Sea-change: Wivenhoe Remembered - Unemployment
Contributions by Minnie Scott, Don Smith, Marjorie Goldstraw, Ivy Knappett and Charles Tayler
Page created by Peter Hill, copied from the earlier Wivenhoe Encyclopedia website
My first job – Minnie Scott
Wivenhoe, Anchor Hill, that’s where I first worked, and it was the Labour Exchange. And I did shorthand and typing there. Oh, a lot of people were out of work, yes. Terrible! Yes, there were. And I used to go home and say to my mum, ‘So-and-so, poor old boy’s been in, and his money hasn’t come through yet,’ because they used to have to send it, you see, an amount for them, and I used to go home and cry. And my mum said, ‘Well, that job is doing you good, isn’t it!’ I said, ‘Well, I feel so sorry for them.’ I said, ‘Poor old people, I think that’s terrible,’ I said, ‘never having a penny.’ And one poor old boy used to walk round, all round from Rowhedge, he hadn’t got a ferry, and he came right round Colchester to get here. So I said, ‘You didn’t!’ He said, ‘I have done.’ I said, ‘Well, you won’t do it going home,’ so I gave him the tuppence. So he said, ‘No!’ I said, ‘Yes, please.’ The ferry, I said, ‘Please take it.’ I said, ‘I’d give it to anybody if they wanted it.’ So, poor old boy, he took it.
The bosses were nice really. They worked for the government, you see, and there was one come down from Kew, and in the office there was another office, and there was a window looking into where the men claimed, and I knew all the men’s names, their numbers, and what they did for a living, so they ought to have shown me a card, but I didn’t want it, I knew it, and after we’d finished, he said ‘How can you remember all those?’ I said, ‘Oh, don’t know. But I can.’ I said, ‘I know all the men,’ I said, ‘and I know what they do for a living.’ So he said, ‘Oh!’ He didn’t say any more. I liked it, I liked working there.
But I got married, and my husband wouldn’t let me go. He said, ‘No. I married you to keep you.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want you to,’ and he said, ‘Well, I don’t want you to go out to work.’ I said, ‘Well, I might get fed up being at home.’ So he said, ‘Well, you can go for a walk!’ No, he wouldn’t let me go after I got married. I wasn’t very pleased, but I put up with it, because I had a good husband. He never kept me short. I had, you know, plenty. He earned good money, and he said, ‘I didn’t marry you for you to go out to work,’ so, of course, I didn’t go.
Rough times – Don Smith
At that time, in the Thirties, the Employment Exchange was based in Alma Street and the whole queue, every morning, right up and turn right up towards the Grosvenor there, that little road was called ‘The Cut’ then, there was this queue because they had to go and sign their names every day otherwise they didn’t get the Benefits. And at that particular time things were pretty rough and Mr Gooch, who had the whole Wivenhoe Park, gave the unemployed people permission to go and collect wood.
Unemployed men – Don Smith
I had no personal experience of poverty where one relied on soup or anything like that. But I do believe some people did, in Wivenhoe. I think people who were the hardest hit were people who had been in the shipyards and who had been yachtsmen and that sort of thing. My father, he was a Colchester man and he never stopped at home when he was out of work. He was always on his bike, out and about, looking for work. Now, a lot of people who were tradesmen, they didn’t take kindly to the idea of going out and doing some other job. I can recall as a kiddie, every day, on the top of Station Road, on the Grosvenor side – the public house, the Grosvenor – but also on the other side, where the railway bridge is, there would be this collection of men and their whole day was there, walking up and down, chatting, smoking, having a half a pint. There was, at the time, at the Co-op – up the top of the village – a Reading Room where one could go and play cards and a lot of them used to go up there.
A pig of a man – Marjorie Goldstraw
I was out of work for a long while. And the dole was half-a-crown a week! A pig of a man used to throw it at me! Down Alma Street, it was local. You signed on and the boss used to find you jobs. The only thing he ever found me was service. So I used to go, because you had to, but I used to tell the people to put ‘Unsuitable’ on it and I got away with that for a while! But you could only draw dole for so long. And then I went to the clothing factory in Alma Street and never looked back.
