Interviewed by Peter Ruffles (PR) Jean Riddell (Purkis) (JR)
Transcribed by Jean Riddell (Purkis)
Hertford Oral History Group
Recording no: O2001.18
Interviewee: May Barron neé Joys (MB)
Date: 5th November 2000
Venue: 12 Brebnall Lane, Baslow, Nr Bakewell, Derbyshire
Interviewers: Peter Ruffles (PR), Jean Riddell (JR)
Transcriber: Jean Riddell (Purkis)
Typed by: Freda Joshua
************** unclear recording
[discussion] untranscribed material
italics editor’s notes
May’s unbridled enthusiasm for the interview prevents proper introduction. She started her memories on the doorstep!
JR: I’ll take this chance to say to the tape that we’re at the home of May Barron nee Joys [then May comes in and produces a photo of people involved with St Andrew’s Hertford, and gives a lot of names]. George Dutton, Maisie, Mr Ginn, Dan Dye, Norman Smith, Natty Gardner, Bartholomuz, Herbert Finch, Philip Turnbull, David Bickerton, Mr Thorne, Bertie Hobbes, the Stocks, Pam Rogers/Lambert, the Moults, Charlie Pettit
JR: We just want to start at the beginning. Earliest memories, were you born in the town?
MB: No, I was born in Buckinghamshire. We came to Hertford, can’t remember the actual dates, but my mother was saying my father was going to volunteer as war broke out, but he got taken to the Royal Arms Factory at Enfield Lock. Then he had an accident, broke his leg, taken to hospital at the Powder Mills, Waltham Abbey, and he was there until the end of the war. When he thought he was going to volunteer, he’d given up his job in a gentleman’s service, one of the Crofts, and we went to stay with one of mother’s sisters at Waltham Abbey. I can remember my uncle bringing in an incendiary bomb, he’d been on watch, and my mother and aunt were scared stiff and he was dousing it with water out in the back yard. I can remember 2 people with placards, the one that took my fancy, I must have been about 2, because I always remember saying it Old Moore’s Almanac, tell you when the war will end
JR: When were you born?
MB: July 1913 in Langley Buckinghamshire. Moved up to Waltham Abbey and then, my granddad died in Harlow in 1916 and it was somewhere about that time we moved to Hertford, and my first real memory, Garratts Mill. Our cottage was this side of it, right opposite the hospital and we used to go into the mill when the Zeppelins were coming.
JR: There was a Zeppelin which dropped some bombs just outside there. From what you’re saying it must have been just before your time there?
MB: I should think so because I don’t think anybody was killed in Hertford after we got there. I remember – it was fear- something terrible might happen. My mother was very, very calm. I remember us going into the mill. I don’t remember my father being there so he must have been on night work and I can remember my mother telling me not to be afraid of the Germans, Jesus was looking after us.
Another thing I can remember round about 1916, I was in a nativity play at St Andrew’s, and there was a Reverend Rees Phillips, he was a curate I think and he’d got a son named Rees, and he was a cherub and I was a baby angel. One afternoon there was an air-raid warning, it must have been a dress rehearsal because there was a frantic rush to get the wings, and they were beautiful wings – a frame and material, and I remember mother cutting white crepe paper and stitching it on in bunches and we were rushing round getting home before the Zeppelins came. And I can clearly see my mother, she’d got me in her arms and I can see the full moon and the Zeppelins.
JR: Was that St Nicholas Hall then?
MB: Yes, when it came to the performance I hadn’t seen some of the children made up with black faces and I started to cry and Mrs Scott, the Blessed Virgin Mary, somebody came and said, ‘the baby angel’s crying’ and someone said, ‘Oh, take her to Mary’ and I was sitting on her lap. ‘When the curtains part you look down there you’ll see your mummy.’
PR: That’s an antique shop now, May, that St Nicholas Hall, the whole of the hall and stage and shop at the front, Beckwiths, have gone.
MB: They used to be on Bull Plain.
PR: Old Cross.
MB: Well I can remember something about Beckwiths – I heard Mum say it – the chest of drawers that she’d got and to get them up the stairs at the cottage, he’d cut them in half, but my grandmother who’d been brought up at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, the Marquis of Cholmondeley’s home – she’d got beautiful antique mahogany and he couldn’t cut those, it’d be a sin. And I remember Hugmans and Higgins.
