Miss Dorothy Hancock was born c 1915. She was interviewed on 13 December 1998, when she lived at 3 Highfields Road.
She also appears in lectures 166 and 175, and on interview tape 178.
For more information about her, see Hancock, Dorothy, in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
[looking at 1st edition OS map, discussion of where stationmaster’s house was in Easton Road, her father was stationmaster]
Miss H: As you came past our house on the left was the track which the coal lorries used to use.
Q: So you had a triangular garden.
Miss H: Yes, it was triangular at the side[?] cause there’s no road past there is there. There was definitely a private road through for the coal lorries off Easton Road. Yes, and the siding and everything there.
Q: So you think that’s not the house.
Miss H: No, I don’t think it can be. I, looking at the shape of that, that must have been, I know, there were some sheds, and that was a sort of field which we had the use of. We had chickens there.
Q: I’ll have to find a newer one and show you that sometime, which has actually got it on, this is a bit too old.
Miss H: What period’s that?
Q: 1870 something so it is rather a long time ago. Oh well I’ll find another map sometime. So you went up the road and it was on your left?
Miss H: You went up the road, you stopped there, it was facing, the gate was facing this way.
Q: Facing down the road.
Miss H: Yes. And next door there was The Laurels, bigger house, and that was the entrance was there, quite near.
Q: I’ll find another map sometime and ask you about that again. You think you’re going to remember these things and once they’ve gone it’s hard to picture it. How long ago was it that it went, the house, I wonder.
[looking at papers, not noted]
Miss H: Ah, demolished in 1960.
Q: Oh well, I didn’t see it then. It’s nice to think you’re an authority on the railways.
Miss H: Well. It’s useful in a way. It meant more to me lately, you know, yes. I was very glad to do the one about father, because, you know you don’t appreciate your parents, you take them for granted, and I realise now that he was an exceedingly good railwayman, and people have said, best stationmaster we ever had, that sort of thing, and I realise, and he was certainly diligent, didn’t have much time to himself.
Q: I read your piece, you were saying how he didn’t, the hours he worked.
Miss H: Oh, absolutely, no social life. He wouldn’t, I mean mother never got taken out to things by her husband, well you went to church on Sunday evenings but that’s about it. She had her own social life, she had to find it for herself. But, once when she had invited people and he was to come and he was detained at the station, he didn’t come early, but he came eventually. The only thing I can remember him, social thing going to, was stationmasters’ dinner every year [???] at Liverpool Street.
Q: I suppose, it was much more involved, there were a lot more people working at the station.
Miss H: Oh there were lots, yes, it was really quite a big staff. I think Albert, not Albert, John Newman, he’s got some wonderful pictures of the station staff. Cause he was one of them.
Q: Yes. And I remember you mentioning that they still had horses?
Miss H: Yes, oh they had horses for, yes lovely old Shire horses to give a little pull to get the trucks moving for shunting, cause a terrible lot of shunting used to go on there, used to wake people up at night. We had a friend for the weekend, she said it sounds as if someone’s breaking thousands of cups and saucers, and, that’s how, they got them going and there was the lever they would carry on, but they had to give a useful pull, dear old things.
Q: So somebody had to look after them?
Miss H: Oh yes, there was a little, a little sort of stable place at the back, near the goods station, Pounds was the horse man, the name I remember, very fond of the horses.
Q: Cause it’s quite a specialised job, isn’t it?
Miss H: It is really, yes.
Q: Did you, were you aware of what he was doing, or was he just disappearing? Cause you lived pretty near, didn’t you, yourself, so would you be aware a lot of what was going on at the station, and what he was up to?
Miss H: Well, only went out, yes, we learnt bits and pieces, especially when things went wrong, and we used to sometimes, he was caught up on foggy nights when engines were up the line all that sort of thing. But we’ve got quite a complicated job, a double junction you see, and a lot of goods traffic as well, and passenger traffic of course was important because it was the sort of place where commuters used to go from.
Q: Even then there were commuters? Did many people go up to London then?
Miss H: Quite a few, they all seemed to be on the Stock Exchange, or we thought they were, they had bowler hats, rolled umbrellas and paper under the arm, and, whatever they really did. Some of them undoubtedly were on the Stock Exchange, one was at Lloyds.
Q: Where did they, how did they get to the station, did …
Miss H: Well, some of them lived near the station, Chipping Hill, several of them lived there, Captain lived near, he lived in Chipping Hill, and the Gooches, Mr Gooch, and Mr Puddecombe[?] lived in Avenue Road I think, and Captain Evitt, now he must have come a greater distance, I don’t know how he got there. Those are the four names come to mind of the bowler hatted ones.
Q: So there were few enough for you to know them really? There weren’t hundreds and hundreds of them, there were only sort of individual …?
Miss H: Oh no. Course I don’t say I knew every one, but those were regulars that I did know.
Q: Yes. So did anyone come to the station in a car?
Miss H: I think they must have done but I can’t remember, but one came in a pony and trap, and that was Christopher Parker, Faulkbourne.
Q: Then what happened to the pony and trap?
Miss H: He had a groom, you see, the groom used to bring him and go back. And actually, he only went to Chelmsford, he was on the board of Barclay’s bank or something like that, and he … I think he’ll crop up in one of them [her papers] because I did a piece about interesting passengers, Dorothy Sayers etc you know. Father called her ‘a fine girl’. That was a great compliment, anyone father called a fine girl was, probably well built, and pleasant to talk to. She was a good sort apparently.
Q: That’s interesting. Because she’s often portrayed as a bit distant, but …
Miss H: And a bit snobbish and all that sort of thing, but she was …
Q: I have heard other people say that she …
Miss H: She got on well with people, I suppose, being a clergyman’s daughter, she had to deal with all local people who did things, maybe, but she was nice, father thought she was OK.
Q: Did you remember anything about her?
Miss H: Only once, I remember there was an election, and she came out of the woodwork and spoke up for the Conservative candidate, I can’t put a year to it. She appeared at the Public Hall, but I can’t remember who it was, or whether he got in, or whether it was Driberg’s time.
Q: Were you there?
Miss H: I was there once.
Q: When you heard her speaking.
Miss H: Yes.
Q: Oh that’s something to be able to say, isn’t it.
Miss H: Because she didn’t, she shunned publicity on the whole, wanted a quiet life. There was time when she was, do you remember there was a programme on radio called ‘In Town Tonight’, and always started off in the same way, with one of Eric something’s Knightsbridge March. And then people who were in town tonight. And she was one of them. And she said she had to be in town really to get any peace, really, she had to be in town. I forget why. The country was a bit, she went to get some writing in the country.
Q: She did yes, how strange.
Miss H: [???] a funny story about her husband, I think he was rather a joker, and one day she had a call in London, and they said ‘Oh, this is Harrod’s’, and she said ‘What’s this all …’, they said ‘This is the fur storage department’, and he said ‘Will you tell whoever it is that the, something’s happened to her coat, the moth had got in it’. And of course it was just a joke, he made it up.
Q: Perhaps that’s what she meant about having some peace. So do you, you mentioned Tom Driberg, that was, do you remember him at all? [MP for the Maldon Constituency, which then included Witham, from 1942 to 1955].
Miss H: Yes, I remember him well. I was very impressed with Tom Driberg. He first went in as an Independent, and the second time he had repeat, he went in next time for Labour, but he was a very impressive speaker, and he used to, yes, they used to talk at street corners then you see, I’ve heard him in the Public Hall, a properly organised meeting. And at the same time he was up against, I think this must have been the second time, Aubrey Moody, he put up for Conservatives, and they were in opposition, they were each at different street corners the same night, you know, at Witham, and then they used to meet and have a drink together, I suppose the Albert or somewhere like that. Yes they were sort of good friends really, which was rather nice.
