Miss Irene Springett was born c 1915. She was interviewed on 12 June 2006, when she lived at 6 Homefield Road, Witham.
For more information about her, see Springett, Irene, in the People category
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com 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.]
Note: I spoke to Miss Springett on 9 May 2008 about her time at Exall teacher training college, Coventry, to ask if someone who was researching the place could ring her (she said yes. The person was Juliet Amery at Warwick University). Miss S added that teacher training had been set up after the Second World War for people who had been in the forces, and the Trade Unions said what about the people who had already been slaving away in the schools, so they went as well, although she, for instance, had already been working as uncertificated teacher for a number of years. She just made a general application and was allocated to that college. She was there 13 months, the courses were accelerated. She enjoyed it. When she came back she went to Cressing school and became Deputy Head.
Miss S: You know everything about Witham.
Q: [laugh] Let’s start at the beginning, were you born in Witham?
Miss S: Yes. (Q: Oh, were you, where you born?) I’ve lived in Witham all my life. (Q: Whereabouts in Witham were you born?) I was born, my father had a smallholding, it was opposite Bridge Hospital. The house is still there, but of course they were all fields then.
Q: Oh yes. I know, one of those County Council smallholdings?
Miss S: That’s right. Evidently, for some reason, the Essex County Council, I don’t know who all the land belonged to, I think there were five. (Q: Yes.) There were five of those smallholdings.
Q: So that was sufficient to keep him going, was it?
Miss S: Yes.
Q: How many were there of you?
Miss S: My father, mother and me.
Q: You were the only one?
Miss S: Yes, I was the only one. [laugh]
Q: Were they related to the Springetts that lived …
Miss S: I haven’t any Springett relations as far as I know.
Q: You haven’t got any Springett relations. There were some other Springetts, weren’t there?
Miss S: Yes, there have been, yes.
Q: So, you’ve been here a long time. Did you, you spent all your childhood down there on the smallholding?
Miss S: Some of it. Then my father was ill, and things got out of hand, so he actually gave it up.
Q: I see, where did he go to next?
Miss S: Well, you see, when he went to the smallholding, he, money-wise, he’d got a part-time job as a postman. And then he intended to give it up, you see. But then of course the War came [Second World War]. Things were all very different.
Q: So what did he do during the War?
Miss S: Well, he didn’t do anything there, because he’d got the smallholding. He had to grow food for the troops. [laugh]
Q: You went to school in Witham, did you?
Miss S: I went to the Maldon Road school, then I won a scholarship when I was ten, and I went to Braintree High School. (Q: That was something special, wasn’t it?) Yes [laugh].
Q: How did you feel about going there?
Miss S: I was excited, I think, as far as I can remember. I think it was my idea, I went home, as far as what my mother told me, I went home, the headmaster had said something about taking an exam and going to a special school somewhere, you see, and mother found out about it, and would I like to take it, and I said yes, so I did. I was lucky to get through. (Q: Not lucky, I’m sure.) [laugh]
Q: Did you like being at Braintree?
Miss S: Oh, I enjoyed my schooldays, I really did.
Q: So when you left school?
Miss S: Oh, I became a teacher. I hate mentioning the word teacher these days (Q: Do you?). There’s so much in education, and the children, everything was so different.
Q: So how did you go about becoming a teacher? How did you get your training?
Miss S: Well, in those days, you could do your training before you went to college. I didn’t go to college straight away. (Q: I see. So where were you, where did you go first?) I taught in the same school where I’d begun, yes. (Q: How lovely.) No, I lost my, the first job, I was appointed to a school in Dunmow, and I went for the interview, of course things were, well I don’t know, I was sent there by the County, for the job there, you see. And so, it was a Church of England school, and of course I was a Congregationalist, but I answered all the questions, and I would be willing to teach, you know, the Church of England creed and all the rest of it in school and that, you see, no bother. And so I turned up on the first day of term, and lo and behold there was another girl turned up for the same job. (Q: No.) I mean, it was amazing. And the poor headmaster, they had a new headmaster. He’d been teaching Red Indians or something, I think, in Canada, and so he got the job without, but mind you he was a lay reader in the Church of England, you see, and it was a Church School, so that’s how he got it. He, poor man, he must have wondered whatever was happening when two girls turned up. And it was this girl’s first job, and mine, you see. But, what had happened, was that the Vicar, I suppose, she was a local girl, and he heard about her, you see, and, how they could wangle things in, I don’t know.
So the two of us, we stayed there with this class, and the headmaster naturally got into contact with the County, and in those days, there was a Division in Braintree, they had, part of the County in there. And so the message came back to him, would I, on my way back home to Witham, would I call in at the office in Braintree. And, I had actually seen this man, he came to my interview, the District, whatever he was called at that time. And so I went back to see him, and he pointed out that the job was mine, I’d been appointed by the County. But he could foresee problems, because evidently the Vicar didn’t want me, but, I mean he didn’t go about the right way of things, did he? (Q: Course not, no.) And he advised me not to take the job, let the girl have it, and he said ‘We will see that you get …’, you know. And I was only home a few days, and I was told to report at Maldon Road, where they wanted a teacher, you see. So it was lucky, really. But it’s amazing, these days, to think things like that could happen.
Q: Yes. And so you taught there for, to start with, and then you went to college, you say?
Miss S: That’s right, and then I went, after a while I went to Cressing, I finished up as a Deputy Head at Cressing.
Q: Whereabouts did you go to college?
Miss S: Exhall College, in Coventry.
Q: Oh, yes. So, how long were you at Maldon Road for?
Miss S: Till 1948. (Q: You were there, teaching there during the War?) I was there in the War, yes.
Q: So, can you remember about the Wartime at school?
