|Transcript Title||Barber, James (O1995.18)|
|Interviewee||James Barber (JB)|
|Interviewer||Peter Ruffles (PR)|
|Transcriber by||Jean Riddell Purkis updated 2018 by Susie Hunt|
Hertford Oral History Group
Recording no: O 1995.18
Interviewees: James Barber (JB)
Date: 25th September 1995
Venue: Old Cross Wharf
Interviewer: Peter Ruffles (PR)
Transcribed by: Jean Riddell Purkis updated 2018 by Susie Hunt
************** = unclear recording
Italics = transcribers notes
[discussion] = untranscribed material
PR: This is Peter Ruffles in the sitting in the most wonderful part in the centre of Hertford that quite a few people come to but not absolutely everyone who goes shopping for buns and cakes and things the town really knows about. It is a shop but its a beautifully tucked away shop not on the street exactly where it was until fairly recently but now withdrawn into this wonderful little hide away “The Yard”, Old Cross Wharf.
James Barber is in front of me. He’s perched on a step ladder sort of thing and I’m sitting in a chair in the corner of the shop part of it which is really smartened up version of what you left on the street scene… how many years ago on the corner of St Andrew Street?
JB: Oh seven years ago.
PR: Ah Seven years ago! Smells the same though!
JB: Very similar
PR: But the whole complex of Barbers is here and its really the first business we’ve visited from oral history looking at a business point of view, and its the obvious first place to come. We’ve talked James to all sorts of old people about memories, domestic life that sort of thing. We’ve talked to people like Evelyn Lacey and Dr Mortis who are associated with Hertford County Hospital.
JB: Of course Evelyn Lacey is my cousin.
PR: Yes, and she has referred to you or your brother Peter once or twice in her little talk some years back but we’ve never really thought business and if we’re going to talk businesses really this business is one that has been going for a long time.
JB: It was established by my great grandfather in 1875 and it started off with him. He’d come up from Sussex to be a representative for the firm of Edmund Illott who at that time had the Town Mill on Mill Bridge which was water driven mill, had turbine which drove all its machinery and er he lost his first wife she died and he married a widow lady who had the Station Tavern down by the old original Hertford East Passenger Station.
PR: Ah, still there the…
JB: No the old Hertford Hertford East Passenger Station was what you would have known, Peter, as Hertford East Goods Station, remember? On the corner there.
PR: It used to be The Albion pub and there still is the Great Eastern
JB: Yes but this was another one The Railway Tavern and you’ll find there are three or four houses on that site now. At the back of the tavern there were some sheds and that’s where John Barber, my great grandfather set up his business. That migrated erm I think that was the basis of the business until he was succeeded by my grandfather who had the yard which you will remember in Castle Street. Perhaps you remember it best as Express Dairies right but…
PR: Water Hall Dairies
JB: Yes even Water Hall Dairies but before Water Hall Dairies had it that was my grandfather’s place where he was at the beginning of the century. Right the way through the ’14 -’18 and up until the early, late ‘40s that was still part of John Barbers then. That had in the grounds of it the octagonal Gate Tower and in the archway they had a vine which my grandmother used to make buckets of very good white wine from!
PR: Aah yes! Evelyn Lacey when she was talking about the time the flying doodle bug thing came into the mill was talking about someone going down to look at some chickens erm in Castle Street didn’t quite get to the chicken coop but had she done so she would have been killed by something that flew across at that time.
JB: Quite possible I mean you’re coming ahead a bit.
PR: Ah well she took shelter and had she been in the place she had said to the family she was going which was down to look at the chickens she would have been a goner. Anyway that’s another chapter another angle but at least when she mentioned Castle Street, I thought where does she mean in Castle Street so now we know.
JB: Well anyway that building has now been demolished and there are a range of offices cum domestic accommodation there running at right angles to the curtain wall of the castle. Now er I’m not quite sure the time when my father or grandfather got hold of the property, but we also had a property where Lloyds Bank currently is in Railway Street that must have been in the family usage fairly early on because in fact my uncle Jack lived in a tall thin house with his wife and that building was very interesting because it was originally in the roughest area of Hertford. It was the area called the Gaol I think.