Q: When you say they spoke at street corners, they literally just stood on the pavement?
Miss H: Yes, they stood there and held forth, a crowd of people came and listened.
Q: More eventful really, I suppose it’s television that’s changed it all hasn’t it.
Miss H: Absolutely. It was nice really, seeing the people, you need never see them again, whoever your member is it, there’s no reason to see them.
Q: So were your parents involved in anything like that?
Miss H: No, now mother had been, she, it was a sort of social thing anyway, if you belonged, if you were in Witham, and you went to Church, and you went to the Women’s Working Party, and the Women’s Institute, you probably belonged to the Conservative Association, which mother did. And father, brought up as a Conservative, but eventually they both changed, they both, you might say saw the light, they, I think saw the light, and they switched, which was really, that took a bit of doing, I think, for people who’d been brought up in Victorian England and they married at the turn of the century, and so it was really, that was really a surprise.
Q: So that was quite late in life, you think?
Miss H: Well yes, I think probably the forties, I can’t put a time to it, it was late yes.
Q: I suppose there was a big change then wasn’t there, after the War.
Miss H: There was then, yes, people’s attitudes changed. I remember thinking, remembering after World War One when I was living in Ilford, and one of the most upsetting things was being taken as a child along Ilford High Street shopping on a Saturday afternoon, and every now and then you’d see someone, a one-legged man playing a, or even selling matches, ex-servicemen. And I thought ‘Oh heavens I hope we’re not going to have that sort of thing after this War.
And a feeling that perhaps if the other side got in they might do something about it. I don’t know who, it probably wouldn’t have happened anyway, but I had the feeling that perhaps they wouldn’t have that sort of thing going on.
Q: So I suppose, it was much harder for them, cause I suppose if your mother was in the, actually in the Association, it was a bit more public I suppose, if you changed your mind.
Miss H: Well yes, but by the time they did it, you know, there wasn’t any cohesion then. I don’t think they, it had been a social thing really. So I think perhaps, I don’t know …
Q: Perhaps during the War there were less organisations …Cause you were working up in …
Miss H: I worked in London for a time in the thirties.
Q: I worked in Peter Jones once, you know, for five weeks, at Christmas.
Miss H: Oh gosh, what department?
Miss H: How nice.
Miss H: Beautiful new building, isn’t it. When I first went there it was the old building, and it was very primitive, and while I was there they were rebuilding it, and I never forgive them, because they kept, called us in, well they called us in on Boxing Day once, because we had to change over Departments so they men could get on the thing at the week, and another time we had to go in on a Saturday afternoon, and it was the last time Rachmaninov came to Britain, he gave his last recital in England, and I couldn’t go. However. I’ll never forgive them for that.
Q: So that was quite a long way for you to go then?
Miss H: Well, I was sort of, stayed in a hostel up there, bed sitters.
Q: So you lost touch a bit more with Witham then. Well you’ve made some notes there.
Miss H: Well, I thought, when I was talking about families did I mention the Bentalls. Mr and Mrs Bentall senior, to do with the Bentall’s ironworks at Maldon, they resided at Grove House, and that was a, I think it was Queen Anne or something, lovely old house, eventually it got burnt. I don’t know who was there or how long they were there, but they were very dignified people and, I didn’t see much of them, they weren’t seen much about, but they had a footman, and mother, the Working Party were allowed to meet there once, they used to go to different houses, and one day mother went there, and this footman came and took their coats, very impressive.
Q: The Working Party was the Church thing?
Miss H: Yes, Church of England really?
Q: Was this when you were a child, when you were at school?
Miss H: Thirties, twenties, yes it was.
Q: I didn’t realise, they were quite an interesting family, yes.
Miss H: They were, and of course the younger Bentalls, lived at Wickham Bishops, or one of them, Charlie Bentall, naughty boy I think.
Q: So you didn’t, sorry, naughty boy?
Miss H: Well, you know, the family broke up and everybody knew about it you see, and then they came to, Mrs Bentall and the children came to live in Collingwood Road at the time.
Q: Did you ever go in the Grove yourself then.
Miss H: No, very impressive though.
Q: I’ve seen pictures, it was a very large and imposing place.
Miss H: And there’s a photograph of it, they had a lovely staircase apparently, in one of the books of photographs of Witham.
Q: Oh yes I’ve seen that, and I believe they put that in the new, there was another Grove for a while in one of the outbuildings.
Miss H: An outbuilding, well no, the stables were made into a residence, where several people lived there in succession, I can’t remember who but, what was his name, the name Strutt, Mark Strutt and Elaine Strutt, they lived there. The Dixon family lived at Barnardiston, they were quite prominent, and an Irish family really, and the son, he was quite a prominent, Norman, he was a bachelor, all his life, as far as I know.
And he used to take part in some of the Operatic productions. But they were quite a family. And then, but I don’t know whether they were connected with the rose growing in Ireland or something, but I’m not sure about that. But then there were Mr and Mrs James Taber of Cooper Taber’s, they lived next door to us for a time, in the Laurels, which is, there are some flats there now, or offices, bottom of Easton Road, but it was a nice house, nice garden, and they were there when we moved, eventually they moved, they fell on bad times and they had to move, they moved to a house which they cynically called the Nutshell, a new bungalow I think in Collingwood Road. But, now of course their son was John Taber, he had a high class fruit and vegetable shop near the Red Lion.
Q: So when they, there was a seed …
Miss H: There was a seed firm.
Q: When they were doing well it was a seed company, Cooper Taber.
Miss H: Yes, and I don’t know, I mean it went on for some time, the seeds were, we could see them at work, the men used to rake them over in the fine weather, on sheets and things, and large concrete area, the other side of our garden fence, and they asked us if we’d mind trimming some trees, we had, I think it was a hazel nut hedge, on their side, and they said the pollen would interfere with their seeds, so we were asked to trim them suitably.
Q: I suppose it would, yes. Did they have a sort of seed warehouse or sorting place?
Miss H: Yes, there was great big warehouse, I mean it was quite a blot on the scenery in a way for us, well, it stood back, at the end of the garden, there had been a farmhouse they say, Easton House, and there was a small orchard at the back, very ancient fruit trees, and their wall was along once side of it Quite impressive, and they had they had a fire there. That completely demolished it.
Q: Was that a big weatherboarded place like the, with wooden boards on, corner of Avenue Road?
Miss H: I just remember it being a bit like that, you know, the side that we were aware of, well it was a steeper roof. Cooper Tabers. Then the Blyth family, you know Blyth’s mill, well the old lady Blyth, of course I think Blyth senior must have died, I can’t remember him, but Mrs Blyth and the two daughters, Elsie and I forget the other one, anyway, the pair of them. They were all living at the mill, the mill in Guithavon, the Valley, that’s it, the Mill House. Where they’ve now got the nursery.
Q: Did you know them particulary?
Miss H: Not particularly, but we came into contact with them, especially the one that was at Church, Elsie, Elsie Blyth was very prominent at the Church, and the other sister, and I think the mother, I think they were non-Conformists, the others. She said, she was the one. And the Luards, you’ve heard about the Luards of course.
Q: Well yes, but everybody seems to have got different things, memories of them.
