Walter Peirce was born in 1908. He was interviewed on 19 December 1986, when he lived at Airlings, Ulting Road, Hatfield Peverel.
He also appears on tapes 92, 93, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 117, 126.
For more information about him, see Peirce, Walter and family, 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.]
The transcriber noted that Mr Peirce says ‘Well,’ ‘Well, now’ ‘see’ and ‘you see?’ at the beginning and end of sentences very often and on occasion, I have omitted this.
Most of this interview relates to a large air photo of Crittall’s, taken between 1924 and 1930. A photographic copy is JG’s photo number M1042. I divided a photocopy of it, into squares to help identify which part he was talking about. The numbers of the relevant squares, e.g. A1, are given in the typescript below in square brackets.
The marked up copies are reproduced below in two sections, which would fit together horizontally, the first on the left and the second on the right. The captions are at the bottom of each section.
Mr Peirce, Crittall’s, sheet 1 (position to left of sheet 2)
Mr Peirce, Crittall’s, sheet 2 (position to right of sheet 1)
[tape continues after break:-]
Mr P: The times I’ve been up and down them steps – in that corner. Who took this photograph here?
Q: I don’t know, somebody bought it. There was a sale – someone bought it. And there was some of the others. It was obviously when it was first built, you see.
Mr P: Well, now you see, you see these houses here, don’t you? And this was the entrance into Crittall’s. [D2 on photo] (Q: This one here?) For years that was. Of course, we sandbagged all that up during the War, because of the bombing and all that. Well, Crittall’s couldn’t get round there, you see. That was the cycle shed up to there – (Q: What, that long thing?) Yes, the cycle shed. Well now, Crittall’s couldn’t get no further than there. That’s a dead end. Now, you know that fence along the road there, that steel fence I told you? [JG’s photo M82, frames from Olympia used as fence, then buried] Well, when did I tell you they buried it, under the road? [C2, C3 & B3 on photo]
Q: That was round here somewhere round here, wasn’t it?
Mr P: Well, this is what happened. Crittall’s bought a piece of that ground off of the Co-op. Because they’re Co-op houses, they are all Co-op houses. [C1, D1 & D2 on photo] Crittall’s bought ten foot or something off of that garden of Mr – now what was his name? Saunders or Smith? I bought his garden line, I’m still using it! And they bought a strip off of there and they made that road so you could get round there.
Q: Is that road on here, then? Is it behind the cycle sheds?
Mr P: It’s behind the cycle sheds. They done away with the cycle sheds [C2 & D2 on photo].
Q: When they made the road? So the road isn’t really on here, then?
Mr P: No, of course it isn’t. Because Crittall’s hadn’t bought the ground then.
Q: I’m with you, right.
Mr P: And then they pulled the cycle shed down and then put all the cycle sheds along there. And they pulled all the cycle sheds down, and they made this road so they could get round there. [D2 & D3 on photo] Now that is the aerodrome from Stow Maries in the First War. They bought that and erected it there. That was an air hangar. (C2 and C3 on photo] At Stow Maries. We had it for a wood shop for wood surrounds.
Q: Did they keep that when they put the road in?
Mr P: They left that there, you see. Well, when they bought this ground off the Co-op and they were able to make – pull this cycle shed down and they made that road there so you could get right round there. I’ve drove the tractor there a hundred times. And then they opened this road here, they opened the lodge up here, didn’t they? That’s where the lodge is now isn’t it? [C1 on photo] On the Braintree road. Now. (Q: Yes) Yes, well …
Q: So where was the lodge before that?
Mr P: This is – oh – I knew all the people who lived in there. That woman on the end house – she used to do all the washing – the towels and all that for the works. In there. [D1 on photo] And this was where the engineer lived, Mr Pendle. [D1 & E1 on photo] He lived in that house there. That’s the gardens, the big house, now you’re going up Braintree Road, towards the station, ain’t you? (Q: Yes) That’s his garden. He had his garage there where he had his thingamy, see? And this, so, this is what I used to …
Q: When they – before they had the lodge up there, did they have the lodge down here?
Mr P: The lodge was here, when Crittall’s was built. That’s the first lodge [D2 on photo].
Q: Is that that little thing there?
Mr P: That’s there. That is the lodge showing there.
Q: Oh, I see.
Mr P: Spent hours in there. And then – what – this is the railway that comes round Crittall’s and goes into that shed [D5, D6, D7, C7 on photo]. Well, I used to have to pull the trucks up with me tractor, see. I had a ramp – I had a turntable here. And this is all the woodsheds. And then during the War, along of this bank, we built air raid shelters [C7, D7 on photo]. Well, when they bombed Crittall’s, my air raid shelter was there, I was warden of that one [C7 on photo].
When they bombed Crittall’s, they bombed the powerhouse – that’s the powerhouse where all the engines were there, see. And that was the water-cooling shed there. Well, of course I used to go up there and go all over these roofs, cleaning the windows and all that, clean out the gutter.
Q: What was that one you said? That was the water …
Mr P: No, no no. This is the …
Q: That was the powerhouse …
Mr P: This was the woodshed, that’s the powerhouse.
Q: This long one’s the woodshed …
Mr P: No, no, just the end – the end window’s the powerhouse. I used to be there. I used to blow the siren in there, for – you know – during the war. The Second War I’m talking about now. I used to blow the siren there, of course. Now this was all the wood surrounds [C6 on photo]. When they closed down, they went to Sidcup, didn’t they? That’s the wood shop and then this is all the wood stores where we used to unload off the trucks, look, and put in there – that’s the wood stores [C6, D6, C7 on photo].
Q: That curved bit.
Mr P: That’s the wood stores. Now this is where I had my …
Q: You said the end bit was something, didn’t you?
Mr P: No, the wood bit – no that’s all the staircase up the top; and the ladies’ toilets [C5, D5 on photo]. Because when the – the top floor was the lead surrounds, you know when they made all the lead windows. [C6 on photo] That’s the wood thingamy. And this was the staircase. Well, I used to go in there, that’s where my tool-shed was, in there. In that door there, look, see, that’s the door you go in. And then you go up the stairs and this is all the toilets here. And then from there we had a – when we got inside there, we had a gangway over the top of this railway line what goes inside. Because this is all – that’s the cover over the railway line. The packing shed. Well, then we come down, over the gangway, down the stairs and come right in that corner, into the main factory [4 on photo].
Q: So the railway line’s under this piece? That’s it coming out there, is it?
Mr P: No, no, that’s underneath. That’s the – the wood surround. That doorway there, (Q: This wide one?) is where the railway lines come down. But this is where you go, go in that little doorway there and then you go up steps and you come out on to platforms and go along all that top shop. But the gangway was there so that you could come down in the shop. So when the manager or foreman come up, he wouldn’t come out into the yard at all. He would come out of his office here, look. And just walk along there and go up the stairs and come into that top there and then he’d be down here on to them.
Q: I see. So that’s over where the stairs were. Was that the office?
Mr P: That’s the offices [C3, C4, D3, D4 on photo]. And there, if you notice there, there’s the stairs go into the office – now these doors pull up with a chain and they roll over. They’re roller doors, them two. These two, these here, look they’re roller doors them too. That one there, that’s half-open, they’re roller doors. Well, where that one’s half open, you see it’s half open, that’s a ramp there so the lorries back up there level and we’d cart the windows straight on to load the lorries. That’s for loading lorries, you walk straight on. [laughs] Oh, I know this, every brick. Now I’ll tell you, you’re down here. This is Church Street, isn’t it? Well I lived in Church Street, and this is John Brown’s farm, here [B4 on photo]. That’s Cock’s Farm ain’t it? Well, all this meadow here, was all – where he used to put his horses and cows in, that used to be all mushrooms, didn’t it [B1, B2, B3, B4 on photo]. So we lived here, look, [A1 on photo] and used to come over the fence the back of our garden, and gather mushrooms. After ten o’clock at night! ‘Cos if old Mrs Brown see us, she’d come after us! So you can see mushrooms in the dark, can’t you? And then you see in all these trees here, where we used to play when we were boys, one of – the fir tree’s still there now. My brother carved his name up in there. We used to play up in them fir trees. But now you got some road across there, what do you call Nicholas Road?
Q: St Nicholas Close. St Nicholas goes up …
Mr P: Off of Chalks Lane …
Q: And there ‘s one along there, which is Templars Close as you come … [A3, A4, B3, B4 on photo].
Mr P: That’s right, don’t that go out into Church Street now?
Q: No, well, you can walk through, but there’s not a proper path through.
Mr P: Oh, not a proper road. This – when we lived here, all these fields belonged to John Brown [A4, A5 on photo]. This is the last place I saw a scythe being used. Mr Turner lived next door to us and he worked for John Brown. And I, as a boy, used to take a can of tea out to him and there’d be five or six men with the scythes cutting all the corn and then they’d tie it up. That was before the self-binders and all that come. See – so I‘ve seen from the scythe to the self – to the combine harvester. Now if I can’t sleep, I know the name of everybody up there. Both sides of the road.
Q: What, Church Street?
Mr P: Yes, both sides of the road. And Dawson lived there [A3 on photo]. You know there are Dawsons still about Witham, ain’t there?
Q: Yes, that was at the top of the terrace, that was?