PR: The Green
JB: The Green I beg your pardon. It was situated in the neighbourhood now where Bircherley Green development is and because it was so rough they actually had a detachment of militia based in this yard and in the yard there was a guardhouse for the officers of the militia company, stabling for the horses and a barrack room for the militia men and even a lock up with five cells in it for the miscreants who were apprehended by the militia, so you see Hertford must have been not a great deal quieter then. We complain about it being noisy now but perhaps it was quite as noisy in, I suppose, the mid-1800’s when this was used as a militia barracks.
Anyway we stayed there. - they’d left. - this was my grandfather’s was using it as a mill and grain store and conducting a large part of his business from there. We had also moved into with my grandfather to selling coal and er at that time we had another yard adjacent to the Dicker Mill by the er railway track which you may remember which used to run from Hertford East Station to Hertford Great Northern Station. I mean these are things which are practically forgotten now. That used to cut across the river by the swimming pool and the line used to run under the Port Hill Road and round to the present North Station in a big loop.
PR: Part of that may well be a cycle cum walkway
PR: So the coal yard was on - lead us down towards the Dicker Mill with the East Station behind us.
JB: Ok well you will recollect that just before you get to the canal basin on your left there used to be a level crossing. On the right hand side was Barbers Yard.
PR: So on the corner as the road Mill Road became Mead Lane I suppose.
JB: And it was leased from LNER originally. Anyway these were recollections which I don’t have first hand these are hearsay recollections because I wasn’t around. Erm, but I will give you some sort of background as to what was the activities of the company. Then in the late ‘30s about the same time as I arrived we incorporated the present premises we are working in in the company erm from a takeover of the existing business of C A Adams and Son and Co who ran a similar sort of business but more to do with grain trading than anything else. They used to import grain up the river and at that time of day.
PR: Outside this window as we sit.
JB: That’s right - the wharf’s just the other side of the window we are sitting by. And erm you wouldn’t believe it but I mean at that time of day it was cheaper to import a variety called Cavalier Barley from Canada than it was to produce it in the farmland which was then predominated adjacent to this town. You then had on the other side of the premises of Old Cross Wharf another aspect of the Barber activities which was my father had opened in the ‘20s taken a shop selling pet food and garden sundries.
And I think in he museum you have a photograph of the shop as it was when it was freshly opened. If you haven’t I have one which you can have. That was a shop which previously had belonged to a family called Wigginton who were high class grocers and the reason why there there several firms of high class grocers in Hertford was because the town was surrounded by big country houses and these high class grocers supplied what was called the carriage trade and hey vied with one another to supply the big country houses. I would think you had a better selection of grocery purveyors and butchers and every other sort of wine shops and consumables then than you have now.
PR: Yes, undoubtedly!
JB: Anyway, so we had the background of the buildings that we and our occupation up to that date. Father had started selling fertilisers. That’s my father Tom Barber erm my grandfather I didn’t mention he was John Barber as my great great grandfather. Sorry getting names wrong! We had John Barber great great grandfather, Major Tom Barber who was my grandfather and Tom Barber who was my father.
PR: Right - two Toms.
JB: Major Tom Barber had been a long standing member of Hertford Borough Council and was latterly an Alderman of the town and had been two or three times Mayor of the town and I think one of his major claims to fame was he was responsible for the supply of decent drinking water to the town in the early 1900s. A supply which I think is still piped into this area of the town, and is second to none.
Now to come back to myself I was born in Hertford. I was born in the shop that I was describing to you at 2 St Andrews Street which was previously in the family Wigginton and I was born actually at Hertford County Hospital but while my family were living in the shop er the accommodation above the shop.
I was schooled initially at the primary school at St Josephs Convent which was then down St Johns Street - a funny little aside there, we had in those days our last remaining horseman who drove a cart a two wheeled cart pulled by a Suffolk Punch and Albert used to be coming past the end of St John Street very often when I came out of school and I think the health and safety people would have had the horrors if they had seen what I used to do which was run up to the end of the street across the road too meet Albert and he wouldn’t stop his cart. I would stand on the spoke of the cart - the big wooden spoke of the cart as it was going round and this would act as a lift to take me up onto the cart and you’d slip over the top of the cart into the compartment where Albert was and he would give me the reins of the cart and I would drive the cart down South Street, at the end of Railway Street to South Street - at that time of day you could turn right down Fore Street because Fore Street was the main A414 the main East-West Road and I would drive the horse and cart down there to the War Memorial round the War Memorial and back to Old Cross Wharf where that cart and horse were kept and help Albert to put the horse to bed and clean the tackle.