PR: That’s right. Hugman was the pork butcher.
JR: Who was Higgins?
PR: Mrs Higgins was a greengrocer.
MB: They lived this side then there was Mrs Hattam and I can remember what we heard about her, Mrs Gardner told my mother that after Mrs Hattam had died, she kept a little sweet shop with sherbert dabs and people said, ‘I don’t know how she makes a living’ and she told Mrs Gardner on her death bed that the Reverend Evans had been allowing her so much a week, ‘but if I ever hear you’ve told anybody, it’ll be stopped.’
PR: That’s the other side of those stories.
JB: And his brother or brother-in-law was Bishop of St David’s Cathedral in Wales. Years ago, when my husband was alive, we went to Wales and visited St David’s Cathedral and saw the window in his memory which says ‘to the Glory of God and in memory of Harry ‘something’ Evans, friend and benefactor of this cathedral’ so his generosity was widespread. And then Rees Phillips – they must have lived along the North Road on the opposite side to where we lived and I can remember playing in a sandpit in the garden with the little boy. One day I saw the account of the death of the Rev Rees Phillips – it must have been the son, 2 or 3 years ago.
PR: It was the right age, was it, it tied up? We can look him up because we’ve got all of the St Andrew’s Parish Magazines.
MB: Then I remember the Armistice when the war was over, my cousin living at Datchworth, his father was out in the Dardenelles and he came over to my home, meeting me out of school with a new Uncle Jack.
JR: Can you remember anything about the War Memorial being built?
MB: I remember the service, it would be in 1919 when it was dedicated.
JR: 1921 it was, you’d be about 7 or 8?
MB: I was born in 1913. I remember being with my mother and all the crowd of people and seeing that.
JR: But can you tell me whether the last building which was where the memorial was sited they had to demolish some buildings, the rumour is that one of the buildings stayed up during the first commemorative service in 1921 when it was dedicated, right next to it and it was draped with Union Jacks. Do you remember a building draped with Union Jacks?
PR: I think it was Nightingales, the hairdressers.
MB: I remember the name, were they on that side of the road?
PR: They were right in the middle where the War Memorial was built and I think it was his house and his privy that he wouldn’t go out of and it stood for a long time after the War Memorial was built. He got a hairdressers shop towards the Green Dragon. So you remember the crowd?
MB: I remember the War Memorial there and the Town Hall and we were half-way in the crowd. She had to pick me up to let me have a look.
JR: It’s being re-dedicated this following Wednesday. There will be an equally big crowd and a lot of speeches and a lunch afterwards, and after that they’re going to write a little book about people’s memories, so I wondered if there was anything particular.
MB: No, I can’t think of anything other than what I’ve said. I’ll go on to mention Simsons, the printers. I was at work there with Phyllis’s father [Phyllis Ince, later Phyllis Halls].
PR: Oh yes.
MB: The next thing I can remember, Earls the butchers, and I remember them suggesting there was a big ceremony where the Prince of Wales was coming, anything to do with the hospital [this was the laying of a foundation stone in 1922 for a new hospital wing]. Earls the butcher said to my mother, ‘what are you going to do about it, you’re in an ideal position. You could let your bedroom windows, for a start I’ll have one and my brother will have the other’.
And then it ended up with a stand being built in our garden. I remember seeing the men there with wood, making this stand, and when it happened it was a Victoria Cross in the war that the prince had known and it was right opposite where we lived. As we were looking, the men were all standing in line, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, was facing us talking to this soldier he’d been with in Flanders.
JR: Was he a local man, the VC?
MB: I don’t know
[This could have been Corporal Burt who was awarded the VC in World War I. He lived in Wellington Street]
JR: What number was your house?
MB: No.18 North Road. It had been a block, I don’t know if it had been one house, it was divided into 4 and ours was the largest. There was Walfords next door and at the back there was Brace and I forget the other name. It was through that man working at Enfield Lock, and he knew the house was empty and we were looking for somewhere. We were still living with an aunt and he got the cottage for us.
PR: Was it thatched?
MB: Yes, right opposite the hospital. Is it still there?
PR: No, it’s gone (shows a picture). That’s as it was in a much earlier time. I don’t remember it looking as big as that.
