An Interview with Mrs Etta Dan

Etta Dan's father was Philip Chamberlain, Wivenhoe's shoemaker in the late 1800s onwards

Page created by Peter Hill from the notes re-typed by Ann Jones

Etta Chamberlain with her boyfriend Fred Dan circa 1920s
Picture from Chris Goddard
Philip Chamberlain's Boot and Shoe Shop in the High Street
Wivenhoe Memories Collection
Wivenhoe's shoemaker Philip Chamberlain
Photo Wivenhoe Memories Collection

The interview below was re-typed by Ann Jones from the records passed on to Peter Hill of the Wivenhoe History Group by Nicholas Butler in 2016. This interview was included in those records. It is not recorded though who actually conducted this interview. It seems that the interview took place in 1967 as one of several undertaken by the Sociology Department of the University of Essex, and was conducted by a lady who was herself a teacher and whose husband had been a school teacher in Bishops Stortford.


Mrs Etta Dan was born in 1891 and was 76 when the interview took place. She was the daughter of Philip Chamberlain, a shoemaker in Wivenhoe.

Etta’s early days as child growing up in Wivenhoe

First of all can you tell me about your family, you know, the number of children?

Oh, only me.

You were an only child?


What was your father’s job, you mentioned he was a boot-maker?

Yes, he was, he used to make all the shoes for these millionaires yacht’s crews, that used to come up here and when the season came on there’d be, oh, ever so many dirty old, drunken old shoemakers sleeping in our stable you know, and all that…..

Skilled craftsmen?

Yes.   While the season was on every room in our house was full of shoes – oh they were lovely, they were calf shoes, light calf, you know, they had pegs (wooden nails) in the soles you know, so that they wouldn’t scrape the decks.   It was quite a skilled, quite a skilled sort of job.

And when was the season?

Oh well it must have been in the summer I should think because these yachts used to go to the Mediterranean.


For six or seven or eight weeks, according to the weather there, and I think perhaps that they were fitted out in the spring.

Yes I see.

And you father supervised the other shoemakers you were mentioning?

Well my father was skilled too, but a bad businessman.   When he died nearly everybody in this village owed him money, he used to say “They will pay me, I know”.   He was a lovable character, he was really.   And he was mostly, you know, he was very very friendly with all the yacht skippers and all that, he used to have sessions in pubs.   I will tell you all about the election and that, later on.

He was happy in his work, was he, he enjoyed his work?

Oh yes, but he had got a piece of land up here, up this road, over the other side, an acre and a quarter and that was his relaxation, he didn’t do the work, he had it set with marvellous apple trees, Cox’s Orange and that you know, he used to sell the apples you see.

How far would he sell them?

Actually, he had sold them outside our shop, you know, on a stall there.   Much to the disgust of the other tradesmen in the village.   He had to do it, we were always hard up.

Do you think you were more hard up than you would have been had he collected more debts?

Oh yes, he was too kind hearted, he used to lend money to people when he wanted it himself, you know.   Never got it back, of course.   You can be too easy cant you?

Yes, that’s quite true.   Was he – did you spend a lot of time with him, when you were a child?

Well, yes, he used to take me out on Sundays for walks.   And I can even remember at a very early age eating a coconut biscuit in the road and enjoying it while he had a drink, and of course children are not allowed in public houses any more.

Were they at that time?

They must have been mustn’t they?

Well, I wasn’t sure about that.

And he’d take you out most Sundays, would you go out?

Oh yes, we would, yes.   My mother used to come too.   We would go for a walk in the country and we had friends who had various sandpits and orchards and – a few miles off we used to visit them.   It was a very nice simple life really you know.

Did you have holidays at all together, did you go away for holidays?

We used to go to Clacton, my mother and I, but you see he couldn’t very well leave the business, he used to come down at weekends.

Where would you stay when you went to Clacton?

At a boarding house.

Can you remember anything about what you did then, when you were in Clacton?   What it was like?

Oh it was lovely on the beach.   I was the only child from the boarding house and everybody made a frightful fuss of me, you know, took me for donkey rides.   I don’t remember if there were any pierrots then, perhaps I was too young, but I could play the piano a little bit then and of course they just went off the deep end because I could play the piano and I was about six or seven.

And did you, when you went to Clacton, did you make friends with other children there who were on holiday?

I don’t think so, I don’t remember.   Sometimes relatives would come from Wivenhoe and bring their children.

But on the whole, were you quite a solitary child, or did you spend quite a lot of time with other children?

Oh a lot, you see, one day when we go down the village street, I will show you where we lived and it was mid – er mid the village, near the school, handy for everybody.   Our house was always full, children and friends dropping in, musical evenings we had and cards and all that you know.

Would people just sort of call in at any time?

Yes, not very many formal invitations.   That’s why they were so successful I think!   Don’t you think that?

I think you are quite right.

I sometimes feel like seeing somebody at a certain time, and not another.   You go round and made terrific preparations for them if you invite them don’t you, you won’t say I’m inhospitable, I’m not!

Not at all, I quite agree with you, it is bad that these things have to be so organised sometimes, you know, I think it is marvellous that people can sort of drop in like that.   Did your parents have a very wide acquaintance in the village?

Oh yes, yes.

Among all classes of people?

Yes, because of the shop, and of course there were captains and the children, you know, they all used to – at Christmas time we used to – there were formal invitations then.   I knew one house I loved to go to because there were three boys there!

Were they much your age or were they older?

Yes, one was, and the other two were younger, but we used to have lovely times there, and they used to come to us on New Years Eve.

You would go to them at Christmas would you?   Was that in the evening or…?

Well we would go for the evening meal.   Well, do you know in our house on the High Street there was a beam across the little sitting room and people used to all drift in there just before the old year closed and write their initials on this beam.

Now could you describe to me the Christmas, you know, the evening meal?   What would you do, and that kind of thing?

Well we would have a very nice meal, you know, probably cold turkey and salad and things like that you know.   And a hot Christmas pudding afterwards.   We always had plenty of drink, believe me!   Must have been, you know, pushed through the Customs!

What sort of drink?

Well we used to have ginger beer of course, but they used to drink plenty of whisky really –

And did they have things like crackers?

Oh yes, yes, everything like that, yes.

And would Christmas pudding be carried round the table in flames, like I have sometimes seen in old pictures?

No, it was put on the table and cut.

Just put on the table and cut, yes.   With custard or cream?

With custard and cream you know, most of these people that we went to were a lot better off than we were.

Were they?

Yes, because father was a poor businessman then!

Were you conscious of the fact that they were better off than you?   As a child?

Oh no, no.   They had much smarter house than we had.   But I had rather a knack of believing I was as good as anybody you know, it is wonderful for an only one, isn’t it?  To be like that?

Did you exchange presents at all?

Yes, mostly sweets or books.   Boxes of chocolates and things like that.

And would you sing at all, or have any music?

Oh yes!   It consisted mostly of singing, everybody could sing, and we used to, they all stood round the piano and sang, you know, people don’t do that now!

Yes, it has gone off largely hasn’t it?   What sort of songs would you sing, on a Christmas evening, for example?

Oh well, not carols or anything like that, mostly ballads songs, or in fashion at that time, you know.

Songs perhaps from current musicals?   Like Chu Chin Chow?

Sometimes, yes.   Of course, it wasn’t on then, was it, Chu Chin Chow?

No, that was…….would you mention when you were born actually?

I wont.

It helps me put things in……

I’m older than my husband – he knows – but I never remind him, you see?

Yes, I won’t tell anybody.

In ’91.

In 1891?

Yes, That makes me seventy-six.   Getting on aren’t I?   I had a dream last night, a girl I was at college with, (it was her husband who went to this private school) just to cheer you up, “Sit down,” I said and” think how many years before you will be eighty!”

This Christmas celebration, do you remember that from your earliest childhood days, that sort of thing?

Yes, we went to dozens of parties!

Did you, at this particular time of year?

Mostly at Christmas, because you see there was no village up here, this house was here, and the two next door, but everybody lived down the street, as we say, and all crowds of children and they all had marvellous parties.

What sort of time would the party be?

Afternoon, for tea.

Afternoon tea party?

And then you know, have games and crackers and all sorts of things, we always finished up I remember, with blancmange and jelly, before we went home.

Party Games

And can you remember any of the games you played, I would be interested to hear, can you remember the names of any of them?

Oh, Postman’s Knock, of course.

Yes, did you like that?

I don’t think so, especially if a boy got hold of you that you didn’t like.   And you know they would play ring games, when there was room.

Like Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses?

Yes, and In and Out the Window – do you know that one?

Yes, I think I do.

The Farmer’s in his Den?


Of course one of the interesting things is that fashions in some things have changed fantastically, but fashion in children’s games and things like this is much the same.   I have never been to a party where they played Postman’s Knock but the Farmer’s in his Den, things like that, I played as a child, I am sure my mother did, and my little boy does too.   It is wonderful the way it carries on.   Oranges and Lemons?

Oh yes, that was a great favourite, I don’t remember if they played Passing the Parcel round, I don’t think we did.

I was just going to ask you about the parties, did you enjoy them?  Did you look forward to going to parties?

Oh yes!

Type of clothes that were worn

Yes, you were a sociable child?

I think so, I was a bit shy, but still loved them.   We all used to have little white starched pinafores on you know.

