An Interview with Mr Don Mason - early memories

Transcription of a taped interview with Mr Don Mason made by Nicholas Butler in the mid 1980s

About Don Mason

He was born at 90 High Street Wivenhoe in 1906 and then moved to next door, No 88

Transcription of taped Interview.

Nick Butler: We’ll start off with your memories of the Infant School.


Don Mason: Well, one of my first recollections of the Infants School was playing at the maypole.   I don’t know what particular day it was, but we very often used to get this maypole out and have coloured ribbons and we had to run round and weave intricate patterns with these ribbons and if it wasn’t done correctly we were very severely admonished by the headmistress, Miss Kent, (“Pi” Kent we called her) she was very strict, she was also very strict with the teachers as well.   Everybody was terrified of her; she had a violent temper.   She was quite a good schoolmistress, she was thorough.   When we were 7, we had to come up to the Boys School, girls went to the Girls School.   We came under a different sort of education altogether.

NB: What did Miss Kent teach you in school form?

DM: Basics, reading writing and arithmetic, we did a lot of painting with watercolours, flowers and things like that. Basic stuff CAT for cat and DOG for dog and all that sort of thing.   We had slates, we didn’t have pen and ink, we didn’t have those until we got to the Boys School, and of course education started seriously then, history, arithmetic, geography, one of my favourites was maps.   We used to do maps one day a week, we copied a map from an atlas and coloured it.   Then we went on to using graph paper.

Mr Wadley was allowed to cane anybody that he thought wanted punishing.  I don’t think there was any limit. There was one boy in particular, he was often…..he was very truculent and he often used to get the cane. Hardly a day went past, perhaps I’d better not mention his name, he’s still alive, but he used to get the cane practically every day – two on each hand.   After Mr Wadley was kicked once or twice by him, he found a little room to give him his punishment in.   He didn’t like to get kicked in front of the class so he used to have what he called a punishment room, it was a disused storeroom on the ground floor and this boy was taken into this storeroom every now and again and given the cane and used to come back into the classroom and slouch and sit down in his seat holding his behind or his hands.   There was never any parental trouble they didn’t interfere, if you got the cane, well you got the cane and you deserved it and that was it.   There was no trouble like there is today when you hear of masters getting summoned for punishing children.

NB: How many forms were there and this school?

DM: Standard One was upstairs, Two was Miss Husk she was the schoolteacher upstairs. Standard Three was downstairs and four.   Mr Wadley had Five and Six.   Six was the top.

NB: Did each master take two forms?

DM: Yes

NB: At the same time?

DM: Yes.   Standard Three was a Miss Chidwick, Standard Four was a Miss Pollensworth/Hollingsworth (?), she came from Northumberland.

After that I went up to the Tech, I left the Boys School.

NB: At what age?

DM: I was twelve

NB: Tell me, was one of these forms equivalent to a year?

DM: Approximately, yes.  If you were very dull you stayed in a class for a longer period you see.   You had to pass an exam then you graduated to the next step up.

NB: What did they teach you at this Boys School?

DM: You had to do a fairly good copperplate hand.   Nobody was allowed to use any special pen, you had the school pen, the nibs were made by Philip and Tacey(?)   The school supplied you with books and pens and pencils, things like that.   You had your own pen box or pencil box, they were collected by a monitor every day.   You could have what you liked, some boys had round Hopkins…..(?)

NB: What were round Hopkins?

DM: They were long hollowed out pieces of wood, something like bamboo, with a copy, they were kept in your desk all day and collected at night.   You had rubbers, you couldn’t use a fountain pen or a Waverley pen or anything like that.   There were pens specially designed for thin upstroke and thick downstroke.

Kings, wars, 1066 and all that sort of thing.   Geography – climactic conditions, hemispheres…

NB: Did you have globes?

DM: There was a school globe and a map of the world in two hemispheres

NB: With a lot of the world painted pink I suppose?

DM: Yes, more than there is today.

NB: Reading and writing?

DM: The usual old stuff you know, David Copperfield, Charles Dickens mostly, Shakespeare. Not too much.   The history books were more or less the same.

NB: Were there any external examinations? Equivalent to our modern ‘O levels’?

DM: No. The School Inspector used to come round and ask boys different questions.   Then there was the school nurse who used to come round once a quarter and look at everybody’s heads.   If you looked a little bit scruffy then of course you came in for a more thorough examination but if you had got a clean collar – incidentally everybody……….(indistinct)…. in those days except the poorer children, wore linen or celluloid collars, deep about 3 inches deep.

NB: Did you have any other school uniform?

DM: No

NB: What would they be wearing?

DM: In the winter time the boys wore, the poorer boys wore sweaters, much darned, coloured.   They weren’t particular what colour.   You could wear a blue pullover with red   ??  all that sort of thing.   Quite a lot of them had their father’s trousers which were cut down and they used to come just below the knee.   But of course you got some of the luckier boys whose parents were a bit better off, they came fairly respectable.

NB: What did they wear?

DM: Grey flannel trousers and blazers and a clean blue shirt or a white shirt and pullovers and things like that.

NB: (indistinct) So every boy who had a shirt, there was a collar attached?

DM: Yes (indistinct) with a back stud.

NB: This inspection by the nurse, what sort of things did she look for?

DM: Well, mostly lice.

NB: How did she deal with them when she found them?

DM: Well she didn’t give any treatment.   They were reported and the attendance officer – usually an ex-policeman, I think it was…..(indistinct)….and if they were absent too many times well, then of course they were summonsed.

NB: Were there a lot of truants?

DM: Yes.

NB: But surely the headmaster would know who was absent?