PR: Well that’s an extremely valuable tracing. Old Cross Wharf of course we ought to remind people is to be found and its a wonderful wonderful entrance because you need to approach the public library from Old Cross.
On the left hand of the Library is the road to Bengeo and on the right hand is what is a cul-de-sac terminating really in the yard. What about the lovely details. I’ve taken a picture or two without your permission earlier of the buildings, I mean how old are these buildings around a sort of courtyard?
JB: The buildings were in I think I’m right in saying are the last remaining malting in the Lee or Start Valleys which are still being used for anything approaching to their proper use, their intended use I should say. They, I don’t know their dates, but I guess that the main section which you passed as you are in the gate on your right hand side which runs at right angles to the river is dated about 1800 or thereabouts. It’s brick.
PR: Was it built for Adam?
Transcribers Note: John Carter Adams who was the brewer before Baker and in 1920’s McMullens bought Bakers brewery at Old Cross, next to Old Cross House.
JB: I don’t know the history of it. Adams had it for some while. They also had Old Cross House which is now occupied by McMullens as part of their premises and office buildings and Adams house Old Cross House was in fact he yard owners property erm and as you say subsequently it became the er surgery of Mr Hoare the dentist.
PR: Sorry I deflected you a little bit. We are coming along the buildings which are behind us in fact at right angles to the river 1800.
Transcribers Note: John C Adams was brewing before Baker took over, but he was a tenant of Baker.
JB: 1800 yes very interesting because they are brick principally and they have a - originally had a - tiled roof, the tiled roof on the West side was completed stripped by the doodlebug which you mentioned merely having I think it was my Grandmother (laughs) as well as a good many others that. I’d better come back to that because We’ll keep with the buildings. But the so on that face its got asbestos sheeting but on the inside its still the pintails of the original roof, but it’s an interesting roof because on the bottom floor its got 9 thirty-foot timber beams supported by originally 9 stanchions. Its now got 27 stanchions because I put a further 18 on that floor to help support the floor when we began using this particular set of premises more intensively. On the next floor up there’s 9 forty foot beams and those, the additional 10 foot is cantilevered out into the yard to give a sort of sheltered area and above that you’ve got a mansard roof which is presently used as a hay loft, but the two lower floors, the ground floor and the first floor were definitely. Set up to be used as a malting - malting floors - Now I don’t know how much people know about malting but you could make a complete subject about that and I am sure that in your researches you will get hold of Guy Horlock.
PR: Yes, he’s talking to the friends of the museum soon so we must record him.
JB: He knows a lot more about malting than I do but I am sure if I manage to get to the meeting I’ll be able to prompt him into some of his recollections. Then at right angles to that, running alongside the river you’ve got a section which I think is about 1820 which is feather edge boarding, or weather boarding I should say which is tarred and then abutting onto that again you’ve got another section and L-shaped section which are store rooms on two levels which is slate and boarded roof and very substantially constructed which runs more or less North East alongside the river and then at right angles or near enough at the end of about 70 yards of frontage. So that’s the buildings we are working out of and I am talking of currently. Now over the course of time when my grandfather died we disposed as part of the estate of Castle Street we my father sold the coal business.
PR: This coal business …remember in St Andrew Street next shop up near St Andrews Church.
JB: Carrington’s sold it off to Carringtons in the early ‘50s no late ‘50s. My father had had a rather unfortunate experience I think both in staffing and in the integrity of the staff, and he decided he had had enough and er disposed of the coal business. We decided it was stupid to split our interests between two lots of stores in the town. It was becoming increasingly difficult to work her loading vehicles, partly at one end of the town and partly at the other. So we disposed of railway street, 43 Railway Street, in the mid-‘60s and we then concentrated. This is how the extra stanchions got put into the floor at Old Cross because we concentrated all our efforts here and we were busy maximising the use of one set of premises. It’s worked quite well. In fact we should have done what we did in the early ‘80s late ‘80s I beg your pardon, when we closed our shop on Old Cross at 2 St Andrews Street and brought everything over here. Because we would have done better to have consolidated everything, in hindsight. Having said that I forgot to tell you in our expansionist age we had actually had a shop which had previously belonged to John Page in Ware.
PR: Oh yes, a lovely little shop from the outside; I went in there once or twice. Why I was shopping in Ware I don’t know.
JB: Coming back to myself and my recollections,
PR: That stayed though until you about the same time as this last consolidation did it, the Ware Shop? When did that go?