Yes, was that over a dress?   You would have a pinafore over a dress?

Yes, a pinafore you know, with lace round the top and round the arms.   A bit of coloured – blue ribbon, round the waist or something like that.   I know that I was always dressed very nicely because my mother had marvellous taste, she was half French you know.   Well Jersey French.

Yes, and did you like clothes when you were a little girl?

No I didn’t, I don’t like them now, I didn’t take after my mother!

And did you have curly hair, or did you have your hair curled?

I didn’t have it curled, I had long hair and it was a bit wavy, that coarse kind of hair that falls in waves.   You wouldn’t believe, looking at it now, it was very nice hair.   You know how it is!  If I met a man, they always used to say to me “Your hair is exactly like shredded gold”!

Have you heard about a place in Italy, where the women are always, the sailors have told us, standing at the doors in the evening combing their hair with this – do you know what kind of comb I mean?

Indeed, because I picked up head lice when I was teaching in a very poor area of London, in Paddington, and I had to comb my hair with this comb.

The women have all got marvellous hair in this district and they put it down to this habit of theirs.

What part of Italy was that?

I wouldn’t know.

The sailors told you that did they?

Yes.   When these fellows came home from the Mediterranean, or wherever they had been, they would come and see Papa and perhaps we would give them a drink or they used to come in and you know, they would have some….

Marvellously interesting stories to tell about foreign parts.

Yes, yes.   When you were a child, was that something that you particularly enjoyed?   Listening to their stories?

I think so, because I had uncles you see, one was in Africa….or where was he now?   My Aunt, lived next door, was in South Africa near Cape Town, do you know that?

Yes, I do.

Well she went out there and she married, he went out there and took a job of some sort, and she went out there and married him but she hated it.

Did she?

And she had a baby, you know, almost immediately, and she soon came home.   She found that she had married the wrong man.   Very awkward when you are abroad!   People couldn’t divorce then so easily, you know.

Going back to your childhood, you said you would show me the house where you lived, one day, can you tell me what it was like inside?

It was a very old house.

About when was it built, have you any idea?

Oh I should think well over a hundred years ago because this is ninety.   Actually when we lived there, it was two cottages made into one because it had got two staircases and my father had the shop built on the front – attics it had, there were ten rooms altogether including the shop.

Were all the rooms used?

Well they used to use the top part of the house for store rooms, more or less.   And they were in rather a bad state – ceilings falling down and all that.   We had one attic that was very nice.

When you were there, where did you have your meals, for example?

Oh downstairs, we had the shop, a fitting on room, the dining room and the kitchen, we always had our meals in the dining room.   We had to fit the piano in there too, because we couldn’t get it upstairs.

And did you mother do all the cooking?


Did she do all the housework?  Herself?

No, she always, nearly always had a maid of some sort, not living in, but you know, coming in.   One or two she had living in because my father neglected his business terribly, she had to run the business herself.

She did the sending out of accounts?

No, she didn’t do that she did the serving in the shop.

We had a boy to deliver the repairs, you see.

But she would have to have someone to help her in the house?

Oh yes, yes.

And how often did the maid come?

Well, probably every morning.   You know that person who used to come to you in Great Bentley, well she was one of my mother’s maids, they lived in the little cottage opposite and mother had them all in turn, in fact the person who comes and helps me twice a week is one of them too.

I don’t suppose you would remember, you wouldn’t have known what they were paid would you?

No I wouldn’t

Did you get along with them?  I mean did you have a good relationship with them?

Oh yes

Can you remember what they called you?

They called me Etta.

Just by your first name, no Miss?

Oh no, no, we weren’t in that class.

And what would you call them then?

By their Christian name.

What about your mother?  Did she call them by their Christian name?


And what would they have called her?

Mrs Chamberlain (Jermyn?)

Because she was older?

Yes.  Besides she had got a certain dignity, so had my father.

Had they?


Can you tell me a bit more about them, describe them to me?   I have got some idea of your father already but can you tell me a bit more about what sort of person he was?

Well, do you know, he was very intelligent.   His brother(?) was a headmaster in Northamptonshire but their father died when they were young and my father took on his bootmaker’s business when he was 13, he left school and took on the business, took on the whole family, I think.   He had a beautiful singing voice.

And did he play as well, play the piano?

No.  He had rather a violent temper, too.  His swearing vocabulary was something to be recorded.

Would he swear, you know, in the house?

If he was in a temper.

If he was angry he would?


You said he took you out, did he talk to you a lot, too?

Oh yes, yes.

Was he in the house a lot?

No because at the back of the house was the workshop and he had usually got two or three men working there and he would spend quite a lot of time in there, you see.

He worked long hours?

Well during the war he did, the first war.

What sort of hours would he work?

Oh irregular, you know, but quite a long time.

Did you ever go and sit with him in the shop?

He didn’t encourage me to.   I will tell you who did, used to sit with him, the Rector and the Congregational Minister and there used to be screams of laughter coming from there and my mother would say “I believe they are telling dirty stories!”

Oh, that’s lovely.!

We had an Irish Rector here then.

Were your own family Church of England or were they Congregationalists?

No, Church of England.

Did you have much of a…..

Oh listen we were really, according to our beliefs, my father and I were Swedenborgians – do you know what Swedenborgians are?

I have just heard of them actually – I don’t know much about them.

I had an uncle who was a builder, he was a great Swedenborgian and they started the society here.   I don’t know quite what I believe you know – isn’t it shocking, eh?   But I was always at the Church of England, at the village Church, when I was about, when I left college.

What do the Swedenborgians believe, what is their faith?

Oh well there is a lot of it, you know.

Too much to tell?

They believe that when you die, you don’t go to heaven or hell you go to some sort of society which is akin to you, you see.   You would feel uncomfortable if you were with too good people wouldn’t you?

You mean you go to a place where the people were similar to yourself?

Well, not a place, you know a sphere.

And did you have a Church, a place where.

Well we had a building.   We had a very nice American organ.  Which I played before I became organist at the Church of England.    But you see I was learning and the organ attracted me.   That was really dreadful wasn’t it?

It attracted you to the Swedenborgians?

No, to the Church of England.   Because it was a manual and pedal organ, you see.

And did you go then to both places?

The Swedenborgians only had one service a day in the afternoon.

And you would go to the Church of England as well?

No, I wouldn’t go to the Swedenborgians once I had started the Church of England, I was organist at the Church, because believe me there was quite a lot of controversy about it in the village, you see.  I had anonymous letters – “Go back to your own Church.   We don’t want you in our Church”.   I was very young when I was made organist.

How old were you then?

Let me see.   It was during the first World War.   I can’t remember which year it was.

Sometime in the first war.   So you would have been only in your early twenties?

Yes, very early twenties I think.   Well do you know that there was the organist who left, she, all the men said that they wouldn’t come, in the choir, because they wanted an older man in the choir you see, an older organist.   I went to the Rector and said “Look I don’t want to be organist and cause all this disturbance” and he kept sending me letters every day ‘The Lord is on our side; and we will have our splendid – he was grey and gnarled.   If I went to a dance I was noticed because I was the organist that caused all the choir to leave.

I knew quite a lot of the songs that were about in the music halls.

On the second Sunday I was there, I had a full choir of men.

They had just joined?

Yes, because they knew me.

It didn’t matter about the others having left then?

Oh, and didn’t they have a shock when they came to Church!

What did they do?

Oh they used to just sing in the congregation.   Oh, then they all decided they would come back.

So what happened then?

There was a row of chairs at the side of the choir stalls so they could all come in.

They were all allowed to rejoin?

Yes, except one.

Why wasn’t he allowed to join?

Oh they were allowed to but he – I don’t think he liked me – I don’t know.   He thought I was a chit you see, to be playing the organ.

As well as playing the organ, did you also conduct the choir?

We had the schoolmaster from Elmstead who was a friend of mine, came over and conducted the choir.   I used to get £30 a year for playing the organ.   That wasn’t bad was it?


Oh, but it was a terrific tie.

How much of your time did it take up then?

Oh it wasn’t so much during the week, we had two choir practices a week.   But it was Sundays, you know, when you wanted to go places.

Did you have anyone to relieve you?

Yes I did have a relief and actually, you know, I taught some of the choir boys to play the organ.

So you had pupils as well?

No I didn’t – not paid pupils – but I used to tell them about the stops and that and got them to play for the choir practices when I had the boys alone you see.   Some of them have become really good organists, you know.

Do you think you were the first young woman organist?

There was a woman before me, but she was an old maid.   She was a very charming woman until this business came and I rather suspected that she was the one that kept sending me anonymous letters!

What sort of thing would she say in the anonymous letters?

Oh “We don’t want you, Go back to your own Church, so we can have the men back” things like that.

After that, after you got the job at the Church did you not go back to the Swedenborgian Church?

No I didn’t, they closed soon after that.


Because the size of the congregation was so sparse.

You say your father was one too?

He was a Swedenborgian.

Was it because of his influence that you became one?

No it was my uncle really, (Dan Chamberlain) he used to have a Sunday School down at his house.   There were a lot of us you know.

Swedenborgans or is it Swedenborgians – how do you say it?

