Tape 168. Talk by Polly (Olive) Wheaton about Freebournes (Freebornes) farm in Witham, and about other memories.

Tape 168

Miss Polly (Olive) Wheaton was born in 1932. She gave her talk to the Witham History Group on 5 September 1994, when she lived at 14 Tiptree Road, Wickham Bishops.

It was especially about the Wheaton family and Freebournes (Freebornes) farm in Witham, where they lived and where she was brought up.

The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk 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.]

Side 1

Well, those of you who were here last winter will know that I was bounced into being here tonight by someone who shall remain nameless. This is going to be a bit of a hotchpotch of this and that, and I’m going to probably  jump from hither to thither, and it’s a sort of mini ‘This is Your Life’, I suppose. To those of you who don’t know, I was born at number 3 Newland Street, which is also known as Freebournes farm. In those days, Witham was a small market town. According to the census, the previous census, there were 4,267 inhabitants there, so it was very different to what it is now. And if you walk the length of the street, and the side streets as well, there was a great variety of shops there, which served this small market town.

The London, LNER, London North Eastern Railway, puffed its way from London Liverpool Street to Norwich, and being a junction we were very well served, plenty of trains stopped here, because the people wanted to go to Braintree and to Maldon. Well from Braintree in those days you could go to Bishops Stortford, and on the Maldon side, once you got over the river, you could go out to the Dengie Hundred. On the Maldon platform I seem to recall these, those vending machines that had the little flat chocolate bars, Nestles chocolate bars, what were they, a penny? I don’t know, I suppose they were something like that, weren’t they. And the train journey of course was absolutely marvellous, wasn’t it. You came back black. The younger you were, your hands, your face, everything of you was really black.

Buses went through frequently as well. There was Eastern, I suppose it was Eastern National, there ought to have been a different name, I couldn’t think what it was. Anyway the Eastern National buses, Moores of Kelvedon, going through from Chelmsford to Colchester, and they went through every half hour. Quarter to the hour to Chelmsford, and quarter past the hour to Colchester, on Moore’s buses, which I used to travel. When I went to school in Chelmsford, if I missed the Moore’s back to Witham, then I could catch the bus that went to Maldon via Hatfield Peverel, and the theory was it only cost me from Hatfield Peverel to Witham, but it didn’t work that way because we used to go into Wood’s shop and buy a bag of apples, so we were rather out of pocket, along the way. The bus stops are still the same, as I remember, that I used to get on and get off. The one to Chelmsford, outside what was Dick Stoffer’s little chemist’s, which later became  Nobby Clarke’s, Bernard Clarke’s opticians, and is now an optometrists, or whatever it is [5A Newland Street]. And on the other side of the road, going to Colchester, it was, it wasn’t quite outside Mr Bull’s the photographers [34 Newland Street], but just a little bit this way, and I can’t quite remember what it was precisely outside. If you went to Maldon, you would go via the Eastern National, but if you went to Braintree they were Hicks’ buses. They were, always seemed to be double deckers, maybe they had single ones, I don’t know, but I only remember the double decker buses, blue with a yellow trim round them, which were quite distinctive. The other bus service of course was the inimitable Osborne’s, going from Witham through the villages to Tollesbury, well more correctly the other way round, from Tollesbury to Witham, and you could go along that journey, pass a message, and Ken Osborne, a little man, slightly bow-legged with a very cheery expression, would get off, he’d take a message from A to B, or take a parcel and just drop it in for someone, as a courteous gesture.

The, while I’m mentioning I suppose Tollesbury, I could also mention the railway, the ‘crab and winkle’ line that went from Tollesbury to Kelvedon. Like Osborne’s, I think, if you didn’t get up in time to get to the station, you could nip down the embankment, and I understand the train would grind to a halt, they’d haul you aboard, and away you went and got up to your junction. Those were the days.

Of course also in those days there was a driver and a conductor, and of course he had his, I think it was a little board, wasn’t it, with the tickets in it, and he could ping ping his, your ticket for you. When I went to school at Chelmsford, I had a little white ticket, about that size, for the week, it cost me two shillings, it was a half ticket. What’s two shillings, 10p. The half return fare was eightpence, so that’s just over 3p, and the single, half single, was fivepence, that’s what, 2p? And also, when I wanted to go from Hatfield to Witham, that was three halfpence, well that doesn’t really exist any more does it, or it should have been three halfpence if I hadn’t have bought the apples. Mentioning Osborne’s coaches, at a much later stage, which I was, a little story I love. Some friends used to sail down at Tollesbury over many years, and they didn’t have a car so they also went on Osborne’s buses, and in later years one of them was shopping in Witham and they were just going home, and suddenly a single-decker bus drew up, and there was a cheery Ken Osborne, ‘Going home?’. So she said yes. ‘Well hop on’, he said, so she got on the ‘not for hire’ single-decker bus, and he took her out to the other end of Witham and dropped her off, and then he went up to the station to carry on his business. [laughter] Which is, I think it’s rather nice. The only time I’ve heard of someone having a lift on a bus. I think also, and it may be it happens now, I don’t know. But with Osborne’s coaches, the last bus that went from the station out to Tollesbury, would always wait for a train, and apparently in the winter if the train was an hour late, well then the bus was an hour late leaving, because they said they were the only link between Witham and the villages and Tollesbury, and I think you know that’s, that’s rather nice.

Having mentioned that this was a market town, the cattle market was where the Labour Hall is now, and I can remember the metal railings round the side. And an auctioneer, I suppose associated with it, was Hugh Page, and he used to, I can visualise him wearing leather buskins, and his office originally was between the market and the [Collingwood Road railway] bridge, which later became ‘The Cabin’, which probably many of you remember. And then I think Hugh Page moved down into the town. There was also of course a, with the cattle market, it was associated, there was a goods yard, there was a spur off from the railway line, that went to Cooper Taber’s, the seed merchants, and of course they sent a lot of their wares by rail, and so that went round alongside the building. And also along from the goods yard, which was round the corner by Hugh Baird’s, there was Blyth’s the millers, and the cattle would come through there, perhaps going to the market, or perhaps going down to the slaughterhouse, which was at the back of Guithavon Road [means Street], sort of well behind, behind where the school used to be. Along, along there somewhere.

I was, I am blessed, having been born into a loving family, mother, father, sister, brother, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and my father was the eldest of nine children, and most of them lived in Essex, and there was a very strong family tie, and I think there still are very strong family ties. My mother was the youngest of her family, she had four elder brothers. There were no children on that side, and no grandparents. Her father died before she was born so she never knew him, and her mother died when I was, well, less than three months old, so I sort of don’t remember. So all the activities, of Freebornes and the family gatherings which I associate with Freebornes are all, mostly, mostly to do with my father’s side of the family. Perhaps I should, could mention at this point that since leaving Freebornes, I’ve never been back inside, and I mention that with an ulterior purpose.

