An Interview with Mr Leslie Kemble

Notes of an interview with Mr Leslie Kemble made by Nicholas Butler in the mid 1980s

These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mr Leslie Kemble  in the mid 1980s 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.

What Mr Kemble told Nick Butler.

To the right of the earthquake photograph taken at the rear of The Anchor is old Daniel Barrell.

My firm, Barrells, then Kemble, started in 1850.

The bricks from the demolished chimney of The Ropery went to build The Limes.

My firm celebrated its centenary in Ken Green’s fish shop.   We were the first people to produce electricity for Wivenhoe.   In 1963 Louis Barrell retired and I took over.

Daniel Barrell started it.   His Son, Robert, took the business over.   He became the first sanitary inspector. Carried on until 1939.   His salary was £200 a year.   We built the first tarmacadam plant for William Loveless.   Our firm worked there nearly sixty years ago.   We are the oldest funeral firm in the whole of the Eastern Region.

We started off in 1850 as wheelwrights, builders and undertakers.   Funerals on the same bit of ground since 1850.   We are certainly 138 years old.

The ropewalk was a long, timber-faced building.   The timber yard went from The Cross through to Rectory Road. We had our own traction engines and used to cut down the Oaks.   A thousand sets of coffin boards to Dottridge of London every month.   We used to cut out all the chair backs and seats and send them to High Wycombe.

We were also the only galvanising company down to the Kent coast.   Did it for the shipyards on the Thames.   The galvanising plant was still here when I came to work here.   Men from Forrestts did it here.   Acid bottles and tanks were up here.   Old weather-boarded building with big ???   Wivenhoe Galvanising Company.   I dismantled the whole thing.   Gas came up by underground pipe.

I was born in 1914.   In my very early days Wivenhoe was lit by gas.   1912-18 gas first used for gas cooking. Pressure not very great.   Edwards was down at the gasworks.   They used to produce wonderful coke which you could use for heating.   Coke is coal put in the furnace and gas extracted to a certain degree.   Used to go to the gasworks.   Used to take our shilling to the house, would be issued with a copper disc and you would get cwt of coke.

Barnes could provide quite a bit of history.   Still lives in Gas Road.   There were eight houses in Gas Road.

Mr Robert Barrell who was in charge of the firm when I came here to work.   They upgraded him to a full time sanitary inspector and surveyor.   When the sewer was laid the whole of it was dug by hand.

Dick Han was a builder round about the 1920s.   Monthly auction.   Also a funeral director, there were three.   He died at the graveside.   Goodwins of Gas Road were funeral directors.   We are the only one now in Wivenhoe and Brightlingsea.   We’ve got a business down in Brightlingsea.   Just recently my son has acquired the business of Shepherds in Colchester.   All builders as well.   Employed a joiner to make the coffins.   In the early days there was Goodwins, Ham and ourselves.   Just before the war a chappie named Chamberlain started up but he didn’t last very long.   We have one of the oldest accounts with Kent Blaxill for way over a hundred years.   Building materials.

I can just remember the ropewalk being demolished.   It was all of what was called the timber-yard.   500 yards down.

Harvey Road named after Sir John.   Brummells named after Beau Brummell.

I knew The Hall site, the fire at The Hall was in my time.   The first 10 years at Barrells was modernising the Park. Charles Gooch’s coffin was on one of the farm carts and the flowers were on the other one.   I have got funeral accounts for the last 70 years.

I can remember 300 people unemployed.   When the road below the railway bridge was packed with people going to collect their dole money.   My father was unemployed.   He worked in Wivenhoe shipyard until it closed.   The Salvation Army was at Margery Dean Antiques, which was a Salvation Army Hall in my time.   Still that in 1920. Swedenborgians moved behind the post office.   There is an old Swedenborgian minister in Brightlingsea, he lives in Dover Road, he knew the Husks.

At Christmas the hall used to be hired out by Mr Goodwin of the Post Office for sorting parcels and letters.   In the twenties the Salvation Army came to an end.   But my uncles founded a Salvation Army Corps in Chester.   My father was out of work for 2 years.  The first job he got was in Harwich.   He cycled there to work on the erection of the Train Ferry Quay.   He got up at 5am.   During the depression the LNER were the biggest employers.   I came here at the age of 14 to work for 7/6 a week.   My first hourly rate was 4d an hour.

We pulled down the old fruit shop in East Street to build that new house.   The firm built it and I worked on it.

I started at the school which is now the Youth Centre.   The High Street was then the High Road.   The Street was below the railway bridge.   Up-street starts the other side of Spring Lane.