Swedenborgians…I don’t think they say Swedenborgans, no they can’t because there is an “I” in it.   There is a church in Colchester, and there is a very very go ahead young parson up there called Frank Rose (?) he is Secretary of the Arts Society too, so you know what he is like, he is very nice.   He has tried to get me to go up there to the service because they want an organist but I am not taking on any more organist jobs.   He said he would come down and fetch me! And bring me back!   But I really have too much to do.   I would like to very much.

It’s very interesting actually, about the Swedenborgians, and the Church of England as well.   Would it have been – in your early life say, would you have gone to the Church of England?

Yes, I went to the Sunday School and I was baptised in the Church and my mother was in the choir before she was married.   When she first came from Jersey.

Were your parents married in the Church of England?

I don’t know.   No…I don’t think so.  I think they were married in the Registry Office.

And then you started going to your Uncle’s Sunday School and did you go to that as well as the Church of England one or did you drop the Church of England one?

I had left it then, because I was older you see.

What age would you have been when you went to the Swedenborgian one?

Perhaps 10, 11 or 12.

You didn’t teach, you were just a pupil in it?

Oh Uncle Dan used to teach.   They’ve got a spiritual meaning to everything in the Bible, it is lovely, all the parables and that.

You enjoyed it did you?

Yes I did, in fact, my dear, I went in for an exam, don’t think I was blowing my own trumpet, they had exams you see, all over England and I came out top!   Top of all England!

Were you excited by that?

I don’t think so, Uncle Dan was more excited, he gave me a guinea, I remember that!

Be frank, did you have a fairly good idea of your own intelligence?

Well, I don’t think I ever thought much of myself really.

You didn’t?

No, but being an only one, you don’t know, do you?

I don’t know because I am not an only one.   Do you mean you didn’t think much about yourself as compared with other children?

Yes.   But then I found out when I was in an exam or anything, I was always very good.   I had a friend she was always very good too.   She was a Congregationalist but she came to the Swedenborgian Sunday School.   They all read our papers afterwards, Uncle Dan had some friends in, some Swedenborgian friends and they read them all and they decided that Win’s(?) paper was better than mine.   They all had a shock when it came round.

How many other children went, can you remember?

To the Sunday School? Oh about 7 or 8.   I have got some lovely photographs somewhere among my snapshots taken in our garden.   We all had those frilly silk hats on, you know.

You went back to the Church of England one did you, or did you stop?

No but I will tell you how I started going to the Church of England, by having all the lessons off this woman you see.   Then when she didn’t want to get up for early service she used to ask me if I would go and play for the early service.

That’s how you gradually went back?

Yes I was never very decided about religion

And your father, was he decided, or did he change?

No Papa was always Swedenborgian, what he did believe.  He was really quite a good man you know.   A bit wild, but still, there you are, he always used to be a heavy drinker you know.

Was he?

More for the fun of the thing, you know.

And of course, he associated with sailors a lot?

Yes, or Captains and engineers, always used to go in public houses – all morning.

All the morning, but only at certain times?

When they were open!

Every morning?


Of the year?


He would work in the afternoon and evening then would he?

I don’t remember when he worked! Well when he did work, he worked very hard.

Your mother, can you tell me something about her, and her life, was she a very busy person?

Very capable, very pretty, knew how to dress.   Small and French looking, you know.   She wouldn’t be bound to the house, she would go out you see, to Colchester or Clacton.   Father didn’t want to go out anywhere, and I sometimes think I have got like him this winter, I mustn’t stick in the house all the time.

You do find it harder and harder to go out if you do stay in a lot.

I haven’t the nerve to go out and buy new clothes but I am going next week.

On your own?

Yes.   I must go and have a session in Colchester, if not in Clacton.   I have a cousin who lives at Romford, she came down two or three weeks ago and grumbled at me about my appearance.   Very smart they are.   I do go up to hers and we shop in Romford you know.

Do you?   I have only passed through there on the train.   I have never been there.   When you were a child did you go shopping for clothes with your mother?

Oh yes.

Did you often go out shopping and doing things with her?

Yes, she had a terrific sense of humour.   I have got a rather large head 6 ¼ was it or 7 ¼?

I have got a big head too actually.

It doesn’t look big.

It is though, it’s funny

When we used to go and get me a hat, because everybody had to have hats in those days, it always seemed that they brought me the smallest one in the shop!   My mother and I we used to have fits of laughter.   Yes, we were noisy girls.

Can you remember how your mother did her shopping for everyday things like food?

We were right among the shops.   The butcher just over the road, the grocers next door.

Did your mother go to the shop and choose the things?


They didn’t call round with the things?

Oh well, it was only a step you see.   I don’t think that they called round so much in those days.   Maybe in the town they did.

She did that herself?

She was a very good cook too

Was she?   Did she enjoy cooking?


Can you tell me something about the sort of food that you had in your home?

We had very good food because the meat was marvellous in those days wasn’t it?

Was it? I have heard people say so.

My father had a friend over at Crockleford, a farmer and butcher and we always used to have lovely beef from him you see.   We had lots of rabbits and hares and game which I detested because Papa used to go out shooting a lot.

You’d get what he had at his shop?


Did you have meat twice a day?

No only for the mid-day meal perhaps we might have a little for breakfast, I don’t know.  I can’t remember that.

You can’t remember what you had for breakfast?

No. Perhaps an egg or something like that.

Can you remember what else you had for breakfast?   Meals are very important things to know about because they are such social things usually, one spends so much time over them.   I wonder if you could sort of describe breakfast to me?  Would you all sit down together for example?

Oh yes, there were only 3 of us you see.   I think we had porridge perhaps sometimes.   Or boiled eggs, or egg and bacon.   I don’t remember ever having anything else I don’t think we ever had fish for breakfast.   But sometimes we would go to the Quay and buy a beautiful bend of fresh fish for 6d.

A beautiful what did you say?

Bend of fish, you know.  Bend of fish is all put together on a wire.

Oh yes, I have never heard the term.

It might be just Essex

It might be a fishing area sort of term

Sometimes we would have them for mid-day dinner.   Or perhaps for tea.

And for breakfast what would you have to drink?


Always tea never coffee?

Can you remember when you were a small child would you have had tea to drink?

I can’t remember

And did you have bread, that sort of thing, marmalade?

Oh yes, yes bread and marmalade or jam

And your mother would serve that meal would she?


Did you help her with the cooking?


She did it all herself?

Yes.   We used to have properly laid tables with serviettes, linen serviettes, you know.   We called them serviettes, they don’t now do they.   They call them napkins now don’t they?

Well I think they call them both, some people think it’s smarter to say napkins.

And serviettes with a ring, you know, we always had.

Yes, would you each have your own ring?


Did you have a table-cloth

Yes, always white

Did your mother attach importance to table settings?

I think so

Was she somebody who cared about the appearance of things?

Oh yes, very much.

Did you say Grace?

Only when we had visitors!

You’re the second person to say that.  Did your mother say it or did your father say it, the Grace?

Especially my uncle. When he came, the Swedenborgian.   Oh the uncle I am afraid.   If Moma or Poppa had said it we might have laughed!   Dreadful people really!   But it is funny.   If we had a very nice dinner, hare, or something like that, Moma would go down to her sister, the wife of the builder and say you must come up tomorrow because we are going to have so and so, and they would come up, you see.

She would especially invite them because it was something nice?


That was your Swedenborgian uncle that one?   So he would come up and he would say Grace?

We used to have pudding you know.   First.   For the first course.  A boiled Yorkshire.

Oh yes I have heard about those.

And fill them up, fill people up with those before the meat came on.   And of course we had Yorkshire pudding.

Would you have the boiled Yorkshire – that is just flour and water isn’t it?

And egg.

And egg, yes.

It comes out lovely and light you know.

Would you have that on its own?

Yes, with gravy.

Did you have any other kind of puddings as well, before the meal?


Always the boiled Yorkshire.

Well if we had it you know, dumplings in soup.

But you didn’t always have it before your mid-day meal?


About how often would you say?

I can’t remember.

Was it more often than not, do you think. Perhaps?

What are you talking about now, the pudding?

The pudding before the meat.   I am very interested in this because it is something which seems to have gone out, very much.

We had it if we had a baked dinner you see, or roast dinner, sometimes we used to have a joint on the spit in front of the fire, you know.   Yes.

That must have been delicious.

Yes, and I can remember my mother never, never put things like Bisto in to make gravy.

That’s perhaps because she was half French.

I don’t know but she got lovely gravy without putting anything in.

I know, you can, was it a point of principle with her not to put it in?

Oh well, she would say its “rubbish” you see, “this bought stuff, rubbish” you see.

Was her range of different dishes quite wide, that she would cook?

I think so, we used to have meat pudding and meat pie and rabbit pie and roast –

Was she good at pastry?

Yes, and you know roast joints and roast rabbit, we used to have roast rabbit, and hare, jugged hare and chickens.

And fish? You said you would get a bend of fish.

Yes, fried they would be, fried.

She didn’t bake fish?


And then you would have pudding afterwards?

Yes, well fruit or something like that.   You know.   Perhaps a fruit pie.

You didn’t have any other kinds of puddings?

Well we had the fruit, but not made custard, egg custard.   Egg custard either baked or done in a saucepan.   Have you ever heard of it done in a saucepan?

Well, I mean ordinary runny custard I have done in a saucepan.