Miss H: Well I remember Edith Luard best, and she used to go about on a ramshackle old bicycle, she was a very gallant lady really, and she used to, she used to work for the Women’s Institute, I think she produced plays, and she produced plays for, they had, well, all sorts of things, we saw some of them, and she got these women, sort of ordinary women, not particularly educated or anything, she got them going.
And I remember it was a great thing, it was a great sensation, one of them had to say ‘I’m no blasted good’, and she was, her name was Mrs Wilkie, and every time, they [???] scream the way she brought this up.
Q: So they were in the Public Hall?
Miss H: That’s it, yes. I think it was the Mothers, would it be the Mothers’ meeting she did this for I think, the Mother’s meeting and the Mother’s Union were a bit different.
Q: What was the difference then?
Miss H: I’m trying to think. I don’t really know. But I think it was the Mother’s meeting she used to produce plays for. But I may be wrong.
Q: I’ve seen pictures of big groups of women, it’s a bit hard to work out, I think they must one of these either the Mother’s meeting or something like that. Sometimes for the children. That was quite enterprising wasn’t it.
Miss H: Well it was. She was so good, she produced it well, and there were, three sisters, Gertie was another one. There were about four of them I think, one was a grey lady, but she, Edith was the one we saw most.
Q: So did you, you actually met her yourself did you?
Miss H: I had, not particularly, I have met her, I have spoken to her, she was very nice, very public spirited, cause the family, it was the Admiral’s daughters, and they used to drive through with their carriage of course, everyone had to curtsey.
Miss H: Not in our time because he’d died by then, but when the Admiral was alive and driving about, that’s when curtseying used to go on.
Q: That’s incredible isn’t it. But you don’t remember ever having to curtsey to anybody?
Miss H: No. Not in our day. Of course, after World War One I think that stopped.
Q: Do you? Yes. It must have been a big change.
Miss H: There was someone else, the Pelly family, for a time they also were prominent. They at one time, some of them, Captain and Mrs Noel Pelly, lived at Blunts Hall.
Q: So you obviously knew who all these people were. Even if you didn’t know them personally.
Miss H: Yes. That’s right.
Q: So would your mother?
Miss H: She met Mrs Pelly, Mrs Pelly was very nice, and she had good a voice, I think she liked, she was a singer.
Q: So she might meet some of them at the things she went to, even the quite elevated ladies you think.
Miss H: Yes. I mean, they were [???] at the famous concert. Did I put a bit in one about the, I wonder, I think there should be something there about entertainment in Witham, when I was, I was asked to take part in something at Witham and Countryside Society, memories of old Witham, and Elaine Strutt was in the chair and …
Q: Was that the one at the library, I went to that, it was excellent wasn’t it. So what was it you were going …
Miss H: I dealt with the entertainments in Witham in the twenties when we first came.
Q: I see, yes.
Miss H: It’ll be a short one.
Q: [Reading] ‘Memories of Witham Railway station, life in the stationmaster’s house, and [???]’. Never mind, another time. So, that was a good evening that, wasn’t it. I’d forgotten that you contributed to that. These were all things that you went to.
Miss H: You know, the famous concerts there. Not enough is know about the celebrity concerts ever. People say I didn’t know anything about those. Well, they had Myra Hess once, we had Irene Shirer[?], we had Stuart Robertson, Keith Faulkner, I mean they may not be familiar to you, Keith Faulkner became director of the Royal College of Music, and Stuart Robertson, well they say he was Anna Neagle’s brother, well Anna Neagle was his sister really, he was, first, splendid singer. Oh Albert Salmons. I probably told you about that, didn’t you.
Arriving with his, arriving by train with his fiddle in a case, yes. We were privileged to have those. It was Bernard Afford who organised it. He was to do with Clarke’s, I think he was probably a director of Clarke’s [stationer and printer]. He was like a, impresario, got these people going. I mean he was an amateur impresario but my goodness the performances we had were far from amateurish.
Q: I don’t think I’d heard that from anybody else except you, that’s interesting.
Miss H: Well, I mean, to think in those days, being able to hear this first class music, I mean, well, you could listen to a bit on the radio, but, it was wonderful.
Q: Yes, they wouldn’t come to Witham Public now, I suppose they’d just command such high fees, people of that … I wonder what he had that he could lure them with.
Miss H: He knew them.
Q: He knew them already, did he.
Miss H: And in a way, of course, there was no, there was not much going for them, no telly, and it might have been useful for them to have somewhere to go to perhaps where they hadn’t got a slot in their programme. Of course he knew them and he …
Q: How did he come to know them, do you think?
Miss H: I don’t know. It’s a mystery. Actually he put my sister in the way of going and teaching music at, private lessons at Widford School, you know there’s a Widford School for [???] boys, and he said they wanted someone there because it had been, I forget, a nice man who was a Chelmsford organist among other things, quite a good teacher that, he had been doing, he wanted to give it up and so he asked Biddy if she’d like to do it and she did for several years. When we first came here, she was studying and she got her Diploma and said she wanted to teach, so her professor said ‘Well if you want to teach locally you’ll have to give a recital’, she braced herself and she gave a recital, and then he said you’d better have a follow-up, so she gave a second one, and that was quite a thing, we hired the, we had a Steinway grand from Dace’s, and the hall we had the Grove Hall, you know, used to, where the Grove garage, on the corner, where the Easts had, on the corner of Avenue Road and High Street. They used to have all, a small hall to hire, she knew she wouldn’t get an enormous, she knew she wouldn’t fill the Public Hall. So she wanted a moderate size.
Q: Is that the same building that’s still there I wonder, with the garage …
Miss H: It must still be there, but I can’t sort of … It’s all a bit misty now but it was, they used to have socials, Church socials used to be held there.
Q: What happened at a Church social?
Miss H: Well, I suppose, that was in the, that went on in the Thirties. And that, well, they just stopped, everything stopped and didn’t revive again in the same way.
Q: Did they have entertainments or did people stand around …
Miss H: No, just dancing. Dancing and, games I suppose for, yes, it was very friendly, very matey. And the other thing, the Junior Imperials, commonly known as the Imps, that was the Youth section of the Conservative party, they had socials and dances and so on, and there was a club.
Q: Were you in that then?
Miss H: I wasn’t in it, I went to one of their things, once.
Q: There was a lot to do, really, wasn’t there.
Miss H: There used to have their other things in the barn at the back of the Spread Eagle.
Q: So were you good at dancing?
Miss H: Not really. I like dancing but I wasn’t any good at it.
Q: So they had ballroom dancing?
Miss H: Oh yes.
Q: So did you learn that yourself?
Miss H: I didn’t learn it, my brother and sister, they learnt at Ilford, they all went to a place, Mr so and so who used to run these dances, so they both went and learned but I didn’t, and then we moved from Ilford and nothing. So I had no training in ballroom dancing but I soon picked it up.
Q: I’m sure you managed fine.
Miss H: I enjoyed it anyway.
Q: So you say all these things stopped when the War came. Were you still up in London then?
Miss H: Yes.
Q: You must have missed everything when you went to London, did you?
Miss H: Well I did really, I came home at the weekends you see, so I caught up with some things. It was nice getting home, I didn’t really like being in London, I mean I got used to it in the end, and I don’t regret being at Peter Jones because it gave me a, well, you got used to dealing with all sorts of people, you see, I mean you had important people, I had the Duchess of Gloucester once, and then you had stage people, and they were interesting, and then there were regulars, Chelsea, the Mayfair people, and so on, and it was, if you were nervous at meeting people it got you into the way of, you lost your reverence for people you thought were upper crust. I don’t mean, you didn’t get bolshie, but you weren’t afraid of speaking to them, you see, which was useful to be able to talk to people isn’t it.