Mr P: Yes, there was where we boys used to run. So then there’s the footpath down there – that elm tree there [A2, A3, A4 on photo]. Oh, I’ve played there hours and hours and hours – there’s a culvert go under the road there. Takes the water right down there to the river. Spring Lodge, down to Spring thingummy there. But those – Dawson lived there. Well, what we boys used to do – it seems funny, though. That was the end of the sewer. Of Witham. Never went no further than there. Well, the Council used to come with a great big tank of water and lift that manhole up – lift this manhole up here, at the end of this road – no Church Street, I’m sorry, – up here and lift that manhole up. And then they’d put a colour down that hole and then they would let the rubbish – let the leather chute down there and empty all this tank of water down there. And then, coming down Church Street, every so often, they’d lift the manholes up and we boys used to run like anything to see where the colour was! [laughs] To see the coloured water come right down to there. Yes.
Q: Where did it come out, then?
Mr P: Oh, it was – the fellow who lived there – Dan Crittall lodged there when he first come here.[D1 on photo]
Q: What? Did he?
Mr P: He used to lodge with Mrs – oh, dear, dear. He used to be in with Church and he used to be in Church the solicitors – what was his name now? Bill? There was two boys and his widowed mother and Dan Crittall lodged there. Right in this end one here. And then the foreman of the goods yard lived there and then an old man lived there – his son was a shunter. And we used to take the laundry – all the towels and all that – I used to take to this woman here. And then Saturday – to this end one here. And then Saturday morning, you see all this was the wood surrounds? You had all the bits[?] of wood, the window sills and the sells[?] and all the rest of it. Well, Saturday mornings I used to take four or five bags of wood into that house for her. Because she used it all for the washing in her copper, you know. Open boiler with a fire underneath. So Saturday mornings I used to take three or four sacks of logs over there, these lovely deal logs that she used to burn, all there. Yes, you see, well, that photograph I’ve got, well, that shows – right across there – it shows those iron railings, don’t it? Well, I’m standing here, on there, on this roof. I showed you that one. Well, this iron fence was all up and down here, wasn’t it? (Q: Yes) Well, when they got that bit of land off the Co-op and built right round there, right down there it goes and that’s the way we went in. Here – there – there’s an overhead crane [C3 on photo]. So I pulled the trucks – there’s a double track there. So I pulled the trucks of steel up in here, then the crane would come and take them [D2, D3. C2, C3 on photo]. And that’d run back in there and that would take them all along here and then the cutting machines all stood that way [C2, C3 on photo]. So Mr Chalk and all them, they used to feed it across – take it on their shoulders and feed two or three bars at a time.
Q: The crane itself would move along, would it?
Mr P: Yes, the crane, the overhead crane, travelling crane. The travel crane, it went up there and along there. Well, then we first of all …
Q: And you say the cutting machines went that way, did they?
Mr P: The machines all stood like that. And then they unloaded steels all here, as they had big bundles of steel, lift up about half a ton a time. They laid them down there like that. Then Mr Chalk and several of them, they’d pull these bars out and turn them round and lay them on the benches ready for the men to cut off and make the window frames. Then they would pass up the shop. It’s a lovely photograph!
Q: The benches went all the way up there, did they?
Mr P: All this was all the machines and everything else. Yes.
Q: So if you got the metal at this end, and you had to go up to that end …
Mr P: Oh no! All the metal laid along there. Tons and tons of it. Well, then there’s a gangway up there. The men used to pull those bars out, two or three at a time and lay them on the machines and then that would cut them off the length of the window and then they would pass up to have the holes drilled in. And then it would pass up to have the corners welded and the handles put on etcetera, etcetera.
Q: So the cutting machines were all at this end. In a row, all along here.
Mr P: The cutting machines were here. All along there. Cutting – presses they were, big presses, open presses. I never knew this photograph was about.
Q: And then the other machines were up [B3, B4, C2, C3, C4, C5 on photo].
Mr P: All the machines all about here. Is that the fence showing there? It is, ain’t it? That’s the fence showing there, ain’t it? [JG’s photo M82, frames from Olympia used as fence, then buried] Yes. Because that was a hedge there till they put that fence. That is the fence, look! (Q: Yes) And I told you they took them out and put them in up there, look, in reinforced concrete in that road.
And this part there is the old Social club. Mr Coleman used to be the foreman of it. Mr Coleman was and he lived – oh wait a minute, where’s Braintree Road? Oh, just up here, you can’t see his house. That’s Albert Road. Well, that’s the old sports club, social club [C2 on photo]. Well, then of course, when they built this end lot – and the canteen’s all above it now, ain’t it? And faces the road. But that’s the old Social club and this here is my oil shed and petrol pump [C2 on photo]. That little tiny one there. That’s my oil shed and petrol pump where I used to fill up my tractor and fill up the lorries and things. That was the petrol pump. Oh, I can tell you all them, yes.
Q: So what did they call your job, then?
Mr P: Oh, I was a tractor driver.
Q: So you did all these things …
Mr P: I used pull all – this was my job, you see. Inside – before we had this, before this lot was built, we used to have a steam crane roll up and down, with a crane.
Q: So this lot was later, was it?
Mr P: This lot was built on later. I’m talking about before this was built. That was the end, this is all separate. Forget about this bit. And that was the end of Crittall’s. Well, we used to have a steam crane that ran up and down the lines, see, that would swing round, pick the bundle off of the side and put it in the railway trucks, double length it was now. Well, my job was to – we had all the steel come off the Braintree line – here you are, that’s my junction there. And I‘d have all my steel come in there. Well, I would either pull it down there with my tractor or pull it round here, the lines round here. Then I would pull it right down here and put it into that shed.
Q: Oh, I see.
Mr P: And then – there were two layers. I would put two full ones in, then they would unload that one next to the bank. And then when that was unloaded, I would pull that empty one out, and put that back there. Then pull this full one up, over the points and put that back that side and put the empty one that side. And that’s how I come to unload them all.
Q: So all with those overhead crane things?
Mr P: That’s the steel unloading bay there [C2, C3, D2, D3 on photos]. And this lot wasn’t built. And when I tell you we had these dugouts during the war, I was in that one there. I’ve still got some of my kit left now. The Germans dropped a bomb down there. And he meant to bomb the powerhouse. But as the bomb came down into the powerhouse, just underneath there, it hit a girder, and that turned the bomb down into the powerhouse and it went down in between two great big 700-horsepower engines and exploded. If you go up there today, you’ll still see that girder and that’s got – where that girder is – you know an H-girder – you’ll see there that this bit here has bent down where the bomb hit it and turned the bomb in [C7 on photo]. Otherwise I might not have been here today! Because it would have come straight across and blew half that dugout.
Q: Goodness. Well, they were pretty close if they were trying to get the powerhouse, weren’t they?
Mr P: Well, over the powerhouse, there was water there and water here [C5 on photo]. (Q: On top of them?) Well, every so often you had to clean that all out and you could walk along here. Down here – I’ve been up and down there many a time – they put an iron ladder up there so I could get up and down there. So the spotters during the war, the spotters had a place up there on top of the roof. That ain’t showing on here, is it? An observation post, where the spotters were where they could spot the foreign aeroplanes coming over and they would blow the buzzer and we’d have to go into the dugouts [C6 on photo].
Q: That was over the top of the wood shop?
Mr P: Over the top of the wood shed. You went up through the woodshed and came up out through a hole there. And that was where it was on the top. Used to watch young ladies in the fields hoeing beans and all that there and they’d sometimes stick their fingers up to you! [both laugh] Over here, because they had the Land Army work there. Because that was Cooper Taber’s land and Cullen’s land, weren’t it [E6, E7 on photo]? No, Cullen’s, not Cooper Taber’s. You see there, all the allotments. That’s the trial grounds, look, that’s Cullen’s trial ground that is. And then that’s the gate over the railway line. That’s still there today ain’t it? (Q: Oh yes.) And that goes up to Motts Lane or Cut Throat Lane or whatever you call it. And then here, there, look, that’s the turntable [D7 on photo]. That’s very nearly our turntable.
And you used to put the engine on there, look, and then we boys used to get on it and push it round. You see, that’s the pit, where it’s turned round. But that was all allotments [E4, E5, D5, D6 on photo] and we used to go up there and get the blooming rhubarb and gooseberries off that allotment. I didn’t know – that’s a beautiful photograph, I never seen one like it. That’s a good one – that’s taken by air – that’s an air photograph ain’t it? (Q: Yes) But those elm trees, I know them so well [A3, A4 on photo]. And I had the wind put up me in the First War. Because you see, we boys used to play all up here. And there was all birds’ nests and everything else. But there’s a footpath down there to the vicarage orchard [laughs] [A2, A3, A4 on photo]. (Q: Ah.) Well, as a young lad there, had my little ‘puff’ – always had my little puff. Dropped my match and that set fire to the bank! Of course, the grass blazed up there – Walter ran back home! Because I lived down here, you see.
Q: [laughs] Nobody found out it was you then?
Mr P: No, nobody knew it was me. That just set fire to that grass and burnt all the way up there. You see, we used to play all up and down there didn’t we? (Q: Yes.) As I say, I knew everybody in all those houses – Mr Dawson, Mr King, Mr Griggs. Oh yes, I knew all of them up there.