With egg?


And not with custard powder?

No I always make mine with an egg because I think it tastes much nicer, we don’t have it very often.   And then would you drink anything with your meals?

Well water

Did you ever have beer or wine with the food?

Not as a child, no.   I expect they had beer.

But you didn’t have it at family meals.


And then in the evening what would be your last meal?

Oh we would have tea, and that was about five o’clock.   You might have had a cup of milk or something like that when you were young, when I was young, you see.

Would you have tea with your mother?

Oh yes, yes.

And what would you have to eat for tea when you were older?

I used to have bread and butter and jam, a kind of paste, and sardines, or we used to have sardines sometimes, and cake, or tart.

Tea to drink?

Yes, but not high tea.

What some people call “cold tea”?


Nothing hot


And was it the same every day of the week?

I can’t remember.   Oh I think sometimes might have had a boiled egg.    I can remember having two or three little girls to tea, and we all had a boiled egg.

Did your mother encourage you to invite friends home to tea?

Oh yes.

And can you remember if, you know, when people dropped in did they stay and have meals with you as well or just have a cup of tea?

Not usually you know, not usually.   Well they would drop in in the evening when we had all our food and then they would have perhaps a drink or perhaps a cup of tea or cocoa.   People used to drink cocoa a lot then, didn’t they?

Did your mother and father make any wine or….?

Oh did they not! My father made gallons and gallons of wine!   In fact that’s how …….John (?) got his pottery, because Poppa bought this little house, one room up and one down.    Very, very old, and he used to have great stone things like that and oh he made gallons of wine!

What did he make it from?

Oh any fruit he could get hold of, blackberries, plums.   I don’t think he ever made any apple wine, but I have a cousin, the son of that uncle of mine, he lives in Barking and he is retired, he was in the civil service and he kept the little house on, he would make gallons of wine.   So does his son, and its lovely, oh cherry wine is marvellous.

I have had damson but I don’t think I have ever had cherry.

Oh its lovely and red currant.

Can you remember at what age you were allowed to drink this wine?

No I can’t no.   I don’t think I was ever very keen on it anyhow.   Poppa used to get people round in that old house saying ”You try a little drop of this”, “Try a little drop of this Boy!” and Uncle Dan did too!   He got the Parson down there one night and then he said “Now finish up with this” after this poor man had been sampling all his wines.   He had got a bottle of wine (the monks make it).   “Try this” he said, the poor man went home and I think he fell in the door.   My father’s midnight parties!   They always came here when we were in bed, his friends, and one night he was in there and they had got a bottle of gin and some whisky you see, and various other things – it sounds awful doesn’t it?   What it would cost now!   The local policeman came and looked in the window, they didn’t like him very much and he said “Can I come in and have a drink?” and he said “Yes, boy, help yourself” and he took some whiskey, he thought that what he was taking from this jug was water but it was Gin!   When he went down the steps, there were steps at the side, he fell in the passage.   They left him there for hours!   Wasn’t it dreadful for a policeman on duty?

Fantastic, I don’t see how he thought it was water if he was drinking gin!   He must have known about it?   Unless he just quaffed it back.

Yes, I think that’s what he did.

Why didn’t he like your father, do you think?

I don’t know.  Everybody liked Poppa.   He was very straightforward and told people what he thought of them, you know.

I wanted to ask you whether you remember your parents teaching you manners.   I mean I am sure they did but do you remember?

No I don’t remember.

You don’t remember them telling you about please and thank you, that sort of thing?

No I did it naturally.

What about table manners, do you remember them taking any particular notice of table manners?

No I don’t.   No, I don’t remember that at all.

I think that shows they were rather good at teaching manners, if you don’t remember it much.    You don’t remember things like whether you were allowed to talk at meals?

Oh yes.

There was conversation?


And were you forced to finish up all the food on your plate?


Did you have quite a lot of choice in what you ate?

I can’t remember, I don’t think so.

You had to eat what was given.


Were you quite a faddy child, or did you like most of the food?

No I was faddy when I was a child.

But you don’t remember this being made a fuss of?

No.   I couldn’t bear things like rabbit.   Especially boiled rabbit.

Your mother didn’t mind this?


And you remember you said that lots of other people and children came to your house.   Were your parents snobbish in any way, did they have any kind of rule about who you might or might not associate with?


Not at all everybody was treated in the same way and was this the same in their own social life in the village?  Were they friendly to everyone?

Yes, I know all the ladies and I know all their troubles and all that you know.   I know exactly who to enquire about and don’t think I am boasting, but I am actually, you know, I am interested in people, are you?

Oh yes I am, very, I am obliged to be!  Do you think your parents were unusual in their attitude to all the different social classes? At that time?

Yes, perhaps, but you see…..

Was it something about the community of Wivenhoe that made them all.

Well, it was something about our business you see.   We had everybody in, you see.   When I tell you, you don’t know Fingringhoe do you, it’s over the river, Rowhedge is over that side, Elmstead is there and Alresford is there.   Well do you know people used to come from all these places to buy those heavy farm boots from Poppa.   Sometimes he was open until ten or eleven at night on Saturday nights.  He knew them all.   Very often people would, even now, you know talk to me about my father.   From those outlandish places because there was a ferry to Rowhedge and a ferry to Fingringhoe and they used to call him Mr Chamberlain I can remember, with the Essex accent, you see.

Can you tell me about when you first went to school.   How old were you, for example?

I should think I was about 5 and I went to the village school, down the road.   One of my relatives was the teacher there, and I created, and called out “I want my Aunt Jenny” and they had to put me in her room.

Was the school quite small, what sort of size was it?

It was only the Infants School, the Girls School was next door.   That Girls School was a most marvellous school.   There was the most marvellous woman there, the headmistress.   I have never seen anybody like her in all my experience of hundreds of teachers I have seen.   When we were in the top class, you know, we used to do English, equal to “O” level English and “A” level English.   In the top class because they didn’t leave until they were fourteen.   But my friend Win and I, there was no Grammar or High School for us to go to then, if you were bright you had to go to the Pupil/Teacher Centre and get some education there in preparation for being a teacher.   Well, when we had been up there a year, every day we went you know, oh we had to pass an exam to get there, Win and I.   In the end we were there 3 years during which time it became a High School you see.

The Pupil/Teacher Centre became a High School?

It is where the Rep is now.   They have broken up all the little rooms and made it into a big room, but that is where we went.   There was an Art School there too, I remember.

What age would you have been when you went there.

Well I was asking Win last night and she said she thought we were 12.   There was no 11+ you see.   Actually those exams were called Scholarship exams in those days.   There was one for the boys and they could go to the Grammar School if they passed it.

But there was no Grammar School for the girls?


So you took this exam and passed on to the Pupil/Teacher centre?

Yes and then they gradually weeded them out you see, if they didn’t like them or if their work wasn’t up to scratch.

How long did you stay there?

3 years and then at the end of that time we became student teachers and went back there one day a week and at the end of that time we went to college.

You were telling me about music in school, I was going to ask you about the very good English that you had.   Can you tell me a bit more about that?   What sort of things you did in your English lessons?

Well I had formal English books, you know and we did things like parsing, and analysis, noun clauses, adjective clauses and adverbial clauses.

Did you enjoy it?

I loved it I was always good at English

Were you?

Yes, were you?

Yes it was one of my best subjects.

It was mine.   I got a distinction for it when I sat for it.

Did you do any literature as well?   I mean reading plays, poems and novels, that sort of thing?

Oh we did poems.

Can you remember any of them?

I can’t at the moment.  I get them mixed up.   I used to do a lot of poetry when I taught children, you know.

Do you remember if you had to learn by heart much?

Oh yes, long passages, you know.

Poetry and prose?

I don’t remember prose, I don’t think we did any prose, well not much anyway.   We had books, I remember we had books with extracts from various prose things.

When you recited, did you ever recite in chorus, group recitation?

I don’t think we did, but she was really very good – at speech, you know.   We all spoke well when we were doing these things.

Did she think that important, the way you spoke?

Very, very important, yes.

Right through school, even younger girls?


And was she interested in the manners of the girls?

Oh yes, yes.

Did she have much contact with the parents?

Well no, they never had much contact with the parents in Wivenhoe.   There were no parent/teacher associations.

Mr Thomas is nice, is his name Mr Thomas?  He was the………I have taught there.

I have never met him actually.

People say it is quite good but I don’t know myself.   Of course, Stephen will go there in a year’s time.   But why do you think that Wivenhoe didn’t have much to do with the parents?

Well, I don’t think they did anyway.

Did they not? I get the impression that they didn’t –

Because I think that the only time they had anything to do with parents was when the parents came down to complain.

Did this happen much?

Well not in her time.   But I taught here you know, before I retired, but not the last few years because I’d rather be under a headmaster, anyhow.   But there was a headmistress there who just wouldn’t see people.   I only stuck it there because it was where I was living.   I could do the music and I was near my mother, you see.   My mother lived in one of the houses, well her back garden overlooked the playground.   I could see her three or four times a day, you see.   So I stuck it.

Can you give me any idea of your parents date of birth? How much older were they than you?

Oh Poppa was eight years older than Momma.   And I think that I was born when she was about 28.

Just to get back to school again, can you remember anything else about school?  Music perhaps?