JB: When my brother stopped working with us. About the same time as Peter, my elder brother came out of the business and went into teaching, your profession Peter.
PR: Yes, misguided chap that he was (they laugh) and that shop we ought to say was on the St Mary’s Church side of the High Street down towards St Mary’s.
JB: 86 High Street.
PR: Anyway can we just do one more building In my little romantic poetry master’s way as much as anything in this yard I love that squary…
JB: Oh the office Ok the gas light was preserved. If you recollect Hertford was supplied with Town Gas until the mid-‘70s.
PR: Yes I can’t remember when North Sea Gas came in. It probably was mid-‘70s
JB: And the gas company or National Gas or whatever it was called then undertook to convert all existing gas appliances too North Sea gas. Do you remember? Well though we haven’t got electricity you will find it hard to believe, there are occasions when in emergency a gas mantle light gives a very good light so I insisted that they converted that to North Sea Gas as well but I mean it must be what much of a date with the start of our family’s interest in Hertford. All right in other words in the mid-1800s.
PR: When Town Gas first got piped through and that building is 1800s isn’t it?
JB: Oh I think so, the little office. In fact there were two of them. This property was in the family of the estate of the Gascoyne Cecil family and there was another yard which you will recollect was Hertford Haulage Yard where Mc Mullens now have their car park and in the corner of that adjacent to Nicolas Lane which I the right of way which runs down parallel with the main building I was describing to you first here and is in fact, an interesting point, the only free wharfage as well as a right of way so if anybody wanted to come up here with a barge and unload it they could unload it off Nicholas Lane.
PR: Its important to note yes.
JB: Yes, because you recollect I told you some while ago that it er was nearly appropriated some while ago and one of the last acts of the Hertford Borough Council was to maintain the right of way.
PR: Because there is one land owner around here who could very easily swamp and annex if it was neglected deliberately or by chance, but that marker needs to be put down. It’s a very important line since it also marks the position of the ford, the original ford of Hertford.
JB: I just mention it in passing.
Transcribers Note: In the later C19 the corporation became confused about the 2 old churches. St Mary and St Nicholas. Nicolas Lane should have been St Mary’s Lane, but it was noted St Nicholas by mistake.
PR: Now James, lets just do one more on business before we come on to you because I think the reason I am so pleased you’ve given us the time to talk that it is not just that it is an ancient business and a family business that has been passed down the line which in itself is remarkable but it typifies so much else that has been in Hertford, ie being the County Town being the pull the magnet for people from the country because of the nature of the business. As we talk many of your customers do in 1995 come in to this spot and it helps to maintain the economy of Hertford by being the draw that you are.
JB: The whole purpose of the County Town always was and its er so of so many of these country towns they were market towns - that’s the primary importance of the town like Hertford. It was and is a market town. The market is much decreased now but in the day when my grandfather was around it wasn’t only a market town but it was also the railhead and not only a railhead but with Lee navigation it was an important in land port because we’ve got it on record that 100 ton sailing barges came up as far as Old Cross Wharf here and in fact further up to the town mill on Mill Bridge and to Nicholls Maltings which you recollect?
PR: Oh yes in…
JB: No! Nicholls maltings originally was just the other side of the river from Town Mill. Demolished by the doodlebug or V1
PR: I was wondering if anything ever got as far as Nicholls backed on to the river.
JB: No you’re right I’ve made a mistake but I mean you’ll recollect that the residue there was the brewery tap which was.
Transcribers Note: This was literally next to Mill Bridge and although destroyed was rebuilt
PR: It was Wickham’s Ales the brewery tap for their brewing. Yes.
JB: Now that - so not only was it a railhead but a head of navigation and inland port but its whole purpose of being there was as a centre for the adjacent countryside with it sort of drew people in from half a day or a day’s journey ion radius and without even today without that sort of attraction the town dies and I am afraid that the current authorities seem to have lost the fact in their planning that vehicular traffic, and it was vehicular traffic even if it was horse drawn, was essential to the prosperity and well being of this town.
PR: Yes! We’ll have to direct our listeners to the correspondence copies of the er recent edition of the Mercury when that point is made because of yes more changes really affecting the access to this particular set of premises but er the town generally. A big issue that may not be properly addressed. So, your childhood was spent right at the hub of the town as well, high up presiding over Old Cross.
