Sea-change: Wivenhoe Remembered - Social Hierarchy, Work and Poverty
Contributions by Walter Wix, Ralph Moss, Annie Skilton, Dave Weatherall, Halcyon Palmer, Joyce Blackwood, Bill Ellis, Marjorie Goldstraw, Ivy Knappett, Tony Forsgate and John Barton
Page created by Peter Hill, copied from the earlier Wivenhoe Encyclopedia website
In the 1930s Wivenhoe’s industries were in trouble. Wivenhoe’s upstream shipyard was not working for most of the 1920s and 1930s, and population fell from 2400 in 1901 to 2100 in 1931. So the old sense of social hierarchy and distance was reinforced by poverty, unemployment and poor housing, which was then concentrated in lower Wivenhoe.
Workers and bosses: W. G. Loveless and the gravel pit – Walter Wix
That was a feature of the employment treatment by Mr Loveless, of his workforce. Even before the War they used to go on an outing of some sort, every year. I didn’t join in until 1937 and I went into the Navy in 1940, but in the meantime I think the outings that I went on concerned football matches, because Mr Loveless’s nephews were Leslie and Dennis Compton, and they both played for Arsenal. So we visited Highbury to watch a particular football match as an outing, and probably went to the theatre or something afterwards. It was all very well done, and these outings, we went all over the place. We went to Hampton Court, Southend was a venue that we went to a couple of times. But it wasn’t as though we went empty-handed, we were all given pocket money to go to spend. So we were treated very well.
Again another feature of Mr Loveless’s generosity was at Christmas. Now, he used to set a lot of store by Christmas..The land that was fallow, or the land that was not being used for gravel extraction, we used to farm. And while WG was still active he farmed it. Later years, like with the 54 acres and the 19 acres on the Lennox side, we had an arrangement with the local farmers that they farmed the land, they paid us a rent for farming it. But at that time, Mr Loveless was responsible for farming and we used to keep bullocks and pigs and chickens and things, and one of the things at Christmas, he always made sure that everybody had a Christmas dinner.
And again, initially, before the War brought rations and things like that, he allocated one of the bullocks, one of the butchers who bought the beef would provide beautiful joints, so that every man had a beef joint for Christmas. And then when it got so that, of course, there were restrictions and that, all right, poultry, but everybody had a turkey or a chicken. And apart from that he also used to provide a draw of toys and chocolates and things for the family. And always a great do just before we broke up for Christmas, with all these chickens or the joints and that sort of thing, all laid out with their names on, and then we’d have the draw for the presents, chocolates, or the toys. He made a great thing of children and buying little things of interest, and out of the ordinary sort of things so that everybody with a family, whether it was just a wife or whatever, had an additional prize to take home at Christmas. W G Loveless was a good employer. He looked after his personnel but what he expected from you was loyalty, and a good day’s work for a good day’s pay.
From village paternalism deeper in rural Essex – Ralph Moss
Away from the coast, Ralph was born in 1913 in Colne Engaine, coming to Wivenhoe in 1936 as base for his grocery round in the villages. He had a tough start. His father, a farm worker on Courtauld family estate, had died, leaving 11 children. But Miss Katherine Courtauld made sure all the children were sent off to the kind of jobs she thought appropriate: the girls to service, and Ralph to sea.
Miss Courtauld was very good to us. She came down to see my mother and said that she would make sure, they would get a job somewhere. The girls were working at the silk factory in Halstead, and gradually they all went off to service in Golders Green. My brothers went into the forces, and one became a teacher. And I got a job on the Cutty Sark. I went off to the Cutty Sark when I was 14.
I was more or less pushed into it. Because when it was my turn to leave school, Miss Courtauld sent the bailiff down, and I had to report to her at 10 o’clock on Friday morning, into her study. I was mandated to go and see her. And I went in for audience, afraid to speak hardly, as usual in those days! I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to do. And she said, ‘Would you like to go to sea? A training ship?’ And as a last resort, I said, ‘Yes, Miss, I’ll do that.’ So I saw her on the Friday and on the Monday, I was pushed off to Falmouth Harbour. I had nothing with me. We had nothing, only what we stood up in, really, in those days.
