An interview with Mr and Mrs McEune

Notes of an interview with Mr and Mrs McEune made by Nicholas Butler in the mid 1980s

These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mr and Mrs McEune  in the mid 1980’s as part of his research for his book “The Story of Wivenhoe”.   These notes have been re-typed  by Ann Jones from Nicholas Butler’s original notes and posted here by Frances Belsham.

About Mr and Mrs McEune

Mr and Mrs McEune lived at 10 Colne Park Terrace, Park Rd, Wivenhoe. Mrs McEune is a native of Wivenhoe. Mr McEune came to live in Wivenhoe when he was demobbed from the navy.

What Mr and Mrs McEune told Nick Butler

Mrs McEune is a native of Wivenhoe.   My grandfather used to do the gold lettering on shops.   My grandmother came from Mersea when the Old Ropery works were at the top of the village, her name was Bridges. She came as a servant to the Browne family.

Mr M said we came here when I got demobbed out of the Navy.   Was on a course at Paxman’s and before that while in the Navy, I was sent over in the wartime and that is how I came to Wivenhoe.

Mrs Weston: Daughter of Mr Slaughter.   Lives in Rectory Road.   Mrs Slaughter had the paper shop which later was a bank.   The next door below was an outfitter’s shop.

The Bull was where we used to live at our shop.

The Lion was where Cyril Brown’s shop was.   My granny talked about The Sun at the back of the Black Buoy, Wun Yard was the present Black Buoy car park.   We bought the old shop from a vaudeville star, a very little, old-fashioned lady.   She went to retire there, it used to be a sweet shop.   We went into the shop in 1955.

Mr McEune recalled Colne Terrace and Denton Terrace were built by the 1870s.   Our title deeds proved as much. Wall was cracked in the earthquake, hence the ‘stays’ in the house.   Before the war there was talk about condemning the two terraces.  We had outside toilets and one tap in the yard, One tap to four houses, lavatories were across the yard.   They had to go down Brook Street and get their water from there.    You did everything in that water, cooking and washing.   When I came here in 1946 the tap was outside.   I used to unfreeze the tap in cold weather with a kettle of hot water.   In Alresford at that time they used to come round with the cart for sewage.

Mrs McEune was born in 1920.   When I was young we used to come out with a blue sugar bag and get sprats.   A great big bagful for about a penny, 1d for a bloater and 1d for a herring.   Fish and chips was 2d.   We used to say to Mr Green “Can we have a large piece?”   One and one, one piece of fish was 2d and chips were 1d.   “Can we have some scraps please?”   (The crusty pieces of battered fish which Mr Green kept in a special tray.   At home we never went to the cupboard and helped ourselves.   I never remember being hungry.   We used to have a half-penny for sweets, 2d a quarter, 5 aniseed balls for a farthing.

It was our pastime to go and watch the pigs getting killed.   The Wivenhoe Bookshop was originally a pork butcher’s shop.   When we were children we didn’t have a lot to do.   We used to see all the weddings and funerals. Down Hamilton Road used to be a big undertaker’s.   We used to stand and watch the coffins being made.

Elsie Ham used to live where the undertaker used to live.   (The house below the butchers with the bow window) but his workshop was down Hamilton Road.   Mr Crosby used to be one of his carpenters.   We used to collect the curls (shavings)

Mr Nelson Crosby: Lives in Ernest Road, along Ernest Road to Harvey Road, second bungalow from the end before Harvey Road, next door to Mr Baillie.  His wife may have some photos.

A ‘pull down’ job was when boats were bolted up and then dismantled.   They were doing that after WW2 at Rowhedge.   We built 2 barges like that at Cook’s.

They never built ships at the old Wivenhoe yard after the war.   Until 1953 they got a contract to build 3 of the new Admiralty minesweepers, then when they had built those 3 they closed the yard down.   It closed in 1960. The Cap Pilar was laid up there, they had the engines at Brightlingsea to put in and rebuild it but they never did. Went round the world without engines, just before the war they decided to put engines in it but they never did. They laid it up on the Colne where the scouts had their barge.   Some firm decided they were to do something about it. They towed it down from there and tied it up at the railway quay.   We used to pump her out and the shipwrights used to go aboard every so often but the age was too much for it and the cost was too great. Donnelley & Co tried to get up funds, he sailed in it round the world before the war.