DM: Oh yes.   If you were absent when he called the register….he wanted to know why.   And when you came to school if you hadn’t got a note then you’d be put in the blue book….and if you kept on doing it you’d be reported to the Schools Attendance Officer who’d visit the home.

NB: Getting back to lice….(indistinct)

DM: Well, I don’t know….I remember I caught ringworm once……I passed it on to my sister and it was some sort of awful brown stuff we had to put on our heads and I remember (indistinct)…theere was a proper epidemic of it.  (indistinct)

NB: What was a typical working day at school like?   When did you begin?

DM: Nine o’clock…..and prayers…said The Lord’s Prayer, one of the teachers would go over to play the piano or harmonium…(indistinct)

NB: What did you sing?

DM: Well mostly children’s stuff…”There is a green hill far away….”

NB: After assembly….(indistinct)

DM: Play at 11 o’clock I think it was.   Half past ten or eleven o’clock.   We used to have about quarter of an hour or twenty minutes in the playground.

NB: Were notices given out at all?

DM: No. Not unless there was anything special.   Someone had misbehaved themselves a little more than usual or anything.   No it was….(indistinct)

NB: Were the boys misbehaving in…..(indistinct)

DM: One or two.   There were one or two Bolsheviks, you know, didn’t want to learn anything.   Didn’t want anyone else to learn anything.   Came late….and scruffy…got into mischief.

NB: How large were the classes?

DM: 40 or 45.

NB: So you had school until 10.30?

School Playtime

DM: 10.30 and then you used to go out to play.   It was absolute bedlam in the playground.   The playground was on the left……one game we used to play (it was a wonder the boys didn’t get killed) was called Jacking and Towing the Line ??    Against the wall, one boy acted as a buffer, about 6 boys would fetch each other round the middle and bend forward, so you had a series of arches.   The other team would stand over the other side of the playground and the most agile would take a run and he would put his hands on the back of the first boy and try to get as far over to the wall as he could, the last boy, usually the smallest one of all would be the last one to come and he would hang on to the last back.   It was alright if everyone landed fairly square but if they landed over on the skew you can imagine what happened, you finished up in a heap.  When the last boy jumped, perhaps you had got somebody a bit weak in the middle…..and it went on like that until you were absolutely exhausted.   

There used to be hoops…the boys used to have the iron hoops….used to make them up at the blacksmith’s….

NB: At the forge, I suppose?

DM: At the forge, yes, or at Mr Jones’s he was a ?? blacksmith.   Then you’d get these hoops made for 1/6d.   A piece of ?? metal with a ring in the middle and he used to weld the ring over….and what you had to do was pull the … along, used to skid inside this rung thing.   Or some of them had hooks so that you could take them off. You bowled the hoops along like that, so that the hoop was skidding round the crown (?)   The girls used to have wooden hoops and they used to hit them with sticks, there were tops as well, spinning tops which you used to whip.   I’ve seen thirty or forty boys and girls in the High Street with tops.

NB: I see.   So after play you went back to more work?

DM: Yes, you went back to school and you left at 12 o’clock and went home to dinner.   I don’t think anyone stayed to dinner.   I think there must have been one or two because they used to come and ask us.   I think there were two or three boys whose fathers….I think they used to……I don’t know whether they had a school there but these boys definitely preferred to come to Wivenhoe….from Alresford….I think they must have brought sandwiches to school.   Everyone else went home at 12 o’clock.   Then you came back at a quarter to two, and you finished at a quarter to four.

NB: I see, and what did you do from a quarter to two to a quarter to four?  Two hours solid work?

DM: Yes, you still got the play in the afternoon a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes.

NB: Were there school games?

DM: Football.   There wasn’t an official football team.   If we got someone to fix a game with the local boy scouts or something like that, Mr Wadley would try to pick a team, but there were no school sports as such.   There was no equipment, ?? or anything like that…There were the same holidays, I think you had a week at Christmas…six weeks in the summer.   There was 24 May, Empire Day, that was a bank holiday, or at least a school holiday.   We used to go down to the Girls’ School and salute the flag…sing a  hymn…and the rest of the day was a holiday.


NB: What sort of activities did you get up to when you weren’t at school?

DM: Well, I was fortunate in those days because we always had a boat of some description.   Rowing boats, an old converted ship’s lifeboat which I used to sail myself when I was….fourteen when I went to Brightlingsea, but there wasn’t a lot to do for the average boy really…they used to….the flowers and the allotments in the summer….and I can’t imagine what some of ‘em really found to do at all really because there was absolutely…there was nothing much to do at all.  You couldn’t afford to go to the pictures…and I can definitely never remember seeing a boy on a motorbike, except boys that were just started work and there were only three boys ever to my knowledge that ran motorbikes.

NB: Before the First World War?

DM: Well even before the Second World War.   As for young chaps with cars, well I can remember that there were only three cars in Wivenhoe.

NB: Who had the cars?

DM: Dr Squire was one, and Stacey Wood and Dr Kevern

NB: Doctors obviously tended to get about more.

DM: They were the only three cars then.   Later on one or two business people started getting them.   The butcher…at the top of Black Buoy…he had a motorcycle and ?? a car.   There was hardly a car in Wivenhoe.   And definitely you never saw them outside like you do today, I mean, well you see brand new cars worth £6,000 or £7,000 and they’re out in all weathers.   They don’t use the garages.   The garages are full of children’s toys and washing machines, spin dryers and things like that.

NB: Now about transport, presumably, if you went in to Colchester you went by train?