Laughing at the mistress – Annie Skilton
Eveline Cox came and asked Bob for a job and he said, ‘Yes, you can start on Monday.’ Well, she started. And what she told us made us roar with laughing! She was a lady’s companion in London! And of course she used to look after a lady and they had a butler and everything. Well, anyhow, one day the family she worked for were going away for the weekend. They went away and the next day all the maids and that said, ‘We’re going to have a splash up meal now they’re away.’ Well, they had a splash up meal – and the family walked in! They walked in! The butler and they all had the sack! Eveline said, ‘We had all the silver out,’ she said. ‘Had a lovely meal ready,’ she said, ‘and they walked in!’ Oh, we didn’t half laugh about that! There was things like that we used to talk about.
Attitude to upper classes – Dave Weatherall (c. 1940s-50s)
My father-in-law Mr Gibson was in Colchester walking up towards the Regal cinema, and from behind him, ‘Hey, you!’ – as loud as that. ‘Hey, you!’ He said to me, ‘I took no notice, I carried on,’ he was telling us. ‘Hey, you! I’m talking to you.’ He said, ‘Me? You’re talking to me?’ The other man said, ‘That’s right. Where is Magdalen Street. Do you know where it is?’ Gibson said, ‘Yes, I know where it is. But I’m certainly not telling you.’ So the other man said, ‘Do you know who I am? I’m the Chief Inspector of Suffolk Police.’ Gibson said, ‘Yes, and I’m Jesus Christ,’ he said, ‘find your own way to the place.’ But he said, if he’d have said to me, like anybody else would, ‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘I’d have turned round and said, ‘Certainly,’ and told him.’ He didn’t like it. He said, ‘He didn’t like it.’ But if Mr Gibson was talking to you or anything you’d think, ‘What a gentleman!’
The local elite – Halcyon Palmer
I think my mother [Margery Dean, wife of the village doctor] was quite nervous of [the local gentry] and I don’t think they socialised very much. I don’t mean not at all but I think they had their own circle of friends, and I think didn’t really socialise, I wouldn’t say, with the gentry an awful lot. But, on the other hand, when the War came, it was all hands to the pump, and then they did mix with, for example, the Gooches and people, because everybody was pulling together, yes. Indeed. I think they were really regarded, both of them, as slightly eccentric. I’m not sure, but I think! She certainly was eccentric! Yes, I think she was a bit of a shock to [Wivenhoe people] to be honest. I think it was quite a conventional little place, and I think they were really the beginnings of it being a little bit less conventional.
What the Rector or the doctor said – Halcyon Palmer
Churches now are much more relaxed. We always used to wear hats and the whole thing has changed completely. I mean, much for the better too. We’ve got a very nice Rector now, I think he’s a great asset. But I think rectors always have played a large part, really, in a small community. Don’t forget, going back to when I was little, there wouldn’t have been very many educated people in a place of this size. There were a few, of course, but there weren’t very many places where you could turn to for help. And I think very much what the Rector said, or what the doctor said, was black and white! If he said it, it was so. And I think that’s what’s changed a lot. I think, now, we question everything, don’t we. And I think both doctors and ministers of any kind must have an awful struggle because it’s no longer like that.
You made yourself smart – Joyce Blackwood
The Post Office was on the corner of Queen’s Road, right on the corner. And Mr Goodwin, who kept it when I was little, was also the agent for our three terraced houses. He used to collect the rent and it was a big event. My father, when he was at home, used to dress up to go and pay the rent. You know, you made yourself smart.
1960s: the Nottage and yacht owners – Bill Ellis
Really, the whole thing was run, very largely – I can only describe Wivenhoe, at that time, in the late 1960s, as a squirearchy. You were either part of the very small upper Wivenhoe squirearchy or Mafiosi or you weren’t! And there was a great social divide between the two, which was rather sad. But anyway the Mafiosi did, very much, keep everything to themselves, and they wanted things run just their own way. For instance, the mud berths in front of the Nottage appeared to me to be let out to someone, ‘You can put your boat in there, and don’t forget, you can come and do a little job for me,’ something of that sort. This style of thing, you see.