Miss S: [laugh] Well, we taught them were in the classroom, but of course, if there was a red alert, we were in the shelters. And you couldn’t do anything much in the shelters. I mean, you couldn’t, all you could do would be mental arithmetic, read them stories, spellings, that’s all you could, you couldn’t do any written work or anything. (Q: No, no. So that happened quite often, did it?) Yes, it did. I mean there were no, we had no bombs, we heard a bump, you know, from further away, but you had to be there. And of course in the War, they started school dinners. They hadn’t had school dinners before that. And the dinners were cooked at Spinks Lane, what is now Bramstons, you see. And they were brought to the school in containers, but the children, you see, were not allowed out of the shelters if there was a red alert. They were not allowed out of the shelters to go and fetch their dinners. So you can imagine, the teachers, and one or two mothers came in, and so we took the dinners from where they were dished up, to the children in the shelters. And they just had to eat them, on their knees. Oh. That went on, you see, all those years. [laugh].
Q: I didn’t that realise that was when school dinners started.
Miss S: Yes, well, some schools, I expect large schools had school dinners, but, that’s how we started with them.
Q: So when you were at the Control Centre, that was … (Miss S: Also in the War.) outside of, that was evenings, was it?
Miss S: Yes, at, as far as I can remember, it must have been right at the beginning of the War. They had a public meeting in the Public Hall, arranged by the ARP, Air Raid Precautions people, you see. And we were, well, people were asked to go, of course everybody didn’t go, otherwise the Public Hall wouldn’t have held them all, but anyway, a lot of us turned up. And we were told the different jobs that would be needed during the War, you see, there was First Aid at the First Aid post, plenty of Wardens, of course. Demolition squads. And Report Centre people. All these jobs were explained to us, you see, what they were. And they asked people to volunteer for what they was able to do, you see. And there was no-one, course everybody eventually had to do something, unless they were mothers looking after children at home. But, a friend and I, we were teaching in the same school by that time. And so, we thought about it, and we didn’t, neither of us liked First Aid, we didn’t want anything to do with that. Well, the demolition squads would be men, of course, and we thought about Wardens and Firewatching, well that’d be all right in the summer time, we could imagine when there was snow and that, we didn’t like that at all. So we thought the best thing we could do was to settle for a Report Centre, which we did. (Q: Oh!) And so eventually that’s what we did. We went on every fourth night, from 10 till 6. (Q: Overnight?) Yes.
And we were housed in the old Police Station, you see [now site of Millfield Court]. And so were some of the demolition squad, too. (Q: Down Guithavon Street?) That’s right, yes. And officially we were, two of us, there were four of us, there were two men and we two girls, we had 10 till 2, we could go to bed, and then change over at 2 o’clock, 2 till 6, you see. But if there was an amber, not red, we might get an amber before the red, we all had to be up and on duty, you see. And of course we hardly ever got any sleep, because it was disturbed, you see, it might only be on for half an hour, well, went[?] back[?]. And of course, where we slept, police cells. (Q: Did you really?) Yes, we did. Cold as ice. There were three. Whether there were any more, in the Demolition side of the building, I’ve no idea, but there were three cells, and one had been made, had got a sort of counter, and it was made, of a little kitchen where we could make cups of tea, and that sort of thing. And then there was the one where we worked in, and they’d got a counter either side, a very narrow, we could, we weren’t large girls, we could pass one another there. And there was the in-telephonist one side, and the out-telephonist the other, you see. Well, I was the in-telephonist, and she was the out one. And then the next one, were two little beds, I’m sure they couldn’t have been ordinary size camp beds, so we could sleep on those when we were not on duty. We were given a big grey army blanket, you see, to cover us up. Later, later on in the War, a room upstairs, a proper room upstairs, I don’t know what they’d used it for before, became empty, so we were able to have our little truckle beds up there, you know. But I shouldn’t think we ever slept our proper four hours.
Q: If you knew you had to wake up at that time, it would be difficult anyway, wouldn’t it?
Miss S: Yes, it would, yes, mm.
Q: And if there was a, how often about was there a red alert?
Miss S: I should say nearly every night. (Q: Oh really?) Not necessarily for long, you know, no. Well, if there was an amber, that came through on the telephone, where the two men were, before the red, and we had to be up for that, so we were up by the time the red came through, although sometimes we got an amber, and then there wasn’t a red at all, but we were up.
Q: I see. (Miss S: Mm.) And so you, most nights you would get a phone call or two from someone, would you?
Miss S: Yes, well, we covered all the villages round Witham, you see. And so if a bomb dropped, we had a message from the Warden that came through, and it had to be sent on to Braintree, which was the Headquarters, you see, and so on, with various – I received the ‘in’, and I’d got a pad of forms, and the Wardens had the same sort of forms. Whether they filled them in before they sent the message, I don’t know. And the first one was, oh, well, the place of, oh, the word’s gone from me now – (Q: Sorry, go on.) where the actual bomb took place – place of occurrence, you see. (Q: Oh, I see.) And one or two times I would say ‘place of …’, that was the first question, and he answered, and I asked the next question, and he, or it could have been a lady that answered, and I got more than once from way out in the villages, ‘Speak plain English, ma’am.’ [laugh].
Q: Cause I’ve seen those forms. They’ve got them all at County, at Chelmsford, great big books of them.
Miss S: Oh yes, I expect they’ve kept them. That’s right, you see. So I filled up my form, passed it to my friend Sylvia, and she sent the messages on to Braintree. And we could get a message sometimes through the, from the First Aid Post or somewhere else, but in the main, it was whenever there was a …mmm.
Q: So they were mostly ARP people that phoned?
Miss S: Yes, oh yes, they were, they wouldn’t be anybody else, no.
Q: Did they ever come in with, to tell you what was going on, or was it always the telephone?
Miss S: It was always the phone. Except when there was a, part of a basket of fire, what you would call them, I wouldn’t know, fire bombs. (Q: Incendiaries?) Incendiaries, that’s right, they came in the yard that separated the Crown from our building, you see, and they, a few scattered, and they went under the Demolition lorry, or there, we did have a, not real ambulance, but a van that had been made into a makeshift one. And so we had one actually on the premises that time. And, couple or three men went to hospital, because they were, raking them out, you see, from under, under the vehicles. But otherwise it was all telephone, outside-in.