I thought that I would, well I’ll just mention that grandfather bought Freebornes in 1927. And it had previously been farmed by Robert Wakelin, who I think, am I right, was the first owner-occupier? His father had been I think, the tenant before, Joseph Wakelin, and I think Robert was the first owner-occupier. I believe he bought it in 1905. There are some records of Freebornes in Latin, which I don’t understand, in the Record Office, that I came across some years ago, to do with St John’s Abbey at Colchester, but what it was I don’t know, but there, so presumably there must have been some link there at some stage. In 1927 the farm consisted of 141 acres 1 rood 28 poles. I looked this up, and there are 40 square poles in a rood, four roods in an acre. A rood as opposed to a rod. Rod, pole and perch, but a rood is a quarter of an acre. The house as it was described in the catalogue, it said that it was a farm residence, of distinctive character, probably dating from the Tudor or earlier period, it is rough cast with a tiled roof, and in several of the rooms there are fine oak beams and supporting timbers, while in the drawing room is some antique oak panelling. And it goes on to list the accommodation.

Freebornes house, left side

Freebornes house, right side
Above, the ground floor of Freebornes farmhouse. Shown in two parts, with the left side first and then the right side.

Well, I though perhaps I would just go through Freebornes as I remember it, and just point out a few of the little bits and pieces that came to mind when I was trying to do my homework. This is the, this is the ground floor, and this is the upper floor [showing plans]. This is the main road, Chelmsford that end, Colchester this end. If you look in the front of the house, you’ll see a great big grating on the pavement, and I’ll mention that when I come along. We’ll come in down the side through the back door, because this was the, where we were the whole time, we were in and out of there. In actual fact in my early years, this end of the house was let off, and I suppose I didn’t go into the dining room, the sitting room, until probably I was about ten years old.

But then, it was a big house, it was a lovely house for children, but it must have been pretty hard work for the women of the house. In those days you bought the farm, because that had to provide you with a living, and the house would have been of secondary importance. And the poor old housewife had to get on with it, whatever it was, large or small, good condition or bad condition, and I suppose most of the houses in those days were, well, this was pretty draughty for a start, so we were used to putting on woollies and things like that, but of course this is late twenties and coming into the rather hard years of the thirties when times were bad, and even the farming concerns of the thirties, there were suicides, and emigration to the Americas, New Zealand and Australia as well.

Anyway, let’s come into Freebournes and just wander through here, down the gravel side. There were huge wooden gates there which were seldom shut, only if any cattle got out and there was fear of them going into the road, but they were open all the time, and down the gravel [???] into the scullery. This had a square tiled floor, black and red tiles if I remember, and on the side was one of those stone sinks, wide things, little shallow things, the one cold tap, and they were always high up, weren’t they, if you put a bowl underneath, if you turned the tap on, it always came out. But the thing that I do remember was that mother used to clean it with a brick, and I can still see that half brick, worn at one side, very sort of rosy on the bottom where she scrubbed away, and I also remember, that used to put my teeth on edge, even when I was small – she had false teeth so she was all right. But it really was quite a, quite a, I suppose, an old-fashioned sink. And on the other side, just a little anecdote here, was a gas cooker, and if this is the relevant bit that goes with it, it was a ‘Radiation Cooker, for use with the New World Regulo controlled Gas Cooker’. So it’s evidently been much used over the course of time.

Well, grandfather Wheaton would have been I suppose in his seventies by this time, and had lived his life in the country and been used to an oil stove and this sort of thing. And so you didn’t leave anything burning, that was a waste. So he came through the back door and happened to see that the gas was just on with nothing on it. So he went across and blew it out. Well I think probably for someone of those years, to blow out a gas jet and hang onto his false teeth was pretty good. Someone came back and smelt gas, they went to put, I think the kettle back on the stove, and discovered what had happened.

But if you come through here into the, into the kitchen, well the farmhouse kitchen was really the centre of all activity in a farmhouse. You went there, you did your cooking there, you gathered there, everything, everything, you always used to orientate back to the kitchen. There was a big kitchen table in the middle, some lino on the floor, which I’d always thought was a sort of browny colour, but when eventually my brother changed it, because part of it had worn through and had become dangerous, we discovered round the edge, although I suppose we had noticed it without realising, there was a bit of colouring, and it was tremendously thick. How many years it had been down there we don’t know. I mean it was there when my father went there and it had probably been down many many years before, because I only ever remember it being brown, so I mean obviously the colouring had been worn off over the course of time. There was the old black-leaded stove on the side, and, do you remember the old brush, wooden brush, with a thing at the bottom[?] and then you had the handle on the top, so you could get hold of it and give it a good brush, that was there originally, and then there was a ‘cook and heat’, which used to cook, or heat, but not both, depended which way the wind was blowing, it would do one or the other. And then eventually when my brother married he went and then he put in a, not a Parkray, the other one, Raeburn, and that one worked very very well indeed. There were six doors here, one we’ve just come through, one on the other side, and four down the side of the wall. The first one was at the bottom of the front, the back stairs, which were in a sort of well, so you went up some steps, upstairs and then a couple of steps round to a landing. The next one was a door into a cupboard under the stairs, in which we kept the wellington boots, and newspapers and oddments and things like that in.

Then the next one was for the cellar, and this had some pretty rough brick steps down into it, and right at the bottom, which I never quite could understand, there was quite a wide, the beginning of a spiral stair, the steps were quite shallow, and it went round a short distance and then there was a blank wall. And even if you tried to follow it up, it would have come up in a cupboard or something, I mean it just didn’t, couldn’t, never fathomed that one out at all. But there was some concern because my brother told me that there were lions up there, and if I went down the stairs I used to go down, look there, run like mad till I got past it. I never saw any lions up there, but he assured me that there were. There was a drain in the middle, fortunately, and if you looked across, you looked up, and there you’d see the grating thing which was out on the pavement.

Coming, sort of, in much later times, when was that big storm, 1957, 8, 9, somewhere there [perhaps 1953?] when Chelmsford was awash with the river I think and so was Witham. Well Freebornes is lower at the back than it is at the front, and the front is lower than the road. And of course the water came over the road, across the pavement and down through the grating into the cellar, and also under the front door, which fortunately had quite a large mat well there, and a knot hole, which was just big enough to take the water which came through the door, so it didn’t come in one end and go out of the other. And my sister-in-law said ‘Come and have a look at the cellar’. And we opened the door, and the, it looked as though there was a sort of nobby tarmac [???]. My brother had had some coke delivered during the week, and of course this had all come in and floated, and anyone not knowing could quite easily have gone to walk on it and would have gone down to about two feet, I would guess. Anyway, in the morning, because of this drain, the thing, all the water had gone, and there was this sort of washed coke on the floor. But I’m still puzzled as to where all this water could have gone. Cause there might have been a sump there, but even so there was an awful lot of water in there.

If you come back up into the kitchen, the next door went through to the rest of the house. So let’s come round to the corner into this other door, opposite the one I’ve just come in, and this was what we called the dairy.