Q: Is there sheds and things down there? Is there buildings …?
Mr P: This is Church Street!
Q: This is Church Street, but behind there.
Mr P: Oh no, buildings both sides, that’s the barn where Bethel …
Q: Oh yes I remember that one …
Mr P: The black barn, that’s the barn shown there [A2 on photo]. That’s John Brown’s barn that belonged to this farm – where’s the farm – that belonged to the farm …
Q: Cock’s Farm is it?
Mr P: Here (Q: Yes, I see) Well, that was their barn, the old black barn. This is all Glebe – not Glebe Crescent, what do they call it now? (Q: Bramston Green.) Bramston Green where my sister used to live there, all the bungalows and things ain’t there? And that’s the – all the fields at the back, that’s the meadows, what we called ‘Dickie Meads’ where we used to bathe in the river there. Look, where them cows are. That’s Dickie Meads, we used to bathe there, no costumes or nothing on! [A1 on photo] [laughs]. Well, couldn’t afford ‘em, could we! And that’s where we used to bathe all down there. I used to go down that thingy there and there’s the meadows, well John Brown – George Butcher was cowman. And he used to bring the cows from there, John Brown’s, up this here lane, up to here, to opposite where you go over the railway line, well, you can’t now, it’s a footbridge now, ain’t there? (Q: Yes.) And then he used to bring the cows all down here and then come up Chalks Lane with them, to the farm to be milked.
Q: That’s a long way, isn’t it? You couldn’t get through there, I suppose? Because that’s all houses.
Mr P: No couldn’t get through nowhere, no, because that was Church Street houses, weren’t they. They mostly belonged to Wadleys, most of them did. You know Mrs Goss [Mrs Ireland], she still alive? (Q: Yes, yes.) Remember me to her. Tell her we’ve been looking when she come to take the rent of all them houses. Because she used to take the rent to those houses, Doll did.
Q: Oh, I see.
Mr P: Well, she recognised me right away, didn’t she?
Q: She took the rent off you – were you in one of Wadley’s houses?
Mr P: Oh yes! Two and ninepence a week and we moved from there up to Cressing Road, up here, look [A7 on photo]. Wait a minute, this is what’s name up here – Braintree Road. Well, we lived in there, look. Number 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 13 – we lived there. We moved from there to there [to wife]. There’s the house we used to live in in Cressing Road, Lil! And them three houses there what was built, Mrs Clements lived in there, Mr Thurgood lived in there and I knew all of them in there. And then you come round the bend and that is Cressing Road. Well, all that field belonged to John Brown. So the Witham Council bought it, didn’t they? And they bought all that field and then they bought this field here, what’s called Homefield. That was my allotment. I had two bits of allotment there. That was our allotment, you see and that’s called Homefield. Well, all that used to belong to John Brown and the Council bought it all.
Q: What’s all this up here?
Mr P: That’s Mrs – [to wife] what’s that lady’s name used to come to whist with you? Goodchild. Yes, that house there is where Mr Beardwell used to live and you know his son took the business over, didn’t he, Austin. Well, that’s where he was born, there. And next door was Mr Bonner [B5 on photo]. Now I’ve got to come up there to see Mrs Tucker. She lives there, don’t she? I’ve got a photograph to give her of the old chapel. Mrs Tucker would like to take down to keep at the chapel. I’ve give it to them. What was there beforehand. And now these are – there’s the Co-op shop here. Where Mrs Blyth used to have her Sunday services there. That’s the Co-op shop.
Q: Was that in there where she used to have them? In the Co-op shop?
Mr P: Used to have them up the top there.
Q: I didn’t know that.
Mr P: Anybody could hire that room. We hired it for our wedding. [to wife] We hired that Co-op shop. I’ve still got the bills what I had to pay for the cups and saucers and everything! I’ve still got the bills. Well, we used to hang there, you see. And that was where the footpath goes down over the railway line, you go to Half Hides and through there. Well, that little bungalow – I can remember that being built and that orchard [B6 on photo]. But I dunno, that’s a bit of land he’s got ploughed there for. And then the railway line runs along well, now of course this is all Council houses right back to the line, ain’t it?
Mr P: I never thought I’d see them elm trees! They ain’t there, not now.
Q: They were there for quite a while. They are on the beginning of Bramston Green, aren’t they?
Mr P: Yes. Right on the corner.
Q: It’s not that long since they cut them down. Is this all part of Crittall’s, up here?
Mr P: No, no. Crittall’s finished – that’s British Oxygen. This place, look where that black[?] chimney is, that’s British Oxygen. And this is the powerhouse, of Crittall’s, that is as far as Crittall’s come. That’s the powerhouse where they used to heat the water for the offices and the toilets [C7 on photo] and everything else. See, that’s the chimney – now you won’t see it now, will you? When that built this – that chimney – I went up that chimney when they built it. Climbed up inside, on steps, iron steps. And when I got to the top, I leaned over the outside of it and I chalked all the chalk marks. So when I come down and looked at it you could see my chalk marks. Of course, it’s all black with soot and that, now. Well, that chimney – when they dug it out and done it. They first of all dug it out, I’ve got a trowel in the shed what was used there – when they dug it out they got three long bits of girder, H-girder, you know. And they put that down that like and bed that all in the concrete and now that chimney stands on that red circle. I don’t think that’s still there now, is it?
Q: I can’t remember, there’s a lot of them there. I don’t know whether that one is.
Mr P: That’s the finish of Crittall’s, there. This is the gates where you come out to the railway line. There’s iron gates there [C7 on photo]. We used to keep that locked up so you couldn’t get into Crittall’s. I had a key of it, and then that little tiny place there is the points for when the train come along, if you put them points on there, you put the whole train into Crittall’s. This little black box there [B7 on photo]. That’s the points. So Mr Gibson used to stand on there or I did and we’d unlock it – you had to get a lock from the Witham Station – they’d only give it to you certain times. And you put that in there and that unlocked it. And then you could pull the lever and shove these points over. So, when the goods came round with about thirty trucks for Crittall’s and when you took the loaded trucks out – some were loaded, some weren’t. It put up there then you worked these points and you’d get the engine and knock it back. And you’d send the full trucks back to there and the half a truck back into there, and then you’d got a dozen or more so, when the engine come along, you cut them all up and then he’d take them round with a load of windows. Well, that’s British Oxygen.
[Over the next few sentences WP is obviously demonstrating on map and words therefore do not always make sense.]
Q: This bit here …
Mr P: That is the power as well …
Q: What British Oxygen?
Mr P: No, no. That’s Crittall’s.
Q: And the chimney’s still Crittall’s?
Mr P: And the chimney’s Crittall’s. And that’s Crittall’s boundary there [B5, B6 on photo]. Crittall’s boundary comes – and British Oxygen. That comes across here.
Q: So that road at the top – that’s all part of Crittall’s? Opposite the end of Chalks Road.
Mr P: Yes, yes. Well, no, it ain’t really Crittall’s. That belongs to British Oxygen. But Crittall’s used it. But we weren’t allowed to use it really. I used to – when the hooter blew dinner times, I used to go up my mother’s up Cressing Road for dinner, I used to sneak out that way, instead of going right round here and out there. I used to sneak out there. They let us come in and out that way but there was no traffic in and out there at all.
Q: And did that used to go straight – could you get straight along that way?
Mr P: No, no, you could get down here to Crittall’s, you see. And then you come down a ramp into the factory and this here – that place all along there was the paint shed [B5, B6, C6 on photo]. When you dipped the windows in they went round on a conveyor belt and they dried in that – that was a conveyor belt all along there. You can’t recognise it, I can. That was along there – that’s a low building, where the windows used to travel along a conveyor belt.
Q: Not this roof here?
Mr P: No that’s a part of the paint shed. And this, you see – so this here and there, you don’t know what that is do you? Well that’s the elevator where we used to unload the coal. What we used to do was have the coal here, on the truck on the railway line. And then the men used to chuck the coal into there and that was elevated with a petrol engine. And that used to take the coal over and drop right there for the fireman to use in there. That’s one of my elevators. Yes, I had two of them when I finished. You wouldn’t recognise what that is but that was my elevator. Coal elevator that is, I remember, and that was the power shed and you went in there and in the wintertime you’d get round there and huddle round there sometimes to get warm [???]. But that‘s the British Oxygen offices, that little place [B5 in photo]. That’s the offices and as I say, this is the houses on the corner, like that. But that was the – before they pulled it down. Because that’s – is it Hurrell and Beardwell’s garage now, who’s is it. It’s still a garage is it?
Q: That’s still a garage, Mobil’s now.
Mr P: Well, now all down there during the War, the First War I’m talking about. That was all the army kitchens, Chalks Road, where the soup – where they used to make soup and boil the soup. All up there. Because there weren’t no houses your side. There was just this hawthorn hedge. But that was all – because you see the troops then were billeted in the houses.
Q: And that was for them was it?
Mr P: And that was the – where they used to cook all the soup and everything else for the men. Horse-drawn wagons [B1, B2, B3, B4 on photo]. And then they would take – every so often – you know where the bridge is down in Chipping Hill where you go to the Community Centre, don’t you?