Q: Yes, cause I think I read about, that there were some dropped near the Centre. (Miss S: Yes, yes.) Cause, was there a house in Highfields Road that was damaged, Mrs Hodge’s, in one of those, which wasn’t that far from you, was it?
Miss S: No. The only other time, when I was actually on duty, one night they had, near the end of the War, they had a Land Mine, that dropped at Rivenhall. And the message came through, normally, by the Warden, but then also another message came through, that there was a man in the Demolition Squad, whose wife lived in a house near where it had dropped, and she was pregnant, and the shock of it, it sort of started things on, and she’d been taken off to hospital, and so, message to get to him, because he was with the Demolition Squad [laugh]. (Q: It must have been very hard work …) But the next morning, that was a Saturday, the next morning, well, at the same time that that man’s mine dropped, one dropped at, where Templars School is now, but it didn’t explode. And the next morning, apparently a man was interested in it, and got under the rope that was cordoned it off, and looked down the hole, and it went off. He was killed, of course. (Q: Mr Burmby?) That’s right, that’s the name. Mm. (Q: So that would be in the day-time, so …) Oh, that was the next morning, mm.
Q: So you would only get the messages in the night … (Miss S: Night time, yes.) You could read what had happened during the day, if you wanted, could you? (Miss S: Oh yes, you could know that, yes.) That was a terrible thing, wasn’t it. (Miss S: Yes.) So then you went off to work again, in the morning?
Miss S: Yes, that’s right, got home at six, changed my clothes, of course we didn’t undress at night or anything, changed my clothes and had a good wash, had my breakfast and went off to school. I don’t know how I did it, but, on one occasion, it only happened once, I was taking needlework with some girls, you see, and I was sitting on the chair, and they were sitting at their desks, for their needlework, you see, and I sort of, I came to, and I could see all these eyes looking at me, and one girl said ‘Miss Springett, you were asleep.’ [laugh] I don’t suppose it was more than a moment or two. [laugh]
Q: No. Oh dear. I’m not surprised. That was expecting a lot, wasn’t it. (Miss S: Yes.) What about your, the other girl, did she work in the day-time?
Miss S: Oh yes, she was a teacher at the same school.
Q: Oh she was the one that was from the same school? (Miss S: Yes.) So there were two of you on, always two of you there, were there? But then you had every fourth night? [i.e. on every fourth.] (Miss S: Every fourth night, yes.) So there must have been eight, eight altogether, people?
Miss S: There were four of us in our squad. (Q: In your squad?) Yes. There were two men and we two girls. And one of the men, he must have been in his, he must have been in his fifties then, he owned the sweet shop which is now Michelle’s [probably 13 Newland Street], it was called King’s, W E King, I think his name was, and he owned that shop, he and his wife, his wife sold wools and whatnot, and he had the sweet shop side. And every time he came in, he brought us a little bag of sweets. He’d evidently gone around the bottles and taken one from here, there and everywhere, you know, so it wouldn’t …, all through the War, it was only a little bag, you know, we could eat while we were there. But, you know, we had those.
Q: So he was there at the same, the two men were there at the same time as you? (Miss S: Yes.) And, what were they doing?
Miss S: Well, the one of them, he was our Squad Leader, and he was the one who kept at the telephone in the other room, away from us. And, the messages came to him first, you see, and anything that came in, apart from the Wardens sending messages in, came to him. And the other one, this little man who had the sweet shop, there was a big map on the wall, of the whole area, you see, and he had to put, as soon as a message came in, he had to pin it on the wall, where it had come in, you know, and keep that going all the time.
Q: So, who was the one who was the chief one?
Miss S: He was an insurance agent, he lived in Braintree Road, and he was about the same age, I suppose. (Q: Do you remember his name?) Mason, his name was.
Q: So he, the messages came in to him, first, normally?
Miss S: There was an amber alert, and so when we were all at our posts, you see. To me, it was always the Wardens sending in, I didn’t get any other messages, from Braintree, because he was attached to the Braintree telephone, you see.
The only ones that came into me were from the Wardens.
Q: So he would get them from, (Miss S: From Braintree. )telling them there was an alert?
Miss S: Yes, he would get the first message that there was an amber, and, of course red followed amber, but it, sometimes it didn’t.
Q: So, did they use the siren to tell people? (Miss S: Oh yes.) But did they, did the siren sound for the amber, or for the red?
Miss S: No, it didn’t, the siren only sounded for the red.
Q: Was that at the Police Station? Whereabouts was the siren?
Miss S: I think it was at the new Police Station [in Newland Street].
Q: I see. The new one, of course. (Miss S: Yes.) So, were you frightened at all? (Miss S: No.) Just part of the job? [Miss S laughs] I suppose you got to know all the Wardens by … (Miss S: Their voices, yes.) Voices. Yes. Can you remember, I suppose the worst bombs, apart from the ones we talked about, were at Crittall’s? (Miss S: Well, Crittall’s was bombed, of course.) Do you remember that, were you on duty? (Miss S: No, that was in the daytime.) Cause I was surprised, reading those forms, how many there were out in the countryside.
Miss S: Yes. Well, I suppose, really, the, it was the planes coming back from bombing London, and they’d got a few bombs to spare and they just dropped them. (Q: Must have been, I suppose.) Must have been like that.
Q: Strange places where they fell. So what happened, when the ARP first, what did they usually do after one of these bombs had dropped in the countryside some way off?
Miss S: Well, the, they explained, you see, any damage, any fire, and damage to houses, buildings, and the only damage that they had to farmhouses or cottages, sometimes the windows were blown out, you see, and that kind of thing. There was no serious damage (Q: No.) out in the countryside.
Q: So they didn’t have to send people out straight away, or anything?
Miss S: No. The only time that there was, the land mine at, but no-one was hurt, but they were shocked, because it wasn’t very far from the houses, somewhere near the Church, at Rivenhall. (Q: Yes.) I mean it wasn’t an onerous job, but it was just regular, and you had to be there, and … It was preferable to, we laughed amongst ourselves, Sylvia and I, because we had to do a course in First Aid, of course neither of us liked it, we went to, during the day of course, we went to Bridge, Bridge Home, as it was called then [Hatfield Road], and we did this course of about ten weeks, just a very general course, we had to do that. And we had to go through the gas van with our gas masks on. [laugh] (Q: Did you? Through the gas, van did you say?) Yes, that’s what we called it, yes, it really was, I think it probably was a converted van of some kind, and it was just meant for that, to, for people who were, I suppose all the Wardens, everybody connected with the ARP had to go through the gas van.