DM: Well, for a number of years, before I got married – when I was courting, we couldn’t afford to go in to Colchester and go to the pictures and come back by bus, we invariably walked.   We used to walk across what we called ???, through the Lower Park, across the Marsh, on to the river wall and then up to the Hythe and catch a tram which was a penny.   Then we would go to the pictures.

NB: Which cinema?

DM: The Regal, I don’t know what it is called now.

NB: The Odeon

DM The Odeon.   Well it was the Regal then when it was first opened.   Then we would come out of the pictures and have tea, which was a pot of tea, bread and butter and a couple of French pastries – used to cost about 4/6d.

NB: Which year would this be?

DM: Nineteen…um….thirties.   Then we would go and catch a Silver Queen bus, it wasn’t Eastern National in those days, it was Silver Queen.   Well, the fare for a number of years, well it went on for years and years, was 6d return. Those Silver Queen buses were open topped, no roof, but they had canvas so that if it rained you’d put the canvas over your head to keep the worst of the rain off.

NB: Which route did those buses take?

DM: Well there was no by-pass in those days of course, it came down East Hill, Greenstead Road and up Clinghoe Hill which is now distanced ?? of course.

NB: How many buses were there running then?

DM: Oh, not so frequent as they are now.   Quite a lot of people used to work in Colchester who went in by bus and came out in the evening by bus.   I suppose there was one an hour.

NB: Do you know where the buses started from?

End of first side of first tape.

Second side of first tape begins here.

DM: The earliest bus-driver who lived in Wivenhoe was a Mr Green and he came here, the first time I ever met him or knew him was……I should think about….the early twenties.

NB: The buses didn’t start before the First World War?

DM: No.  I should think….round about 1920

NB: I see, so from that time on, people went in to Colchester to work –

DM: Yes, yes

NB: But no before?

DM: Not a lot, if they did they cycled.   People used to cycle – I know one man, he’s dead now, who used to cycle to Maldon for work every day, and another one who used to cycle to Harwich every day.   People thought nothing of it.   My mother used to cycle to Fordham every day to school, then come home and do a day’s work – housework, washing, etc.   There was no electric irons in those days, no washing machines, no stainless steel cutlery.   Steel cutlery had to be cleaned on a knifeboard once a week, for Sunday dinner.   Really women don’t realise how lucky they are today.    A lot of these young women say they’re bored stiff and they’ve marital troubles, this that and the other….and they’ve marriages and two divorces and all that sort of thing but I think that years ago, if they’d had to put up with what women did in those days, there wouldn’t be half the trouble, they’d have no time to be bored.

Community Activity

NB: Tell me, this takes us on to the sort of feel of Wivenhoe.   One feels there was a great community spirit in those days.

DM: (slightly dubiously) Yes.   There was really because, um, I mean…there were two bands.   There was the Salvation Army Band and the Wivenhoe Town Band.   There were two quite good concert parties.   The Candyke Concert Party, …now what was the name of the other concert party?…’s gone out of my mind.   They used to share some of the star turns, one chap would sing in one concert-party and the next week he would be in the other one and all that sort of thing.   They used to put on some damn good shows at the Forester’s Hall….(indistinct)..

NB: Those were the shows put on in the twenties and thirties?

DM: Yes.   All in …the twenties, before the First World War and just after.

NB: And all Wivenhoe turned up?

DM: Oh yes, there was nothing much else to do.   Another thing there were school treats.   There used to be the Congregational Chapel, the Church, the Wesleyan, they all had school treats which were always held over here, on The Nook.   There were two back gates here, it was a private estate as you know, and a great big, black boarded fence down Park Road down to Clapham’s  ??  as we called it, Wrawby House, and there were two big black gates opposite here and we used to hold races and generally enjoy ourselves.

NB: You say a school treat, but a treat for people of school age.

DM: Yes

NB: Who belonged to a particular church?

DM: That’s it yes.   Then we used to form up here, in Park Road, which of course, was unmetalled in those days, so there was a great gulley down the middle where the water used to pour if it rained.   The band would stand up the front, just near Rebow Road.   We would all form up in a gang behind, and they would have a torchlight procession and some helpers used to walk behind or at the side of the band with big acetylene lamps on poles to give them light so they could read the music.   Off we used to go and we used to walk up Belle Vue Road and down the High Street and then back to your Headquarters, back to the Congregational Chapel or the Wesleyan Chapel and finish up there.   Everybody was presented with a little fancy calico bag with nuts, and perhaps an orange or pear in it something like that –

NB: How many different school treats were there?

DM: Well, there was the church, and the Wesleyan and the Congregational and I think the Salvation Army did it as well.  We always had a band.

NB: You say you had two bands?

DM: Yes two bands.   There again, you see, they used to share.   The Salvation Army on a Sunday used to turn out and two or three or perhaps four of the Wivenhoe Town Band would also be members of the Salvation Army.

NB: How did you belong to one particular church or chapel?

DM: You usually carried on as your parents.   Whatever your parents were you took over.   At that time of day you hired a pew and had to pay rent.   My mother and my aunt, both very close sisters, they used to pay 3/6d a year, I think it was, for a pew in the church and…

NB: You were Church of England?

Reverend Carolin

DM: I was Church of England, I was in the choir…(indistinct) …The rector was the Reverend Carolin, he was Irish.

NB: One’s heard about him, he was quite a character wasn’t he?