Mr P: Well, they used to take the wagons down there so often and they’d take – because you can go through that water instead of going over the bridge, can’t you? Well, they used to take that in there and scrub them with that water, in the river, River Brain. Well, that was all full up with soup kitchens. During the war, First War. Yeah.
Q: That was on the road, there not in the field?
Mr P: The whole road was blocked, well, there was room to get by. Because there wasn’t the cars about then, was they? There was only about five motors in Witham then. See so you could get up and down there with your bicycle or perambulator or anything. Because the footpath was this side but not that side. Is there a footpath the other side? I dunno.
Q: This end there isn’t. There’s a little bit there without one.
Mr P: Now that house there is Wadley’s, where Mrs Ireland lived. Did she tell you? Or hasn’t she seen it?
Q: I think so, yes. She hasn’t seen this picture but I remember her telling me she lived at Wadley’s.
Mr P: Well, that’s where she lived. What’s the name of that house now?
Q: Dean House? [Chalks Road]
Mr P: Because along that wall, that used to be a hedge of yellow holly [B1 on photo].
Q: We’ve got a yellow holly bush in our garden, so maybe that came from there.
Mr P: Well, that’s where they all were.
Q: So perhaps that’s where it came from!
Mr P: That’s all that hedge there. Next to the road there was a little tiny brick wall with a bit of iron fence on it. Well, that yellow holly, that was the only place I knew where yellow holly was. So if you’ve got a bit evidently that’s come from there. Next time you’re talking to Dolly Goss, well, her name was Dolly Goss but it’s Mrs Ireland now ain’t it? Next time you talk to her, ask her if she remembers the holly that used to be in the front. Then of course at the back here, that’s where the orchard was. Well, we used to go down by the Infant school and we could get in the back of that orchard, couldn’t we? Through Bell Meadow [laughs].
Q: Because this lit here, that’s the meadow, isn’t it? I don’t know why it’s all white like that, do you?
Mr P: That’s the meadow, no, this is the meadow what Crittall’s have got where they have all crates and things and that in there, ain’t there? I had all prisoners of war and all that in there. No, that’s the crates. That’s the meadow, side[?]. Oh, we’ve[?] had[?] the girl[?] Clements, Ivy Clements He used to live there, didn’t he?
Mr P: Bradley. Well, his father was gardener for Canon Galpin at the vicarage. And he lived nearby. I spoke to him – I met him in St Nicholas Church. He married Ivy Clements. And her father and mother used to live – come here – that one. That’s where Ivy thingamy lived. Her mother and father lived there, Clements. And Gladys married Mr Wilkin[?]. What was the transport bloke at Hatfield Peverel, weren’t it? Yes, shows the Co-op wonderful. That little tiny bungalow and that’s[?] just the sheds. Because – you see the footpath’s down there? That’s still there now. Yes.
Q: Was British Oxygen there before Crittall’s? (Mr P: No, no.) That came after?
Mr P: No, no, no no. Rushton[?] and Hornes[?] was engineer[?]. My father helped to put it in and all that there. I remember it so well, yes. That is the loading shed where you used to load the cylinders of oxygen all up, see?
Q: What, to the right?
Mr P: That’s the loading bay that black bit is. BOC loading bay.
Q: So what did they actually do at British Oxygen?
Mr P: Get the oxygen out of the air. And they’d bottle it [B6 on photo]. – I’ve got some of it in my bedroom. I always have oxygen beside my bed. Well, what happened was – that was British Oxygen. Well, they filled them cylinders up with oxygen – they went all over the country. I used to take them to Silver End. Well, we – one of my jobs was you see – come here, one of my jobs was, I’d go up this ramp and get these big cylinders of oxygen and they had special carriers, and bring them into Crittall’s. Acetylene welding is done by oxygen and acetylene gas. Well, all Crittall’s windows used to be welded by acetylene welding. So at the finish, after several years British Oxygen then put a pipeline right across so it done away with me carting them cylinders to and fro. So I used to have about a dozen of them cylinders in a row, big ones. And couple them all up to pipes. Then turn them on – as soon as they got empty – one of them run out, you’d switch over on to another. Because all the windows were welded at the corner by acetylene welding. Now it is all done by electric welding. What they call four corners welding. But that was all done with electric [means acetylene] welding then. So they supplied the oxygen. And over here [indicating on photo] – no, that’s done away with. But over here, that was the fire station.
Q: In front of the wood store?
Mr P: That’s the wood store, and here, look, is the reservoir. That’s the reservoir [D7 D6 on photo]. We had the pump in there, when we had the fire station. But I think it’s connected up the main now. That’s all done away with and this reservoir and that’s all gone. And the railway line is all done away with. And now the big oil tanks that are here [C7 on photo]. They hit them with a bomb and busted all them there, made a great big hole, and all oil poured out of it. And poor[?] Jarvis[?] was in the fire brigade. He come into this shed here, went running like anything to put the fire out. Next minute all we could see his head popping out of this pit. Where the bomb was, and full of oil. Charlie Saville. Yes.
Q: So the oil was near the powerhouse?
Mr P: There were great big tanks, they were. They are oil tanks, those two black things. They are oil tanks, diesel oil. What supplied these engines. And that’s the fire station.
Q: And these engines were making electricity?
Mr P: Oh yes, great big generators. They supplied all the electricity – now they’re on the grid now. Well then you see, after this was done – you can’t see it now. After this was done, right here, they built gas-producing plants, [D7 on photo] didn’t they? And supplied their own gas for here, they built the galvanising plant. That’s still there now, ain’t it?
Mr P: A big galvanising plant back of Mrs Goodchild’s garden. Because they took her garden away to build this. Well, it was Olympia. They brought a big bay from the Olympia Exhibition and they put that there [B5 on photo]. Well then that was converted, changed into this big galvanising plant and we used to make the gas along there. We had the gas plants there. We used to put the anthracite coal and make the gas and then they used to pump it up into this galvanising plant. But this was taken before that galvanising plant was built.
Q: And the galvanising was actually on Crittall’s land, was it? Or did they have to take a bit off British Oxygen for that?
Mr P: No, that’s Crittall’s. There’s the road, you see. You see this road, this is the corner of Crittalls. That little part[?] – well, we used to burn all the paper rubbish from the offices and everything else to heat the water. For heating the water, that’s all that was for [B6 on photo]. We used to send the steam into the works to heat the works up. And then that’s the other part – the other corner of Crittall’s, and that’s the other corner of Crittall’s, up there.
Q: So that powerhouse there was only for the heat?
Mr P: That was only to heat the water. But that was to make the electricity for the power [C7 on photo]. This was a flat-topped roof on top of there. That was all wood there – used to get the old rats in there, hundreds of them, rats, yes. And now, see, this – here it is, look. That’s the – when we done away – when they built this and they done away with this gas place there. We used to make the acetylene gas there [D5 on photo]. They built this place, here look, there it is, and then that was turned into the surgery when I left. That was the surgery. This was the gas cylinder for making the acetylene gas. That’s where we made the acetylene gas, see?
Q: That was before British Oxygen?
Mr P: No, no, no, no. British Oxygen was still there. You got to have this gas to go with that oxygen. You got to have the two for the blowlamp. So when they done away with this one, in the railway line here, there was a big well here.
Q: But first of all they were up here?
Mr P: That were up there on that railway line, just there, just between that railway line and the bank (Q: Where your finger is?). That’s where the first gas place was. You put the carbide in and turned the water on that made gas, the old gas lamps what you get on bicycles do you remember? Well, that was the same principle there although on a larger scale. That was – well, then that was turned – after the – when the gas was done away with and we went on all electric welding, that was then turned into the surgery. That was where I used to be, on the surgery. When the works was closed for holiday and we had all the millwrights altering. And I used to be on the – I used to be in charge of the surgery. Yes, I’ve spent many many hours in there. Now that little shed is on the end of the – from the brick wall. Oh, I think that was a little garage for one of the managers or something like that. A little garage, a little wooden garage that was. But after they pulled that down, the manager come round and he had the end for a garage. But it’s still the surgery as far as I know. So you had to come across the road there to the surgery. Oh many – hundreds of cups of tea I’ve had in there. [Q laughs] And you see this is all Cullen’s trial ground [D1, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, E1, E2, E3, E4, E5 on photo]. Now has that been made into a car park or something? (Q: Yes, that’s right) Well, that was Cullen’s trial ground with this lot up here. That was all Cullens’s trial ground and so was all that. That’s allotments over there.
[From this point, Q & WP are obviously studying photo and I have only put conversation in where it makes sense with regard to positions shown/marked on photo. RS]
Q: Because now, I think some of this is allotments as well.
Mr P: No, there’s a little bit of allotment but that’s still allotments, all that lot. But you see it comes out here and goes right up on that land. That was only the railway that had that allotment. Platelayers, signalmen and the rest of it. Yes.
Q: There’s lots of little huts. That’s all to do with the railway is it, that lot there?
Mr P: That’s the main line, this is. That was the signalmen’s workshop [E5 on photo]. That’s the workshop of LNER. Well, British Railway now but LNER then. Those little huts are platelayers’ huts [D6 on photo]. And this here is allotments [D5, E5 on photo]. Mr Hayes used to have that. On that side of the line between Cullen’s hedge and the railway line. This has taken some memories back.
Q: Which was the first bit that was built, when they very first starting building Crittall’s.