MB: The people next door, I remember them. A Mrs Bullock lived there, and I know a lady who had lived there, she was supposed to be a relation to somebody in the royal family. I can’t remember her name but she was very starchy and I remember going along the pavement with my grandma and my grandmother always taught me to be polite and I’d got a hoop and she pulled me up and said, ‘Little girl, be careful what you do with that hoop.
[Transcriber’s note: the thatched house was the old miller’s house before the next one (still there) was built about 1820. The lady referred to was Miss Erica Robertson, later Mrs Henry Daniell, who had royal connections]
PR: Walfords, there are 2 Walford girls, they were quite rough really.
MB: They were, they used to row and upset my mother. One woman, I can’t remember what the family was – an old couple and then a married son, but the younger one used to come to mother and knock on the door and ask her for money to feed the children, and one day (at) the Cold Bath, there was the pram with the 2 children in it and the mother was inside and I went back and told my mother what I’d seen so she said, ‘Oh, thank you for telling me that’, so instead of giving her half-a-crown or whatever she’d given her before, the next time she came she gave her a jug of soup [which she’d made from a sheep’s head], ‘There you are, put plenty of veg in that and make some dumplings and you’ll have some good nourishing food for your children’ and when she’d gone she said, ‘She won’t take that to the Cold Bath and spend it!’
PR: Evelyn [nee Walls] is still living in the cottages opposite where her mother used to live opposite the Old Oak. There was a long row of cottages in Hertingfordbury Road [opposite Warehams Lane] and Evelyn still lives there at No.26.
MB: How old would she be?
PR: 84 I think.
MB: I’m 88 now.
PR: Yes, but she said, ‘Do tell her I remember her father fixing up some planks outside the house on the day the Prince of Wales came to open the County Hospital!’
MB: And there was some Belgian lady there, I’m sure somebody who’d won some award or something. And then there was Daisy Livings who was in my class at school.
PR: There are Livings around town now, there was Les Livings.
MB: There was Pavitts Yard wasn’t there? What was the people who lived down there? He was in the choir, went to work at Longmores in the end.
MB: He won the sweepstake and they said he fainted when he heard, £30,000, and he went down in a faint (referring back to Pavitts), was he Fitkin? I remember a carnival, he had a cage with monkeys.
PR: Your memory’s superb.
MB: Well, I can remember things my mother told me when I was 3!
JR: Well, he apparently had a kind of menagerie down there.
PR: That’s Evelyn at her front door.
MB: Oh, she married.
PR: Yes, twice. And that’s my grandparents – that’s in a little book if you haven’t seen it. It’s one of Jean’s books, it’s called A Three-Acre Triangle. It’s about North Crescent so you’ve got some picture of various bits, Waters Garage. I’ll leave that with you.
MB: My family will be pleased to see that.
PR: And while we’re doing a commercial, there’s another one that Jean has done about the Courts and Yards, there’s a bit about Pavitts Yard in there.
JR: You can read about the Fitkins in there.
MB: The Wacketts! Yes, they had a bicycle shop.
JR: Do you remember Gladys Wackett?
MB: Gladys, yes I do. She ran the Sunday school. By the way, I mentioned in the letter about Dad and Mum and I giving a lectern with a plate on it.
PR: Yes, that’s right.
MB: Yes and of course Dad’s name is on the Church Warden list.
PR: Yes with George Ditton.
MB: Darton as well. We were the top 3 bright children at the school, there was Fred Darton and me and Ernest North. I remember Polly Rutter, I remember the poems the boys used to make up. She always favoured the boys over the girls. I remember her being down on me. One of the boys had borrowed my rubber –‘give me my rubber’ – and to speak a word after she’d stopped, I had to stay back after the others went home after school, and she gave me a lecture, ‘What would the Rector think of you if he knew how you’d spoke’, and then when I left I couldn’t do anything wrong. She was always saying, ‘May Joys didn’t do that when she was here’.
JR: Just heard you say your name - is it pronounced Joyz? (Yes) A chap called John Kemp wanted to be remembered to you.