Music, my dear.  We used to read from sight!  Tonic Sol fah.   We used to do crowds of two part songs, which was good wasn’t it?   I expect that we did some of those.   This was the Head that was so good at English – she was very good at music too.

Did you sing from sight?

They did, yes.

Did you, yourself?

Yes.  I taught it too, when I was, before I retired I was commended by the Inspector for their wonderful sight reading.

Would you do what they call rhythmic rather than…

Oh no that came in later because I taught that you know.

I am trying to think what sort of dancing it was if it wasn’t folk….

Well, things like the Hollow Tree you see.

Oh yes

And tripping and all that and they always used to have a May Queen there.

Oh did they?                                              

Yes, voted in by the girls.

Did they have a ceremony then?

Yes, and all the maids of honour had to trip, you know.

Did they have a Maypole?

No not a Maypole.

How was the May Queen chosen?

Well she was chosen by popularity with the girls.

Was she always in the top form of the school?

I think she was.  We used to vote on little scraps of paper you see.

Could the whole school vote?


I have never heard of that before, do you think it was common?  To have May Queens in school?

Well they have them still don’t they?

Do they? How interesting.   Because I taught mostly in London and Oxford and I have never come across it.

The other side of Colchester they have them, and they do have May poles there.   There were pictures in the local paper the other day, I forget now where it was (Copford?) or somewhere.

They have the May Pole in the school?

Yes, in the playground it was.

And everyone had a vote did they?


Did the teachers vote too?

 Don’t think so.

And did they dress up?  Tell me something about it.

Oh well, they were just decked out with flowers, you know, and perhaps a crown on their head.

And did they have anything to eat or drink?

Oh no, no, it was in the school session, you see.   But before we went to school on that day the May ladies used to come round to our doors.

Can you tell me about them?

There would be at least 3 and the middle one would stand in a hoop decorated with flowers, and they would be all trimmed up with flowers and they used to knock on the door, you see…shall I sing it to you?

Yes, please do.

“Please remember the May Lady,

My father has gone to sea,

My mother has gone to fetch him,

Please remember me”

And one of them would say “Coo coo, Coo coo” and then, you see, you would give them a penny and they would go away.

How interesting

I am so glad somebody else is interested in these things.

I think it is marvellous.   Well, it’s a vanished life, or do they still do it in Wivenhoe?

No they haven’t done it for years.

When did that stop do you think?

I don’t know

If you have any ideas it would be very interesting to know

No I haven’t

Do you think you know anyone who could give you any idea about it?

What a pity I didn’t ask my friend to come down she might remember the date better than me

It would be interesting to know.   You couldn’t remember when you last heard that?

No I couldn’t

Do you associate it with your very early childhood?

No Listen, have I heard it since I moved back to Wivenhoe, cos I lived in Surrey when I was first married.   I’ve been back in Wivenhoe for 34 years and I did hear it then.

Since you’ve been back?


Can you tell me who the women were who came round?

They were schoolchildren.   They were trying to get some pennies

I see, and did lots of groups go round in threes?

Oh, I don’t know, I expect there were rivals.

Did you ever do it?

Oh no, my father and mother wouldn’t let me do anything like that, or go round carol singing

Why wouldn’t they like that?

Some silly sort of pride, I suppose, going round after pennies.

It was the money thing that they didn’t like?


And there were always 3?  The girls in a threesome?


What sort of flowers were they, garden flowers?

Oh garden flowers, yes

Not wild flowers?

And wild flowers too, yes.   I mean living flowers.

Can you remember any other customs in the school at all, or in the village?

Only when they used to come round on November 5th.   They’d come round then to your door  –

“Do you remember the fifth of November

The Gunpowder plot….” I don’t know what it was they said, but it was all for money.

And would they recite that rhyme then?


And didn’t they say “penny for the guy” like they do now?

No, no, no they didn’t say that.   They had a proper little rhyme that they handed down for hundreds of years, I should think.

It’s a pity its gone

Isn’t it? Yes

And in the school were you taught anything about the history of your village and Essex?

No, no.   As a matter of fact we were taught a lot of hygiene, which one of my daughter-in-laws doesn’t realise yet, about ventilation in bedrooms and things like that.   Oh we were taught a terrific lot of hygiene, and different kinds of foods, you know.

Did you learn things like brushing your teeth, and that sort of thing?

Oh yes, yes.

And how much religion was there in the syllabus?

More than there is now in the schools.   There was either a hymn session every morning or a scripture lesson.   Reading from the Bible.   Oh, we learnt a lot of songs by heart.

What about nature and that kind of thing?  Did you learn nature study?

Not very much, no.   It hadn’t come in then, you see, so much.   I was going to say they did a hell of a lot of needlework (laughter) and I was very bad a needlework.

What sort of things did you make?

We used to have awful things they called ‘specimens’ on bits of calico, you know, that shape, joined together with various kinds of seams, and turned down all the way round….most uninteresting.   And then we used to do horribly uninteresting things like chemises.

Did you use sewing machines at all?


All by hand?

Yes, and I was very bad at that

And did you learn drawing and painting?

Oh yes, quite a lot, yes.

Can you tell me something about it, how a drawing lesson would be.

Never from anything…never from any object.   We were always copying from a copy.

It wasn’t ever something just to make up yourself?


But you used paint?

I believe they did, oh yes, yes but water colours.

From a paint box?

Yes but they’re the hardest to use, aren’t they? I’d never teach that to children below Secondary….below 14, would you?   Do you know anything about painting?

Sorry did you say do I know anything about it?   Water colours are very difficult, I think.   My husband’s rather good at drawing, but he does it all in ink and water, sort of sketching.   And what about modelling did you do any modelling?

No…but in the…oh no we didn’t do plasticine then. No

Nothing with clay?

It wasn’t known, you see, about plasticine and clay in those days.

And then Arithmetic?

Oh we did…..oh, this teacher was marvellous at arithmetic.   Marvellous.   That was one of my favourite subjects, arithmetic, so I got on well with her, you see.

Did you do Algebra and Geometry?


Just Arithmetic?

Yes, and percentages and all that kind of thing.   Oh good gracious, this does make me realise how out of things I am!

How do you mean?

You know, hadn’t thought about it much lately, you know.

Anything else in the syllabus?   Not much nature, you said?

No nature.

You never had anything like beans growing in your classroom, and that kind of thing?   Carrots?

Now, did they?   Oh yes, we used to grow seeds and things, and we had a little box outside where we grew flowers and things like that in there, in the corner of the playground.

But it was more as something extra rather than a lesson?

Oh, it wasn’t a lesson.   Only the monitors were allowed to do that.

Who were the monitors?

Well, the…..kind of head girls, you know.

Were they just in the top form, or were there monitors in every class?

No, just in the top form.

Were there class captains?


Did the monitors have any disciplinary powers?


Did they help the teachers?

Well, tidying cupboards and things like that, you know, but never teaching anything.

And not keeping order, at all?   Not along corridors?

No, no.

Were there any prefects?


Was there any house system?


Do you think that came later in schools?

Oh yes, much later.

Was there no competition in the school, except in the class?

No, there wasn’t, no.

No team of any kind?

No, we used to play rounders sometimes in the playground.

But that would be half the class against the other half, would it?


And did you have open days, at all, or speech days?

No! No.

Your parents had no opportunity to see your school work?


Except what you brought home, I suppose.


What about school reports, did you have those?

I don’t think so.   No, not then, no.

Were your parents interested in your school work?

My parents?  Oh yes, they were.  Very.

They encouraged you a lot?


Did they hear your spelling, for example, and that kind of thing?

Can’t remember.

Did you have to do a lot of spelling, actually?   Learn spelling?

Yes, they did a lot of spelling there, which is very useful, isn’t it?   We did lots of compositions, and I remember that the girls in the class, they used to say to my friend and me, “You only swank using long words in your compositions”.   Isn’t that lovely, don’t you think?

Yes, do you think you had a wider vocabulary than most of the other girls?

Oh yes.

And why was this, do you think?

Well I think it was because of the reading I had done at home, for one thing.   My father was a great one for buying up second-hand things, and he bought up 2 or 3 trunk loads of books, which was pushed up into the attic.   I went up there and….you know, when I was alone, and I found a volume of Shakespeare and I tried to kind of get out the plots in my mind from reading the dialogue, you know, and…I don’t say…I didn’t ever get them outright, but it was a good help to me, wasn’t it, trying to get by myself.

Did your parents read aloud to you at all?

When I was very little, they did.

Tell me some of the games you remember?

Well, the great…it was a gambling game, really, that we used to play, and we never…..all the games I can think of we used to play on the ground.   Beads, the girls used to play and the boys used to play marbles.   Make a hole in the ground…..

This is beads?

Yes.   You’d say “Two up”, perhaps there would be 7 playing – and the first one who got one in the hole would pick up all the beads, and bowl them all up, you see.   And if one went in the hole, she would then clip the other beads in and take them.   And if she didn’t tip them in, she didn’t take them, you see.   I’d say some of the girls got beads with….I don’t know if you’d know what size they’d be would they?   Glass beads, you know, various colours, all the same size.

And did they wear them?

Yes, they would wear them.

Did the girls ever play marbles?

I never did.   The boys used to play, and they used to have a hole in the ground.   I don’t know how they played it.