Mr P: Coming round this lane here – this bit.
Q: That bit in the middle?
Mr P: That bit in the middle, where the loading bay is. That was the first bit done with concrete blocks. And then this bit was put on to the loading bay. And then when this bit was built, no wait, I’m telling you wrong.
This is the next bit, and this bit – Ramsay Macdonald come and opened it, didn’t he? And that’s when they made this road down here. Ramsay Macdonald opened it. He was the Labour MP, Prime Minister, wasn’t he? Well he opened it – that’s called Macdonald Road. Well, we always used to call it Macdonald Road. And then this bit was put on last, that’s the canteen and everything. That’s the last bit, right beside that road. And that’s the iron fence.
Q: Where the canteen is, is that on here, the social club?
Mr P: That’s the social club there. No hear look, they took that bit, no it ain’t on there. That’s that bit there, where they filled right in, right up to the road look [Braintree Road]. That’s the site, that bit up there. (Q: It wasn’t built then?) That weren’t built then. No, cause there’s the iron fence. Because when they built this canteen they took that iron fence out and put that in this concrete road. Filled it in with reinforced concrete. No that where the canteen is.
Q: So that was built first?
Mr P: This is the first bit that was built. That loading bay there. And then they built this bit, because this was an open yard. And they covered it in over the railway line where we used to load and unload the trucks. When I first went there this was all open. Cause this wasn’t built there then, none of this. (Q: That was even later was it.) That was built in later. (Q: Was this end piece the same time as that?) No, no, no, that was years afterwards when that bit was built. This is the bit that was built, what Ramsay Macdonald opened. You know that photo I gave you of all them men [photo M74]. Well, they were building this bit.
Q: The bit where the social club is now?
Mr P: No the social club was built on that bit of green grass. (Q: It’s behind there.) It’s joined on to it. (Q: So that was the bit that Ramsay Macdonald …) That’s the bit what Ramsay Macdonald, and you see this bit of grass here, course that’s wider than what it is on there. Well now the canteen comes out to the road. That was built in the canteen was you see.
Q: So that was first, (Mr P: That was first. [in middle with concrete blocks]) Then that. (Mr P: Then that’s second [to east].) Then that. (Mr P: Then this third [covering over packing sheds], then that was fourth [bit to west on photo, opened by Ramsay Macdonald, road down side Macdonald Road] and the canteen’s fifth [wood shed etc with canteen over, as on photo.) Where does that fit in.
Mr P: About the same time as the canteen those two were built. That used to be the canteen you see, on the top floor. And then when they built this end bay in there, they moved the canteen over. That faces the road now.
Q: The canteen was on top of the wood shop?
Mr P: Yes. There weren’t no bar or nothing there then. Did you see that book that was published about Boreham? It’s got the wife’s photograph in there when she was on the grader[?] at Seabrook’s. I wasn’t in it. so don’t think I was but we boys used to get under …
[As Mr P & Q are looking at photo, the conversation does not always make sense when typed but have tried to put words down as said RS]
[Mr Peirce starts many sentences with ‘Well’ and ‘see’, and also ends with ‘see’ many times, also repeating phrases. On occasion, I have omitted some of these words and phrases where it does not alter sense of conversation RS]
Q: … Sorry, you were saying, you hid under the railway bridge, gambling?
Mr P: Yes, well, up here under … [B6 on photo].
[Tape cuts off then restarts]
Mr P: …Well, they got caught by Sergeant Haggar – Tom Ashcroft was one of them and they got fined half a crown each down at Witham Police Station when it used to be in Guithavon Road. For gambling on a Sunday.
Q: But you weren’t with them?
Mr P: I weren’t there, not that time! [Q laughs] We was gambling – only with pennies! But you see, somebody let the police know or anything else so that finished all that under there, you see. Yeah.
Q: Did you have enough pennies to do that, did you?
Mr P: Well, I used to get them from somewhere! We used to do errands and things and all like that then, for that.
Q: I’ve just noticed on the bridge [Braintree Road bridge, B6 and B7 on photo] – are those sort of tower things on there? On each side?
Mr P: They are the ends of the bridges, I don’t know if they are still there. That’s the end of the brick wall.
Q: It looks a bit different.
Mr P: They ain’t so high as that now, are they? That’s where the brick wall is.
Q: So presumably you remember this before this was built?
Mr P: And this here – they are all laurels and that down there. When you come off – opposite these houses was[?] a gateway what – you go down the railway to the bank, there used to be all railway laurels there [B7 on photo]. And then you could – that was a rare courting place down there for the ladies and gentlemen and the boys. You used to go down – and you can go down there by them laurels and down there and come to this footpath that comes out to – where’s that little bungalow? Here. That footpath – pick up that footpath and then you’d go to Half Hides. Wouldn’t you? And I got a rap on the ears over that. I tell you why that brought that back to me. What we used to do for games when – we weren’t angels when we was boys! We played tricks with old people and make up a parcel. See, and leave it on the path, we’d leave it outside this hedge with a bit of string. Well, you come along and see that little parcel there, you’d go to pick it up wouldn’t you? And we’d pull the string and pull it back through the hedge. Well, we thought we’d have a better idea, so we got a tobacco pouch and when the men used to come along and see a tobacco pouch laying, filled out with tobacco, but it used to be grass in it. You’d stop there and pick it up. Well, we used to pull the string. You ain’t putting this down on there are you? Because I done that one-day, went to pull the string, but the string wouldn’t come. Somebody’d put his foot on it! That was my father!
Q: Oh dear!
Mr P: He said ‘What you up to, mate?’ I got a rap round the ear’ole for that, I never played that game no more! [both laugh] That’d the sort of games we got up to. Used to lay a parcel on the floor and we’d be the other side of the hedge, quiet and we’d see you come along, you wouldn’t see us laying down in this hedge here. That was all laurels, I don’t know if they’re there now, are they? You could only go just as far as the railway bank. Well, we used to play all round there when we was boys out of Cressing Road. We used to play in there. All sorts of games. And there’s the old cow sheds of Cock Clark’s [actually Cock’s farm]. And no one was more surprised than what I was because here was a great big pond which used to come out to the road sometimes. Where that hedge is, go down there. That ditch runs and it used to come into a pond just against my finger. Well I used to be with Mr Smith – I left school one day and went the next day to learn thatching. And straw tying and all that. Well, I’ve cut up straw stacks and thatch stacks therewith Mr Thingamy and the next time I went up there or else I’d grown up and left and come back, they’d built houses where that pond – in that pond, ain’t they? There’s houses in that pond! [B4 and B5 on photo] Because that water used to come down to that pond – this water just to come down here by this thingamy there, you see. And that water used to come down there and flow down that ditch right down there to Church Street, under the culvert in Church Street, down there to the vicarage orchard and join the river. Down there, near the Community centre or whatever you call it.
Q: I wonder where it goes now, then?
[Conversation re Q going home, not noted]
Q: I always wondered why this looks so rough over here.
Mr P: Now this here is all the meadow in front of Crittall’s. When I was a boy we had swings in there, that’s called Bell Meadow [C1 on photo]. It belongs to the bell-ringers really. The tithe of it belongs to the bell-ringers. And Crittall’s hired it, Crittall’s had this and – now who was it had that bottom bit? This is the back of – Doll Ireland’s comes up to here, Mrs Ireland’s comes up to here, don’t she? [12 Chalks Road] (Q: Yes) Her garden comes up there or somewhere back there. She lives in one of them there (Q: That’s right) the second block. The first or second block.
Q: I think it’s this block.
Mr P: About there somewhere, no – Mrs Bradley[?] lived there, and somebody else in that pair. She lives in this block.
Q: There’s four there.
Mr P: Oh, she’s near Bradley’s? Next to – they live in the end one.
Q: Next but one – she’s in, there’s four altogether. Bradley’s there, then somebody else then her then Miss Hayes.
Mr P: That’s right.
Q: That goes right down there. So what did Crittall’s used to use that for then?
Mr P: Well, Crittall’s – we had it for a dump. We use to dump all old oil barrels and everything else on there. During the War I had the Italian and German prisoners-of-war, I was to look after them – we buried gallons and gallons of paint in there. Gallons and gallons – we dug out holes and buried paint and all that in there. And when my father and I – old Mrs Fisher lived up in that end one. And my father and I – we tarred the end because on that end there, yes, that’s right, they had Crittalls, C R I T T A double L. Well, when we tarred the roof and that, my father and I, we had in this meadow – because there’s a meadow there, that’s wider than what you can see [Braintree Road side of factory]. And that’s ever so wide, because – well, it’s got the Social club and all that there now. We had our tar pot, where we used to boil the tar up and put pitch in. And that old Mrs Fisher, darned old woman, she come over there one day, got over that blooming old fence. She’d got an old broken cast iron saucepan, with a handle on, but a bit knocked out of it. And she was after this tar! Of course me father let out and he swore and that. Well, she wanted it to go and pour over Mrs Chalk! What owned the houses! But she went funny at the finish – he was a signalman at the Blunts Hall – he was the signalman here, look. That’s the signal box [E1 on photo]. That’s still there now, well, the ruin of it was. And when I used to go to the goods yard to order anything, I used to come out Crittall’s gates there and climb over this fence – that’s the water tower there. And I used to climb over this fence and cross the line and then come round into the goods yard, look, this is the Maldon line. And the goods yard as well [F3 on photo]. But that’s the Maldon line and this is where – when I was on the railway in 1928, this was called the bank siding and there’s three or four sidings there. But that was called the bank siding and when the coal came in during the night, they would shunt the whole wagon load of about thirty trucks of coal up there, some to the Co-op some to Moy’s, some to Burrows and all that there. That was called the bank siding, I remember that quite well [F6 on photo].