`My family’s in trade’ – Bill Ellis
At that time, living in the house next door here, West House, just behind where you’re sitting, we had Lady Sophie Kier lived there, and she is the daughter of the Marquis of Anglesey of course! And she’s really Lady Elizabeth Sophia Learmont-Paget, daughter of the Marquis of Anglesey, and we got on quite well with her and so forth. She’d rented the place, because Robin, her husband, had got some shipping interest or something down at Harwich at the time. Anyway, we were walking along West Street with Lord Palmer, and I said, ‘By the way,’ I said, ‘Do you happen to know the Earl of Uxbridge?’ I said, ‘Lady Sophie Kier lived in here.’ And he said, ‘Mmm,’ he said, ‘Well, I know him vaguely,’ he said, ‘But,’ he said, ‘don’t have a lot to do with him,’ he said. ‘After all,’ he said, ‘my family’s trade, you know. They go back to the 1500s!’
Poverty: a strong Socialist – Halcyon Palmer
She [Margery Dean] was a Scholarship pupil at a school where most of the children came from quite affluent homes, and her mother had had to make her uniform, as distinct from the tailor-made ones from the outfitters that the richer children wore, and I think this gave her an inferiority complex really, in a way, that lasted her for the rest of her life, and was really the seed on which her strong Socialist beliefs was planted, really. Certainly when she went to university, she became quite involved with a lot of Debating Societies and so forth, and I think she very much enjoyed pitting her wits and her ideas against other people of intellectual thoughts. And I think, after her family were born, and a little bit off her hands, that is really why she became interested in Left-wing politics.
The other thing you have to remember is that there was quite a lot of poverty here in this little village, there were a lot of people who really didn’t earn a lot of money, and didn’t have very nice houses in which to live, they were cottages without bathrooms and so on and so forth, and I think she felt that they deserved a better lot, really. [Dr Dean’s] practice was in the lower part of the village, and so we were very used to the way that most of the people who lived down there had to live. I think this might be what partly fed it, as you might say.
Childhood diet – Marjorie Goldstraw
We ate all the wrong things. They hadn’t much money, sixpenny worth of meat – an old sixpence – made the meat for a meat pudding. And, oh, dumplings, and she’d go to the butchers and get a foot and hock, which is a pig’s foot and hock, and make lovely pea soup. Well, I can taste it now. Because meat was meat then, and the flavour was different. How she did it I don’t know. And at Christmas time, one of the uncles who was running the dairy which was in the shop next door then, in our time, they used to bring a chicken up and things like that. And my uncle who ran the coal business would shoot a bag of coal in the cellar. Things like that. My mother had nothing to return because we were living hand to mouth.
Very economical – Halcyon Palmer
They moved here in 1935, when I was a few months old, and she made her own bread and all that sort of thing. She was quite interested in cookery, but she was always very economical about recipes and this sort of thing, and, in fact, I’ve recently found a little pamphlet – she wrote a book on how to live on almost no money, and apparently, for the first two years of their married life, they actually tried to live on the sort of lowest wage that the men then could earn, which would explain some of the ghastly things we sometimes had to eat! Although, to be fair, she was quite a good cook! But it was always very economical fare.
Hand-me-downs – Ivy Knappett
Some people was ever so poor. If, for instance I’d grown out of a dress or a coat and that, my mother would tell somebody and say, ‘Well, you can have it for five shillings.’ Five shillings was like – being in this house for five shillings a week. And they’d have a coat off of my mother or my mother would have a coat off of them. Really we didn’t have much new things, we had somebody’s clothes. If our mothers got them cheap from somewhere we used to think they were lovely, except you met somebody and they’d say, ‘Oh, the girl whatshername had that coat on last week.’
Family home – Ivy Knappett
When you get up to as far as Anglesea Road you go a little way, and there’s a hill down and a hill up and we were born up there, on top of the hill. And that was only two bedrooms, and two downstairs, that’s all it was. The kitchen was in the living room. We had a coal-fire stove and everything on the top there – you boiled your potatoes and your greens. On the top there was a black top and you kept that black top on all the while because the heat went under the oven. And the front room…oh, we mustn’t go in the front room unless we had a party or anything like that!