Unemployment – Don Smith
I always remember, as a kiddie, worrying would be not the right word, but thinking about him [my father], when he was unemployed, because he used to go out and he used to cycle miles to get work. And he was in the building trade then. My father never stopped at home when he was out of work. And I was pleased when I come home, and it was, ‘Dad’s got a job’ sort of thing, you know. Cycled many miles.
But there was hard times. I believe things got to a point where, if you refused work, probably your Benefits were withdrawn. A lot of them actually did work in putting the sewer on in Wivenhoe. There was a man by the name of Mr Brooks who was the Manager of the Employment Exchange. I believe he was an ex-World War soldier, of a rank, and he was a pretty fair man. But I understand from what my father’s told me many many years ago that he didn’t want anybody pulling the wool over his eyes and if he thought you weren’t prepared to work then he was no friend! So my father went out and got work, he really did. Cycled many miles. And I do know that there were two or three shipwrights who actually used to cycle from Wivenhoe to Parkeston Quay, Harwich, when they were building the Parkeston Quay.
Pride – Marjorie Goldstraw
I can remember in the 1930s, during the slump, there were terraced houses in Park Road, with the toilet right opposite, and I’ve known women come out and shake the cloth so that neighbours thought they’d a meal, and they hadn’t. Pride, you know.
Supplementing the diet – Ivy Knappett
My dad used to kill birds and we used to eat them for our dinner. Little birds! Poor little sparrows! There was a house that nobody lived in and my dad used to put all the bread down and over the top of it he used to put a netting, and when he got them all under there he used to knock them and kill them. And then my mother used to pluck them. But they didn’t have hardly any meat or anything on it underneath!
‘You can go’ – Charles Tayler
When I was small we lived in a tied house at Alresford – used to get milk free and the rent free. My mother stood on the fields plant pulling, and potato picking and cabbage cutting, and sugar beet and things like that, they all had to. Take people’s washing in and do it with the old board. Anything to earn a couple of shillings. My father’s wages was 30 shillings a week. That’s what a farm labourer’s was in them days. My father’s employer, Mr Pilton, was away and my sister Molly was a maid in the house over that farm. And Molly, she give her notice in, and Mrs Pilton went up to my father and said, ‘Bill, your daughter’s given her notice in.’ So he said, ‘I know she was giving it in, because she’s going to work for Marriages’ – they used to have the flour mill in Colchester. And so she said, ‘Well, if you can’t persuade her to stop,’ she said, ‘you can go.’ And my father is a bloke who wouldn’t go back. And he said, ‘Where’s the reference?’ So Pilton said, ‘What reference?’ he said. ‘Well, your wife sacked me,’ and my father wouldn’t go back on his word. He accepted it and, of course, he come home and that’s how he first started for the Barrells at Alresford Sand and Gravel, because they’d just started and he went there and got a job right away. We came to Wivenhoe and to this house over Stanley Road, 26 Stanley Road. I was seven.
A home fit for heroes – Marjorie Goldstraw
My parents were very bitter because, before the First World War finished, England was going to be a home fit for heroes to live in, and when Dad got home, there was no work. And terrible living conditions until the slump came in the 1930s, when I was at school, and I can remember when the men came down, they had these marchers from Jarrow and there was no money, and we had a Labour Exchange in Alma Street, and people were queuing there. And my father, he went to saw wood on Wivenhoe Park, and Mr Gooch let the poor have the wood to keep the fire going. It was dreadful. There were a lot like us. The business people, of course, were better off, and the men who’d got jobs, they’d lose them and go on the dole, and you only had so many weeks dole, and then you went on to what was called ‘the transitional,’ and when that ran out, bailiffs came round to see what furniture they could take. Dreadful. Eventually, I think the Second World War broke out, and put people on their feet again.