You don’t remember girls ever playing marbles.


And boys playing beads?


Do you think that marbles were played in the same way that beads were played?

Well now, I don’t think so.   I think they used to have something where one marble hit another, I’m not sure.   Then we used to play hopscotch.   Did you?

Yes, we did.   What type of hopscotch did you play?

Well, we used to mark it on the ground you see.

What did it look like?

It looked like stitches, you know?

In a sort of square pattern?

Yes, and you….oh, first of all you did it with 2 feet and then you did it, hop with one foot, and all sorts of variations like that.

It’s curious you should mention hopscotch because I don’t think I’ve seen hopscotch written around since I’ve been down this part.   I used to see them in London.   Do you think it’s going out of fashion?

Well I haven’t seen it for years, and …..oh, when I came back to work and I taught round here in various schools, I didn’t see any children playing it round here.   We used to play…..all our games we used to play sitting on the ground.   Perhaps there was grass, I don’t know.   “I sent a letter to my love…..”, do you know that one?  “….and on the way I dropped it.   One of you has picked it up and put it in his pocket.   It is you, it isn’t you, it is you” and when you touched the person “it is you”, they immediately got up and chased you, and you tried to get in their place.

Any others?

No, I can’t think of it now, no.

Do you remember any sort of ‘picks’ you know, when you go to see who is going to be ‘on’, or ‘it’ or whatever you call it, and you pick round in a ring saying a rhyme?   Do you know what I mean?

Well, that was more or less that, wasn’t it?   ‘Cos they’d all be sitting in a ring, you see.

Did you play much with balls?

Oh yes, ….we used to play rounders, but we mistakenly called it baseball, peculiarly rough.   I don’t know why.

Did you play with a bat?   A bat to hit the ball with?

Yes, yes.   Or any old bit of wood we could get, you know.   Well, we didn’t have any equipment…..much equipment for playing games at school, we just had to make it up, you see.   And do you know….we were talking about dancing, do you know, I had never…I had quite a lot to do with Folk dancing and all that, and playing for them and all that, you know but I have never come across an Essex folk dance.   Have you ever heard of one?

No I haven’t.

Or an Essex folk song?

Yes, that’s an interesting point.   I asked an old man in Ardleigh if he knew any folk songs and he said no, they’d only sung religious songs when he was a child.   There are no songs that you can remember people singing that you think are peculiarly Essex?

I can’t, no.   I’ve racked my brains and…..let me see now…..certainly no folk dances.   And the folk dance revival didn’t come to Colchester until I was out of College and I was dragged into it because I used to play for them, you see, and I used to go to the classes.   What year would that be….oh about 1914.   1913 or 1914.   But of course I mean, there was dancing…folk dancing all over England, wasn’t there, every year.   But they didn’t come to Essex.   A man came from Devonshire, a headmaster and I think he brought it to Essex.

What did you remember about the food?  Was it the food you had in your own home when you were a child?

Oh yes, talking about puddings, I’ve got to tell you about baked suet puddings, that we had sometimes with gravy instead of Yorkshire.   My word that was a good standby, wasn’t it?

Did you enjoy it?

I don’t know.   I’m afraid I owe my bulk partly to it, though (laughter).   But my mother never used any kind of gravy salt, or anything like that, you know, and of course, I expect it did really taste nice with this pudding.   A very light boiled pudding.

Did she use herbs and garlic, do you know?

Oh she was very fond of garlic.   We used to have garlic in meat puddings, and steak and kidney puddings.   And she used to….we used to grow herbs in the garden, marjoram and thyme and things like that.

Did people who came and had meals with you, did they think of the food as being a bit unusual, having garlic in it?

I don’t think so.

Did other people use garlic at that time?

Well, the only one I can think of was my uncle, the builder, because you see, my mother and her sisters were all brought up in Jersey, you know, and of course they use a lot of garlic in Jersey, and it grows in the commons there, wild.

You asked me where we went for holidays, but my mother and I went to Jersey 2 or 3 times.   My father couldn’t leave the business, you see.   He would go away for a few days on his own sometimes.

What would he do on his holiday then?

Well actually he used to meet his schoolmaster brother from the Midlands and…….I don’t know what they did.   I expect they drank plenty of beer! (laughter) and ate a lot of food, and all the rest of it.

Did they have any sort of sport?   You know, shooting…….?

Well, not on holidays.   My father was very keen on shooting.   And my uncle, the schoolmaster, he was very good at all kinds of sport, quoits and everything like that, you know.   And musical he was.   He was a great man, really.

Can we go back to what you were telling me about your education.   I think we more or less covered all the points we could think of about that school that you went to…you know, the very good school, which was really and Elementary School, wasn’t it?

Yes, that is what it was called, yes.

And then you told me that you left and went to the Pupil/Teacher Centre, is that right?

Yes, well…

In Colchester?

Not as a pupil/teacher.    If you were a bit gifted and clever at school you didn’t get a chance to get a scholarship at the grammar school like there were for boys in those days, but they dragged you into teaching profession, you see.   Well anyhow, we went up there, my friend and I and I suppose we were good, you know, at our work, and after we’d been there two years it became a High School in the old building, but it was called a high school, that’s where the rep. Is now.   And people who weren’t any good were tipped out, then, and the others were kept on….what was it, for a year?..we became student teachers then.

But did you all become student teachers, everyone in that school?

Everybody that was kept on, yes.

So you know it was called a High School?

Oh no, when it was called a High School it was different then.

So when it was called a high school you were still there?


But you continued as a student teacher?

Yes.   We went up to the school one day a week, and we had to specialise in a subject, you see.   I specialised in English.

But before you went out one day a week, how many years were you there?

I think it must have been 3.

That’s what you said last week, I think.   And what sort of difference was there in the kind of schooling you got there from what you got in Wivenhoe?

Oh, well, they were all…….not any of them were general teachers, you see, they all specialised in their own subject, you see.

What subjects did you do there, can you remember?   In those 3 years?

Oh well, I did lots of maths.   Very clever maths teacher we had.   Geography = I wasn’t very good at geography; and history; and science!   We did no end of science.   The laboratory there did experiments and all sorts of things, you know.   We had a good general education there.

Did you have any languages?

Oh, French, yes, not anything else, only French.

Did you enjoy that?

Yes, I loved French.

Did your mother speak French?

A little bit yes, the patois, you know.   But when we went to Jersey all my relations could speak both and …you know, they were very religious and one of them was a local preacher.   He used to go round and preach to the various chapels.   I suppose he preached in the patois, I don’t know.

When you went to the school, the pupil teachers centre, how many of you went out of your year?

Oh, only two

Only you and your friend?

Good gracious, and not any more went for years and years!

Was it considered an honour, then to have gone?

Oh yes, It was like……it was the same as winning a free scholarship to the Grammar School.   We had all our expenses paid, travel fares and books and everything.

Can you remember how you heard that you were going to go?   Can you remember the moment you were told?

I can’t no.   The only thing I can remember was when my son passed his 11+, how I wept.

But when you went to this new school, did you already have it in mind that you knew you were going to be a teacher?   At that stage of your life?

Oh, yes.

When did you first realise you were going to be a teacher?

Well, when we passed the thing, you see, when we passed to go up there.

But I mean, has it ever occurred to you to have any other kind of profession?

No, you couldn’t, my dear, we were very restricted here.   That was the only thing that anybody with brains could do, really.   Because, I mean, there were no jobs for girl secretaries, or even typists and shorthand people then.

And do you think for some time before you went to the school you’d sort of thought that you were going to be a teacher, or didn’t you think much about it until you heard you were passing up to the new school?

Oh, I don’t know.   I know an inspector came down and questioned us and said, “Why do you want to be a teacher?” and my friend gave a very clever answer, she said, “I’m very fond of children”.   I thought, ‘Oh good heavens, what can I say?’ and when he said it to me, I said “My parents wish me to”.   I’d got teachers in my family, you see.

And did you meet girls from lots of different places when you went to this new school?

Oh just round, you know.   Just round Colchester, Copford, Dovercourt and places like….and Clacton.   Oh it was quite….enlarging our acquaintances, you know.

Did you meet in any way different types of girls from what you’d met before?   You know, in class, or anything, or were they much the same?

Well they were a bit more intellectual, anyhow – or intelligent.   Bit more intelligent.

And did you join in any things – activities in the town at all?   Did you join any sort of town societies, Colchester societies, when you were there?

Whilst we were there they had the Colchester Pageant (June 1909).   A marvellous affair directed by Louis Napoleon Parker, (pageant-master,playwright, composer and translator).  It lasted a fortnight, you know, and they had the Castle Park and I was in the fishergirls’ dance.   Oh it was lovely, really, to be in there, you know and have Louis Parker speaking to us through a loud speaker, and all.   But we didn’t….well the only thing we played was tennis, but it was our own Club, you see.

For the school, you mean?


Did you feel that you sort of got to know a new town at all?   I mean did it make any difference to your feeling about Colchester, do you think, going to school in Colchester?

I don’t know, I don’t think so.

You just went to school and then came back again, and that was that, really?

Oh well, there were no pictures to go to then, you see, sometimes we’d go to a party of a girl in Colchester, or something like that.   We went to parties.   And of course, actually during that time I was in….we had a marvellous concert party in Wivenhoe, and I was pianist for that, you see.   I was about 14 then, 14 or 15 and you get a lot of fun in that kind of thing, don’t you?