And if anything was, mentioned Tudor there, if anything was Tudor, it must have been this bit, this was the Colchester end. They had big stone flagstones, it was low, it was dark, it was dank, and there was an odd concave shape here which had windows along there, so whether it had been an outside bit at one stage, I don’t really know. We had a dresser in front of it, in the kitchen, but there were cupboards all round. It was more a general floor store space, I suppose. The old mangle, a big mangle with the wooden rollers, you know, going round, and who remembers pulling, pulling the sheets when you’d washed them, to get them all square, that’s another little job that used to arise from time to time. We used to keep bags of potatoes in there, and bags of things cooked, or things for the house. So it was a sort of storage place. Also of course, the old flat irons I think were in there when they weren’t on the stove, and would you do your bit [laughter] to see how hot it was, it was quite a, it was obviously a very very old part.

So then if we come back into the kitchen again and through this little door here, the fourth door which was into a little passage way, and there was a green baize door, probably stopped the draught a bit I guess. You had to go up a step into this, this little passageway, and then there was a door off the right, which was the, what we called the cloakroom, got pegs in for coats and things, and then just round the corner was a glory hole for toys or anything that we couldn’t think where else to put it. But on the side of the cloakroom wall was a medicine chest, with just a few bits and pieces in, including, and I feel sure, this bottle was in it, all those years ago. It’s witch-hazel, and I was going to use some some years ago, I thought I can’t open that, and so I went off and bought another one, and I’ve kept it as it is. And it came from Bellamy’s. Bellamy’s was in the High Street, what is the shop now, is it a, television shop, that’s right. [64 Newland Street] ‘Bellamy’s pharmacist, Chelmsford, Witham and Brentwood’, and it cost one and sixpence. Someone said ‘Is that the right colour?’ but I didn’t really know. I don’t know whether it’s just gone off over the years, or whether it was that colour to begin with, but anyway it’s quite a prized possession. [Question: it’s never been opened?] Never been opened, no. So it must be sort of, it’s probably sixty years old anyway.

Well then if we come up a step, open the door, and we come into the hall, and this room, I suppose I associate particularly with Christmas, with all the decorations and the family gatherings which we used to have. One year, because this was one of the larger houses in the family, we’d have Christmas one year, and an uncle and aunt at Great Leighs, White House, Great Leighs [???], had Boxing Day, and then the next year they’d have Christmas and we’d have Boxing Day. And there again, if you’d been a child you could enjoy it, but I think if you were those having to provide, it probably was pretty grim. The hall has the big open fireplace in it, we used to have it alight at Christmas, not at any other time, and we’d have about four foot logs on there, you could stand and look at the ceiling, look at the sky above, sometimes drops of rain or hail would come, come down. This was over the cellar actually, and so it’s just as well the water didn’t come in one end and go out, because probably the floor would have, it used to give a bit, and I remember my mother saying, when we were small, ‘Don’t jump up and down, or you’ll land in the cellar’, and I suppose maybe, so looking at the poles underneath it by the time we left, it was possibly so, because it was pretty well sort of punctured with woodworm. There was a big beam across the middle, a huge great oak beam, central [???], very very hard, and at Christmas time, my mother would say ‘Don’t knock nails in there’ when we were putting up the decorations, and, but you couldn’t knock nails in there anyway, we tried knocking a tack in once and the tack turned round at the end. There are obviously little holes, little slits in the wood, and so you could poke something in there which would hold your decorations up, we had the same decorations year after year.

If we come back to the corner of the hall, into the dining room, this is facing the back of the farm, and that had those lovely wide oak floorboards, which would polish up nicely, as long as somebody else did it of course, and that, that was rather a nice room. Also associated with Christmas, there were [???] quite a crowd of us there, and very often we’d have, the adults would have their meal in the dining room and the children would be in the hall. And a great calamity one year, when there were two Christmas puddings, made by different people, and one had the threepenny bits in and the other didn’t. And of course the inevitable happened that the adults got the one with the threepenny bits and the children got the one that didn’t have anything in there. This is also the scene of a Christmas time. When I, was sent to bed about, oh six o’clock perhaps, I was being a bit reluctant to go upstairs to bed, and Evelyn Ralling, I don’t know whether any of you remember her, but anyway she used to help my mother, and Evelyn was trying to get me off to bed, and she said ‘Can’t you hear Santa Claus coming?’. And I can remember standing there listening, and I couldn’t hear Santa Claus coming. ‘Can’t you hear his bell?’ And I can remember not hearing anything, but visualising this sleigh, with the reindeers coming charging up the road, and they were at the bottom of the street, the High Street, just round from the gas works, in that little kink, coming up by Shelley’s the blacksmith [130 Newland Street], and past the doctors [129 Newland Street], they didn’t seem to get any more, but they were galloping along, and things were jingling but I couldn’t hear it, but I remember scampering off to bed at great haste, just in case, because you mustn’t be around. The other actual reminiscence of that room, there was just an ordinary fireplace in there, and as children we got the various complaints like chicken pox, and calamine lotion was the thing to use, and of course we got it in winter-time, and Freebornes was pretty cold anyway, and my mother putting the calamine lotion bottle in the hearth to warm up, well I mean it just doesn’t work, does it, and of course she said ‘That’s all right’, she’d shake it up, and dab a bit on your tummy, there’d be screams and yells because it was so cold.

Off the dining room, down a couple of steps, was the office, which had the phone in and where all that sort of business was done. There was a door which you could come outside to. So if we come back into the dining room, the hall, and then each, on this side the hall there was the entrance, a small entrance, behind the front door. The front door was a nice big solid oak door, with great big bolts on the inside which were never used, or very very seldom, no they weren’t used, until my brother married actually. You just didn’t lock houses in those days, you didn’t lock the doors nor the windows, there was no, no need to do it. Then there was a door each side of the fireplace into the sitting room, and this was the one that had quite a nice brick fireplace, brick surround, brick hearth and a brick edging, and the panelling was each side of, on the wall each side of that. Where it came from we never knew. I mean it was here, in this, in 1927, and presumably it had been there for some time then, but it was a bit of a mystery to us, you know, it was rather nice. Then there were French windows out into what we called, what was called the verandah, which probably had been a conservatory at one time I would guess. There was just a bit of glass covering over the top here, and this was all brickwork, and if ever we dared to ask for pocket money, then we were sent out for threepence to go and weed the bricks, we’d rather go without any pocket money than actually have to do that.

If we come back, through this door of the sitting room, into, this was a sort of a pantry place, I don’t know whether it was a sort of butler’s pantry, or quite what it was, if it was a butler’s pantry I don’t know what that was doing in this sort of house, but it had cupboards and things one side, and there was an apple store at the end, and there again there was another door to go outside. Then we come back along here, up a step, and there’s a door to the front cellar. We didn’t use that very much, it was a small one, I probably only went down it maybe half a dozen times in my life, probably for no purpose. I don’t think there were any lions there.