MB: Oh yes, well, he was working at County Hall and I was still at the library. He didn’t look old enough to be a work, he was about 16 and he was that high and the next time I met him he was so high (Pause). Memories of Pound Days at the hospital, I can remember 13 men dressed in green, hand bells, a superstition fete in the Castle grounds, and they had a ladder at the gateway and if you walked under the ladder you went in free, but if you didn’t you had to pay. I remember Peggy Darton, she’d been away to a home down in Devon for training, and who was the blind man who had a home down there in the war?
JR: Leonard Cheshire?
MB: The name’s gone. Anyway, she’d gone there for training, she was absolutely marvellous because she knew where she was by smell and everything. And I can remember Maidenhead Street, remember being outside Woolworths, crowds of people, and she was waiting for somebody and she said, ‘Oh, here she comes now’, I said, ‘How do you know?’ and she heard her go round the end counter in Woolworths, she picked up her footsteps and she knew by the smell of the shop which shop she was in and I remember them coming to visit us, and the brother, when we were living in Ware. She came to the door and mother was in the kitchen cutting up runner beans and she said, ‘Oh, you’re doing runner beans Mrs Joyz’, I said, ‘how do you know?’ She said, ‘I can smell them.’
PR: She’s got quite bad arthritis as well as no vision, she’s so aware of things. She just had her 80th birthday last month.
MB: I know she’s a good bit younger than me. The last time I saw her she was in hospital. I was staying with Vera in Ware and she was going to visit her and she said, ‘Would you like to come?’ And as we went in and went down the ward she said to Vera, ‘There’s somebody else with you’ and I just said, ’Hello, Peggy, how are you?’, ‘Oh, it’s May’ and when I gave her my parcel she went ‘Ferrera Roche, oh my favourites’.
PR: I went to her wedding at St Andrew’s, she made a not very happy marriage. Her son now keeps an eye on her. She lives in Bengeo, Gosselin Road, near the church.
MB: Vera’s still (inaudible) – she works for the blind. All this started: I hadn’t seen Vera since Ernest had died, ‘cos he was Harry’s best man, yes I had, they came to my 80th birthday party which was in our church rooms. I thought it was a family get-together, probably in a hotel, and Joy had come down from Scotland with her husband and 2 sons. The morning came and she said, ‘Are you going to get changed?’ And I said, ‘What, now?’ And she said, ‘We’re changing’. And they took me to Chatsworth, I thought, ‘What’s to change for – sitting by the side of the river, playing with the children’, came back from Chatsworth and instead of coming straight down here we went round the church. My son had said, ‘I’d tried to see you but it’s a working day’. We drove in the churchyard there stood my son all dressed up in his best suit. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ So he said, ‘Don’t ask questions, just come here’. Went into the church rooms, balloons at the door – 80 Today – and the room was crammed full of people, and people coming in behind me and Ernest and Vera were 2 of them. They’d been staying at Matlock over the weekend. I’ve still got the top of the cake which my daughter-in-law had done (And David had 50th as well).
And then there was the excitement when a cormorant was on the steeple at St Andrew’s. I can remember walking down St Andrew Street and groups of people standing and looking up at the steeple. I couldn’t tell you the date but it was obviously well before I was 18. There was a photograph of it in the Mercury. Have you heard about that?
PR: No I haven’t.
JR: It was well before your time, though.
MB: And then another thing I remember was the Sunday School Treat. Going – now, which park would it be? Is it Lord Desborough that is there?
MB: Well, I remember we used to go on double-decker buses and the Mothers’ Union had gone ahead and done all the refreshments and I remember the boys in the choir were very respectful towards the Rector, but when we went to the Sunday School Treat, they loved to bury him in the hay. And then, of course, Phyllis’s illness, has she told you about that, when she was a child? I can’t remember what it was she had. She’d be… I’m 88, what would she be?
MB: If I was 11, she’d be about 4. Her mother wouldn’t have let me take her out in the push chair if I was that young and I can remember the 2 mothers discussing it. She’d been to the doctor and it was some blood disorder and the doctor had told her mother to get some raw liver and mince it up and get it down her.
JR: Anaemia then.
MB: And then, when she was getting better, I remember taking her out in a push chair, meeting the Rector and him stopping and talking and on one occasion he bent down and gave her a kiss and she said to him, ‘Aren’t you going to kiss May as well Rector?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘When May was a little girl I used to give her a kiss, but she’s a big girl now’.