How did you get to school?

Train.   No other way than train.   And believe me there was something going on in the train going up there, we had awful fun, really.

What did you get for pocket money at that time, do you remember?   Did you get any pocket money?

Oh, I’m sure I did, I can’t remember.

Did you ever earn any money when you were at school?


I remember you said that on the May Day, your parents wouldn’t have liked you to go round like that.   You never had a holiday job, or did a paper round?

No.   Well, children didn’t in those days, you know, going up to school or the grammar school.   They didn’t do it.   They didn’t have a paper round or anything.   No.

And can you tell me how it was when you started being a student teacher?   Did you start teaching in school?

Well, observing a bit and I was teaching down here.

That was at the elementary school here?

I was first of all sent to the Infants and I wouldn’t go.


Because the headmistress at the Infants was a real old cat (laughter).   And they transferred me to the Girls School where I had been before, you see.   I’m afraid I wasn’t a very good teacher then.   I hadn’t lots of confidence in myself, you see.

So how long did you just observe?   Did you start teaching quite soon?

Yes, perhaps a week and then, perhaps, we’d have one lesson, you see, and the headmistress would come and watch us teach.

Would she give you some help in preparing the lesson?

Oh yes, and plenty of criticism afterwards.   Just like having your lessons giving you criticism lesson in the training times.

And then one day a week you went back to school?                                                  


What was it like going back to school for one day?

We were each allowed to do kind of research into the subject we’d chosen, you see, going to the library, and also going to the lectures at the library.   What did they call those?   Extension lectures, you know, University extension lectures.

What university would that have been, then?

I don’t know.

London do you think?

I don’t know.

How often were they held?

Once a week, for a course.

And was there any exam at the end of the course, or anything like that?

I can’t remember.

Can you remember the subject of any of the lectures that you went to?

Writers of the something century….now the century…that was the one where Smollett came in…was that 16th or 17th Century?

I think it is the 17th, actually.

And all the rather questionably moral writers, you know.   They said things so plainly, didn’t they?   Believe me, we loved that (laughter).   We were good little girls, though.

Did you go on your own, or were you taken by a teacher to these?

Oh we went on our own.   It was just down…from where the rep. Is down to the Castle Park.

How old would you have been then.   About 17?  When you came back one day a week as a student teacher?


So for how long did you continue coming back one day a week?

Only for a year.   And then we went to College, you see, to Bishops Stortford.

Can you tell me what it was like there.

Oh, I think it was a Church college, you see, and I was a Nonconformist, so I was not allowed to sleep in the College, much to our enjoyment because we had an annexe about 5 minutes walk from the College – some villas knocked together and believe me, that was a lovely time!   What we did in that time I couldn’t tell you, but anyhow…..You see, if we weren’t at the College they’d say “Oh they’re at the annexe” so nobody quite knew where we were.

And were you quite unchaperoned in your annexe then?

Oh no, there was a very nice lady superintendant.   She was very fond of Win and me.   Used to ask us to her house to….up to her room for tea and all the rest of it.   And she had to tell us off once, she said “You know you girls are…you two girls, I’m very fond of you….”   Don’t think we were wicked, we weren’t.   She said, “But you are going to get me the sack” (laughter)   Because we stayed out late, and we knew a few bank clerks near, you see.

And you used to go out in the evenings with them, did you?

If we could, yes.

And was that really not permitted?

Oh No!   I told you I was nearly….we were both nearly send down the first week we were there because there was a girl who came from a neighbouring village – I think she used to go home for weekends – and she invited us to her house to tea and her brother walked home with us to Bishops Stortford and there was a fearful outcry about that! (laughter)   You just think of that now.   Students having fellows in their bedrooms, don’t they!

Were you punished for having walked home with him, or was there simply a row?

Oh simply a row.

Were you actually ever allowed to go out at night with a young man?

Oh no!   Unless your parents wrote and unless it was your acknowledged boyfriend, you see, and then you were.   We had a most lovely Principal, he had been Senior………….at Cambridge, the Rev Larry Ainsley, and he used to live somewhere near.   Oh, do you know, poor old thing, he used to give us Divinity lectures, and all the girls were doing crochet work or knitting in the back, and if he by any chance should walk from the front of the room to the back, you’d hear a frightful clang of knitting pins falling to the floor.   We thought that was wicked.   Isn’t it funny, you know, the different standards now.   We used to have very nice dramatic performances there, too.   We did “Electra” once – you can’t imagine me as a Grecian chorus lady, posing, can you? (laughter)   And then the staff got up a play once, and I was a cook in it, and…..which was the other one we had?  One of Shakespeare’s….”Twelfth Night”.

Which part did you have in that?

I can’t remember.   Something very unimportant, anyhow.   Whatever was I?   A very small part, I know.   I wasn’t very good on the stage, really.

When you went to the college, did you have many lessons or lectures about education and psychology, that sort of thing?

Oh yes.   We had a most wonderful psychology lecturer.   I’ve still got the notes somewhere and you’ve heard of Sir Luke Fildes, the artist, have you?   Sir Luke Fildes?  Well, it was his niece.   Oh she was marvellous, you know, you just sat spellbound when she started.

Then what other educational things did you have?

Nature study, and English – I was very disappointed in the English mistress because English was my subject and I didn’t like her.   We had very nice music lessons, at which I was the accompanist again.   And what else did we……?   Oh we had some PT, yes, of course we had PT twice a week, you know, in gym slips.

Did you have apparatus and ropes and buck and horse and that kind of thing?

Oh no, no I don’t think so.

What sort of PT was it then?

Well it included dancing, too.   You know, quite ordinary, arms bending and stretching and doing things on the floor and all that kind of thing.   Very similar to what they… had just started, you see….what they do in schools now.

Did you enjoy doing it?


And it was quite new at that time?

I think so, yes.   We’d never done any in the school down here before I went there.   It’s a long time to remember you know.   We had a very nice PT mistress, very……you know, lively and all the rest of it.

How many years were you at Bishops Stortford?


And of those two years how much of the time did you spend teaching in schools?   You know, teaching practice?

I believe we had to do about 6 weeks altogether.

Can you remember anything about those 6 weeks, where you went and what you did?

Yes.   First of all I went to the…..there was a practicing school attached to the college and the headmistress there was, to put it plainly, a bitch.   She was, really.   You know, she’d say to the children that you were teaching “Now children, answer up nicely because I want to give this student a good mark”.   Did you ever know anything so horrible!

How terrible!

Wasn’t it?   To say it to the children, you know.

When you say it was a practice school, it was an ordinary school, was it?  


But simply it received these trainee teachers?

Yes.   And we also went to other schools in Bishops Stortford which were vastly different, you know, especially…you know if you get a mixed school, it was so different, we were treated so differently.

You mean by ‘mixed’, boys and girls?

Yes.   I got a good mark in that, but I didn’t at the practising school.

How many schools did you go to altogether, do you remember?

Two I think, I can’t remember any other.   But, you know, I had my revenge on her.   I went on a PT course Balliol College at North Wales one day and she was up there, all teeth, you know, and came up to me because we were among the lowly and said “Oh this is Miss Jermyn, how are you?”   I said “I’m afraid I don’t remember you”.   I jolly well did remember.   She gave me some miserable times.   So she did lots of the girls, you know.

She was the headmistress of this school, was she?

Yes.   There were one or two assistants and they were very nice, too, and very sympathetic.

What type of school was it?  An elementary school?

Yes, and Church because you see, the college was a Church.

That was something I don’t think I asked you last week, was the Wivenhoe one a church school, too?

No, not when I was there.   Previously I believe it was.

Did you have any contact with the Bishops Stortford College at all?   The Boys school, or wasn’t that there then?

Oh no, my dear, it was on a definitely higher plane than our college.   It was, you know, we were only scrubbing teachers, you see, but they…Do you know somebody who went there then?

Well, my husband was there.

Not in my time of course   There isn’t now.   I don’t think there is now any contact.

Is there not?

No I don’t think so because you see, they are at the other end of Bishops Stortford for one thing.

Did you have any contact with any other sort of institution for boys, or any dances, for example, with a boys college?

Oh no!

Nothing like that at all?

I know they do now, of course, don’t they?

But you didn’t?


Tell me about how you met the bank clerks?

Oh because we passed their digs.   They started off by saying ‘good morning’ and that sort of thing, you see.   One Sunday my friend and I went to Cambridge with two of them, oooh, in fear and trembling.   We went to hear the service at….what’s the college?


In King’s college in the afternoon.   We were terribly frightened we were going to be found out.   There were rumours, you know, but…..

You mean for a whole day you left the college?

Well, I think….yes

But it was quite daring, wasn’t it?

It was.

Weren’t there any check-ups during the day as to what the girls were doing?

Not on Sundays, no.   Because, you see, sometimes the girls’ parents came down and then, at the annexe we always used to make our own teas on Sunday, you know, have a kind of little gathering there, and nobody quite knew where we were, but we didn’t dare to do it more than once.

Did you enjoy it, the day you went to Cambridge?

Oh yes!  Specially the music in King’s College.   Quite near to Cambridge, Bishops Stortford is it?   Quite near by train, you see.