In this area at one stage, probably in about the, about 1950 I suppose, we had an Australian cousin staying, and my father was having the house re-wired, and when the floorboard was up, the Australian cousin unfortunately came out of the room and stuck his foot through the ceiling, and the ceiling, which had been perfectly good until that point, nevertheless it was quite interesting, because it showed that it must have been part of the original plaster, straw, cow dung, hair, beautifully,  beautifully all made, and you could, when father had a, I suppose just had flat stuff put back, you could see before it was decorated, you could see how it waved around, which we’d never noticed before, it had all been very wobbly, but, it was rather a pity.

Freebornes house, first floor, left side

Freebornes house, first floor, right side
Above, the first floor of Freebornes farmhouse. Shown in two parts, with the left side first and then the right side.

We then comes the stair, and there was the newel post, and a spiral stair that went up. It went round almost the circle, and then onto a little top landing, and then there was a door, and then it continued on, this spiral up into the attic, but two thirds of the way up the stairs, there was another door, and we, off to another bedroom [pausing to unfold plan]. A bit of ingenuity here. It worked when I tried it before. You’d come up the stairs and you’d come two thirds of the way up and there was this door off to this bedroom here, which is overlooking the, [???] looking towards Chelmsford way, and it was mighty cold up this end. After my brother married I had this as a little flat that end, and I had mumps at one stage, and he came up to bring me up a cup of tea in the mornings in January time, and he said ‘Goodness me girl’ he said, ‘it’s cold in here isn’t it’. And I think I had a little jug of milk up there, and I got ice on the top of the jug of milk. It was cool. But you got used to it, if you just sort of jumped about, jumped into bed and panted like fury and then you got hot. Then up a couple of steps and there was a little, I suppose box room there, which in my time was a kitchenette, and you came up. came out, up the stairs, onto this small landing, there was a small banister there with a story to tell, there was a toilet at the end with the inevitable green baize door between, with all these little brass tacks all the way round.

And then there was this long corridor, right the way the length of the house. The thing is, I’ve got reasonably straight lines, they weren’t straight, they were all nooks and crannies, that’s why it was so marvellous for children to play around in. There was a bedroom here with a little box-room off it, and that was the chimney of the big fireplace going up, and that was a peculiar shape. There was another bedroom here, [???] to another one here. Then down a couple of steps into this bedroom which is the one which is  over the jettied part of the house, the, the little part on the Colchester end was always a delight for children, because they’d go along, first of all they’d try to jump up and touch it, and then they could reach it, and then they could just touch it with their head, and then of course they couldn’t get underneath it. It was this bedroom which was jutting out there. But you could come up, you could actually go through the whole length, through doors there.

If we come back here, at this point, that’s where we used to put buckets and baths when we had flash floods, because always, there’d be patter patter platter, and the water would come down, and so you just ran along and put your buckets there, and took them away when they were half-full and the rain had stopped. Just a fact of life. Then up a step into what we called the big bedroom, there was another entrance here. This I think had been two rooms at one stage, though when the change was made I’ve absolutely no idea, many many years before. There was a fire, one fireplace here, so I don’t know whether, quite what this other room it would have been. But there was a big carpet in there, and it had been there obviously many years, I think when my parents went there, and it was there all the years we were there, and it was well used. There was only one worn bit in it, [???] sort of through, where I think something had been spilt on it, before our time. So it must have been down there for eighty or ninety years I should think.

Then if we come along here there’s another bedroom here, and this one had a gas fire in it, so that was a real treat, and a corridor, this is the stairs which went down to the kitchen, another bathroom, bedroom there and a bathroom at the end, and that had a gas fire in it. And the bathroom of course was the place where at some stage it had a key on the inside, and invariably there would, the thing would be locked, and there’d be laughter on the other side of the door, before someone would venture to unlock it, but then when you were very small you couldn’t always unlock it. And I think John may know that his father on more than one occasion got the ladder up on the outside, pushed at the window to get in, to get the wretched child out, and to unlock the door.

I think I’ve covered most of the bits and pieces that I was going to say about that. I suppose when I was in the kitchen area I could have mentioned that mother’s cooking, that she used to do all her cooking in there, and, we used to like having a spoon, when she’d finished making her cakes, to go round the bowl, did everyone have a go at this little business? And I remember my brother was very upset, and eventually probably my sister in her time, because she got one of those spatulas which would get everything put in the cake, well he felt very deprived, and also when you mixed up the Christmas puddings, having a wish, that was, I don’t know whether they still do it, do they, I don’t know? Well, I suppose they buy them. [Question: Sunday[?] wasn’t it?] Yes, that’s right. There’s one recollection there when I was in the high, I think I was still in the high chair but I was old enough to know better, and sitting at the kitchen, the big kitchen table, and I had a mouthful of tea, and thinking, no I mustn’t do it, no I mustn’t do it, it’s naughty, but not being able to resist, and [???] this tea over, and my mum smacked me, but grandfather Wheaton was there, and he was an old softie really, and he was a Devonshire man, and he said ‘Oh the poor maid, she cries, she [???] cry’, and so of course I was all right in the end, because grandfather sort of sorted me.

Rice pudding and a blodge of jam on the top, stirring it, getting different sort of colourings and things. Mashed potato, I lived on potato, given half a chance, and you could make forts and things out of them, before you ate them, just encouragements, weren’t they. We used to have sprats sometimes, I think, in the winter, and shrimps, I got some shrimps, perhaps it would be about two years ago I [???], a little nostalgia, [???] and I took them home and I was fiddling about with these things, but the novelty goes off, doesn’t it really, it really is a sort of, there’s a time for doing things, and a time for not.

Oh, the bathroom, that’s another thing, we used to play bridges. It was a big bath, I think Mr Wakelin had it put in, he was a big man, and it was a very high bath, and usually sort of two children were in it, and maybe three sometimes, usually two, and one would lay, well one would lay across the top, and then the other one had get one side to the other before the one, before the bridge fell down, so of course, you know what happens with water, don’t you, my poor mother, you know, it must have been rather hard on her.

Freebornes fields, east side

Freebornes fields, west side
Above, some of the farm land of Freebornes. Shown in two parts, with the left side first and then the right side.

I’ve got a, if we move onto the farm, I have sort of tried to make a little layout of the farm, just to give you a rough idea. There’s, this is the road, the farmhouse and buildings, and then there was the first meadow, and there’s Hack pits or Hat pits, it goes under two names on the maps. I seem to recall that if I, over the years, that the K and the T used to be absorbed into something unknown to me, and you’d finish off with the pits, and I never quite knew which it was, so I was quite relieved when I saw on some maps that it was, both words were used. And then this one was called Brick field, which I hadn’t sort of realised, although there was a hole in it, and I, there again it was just grassed over and we didn’t really take much notice of it.