Then, first job, 14, went to Simsons because they wanted a good reader. Mr Ince was the one that checked it as it came off the printer, in the compositor’s room, and I used to have to read from the copy, he used to check it for errors and then it went back into the compositor’s room. At that time when he was doing the checking and I had nothing to do, I was practising my shorthand which I was doing at evening classes. I was there about 2 years. Oh, I didn’t mention Miss Turnbull, the headmistress.
PR: Oh yes, (my) next door neighbour.
MB: Philip – I’ve got his last letter in my bureau, after he’d had a stroke.
PR: Well Jean used to write to him as well, didn’t you Jean? (Yes).
MB: It was really funny because I used to say he was my first boyfriend when we were about 10. And I can remember there was a bank up where the rectory now is, when the rectory was farther along and it was covered with netting and we used to put letters behind it for one another, and some of the children found it one day and they poked fun at us.
JR: That would have been nice to know earlier on!
MB: And then he didn’t like it, he was nervous, so when some of these boys were about – he didn’t do it very hard, but he punched me on the back to let them see…
PR: … you weren’t his girlfriend!
MB: And when he died, I wrote to his niece and said he was a lifelong friend, in fact he was my first boyfriend. And then I come to the big thing about St Theodore (sic). I think that was partly due to Reverend Evans giving money for geologists to work in the Castle grounds. There’s a stone there, would that be the stone that was put there in commemoration of it or was that the stone that was unearthed?
JR: There’s still a stone there commemorating the synod of 673 but I don’t think the stone was found there [the Theodore referred to was the Bishop in 673].
MB: Oh, that was the one that was put there at that time. I remember hearing that the Rev Evans paid a lot for that work to be done.
[Transcriber’s note: Rev Harry Evans was leading a small dig in the Castle grounds where the removal of a large tree had revealed some ancient foundations. Money ran out and it was left exposed and crazy-paved and is still there today]
MB: They’ve obviously still got that pennant which is carried before the Mayor and Corporation.
PR: Oh yes.
MB: I don’t remember the details because I was only a child, but they applied to be called the Royal Borough and they said there was only the one in the country that had that, but the Honor, I’d be about 10 at that time [it was 1925] being told about it and then we had to go all the children went down to the ceremony when it was presented and all the dignities from London came down. That was the big thing that I remember. Of course, when we got back to school we had to write an essay about it.
JR: You might like to look at that, that’s the actual picture in 1925, the York Herald bringing the Honor, that’d be the one you remember.
MB: Oh yes, I was somewhere in the vicinity of that, Yes, of course. Look at the hats! Oh yes, the Blue-Coat School, Christs Hospital, I remember about that as well. And Miss Turnbull’s niece had been there.
PR: Yes, that’s right, she had, Edith’s daughter.
MB: What a lovely book. What was the cafe and restaurant here somewhere? [Fore Street]
MB: Nice cakes.
PR: Not Thora Blake’s family?
MB: I remember John’s shop because I was friendly with the Johns family.
PR: I don’t know whether my mother was at school when you were – Gwen George.
MB: Yes, that was your mother?
PR: I didn’t know if your dates were about right. We were trying to work it out in the car.
MB: I think she went to school, I remember she went to Sunday School anyway.
PR: She did go to St Andrews but I can’t think what year she was born in. She’d be a bit younger than you, about 3 years. But next door was Miss Turnbull and Philip next door but one, and I still live in that same house.
MB: The last time I saw Miss Turnbull David was about 5, Joy was 3 and I belonged to the Baslow WI at that time and they wanted a representative to go down to the Albert Hall for Baslow and Chatsworth and my mother-in-law put my name forward and she’d look after David [muddled and incoherent, but it seems that Joy stayed with a priest’s family as she was their god-child] for the 5 days I was away at the Albert Hall.
Tape 1 Ends
PR: What was she like as a head teacher, was she –
MB: I always think she used to rather favour me. Miss Rutter was down like a ton of coals on me. She probably brought me on quite a lot, made me work. There was Miss Selway, we were going over Hartham to play games and we were going 2 and 2, the child I was walking with said something or I said something and she gave me a push off the path and I got punished for that – sent back to school, see Miss Turnbull and she’d give me something to do to punish me. When I got back I told her what happened and I was doing some embroidery in needlework classes on a dress for her, so she sent me off and I remember sitting under the trees, it was a hot day, doing this embroidery. It couldn’t have been anything better for me, I’d much rather do embroidery than go down to play netball.