You went by train, did you?

Oh there was no other way, was there.

Did you have bicycles?   When you were in college?

Well one of our friends had a bicycle which we borrowed occasionally but we didn’t……

Boyfriend or girlfriend?

Girlfriend.   And we didn’t bother to take our own bicycles, really.

But you had one of your own at home did you?

Oh yes, always had a bicycle.   And then you could ride along lovely country roads and smell the carnations…the pinks in the gardens, which you couldn’t do now, could you?

And did the bank clerks write letters to you?

No, no, no I don’t remember, anyhow.

And when you left the training college, where did you go after that?

Well I was sent to a most awful school near Southend.

How old would you have been then?   I’m just trying to think what the date would have been, when you left your college.


You left in 1913?

Yes, and I was….the Essex….jobs were scarce then, you know, and then sent me to Southend.   Oh, no, first of all I went to Elmstead for a few months, on uncertified pay, and then they sent me to Southend to a place called Eastwood, just outside Southend.   Oh, what a school!   Full of dirty gypsies.

How were you on uncertified pay?

Because it was the only job I could get for a few weeks, you see, ‘til they found this other one for me.

Can you remember what the pay was?

Oh, very little, and when I went to Eastwood, I had to pay digs out of it.   It was 30/-d a week, or a bit less, perhaps.

You mean that was your pay, and you had to pay digs out of that?     


What were your digs like?

Lovely, I was lodging with a market gardener and his wife, a childless couple, and they……oh, they made an awful fuss of me, you know.   They got a piano….

You mean they got a piano specially for you?

No, they’d got one there and because I could play they liked me all the better for that….and, I mean, she was such a dear, she even used to wash my hair and all that kind of thing for me, you know.

Did she feed you?

Yes.   They didn’t have meals at the schools then.

Did you have all your meals at her home?


Was the food nice?

Very nice

Was it similar sort of food to what you’d been used to?


And were her manners and ways like you were used to?

Well yes, you know.    She used to let me have my friends there to tea, and I got friendly with some maiden ladies in the place and they used to…we used to walk into Westcliff to the Dicken’s Society’s performances, you know, and walk back in the dark.   Dear, oh dear.

How far was that?

Three miles.   And I was terrified because it was a bungalow I slept in and I was afraid to open my window at night because of all these gypsies about, you know.

Were there a great many gypsies about?

There was a gypsy encampment about a mile from where I was lodging.

And did all the gypsy children go to this school?

Yes, all that couldn’t get out of it, you know.   They used to come to school in frock coats, you know, and old coats that somebody had given them.   Poor little boys about 10 looked like men, you know.

What did the girls wear?

Can’t remember.

Did you find this very difficult, this job?

Oh well, it was, yes, but I got round to it, you know.

What class did you have?

I can’t remember.

You were in charge of a whole form?

Oh yes.

And to teach them everything?

Yes.  There was one very nice teacher there, a maiden lady.   They were all worried about my soul.

Was it a Church of England school, too?

No, but she was….what was she?  Was she a Congregationalist?   I don’t know, but in Southend we looked up some old Jersey relations and…..the man had got a business in London…..they were rather well off…and they were Plymouth Brethren.   Do you know what the Plymouth Brethren are like?

Yes I do.

You mustn’t mention the word ‘tennis’ on Sunday.   And one day, once upon a time the elder boy of the brothers alive went to the bandstand at Westcliff on a Sunday night, it was broadcast all through the….

How many other teachers were there at the school?

Well, I remember two.   One was this very nice lady who occasionally asked me to her house in Westcliff, and the other one was a nice girl, too.   She was organist at the Church – where’s that place where Anne Boleyn used to live (Rochford) near there?

It was about 3 miles out of Eastwood.   I know I cycled there one morning to hear her playing the organ at Church and that kind of thing.   I used to come home when I could afford it.

How often could you get home?

Well perhaps once a month.

Did you get any extra money from your home at all, or did you just live on your salary?

Oh I used to live on my salary.   My dear, it was good money in those days.   You don’t realise that, do you?

This was the job where you were certified pay?

Yes.   People would say to me, “You’re earning terrifically good money, aren’t you?”

Yes, I suppose you were, especially comparing you with other girls.

And men.   Not many working men were earning 30/-d a week.

When you went back to Wivenhoe, did you keep up with your old friends that you’d had at school, or had you not had many friends beside your…..?

Oh yes, we were all friendly, you know.   And also, I mean, the other friends in Colchester and other places, they used to come to Wivenhoe, especially the Brightlingsea girls.   They’d come to Wivenhoe and, you know, have a jolly good high tea and go for walks and all that kind of thing.

You didn’t feel that you grew apart from them by going away?

Oh no.

And the fact that you’d had more education than your old schoolfellows, though?

Oh well, most of them, you see had,….I’m thinking about the Brightlingsea girls…..they had the same as I had, except college.

I see, they’d been at the school with you?

Why hadn’t they gone on to the college?

Possibly because their parents couldn’t afford it and they’d got to earn money.   They didn’t get grants then, you know.

Your parents had to pay your training college fees?

Yes, they weren’t very heavy, but for every distinction you got in Preliminary Certificate, as they called it, they took £5 off the fees.

Did you get any distinctions?

Yes.   I always got English and Music.   My parents weren’t very well off, you know, it was a ….well, I mean, you’ve got to keep a girl in clothes, haven’t you, too, you see.   Some of my friends were children of big families.

When you started working, did you feel very different?   I mean from the fact that you were supporting yourself.   Can you remember having say different feelings or opinions about life and that sort of thing?

No, I didn’t, no.   I kept longing to be home again and my mother longed for me to be home and…, she said “I can always keep on making you blouses and things”.   She used to make my clothes very, very cleverly.   Not suits, of course, I used to have a tailor-made suit, occasionally.

You were homesick?


Did you meet types of people that you hadn’t met before?   I remember when I first started teaching it completely changed my acquaintance with society.   I met all sorts of types of people I’d not met before, particularly the children.   I wondered if this happened to you at all, if you felt that….well, there were the gypsy children, you see.

Gypsy children and the kind spinsters who were so nice to me, but, you know, nothing very exciting.   But I didn’t stay there very long.   No when did I go?   In the October.   I think I was only at Elmstead a month and then I applied for a post in Colchester.

But after you went to Elmstead, you went to Southend, didn’t you?


And how long were you at Southend?

Only til the February.

February 1914 would that be?


So that was how many months?

Oh, 4 or 5.

Did you leave that post earlier than you’d intended to leave it, because of the gypsies?

No, I was dying to get out of it all the time.   You see, I applied to Colchester and they took me on at once.

You wanted to get back to your home area, was that why?

Well, all my friends were round there.   Because, I mean, I did…..they had got a hockey club at Eastwood and I played once or twice for them, you know, but…you know, it wasn’t quite the same.   And then I got this post and I was sent to a school in Colchester that’s the Wilson Marriage School, do you know it?

I know of it.

It’s up Hythe Hill.   But then it was known as Barrack Street School.   Oh, it was the roughest school in the town.   Oh, but I loved the children there.   There was a lovely headmaster there, and do you know, all the staff were so nice to me because I was the first young teacher that had been there for a long, long time, and it was a mixed staff.

It’s nicer isn’t it?

Oh yes.

And did you have a large class?   How many children?

Oh, I think we had nearly 60.

That was a point I forgot to ask you, actually, about Southend and Elmstead.   Can you remember, roughly speaking, the size of the classes you had there?

Oh well, Elmstead there wasn’t…..there weren’t many, about 30, I should think.   I can’t remember Southend.   All I can remember is the smell of the gypsies.

What did you feel about the gypsies, actually?

I felt sorry for them.   Oh, do you know, it’s an extraordinary thing, there was one nice little girl there called Gladys Farrer.   She was the daughter of a farmer.   Rather a delicate girl, she was, and do you know what – how many years ago?  She must have been over 40, she came to see me one day at Wivenhoe when I was in with

Transcription of Taped Conversation Ends

Additional Notes:

1.  Mrs Etta Dan’s father was Philip Chamberlain. He was born around 1855. Etta was born in 1891. Her Mother was born in Jersey.  Etta married in 1925 to Frederick Harry Dan in a Church in Epsom. She later returned to Wivenhoe where she became a teacher at the school in Phillip Road. It seems she lived in a house in Queens Road before eventually living in Belle Vue Road. She and Fred (as he was known locally) enjoyed a long marriage together; Fred died in 1972 and Etta two years later in 1974.

2.   Mrs Etta Dan’s son, Philip Dan, said that his grandfather was a ‘flamboyant Liberal and Radical’.   Most of the people with whom he did business were Tories and there were hot arguments in the pub about politics.   At election time his grandfather would be very active transporting people to the polls in his pony and trap.   He always cast his vote but his grandson was not sure if he was a member of the Liberal Party.   He was at one time a Freemason but because of his Liberal activities this became an uncomfortable position for him and he was ‘black-balled’.   At one time his shop was painted blue.   But he did not have pressure put on him by the yacht skippers for whom he did a lot of work, to vote Conservative or moderate his activities, as far as Philip Dan knows.

Philip Dan said that his grandmother, Mrs Etta Dan’s mother had no time for party politics and was an ardent Royalist.











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