Heating – Joyce Blackwood
We had one fire in the middle room and on high occasions another one in the front room if you were lucky! But nothing else. We didn’t have any paraffin heaters or anything like that, which a lot of people did. But there was a kitchen range, so it served a purpose of heating and cooking. She used to cook by that.
Poor families – Tony Forsgate
We did country dancing at school. We had to dance with the girls, obviously, but there were certain girls that everyone tried to steer clear of! And the majority of those lived down the street, close to the river. There was, in a way, a social distinction. I mean, there was poverty, on a small scale in some parts of Wivenhoe. They were mainly along what we call the Folly, the houses that have now been converted. That’s possibly where the poorer families lived. But I think when you’re a child you’re not aware of the hardships that your parents have either gone through or actually are going through. I know my father never received a large wage but my mother was very good at handling money, because in those days the wives or the mothers did not go out to work. Today it’s totally different. We’re in a situation where women like to be independent and in some cases the economics of this world force people both to go out in order to pay the mortgage.
Children’s play – Ivy Knappett
My dad earned good money there [as a riveter], and my mother used to say, ‘Now, don’t you play with so and so down there,’ no, they weren’t good enough for me, you know! I’m only talking when we got a bit better in money, but when we were poorer she let me play with anybody! She would rather we played with somebody who was a bit well off, but not because they were dirty, just because, you know, poor people played with poor people. Oh, the difference in today, isn’t there!
School – Ivy Knappett
At school, we were stuck at the back if we had old clothes on. And then the people who’d got money, their daughters was dressed nice, they were put in the front. But if we had an old dress or anything, all of us was put at the back. Fancy doing that! So if they had visitors in, they thought that the whole school was nice, didn’t they? The rich was in the front, and the poor stuck up at the back!
Gossip – John Barton
[In Britannia Crescent] we were all in each other’s houses all the time really, and the women used to congregate in a house for tea or coffee or whatever, in the mornings, and my mother wouldn’t get involved with it, because they were just tittle-tattling most of the time, I think, and gossiping about other people, so she wouldn’t get involved. But we used to go along just for a bit of fun really, and take the mick out of them!
Helping each other – Freda Annis
Granny used to do a lot of needlework, and she was always making things. I can see her now, at her machine. And I know one time – of course, I was only quite a kid – the little kiddie that lived near us came round and she said could she go and see his mother? So Granny went. She came back. She went to a cupboard up on the stairs and she took out a skirt and she all unpicked it, washed all the pieces, put on the line, and she was stitching away there in the evening. And my mother said, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘Well, that little kid, one of those little kiddies next door has got to go to school,’ she said, ‘on Monday. She hasn’t got any trousers for him,’ so she made a pair of trousers for him. And she was like that. She was always making things. But I’ve thought about it a lot and I thought, ‘Well, how many people would do that today?’
This woman’s parents lived just a little way down the road and her father was always repairing things and they had big old iron saucepans in those days and Granny said ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I’ll have to ask Mr Enfield to do it for me,’ and when he brought it back he’d soldered it and that, so she said, ‘How much do I owe you?’ He said, ‘Look,’ he said, ‘you made a pair of trousers for my little boy,’ he said, ‘I can’t charge you anything for that.’ And I thought, ‘That’s how they helped each other,’ you know.
Bender fish – Freda Annis
There was another old lady, her eyesight was very bad. Her husband used to go fishing and he came up one day and he said, ‘Hannah, could you go and see Celia? She wants a little bit of needlework done.’ So she said, ‘Yes, course I will.’ So she wanted the sheets turned side to middle, that’s what they used to do. And she was stitching away there. During the next week he came with a little ‘bender fish,’ they used to have them on a little string, like lovely little dabs, like little plaice. And he said, ‘You were good enough to do a bit of needlework for Celia,’ he said, ‘So I know you enjoy these.’ Well, I mean, that went a long way with people. That was a very tasty meal. And that’s how people helped each other.