PR: But she got you making her garments did she?
JR: I don’t think that’s the first time I’ve heard that, making things for the Head Mistress. I think she did have people making things for her on a regular basis.
MB: Well, I enjoyed it.
JR: What about Miss Hornby, do you remember her?
MB: Oh yes, the infants. Oh, I was the bane of her life. My grandmother was living with us by the time I started school and she taught me a lot. When I was very tiny she taught me the alphabet, started to read and times table. When Miss Hornby was teaching us the 3-times table, I could do the 6. But I was always, ‘Please, teacher, my grandma’s taught me that!’ and she said, ‘Oh, you and your grandma’. And Miss Row – she was one who was a bit sharp. I’d been a naughty girl and I was kept back for punishment and I was getting worried what my mother would say, so I put my hand up and I said, ‘Please, teacher, I’ve got a headache’, she said, ‘I should think so too the way you’ve been sitting there frowning!’ So that’s the school.
Of course, we used to love it when the Rector came. We had a curtain between 2 rooms and I was more interested in what he was saying than what I was supposed to be doing. When I moved up into his class, he was asking the children – prevailing intercession – and he was asking the children what it meant and I’d heard him before and he told my mother that he went all round the class and none of them knew and I’d got my hand up. He didn’t want to ask me and upset me if I wouldn’t know, and then I was the only one left and he said to my mother, ‘To my profound astonishment, she knew the right answer. What I want to know is, how did she know’
Have you heard the story about getting locked in the church? This was when I was still in Hertford. I was about 16 by then, before the war one summer evening and as we were going out mother said, ‘We’ll pop in the church before we go back, there was something special in the magazine that she wanted to send to a person in Langley where we used to live, she was in the Mothers Union as well. We went in the church and it was getting dark, Mum got the magazine – she said, ‘Let’s pop down to the Lady Chapel for a minute’, then all of a sudden she said, ‘we might get locked in’ and the outer door was locked. And Dad didn’t know where we’d gone, oh dear, what could we do. Mum said, ‘Don’t panic’. I said ‘We should have put all the lights on’ then I said, ‘You could ring the bell, Mum’ [mother was a bell ringer’s daughter]. Mum said, ‘Go to the door and rattle the handle’, she pulled for a minute or 2 and there was no sound and then it got going, dong, dong, dong and after a few minutes there was a voice, ‘is anybody there?’. I said, ‘We’re locked in, Mr Bassett [verger]’, the answer came, ‘Well, I’m not Mr Bassett but I’ll go and get the key’ and he was the taxi driver opposite.
PR: Mr Godfrey.
MB: We had a good laugh over that. Anyway, in 1928 I saw an advert in the Mercury, they wanted an assistant in the County Library. I got an interview but there was a man, Wayford from Bengeo, and he was working downstairs in the public library, and he was interviewed the same time as me and he got the job, but they kept my name and 6 months later I was offered the job by Mr Pickard, the County Librarian.
In those days people used to say he looked like Jesus, you didn’t see people with long hair in those days. I said he didn’t because he’d got cold eyes. But he was an Englishman, he’d been out to the Middle East in World War I and got converted to Islam. I got the job – 7/6d a week after 5/- at Simsons. We were all fascinated with this man who went and said he prayers every 5 minutes. And he’d got a section of the library curtained off during Ramadan, a green curtain, and he’d got his prayer mat and he used to go down and during Ramadan he used to have to be there before sunrise and not go home until after sunset because he couldn’t have the companionship of his wife during those hours. It was a bit of a novelty at first, and there was Wayford the boy from Bengeo and there was Geoff Freestone and Edna Jackson, she was then, then she was Pritlove, then she married McClare and she was there before me and I was the extra.