Q: And the goods yard was where?
Mr P: Oh, the goods yard further round here. You ain’t got the goods yard.
Q: Down the Maldon line?
Mr P: There’s the Maldon line. This is the goods yard, this lot [F3 on photo] but this is the Maldon line on the outside. That’s the outside one is the Maldon line. That end one, you can see it, see? And this is the goods yard all this lot. And the water there …
Q: The water tower thing, what was that tower for?
Mr P: Fill the engines up, wasn’t it. [E1 on photo]. (Q: Oh, of course) [Mr P laughs]. They didn’t run on oil then, did they? They were steam, weren’t they? And this here, look, there’s Harrison Gray’s maltings. That’s Hugh Baird’s malting all this [F1 on photo].
Q: That’s a bit different now, isn’t it?
Mr P: Oh yes. That comes through to this yard that comes up by – the trial ground of Cooper Taber’s and all that then. My father worked there for many years. That was Harrison Gray’s then, at Chelmsford. That’s Hugh Baird’s now. Well, that Baird’s maltings. And that’s the signal box. That worked all the signals up the line and everything else. And that was the water tower [E1 on photo] and the water incidentally come from here – the water came from a spring – oh, I’ve drunk gallons of it. That comes right down the side of that railway line, that water, that’s piped under there – you’ll see it there today. That still runs right through here, this open channel and that runs right down there, look, this water and it runs right down to there, and goes into a well there. And from there that’s pumped up into that tank. And then, at the bottom of the platform was where the big leather pipe was that you swung round and put into the top of the engines to fill up the boilers.
Q: So that was really on the end of the platform, there?
Mr P: You didn’t fill it up – you see the line come up here, yes. Well that was the thingamy. Wait, I’m telling you wrong. That’s the first one. The first one is the hydraulic lift, the first one. The second one is the water tower, there’s two there. The first one was the hydraulic lift, that worked the lifts, what’s still there today, on the platform, two lifts. This in here, as the lift went up and down, by hydraulic, that lifted great weights up and down, in there, that first one was. That was the second one was the water. And when the Braintree train came round here, there’s a trapdoor there, or a little platform, that when the engine[?] used to press that down, that used to go [noise] woohooo as the engine came round that bend to warn anybody crossing the Braintree siding or anything. Because sometimes when I’ve walked along that platform, I’ve trod on that, by mistake! And sounded the hooter off, many a time [E2 on photo] [both laugh].
Q: So this business about the lifts …
Mr P: The first one is the hydraulic lift.
Q: That’s the one you can see all of it?
Mr P: You can only see – well you can see both of them on here, there’s just that little white bit in between. That was the water pump but that was the hydraulic lift. That was a great thing that went up and down with weights, counteract …
Q: But the actual lifts that you used were along here somewhere?
Mr P: Oh yes, the lifts were in the platform. But you’d got to have the pressure, the pressure – as the lift went up and down, that worked these here lifts up and down in this, in there. And the next one was the water. That water used to come – that still runs there today. We used to drink gallons of it. That comes right underneath that bridge there, you can see it. If you go on that bridge you’ll see that water run down there. That’s what used to full up the water tower to fill up the engines.
Q: Did they have a thing on the railway, for the post? Some of these things that used to swing round for the letters? I think I’ve seen a picture of Mr Pease going to put the – they had a leather bag of letters to go in the post …
Mr P: No, not at Witham, no. That was never at Witham. No, you mean the mail what they used to clutch off? No, we never had that at Witham. The train used to stop, you see. All we used to do was when the train came in from London, say, to go to Colchester. We would unload the mail and then we had to take it to the Braintree line or to the Maldon line because they were running then. No, there was none of that swing bit. That was all done with mail bags. Yes. And certain mail bags you had to sign a book for. You signed it when the guard give you that mailbag, [???] [???], thingamy. The guard give you that bag, but if they were registered things or money, you had to sign his book. He would just give you his book to sign. So you were then responsible for it. So that cleared him.
But that’s very good of the old lodge there. That’s where Mr Haggar used to be, Sergeant Haggar. When he retired from the Police force, he took on that job. You saw him on that photograph, ain’t you? Well, that photograph was taken just there, look [D4 on photo]. Where them two cars stand.
Q: The photo of the staff?
Mr P: The photo of the staff [JG’s photo M73] Taken right back on that thingamy. You look you’ll see it.
Q: When you went to work, you came in that door then [south end, D2 on photo]?
Mr P: All come in there. Until they built – Macdonald built this bit and then they built a new lodge up there, didn’t they?
Q: So you couldn’t get in …
Mr P: No, no, they all had to go in and out there. And if you wanted a job – the big old iron grid – gate was there – hundreds of people used to stand outside of there, when they was busy. And the man would come out and say ‘You, you, you, you and you’, and you went in the gates and that’s how you’d get a job. You went there. And stood outside the gate and then they come out and get so many a day. That’s how they set them on.
Q: And really – the cycle sheds, most people would come on a bike would they then?
Mr P: Oh, this is all bicycles. They done away with that bicycle shed when they built that bit and Mr Smith? Evans? Saunders? – it might come to me. They took – the Co-op took a shilling off his rent. Yes. And they took this whole strip. And we built a brick wall up there and Mr Dorking built it. Henry Dorking’s father I’m talking about. He used to be at the blacksmith’s shop. His father built that brick wall in there and fenced his garden off. Because that was a wooden fence there. That cycle shed was done away and we all had – I still got the numbers now – we all had a number. Where you put your bike in. I daresay I still got my numbers somewhere now, with my papers and things.
Q: Did they build the office straight away or did it come later?
Mr P: No, no, the office didn’t come on for years. That used to be – the office used to be here [D4 on photo], a little wooden hut. And all they done was cook for the staff. Little wooden hut used to stand there, and the telephone exchange and all that was in there. And then of course that was moved into there when they built this new lot, that was moved into there and they built this lot together. This front here and the offices. And this here, this is the loading platform [D3 on photo] here as well, and you went up steps onto that and you went in that doorway. And them big old things there. You had to pull a chain and that rolled that door right up.
Q: And this door up there …
Mr P: That was the door where we used to go – when they built this gateway, we all used to come by this little Social club and go in that doorway there, walk right along here and then the clocks were there where you clocks your card in [D3, D4 on photo]. The clock behind here, in that bay there, where the clocks were. You went and got your card out and stamped it and put it back the other side.
Q: So when they built the new Social club, did they pull that lot down?
Mr P: I don’t know …
Q: Or did they use it for something else?
Mr P: No, they left that end bit, but that bit was pulled – no, that weren’t because the canteens were – no, that was still there. Because you could get round behind there. That was a blooming nuisance I might tell you. Because when we had the Social club, we used to let it to the RAF and the various other people for dances and all the rest of it. They used to blooming well get round behind there. So when you locked up at night and see everybody was away, you’d got to walk round here and see if somebody was round there. Because there was a big gateway – you could come to the Social club but right along of there [C2 on photo] we had a big gateway right across there. So when they had that canteen and all that open for Social clubs you couldn’t get into the works. I daresay that’s still there now, them wooden gates. Yes they are they’re still there now. If you look down there you’ll see it.
Q: Was there a lot of trouble with people getting into …
Mr P: Here, look. Here’s my crane, that steam crane. There it is, look [D4 on photo]. That’s the steam crane and when they pulled it down and the boiler and all that way, my father bought that top for five shillings and built a greenhouse with it! [laughs] That’s the crane with the jib, see it? (Q: Oh, yes.) That’s a steam crane. Mr Scott was the driver. Yes, he had all them houses up Rickstones Road there, them little bungalows and things all up there, Mr Scott. Well, he used to drive that crane. [???] That used to run on the railway lines.
Q: That’s the jib is it? Is it in that shed?
Mr P: And that’s the engine, there’s the chimney, that little chimney of the boiler. And you could swing the jib round either way round. And then if you wanted to shift a truck up, you had the crane come up and you hold a long pole up like that here, on the front of there, and put it on the truck and it’d push the truck along. Push the wagon along. See, there’s one of Crittall’s lorries there now, look. Yes, that’s where – the last place I had my little workshop was just inside that door [D5 on photo].
Q: It moved about, a fair bit, it moved about, your workshop, then?
Mr P: That little door was where I kept my workshop and kept all the drain rods and everything else all in there. That was the last place I was at. That little doorway in there. See that’s where the staircase is up to all them rooms.
Q: So what would these be here?
Mr P: They’re crates and all that, ready to go on.
