out the parapet. But no-one remembers the main line being damaged. No.
Questioner: I watched the bombs fall, from our kitchen. We were under the table, and we looked out of the window, and we saw the bombs coming down.
Questioner: I watched it too.
Fred Gaymer: They went almost in line with Chalks Road, didn’t they.
Questioner (female): We didn’t live in Chalks Road, we lived in Cressing Road, we could see them.
Fred Gaymer: Yes, I saw one lot coming right across the [???]
Sid Gurton: There was another one on another occasion across here, by Spring Lodge, wasn’t there. From the church across to Highfields Road.
Questioner [female]: Oh, they hit Hodges, where Mr Hodge lived, they hit his house.
John Newman: Just beside the railway bridge.
Questioner: Got away from the railway there for a moment.
Questioner (female): Did you have a lost property office?
John Newman: Fred.
Fred Gaymer: I was a fireman during the period when we talked about Crittall’s being bombed, you see, and the pilot knew exactly where he was making for, and he actually dropped one bomb right in the engine room. And that was all repaired, and another time they came and, on the same sort of run, the bomb hit a girder and went outside. And you know, I can see that girder now, where that bomb hit this girder and skidded outside, instead of going in the power house, which shows you how accurate they were. Course they were really low, really low, we used to see them come when we worked at Richards [builders, 56 Church Street] you see. They seemed to come in line with Chalks Road, and you could see the bombs coming.
John Newman: Yes.
Questioner (female): I just wondered if you ever had anything amusing left in your lost property office, if you can remember.
Questioner: Anything amusing left in the lost property office.
John Newman: Would you like me to go in on that one?
Several: Yes. [laughter]
John Newman: I can remember two. One was, involved one of the men on there, Alf Griggs, he was then the senior porter on the station. And he was a dab hand at finding lost property. And I remember him coming up with a brown paper parcel about that size. He says, ‘John’, he says, I’ve found this on the’, whatever it was for Liverpool Street. He said ‘Would you put it in the book?’ I said ‘Yes, when I get time.’ I forgot. Anyway, this parcel was on the rack at the back of the office, it was there about a week. Alf come in, he says ‘Still got that parcel?’ cause he thought there might be a reward, you see. ‘Good lord’ I said ‘I’d quite forgotten all about it. So I said ‘I think we’d better have a look’. Well we picked it up, and you could hear rattling, or a noise inside of it. When I opened it, it was a damned great lump of dogs’ meat full of maggots. [laughter] It was very fortunate at the time that the Braintree shunting engine was in the back platform.
And another occasion, the same man was involved, he come up with a brief case. He said ‘John’, he says, ‘I found this on the’ so and so train, he says ‘I think the man got off and went to Maldon’. So I said ‘All right Alf, I suppose we’d better look in and check the contents, we got into this briefcase and there was a portfolio and one or two, and, a bag of horse manure. [laughter] I think he must have been [???].
But, talking about one of the funny occasions, we had a man used to live [???], lived at Totham or out that way, and he used to go to Maldon. His name was Frost, and he was rather peculiar. And he used to go up to London mail[?] office, with boxes of eggs, he had a smallholding, and buckets of water containing frogs. And he used to come back to this hotel with swill. Also day-old chicks, anything. And one night the train come in, I think it was the 5.42 from Liverpool Street, I should think it was about 6.50. And I see this commotion on the platform, and the train stood there ages. And eventually the porter come up and said, ‘B old Frost again’. He said he’d got some day-old chicks and was feeding them, he said he’d got them in the compartment. [laughter].
Another time the same old man came off the train, come round the, there used to be a little parcels office where the booking office is facing the other way, in the old days when I was there. He came round the little alcove where the parcels office was. He said ‘Mr Booking Clerk’, he says ‘Can you help me?’ I said ‘What have you done, Mr Frost?’. He says ‘I’ve done a very silly thing’. He said ‘It was very hot in the train and I took my shoes off’ And I looked down, and he stood there in his stocking feet. He says ‘I’ve left them on the train’. [laughter] So anyway, I phoned Colchester, and Colchester found them, the booking clerk at Colchester says ‘I wouldn’t give you bloody twopence for them’. [laughter] Anyway we got his shoes back.
Right, anybody else. Yes.
Jane Jones: Just to say, I always remember this thing on the wireless, a Father Brown[?] story, and she’d come in from Harwich, and I suppose she was going on to Liverpool Street, back to London, and you could hear background noises saying ‘Witham, Witham station, change here for Braintree and Maldon line’, and I thought ‘Oh’. I think this was when I was sort of when I was in Northamptonshire, but it seemed so familiar, I’d heard it so many times.
Edith Willsher: Somebody was talking about the live rabbits that had been transported. Well, I believe, I don’t know whether it was done very much down this area, but up north, where there was a lot of pigeon fanciers, I believe it was quite common practice for the railways to carry baskets of pigeons, and probably [???], and you know, they put them on the train, and then at the destination the station staff would release them, and they’d fly back home.
Questioner: Yes, that would be as I understand it, yes, the station staff …
John Newman: The station staff used to yes.
Questioner continued: open the baskets and let them go.
John Newman: There used to be a charge of whatever it was, and it used to be fourpence for the return basket. [laughter].
Edith Willsher: They had to be released at a certain time.
John Newman: And the time of release had to be recorded on the label.
Jane Jones: Were there nice flowerbeds here at Witham, Dorothy?
Jane Jones: Were the flowerbeds kept nicely here?
DH: They didn’t have flowerbeds at Witham, but White Notley was famous, Mr Lucy.
John Newman: Old man Loosit[?] at Notley, yes.
DH: Cause Notley station and, what’s the other one, Wickham Bishops, and I think Langford, they were all, they all came under Witham. Had to be visited once a week.
Questioner (female): What sort of station refreshments did they serve [???], Dorothy, if anything?
DH: That’s a good question, you know I can’t remember.
John Newman: Well, the refreshment room was where it is now, it was just the regular railway sandwiches and tea. [laughter]
Questioner: When did they have a licence first, then?
John Newman: I don’t know. But the licence was there when I came in 1945. And of course [???] was market day, and they had an extension, although there was still the market, they had an extension for four o’clock on market day.
Sid Gurton: Oh, that’s right, I remember that, yes.
Janet Gyford[?]: No Brief Encounters then.
John Newman: Oh, there might have been some, yes. Probably quite a lot.
Questioner: It was Tuesday, wasn’t it, wasn’t market day Tuesday?
[Conclusion and applause]