And we used to get up to some awful pranks. One day, we’d been saying our tea is always cold and Iris Wheeler, she came from Hoddesdon, chief assistant, she said, ‘I’ll tell you why your tea’s always cold, because he always insists saying a lengthy prayer for grace’. So we said, ’we don’t want him saying grace for our tea, we want it hot’. ‘Oh well, you tell him’. So next time she tells him that we’re objecting to him saying the grace –‘How am I to know that’s true?’. So she said, ‘I’ll go and fetch them in to you’. So she fetched us all in and I see him there [tap, tap, tap] ‘How many Gods do you believe in?’ So we said ‘one’ So he said, ‘I believe in one God, you believe in one God, so why do you object to my saying prayers?’ So Wayford said, ‘Oh come off it. You know we’re Christians, and you’re not’. ‘I know you’re a lot of infidels. There is only 1 God, Allah, Mohammed was his prophet and Jesus was a prophet but only a prophet’.
I remember at that stage (I said) ‘Jesus Christ is God’. He dismissed us, I don’t know how long we were there. Iris came out and said’ ‘there’s no more tea if we can’t let him say prayers’. Went home and told my mother and she said, ‘Oh, we’ll get over that, I’ll make it in a flask’. Whether he got wind of that or not, but we were all in the workroom together and we’d just got our tea poured out and there was one on the table where we used to unpack books and he comes walking in, ‘What’s this? Coffee. Coffee?’ and sloshed it on the floor and Geoff Freestone was moaning because it was all over his shoes and Ray says, ‘If you come near me, old boy, I’ll wallop you’.
[Then some sensitive material which has been omitted]
PR: Did your mother outlive your father in the end?
MB: No, Mum was 6 years older than Dad, it’s funny, I was 7 years older than my husband. Mum died 1960, Dad lived another 12 years.
PR: So he lived to quite a good age then.
MB: Yes, I’ve beaten him, he was 87. We went to church at midnight. My in-laws sat up with him but on New Year’s Day, when he was 87.
PR: I saw Geoffrey Freestone a fortnight ago. He came up for Kath Wench’s 80th birthday, from Devon, to St Albans. That’s where she had her 80th birthday. Kath married Doug Wench whereas Geoffrey married Eileen Wench.
MB: I was friendly with all the family. We provided one another with bridesmaids, godparents, best man. I was an only child and Eileen was like a sister to me.
PR: And the Hayters next door, did you - ?
MB: Oh yes, remember them.
PR: That was a good little road round there, and the Cranes.
MB: Everybody was friends together.
PR: Nora Crane and Rosie Crane, did you know?
MB: Was there a brother?
PR: Yes, lots of brothers. They lived in the same little bit as the Wenches in Sele Road, the cul-de-sac.
MB: Oh yes, I remember those houses being built. That’s another thing I remember – going across the field, Irene Tyler and her brothers, there was an iron bridge across the railway line and it was chalked up, Trevor Skerman loves May Joys. We were about 11 at the time. There was a tree and it was a lovely tree for a girl to climb and one of the boys had gone up to the top, a rag on top and that was our flag. When he jumped down you were going on the bottom of the sea, There were the Turners, Biddy Turner, my first real boyfriend was Ted Mason. What happened to him?
PR: Where were they living at the time?
MB: They were up in Bengeo.
PR: I’ve got him in one of the roads off Ware Road, Raynham Street.
MB: His name was Edward James Ruskin Mason, so she’d been a Ruskin – tall, dark woman. Then there was Johnson, the butchers, he was my first real boyfriend – Tommy Johnson. He committed suicide, didn’t he?
PR: Yes, Bruce is about still.
MB: And then there was Jack and the girls – Eileen and ?
JR: How did you meet your husband?
MB: Well, it was through the war. He was from Baslow, but he was brought up in Yorkshire, he went to Coburn High School in Leeds. His father-in-law (sic) had taken a lease on the old mill to work horse hair, the wheel that was there used to pull the horse hair. He’d been made bankrupt and he come and started a business down there. And then the war came and Harry was working for Standard Telephone and Cables at the time and he got sent down south. They were putting in this cable, London to Cambridge.
We had evacuees, we had some from Hastings and finally the son of the engineer that was doing this job was looking for digs and mother took him in. He was the first man we had, we’d had children. He was collecting any fences or gates that were made of metal for the war effort. This fellow come and he didn’t like going into houses for digs then take the gate away. He came with us for a bit and then we had a boy from London, then eventually these people from Standard Telephones. Harry told me since it was early 1940 when Hitler was invading Norway, he’d been told we didn’t have anybody and people had been taken in from his firm before. Mum didn’t want to take him in, we’d only got a spare bedroom. It was Rainsford Road, Ware and next door neighbours, the Longs, did you know the Longs?