But I presume it must have been used for brick making, had been taken out in sort of years and years before. This is the Maldon Railway line, and you could go over that onto what they called Big field, with, Great field recently described, and this was, well a hedge, or [???] a hedge each side with a track through it to get down to the road. This was Step fields. The bridge, the road rather, the bridge over the top of the line, and there are steps down there still I suppose, and there was a path across to Braxted. And this is the Blackwater. And we used to go down there getting tiddlers, and the, on the verandah, there was this, I suppose it was the water for probably what had been the conservatory, and we’d go down to the river with our jam jars, with the little string round it to carry and gather the tiddlers and take them back and put them into the place. In some ways it was quite a long way to walk, but I suppose it kept out of too much mischief. And the boys used to swim in a part of the river, there’s a wide bit, which was deep, and if I may be so bold to call it, I think it was called the Pee Hole, but anyway it was deep enough for them to jump in and swim about.

In 1947 when it was very very cold, where the river goes along, well beyond Benton Hall, back of Benton Hall and off towards Blue Mills, I can remember it was so cold, and the ice must have been extraordinarily thick, because there were dozens and dozens of people on there, some skating, ice skating, some sliding, some sort of dancing, and some just, you know, just charging about, as much as one can on ice, but it must have been very very thick, because it’s quite a fast flowing river really, isn’t it, [???] underneath, but it was thick enough to take all that weight.

Freebornes garden
The farmyard and garden at Freebornes.

Into this area, are the, were the buildings, this is not terribly accurate, but it’s a rough idea. This is the house. It’s probably a little bit narrower than that, but the garden went right up here. It was described in the catalogue as the Pleasure Gardens. ‘The Pleasure Gardens are a feature of the property, and include wild gardens, rose gardens, borders, and are prolifically stocked with rose trees, flowering shrubs etc. The Kitchen Garden is well stocked with vegetables and fruit trees’. Well I think it had been extended and extended and extended, and I would guess that in its heyday it probably had been a lovely garden, and there was still residue, of some nice trees there, there was cobnuts I remember, there was a tall pine, a yew, walnut, and all sorts of different sort of variegated shrubs and things. I think the Wakelins had a full-time gardener, and Mrs Wakelin spent a large amount of her time there as well. Although she did fretwork and all sorts of things, she must have, but I think she had Mrs Fisher was the housekeeper there wasn’t she, at one stage, the Fishers’ mother, I think, I believe so, and so that she could spend a lot of time, but you know, if you like being in a garden that’s a good place to be.

This was the yard, there was, to the house, with a little wall round it, what was called the dairy or the brew house there, and a little square there which was the ice box, where the milk was carried, it sounds quite horrific now, in I think they were two and a half gallon cans with a lid on, from the cow shed to the dairy to be cooled, and when you had your milk in the churns, you had to keep it cool. Well there was this big chest, with a lead lining, and it used to be filled with blocks of ice. I don’t know where the ice came from, I was talking to someone the other day and they thought perhaps it might have been Maldon, but I don’t honestly know. But I can picture it coming, in a lorry, an ordinary, ordinary open lorry, huge, huge blocks of ice, I think someone said they were a hundredweight, so they must have been all a hundredweight plus, and they had sort of like two big, a big pair of scissors for want of a better word, tongs, I just don’t know, I just don’t know how they managed to lift this stuff, and then they’d put it into this chest and put the lid back on, and then the churns could stand on top and it kept it cool. Evidently it was actually very efficient, it had a, it always had a roof on the top so that in the summer time it would be all right

[Question: How often would it have to be renewed?]. That’s a question I wish you hadn’t asked. [laughter] I don’t know how often it came. I can remember we used to run round to the lorry, great delight when it came, and there’d be bits broken off and we’d take them off the floor and suck them, and I’ve thought since, heaven, they’d been walking all over it, where on earth it had been I really don’t know. [???] [???] that’s how we had the constitution that we’ve got, I suppose.

Mum used to be in the dairy separating the milk for the cream, and they had a milk round, and I know we used to go, rush home from school, get a cup, dash out to the dairy and put it under the cream spout, and see how much we could get before she saw what we were doing, half a cup of cream. There was also a pump, an old water pump just outside there. This was all sort of gravel here, the hole in the middle here is the, was the old walnut tree, it was a lovely old tree, huge thing – huge wide, not huge high. And they used to pick the walnuts for, green, for pickling, and then there were still loads and loads that used to fall off, for us to munch away. They were funny little things, I don’t know what, they were fairly small and they had two little holes, invariably used to appear at the end, I don’t know why, it wasn’t [???] or anything like that, it was just sort of how the stuff worked. And I remember we used to make fish bones out of the leaves, very cruel, take the end and just pull the thing between the veins and then we used to have our fish bones.

Alongside were some garages, two old, well I say garages, two were garages and I suppose two really were for machinery. And then this is the granary, standing up on staddle stones, you know, the mushrooms, so they were well off the ground and rats and things didn’t get in there. And at the end there were stairs all the way up to a pigeon loft, which obviously it had been used in its day. I took a bit of licence here because I had to, there was a barn here at some stage and I was having to rack my brains to think precisely where it was, I don’t know whether it was a barn or a covered yard, used for both I think, perhaps, probably it was a, probably a cattle shed, a high one, combination job I guess, but that’s long since gone. And this was the big barn. It was very large for the size of farm that it was, it had a partition in the middle, and one end was for corn, it had a concrete floor, and wooden partitions to put the different lots of ….

Side 2

I’ve just got a few sort of snippets here, various headings on bits of paper. I think we had cows and sheep, and obviously then horses to work on the farm. And I remember the cows were dairy Shorthorn. I guess most herds I think in those days were probably mixed, maybe an odd Friesian at that stage, and probably a Jersey or a Guernsey to bring up the butterfat. Years later it turned over to Friesian cows, but as I say, they were dairy Shorthorn to begin with, and I can remember [???] Shorthorn more in the corner.

The sheep, I don’t know, they possibly would have been Suffolk, maybe, Suffolk cross Border Leicester I would imagine, and we had those when I was a small child, and you had to have them dipped, and I don’t recall that we had facilities, I think they went up to Arthur Brice’s next door, you know, where you have this big sort of trench full of disinfectant, and you had to put them through, you were required by law to have them dipped, and they would go up there. And one thought about the sheep of course was lambing time, when we would have lambs indoors. Invariably they were born at night or late in the day, and they’d be breathing their last, and out in the sheds they’d try and do something for them, and if they couldn’t then they’d put them onto a sack and bring them indoors, and put them on the front of the fire, maybe in the kitchen, maybe in the dining room, it made no difference, the thing had got to live. And eventually it would begin to show signs of life, and then you’d give it a bottle, and in next to no time, you’d find this little old spindly thing was running round the room, and then probably after a couple of hours they’d take it back to its mother, and it would usually survive.