Q: Were you always in the one department.
Miss H: No, I was pushed around, I went around a bit. I was in packing room in the costume department, that was useful, learning how to pack things, ever since then, when I go on holiday, I know how to pack things so they don’t crease too much, plenty of tissue paper. And I was for a time in the blouse department, and then in the arts and crafts, which included pictures, and that was interesting because I was allowed to, I was encouraged to cope with pictures because the other girls, they didn’t know about pictures. All that I knew about pictures I’d learnt from ‘The Studio’ magazine, you know, I told you about that, that gave me a start, I knew who Augustus John was and all that sort of thing. And so, I mean all reproductions but it was interesting to know. Also, I didn’t mind climbing about, and they were hung up on a funny sort of sloping boards, and I used to crawl along and get these things down. Because then I had anthropoid tendencies. And the management didn’t worry if I was going to break my, funny, if I’d been the manager I’d have thought ‘That girl’s going to break her neck one day, we can’t have that’ but no, well I got away with it.
Q: How long did you stay at Peter Jones.
Miss H: Six or seven years. I was there at the outbreak of War, and they then of course, anyone who didn’t actually have to live in London was encouraged to take indefinite, go off temporarily you see, so that was that.
Q: So you had to give the job up did you?
Miss H: It was interesting in a way, but it wasn’t a career really, I never had a career, because I never went to University, which in a way I would have like to have done, but I couldn’t tell you what I would have done, and one time it was all art, and then latterly I thought botany would have been my thing if I’d had a chance.
Q: Cause, you did work in the end, you worked round here, you worked at ?
Miss H: Fruit Growers.
Q: Did you go there straight away after, or did you have lots of different …?
Miss H: No, I went there almost straight away.
Q: And that was, where exactly was that?
Miss H: That’s, in High Street, you know, Cooper Cocks’s, well it was by the side of that, up a great long staircase, that was the offices, there [84 Newland Street]. First of all it wasn’t, first of all it was at Balch’s, Balch’s estate agency, down the High Street [probably 100 Newland Street], and then Bright’s [87 Newland Street], we had premises there, and finally we went to this other place. [???]
Q: So it was behind Cooper’s in the tall …?
Miss H: Very tall.
Q: You went up the side?
Miss H: Yes, door at the side, very, very precarious.
Q: What firm was it again?
Miss H: Associated Fruit Growers of Essex. They, it was mainly, for apples mostly, apples and pears, to market, they got together to try and have a trade mark that would sell the apples, and a standard to stick to, because North America of course, they sent all these highly polished apples, personally I think they didn’t taste of anything but they looked splendid and they, eyecatching, and the poor old English grower at that time had scabby old things, and so they decided they’d got to brush up their methods and so they had this ACE trademark, and that, it was interesting. I mean I, it was just secretarial, but the, they were interesting people and there was a Board, they were all active apple growers, it wasn’t just ordinary businessmen, and they had to have some business acumen to carry on, but they were producers of fruit.
Q: I’m sure, you said it was just secretarial, but I’m sure knowing your abilities you had quite a part in organising … what was your?
Miss H: Well, I used to do all the minutes at the Board meetings, and one or two little things, oh sometimes we got out into the orchard, they had a scheme for using a parasite to control aphids, woolly aphids parasite it was called, and it occurred naturally, and if they spray it of course they killed off the parasite, so certain orchards they would collect twigs, great boxes of them, put them in cold store, and then one of the girls would come with me and we would pack up these things in little postal packs, because we took in orders for them, I forget what they charged, so much for a dozen or twenty twigs, all over Essex and Kent and Suffolk and various fruit growing places, we used to get these orders, and that was interesting, well it was a day out on the farm.
Q: Whereabouts was their …?
Miss H: The farm, well we used to go to, it was Giles[?] Tuker]?] at Danbury. It was a big farm with a big shed and cold store, you see, they could, so they could store these boxes until it was the right time to get them out and distribute them where they would do the most good, or the most harm to the aphids.
Q: How many were there of you in the office.
Miss H: It varied, there were about three of us once. And then it expanded, about five.
Q: So who were you working, you had a boss over you did you?
Miss H: Yes, we had a nice man, Geoffrey Harper at first, he was part time, he was at the office in the morning, with the boss, and in the afternoon, he worked on one of the fruit farms.
Q: So were these existing fruit farmers who were sort of combining, or did the actual Association have its own farms?
Miss H: No, they were all individual farms, and they joined and paid a sub.
Q: So what sort of things were you doing yourself when you were in the office?
Miss H: Well, writing to, we produced a newsletter for the members and that sort of thing, duplicate it, and once I was asked to write an article about the woolly aphids parasite for the Fruit Grower.
Q: So you must have become quite an expert really.
Miss H: Not really. Interesting people used to come, you see. East Malling[?] Research Station they did some experiments, they acquired orchards of people who didn’t mind them coming and trying out new sprays and things, and that led to being in the sphere of the people, the research workers you see, and one of them became one of my best friends, she was interested in biological control, and so they had a field lab up at Totham, and they went around, and my friend used to go round with a beating tray, to get things to find out, and she was so good, she discovered a terrific number, sixty or something, different creatures, insects, occurring in the wild, which preyed on the red spider mite, and so she was all for biological control, you see, and not trying to polish them all off with disgusting poisonous sprays, which eventually, it took a long while to get away from that. It took a long while to get away from conventional sprays. Actually, she eventually went to New Zealand where they wanted this sort of thing.
Q: She was quite advanced then.
Miss H: She was wonderful, yes.
Q: When about, what sort of period would that be?
Miss H: Forties, I suppose, it’s difficult. I used to have to take their minutes, once a year they all got together and went over, reviewed what had happened the year before and the experiments’ results, and I used to, and some of the people, there was a wonderful man, Dr Massey, he was the head of Entomology at East Malling[?] research station, a wonderful little man …
Q: Did you stay there for the rest of your working life?
Miss H: Mm.
Q: So you retired in …?
Miss H: I don’t know when, it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t matter. You see looking back, personally I look back on my life as a succession of wrong decisions, failures, and you know, that’s how I see it, especially when I’m depressed which I am now, I mean I, I don’t want to go on about it, but every now and then I get depressive attacks, it’s the sort of thing that’s happen to me at periods, many years in between, all my life, and I’ve got a bit of a one now, and in fact I’m trying to do something about it, and when I feel like that, I look back and I think, what have I done with my life, I’ve been, it’s all been a sort of mistake. But I must shut up, I don’t want to treat you as a psychiatrist …
Q: No, I don’t want you to treat me as a psychiatrist but I’m sure I would say that you’re wrong, and that you’re only affected by how you’re feeling now.
Miss H: It’s when I feel like this, everything seems wrong. And …
Q: That’s only because you’re depressed now, it’s not really true.
Miss H: That’s right. It’s true, but that’s when I see the light and I think this is how things really were, you’re kidding yourself things are all right, but then, anyway, it’s a blinking nuisance.
Q: Is that what you meant when you said you didn’t want to talk about the War, cause you felt, it went wrong.
Miss H: Yes, all sorts of things …
Q: Cause I’d say, you’ve done such a lot of things in Witham, [???] for that and the other.