Q: What, did it actually have …?
Miss S: They had actual gas, oh yes. (Q: Oh, so that you were …?) Oh they did, yes, oh yes.
Q: Oh I see, I’ve never heard that before, that’s interesting. [Miss S laughs] And the demolition men, what did, what were they, they were on duty all the time as well, were they?
Miss S: Whether they, I don’t know how many men, because there was a very thick door, between, and they never, they weren’t allowed to come through to us, well of course we didn’t go through to them. But whether they went, had any beds and whatnot, and went on a half-duty or not, I just don’t know. When we went on at ten o’clock at night, we could have supper, and one, of we four, we didn’t want a supper at ten o’clock, anything we’d had to eat, we’d had at home. But they did, you could smell bacon cooking, and things like that, through the door. So I should imagine probably those men who were on the Demolition Squad, some of them had a supper when they came in, you know. [laugh]
Q: So you didn’t really see them very much. Cause the fire station was, one of the fire stations … (Miss S: Just down the road, yes.) [corner of Guithavon Street and Mill Lane] Was there a, was it a shelter, for the firemen? I mean on the piece of grass, on the corner. (Miss S: Oh yes.) Was that like an air raid shelter or something? Perhaps you don’t remember that. Miss S: I don’t remember that. Course we had a uniform (Q: Oh did you?) [laugh]
We were given, dungarees, you know, all the way through, with ARP on the pocket. (Q: Yes.) And, a very thick heavy overcoat for the winter, and of course a tin hat. (Q: I see. And you had to wear the tin hat …?) We were expected to wear these dungarees every time we went on duty, but if it was hot in the summer time, I’m afraid we didn’t always. And of course we didn’t wear the coats in the, in the summer. (Q: No. What about the hat?) We always wore the tin hat.
Q: Did you? I suppose that was to protect you? (Miss S: Yes. ) Cause everyone else was rushing off to the shelters, and you were still stuck there by the telephone, presumably?
Miss S: Yes, yes. [laugh]
Q: That didn’t bother you at all?
Miss S: No, no, it didn’t, no. The only thing that bothered me was, didn’t really, because, I wasn’t thinking about being killed, or injured and that, except I thought of the house collapsing on one, and being buried underneath it, you know. (Q: But you didn’t …?) I wasn’t really, no. (Q: You were obviously very …) Cause when they, when the siren went during school hours, parents could come and collect their children and take them home, if they wanted to. Well, of course they would only be parents who lived near the school. And at first, there were quite a few mothers who came along and collected their children and took them home, but it came to, one mother who was a very very nervous woman, and she said, her little girl, she, I suppose, this little girl, she was seven or eight, I suppose, and she said, ‘Mummy’, she said, ‘I don’t, I don’t want to, to come home, when that siren goes, I’m quite all right, everybody’s safe at school, you know.’ [laugh]
Q: Probably was better off there, wasn’t she?
Miss S: Yes, but of course, naturally, the mothers felt that they wanted their children near them, but, as the years went on, I don’t think any mothers came to collect. (Q: No?) And only time they did, if the, the red alert was over school leaving time, you see, school finished at four, and if we were still in the shelters, we had to of course, keep the children there, unless their parents came to fetch them. And then we could let them go, but otherwise, we had to wait, and one afternoon, and that was the only afternoon I remember, we had a long period, we were there till five. (Q: Oh?) But by five, most of the children had been collected, most of them.
Q: Yes, cause that was awkward, wasn’t it, if the alert went …? (Miss S: Yes, yes.) Who was the head then? (Miss S: Mr Care.) Mr Care, oh yes.
Miss S: Oh of course, well we all knew the sound of the aeroplanes, and you could hear them in the shelters, although of course it was a bit muffled, and, the children would say ‘Oh, that’s a Messerschmitt’, ‘No, it isn’t, that’s a Heinkel’, you know, they’d have an argument. [laugh] ‘Oh no, that’s one of ours.’ (Q: Really?) [laugh]
Q: That must have been rather arduous. What sort of, how long would you have been there for any one trip to the shelters? (Miss S: Period of time?) Were you there for half an hour, three hours, or did it …?
Miss S: Oh, well, yes, you never knew, you might have been in there only, might have just got in and settled down, and the all clear sounded, and out you went, you see. But it could be half an hour, an hour, two or three hours. But on this occasion, I think we were there nearly all day on this one particular, when we were there till five.
Q: Was there a, was it light in the shelters?
Miss S: Well, there was one little light in the shelter, and of course, children needed to go to the toilet, and so, there were two toilets, one for boys and one for girls, and, no doors were allowed, so there was an army blanket, and of course, by the end of the day, you know, it didn’t, [laugh], it didn’t keep the odours out, I’m afraid. (Q: Oh, dear.) And of course there’s, I mean, we were all the same, because there were no chairs or anything there, we, we staff, we sat on the, on the benches the same as the children. I mean they were made of concrete, of course, just concrete benches, and every child brought a cushion to school, and so if a red alert came, I mean they were like a little army, pick up your gas mask and your cushion, and, in, when it was cold weather, they had their coats on the backs of their seats, you see, pick them up and out. It was really orderly, you know, they knew the drill. [laugh] Yes.
Q: Do you remember what, the dinners, was that affected by the rationing at all? They got their dinners in addition to their rations at home?
Miss S: Oh yes, yes. [laugh] Sometimes they had fish pie, and it was tinned pink salmon, stirred round in mashed potato, and the children, you know, they’d pick out the little pieces of pink and put round the dish, and say ‘I’ve got ten, I’ve got …’ [laugh] And the sausages, I always remember war-time sausages, they were awful. We always wondered what was in them. [laugh] The skins were so tough. (Q: Were they?) Yes, we had to sort of cut them, cause some of the children, they couldn’t manage, you know. Oh, long, long ago.