Q: I seem to remember at one time they had lots of windows waiting out in the open. (Mr P: Windows?) Once they’d finished making the stuff did it just go straightaway on the …
Mr P: Oh no! When the windows were made, they were all put in racks. Big racks. And as the orders came out, different people went with the scooter and all that and you picked your windows all up and you took them down here to the packing shed. These are all the packing sheds [C5, C6 on photo]. From that ladder there, they are all the packing sheds. That was all open once upon a time, but that’s covered in and that’s all the packing sheds. They had the overhead crane would run inside the factory and that could go in there and run right up there and then come right back over the railway trucks. And that’d drop the load. They were all electric overhead cranes. The bloke sat in there, and he would – work in the little box and he would work the things along the rail and all that. And that would work along the rails so he could pick a bundle up where the packers had done there, and he’d come in there and put it right over the top of a wagon or come in that end and come down there. They were overhead travelling crane, they were. That was a great – [???] when they done away with the steam crane. I kept looking at that little thing there. I thought I recognised it. That’s the stream crane.
Q: And did they have special places for certain sorts of machines inside?
Mr P: Yes, yes. This was – there’s a pathway down there. This was the paint shop [C5, C6 on photo], that thing there and then when they were painted, they went overhead here and went up there and come down again, all on overhead rails. And then came back into the factory and then you’d push them on a rail and this rail still went right down there. And then you come along of there and you took the windows all off and hanged them on them racks. Yes. Very well laid out.
Q: And actually putting the windows together?
Mr P: When the windows were put together, they were all carried up to the paint shop. And Mr Prentice, I remember him, we took the windows up by barrows. Because they ain’t got scooters then, we had barrows. And you put the windows on a steelyard like, you see. And then you would push the barrow under the steelyard and you would work the handle and that would lift them up. And then you would take them up to the paint shop. Then Mr Prentice and his mate, Mr Potter, they would get the windows and hang them on a hook and then there was great tanks of paint in the floor. And he would hang the windows on there then he’d work the lever and down would go the window into the paint, come up and go over to a dripping board.
And the window would drip so many few seconds and drip, and the paint drip would drop back into the tank. And then the window would carry on up these tunnels, heated up to [???] I think, up the tunnel and then dry them. That took three quarters of an hour to go round there. And they would be dry, you see, by the time they come out to this top corner. And then they would follow right along the main drive, down to the rack. And you walk all these cakewalks[?] on these racks and you’d put the windows there, E-type, D-type, C-type whatever they were.
Q: So they were all painted, then?
Mr P: Yes, well then you see, when you’d done the order. Then when the window got to there, you put a label on the window [C6 on photo]. Paper label, you’d tie it on with string. You wrote the number, the order number on the outside of this label then you’d tie it on to the window. Then that would go down in the window and come out covered in paint! And that would go right down the drying shed and come out with this label all covered in paint. Well you just broke the label over, and there was a bit of carbon inside with the number on. So you did your orders, you see. First of all you used to stamp all the numbers by a tin label, we used to do have a tin label, a boy[?] used to do it. And you used to stamp all the numbers on. And then somebody come with this idea of these envelopes with the carbon paper inside. And you wrote on the outside the number so you could see till it got to the paint tank. And then it went down the paint tank and come out again, that was covered with paint, you couldn’t see nothing, could you? Then you just tore the envelope open and there was the number. And that was how it was when I left it.
Q: When did you leave? You’ve probably told me before, that …
Mr P: Oh, I left – was it just before the War finished? No, it must have been during the war. I’ve got me – I could tell you because I’ve got my Union card that’d tell me the right day I left. And Alf Keeble, you know Mrs – does she still live down near you? Mrs Keeble, Gladdie Keeble, or is she dead?
Q: She died.
Mr P: Her brother Alf was our secretary. Is he still alive?
Q: They lived in our house. No, I don’t think he is now. He lived where we live.
Mr P: He is dead, because I was talking to his brother, Herb, at Witham. Because we lived opposite him. Well, Alf was our secretary of the Transport & General Workers Union.
Q: Was that quite strong then?
Mr P: Oh, yes. That’s one of the rules of Crittall’s. If you read the history of Crittall’s, have you ever read that? ‘Fifty Years of Work & Play’. In there he said that every worker should be a member of the Union. That was Rule Four of – you accept that as a rule. When you joined the firm, you signed the paper and you agreed to that. That was Rule Four. That you become a member of the Union. There was four or five Unions, there was a Brassworkers, Electrical, there’s several unions in Crittall’s. But I was in the Transport and General. And then of course when I went to Hoffmann’s I had to join the Electric Union then.
Q: It must have been quite a big job for him then, being the secretary.
Mr P: Yes, we used to pay fourpence ha’penny a week, I think it was. I’ve got me membership card. I know just where that is, so I can give you the date when I left.
Q: Was he allowed to do his work during his working time?
Mr P: Oh yes. He’d take his money up to – well, he used to come in – what he used to do was – he’d come in half hour earlier, dinnertime or something and take his money then. But he wasn’t suppose to take it in working hours, but of course, we used to give it to him when nobody else was about there. The foreman didn’t worry.
Q: And were the foremen in a Union as well, were they?
Mr P: No, they weren’t! They never came out on strike or nothing. They didn’t belong to a Union then, but the staff now do belong to some different – the Hoffmann’s did.
Q: So you lot came on strike did you?
Mr P: We did once, yes. Come out once. Yeah.
Q: What was that about?
Mr P: Wages.
Q: Was it for very long?
Mr P: No, I don’t think we was out a week! No, we wasn’t. The old man come round – I can see him now, Francis – used to walk with a stick in his hand on his back. No. Because that was booming then, wasn’t it? Yeah.
Q: So how did it finish? When you went on strike?
Mr P: Oh, we got away – we got the increase. Oh yes, got the increase. Because we were only getting – I think forty-five shillings was the highest. I started at ten shillings a week. And I used to get – every six months, I think, you got a shilling for every six months rise, or something. But this is a gorgeous photo. I’ve never seen anything like it..
[Discussing photo, not noted]
Mr P: Showing all them trees, magnificent! And that hedge all along there – we used to go birds nesting all along there!
Q: You said Crittall’s was booming at a certain time. When would that be, roughly?
Mr P: Oh, that boomed right up to the Second War. Then they sold that – that ain’t Crittall’s now, is it? No, it’s two or three people now.
Q: Were there any times when they had to get rid of people?
Mr P: No! No! Taking them on right up to the Second War. No, no. And the first house in Witham to have Crittall’s windows was what they call Corner House, or North Corner. It’s that house just inside The Avenue.
Q: Where Avenue Road and The Avenue join?
Mr P: Is it called North Corner? [45 Avenue Road] Tom Ashcroft used to live there. He and [???]. Because the house standing. You know you go down there and there’s a brick post and there’s the little bungalow, that’s the Conservative headquarters or something. Well then there is the two brick pillars. Well, just behind that there’s a house, that’s really in Avenue Road. That was the first house to have Crittall’s windows in Witham.
Q: Well, that must have been something special.
Mr P: You see, because – Crittall’s, I mean – they never only used to make windows for themselves, they use to make windows for R e Pearce & Co, W. W. Williams. And they used to send all the labels and everything. Our name was not to appear – it was on your order form that our name was not appear, you see. No.
Q: You mean Crittall’s name was not to appear or …
Mr P: No, no. The firm. They used to send their labels and everything. So when they went out they hadn’t got nothing of Crittall’s on them. On the handles, sides or nothing. No. Crittall’s used to make all these windows for other different firms Williams, and REPS[?] and Mallows. Yes, I remember all them.
Q: And they weren’t galvanised at first, were they?
Mr P: No, no that was all done with – they were done with a red paint.
Q: So the paint was this red …
Mr P: Just a red paint, that’s all. That was all painted. But even now, after the windows were galvanised – no, they ain’t got the galvanised plant there. No, after the galvanised plant was done and the windows were all galvanised, they still come in to go on to this paint. But instead of the man doing it, the thing was all automatic. As the window went up and down, an arm come along and pushed it along the runner. Down, went along – that’s was all automatic then. But I’m talking about the beginning.
Q: During the Second World War, did they still make windows? Or did they do other things?
Mr P: Made windows and shells.
Q: Shells as well?
Mr P: And – that was the shell place all down – yes, that would be that end one there, would be all the shells [B3, B4;C2, C3, C4 on photo] see, Hoffmann’s had some of it. We made shells and down here, where’s the cutting off shed? Along here, we made all spikes [C4, C5 on photo]. What they put, I suppose they put them along the seashore to stop the Germans landing and all the rest of it. We made all them, loads and loads. And then the people from Woolwich Arsenal used to come down and examine them all. And the lovely shells we made, thousands of shells, six-inch ‘Camel’ shells. We used to red heat them and put the copper band on and all – turn them out. Because they used to be just a little pipe when they come. You had a big press. Used to press the nozzle and put the copper band on and make a thread for the top to put the detonator in and everything else. But we never filled them. They went to Woolwich Arsenal to be filled.
Q: Did they have different machinery to make them?
Mr P: Special machinery come from Canada! Came from Canada during the War. How they got through I don’t know. Great big – they were called ‘Herbert’ from some Herbert Company from Canada.
These lathes used to come over what used to turn the shells. Because after the shell – that was only just a round pipe like that – and then you red-heated it and it went into a machine and down come the press and that put the nozzle on. Well, then that was cut off and that had be threaded and everything else. And that all had to be turned down to the shape of a shell. And every one had to be exactly alike within a – one hair! And then they used to come down – the inspectors were there from Woolwich Arsenal. They were in the factory and they’d test every one like that. Where they went to, I don’t know. They just used to load them up into the trucks and away they went.