But the sheep went at the beginning of the War, when I think the Ministry of Agriculture realised that the country had got to be self-sufficient as far as possible, and so they asked for, I think it was two million acres of grassland to be ploughed up, and I think there was great concern amongst the, most of the small farms, and mixed farms, because one had come through the thirties when times were pretty hard, and sheep and cows at least would provide some form of existence, and they were very, farmers round about were very reluctant to plough up their grass. Anyway, this was required, so something had to go, and my father thought, well he’d get rid of the sheep and keep the cows, because with the cows you had a monthly cheque, which would help the turnover of life.

I guess it was probably round about then, that the milk round went as well. Earlier days, Mr Piper used to go round with the milk float, with a seventeen gallon churn, and the old measure, and people would come out with their jugs and they’d measure out, and then what stage these things [bottles] appeared I don’t really know, but we had, this was probably an unusual bottle, I think in actual fact I retrieved this from the cellar, before I left, I found it down there. But most of them would have been the smaller one, or a third of a pint, with a straw in the middle, and I went to Miss Murrells [school] and she’d stand them on top of the heater in the winter so we had a little bit of probably curdled milk I would think. I do have the cardboard top to go on top, I couldn’t bring it because I was frightened it might get damaged actually. But, you know, cause you stick your finger in the top to hike it out.

Then horses, I guess they would have been Shires, principally, though no doubt there’d be a bit of hybrid [???] in there somewhere. They were lovely things, and of course with small children we could be humped up on the top, we’d hold onto the handle[?] at the top and liked riding round, beautiful.

Hens of course, we had eggs, and there must have been some pigs around, because I don’t, yet I can’t visualise them, because having cream you’d have your whey, and something had to be done with it, it usually went to pigs.

In time of course the horses gave way to tractors, not quite so exciting, but I can remember the very wide mudguards that the early tractor that we had, you could sit on the top, be allowed to sit on these things in those days, and this was one way of getting from A to B which was quite fun.

We grew, I suppose obviously grass, wheat, barley, oats, wheat for sale, and straw for bedding. And well, the straw and barley and boats could all be churned out for the animal feed. We used to have mangels and turnips, kale, potatoes, sugar beet, peas for picking, and during the War cabbages, runner beans, and we had rhubarb at one stage. And seeds for broccoli, and I remember millet being grown at one point.

All the business was done by word of mouth, between farmer and merchant, and was sealed with a handshake, and your word was your bond, there was nothing, they didn’t have any paper about. I think nowadays sadly you can sign a bit of paper that doesn’t mean very much.

I thought I’d must mention some of the people who served the farm, serviced the farm, they were all very skilled in their own ways. There was the blacksmith, who was also part vet, and we used to go to Mr Shelley at the bottom of the town [130 Newland Street], just the other side of Blue Posts, next door to Miss Brockes, who was the dressmaker, opposite roughly Mr Sorrell the butcher. Shelley, father and son, son certainly, perhaps father was as well, was in the fire service, which, the voluntary one that Witham had at that time. And I remember hearing that they won a cup for being sort of the smartest outfit in the county, and they filled this cup and celebrated, and they said had there been a fire that night, well it was just too bad, it would have burnt [laughter]. There was a saddler, we used to go to Mr Brewster, and he was down Maldon Road, where Crofters is now [25 Maldon Road], and there again, you needed to have all your equipment to fit your animal, otherwise you’d get rubbings and damage to the horse. He had a place at Boreham as well, I believe, on the main road, just before you turn down to Boreham itself. There was also Mr Palmer in the High Street, he was another saddler and leather worker.

The vet was Mr Horner, who lived in the Grove. I don’t remember him, but round the Grove was a width, difficult to remember, perhaps it was what, half the width of this room, don’t know, of wood, which went right the way round, went up to the Maldon railway line and down the other side, known as the Planny, and we used to play in there, and there was a path through it, you could walk right the way round, and when we were small, we could just go through from the cart lodge, into the Planny, and play there, and my brother, when he was fed up with young sister being there I suppose, used to say ‘Look out, here comes Mr Horner’, and I’d scramble out and run home, but of course they’d got rid of this five-year old sister who they didn’t want, Mr Horner wasn’t there at all. But he wasn’t the ogre that they made him out to be, but following, I think probably his assistant was Sandy Dalgleish who I do remember, a lean man, fair-haired with a moustache, and I believe he married a lady who was a Land Army girl, at Tiptree Priory, so no doubt when he went up there to see the horses he met this lady and had every reason to go back, perhaps repeatedly, and they went out to New Zealand after the War. And then Johnny Walker came on the scene, who many of you probably will remember, and of course Johnny Walker is retired, and I suppose his practice went from farm animals to a lot of domestic animals, in later years.

[???] a seed growing area, there was Cooper Tabers. who I’ve already mentioned, there was also Cullen’s, Thomas Cullen and Son, two very, very local companies, but you dealt with various people, and I seem to remember seeing a Milnes of Chester catalogue in the office at some stage, possibly we would have got root[?] seed from there. The millers, Blyth’s, who were round the corner from the old grain people who had the trouble with all the smells, I’ve mentioned them already. [Audience: Baird’s] Baird’s, that right. Just down the side there, towards the goods yard, they were there for many many years. Grinding their grain for flour [i.e. Blyth’s], different grades of it.

The wheelwright, I don’t remember the wheelwright, but I spoke to someone the other day, and he said well they thought they used to go to one in Bridge Street, and he thought his name was Mr Wright, but, and thought it was somewhere near where the RAFA Club is [Audience: Fleuty’s]. Was it? I remember the name Fleuty, certainly. And there was a Miss Fleuty I used to remember seeing come to church at All Saints there.

And of course the thrashing tackle, that was Bill Randall, who I think was also mentioned here [???], lived up Church Street, short stocky man, with a red face, rosy face. And he’d come down into the yard at the crack of dawn, and wheeled in his wheel at the top. And I always used to think that the wheels were sort of very disjointed, they all seemed to wobble about, and I believe the, these chappies, they could always have a very quick breakfast, because they had a very long shovel, that they could put the coal into the engine, and if they wanted a breakfast, well they’d just put their shovel in, got it jolly hot, took it out, threw on a bit of bread and an egg, bit of bacon, and of course in a trice it was all cooked, and so they’d have, they’d got a very quick meal. He used to have a bottle, and he had his ‘bait’, or ‘judy[?’, a light, you know, his lunch for the day, and he had a bottle, which I discovered contained cocoa, and I suppose this was the easy way he could make it in the morning before he came out, and he had his liquid in his bottle, which was cocoa I think, probably made with water, what I remember the colour of it, rather than milk. I’ll mention the thrashing tackle later on, that was always great fun for children.

I suppose in a way, those who were part of the farm was the doctor, because one thing I learnt at a very early stage was that Essex was very bad for tetanus. And eventually, if ever anyone did anything on the farm and broke the skin, then they would be taken straight down to the doctor for an anti-tetanus injection. And there was Doctor Ted Gimson, Tom Benjamin and Bob Little. And they were all very nice and kind. Weren’t so keen on Dr Benjamin, I think the adults liked him, but I didn’t, he was a bit sharp for children I think, and so, we liked, well Dr Little used to come round if need be, and he was very kindly. Apparently he said once that the one thing he didn’t like, he played with children if they were in bed and had toys and things, one thing he didn’t like was plasticine. And so I suppose he sat on some at some stage in his life and not been able to get it off.