Miss H: Yes, there have been spells when I’ve done things that I’ve, that suited me, I mean, over work, but I did, well the Natural History Society, natural history is my, the one thing I’m really genuine about, my concern for the environment and nature, you know, that’s sort of my one special …
Q: So you were sort of working in that field, in that environment. I mean looking back, I mean I feel so lucky really because I don’t think it was anything that you could have done, I think it was the circumstances at the time, perhaps a bit later I’ve had more opportunities. But women when you were growing up, didn’t, never had the chance, it was nothing that you decided or did, you seem to me to have made the best of it, yourself.
Miss H: Yes, there are times I don’t grumble, at times I look back and think well, I was lucky in a way.
Q: I don’t think you were lucky, I think you made the best, you made good with what you had, and the opportunities were restricted. It wasn’t anything that you’ve done wrong, I think you’ve made the very best of it.
Miss H: There was a time when I just dabbled with the idea of becoming a nurse, I was thinking of the nurse, you’ve got the thing about the nurse (Q: Yes.) And I thought it would be, perhaps I ought to go in for something like that, and then I thought no, with my sort of philosophy, if people are going to get well, you pull out all the stops, but if there’s no hope you don’t let them go on lingering, you help them out, I mean I’ve always felt this, people should be helped out, and so I thought well that wouldn’t be a good philosophy, to go into the medical profession anyway, I mean, I could, I suppose I could have become a nurse, because there were ways of getting into nursing without any money then, weren’t there. But there were also ways, money I think helped some people. It’s all changed.
Q: But I mean, as you know, I’ve talked to an awful lot of people, quite a lot of people now around Witham, and that’s the sad thing that’s struck me really, is how many people, and women in particular, who didn’t get the chance to do what they could have done. But it wasn’t anything that was their fault, it was just, the same in my family in other parts of the country, it was just the times they lived in. It seems to me that compared to a lot of people you’ve done an awful lot of good things with the limited opportunities that you had.
Miss H: And looking back there have been interesting times, and they’ve been fun. Sailing, I wasn’t much of a sailor but it was nice having a boat, it was a funny old [???].
Q: I didn’t know you’d done that.
Miss H: Well, I told you we used to have the magazines lent to us, and there I used to see the jet set, or what they called them, the bright young people or the sailing and skiing and I thought ‘Oh I’d love to do that’, and of course it was all ocean racing, that sort of thing, you didn’t see people in little boats. But eventually, thanks to Maldon Youth Hostel, I had a chance of going to classes, and for a time we shared a boat, three of us, Elinor Roper, you know, and the other one was a friend of hers in London, and we had our sixteen foot half decker (Q: How exciting.) And it was, we weren’t intrepid or anything, the last thing I was, I’ve never been intrepid in my life, but it used to be lovely, at certain times.
Q: I’ve never done any sailing. So was this roughly, I mean are we talking about when you were older?
Miss H: That was older, yes, I mean I was almost too late, and another thing, eventually I went skiing, because of the sailing, one of the people I met there knew someone who’d been to Norway, and she was going, Elinor Roper, you know, she said ‘There’s someone else’, they’d like her to take someone else, would I like to go, so I did, so we went and did some skiing. I didn’t fall over or anything, and …
Q: So how old were you then very roughly?
Miss H: Well, I was in my, thirties, late thirties, just about earlier, sailing was a bit earlier than that.
Q: I don’t think you can assess it all by your working life either, cause you’ve done, you’ve done such a lot of other things, and that’s probably more important or as important. It sounds as if what you did at work was important as well, because …
Miss H: Well, yes, actually apart from work I think natural history, I was chairman of Natural History for quite a number of years, and I regarded that as a job, you know I thought it was not because I was brilliant in any specific thing, I was keener on wild flowers than anything, still am, but it gave me a chance of, when the Trust needed support and things, you know, one was able to put it over, and then to decided, it’s a, I regarded it as my job then.
Q: Cause the Natural History, were you there at the beginning of the Natural History Society? When did it start?
Miss H: Mm. Helen, who is a vegetarian [Pitchforth probably], I met her in Loveday’s butcher’s shop, and she said, ‘Oh are you interested in natural history?’ I said ‘Yes’, she said ‘Well we were going to think of starting a society, would you like to be inter ‘… I said ‘Yes please’. And of course I realise, she was not cheating by eating meat, but her husband had to be fed, so that’s while she was there. So that’s how it started.
Q: That was roughly …?
Miss H: Thirty years ago I think.
Q: Yes, sixties.
Miss H: [???]
Q: I’ve got the little booklet somewhere.
Miss H: They gave me this when the Society had its twenty-first birthday and that was in ’89. It was twenty-one in ’89, my arithmetic has always been bad.
Q: ’68, 1968, that makes sense, doesn’t it. And were you chairman straight away?
Miss H: Oh no. Oh sorry, ’89, it was twenty-one in ’89, you see, so, my arithmetic is so bad I can’t tell you when it started, but you must have worked it out. And, so, first, Mary Costello was the first chairman. And then the Hawkyards, remember? Eric Hawkyard.
Q: I don’t think I met them but I remember Betty [Loring] talking about them.
Miss H: And they were, they did so much for the village and the church in Braxted, I really think they moved because it was becoming, you know, they thought, we’ve got to get out of this, we’ll never get out of it by staying here, and no-one else is going to take it on, so they moved down to the West Country, Dorset. Well, they had a son living down there anyway, so, but, they were absolutely up to their necks in local things.
Q: So that’s when you …?
Miss H: So that was when I was in it. And you know we, that little booklet, (Q: Yes, I’ve got the little booklet.) that Betty and I, we joined forces over that. I did the flora and she did the fauna.
Q: See, you have done a lot, you see, when you stop and think about it, haven’t you.
Miss H: Yes, it was interesting at the time. We only did it because Witham and Countryside Society, they were planning to [???] about the town, and they said they wanted our society to do the nature side. Well, when we got the nature side ready and they hadn’t done anything, eventually we published it on our own.
Q: So I wonder how you first got interested in …?
Miss H: When I was a kid, I always loved wild flowers. I think I got it from mother, because she was so, she loved wild flowers, and when we went on holiday as children, walking along country lanes, country walks, you know, we never went abroad, and that started me off. And then at school, I used to press things, we used to press flowers, you know, have them, stick them in a book, they looked like nothing on earth, but you know it was the thing to do then. Not now of course, you take the book to the plant and not the plant to the book.
Q: Yes, I used to pick wild flowers, we didn’t really think about it then, did we.
Miss H: No, we didn’t. And there I was lucky because mother started me off, and then we were in Witham, Connie Rowles, she was very good, and then at the High School, there was, we had, it was rather nice, a wild flower competition every week, and the form, the form you see, the forms were expected to bring things in and there, Joyce Wheeler and I, Joyce Wheeler lived at Broomfield and she had plenty of countryside, and we were the, we were the sort of flower prefects I suppose. And we used to make a collection, and have them in test tubes, and then the botany mistress used to come and judge them. We were supposed to get the other girls to know what they were, and so she used to hold them up and ‘What was this one?’ you see. And then the form that produced the most interesting collection had theirs displayed on the hall, on a windowsill that you passed when you were going to prayers in the morning.
Q: Right, so you were well grounded, and of course, if you learnt, you remember things that you learn when you’re young, don’t you. So it must have been hard, I was thinking about perhaps it was hard for you coming back to Witham after you’d been in London, but at least you did have the country again, didn’t you. Or were you restricted a bit in War time, or could you still go out walks and things?
Miss H: I, no, no, really, could go wherever one liked.
Q: Cause I, people seem to vary a lot in how they remember the War, you know, some people really found it very frightening and some quite a bit of an adventure, you know, how it struck … Why didn’t you think of it, [???]?