DM: Yes, he was a peculiar old boy, really.   He was a very clever preacher, the church used to be packed Sunday night after Sunday night and he could hold the congregation,   But he was a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, really.   He liked his whisky, Irish whisky.   He had a huge Newfoundland dog and he used to get ..??.. behind the organ, round the back of the organ there, they used to pump the organ by hand.   There used to be an old boy who worked for him.   He used to wheel his wife about in a bath chair, an invalid chair and he used to come down and he used to pump the organ.   After the sermon one Sunday evening he got (indistinct)…so, Reverend Carolin got up and said “We will have hymn number “ (whatever it was)   Just then somebody went round the back of the organ and they disturbed the Newfoundland dog that was round the back there and it came out and walked round on to the altar steps and old Carolin, he took a running kick at the dog to get rid of it, you know, and a proper commotion.

NB: You say Jekyll-and-Hyde…(indistinct)

DM: I don’t mean sinister….He was a real old character.   I remember he gave us a Christmas party once, we were choirboys, and he’d got a Baby Triumph motorcycle, and he’d got all these cakes iced cakes and doughnuts and lord knows what, he’d got them in a wooden box strapped on the back of his bike.   The roads were in such a bad state, there were potholes everywhere.   Belle Vue Road was terrible, one of the worst roads in the village, and he must have gone off into a deep one, he came off his bike and the cakes went all over the place.   He didn’t tell us about it until we started the tea, so we were eating cakes with grit and we found out afterwards that he’d come off his motorbike.   He was very short-sighted, he’d got very very thick glasses….and…he was a damn good preacher, and I suppose he was a good parson come to that, but he’d got a….he’d got a….I think he liked his whisky and…you know, he wasn’t, he wasn’t like a lot of other Rectors.

NB: Had he a good sense of humour?

DM: Yes, oh yes, he had a sense of humour.

NB: Did he speak in a broad Irish accent?

DM: Yes, yes.   Well, not the Southern Irish…but you knew he was Irish.   He’d got an Irish temper too.   I remember climbing up a tree in the Old Rectory – he used to be livid – I remember climbing up there to get a starling’s nest – and he’d just come back from Church in the morning – and I was up this tree and he heard us you see, so he came running through the bushes, we managed to scramble down and I lost my cap.   Of course, he picked it up and announced at the end of the sermon that night that “If the boy who was on my property cares to come for his cap, he can have it when he apologises” or something like that.   I forget what.   But anyway, I never bothered to pick it up.   He was a funny old boy.

Local Characters

NB: There were other characters about weren’t there?   People with striking names, who did particular things. People you knew about.

DM: There were quite a number of people who had most peculiar nicknames.   Some of them were before my time.   I’ve heard my mother talk about them.   Circumference Goodman.

NB: Why was he called that?

DM: I don’t know.   Circumference Goodman, Scracky Watcham (he lived near where Dr Green’s surgery was.   He worked on the Council, was something to do with the Council.   Watcham Nickol ??

NB: Is there a reason for that nickname?

DM: No. He used to be around with a greengrocer’s cart, he had a little cart and he used to wear a bowler hat or an old trilby and in the summer time he put a rhubarb leaf in the back of  the hat to keep the sun off and his horse always had a straw hat, it was an old panama hat and he cut holes for the horse’s ears.   The horse was quite contented to carry on with this hat on.   There was another old boy called Pickled Salmon (see the notes typed out by Mrs Mason) – I think he got killed on the railway line when I was in the Infant School.   Because we remembered seeing quite a number of people down on the railway line..   He was going across from Paget Road, you know, on the level crossing and he got knocked over there.

Working at Rennie Forrestt

NB: Tell me about work.   You went after school to Rennie Forrestt ?

DM: Yes

NB: How many people were employed there at that time?

DM: Oooh…I should think there must have been getting on for 200.   I should think.   But don’t take that as gospel because I could be mistaken.   I mean, when the shipyard bell went, the High Street seemed full of people hurrying home from work.   I think there must have been quite 200, maybe more.

NB: So the beginning of the day and the end of the day was announced by a bell?

DM: Yes, they rang a bell.   Where Gliksten’s main gate is now, that was the timekeeper’s office and you were checked in, I don’t think in those days there was a time clock, but you got a check.   You had to take a piece of tin with a number on it out of one pigeonhole and had to drop it into another and they knew then that you were in work.

NB: This was at the entrance to the Rowhedge main road was it, or was it at the other end?

DM: No, there were 2 gates, there was one down towards Rowhedge, there was a timekeeper’s there and there was also one in Quay Street, because there were 2 separate yards.   They called that the re-erection yard over at Rowhedge.   They used to make boats like meccano and then take them to pieces again, pack them up and send them abroad.   They weren’t very big boats.   They were, you know, river boats and things like that.   They used to re-erect the boats when they got to wherever they were going.

NB: It wasn’t a re-erection yard, it was a sort of taking to pieces yard, wasn’t it?

DM: Yes.

NB: What time of day did work begin?

DM: I think it was half-past-seven.   I know we did a 48 hour week.

NB: I see.  Mondays to Fridays, not Saturdays?

DM: Saturday mornings.

NB: Half past seven to –

DM: Half past four (indistinct)

NB: What were your weekly hours?

DM: From half past seven to half past twelve.   From half-past one to half-past five I think it was, no five o’clock.

NB: What wage did you get?

DM: I got sixteen shillings.

NB: Sixteen shillings when you first joined, but what did you join as then, at what age?

DM: Um….fourteen, I left school at fourteen.   I left Wivenhoe School at twelve and went up to the Tech for 2 years.   I should have stayed for 2 ½ years but I left there to take this job.

NB: Where was the Tech then in Colchester?

DM: Same place as it is now, on North Hill, where the Gilberd is.

NB: Ah yes, what did you learn there?

DM: Well it was an engineering college.

NB: I see, so you were trained as an engineer (indistinct) so you could join Forrestt’s?

DM: Yes.

NB: You knew you were going to join Forrestts then did you?