The Cockrells lived in the Red House.   The overhead gantry of the ropewalk was extended to Rectory Road.   The concrete pillars on which the gantry stood are still there.   Ben and Martin Barrell sold that and started up the Alresford Sand and Ballast Company in about 1936.

I built the office block at the Wivenhoe Sand and Gravel Company and the base for the tarmacadam plant.   Mr Goodwin was excellent, he had one fault, he liked to have it all his own way.   He was not an old man when he died, about 75 or 77.   I always called him WG respectfully.   He was a good councillor.   He thought hard and long before he decided, but he expected everyone to go along with him.

We were one of the smallest UDC’s in the country.

W E Denton of Witty, Denton and Pawsey.   A solicitor.   Dudley Pawsey became Clerk to the Council after Denton retired.

Oral tradition that the Marquis of Anglesey and Lord Alfred Paget put up the money for these roads.   The Elmstead side of Anglesea Road, when there was a wall there, was very much higher than the Wivenhoe side.  

Nos 1-11 Anglesea Road was Captain’s Row.   I bought a house called Swin View.   You could see the Swin Light from the bedroom window.   I bought the Anglesey Arms (spelled thus)

Phillip Road got its name from Phillip Chamberlain.   We called it School Lane.   “Go through the cage” where Mr Worsp has got that hideous garage was Cawoods.   Sunday paper shop.   Pug Stebbings had a general shop looking up Quay Street.   We used to slap the sides of bacon, call out “Pug” and run like blazes.   King’s the butchers shop.   North side of Anchor Hill.   The place where the garage is now was a slaughterhouse. Slaughterhouse  down Blood Alley.   Blood and guts alley.   Market day was Saturday.   At 6pm the animals came, driven in from Colchester.   Later they came by cattle truck.   I can remember them being driven down.   Mr Ribbons was the butcher.   Slaughtered on a Monday.

The Barrell Brothers went canvassing for people to have electricity.   If they signed to say they would have electricity their house was wired for free.   Clarence Barr was behind it.   His family used to run The Falcon.   

In about 1926 the town had electricity.   The electricity works included a big cooling tower 50’ high.   Overhead wires.   Sold out to the CBC in the early thirties.

Public Hall no bigger because of the money we got from the waterworks.

Robert Bartlett.  Bobbitts.   A child was unable to speak properly, instead of Robert he said Bobbitt, hence the name. For Robert Bartlett.

Oysters were kept up the Geetings.   Robert Bartlett had his own smack called The Sprite.   His elder brother was the secretary to the Colne Oyster Fishery.   We lived in the end house (of the three in a clump on the Quay ie where Dr Finney lived)   The oyster fishery closed down 30 to 40 years ago.   He used to come up on the Friday afternoon.   We used to get our whelks and winkles from Robert Bartlett.

W Goodwin lived in Great Bentley Green.   It was not until he built Upway in Belle Vue Road next door to the house he lived in until he died.   History has it that WG was a Dorset man.   He was Commander of the Home Guard in WW2.   I think I can say that I knew WG better than anyone else.   It was a thrill to Mrs Loveless when the son went into the ministry.   It was a very well run and well organised business was the Wivenhoe Sand and Gravel Company.

I can remember their first lorry.   Garrett’s son Arthur, was the first lorry driver for WG   We were the only builders who were repairing.   We built Gurney Vale.   We built The Moorings in Belle Vue Road.   Robert Hiscock ?? was the Town Clerk.   We lived in Gurney Vale.   We were the only contractors working for the LNER before it became British Rail.   We used to do all the repairs on the station from Barrells of Wivenhoe.

Mr Kemble showed Mr Butler a trowel used by Mary Ann Sandford to lay the foundation stone of the Almshouses on 18 July 1873 also the foundation stone of the present Congregational Church.

Mr K lent Mr Butler four postcards, one of them showed the Shipwrights Arms chimney struck by lightning.   It was dated June, possibly the day is 26.   It reads: “Dear J, This is one of the Shipyard Chimney Shafts, it was struck by lightning last Friday about 11 in the morning.   I really had a marvellous escape, was sheltering from the heavy rain in a passage.   Nobody was hurt, the Pub roof shattered and the street was strewn with bricks”   It was signed ‘Bert’ and is addressed to Stables, Colehill Park, Ashford, Kent.   It refers to a footman.   It comes from Queens Road.   The ECS refers to the disaster on 21 June 1913 which was a Saturday.   If the accident occurred on the previous day then the makers of these postcards took no more than 6 days to get them out, seven at the most.


This page was added on 04/11/2016.

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