Miss H: I don’t know, I just belonged to the First Aid Corps, not that I was any good. There’s a man who swears that I did him up when he had a slight injury, but I’m sure I didn’t. He used to say ‘You did me up.’ I thought, I don’t think I did anyone up, I was only too glad that the good clever people could do people up and I was glad to hand them the bandage or whatever.
Q: Who organised that then?
Miss H: Miss, one of the Luards, Kathleen Luard, she had been, now, she was a heroine, she was a World War One nurse, working on a train in France, and she had it really tough, she, you know, really, and she was very keen on this, so she arranged, she managed it in Witham, and she was nice really. They said she was an old battleaxe but she wasn’t really. She was very nice.
Q: I haven’t heard much about her.
Miss H: No, she, now, Kathleen Luard, well I suppose, I think she was a daughter or cousin of the Luards, I think she must have been a cousin. But she was rather, she was a great lady really.
Q: Had she been in Witham before the War as far as you know ?
Miss H: Yes, she, oh, after World War One, she was back in Wickham Bishops or wherever.
Q: So what sort of First Aid, what was the First Aid?
Miss H: Well, there was a First Aid point and you had to, you were expected to go, well, we, certain nights we were on duty so in case anything happened in the night, we were down there and we slept at the Bridge Hospital, and that’s where we had all our doings.
Q: But you weren’t terribly confident about it.
Miss H: No I wasn’t.
Q: It was quite brave of you to do it then, or did you not get any choice.
Miss H: Not really brave, I knew we’d got to do something, I wasn’t, there again, that’s one of my failures, I think at that time I ought to have taken up the challenge and gone into, I didn’t want to go into one of the Forces, I could have gone into something, I should have gone into something I think, and I think at this time in my life, I might not have, I might have had one thing to look back on that I didn’t mind. But there we are. I’ll have to shut up about this, this is terrible.
Q: No, no, it’s all …
Miss H: Well, it’s life, as you say, yes. It’s just one of those things.
Q: It’s good of you to talk about it. Because it seems to me as I say that you did a lot of things. What would you have done do you think that …
Miss H: I don’t know, I could have gone in the Land Army, I think, would have been obvious, there were other things, there were, of course there were the Friends, the Quaker things, not that I was a Quaker, but they did, they were non-combatant, and I was a fence-sitter really, if I’d been a bit more, made up my mind and said ‘No, I’m going to do something’, but I was, I wasn’t sort of definite enough, and I wasn’t really definite about the War, I mean the idea of the War was horrific to me, but looking back on what happened, after all it happened, and everybody pulled up their socks and did something.
Q: If you felt like that, that must have been quite a difficult position for you, cause most people were …
Miss H: Most people knew what they were doing, where they were going.
Q: We were British and we were doing this and …
Miss H: I was iffy about it all, which was very weak and feeble, but it was how I was. I’ve always been a fence-sitter. When issues come up I sometimes, I think I see the other side. For instance I can certainly see the other side for Clinton, I think they ought to leave him alone, it’s only because he got found out, what hundreds of people, and politicians have done. And other things, and Galteri, I don’t think I can see any good in him, but I think he ought to have been allowed to go back to Chile. Those are one or two issues I can be definite about.
Q: I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of though, being broad-minded.
Miss H: Being wobbly, but …
Q: No, it’s being sensible, because after all why should one really be right, they can’t both be right and both wrong can they, so the chances are it depends who …
Miss H: No. What I liked so much was Alistair Cook, Letter from America, I always listen to that, and he put it perfectly. He said he wasn’t going to say any more about this affair, but he said he had a letter from an eighty-seven year old Scottish lady, very short, ‘Dear Mr Cook, When are they going to stop hounding this man, men will deceive as ever’. I mean his crime was that he got found out. So that’s how I felt. And also he said Gladstone, who was a sort of pillar of rectitude, wasn’t he, he was supposed to have, at the end of his life, said to a friend, ‘I’ve known nine British Prime Ministers, there were only two of them that weren’t adulterers’. But they didn’t get found out, did they.
Q: I think that made it quite understandable why you didn’t do more then, because as you say, everybody else was, your views didn’t fit in.
Miss H: No, I was weak, I felt I ought to have been more decisive. It’s just one of those things.
Q: That’s how you are. And also at least you didn’t go off and kill anybody …
Miss H: No, that would have been repugnant, I don’t think I could have turned my hand to killing anyone.
Q: You managed to stick by that principle, didn’t you.
Miss H: Well. Principle.
Q: So was it difficult for you at the time as well then, if everybody was going on about our successes and you weren’t sure whether were a good thing.
Miss H: Sometimes. Yes, it was a …
Q: Did you talk about it much?
Miss H: Not much. But you know, after all one got used to things, and one was glad that, Dunkirk and all that sort of thing, you were terribly relieved for the ones that got away and all that sort of thing.
Q: It was a long time, wasn’t it, to live under that, all that anxiety.
Miss H: Yes, it was.
Q: And your father stopped, retired in the War did he.
Miss H: Yes he did.
Q: So did you come up here [Highfields Road]?
Miss H: No, actually he went, there was a, I forget what they call him, a Control, and that was at the, some of the men who didn’t do First Aid or anything, they had to have, they had a Control Centre and they had to be there overnight, and he did some of that.
Q: Just sort of taking phone calls and things.
Miss H: That’s it, I can’t think exactly, but a lot of people went there. And that was at the old Police Station.
Q: Oh right, Guithavon Street. So there was a lot going on really.
Miss H: Well, there was really, but I mean, there was very limited risk, but one or two people did cop it. And of course land mines were pretty near sometimes.
Q: And you never quite knew what was going to happen next, did you?
Miss H: No you didn’t, no.
Q: So were people in Witham mostly very patriotic would you say?
Miss H: On the whole they were. Yes.
Q: Cause I often wondered what happened, there were obviously some people before the War, weren’t there, who supported Hitler and so on, Mosley and so on, did they have any local following?
Miss H: Er, most of them, well they were accepted for the services you see when it happened, I expect they all suddenly thought, cor we didn’t know it was coming to this, and they, they were all as patriotic as anybody.
Q: Right, so it was just before …
Miss H: More than some, more than me I suppose. And so they, that’s what, they were in the forces. I don’t think I ought to mention names, but I can remember, it seemed to me a lot of the bright young men, in the town, they either leaned that way, or in the Church there was a sort of movement for Church youth, and I can’t think what it was called, but I know, I know there were young, some young men who used to, there was a sort of religious revival in a way I suppose you’d call it. But the bright ones, some of the bright ones, they seemed to swallow Mosley whole, it was amazing when you think about it. Extraordinary.
Q: So you knew about that, did you?
Miss H: We knew about that at the time, yes, they used to sell the paper the Blackshirt, ‘Buy the Blackshirt, one penny’, was the cry. Yes. And they were in Chelsea of course, when I was in Sloane Square [i.e. working at Peter Jones]. They used to meet, public meetings and so on.
Q: This was in Witham as well, though.
Miss H: Mm. Yes, Witham and Braintree, they were round about.
Q: When you say bright young men they were quite well …
Miss H: Well educated, yes, they were well educated thoughtful men, who, they thought the country was going to the dogs, and they thought Mosley, here’s a man with ideas, he’s going to, his ideas’ll get us out of this. And that was why they …
Q: Yes, it’s understandable, isn’t it.