JB: Our flat was a spacious flat above the shop quite an interesting place because it er was an Elizabethan building basically and Queen Anne brickwork modernisation I suppose you call it and of course being Elizabethan it had been chopped around a good deal. In fact you say that the library, the present library is adjacent to where we are now - the previous town library was in fact in those buildings. In the prior to Wickhams having 2 St Andrews Street the town library was in 2 St Andrews Street so whilst it is a very interesting building its been chopped an changed a great deal before I came to live in it.
It’s full of nooks and crannies and yes I can remember despite the fact that the A414 the main East-West road not only ran across down Fore Street and underneath the clock but also over Mill Bridge and up St Andrews Street. I can remember that it was so relatively traffic free that my mother used to be able to put me outside by the big Doric front door of the flat in a large nanny-pram to take the air. You wouldn’t dare do it now, let alone from the fumes from what have you from the vehicles but can you imagine leaving a child unattended on the street.
PR: Now, your mother wasn’t a Hertford person was she, far from it?
JB: No, my mother was originally from Milan and she came over here in the early 1920s with her mother who had a dressmaking business up St Andrew Street opposite Beckwiths. Now for the life of me I can’t remember the number of the street but so we moved a dreadful long way. My father was born and brought up in Castle Street. My mother when she arrived in England was resident in St Andrew Street so you see the family are very mobile!
PR: Mmm! Yes! (laughs) She gave you a kick start as it were with new blood from another quarter and um so your father just spotted her did he? In the street as it were.
JB: I’m not sure how they met and I do know that my father had a earlier romance with a young French lady who was the daughter of an army doctor who my grandfather had made friends with in the ’14-’18 war. Now what happened then I am not sure but I do know that my father who was a very keen sportsman, both a swimmer and tennis despite the fact that he was er largely disabled because of early trouble with his ears.
PR: And a musician?
JB: And a musician yes I’d forgotten to mention that but any way dad had been quite a globetrotter on a small scale in as far as he used to go over and play tennis tournaments in Brittany and he was quite a fluent linguist, he could speak French very well and Italian to obviously because he took and interest in my other’s language.
PR: Were there any memorable moments as it were on the street scene? In the doodlebug you were too young for were you.
JB: No I wasn’t too young for - the doodlebug I can’t remember whether one could actually - I mean we used to spend um quite I think one of the most original - one of the most, the earliest thing I can remember happening was you could, talking about the wartime was the Dunkirk smoke which you could see from Hertford when then were burning the oil stores at Dunkirk prior to the evacuation. Subsequent to that there was a fire at Simpson Pimm the paper merchants. Right. Now…
PR: Now let’s get the Simpson Pimms and the Simpson Shands right. Simpson Pimm is St Andrew Street about No 30 I should think?
JB: Yes, and at that time the Drill Hall - this was in the middle of the war time - and the Territorial Army Barracks were stuffed with ammunition. I remember my elder brother who was Peter and who is 5 years older and who must have been just on his very early teens went up to help move ammunition because it was there was grave danger if the fire had spread of the centre of Hertford being blown up, not by enemy action but by the fact that it was an ammunition dump.
PR: Yes, good gracious
JB: And I can remember watching that fire from the window of our attic with my mother.
PR: Did the attic window look along the rooftops?
JB: Looked up North West along St Andrew Street. You’ve got, you’re talking about the doodlebug, well we used to spend quite time in the early war because sheltering from the bombing in the cellar of the premises whether we would have been any more secure there than any other part of the house is doubtful but that’s what we did and I can remember cowering there listening to all the enemy planes acc-acc explosions but one of the most unnerving experiences in the wartime, and I don’t know if you recollect this Peter, but was to her the doodlebugs coming over.
Doodlebugs were the German V1 weapon which was a pulse jet and it made a noise something like this “woomerwooomerwoomer” as the pulse operated and it would travel about 500 miles an hour which meant that it was rather faster than any of the current or as fast as any of the current fighters - fighter planes - and it had a nasty habit of going along and when it ran out of fuel the engine would just stop and sometimes it would drop out of the sky like a brick and other times it would just float on, glide on for several miles before hitting the ground. As these things carried about a ton of explosive it made a hell of a bang when it hit the ground and you had the situation where you listened for these damned things, doodlebugs, and the engine cut out and you were on tenterhooks until the darned thing hit the ground. Well one Sunday morning we didn’t even hear the doodlebug coming. Normally we would get air raid warnings.