DM: Well, I had this job offered to me because my father was very friendly with the engineer manager, a Mr Cameron (?), a Scotsman.   He asked father one day “What is Don going to do?” he said “Well, he hasn’t really made up his mind”.   “Is he coming into the yard?” So my father said “Well I suppose he’ll finish up there” that’s where everybody worked in Wivenhoe in those days, unless you were fortunate enough to be in business or an academic or something like that.   So he said “We want someone in the Pattern Shop” he said “There’s a fine opportunity for him” he said “He can go into the Pattern Shop for a while and then go through the other departments” he said “…and then be taken in to the Drawing Office”.

So I went into the Pattern Shop and I did six months there, then I went into the Fitting Shop and did six months there and then I went on to the boats and did six months there and then I did nearly six months on maintenance, which was looking after all the plant in the yard, including the sheds and the  ??  machines and all that sort of thing and by the time the Depression was getting under way, in 1923 and they started paying men off and eventually there were more or less a staff of young boys like myself.   We were literally doing men’s work.   I mean they sacked the men before they sacked the boys.   I was one of the last to leave.

NB: The yard gradually ran down?

DM: It gradually ran down and eventually it closed altogether.

NB: When did it close exactly?

DM: 1923 I think it was.

NB: So sort of (indistinct) four or five years running down after the end of the First World War.   When did you join the Yard?   Before the War or just after?

DM: No. I went into the yard in about 1921 and was there until it closed down.

NB: When you went to the Tech to study engineering did it have to be paid for?

DM: Yes, in those days.

NB: Did you do the sort of job you wanted to do with Forrestts or not?  What did you want to do?  Was it your idea to study engineering?

DM: I was interested in it.  I was out of work for 18 months.   There was no work at all.   And at that time boys were going into the services; Navy, Army or Air Force.   I always had a liking for horses so I went into the Hussars.   I went to Canterbury, which was the cavalry training depot and there I was allocated to the 10th ?? Hussars and I went to Aldershot and passed out of riding school there and then got sent to the 4th King’s Hussars in India.

Unemployment Exchange

NB: Tell me what did other people in Wivenhoe do when there was no work?

DM: Well, it was a very, very tough time.   Mr Gooch was very, very good in the winter time.   We had gangs of men up there and he would walk round the Park and he would say, “You can cut that tree down” or “You can cut that tree down”.   We used to go up with saws and axes and chop a tree down that was dead or dying or unwanted and he kept Wivenhoe, or part of Wivenhoe, practically supplied with firewood in the wintertime.   No, they were very, very tough times.

NB: Presumably, there was the dole, wasn’t there?

DM: Yes.   It had only just started then.   I forget now what it was.   I had two long spells (indistinct)   I think I got 8/3d a week.   

NB: And did you have to walk in to Colchester to get it?

DM: No. The Unemployment Exchange was in Alma Street.

NB: I see whereabouts?

DM: It was on the left hand side going towards the river and there’s a row of cottages.   One always looks very nicely kept and I think it’s got an iron fence, then there’s a gap, then there’s a ???   It used to be a garage, years and years ago.   They used to make motor cycles there and then it was called The Alma Street Tea-Rooms and then it opened as a labour exchange.

NB:   I see.   And that’s where you got your dole.   Tell me, when you went to Rennie Forrestt’s you worked in the Pattern Shop.   What did you do?

Training on the Job

DM: Well, all the castings were brass or iron , they had to be – as you know they are cast in sand.   You make the actual thing in wood first, but where the pattern maker’s art comes in was to know exactly how much the metal’s going to shrink when it’s cold.   So, to save metal, especially brass, if you make a thing that’s too big, apart from the fact that you’ve wasted a lot of brass you’ve also wasted a lot of time in machining because it’s all got to be cut off to get down to the right size that the drawing’s made for.   So a good pattern maker is worth his weight in gold, because he can save his employers a lot of money if he knew his job.

NB: So first of all you trained as a pattern maker?

DM: Yes. Well, I wasn’t actually trained.   I served to get a rough idea, although I did make two in that six months. It was three months before I was allowed to make a start on anything.   I made two patterns.   One was for a big, square bollards which were used on the boats they were building at that time.   They had an order for several of them.   They had the prefix Maindy.   There was Maindy Tower, Maindy Transport, Maindy Castle and the last one was the Maindy Castle, I’m not sure, but that was never built.   They broke that up again for scrap.   She was just in frames on the slip ready to be built.   Those bollards were used on them.   They were massive things.   The actual finished thing must have weighed about 2 ½ cwt I suppose.   Big, square bollards they used to put (indistinct)   Then I went into the Fitting Shop, which is where the sheds are now, Gliksten’s sheds.   That was known as the White City.   That was the machine shop.   There were lathes and ribbing ?? machines and planning machines and all that.   And then I went outside on the boats.   I worked on marine engines and installing pumps and all that sort of thing.   I had a rough insight into all the workings on the iron side of the yard.

NB:  And they weren’t using wood at all?

DM: Only where necessary.   The cabins were all lined with wood, they hadn’t got all the hardboard they use today.   They were all panelled.

NB:  Used the boats to be built the same as now?

DM: Same as Cooks.   About the same size.

NB: Was it a noisy yard?

DM: Yes, quite noisy.   Noisier than this one is because you’d got all these riveters and ??.   Earlier on it was all done by hand.   A team of two men and a boy.   The boy heated the rivets up and these men had to come out ?? and use these hammers in any position they wanted.   I mean, they used to be in the most awkward spots. Curled up in a ball and working like that ??   They were fantastic hands with these hammers.   They were special long-handled hammers, then there were the caulkers, everything was hand-caulked with all sorts of different shaped chisels.   Really it was quite a noisy yard.