Miss H: I was interested. A girl at school, Pamela Harman[?] Jones, she was quite a friend of mine, she came latish, and her father was a, quite important at Marconi’s, and she had a little badge, you see, I said ‘What is that badge?’ ‘Oh’ she said, ‘that’s the British Union of Fascists’. So I said ‘Well what are Fascists?’. ‘Well’, she said, ‘One stick by itself will break, but a lot of sticks bound together won’t break’. That was the explanation, but her father was obviously, you know, he was very prominent in the movement then I suppose. Otherwise she wouldn’t have known about it would she. That was funny.
Q: So how did you feel about it, or did you not know enough about it to …?
Miss H: I didn’t know, but I didn’t object to them, I thought well, they’re good ideas. I didn’t like the marches and things, of course, I didn’t like what went on, and there again, Mosley obviously had the gift of the gab, and one learns to mistrust people with too much gift of the gab.
Q: So would people, these Witham chaps, where did they see Mosley, do you think?
Miss H: Oh, I don’t think they saw him, unless they, they could have gone up to London and seen him. No, they just …it was part of a …
Q: That’s why it’s, you can never tell, can you, how things are going to turn out.
Miss H: I wouldn’t like to talk about it, but I can remember, and I don’t want to mention any names of people who were connected with it. I mean they were fine people and all that, and, but sometimes people go on as a rankling, these things rankle in some people’s minds don’t they, for ever. There’s a mentality that …
Q: What way do you mean, you mean in other people’s minds.
Miss H: Other people’s minds, they ‘Oh, rotten lot’, you know. People who knew their own minds at the time, like I didn’t. They knew what they thought and they went on thinking it all their lives. I suppose, well no, I suppose most of them have forgotten about it, but of course most of the people who knew about it are no longer here.
Q: Quite. But it was obviously quite well known at the time. You had marches and so on locally as well?
Miss H: I didn’t see any marches. Well it wasn’t very high powered. It was there.
Q: I suppose in a close society …
Miss H: I can’t even remember posters, but I remember ‘the Blackshirt one penny’, you know.
Q: Did they dress up when they were selling that, did they?
Miss H: They had black shirts. Smart.
Q: Yes, quite, yes. I’m not judging, it’s such a long time ago now, it seems …
Miss H: I can’t remember the name of the youth movement in the Church, but that was just because I had a friend who, Eric Dyke[?] was a friend of mine, he was in the Church choir, and, actually I know him still, he rings me up before Christmas, he rang up last week, I knew him quite well. And he was in this revival, move, Christianity for young men, I think it was the Anglican church.
Q: And this was before the War or during the War?
Miss H: Before the War, you see.
Q: And it was always men, both these things were men mostly were they.
Miss H: I think so, I don’t remember any women in either … But I was just thinking, there was the two groups of up and coming young men, they either went this way or that way. I dare say …[phone rings]
Q: So can you remember how you felt when the War ended, then?
Miss H: Oh, I was very pleased it had ended. Of course I didn’t like Hiroshima and all that. Who did. I suppose at first they thought, it’s finishing it quickly, that was the thing, cause it would have gone on for years, festering, if they hadn’t, if the Japs hadn’t had a real knock out, but on the other hand, there were disturbing thoughts that Japan had started suing for peace before they dropped the bomb, that got about. I don’t know. I still, I feel about the, making everybody apologise, I thought it was really, very bad, very discourteous for them to, when the new Emperor came to visit us, for them to all line up and say [???], it seemed absolutely wrong, I mean there comes a time, I’m definite about, that’s a thing I think is wrong, I think they ought, and I know someone who was a prisoner of war, and worked on that line, and he was a husband of a friend of my best my friend, you know, and I met, at one of her birthday parties, he was there, and there was a Japanese print on the wall, you see, where the party was held, and I said ‘I don’t suppose you think much of that’.
He said ‘they couldn’t wrap us in cotton wool, they had hardly any food themselves, it’s no good thinking about it’, he had no rancour, and I thought that from a man, he admitted that in two days he would have been dead, when the War stopped, it was just in time for him. So I thought that was a real, civilised Christian, if you like. He’s a Catholic, actually, I don’t know if all Catholics are like that. Anyway, that was good, I thought. And I thought well that’s how it should be.
Q: Cause after all, everybody in the War did some quite dreadful things.
Miss H: Absolutely, I mean, well, we don’t know all, do we.
Q: Did it make a lot of difference to your life, or not straight away?
Miss H: Well. Of course gradually, rationing gradually went, and, yes people came back, and you know, that was nice.
Q: Were there many Witham people that were killed in the War that you knew?
Miss H: Well, yes, I remember the first one, the first one I heard of was Captain, oh dear, Captain Evitt’s son, George, young George Evitt. And of course they’re on the Witham memorial, you know. Of course, another thing they used to do, they used to have a scheme for sending hampers of vegetables to the minesweepers, they used to send them up by train from Harwich I think, Parkeston, somewhere, and mother used to have that, we had a little garage when we lived in Easton, in Valley House, and we didn’t have a car, and so people used to bring baskets of produce and mother used to pack them off and send them off in baskets which had been made by the Bridge Home boys, and the Bridge Home boys put a message on them ‘Get those something ..’, you know, telling the trawlermen what to do with the Germans, you know. But that was a thing that went on, not many people know about that.
Q: No, no, I hadn’t heard of that.
Miss H: Of course, it was all ‘Dig for Victory’, you see.
Q: That was after you’d left the station?
Miss H: Yes, you see after father retired. Mm.
Q: Valley House is the one in Guithavon Valley?
Miss H: It’s the corner …
Q: Opposite the mill?
Miss H: Yes, it is opposite the mill.
Q: Oh I’d forgotten you went there.
Miss H: Yes. There was a dentist there once, Crispin. Cause people used to come and say ‘Oh I remember that room, I remember that shelf, he used to keep his instruments on that’, that was in the sitting room.
Q: So were you there for quite some time?
Miss H: Four years. I was very glad to come here.
Q: Were you?
Miss H: Well, we were having trouble, you see, with the people who owned, we were renting it, and they said ‘We’ll be glad to have you as tenants’. So mother said ‘What if [???] wants to come yourself?’, ‘No we shan’t’, actually it happened in the end they did want to come back, and we had to push off, and they say you could stay put, we couldn’t, so we moved temporarily to a primitive place next door to the Spread Eagle, stored the furniture and went there, and then we finally, we got a flat near the George, opposite, first floor, not very convenient but a nice big room, nice big sort of main room, and we were there for a time, and someone said ‘Why don’t you apply for one of these houses’ they’re [probably the Council] building up here, you see, and father said ‘Oh well, I don’t suppose we’d qualify’. And they said ‘You would, you’ve been a respected member of the community for many years, you would, sure they’d be glad to have you’. So he did put his name down, and we got this.
Q: So this was new when you came then?
Miss H: Absolutely, yes, we made the garden. It was very nice to come here after crashing around.
Q: I wonder why he thought he wouldn’t qualify. I suppose he thought …
Miss H: Well, of course, we don’t expect much in our family you know, and it’s a sort of, probably a family attitude, you know, no-one’ll want us to have that, you see. And they were very glad to have him.
Q: Well he’d been, lost his own home really.
Miss H: Yes, we were in a tied house, you see, the station house, we left there as soon as we could and that was rotten, but father wouldn’t dream of staying a day longer than necessary in the railway property, you know.
Q: It would be a big change for him, if he was so busy. How did he manage?