PR: Yes I remember those, I can’t remember the sound of the doodlebugs, ~I can remember people being frightened of it in my family but I don’t actually recall the sound, but the innards turning at the sound of the siren was bad enough.
JB: Anyway on this particular occasion there was no warning. We were all in bed and I had forgotten to tell you that we had evacuated with us a French husband and wife - the husband in fact was a white Russian domiciled in France, but he was part of the free French naval intelligence and his name was Waldi Rikoski, Waldi and Madelaine appeared on our doorstep, billeted on us by the billeting officer and they stayed with us. They arrived in the early1940s and they were billeted with us and stayed with us as friends really right the way through the war and Waldi used to go up to Westminster near erm the Buckingham Palace Stables. I can’t remember the exact name adjacent to the old area called Stag Court. And you’ll find on the wall of a building there “These were the offices of the free French Naval Forces”. Right?
Anyway he was very close. He wouldn’t tell us what he did. He used to go to the office. He came back with Naval rum ration which was quite a good clue! Anyway Waldi was with us, Waldi and Madelaine, were with us when the doodlebug landed as well as my father, mother and elder brother but what was going to say was with the Rikoskis we had a family called the Markowicz who were Czech, Jewish Czech, and the Markowicz stayed with us just a short while. I can’t remember anything else about them. Anyway the day of the doodlebug started with a huge explosion
The doodle bug landed in the Mill Cut, the overflow from the turbine of Town Mill fortunately for everybody in the centre of Hertford because the river took a lot of the impact of the explosion and so we were saved completely from having the centre of Hertford demolished - anyway can we stop for a moment because I’ve got to lock up. How are we doing?
PR: Well we are at the end of that side James. Can you give me another five minutes after you’ve locked up.
JB: But of course.
PR: Well James has gone to lock up the various buildings around the yard and I’ll stay here. The big delivery lorry has just pulled up to he door. You may have heard it? And the sun has gone in and this late September afternoon from sunshine………
JB: I’ve just covered up some feed which was in an open cart shed - they’re usually quite good except when it gets very windy and the rain is flying around, so you just cover the things up that are in the front.
PR: And lots of other people have gone home. They were buzzing about the yard doing their various jobs and er we are just the two of us. So doodlebug??
JB: So we were rudely awoken by the doodlebug and there were clouds and clouds of dust because the old buildings adjacent were and are mostly still standing, Elizabethan and Medieval late Medieval buildings and the dust of ages was disturbed by this great explosion. Town Mill largely survived, much surprising actually when you realise how close it was to the impact centre. Largely because it was a timber framed building with weatherboarding
PR: Percy Illott had written about that hasn’t he, a poem I think yes.
JB: That’s right. The office survived very nearly in tact. The Castle Cinema which was on the site of the Castle Hall now also survived in tact. The Nicholls, the fruiterer, was largely destroyed by the explosion, that was on the bridge. As was Dixons which was just on the edge of the west side of the bridge. The Brewery Tap and Wickhams was largely destroyed and Wickhams brewery in fact was the head of the ARP.
PR: One of the company girls was in three that night on duty I think
JB: Now for the benefit of our listeners what was the ARP.
PR: Oh yes, Air Raid Patrol. But was it Air Raid Patrol? I think it must be
(Air Raid Precautions)
JB: But anyway they were one of the civil defence services which was established in the 1939 war period. Anyway as the dust cleared we sort of fell out of bed to find out what had happened. Surprisingly I think there were very few people injured despite the bomb landing on the centre of the town and we certainly had no injuries in our family. The buildings being basically timber framed had flexed with the explosion so the corridor down the centre of the building and the sides of the corridor had concertinered and gone back not quite to their original shape. Erm the bulk of the roof was stripped that was the tile roof was stripped.
And I can remember that my brother and I (laughs) were so patriotic - it sounds laughable today perhaps - through the dust we found a union jack which we, on a flag staff. We had quite a lot of decorations of that sort because the shop had been very decorated in the jubilee. Now we got up on the roof, through the dormer window and stuffed this union jack through the broken tiles into the roof space. We were flying the UNION Jack to show we were still here and Hitler could go home!
PR: A lovely important picture. Yes.