Q: Did you deal with that, then?
Mr P: Mm. And all the shell cases – what happened was when the shells used to come in by truckload, from the foundry – Lake and Elliott’s I think mostly. I used to send them round here, up here into Moy’s coal-yard and we used to unload them all there. Because there were so many thousands and thousands of them we used to unload them there. And then we used to take them round by truck and trailer into the factory as they wanted them. They were spread out in case they got bombed, you see. They were great big shells, the length of this table – six-inch Camel[?] shells.
Q: But they were still making windows as well, were they?
Mr P: Oh yes! Windows as well. And then Hoffmann’s were in here, they had a bay where they done their bearings.
Q: Oh did they? Were they making in Chelmsford as well, then?
Mr P: Oh yes! They were in Chelmsford. Also they went to Burnham-on-Crouch. They had another factory there, Hoffmann’s did, you see, it spread out.
Q: There must have been plenty of work then, in the War? Because there weren’t really the men left, were there? How did they manage?
Mr P: No, not many left. All women in. And we used to make them Bailey bridges. We made them as well during the War. And women used to paint them all. You know what they call Bailey bridges, don’t you? Great big girders, they were made of. And the woman used to weld them. As well, yes. [Tone of voice expresses surprise]
Q: I’m not sure I’ve met anybody, but there must be women in Witham now that worked there.
Mr P: There is. Oh yes, I know some of them. Well, you know I was talking of Charlie Poulter? Well, of course, his wife – she worked in Crittall’s in the canteen. Because I wasn’t nasty or anything about it, but I just asked how his wife was. But he said she died.
Q: What, Albert you mean?
Mr P: Yes, she died about six months ago, he said. Well, she used to work in Crittall’s in the canteen. Oh, yes, I know quite a lot of women walking about Witham, who worked there. Miss Saunders what lived about there, she was the foreman of the women in the top of here. What used to do the lead-glazed windows, and all them.
Q: Where were the lead-glazed windows?
Mr P: On the top floor. You’ve got this top floor there [C6 on photo]. You’ve got three (Q: Oh you’ve got three?) Three floors, one two and the three there. That’s all windows to the floor. (Q: All under the roof?) Yes, you can’t see the thingamy there, but that brick wall goes along there and there’s a big wide path where you walk up and down there, from the window. Oh yes, great wide path there, it – doesn’t show you but it is as wide as this room! But that was all the windows there, that you open. Well, that’s where they were – they done all the lead lights there. Coventry – weren’t Coventry Cathedral’s windows built? Yes I’m sure – I think that was made by Crittall’s wasn’t it? I have an idea that was. Because Coventry Cathedral got bombed, didn’t it? Yes, they had special – I think Crittall’s made the window for that. Yes, where they had that special – I think Crittall’s made the window for that. See they used to make all windows for churches and chapels – coloured glass and all the rest of it.
Q: And that was women used to do that normally?
Mr P: Women used to do that. A man used to cut the lead and they used to do it and put the – you build them up. You had to – when you made a lead window, any design you wanted, then that was drawn – I had a big board like this. And you’d whitewash all this board. Then that would go to the draughtsman, and he would draw all that widow on there. And then they would put pins in, whatever the shape was of the window. And they would bend this lead round there and bend this lead round there and make all these lead bars. And they were made like that so then you’d put the glass in. And then they laid it all over with cement, didn’t they? And they’d solder them all. They were all done with solder and candle wax, what you soldered the lead lights with. Solder and candle wax.
Q: And did they put the glass in before they soldered them?
Mr P: Oh yes. You’d just lead, you didn’t need much heat there and you’d have a special steel knife thing that you’d just shove under that corner as you put the heat on like that. And the windows were all made and the windows would all rattle and everything else until they were cemented in. Then they had brushes like shoe brushes and put all the black mastic stuff all in and that’d harden off.
Q: Because the glass had to be cut the right …
Mr P: Oh, the man cut the glass – all coloured glass.
Q: So the women were mainly just laying out the lead?
Mr P: One big order I had to do was a swimming pool and all the glass was looking-glass. And that was done inside – the looking glass was inside and the outside was yellow. So when you undressed and all, all the wall was a looking glass. That was all done with the lead lights. Some big – I don’t know what it was, college or something it was, anyhow. And we used to have all coloured lights and coloured glass and everything else. We used to cut[?] it see. When you – what you’d do is you got your window all done by the draughtsman on the board and then you would lay the bit of glass on it and then you would cut it with your cutter, whatever shape it was, you see, from it. And that would go in. Then you would re-whitewash this board all over again and then you’d draw another design on it. Sometimes you’d have to put two or three boards together according to the size of the window. The windows used to be up the top there, where the draughtsman [C3, C4 on photo] right up top there. Top of the offices.
Q: I think somebody told me that right at the beginning they made the leaded lights down Maltings Lane? Is that right, where the maltings is?
Mr P: Yes. I know, well, I’ll tell you what happened there. I was mixed up with that quite a lot. I spent a month down there. That was Charlie Brown’s brewery. There used to be the malt house there and the brewery was on Hatfield Green, where they made the beer. When Charlie Brown – their family died all out – I went down there even when they were working – old Brown used to make his stuff and all that down in the old kiln. And they had a surveyor from London come down and I had a month with this surveyor down the maltings. And he drawed a plan all over and everything else. And one of the rooms in the maltings was all tobacco where old Mr Brown used to grow his own tobacco. It was all hung there, the green tobacco. And I had a month with this man, holding the tape when he was measuring all the rooms and everything else. The finish was Crittall’s bought it and they started building up lead lights and Mr Smith what lived near Ashby’s garage there, he was there – and that’s where the women started making the lead lights. Then when Crittall’s moved up here, then they sold that lot again, didn’t they?
Q: So when about would that be that they first had it?
Mr P: What, when Crittall’s first made lead lights …
Q: How old would you be then, about?
Mr P: Now let me see, [pause] – fourteen, sixteen, Add sixteen on to eight – that’s twenty four ain’t it? About 1924.
Q: I mean, nowadays they reckon lead’s a bit dangerous, don’t they?
Mr P: Well, they’re still use lead lights now.
Q: They still use it?
Mr P: Why should it be dangerous?
Q: I think it depends what you …
Mr P: Same as asbestos. Everybody used to cover the roof with that now that’s suddenly got – now you not got to have chicken’s eggs now! [laughs]
Q: So they didn’t have any special treatment because it was lead, or anything?
Mr P: No. So, when you get round the maltings, that little place that’s stands on the road, the building that stands on the road [Maltings Lane]. That’s where the lead lights were made, in there. And when Nitrovic had their offices and all that, that was where Mr Brown used to live, that was his house. And then they built on to it. But now it’s all turned into flats. So they tell me. I ain’t been down there since to see.
Q: And all the metal and stuff that came, where did it come from, do you know?
Mr P: Oh, that all came in on rolls on drums. That all come in on wooden drums, rolled.
Q: What, the lead did?
Mr P: The lead, then you just pulled it off and straightened it up. I don’t know where it come from, it come from some lead works.
Q: What, on the railway?
Mr P: Same as the steel, used to come – all our steel used to come from Darlington. Come all down by rail from Darlington. Now it all comes by lorry. No rail now, it all comes by lorry. And the lorry goes in there and the crane takes it off.
Q: But they were still using the railway when you finished?
Mr P: Oh yes, that was after the Second War before they done away with the railway. I suppose it was round about 1950 when they done away with the railway, or something. So now the lorries come now – either in there – they come in there now and round here and go in there to unload. Or they may draw in there and up there and unload there. Because the crane can get all along there.
Q: So when the things came on the railway, they had to come up this Braintree line first, didn’t they? To get on to Crittall’s siding.
Mr P: To get to Crittall’s siding you can only come in through the Braintree railway line and come in through them big wooden gates what we had here [C7 on photo]. They’re Crittall’s gates there.
Q: So if something came on the main line …
Mr P: If it came on the main line, well, it had to come on the Braintree line round that way, and you would alter the points at that signal box and bring it back into there.
Q: It was just the odd trucks that would come round or – you wouldn’t have the whole train coming round, just the odd trucks?
Mr P: Oh no, no, you would have ten trucks all the time.
Q: But I mean, you’d have a goods train or something coming into Witham station …
Mr P: You see what happened was that the train would come down with about thirty wagons on it. And that would have about, say, so many trucks of steel. Long forty-foot trucks. So many trucks of coal, so many trucks of other stuff and all that. And that would be in that siding. And then the shunters, Mr Keeble, Mr Gibson and all that, then during the course of the day and all that they would sort all this lot out. And then they would get all this loading and the other siding ready for Crittall’s. Then they would bring it all round by the train. And then push it in, into this gateway there.
Q: Is there only the one line up there?
Mr P: One – no two lines [C5 on photo]. There’s only this one line round here but there’s two lines inside.
Q: So they had to get it up and down when there wasn’t a train going to Braintree then.
Mr P: Oh yes! Of course you did. Trains didn’t run to Braintree every so often, see but when they took the key out of the foreman’s office at Witham station. They took a long brass key. Once that key, the Braintree …
Continued on tape 126