PR: Well, did they come to Hertford?
MB: No. He was about 7 and I was 21, he was invited to our home for my birthday party. And I remember his mother telling my mother afterwards, that he’d said when he grew up he’d like to marry Miss Joys. I’ve heard recently that he’s still going strong.
MB: We’d be in our garden and see this Mrs ??, but in conversation mother found out that she’d gone to school with her in Harlow. They were living in Ware, somewhere along Baldock Street, they were jewellers. It was about 5 or 6 weeks before my 21st birthday and Mum was talking about dishes for trifles and she said, ‘Oh I can bring dishes along’ and when she came she brought dishes and Mum said, ‘oh I wouldn’t want to use that in case I break it’, she said, ’I’m not lending this one, it’s a present for her 21st’, it would be 1934.
PR: When your dad was church warden with George Ditton, was he living in Ware, Rainsford Road, then?
JR: You said you were 18 when you went to Ware – 1931?
MB: I was born in 1913, that’s right, 1931.
PR: And he retained that loyalty to St Andrews even though you’d moved on.
MB: Oh yes. We went to St Mary’s for 8 o’clock communion and we’d catch the bus and go to St Andrews for 11.
PR: I can remember at Evensong sometimes – that would have been a bus ride. He never drove a car?
MB: We never had a car.
PR: Did he get on with George Ditton all right?
MB: He didn’t have a lot to do with him, just meetings and that.
PR: George was very much in command of things, the boss.
MB: Dad was a very quiet man, it was Smith saying that he chose Dad because he was a very humble man.
PR: Norman Smith.
JR: So that’s after 1943.
MB: He used to come over to Ware to see us. Arthur Budge came as well, remember him?
PR: No I don’t.
MB: I’ve got one (photo) of dear old Natty wearing his beretta and one of Bartholomuz. I’ll show you something that is one of my real treasures. I had it rebound, this is what he gave me for my confirmation, his writing there. I’ve put that in that place and it’s stayed there ever since
PR: SMJ [Sarah May Joys] confirmed 1927, 24th March, NT Gardner, Nathaniel Thomas.
MB: And I can remember when David Bickerton came and we had a party in St Nicholas Hall and the Rector said he knew straight away that he was the right one for St Andrews, ‘he’s the boy for St Andrews’. And I can see him making the speech now and he quoted the Bible, ‘Nathan said unto David, thou art the man’
JR: It was Nathan wasn’t it, not Nathaniel.
PR: I think it was Nathaniel, but perhaps it was Nathan Thomas – yes, Nathan Thomas, they just called him Natty, didn’t they. What was accommodation like in the thatched cottage?
MB: Well, ours was a peculiar one. It went down to the river at the back – tributary of the Lea.
PR: The Beane.
MB: The Beane. Reverend Evans, he had it running through his garden. In our house it was 3 storey, sitting room at the front and Mum and Dad’s bedroom, then another one on top which they moved into after my grandmother came and gave her the best room. My little bedroom was over the top of the stairs. There was a door at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom. I remember one summer evening when I’d been put to bed and there was a porch with white jasmine over, there was little seats, Mum and Dad out there talking and all of a sudden I appeared downstairs. ‘You go back to bed straight away!’.
PR: So did you share the front door?
MB: No, ours was quite separate and then Walfords that side, the yard dropped down and the Brace and ?
PR: I can remember it getting dilapidated. I wondered about daily living there, was it dark?
MB: Well ours wasn’t too bad (change of subject!). There was another one in our choir and his father was the hangman.
PR: Yes, Barker.
MB: Bob Barker, father used to work with him at Enfield Lock. And I remember quite well on Old Cross, with the butcher’s shop at the side. I remember coming along there with my dad and Dad suddenly saying, ‘that man over there, he’s a hangman’ and the next minute he came across the road and started talking to Dad.
PR: Well, we’ll have to go.
MB: Would you like a drink before you go?
PR: No, no, it’s been wonderful.
MB: I shall remember half-a-dozen things when you’ve gone.
PR: Well you’re a good letter writer so you can scribble things down. Are we going to leave May these forms? You could do those and pop them in the post one day.
END OF RECORDING