JB: Anyway, the damage was quite extraordinary. There’s a very heavy large oak door, panelled oak door set in the Doric doorway. That was thrown half way up the stairs. I mean the centre of the town was absolutely chaotic. Heaps of tiles everywhere, dust everywhere, and it was months, months before the centre of town and pitifully or property was put to anywhere near rights. It was rather like living on or in the middle of a bomb site. The mess - the first person to get round and start tidying up was Waldi Rikoski! He’d been there before, because he’d been through the Revolution with his father. His father incidentally was an Admiral in the White Russian Fleet, so you know there’s connections.
He, no - my mother and I were sent off to live with my aunt Mabel down the Ware Road who was Eve Lacey’s mother - who you were talking about earlier in this interview and she was the sister of Tom Barber and she had been married to Captain Lacey who had been a dentist whose father had been a dentist. We’re coming back to to Russia, whose father had been a dentist to the Tsars of Russia!
PR: Ooh! Gosh!
JB: It’s really quite extraordinary and of course if you divert a little bit - Have you spoken to many of the families in the town?
PR: Quite a number, yes.
JB: Well you will realise that I am related to the Norris’s and the Garretts. (laughs)
PR: And the Stocks through the Laceys, I’m not sure how.
JB: Can we stop again because I can hear that phone ringing again.
PR: This is one of the difficulties you’ve just been outlining again with talking to people from Hertford. You’ve mentioned your links and they are all well known names but almost anyone you speak to whose been born in the Green or Maidenhead Yard or parts of the centre of Hertford will be related to somebody else who happens to be talking. There’s so may interlinks of the older families
JB: One of the interesting things of course if that you still have in a very mobile society families here in `Hertford who have lived here and had some part in the life of Hertford for several generations. We are I suppose now one of the oldest resident families and…
PR: Certainly special in that you’ve been central to business. Well that’s really good. Um someone will transcribe what we’ve said but not quickly. The policy is to get the tape in and then we can relax a little bit until we persuade someone to sit down with headphones and type out all that we’ve checked. But we don’t hurry them on that. We’ve got the goodies in and that is our harvest.
JB: But I don’t know how much time you’ve got? I can carry on from this point up to the present day.
PR: Yes it would be good to do that particularly trading in anecdotes and people and characters and that sort of thing.
JB: In fact we’ve got an interplay off each other because, Peter you’re a bit younger than I am but we’re not so much of a disparity in age that we don’t help each other in recollection.
PR: As long as we’re remembering that because we understand what we are talking about we must - I think we’ve done that fairly well trying to print out to those who wouldn’t see. When you mention a certain spot I know where you mean.
JB: Some of the things we must remember to come back to on the business side, not just family recollections are some of the old ways of doing things which we’ve neglected mention such as the use of four bushel sacks. I mean under present legislation I believe one is not meant to move more than about 25 kilos unaided, right? ie 56lbs imperial - when I was a young man in this business it was normal to carry two and a half hundredweights of wheat, no I tell a lie, two and a quarter hundredweights of wheat, two and a half hundredweight of maize in a 4 bushel sack, two hundredweights of barley or one and three quarter hundredweights of oats because that’s the way a four bushel sack would be filled to bulk out - comparative volumes to weight. Right? Now that was the standard sack which you moved grain around in.
Nowadays grain is largely moved in bulk. It’s very exceptional to have grain in any quantity moved in bags anymore. Heavy sacks like that whilst they were carried by one person were very rarely lifted by one person and you had techniques like “arming” where two people used to link wrists and lean the sack back on their linked wrists and grab hold of bottom end of the sack to lift it up on to the tail of a cart or on to a loading bay or lifted up anyway. There were other techniques which were used to put it on to somebody’s back. Another way you could use was a thing called a sack stick where you got hold of - you had a stick which I suppose….
Do you like measurement in metres or I don’t know…..about two and a half inches wide and about a yard long and you used that to support the back of the sack and you do the same process with that. The there were things like sack lifts which were worked on the principle of a wheel and spindle mechanical advantage but worked on ratchets and there was a metal frame on a wooden carrier, looked rather like a sack barrow, whether our listeners know what a sack barrow is I don’t know. But erm that you could wind up on the ratchet process so that the sack was at shoulder height to go on your back. Subsequently you had hydraulic lifts on lorries to do the same sort of job. These techniques have gone.
PR: Craftsmens’ skills of a kind of workmanship which was no longer needed in that form because of mechanisation and…
JB: But you wonder why the present generation suffers with obesity. They are taking very nearly the same diet or more.
PR: Well you are not suffering from it! Thank you very much indeed.