Q: So they were cooked up at Bramston and brought round? (Q: Yes.) It would be difficult to keep them warm that long, wouldn’t it? (Miss S: Yes.) Well they still, they do that sort of thing nowadays. There were some, I remember reading about the British Restaurant, so you remember anything about that?
Miss S: Oh yes, there were. Yes, I believe, yes, there was one, I think it was, I think it was at the Methodist Church. I won’t be certain of that, but I …
Q: Cause where were you living then?
Miss S: I was living in Cressing Road then. (Q: With your parents?) Yes.
Q: So you went up, did you go to Cressing Road when they were new, all new houses there, or …?
Miss S: I’m not sure when they were built. This bungalow [Homefield Road] was built in 1934. So they told me, Mr Jones told me, when I moved in. 1934.
Q: How long have you been here, then?
Miss S: 1987. (Q: Oh, yes. It’s very nice, isn’t it?) Yes, yes, it’s big enough for one.
Q: So you had to, did you cycle or anything, or did you walk everywhere?
Miss S: Oh no, I had a bicycle, and then later on I had a car. (Q: So you …) One morning, well, Mr King, he walked up into the town, because he lived behind the shop in the High Street, but the other three of us, we, we had cycles, you see, so, course that’s on the hill, isn’t it, the old Police Station, you go down to the bottom, cycle along the Valley. And, darkness, and we had little teeny-weeny lights on our bicycles, hardly any use at all, you see, and, I got on my bike and, thought I was going down the hill, and I’d evidently gone straight across the road, and I hit the kerb. [laugh] (Q: Oh dear!) And I called out to the other two, who happened to be behind me, ‘I think I’ve hit a bomb!’ [laugh] So we all got off and had a sort of, I’d just gone straight across instead of going down the hill. Ah.
Q: I suppose you couldn’t have strong lights, anyway, because of the, was the black-out fairly strict in the War?
Miss S: Oh, very strict, yes, very strict, mm.
Q: So, did that affect your bike lights as well?
Miss S: Yes, oh yes, it did.
Q: Those things you don’t think about nowadays. So you must have been quite a well-known person, by the time you’d taught all those children?
Miss S: I don’t know. [laugh]
Q: Do you still see some of your pupils?
Miss S: Occasionally. Of course, the worst thing is, you know, if you don’t remember them, because they expect you remember everybody, you see. You can’t always remember. And of course, the ones I taught in Witham are now white-haired and so on, you see, retired themselves now. And of course I don’t see the Cressing ones very often, because they go to Braintree rather than Witham.
Q: I think Malcolm told me you were 91, is that right? (Miss S: Yes.) Ah. You’d never know. [Miss S laughs] You keep well?
Miss S: Yes. Of course, as you get older you have all sorts of things happen to you, but anyway, reasonably well, mm. I don’t see all that well, but, yes, I have my little bits and pieces that’ll live with me for ever, but you just, carry on. But yes, reasonably well.
Q: Yes, oh, well, that’s very interesting. [???] You enjoyed teaching, did you?
Miss S: Oh yes. (Q: All that length of time?) Although, by the time I retired, education was changing. Well, it began to change immediately after the War, you see, new ideas came in, a lot of them were good ones. But then towards the end, I mean, most teachers were saying ‘Well, we don’t know where education is going’. And so by the time I retired, I was quite glad to retire. And of course it’s gone.
Q: Were you always in the Congregational Church, going back to … (Miss S: Yes.) Cause the Maldon Road [school] originally was Congregational. (Miss S: We’re URC now, you see. Yes, it was Congregational.) So it’s probably suited, did it suit you better going to a different school, then, you think, anyway?
Miss S: Oh yes. But of course I was just sent. Young teachers were sent there.
Q: Did you do a lot at the Church?
Miss S: Oh yes, I did when I was younger, yes.
Q: What sort of things did you do?
Miss S: [laugh] Anything that was going, that needed to be done, I suppose. [laugh]
Q: Did they have choirs and [???] and things like that? (Miss S: Oh yes.) Do you still go there now? (Miss S: Yes I go, I just go on Sunday, of course I don’t go to anything else.) So, it sounds as if that made quite a difference at one time, then, if the Vicar didn’t want you to go to Dunmow, because of the Church?
Miss S: Well, of course, the Church of England schools were really, later on, Church of, it became what was called Voluntary Aided. And then they were not so directly under the auspices of the Vicar. But the Vicar had a great deal of say in their Church schools, and naturally, when he had this young girl in the area, round about Dunmow, who was due to take her first job, of course he preferred her to … He didn’t know anything about either of us, I suppose, you see, as to what sort of teachers we would be. But that, that headmaster that came from Canada, in later years, because I used, I’m a member of the NUT, and I used to go to District meetings, well he came in from Dunmow to Braintree, and we went in from Witham, you see, there. And so, I met him, and I got to know him quite well, and he said he didn’t know what he was doing that first day. [laugh] But he was a very nice man, I got to know him quite well.
Q: Oh, so you were quite active in the NUT, did most teachers go to the meetings ?
Miss S: Not really. I didn’t at the beginning, but as I grew older I did, I went to NUT meetings, yes. Cause we covered Halstead, Dunmow and Witham, into Braintree, you see, so usually our meetings were in Braintree, except for the one in the summer term, and that took, to go out in the wider area, you see. Mm.
Q: So did you ever have any, were you a local representative, or a committee person, or anything, in the NUT?
Miss S: Mm, not on the NUT. I, funny sort of title, I was a B and O secretary. [laugh] Benevolent and Orphan fund, for the district. They always referred to it as the B and O. Well, of course we know what B and O used to be in the olden days.
Q: So it was Benevolent and Orphans? (Miss S: Mm.) Oh, so you were quite involved, then, with what was going on?
Miss S: Oh, yes, a bit.
