An Interview with Mr Don Mason

Notes of an interview with Mr Don Mason made by Nicholas Butler in the mid 1980s

These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mr Mason in the mid 1980s as part of the 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 Don Mason

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

What Don Mason told Nick Butler

Aeroplane: “Don’t let it flap its wings, Aunty, don’t let it flap its wings!”  I was about 4 years old in 1909.   The Humphrey brothers were keen on Aeronautics, they had a big corrugated iron shed where they built this plane. They only had 200 yards to get it up in, should have a had a longer run.   Half of Wivenhoe was down on the Rowhedge Ferry wall.

The Infant School was where the Youth Centre is now.   At school, on Empire Day all the boys used to walk down to the school.   My wife used to play the piano, we used to have all the patriotic songs.   They went out into the playground and one of the masters would raise the flag and we would all sing a song and the boys saluted the flag.   Then we all broke up and the rest of the dday was a holiday.

Quite a lot of children during the summer never wore shoes.   Quite a lot of the yachting people’s boys used to wear their father’s trousers cut off at the knee, they were blue serge trousers and blue knitted jerseys.   None of the roads were made up.   Granite stones were rolled in with a steamroller.   A water cart used to use the road. Water actuated by pedals by the driver.   We used to take our shoes off and run behind.   The old driver would put his whip round the back and try to drive us off but we would be back again.

Johnnie Turner was Mastheadman on the Britannia, he would work on the crosstrees and change over the flying jib.   He had the nerves of a steeplejack.

Douglas Went was a Brightlingsea photographer.   Fred Downing.   One-Armed Smith.   Big plate camera.

Second Interview

My grandmother ran the first telephone in Wivenhoe from 1988 High Street.   She was employed as caretaker/operator at £1 a week plus coal and light.   It was 24 hours a day, seven days a week.   This was in about 1900-02.   The National Telephone Company.   There were 7 subscribers then and after 2 years this increased to 17.   In 1925 there were about 50, in 1930 there were about 150.   In 1920 a young girl, Violet Harris, came in to help out.   She used headphones and a breastplate for the first time.

My mother started school at 13 then left and was taken on there as a pupil-teacher at 5/-d a month.   The school was built in 1893 on ground known as Cokers (ie the Girls and Infant School)   Philip Chamberlain had the shoe-shop where Topsy Jennings now lives (52 High Street).   Perhaps tht is why it is called Philip Road.   In the 1900s there were about 225 girls.   It was very crowded with 4 teachers in charge of 4 classes in one room.   The Infants was next door – the first door down Philip Road, the Girls was the second door.

I started school at 5 with the Infants, classes were 40 plus ages 5 to 7.   Then boys went to the Boys School, girls to the Girls School.   Boys stayed on until age of 14, girls about the same, but could leave earlier.

Headmistress was Mrs Wright ?? Thelma Worsp’s grandmother, a very clever person and thorough.

There were also 2 private schools, Miss Proctor’s in West Street, which was somewhere near Lewis Worp’s workshop (now demolished)and Mr Smith’s School in the Post Office Hall.   Mr Smith gave them a good education. Two bank managers Don(?) Oakley, treasurer at the Sailing Club for years.

Infants. Headmistress was Miss Kent, in the 1900s it was Miss Alice Pullen.   In about 1900 Mr William Wadley took over the Boys School.   Mr and Mrs Wright lived at the schoolhouse attached to the Boys School.  Mrs Wadley also taught at the Boys School.

In 1911 my mother took up an appointment as a teacher at Fordham, which is four miles from Colchester.   She cycled there and back every day for 3 years, a round trip of 20 miles.   Her children, me and my sister, were left with grandmother at the telephone exchange.

Old Jimmy Munson selling water at 1/2d a bucket from the brook at Queens Road, then known as Brook Hill.

Schoolchildren had their ‘burdern’ they had to carry 2 buckets of water from the brook to their houses before school.   They usually had a light square frame which kept the buckets away from their legs.   Men used the yokes and chains to carry the water.

Barefooted children were common, a few even in winter, most of them had only one pair of hobnailed boots.

Later Mr Barlow of Wivenhoe Hall had three standpipes erected in the High Street (c.1910) and allowed the village free water from his private source.   These were the only sources of water, plus the springs up at the Heath, near the Horse and Groom, the spring was in Spring Lane.   WUDC finally built the pumping station.   First waterworks engineer was Mr Mallett (Jack Mallett’sgrandfather)

Social evenings:  There were whist drives, dances, parties etc held at the Boys school in the 1900s.   Soon after that transferred to Dick Ham’s auction room, a large shed at the junction of Brook Street and New Town Field (now occupied by a shed owned by Woods)   Dick Ham was an auctioneer, carpenter and undertaker.

Foresters Hall built (?) but auction rooms still used.   In 1924-5 Forester’s Hall became a cinema and again in about 1930, both times bankrupt, now Gainsborough’s Hall.

A lot of yachts went up to the lochs after the season eg Rosabelle, Rannock, and the men went with them for the shooting.

Vanessa, Venetia – probably none of them actually built in Wivenhoe just kept here because the captains lived here.   Colneside noted for its yachtsmen.   Finest yachtsmen in the country.   South country could produce yachtsmen from Shoreham, Littlehaven, Newhaven, Cowes.   Some Wivenhoe men used to go to Cowes to settle or went and brought back Cowes wives.   In the winter some got temporary jobs in the shipyard, others went fishing.

Most of the houses at the bottom of the village had no gardens.   All they had got to do was to live in the houses. Ideal little houses.   Houses were built on spec and let.   Never any trouble leasing a house.   Mr Goodwin at the Post office owned “no end of houses”,   Specifically built without gardens.   The ideal seafaring man’s house is a house without a garden.

Bath Street, Page Road, The Folley.   Tiny passages for spars and beams.

Station Road: 1867  Loweer end completed in 1968.

West Street: the little semis: 1876.   Chapel (now Ken Green): 1847.   West House: 1548.   Congregational Chapel: 1846 (now Cannell)

Quay Street: 1846-8.  Bath Street: the same.

Quay Cottage; Maple Cottage; Trinity House: 1728

West side of Anchor Hill: 1872.

Anchor House, formerly Anchor Hotel: 1700

Storehouse (Maidenheads Inn prior to 1750, changed then to White Swan)

London House Stores: back is pre-1700, front partly rebuilt in 1772.

Houses in the Folley: 1830-1840.


This page was added on 06/11/2016.

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