Miss H: Yes, it was a change, it was really. He got a sort of little job, he assisted the Registrar I think, cause I [???] something about issuing ration books or something, for a time, and they got on well. Nice man. I can’t remember his name, very nice, they came into the town, and he, father got on fine with him. Well, he was up to his neck in the railway, you see, and he enjoyed meeting people too, he enjoyed meeting the passengers you know, and they say he was very helpful, two[?] people, when he died, I had a letter from someone I didn’t know knew father, and, Captain Humphries, who lived at Wickham Bishops, he was an apple grower actually, anyhow he wrote and said how he remembers when he came here with his young family, to take up residence at this, this orchard, they arrived not knowing where they were, he said ‘And Mr Hancock took under his wing and got us, got us a taxi and got us all on our way’, and that was nice. And I’ve several things. Mr Burge, who was Mr Bright’s chief clerk, when he came with his family, he said the same thing, they arrived here and he said father came and opened the door and helped them out, and got them going, you know. It was his speciality. He was very good with people really, you know, I realise that now.
Q: I suppose you just assume that’s what the job is, don’t you, at the time.
Miss H: Absolutely.
Q: Obviously not really, he made much more of it.
Miss H: And he got on well with the staff, the wife of one of the staff said, she said he was very very strict, she said, but he was very fair, and they used to call him father, among themselves, not the boss or anything.
Q: To each other, they called him father?
Miss H: Yes. They referred to him as father.
Q: I suppose the railwaymen’s Union, Trade Unions, were in Witham were they?
Miss H: Oh yes, and father had a, now, who was the chap, nice little bloke, little Burch, [Joe] he was the Trade Union leader here, dear little fellow. He used to send father Christmas cards, and at Walthamstow of course, we were there in the Strike, oh you’ve read about that I expect. [1926 General Strike]. That was quite a time.
Q: So you didn’t have any great worker strife in Witham?
Miss H: No. Of course it was so nice to come to Witham where there was not, the feeling was OK, whereas in Wood Street it was very unpleasant at the time, and yet you know, well, they lived it down. Well of course he wasn’t there long after it finished.
Q: No. Cause he had, he had to carry on I suppose.
Miss H: He had to stay, he couldn’t get out of the station, he was there for about two days and two nights, mother used to smuggle food up to him. He was there and he wouldn’t have left his, he wouldn’t have left anyway, and so, and he used to go, walk to the engine sheds, make sure no-one had swiped any of the engines or anything like that, and pelted with missiles from the, people’s gardens ran down to the edge, you see. The houses were there and the long gardens, people there potting stones at anyone who was working.
So father going along, one day, we were, he was tidying [???] and said ‘What’s this old stone doing here?’. ‘Well’ he said, ‘that got thrown at me during the Strike’. [laugh]
Miss H: But that wasn’t at Witham, that was at Wood Street, Walthamstow. Yes, I don’t think the Strike hit them much at Witham. Of course the Slump did. They had a soup kitchen, have you heard of those?
Q: I don’t think so, no.
Miss H: There was a soup kitchen here, the ladies all helped, I think mother used to go and help. They made soup and the men in the dole queue, it was near there, and you could go and get soup.
Q: Cause I suppose that’d affect the railways as well?
Miss H: Well, it was worrying, because, you know, the railways were losing money. But it didn’t affect it in other ways.
Q: So the men all stayed.
Miss H: Yes, they didn’t lose their jobs.
Q: Cause after all, railway work was always thought of as very steady, wasn’t it.
Miss H: Yes.
Q: So the people who were in the dole queue, where would they have been working, I wonder?
Miss H: Crittall’s, I suppose.
Q: Yes, I suppose so.
Miss H: That was the main, they were the main source of labour.
Q: So you weren’t here when they arrived, Crittall’s, they were already here when you came?
Miss H: Yes, they were, and of course it was a great sensation, there were Silver End buildings [???] and …
Q: So that was quite well known was it?
Miss H: Mm.
Q: What did people think of that?
Miss H: I think they were a bit scandalised. Well, they’d be surprised to, turn in their graves if they knew that it had what do you call it, planning protection.
Q: What scandalised them particularly then, just that it was there?
Miss H: Just it was different you know, the flat roofs, you know. Wasn’t any great feeling but it was, people didn’t think ‘Oh what a wonderful place’.
Miss H: But the church was one, it was built as a barn wasn’t it.
Q: I suppose people get used to things quite quickly usually, don’t they. But it was quite a sudden change, wasn’t it, whereas a lot of places grow slowly.
Miss H: Mm, it was, a new village. Quite a, you couldn’t hide it.
Q: But then Crittall’s in Witham had their own railway sidings and everything, didn’t they, so they were quite a complete …
Miss H: Oh yes, they did, rather, they were important really, customers for the railway.
Q: So it must have been a bit of a change when they stopped work. Cause all these railwaymen, even though they were in the Union, they were quite, he didn’t have any, did he have to meet them at all, and discuss …
Miss H: No, he didn’t seem to have any problems with them. And little Burch was one of the most loyal. A dear little bloke, I remember, slightly wall-eyed I think he was, funny little chap, but he was very devoted to father.
Q: I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him really, and I don’t suppose you did, about your father.
Miss H: No, no.
Q: Or you really.
Miss H: Oh, I don’t know, surely, you can’t have seen people who knew me well.
Q: Oh, you’ve seen a lot of changes. It’s interesting that you changed your views of the world, though, if you were brought up, as you say, in a fairly conservative family, and …
Miss H: Oh yes, and Empire Day, you know, at the kindergarten school, dressed up in white for Empire Day, and all that sort of thing, and we were very conscious of Empire. But it was interesting at Chelmsford High School, we were very conscious of the League of Nations, we had badges, we belonged to the League of Nations Union, and we really thought that it was going to prevent any more war. And there were two hymns at the time, which I never hear now. One was ‘Oh Brother Man’, do you know that, it’s a lovely one. (Q: Yes.) You don’t hear it now, do you.
The other one was ‘These things shall be, a loftier race’. Do you know that, a lovely tune by John Ireland, but, well, I haven’t heard that since I left school, and it seems to me that that’s when people started giving up on hope.
Q: What, giving up on …?
Miss H: Giving up hope that the League of Nations were going to do anything, because one associated it with the League of Nations and peace and all that, these things, so people weren’t going to have wars, you see, the loftier race.
Q: So you think most of the school felt …
Miss H: Yes, I mean, it was automatic at our school, it may have been our school and our influence, which I think was pretty good, really, lovely school, really.
Q: So you heard a lot about …
Miss H: Lectures. Veterans of World War One used to come and talk to us, we had a blind man who’d been gassed, and we had all sorts of things, and so we were indoctrinated you might say, but I think it was all in a good cause, I thought.
Q: Quite. But then you say, it can’t have just been that, because you say your parents changed their views as well.
Miss H: Ah. Yes, they, they became more sympathetic to the left, you see, but one didn’t associate the League of Nations with politics, not party politics.
Q: So I wonder how they changed their, I wonder what made your parents change …
Miss H: Well, I think Mr Driberg must have been something to do with it. I mean, I know it’s terrible, all sensation, I wouldn’t read about it, people say ‘Oh Driberg’ and so on, but he was brilliant in his day, and he was a brilliant speaker, and I think it was really genuine.
Q: It’s interesting that you say that was his influence that …
Miss H: I think, yes, well, he certainly brought it home to people.
Q: So what sort of things did he talk about when he first came in his speeches?
Miss H: Very [???], one thing about health, about people not being able to afford proper teeth, he said, that came out. But I couldn’t really remember a word he said, I just remember he was inspiring.
Q: Yes, if you remember that, that was quite interesting, so he was, they were already thinking in terms of the …