The dispenser at the doctor was Mr Appleby, and if, the waiting room, if you went, if you went, if you go up to the front door and up the steps, and in through there, that was the waiting room just behind the front door, and I think Mr Appleby was on the left hand side shaking up his bottles and doing all sorts of things there.

I’ve got a little note here called farming year, I just thought I’d mention different things that went on. Potatoing, where you had, they’d get the potatoes out with[?] the plough. And you’d have gangs of women gathering up the potatoes, and then they’d riddle them in a, well it was like a large sieve, you’d shift it backwards and forwards and they got the potatoes of different sizes. The small ones were for chats[?] weren’t they,

The sugar beet, well that would be got out with a machine, but then it was, they were picked up by hand, first of all the tops would be cut off, and they would be used for cattle feed, but then you had to pick it up and throw the sugar beet into a cart that went by, you’d have two rows, I remember doing it when I was probably twelve of fourteen, well fourteen, fifteen, perhaps, very wet year, and you were bending down, slithering away in the mud, and picking down, and you got into a rhythm, and you would have, at least, I, having small hands, I’d have one on the bottom of each, a sugar beet looks like a large parsnip, and throw them up. Well then sometimes you’d perhaps you’d pick up two in one, and they wouldn’t be quite placed as it should be, and you’d throw that one, so two would go into the trailer, and other one sail over the top and you’d hear a shout from the other side that someone had his [laughter], because they were very big and very, well, quite hard.

During the War, a Land girl, we had a few Land girls, I don’t think we had an awful lot at a time, but I seem to remember that they might have been involved probably in hoeing sugar beet, which you don’t do now, and actually, it was a very skilled job, because you had, you just sowed the whole lot and then you had to hoe out so that you got a gap between each beet so you could get it growing to a proper size. And you know, it was quite ticklish, I went once, I tried it, and it was not very easy, as easy as it looked. And the, some sugar beet had been grown on the other side of the Maldon railway line, and there were wires along the line of course, for demarcation line, and it was a very hot time, and I think my father went down there, and he suddenly saw rows of overalls, and all these girls coming from, I suppose some from the city and round about, there they were in next to nothing really, sort of getting a nice tan, and I don’t know who was in charge of them but, maybe they found it quite interesting, I don’t know.

Also, we had prisoners of war, sometimes German, sometimes Italian, and I seem to remember hearing that the Germans were very good workers, the Italians not quite so good, and I remember my father saying once he felt very sorry for one lot of Germans, who, the soldier in charge had been a prisoner of war, and he’d escaped, and I think he thought he’d had a rough time, and he took it out on these German prisoners who were working very hard. Obviously he couldn’t touch them or anything like that, but he made them work, and they would never stop, other than what they were permitted to do. My father felt quite sorry for them, but he couldn’t interfere.

The other ones I say were the Italians, and they were a bit more laid back in their approach I suppose, and they had big diamonds on the back of their jacket I think, didn’t they. I remember once, one apple time, we had a lot of windfalls, and my mother, I remember we had a big enamel bowl, and she sent out some of these, a bowl full of these windfall apples for these Italian prisoners of war, and they were so grateful, I suppose someone had shown them a bit of kindness really, and my father said, oh they worked awfully well, that day. [laughter] It wasn’t done for that purpose, but …

Thrashing, well I shall come back to Bill Randall. The old engine used to come, come in, and you’d have the engine and the thrashing machine here, and there’d be a big wide belt, attached to the engine and to the thrashing machine, and eventually they’d get it to the right tension I suppose, and they’d start up, and this thing, I can still hear the roaring, roaring, roaring as it whizzes round, and it used to move up and down a bit I suppose, cause the slack took from the end of the wheels, and thinking about it, I suppose being brought up on a farm, you were always very, well you learnt to be careful, of animals, or machinery, or anything like that, because I suppose maybe these two big belts were this height, which was just about head height for a child, be chopped off, we’d duck underneath. I think we kept our distance, and we were, you know, we were told to get out of the way if need be, but there were all sorts of lethal things there if you weren’t careful. Wilf was the man who dropped the, who cut the sheaf string, and dropped it down into the hold of this thing, and then it all churned up and you got corn out one part and straw out of another, and then there was the cavings[?] at the back, which was the chaff, and it was a rather dusty, dirty place. Well lambing I’ve really sort of mentioned, there.

Pea-picking. That’s another quite exciting time. You used to get, the gypsies came along in their painted wagons, and what we called the first meadow, which was behind the farm buildings which went up to the Maldon railway line, would often be filled with these gypsies’ caravans. I think one family used to turn up a few days early, and persuade my father that the carts needed painting, well, whether he though they did or not, invariably they were, which would probably do them a bit of good, really. And what still sticks in my mind, how quickly they picked the peas. They’d pull up the pea rice, which is what it grows on, and then their hand would move so fast, that you just couldn’t see it moving, and they’d throw it down and pick up another bit. But they’d pick the fat pods and left the flat ones, and how they managed to see it in that time I don’t know. I suppose they’d picked from the cradle really, but they were quite quite remarkable. I believe the bags contained forty pounds of peas, so they worked their way down the row, and then the person in charge would come along and he’d check the weight and tie it up, and then hand over a token, either, I seem to remember they was a metal disc at some time, or otherwise a little card, and at the end of the day they would come along to whoever was paying out, and hand over the tokens, and they’d get paid for whatever they’d picked.

We had during the War, some people who were called Walter and Ivy Collins and they had a son, little Walter. And they were I suppose, the gangers, and  they were absolutely marvellous. They could neither read nor write, but they used to handle hundreds of pounds, which was a lot of money in those days, and they were never a farthing out, and they were as honest as the day was long. If they needed a letter read, or one written, then my mother had to go out and sit down there, and read or write the letter. I had to read one once, and it was all, possibly written by a child, and all the words were stuck together, and I had to sort out which was the end of one and the beginning of the next [laughter]. My mother went down one day, and the letter was dictated, and she was writing away, and it got to the end, and Ivy said ‘Walter sends his love too’, And then started to reel off a whole lot of names, then she got rid of that, and then ‘Ivy sends her love too’. And he started to reel off the whole lot of names again. Then ‘Little Walter sends his love too’. And started to reel off the names, and suddenly there was a voice from the back of the caravan ‘Little Walter don’t’. [laughter] Little Walter wasn’t going to send his love to anyone.