NB:  How many boats did you make a year?

DM: I should say about one every eighteen months.

NB: You must have worked much slower than now?

DM: Yes, it was all done by hand.   When they weld they can go down a seam today and weld it and it can be done in hours whereas it used to take hours and hours and hours.  They used to rivet.   When you think of the thousands and thousands of rivets that were used in a boat, they were practically touching one another.

NB: Did the yard gradually run down?   Tell me, in the morning everybody would be coming down the High Street and presumably they would all go down Station Road?

DM: The people who worked in the White City, they went down Station Road because the entrance was just opposite the Station and the people who worked in the other yard, they would go down West Street.

Third side of tape begins here

DM: I think there were one or two from Rowhedge, but one or two from Wivenhoe used to work in Rowhedge.   It sounds silly, I know, but quite a number of people used to go over on the ferry every day.

Friendly Rivalry – Wivenhoe, Rowhedge and Brightlingsea

NB: Tell me, what was the feeling between Rowhedge and Wivenhoe?   Friendly rivalry?

DM: Friendly rivalry, I would say and the same with Brightlingsea.   We used to have a football team from Brightlingsea visit here and vice versa.   Sometimes there were one or two characters who used to have more than they ought to drink and we used to have fights, especially with Brightlingsea.   There was very keen rivalry between the Brightlingsea football team and Wivenhoe, right up to the thirties.

NB: I gather that the rivalry was perhaps not quite so friendly?

DM: No, I have seen some ugly scenes.   Rowhedge were not so bad but I have seen some ugly scenes with Brightlingsea.

NB: In connection with sporting events?

DM: Mostly football, I would say, nothing much else.

NB: What about cricket matches.   I have heard that if Wivenhoe won a cricket match against Brightlingsea, they had to run for the train rather quickly.

DM: Well I shouldn’t be surprised.   I haven’t heard that story myself, but I think Johnnie Turner (if you can get him) will be able to tell you more about that because he used to play football for Wivenhoe in those days.

NB: So there was always a Town football team, wasn’t there?

DM: Yes.

NB: (indistinct something like) ….any other community games clubs?

DM: No, I don’t think so.   We used to play cricket as well, and we always had a fairly good cricket team, and bowls. The Bowls Club used to be up here on Belle Vue Road, (indistinct)   Harry Hook….one of the churchwardens.

Working in the Shipyards

NB: I see.   Now as the 1900s wore on, people tended to work more in the shipyard than be fishermen or work on yachts.   That still went on.   In the 1900s there was a lot of laying up?

DM: Yes.

NB: And I think that at that time Wivenhoe was not so much of a yacht-building centre as it had been at the end of the last century, but a yacht-laying-up centre.   I believe Mr Husk built one or two yachts, didn’t he?

DM: Small yachts, yes.  The old Jim Husk was the ?? boat-builder.   His son took over, although he was a good boat-builder, he hadn’t got the experience and expertise of his father.   He was an engineer.   He was a lieutenant-commander in the Navy in the First World War.   He used to make some good motor-boats.   He made the boat that I owned ?? for a number of years.

NB: When did Jim Husk take over?

DM: Soon after the First World War…say about 1919.  Approximately, I don’t know.

NB: So at Husks, down the river, you didn’t have the sort of building of iron boats, then?

DM: No, he never built any iron boats.   He made a number of coastal seaside pleasure craft.   He used to specialise in them and they used to go.   My grandfather used to do a lot of boat ferrying for him.   He used to take boats round the coast.   He took one up to Yarmouth and several down the South Coast.   They were, these pleasure boats, you know “Any more for the Skylark?”.   Big open boats of up to 40 foot long.   He used to build them for (indistinct) beaches and piers.   Those were the things he specialised in, yes.   Jolly good, strong knockabout workboats.

NB: I see, but racing yachts weren’t being built then?

DM: No, he never built any, not to my knowledge.   The old man, Old Jimmy could have done but I don’t think so.

NB: So in fact, during this century, (indistinct) Wivenhoe was not yacht-builders at all?

DM: No.

NB: But still very much a laying-up centre and a place from which to ?? crews?

DM: Yes.

NB: Crews for racing yachts?

DM: Oh yes, mostly. (Indistinct)   Not the large racing yachts that used to lie up here.   There were two racing yachts that used to lie up here.   One was the Paula, Paula III.   She was quite a large yacht.   Then there was Lord Macclesfield’s yacht.   She came up here and more or less finished her days up here.  Then there was another big – she didn’t race (well she did originally) I suppose, she didn’t race while she was owned by the person who (indistinct) down here….There were hardly any racing yachts made up here because there wasn’t the water, you see, or the facilities to pull them out.

NB: So even in the days when yachts were built here, presumably they were built, launched and taken downstream and kept somewhere else?

DM: Yes.  The racing yachts were.

NB: (Indistinct)…were more for steamships.

DM:  Yes, there were no end of yachts used to lay up here in the wintertime.   The first one below Cooks was always Lord Brassey’s yacht.   They called that Lord Brassey’s dock.

NB: This wss not a racing yacht?

DM: No, it was a sailing yacht.   It was a three-masted schooner.    Long distance cruising yacht.   He was a ?? good seaman.   I’ll tell you a little anecdote about that.   Bill Husk, Jim Husk’s brother, was a sailor on her and they were up-aloft, taking-in – it was a terrible storm – and they were up-aloft taking in sail.   They were taking the top gallants in, or something like that and they could hardly see for the blinding rain and wind.   Old Jim Husk turns to the chap on his right and says, “The old bugger ought to be up here now” and a voice replied, “The old bugger is up here!”.   It was Lord Brassey himself.