Q: Cause Braintree was bigger, quite a lot bigger than Witham in those days? (Miss S: Yes, it was, yes, mm.) So, going back to the Report Centre, I wonder why they didn’t get the people to phone the stuff straight to Braintree? (Miss S: I don’t know.) I suppose they thought if anything needed doing, you would be …
Miss S: Yes. I always remember, when we went to that First Aid Course that we had to go, and, the man who gave the course, and the lectures, of it, and when he referred to Incendiary bombs, he always called them Insanitary Bombs. [laugh] And I wonder, wonder, didn’t correct him, because he didn’t just take us. When he’d taken us as a course, he did others, you see. And we used to sit there and wait for him. He was talking about what we did, you know, if Insanitary bombs fell. Oh, it was funny. (Q: You didn’t like to say?) No, I didn’t, no.
Q: Did you ever have to do any?
Miss S: Well, we had to know how to put a triangular bandage on, and some other bandage, things like that. What to do if anyone was choking, erm, just general bandaging and so on, you know, to pass what, to pass to somebody and do a bit more, but to do sort of, a little bit at the beginning, but … But why we, because, unless something had hit the Police, the old Police Station, we wouldn’t be involved. But, it was just one of those things, we had to take the courses.
Q: I’ve got a picture, I should have brought it, I’ll drop it in another time, with various ARP people on, and so on. [JG’s photo M1834] See if you know anybody that nobody else … I’ve got quite a lot of the names on it, but, I can’t remember whether you’re on it, or not. Of course you probably wouldn’t be, if it’s the ARP. It can’t be all, there must have been a lot of Wardens, were there?
Miss S: Oh yes, cause there were Wardens in every street, really, weren’t they?
Q: Yes, this must just be the chief ones, on the picture, then. (Miss S: Probably, mm.) So, your, was your father still working in the War time. (Miss S: Oh yes.) But he was, he’d given up the …
Miss S: He’d given up the smallholding and he was, a full-time postman by that time. Course he was older, because when I was born, he was 41, so he wasn’t a young man to start with. Mm. So, oh I think the, wasn’t the head man of the whole ARP, Norman Dixon? I think he …. (Q: Yes, I think you’re right. Barnardiston House.) That’s right, that’s right, yes.
Q: Yes, he’s in the picture. Did you have an get-togethers with them, or anything? You never really met most of them, presumably?
Miss S: No. Norman Dixon, he would walk in sometimes, you know, to see if everybody was doing what they should be, and so on. He walked in one evening, night, and I was in the kitchen making a cup of tea, you see. And he stood there and he said ‘You know you’ve not making the tea correctly.’ So, I sort of looked at him, and he said ‘You should always warm the pot before you make the tea.’ [laugh] I, I said, ‘I know that’, I said, ‘but I’m not at an afternoon party, I’m here’, ARP, you know. [laugh] He was an old woman, he really was.
Q: So he really meant it, he wasn’t …
Miss S: Oh yes. I remember him walking in there. And he used to walk ‘flop flop flap’, you know, with his feet out. I mean we used to laugh about Norman Dixon. (Q: Did you?) Mm [laugh]
Q: I’m sure you were always behaving yourselves, anyway, so he didn’t need to …
Miss S: Oh no, he didn’t. That was the only thing, that I wasn’t making the tea properly [laugh]
Q: Cause I think, he was the one that lived in Barnardiston House, I think he’s in the middle of this picture.
Miss S: Yes, and then he lived in Collingwood Road after that. (Q: Did he?) Yes, because, he was engaged to a Miss Brown, that’s right, and they were going to live in Collingwood Road. Well it, you know, the engagement was broken off, and he continued, he lived there on his own. Mm, latterly.
Q: You’ve got a good memory, haven’t you, all these things coming back to you?
Miss S: Yes, it’s really funny how some little thing is said, or happens somewhere, and you think about it, it brings back a whole, a lot of things, you know.
Q: Cause I suppose when Crittall’s was bombed …
Miss S: It was just, I was talking to a friend, last week I went into Morrison’s, and they had bags of, they’d got them, ‘peas in the pod’, yes I think that’s what they called them, you see. And I thought, ‘Well, I don’t suppose they’re very good’, you know, but then, standing there, looking, ‘Shall I buy one or shall I not’, came into my mind, as a child, the first peas we had from the garden, and the first potatoes, my mother always cooked with fried bacon. The very first ones. And I can see it now, her tipping up the frying pan, and pouring the fat, you know, over our peas and potatoes. Course, we had them as an ordinary vegetable with a dinner, but the very first one, and standing there, I was thinking about that, and of course I bought a packet of peas. They were quite nice, but they didn’t taste like the ones when I was young. [laugh]
Q: Presumably came, did he grow them on the smallholding? (Miss S: That’s right, yes.) So what happened to the, hopefully he made more than, he grew more than you could eat, so it went off somewhere?
Miss S: Oh yes, actually, besides the actual field, the smallholding, we had a garden. Father always grew things for us to eat in the garden. Because originally, when he took over the smallholding, his intention was to grow flower seeds, and he’d even, he’d got the contract and everything like that, you see. And so I suppose he did for one season, and then he was not allowed to, he had to grow food.
Q: I see.
Miss S: So he grew, I can remember potatoes, runner beans, peas, cabbages, and, then eventually he went back, partly, not completely, to flower seeds, and did some. And he also grew strawberries.
Q: So you were well-fed? (Oh yes, yes.) Did he have anyone to help him?
Miss S: He did most of it, but mother helped him. He employed, well Mr Pelly at the Lodge, he used to do contract work, and so he employed, he had him to do the ploughing and that kind of thing, but after that it was Father and Mother really, except for the women who came to pick up the potatoes, and do things like that.
Q: Quite hard work, I should think?
Miss S: Very hard work, I think it must have been very hard work.
Q: [looking at tape recorder] Still going. Just turn it over.
[for some reason starts with a short bit of someone else, I must have been re-using an old tape. Miss S starts at 1.2 minutes]
Q: What was your parents’ first names?
Miss S: Father was Charles Robert, and mother was Emily Alice.
Q: Did they come from Witham?
Miss S: No, they came from Rivenhall.