Two pigs or so were killed at a time.   When we were children we hadn’t got a lot to do.   Otherwise we were running errands for people.

Years ago it was a bit morbid, when anyone died they would be put in the front room in an open coffin.   I remember when my grandfather died, it frightened the life out of me (having to see the old man in his coffin) You had to pay your last respects.   Old Mrs Read used to lay them out.

I worked in the top shipyard first of all (after the war) repairing minesweepers.   It was run by the Admiralty until it closed.   They used to do repairs to the Trinity House at Harwich.   No outside work, mostly Admiralty work.   200 of these vessels were built, of which Wivenhoe got 3 orders.   Rowhedge folded soon after the Wivenhoe yard folded.   They had a motor fishing vessel never used during the war.   Turned into a store ship and that went out to the Falkland Islands.   It was just a shell, these Falkland Islands people bought it and had it fitted out.  About 57-8.   The yard was closed at the beginning of 1960.

I worked in the White City, we had great lathes for turning propeller shafts.   That was Pollocks ie the White City was once used by Pollocks.   Mr & Mrs Pollock lived up Anglesea Road.   Railway through there and a turntable. In the floods of 1953 we had to rescue Mr Togo(?) Woods out of the window, there was water right up to their bedroom window.   It came up 2’6” in the old shipyard.

The fitters shop was in the part of the wall that juts out into Bath Street.   The old shipyard employed about 100 people after the war.   They had to employ Irish labour to complete the minesweepers, to complete the plating. They never had fitters and shipwrights (because they only did repair work)  So they had to get in extra labour. Cook’s took up most of the labour from Rowhedge.   Vospers built MTBs and MLs.   After the war only three people there.   All Cooks built were barges, they had no labour so a lot of the platers and riveters came over from Rowhedge.   At Rowhedge they built tankers and things like that.   When Cooks came they want tankers to be repaired.   I have also worked over at Rowhedge and a lot of Rowhedge people worked at Cooks.   What closed them was they went down to one job, they could never make it pay.   Platers, welders, riveters, rivet heaters and holder-ups….the rivets were heated on a stove on the ground until they became red-hot then they were thrown up to the catcher who had a sort of funnel to catch them, it was bigger at the top than at the bottom.Then they used to take them with a pair of tongs and put them in the hole. They used to have steel dollies when the rivet came through.   The head of the rivet used to be held with the steel dolly and then a man from the other side used to flatten that rivet.   Years ago they used to have to do it with a hammer.   All day long you could hear it. Then air hammers came in after the war, they made more noise.   Cooks after the war paid men on the number of rivets they put in.   A rivet was like an ordinary bolt but without a thread.   You couldn’t beat the metal unless it was hot. If there were leaks in the metal the caulker used to go round, they did what the riveters did but they had chisels. There were three men in a riveting team 1. Rivet heater 2. Catcher 3.Rivetter.

Ted Oakley

Welding came in in 1950-60, I went to Cooks in 1962 and there weren’t any riveters as such then.  Welding a seam, filled in the “V” between two plates.

About 20 to 30 Irishmen came over after the war.   The wooden ships relied on local labour.

Platers cut the plates and made the frames.   Fitters did all the engine work and all the other work inside the boat. Joiners did all the woodwork.   Painters did all the painting.   Drillers drilled holes for fittings (even after use of rivets went out)   Loftsmen did all the laying out of the plans and the frames.   Draughtsmen.   I was a fitter.

In Cook’s there was no demarcation (between different jobs as there was in other, larger shipyards, which were jealously protected by the trade unions.  In a big shipyard a plumber was a plumber, but you don’t get that in a small shipyard.   With the small shipyard, to keep costs down, concessions were made.

The present fire station was built as a small loft.   Husks had it.   They used to make sails there.   Before the war they had the barrow and they kept that at the Council Offices.   The barrow was kept in the shed behind the present offices when they opened.   The maroon, which made a very loud noise, was still fired off at Little Wick.   A tremendous bang.   Then the

This page was added on 05/11/2016.