NB: So it was cruising yachts that were laid up here and not steam-yachts only?

DM: Yes, well you see, Lord Brassey’s yacht, she wasn’t…she was a big thing….big, old, black….I can remember her as plain as anything.   She wasn’t like these immaculate steam-yachts which lay further down.   She was more a….she was one of these old schooners that were fitting out for Antarctic expedition, that sort of thing, you know. Massive build.

NB: So come the Spring time or Summer time, the owners would come down, collect a crew of Wivenhovians and go on a cruise?

DM: Only on one occasion I believe, the owners ever came here to go away, they mostly joined the boat at Southampton or else the South of France.   The captains would take the boat down to Southampton or mostly, the South of France.   My father almost always used to go to Cannes or Deauville and pick the “company” as they called them up there and they would go all round – which I did – the Mediterranean putting in ports of call and then come back.

NB: How long did these trips take?

DM: I was away two months.   We went round the Mediterranean and it took two months.   Sometimes it took longer than that.   The average would be about two to three months, I suppose.   They’s spend all summer.

NB: On account of being rich people?

DM: Oh, (indistinct).   In those days.   Mind you, comparing with some of these oil sheikhs, they were poor people. But they were rich.   Some of them had crew of sixteen to thirty.   Then there was the coal.   They were nearly all coal-fired.   I suppose the captain would get about £10 a week.   £8-£10 a week.   And the crew 45 bob or £2.10.0d a week.   Not more, if that.   They had 30 shillings a week in the early days.

Ships Captains

NB: Were captains paid a retainer throughout the winter?

DM: Yes.

NB: So that’s how they lived.   There was no dole for them.

DM: Sometimes the Chief Steward, if he was very well liked by the boss.   He would get a small retainer as well. The Chief Engineer would, too.   If they wanted them to carry on next season.

NB: There seems to have been a mystique about the Captains.   Men who dressed in a certain way, passed certain examinations, had a certain amount of experience and became classifiable as if they had got a commission (indistinct)

DM: Yes, they did.   They tended to be, what they would say….very snooty.   They used to walk up and down the Quay and that was their little walk and they had a funny habit in those days; they walked about perhaps twenty paces and then they’d stop and turn round and walk back again, usually with their hands in their pockets and their cheesecutters on, the flat caps, and they’d walk up and down the Quay.   Another favourite spot was where Lewis Worsp’s Quay is, where his greenhouse is.   Nobody allowed on that at all.   That was the Captain’s Promenade.   They’d got that  little bit extra money than other people had.   But, oh no, they had their own cabins on the yachts and they were a law unto themselves.

NB: Presumably they were very responsible?

DM: Oh yes.   A lot of them hadn’t got their master’s tickets but definitely I don’t think there was a yacht’s captain ever got his extra master’s ticket.   One or two of them had got yacht master’s tickets.

NB: Did you have to pass an examination to become a captain?   Or was it just a matter of status, that you were employed as such?

DM: You gradually worked your way up by experience and …..

NB: What made you a captain?   What entitled you to wear those clothes?  An exam?

DM: No. No. Not necessarily.   It was just that you were a good man.   I mean the same as a lifeboat coxswain. They’re not captains but they are damned good seamen.   And they’ll take a boat anywhere.

NB: In other words, if some owner employed you to be his captain, you would wear that cheesecutter cap.   That cap went with that job.   The rig went with the job.   Just as a butler’s uniform or a footman’s uniform.

DM: Yes.

NB: And then you became perhaps rather snooty?   How many captains were there in Wivenhoe?

DM: Oh I don’t know.

NB: Fifty do you think?

DM: No. I shouldn’t say there were fifty.  Nothing like.

NB: Thirty?

DM: I doubt if there were thirty.   I very much doubt if there were twenty.   There might have been a dozen.

NB: Only a dozen captains.   Only a dozen people who were employed by rich men to take their yachts (indistinct) And these weren’t racing men?

Captain Albert Turner

DM: No.   The only racing man, and he wasn’t a captain he was a skipper, was Captain Albert Turner.   He was the only racing skipper that I knew.   There were others, but he was the only one that I knew in Wivenhoe.   He was only a fisherman.   He was illiterate, he couldn’t read or write.

NB: How did he come to be employed by King George V?

DM: Quite simply by being a good seaman.   Had an iron nerve.   You see, I mean, where yachts used to win races years ago was the fact that they’d hang on till the last second before they’d make any attempt to deviate from the course which they were on, which was absolutely frightening and if you hadn’t got the guts that another skipper had got you gave in, you turned, you see, you came about.   If you were both on the same course they would take terrible risks to intimidate the other skippers as long as they kept within the rules of the road, of course.   You can’t just go where you like, but they knew just how far they could go and they would hang on till the last second before they came about.   You’d think that they must crash and that was Captain Albert Turner was noted for, you see he’d got an iron nerve when he was young and he’d hang on till the last second –

NB: Presumably trained on racing yachts?

DM: Well he got all his experience from fishing.   He was a fisherman, that’s all he was.   He couldn’t read or write. He’d got a wonderful eye for judging distances and he knew just what to do.   Of course the captain of the Britannia, (indistinct) sailing master, was Sir (indistinct), but when they were racing Albert Turner was the boss. Then he had to relinquish he command to Sir (indistinct) later on.

NB: When the Britannia raced, would the King be aboard?

DM: Oh yes.

NB: One did seem to hear from earlier days the rich men would get other people to race their yachts for them, they wouldn’t themselves be on the yacht while it was racing.