Q: I see. So that’s, as you say, they’re nothing to do with the Witham Springetts? (Miss S: No.) When did they come to Witham?
Miss S: 19-, it was March, before the War broke out.
Q: Oh that’s it, I see. So you were …
Q: I was just about on the way.) Just about on the way, I’m doing my sums here. 91, 2006. Yes.
Miss S: I was born December 1914, you see.
Q: Can’t be many people, not many people around who were still, can you remember, you were too small to remember anything about the First World War, weren’t you, you’d be four when it finished, I suppose.
Miss S: Yes, there was one thing that I used to say I remembered, but my mother always said that I couldn’t have remembered it because I was only about two and a half. And so it’s possibly what my mother told me. Of course Zeppelins came towards London, and mostly they came at night, but there was one coming along, why my mother ran in fear, because there was, well they didn’t travel all that fast, and they was coming like at the bottom of the field, so she wasn’t in danger, Father, I don’t know where Father was at this time. And she picked me up and ran across the field to the next one, you see, next person. But mother said ‘You can’t remember that, you were only about two and a half’. So I probably didn’t, but I, I remembered being in my mother’s arms, and she was running, cause mother didn’t run. [laugh] But I do remember the end of the War, because there were searchlights, they couldn’t have been in London, but that way, and walked across the road to the Bridge Home, as it was called, and people from down in Bridge Street and so on came as well, to see all these searchlights criss-crossing in the sky. The War was over, you see. And, I can remember seeing those, when I was, the War ended, I was just on four. So, I can remember that. Yes.
Q: For some people, times were quite hard after the War, weren’t they? (Q: Yes.) I suppose the postman, the postman’s job was reasonably steady? (Miss S: Yes, oh yes.) So you stayed at the smallholding till, some time between the Wars? (Miss S: Yes, that’s right.) Yes, I’ve seen, there’s still one of the, there’s quite a few of the houses from the smallholdings still left, but nobody knows what they are nowadays, I don’t think, do they? (Miss S: No.) There’s one opposite Howbridge, Howbridge Hall?
Miss S: Howbridge, that one is still standing, the one, opposite Howbridge Hall, there’s one there. There was one along Maltings Lane going out towards Hatfield Road, that’s not there any longer. Pondholton, there wasn’t, the name Pondholton is evidently named …
Oh, something perhaps you could tell me, someone asked me a question the other day. She said ‘Do you know why Dancing Dicks Farm was called Dancing Dicks?’. [on back road to Terling, from Blunts Hall Road]
Q: I’ve been asked that, but nobody seems to know.
Miss S: She knew that I was interested in Witham, and knew quite a bit about Witham, you see. And her husband worked for Lord Rayleigh. This is some years ago, cause she must be in her mid-seventies, this lady, and they lived in one of the Dancing Dicks cottages, apparently. And she said, ‘You’re interested in Witham and its history, aren’t you?’ I said ‘Yes’. She said ‘Well, can you tell me why Dancing Dicks is called Dancing Dicks?’ She’s asked some people, I don’t know who. And I said ‘Well, no, I’ve always known the name, but, no idea.’ And I don’t really know whether it’s Dix or Dicks, do you know?
Q: On the map it’s ‘cks’.
Miss S: Oh. I don’t know. It’s a funny sort of name for a farm, isn’t it?
Q: Very, I don’t know, I’ve often been asked that, and I’ve never known the answer. Cause I suppose people like, well Lord Rayleigh was in Terling, when, in the times that you can remember, were there sort of well-off people in Witham still, like there would have been in the old, before the First World War, that people had to touch their caps to, or get off the pavement for?
Miss S: Admiral Sir William Luard, the people did, apparently. He wore, when he was, so I’m told. When he was going to catch the train to London, he was going to be back on duty, and his coach, or whatever he was in, was open, evidently. And he was driven from Ivy Chimneys to the station, you see, and he’d got his cockade hat on, and everybody in the street, as he passed, they bowed to him [laugh]. (Q: Oh really?) So I’m told, yes. I remember his, his, two, two of his daughters.
Q: Oh, do you? What do you remember about them?
Miss S: Well, only that one of them, I don’t know what her name was, but she was a nun, but, Church of England, not Roman Catholic. And, it wasn’t a closed order or anything. She came home for holidays and so on. And the habit was grey. And so she was always called the Grey Lady. [this was Alice Luard, 1861-1947, from the College of Women Workers in Lewisham] The other one, the other lady, is Edith, I did remember her, because, she called on us at the smallholding on or two occasions, and she was a great worker amongst the youth of the Church of England, so I understand. So I have met her. And I met her, because she was one of our school governors at Maldon Road, until she died.
Q: Yes, I’ve heard a lot about the Miss Luards.
Miss S: And of course, there was, later on, there was Canon Luard, he, Chipping Hill, wasn’t he. (Q: I believe so, yes.) That’s right.
Q: There can’t be many people around who met one of the Miss Luards.
Miss S: No. Miss Edith, I did, simply because she was a governor and she came walking round the school from time to time, you know, that’s all. But I knew at the time that she worked well with the youth, you know, of, young people. And of course, there was the Grove, that was the biggest house, wasn’t it, in Witham. (Q: I suppose so, yes.) Our only claim to royalty was that Princess Caroline stayed the night there [laugh].[actually Charlotte, 1761]
Q: I’m trying to think who else, the Miss Pattissons, do you remember them?
Miss S: Oh yes, in Pelican House in Collingwood Road. (Q: Did you know her?) No, not to speak to, but I have a vision of them, yes, mm. And of course there was a house, well it’s where Bakers Oven is now, and part of the precinct, called the Wilderness, wasn’t it [52-54 Newland Street]. But I don’t remember who lived there, I can remember the house. (Q: Yes, a big one, it must have been?) Yes. And of course the Library was a private house, wasn’t it [18 Newland Street]. (Q: Until the cinema came there?) Yes.
Q: Did you used to go to the cinema?
Miss S: Oh yes. [laugh] (Q: Frequently?) No, just when the fit took me, you know. (Q: Nice and convenient?) And of course there was Spa Place. Taking the waters at Spa Place.