Haymaking was another time, I suppose slightly a picnic time, but you cut the grass with a mower, and then gradually you’d have the horse rake, which had a shaft in front, like a big comb on the back, and they’d go across the field, and then when they’d got a comb full they’d pull a lever and it would come up, and they’d go on their way, so by the time you’d finished you had a lot of rows of hay across the field, and then they’d be forked into big heaps. And then when they were dry enough, they would, we had an old car, I don’t know what sort it was, which had a sweep on, a hay sweep on the front, which was like a flat comb, a long bar with arms going out and metal bits on the end, slightly turned up, and so you just went around and got a hay cock on there, and then went round further and got another one, so you’d fill it up, go round to where you were going to have the stack, draw back, and of course you’d got a sort of heap there, so while that was being made into the stack, you’d go up get another heap. And we rather enjoyed our time at haymaking.

But the, I suppose the best time was harvest, and I have a picture of my mother walking up the first meadow to the other side of the railway line, laden with a basket for the picnic for the men, and walking beside, I suppose I would perhaps be about five years old, but I mean this was a ritual that had gone on for a long time. While I’ve been doing this, I was thinking about it, my mother must have had a terrible time during those times, because it was all food, wasn’t it. They were up early and they had their big breakfasts, and you’d got to get your meals ready, you’d got to do your picnics, and you’d got to walk all that way and walk back, and do the, well the washing and the ironing, and it must have been quite a, quite a task. It was all right being a child rather than someone else. The harvest, well we had the traves[?], with the sheaves made into a little house, so I mean we could sit in there and enjoy your picnic there. When we were big enough, I mean the men could pick up two sheaves and put them together, and if you got the first one all right you were OK, you could get the other bit or pairs together, cause you didn’t want them to fall down, cause you wanted the wind to go through and dry them all up. But when we were small, we could only pick up one sheaf, and it’s extraordinary, there was always on the other side a thistle [laughter]. I don’t know how it happened, but which ever one we picked up always had a thistle on it. When we were a bit bigger, probably seven or eight years old, we were part of the system, and we used to be raked in to help unload the waggon, and so a friend used to be at one end and I’d be at the other, with these forks, and we’d put a sheaf onto the elevator, and this was quite a long thing, from here to the  door[?] I suppose, and it had a little put-put motor which worked the movement of it, you had a bar across, with three prongs on it, about a yard apart, and so we got more of them on a chain[?], so as it moved round, you put a sheaf onto one of these rows of prongs, and it would go up, and drop off onto the stack, and then the chap there could pass it to the chap who was making the stack, or maybe to the big one, to the next one, who would then pass it to the fellow making the stack, and making the stack was a very difficult thing, not an easy task at all. Occasionally you’d see a pole put up beside a stack, and that was all a thing you didn’t want anyone to see, that someone had to put a pole up against your stack. But what we used to do, I remember, was to, when we got to the last layer of sheaves, we’d say ‘Right, come on’, and so we’d put one sheaf on each row of these prongs, and as they went up and falled off, the person at the top would pick up with a fork to get the sheaf to pass it, and one would come down and knock it off, and so then you start again and another one would come down, and then of course we’d see someone down there saying ‘You young varmints’. But I mean every time, and I think they knew what we were doing. The stacks of course had to be made carefully, because of combustion, and you had to make sure that everything was dry.

The, got their carnival time, going on to something else, Mr Hawkes, who was the horseman in my young day, used to like going into Witham carnival, and that was something in those days, I suppose all the local carnivals were. And he used to do very well with prizes. He would either decorate a cart, or, I’ve got a photograph of him with a plough I think, which he took in, and you know, dressed the horse up in the way that they did in those days, plaiting their manes and tails, and took a great pride in things.

We’re virtually there aren’t we. I’ll just mention a few things here, that the games we played, we played sort of skipping ropes, and hoops, and those wooden tops, with a whip, marbles, the big ones were the alleys, and during the War you couldn’t get the glass ones, they were all clay. We used to make parachutes, we’d have a, probably a handkerchief, with a string on the four corners and a stone on the bottom, throw them up and then they’d come down like parachutes, very easy little things these. Gob stones?. Find flattish stones, throw them up and try and catch them on the back of your hand. As I say we used to play stalking in the Planny, in this wooden, wooden part. Bows and arrows, this was absolutely lethal, why I’m here I don’t know. We’d have a bit of hazel twig and a bit of string, and in the garden there was a lot of cane that was grown, and so we’d cut a bit of this cane off, sliced a bit off the end, put it into this arrow, and the boys could send them straight up to go up and come down, I mean why we weren’t nailed to the ground I don’t know, it’s, well, it’s just as well you don’t know about these things.

We had evacuees [Second World War]. Four boys and a girl, five evacuees, three of us. My sister was the oldest at twelve, and so my mother had, what, seven children under nine years of age, which was a bit much. And the first, first night, time there was an air raid, she got us all up and then there was the all clear and went to bed, and she was tucking the last one in when when suddenly there was a voice from the depths of the blankets ‘What you making all this row about?’, and of course we’d left one behind. [laughter]. So we had a bit of a roll call after that.

We played hopscotch and things like that when they came, and also of course they brought street songs, and one, if I remember it, I had remembered it yesterday, we used to play skipping, ‘Me mother called me Archie, me father called me bald[?], they didn’t know what to call me so they called me Archibald, Archibald bald bald bald, choo[?] choo choo, [???] [???] pair of shoe shoe shoes, when the shoe shoe shoes began to wear wear wear, Archibald bald bald began to swear swear swear, when the swear swear swear began to stop stop stop, Archibald bald bald bought a shop shop shop. When the shop shop shop began to sell sell sell, Archibald bald bald bought a bell bell bell, when the bell bell bell began to ring ring ring, Archibald bald bald began to sing sing sing, doh ray me fah soh …’ [laughter and applause]

We’re actually ten o’clock, Barbara, so I think I’ll forget about the other bits, I was just mentioning about the, in the War time, the, we saw one thing that might interest you, we were playing in the stackyard one day, and we heard a plane, and of course we just looked up, and suddenly we saw a swastika on it, and obviously it was a fighter bomber come along the river across to come to Crittall’s, and it was just the height, it was over the first meadow, just above the trees of the Planny, and we looked up, sort of absolutely agog, and the pilot looked down, and saw children playing, and he waved to us, and then he went on, and then we sort of saw the bombs come out, and of course in cartoons or pictures, bombs are always that way round, aren’t they, so we had to explain that they came out that way first, and they couldn’t see beyond that, so seeing the bombs come out, we laid flat down on the straw, and I’ve laughed since, I thought ‘Goodness me, if any had come in, they would have gone up like a tinder box really, all the straw about’. Well I had a note there about this and that and other people, but I think we’ve come to an end, you’ll be getting trouble with the keeper of the place.

2 thoughts on “Tape 168. Talk by Polly (Olive) Wheaton about Freebournes (Freebornes) farm in Witham, and about other memories.”

    1. Thank you. I looked at the talk again recently and enjoyed it. I was disappointed that we never asked her back to tell us more. But we’re fortunate to have known her, and grateful for her life. One of the things I remember best was her telling me that she was going to visit Antarctica !

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