BM: Well, King George V was a very keen sailor, he used to race a lot at Cowes.

NB: And what would the King be doing on board Britannia while she was racing?

DM: Well he used to take the ??? if they were on a reach, which was an easy way to sail, he would take the ??? for a while.   He used to thoroughly enjoy himself, I believe.

NB: And where would Albert Turner be?

DM: Albert Turner would be immediately behind him, ready to take over.  And he used to give all the orders, you know, for pulling on the sails, adjusting the sails and changing sails and all that sort of thing.

NB: So Captain Turner must have been very well looked up to?

DM: Oh yes.

NB: Where did he live?

DM: He lived at where Kevin ??? lives now.

NB: Oh yes in that house.

DM: That’s where he finished up.   He used to live in either Alma Street or Brook Street years ago.   They had a smack.   He used to go fishing and in the summer time he used to (indistinct)

NB: I see, did he continue to fish, even

DM: Oh yes, he had to I suppose, I don’t think he even got a pension from (indistinct)  I don’t know, I don’t think so.   There was him, his son Johnnie Turner, Frank ??? four people to my knowledge who were on the Britannia from here.

NB: They were chosen because they were the best?

DM: Oh yes, you had to be good.   Mind you if you were friendly with the skipper or a relative of the skipper, Albert Turner, the skipper, had his son with him.

NB: Johnnie Turner?

DM: That was a cousin, there were 3 Turners, a family concern you see.   Even so you still had to be good.   Just because you happen to be a relative or a friend didn’t mean to say he could give you a job.   You had to be good. You were allowed a certain latitude.

NB: Is it true that there were special captain’s rooms in pubs?

DM: Er…well….

NB: There was one at Rowhedge I know.   If there weren’t rooms, they had areas and chairs, they had their own chairs nobody dare sit in – up at the Park Hotel if somebody came in and somebody was in their chair, oh dear “It’s my chair, out of that!”   They certainly let them know.   It could well be that at the Rose and Crown or the Black Buoy, they probably had little “snugs” as they called them, “Captain’s Snugs”.

NB: There were only you say, about a dozen.

DM: There may have been more, but…I can’t remember.   There was Cockrell, Captain Harris, Captain Abe Harvey, that’s four.   I can remember a lot of other captains, but they didn’t live in Wivenhoe.

NB: What about Rowhedge?

DM: Oh, Rowhedge, one of the finest Rowhedge captains was Captain Sycamore.

NB:  Didn’t Rowhedge supply more racing crews a bit earlier on?

DM: Er…possibly.   Yes I should think….

NB: Lemon Cransfield….The Barnard?

DM: Yes

Yacht Building

NB: But the era we are talking about, the era you remember as a young boy, was not the era of building of the great yachts, or indeed of crewing and racing yachts?

DM: No.

NB: Much more steamships.   Much more that sort of background.

DM:  Yes, I can remember when down the wall, from Lord Brassey’s dock right down to what we called the first stile that lay on to the river, there were two or three abreast.

NB:  Two or three abreast? What sideways on?

DM: Yes, they’d have held too much water that way, you see.   You couldn’t moor the boats across the river.   They had big round telegraph poles, bigger than that, masts probably and they floated and the planks were on top and then found a ladder and walked up the side.   That’s how you got aboard.

NB: How many yachts do you think would be moored together over a (indistinct)

DM: At Wivenhoe?   Must have been…..

NB: Hundreds?

DM: No….at the height of the yachting era I should say not more than twenty.   Probably about 20.   All shapes and sizes, you know.   I mean there were smaller yachts down there as well.

NB: Presumably each yacht would have its own fittings and…..

DM: They all had their own store.

NB: Where were the stores?

DM: Well, Guy Harding’s.   That was one yacht store.   Alongside….(what I got mixed up with yesterday… door to the Rose and Crown….Martin Harvey’s…Quay Cottage?

NB: Quay House?

DM: Quay House.   There was a garage there.   All Guy Harding’s down there.   Smaller stores one in Paget Road. The Yachtsman’s Arms, I think they used to let, I think they used to have a store there, and of course all the crew of the yachts, used to have what they called elevenses break and they all used to walk up the wall and go to the Yachtsman’s Arms, where the Downings live now, and The Brewery Tavern.   Those two pubs used to be full at eleven o’clock with yacht crews having their elevenses.

NB:  So the yacht crews would help to fit out and to lay up and….

DM: Yes.

NB: Laying up suppers (indistinct)

DM:   I don’t know that the crews used to be ….(indistinct).   The crews used to do all the varnishing and then French polisher used to come down to do all the panelling and ….

NB: Each yacht would be refurbished every year?

DM: Oh yes, they were done up every year.   All the boats were rubbed down, the launches and the gigs, what they called the yachts’ gigs, the rowboats, they were all varnished inside and out and everywhere was spotlessly clean.   Then they’d take enough food for the crew to get to Southampton, or wherever they were going to stock up and then (indistinct)   They hadn’t got refrigerators in the early days.   They had ice boxes then.   I don’t think there was refrigeration on yachts until the twenties.   Of course it all ceased during the war.   There was nothing at all.   There were a number of Wivenhoe yachts lost in the First World War.   They were commandeered for patrol boats.   I think the Lady Blanche was one, and she got sunk.

NB:  What about after the First World War, it was never the same, I suppose?

DM: After the twenties, they were all just finished.   Nobody could afford to run those yachts…broken up now, of course.

NB: The yachts didn’t go (indistinct)

DM: Yes, that was 1932 when I went round the Mediterranean and that was a motor yacht that belonged to a Greek syndicate who ran all the casinos.   Millionaires.  Mr…….(end of tape)


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