Q: It was a bit different then, wasn’t it. You used to cycle around without worrying about being knocked off your bike, like you would these days. How long did you go on with your bicycle?
Miss S: Oh, I kept on riding, even when I had a car. (Q: Oh, did you?) When did I give it up, I don’t know. When I was in my fifties maybe, I don’t know. (Q: Oh, well done, yes.)
Q: I suppose if you were going off to Cressing to work, you needed the car for that, didn’t you. (Miss S: Oh yes.) Though I’m sure in the old days people would have cycled. (Miss S: Oh yes. [laugh]) Or walked, or something. But you wouldn’t have gone that far to work, would you. (Miss S: No.) In your parents’ time. I’ve forgotten, what was your mother’s name?
Miss S: Emily Alice. (Q: Emily Alice, that’s right. And your father was?) Charles Robert.
Q: Charles Robert. And if I see them anywhere I’ll know who they were, if I see their names on anything. Where did you used to do most of your shopping, for food and things?
Miss S: Oh, in Witham. Otherwise, for clothes and everything else, Chelmsford or Colchester.
Q: Which did you go to, which shops did you go to most in Witham?
Miss S: Well, the groceries, mostly the International. And Sorrell’s, the butchers, who were there for years and years. And of course there were the green-, they were all separate in those days, weren’t they? No, I’d rather, I don’t like supermarkets, I know they’re useful, but I don’t.
Q: Convenient, though, as you say, but (Miss S: Oh yes.) a bit soulless aren’t they?
Miss S: I always feel guilty if I, in Morrison’s, I buy something in the sort of, chemistry section, I think I ought to be at Boots, but of course it’s very, now I’m old and I don’t walk all that well, it’s very handy getting things at Morrison’s, but I always feel that little bit guilty, you know.
Q: Yes. Do you go down to the town, though, sometimes? (Miss S: Oh, yes, I do.) Can go on the bus from here?
Miss S: Can go on the bus, yes. But I don’t, these days I don’t want to carry heavy bags of anything from the town, no.
Q: That’s well placed for you then, is Morrison’s, isn’t it. (Miss S: Yes.) I suppose you must know a lot about vegetables. Are you very choosy with your vegetables if you were brought up on a smallholding? You can recognise a good one?
Miss S: Well, I do grow a few in my garden. (Q: Oh do you, how lovely.) Not much, but I do, yes. (Q: Well done.) I have some help in the garden, I can’t do it myself, but, all I grow now, are lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, marrows, beetroot, carrots. Not many of each. My garden has got smaller and smaller. When I moved here, it was a wilderness, grass was this high, but, and the gentleman next door, I know, he spoke to me over the fence, and, looking at all this garden, he said ‘Well, what are you going to do with all that?’ And I said ‘I’m going to make a garden’. He said ‘Make a garden?’. Cause, I was in my seventies then, you see. And he went into his wife, cause she told me later on, and he said ‘Do you know, that woman who’s moved next door, he said ‘She’s not young, but she says she’s going to make a garden out of that’. [laugh] (Q: Well done.) And I did, you see, but, the idea was, I divide it into two parts, so, and I had a rose arch over the, there was a path, concrete path down the garden, and this half was going to be two lawns and flowers and things, and then vegetables the other side, which is what I did. But of course, as the years have gone on, my little vegetable patch has got smaller and smaller, so … But I’ve always loved gardening.
Q: Oh good. So you grew vegetables at Cressing Road as well? (Miss S: Oh yes, mm.) Cause they’re big gardens, aren’t they?
Miss S: Yes, they were, yes. Course this is quite a big garden, on this side of the road, bigger than that, you know.
Q: I see. Cause presumably you knew quite a few of the people living here from way back, do you?
Miss S: We don’t, I.. When I first moved here we seemed to know everybody, but it’s not quite the same now as it used to be. I know the people who live opposite, well, they’re men actually, they, well they come and go, but, I don’t think anybody knows anything about them, or what, I don’t know. It seems to be a bit different. I know Malcolm of course, next door here. [Malcolm Mead, 4 Homefield Road]. And I know the lady who now lives next door here. But, nodding acquaintance with just one or two, but, you don’t sort of know, them very well. No.
Q: So is that what you used to spend most of your spare time, gardening, or do you have other hobbies?
Miss S: Gardening, and reading. And work at my church, of course. Most uneventful life. [laugh]
Of course it was six years in the War, was a big, I know, people who were serving abroad and all that sort of thing, was an awful chunk out of their lives. But that was a chunk out of, life, you know. (Q: Your life as well, yes.) When you just carried on from day to day, never knowing when it was going to end, and …
Q: A long time, really, isn’t it? (Miss S: Yes.) But you seem to remember it very clearly, even though it was, almost sixty years ago now.
Miss S: Yes, yes. My memory’s not too bad, but I know I do forget things, I go to get something out of a room, and when I get there I’ve forgotten what I’ve come for. [laugh] But then other people are like that as well, when they get older, so that’s nothing special.
Q: Well, I do that. Did your parents have any hobbies, or were they busy …
Miss S: Not really, no, they both liked reading. But … And I’ve never been a telly, I can’t watch very much now, but, I’ve never been a television addict, ever. I’ve never watched soaps or anything like that, no, not the slightest bit interested, no. I’d far rather read a book than look at the television. I can’t read a book now, so, that’s that. (Q: You have the radio, I see?) Yes, I have the radio. Yes, I’ve got four radios. The one in each bedroom, and that one, which can have tapes in it, and then this one. So they’re nearly all different stations. [laugh] But the two in the bedrooms are batteries, run, you see, and, they’re in there, and I’ve often thought of throwing them out, but, last year we had a power cut that lasted quite a long time, and, I expect you did, didn’t you? (Q: Yes, we did.) Yes. So I was glad that I hadn’t thrown them out, cause I could have one on BBC Essex and know exactly what was happening, and … so I haven’t thrown them away yet, no.
[chat about future visit, photo, etc., not noted.]