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Transcript TitleAustin, Cyril (O1993.2)
IntervieweePam Lambert (PL), John Lambert (JLa), Joan Long (JLo), Cyril Aus
InterviewerPeter Ruffles (PR), Eve Sangster (ES)
Transcriber byFrances Green


Hertford Oral History Group

Recording no: O1993.2

Interviewees: Pam Lambert (PL), John Lambert (JLa), Joan Long (JLo), Cyril Austin (CA)

Date: 13th April 1993

Venue: Hertford

Interviewers: Peter Ruffles (PR), Eve Sangster (ES)

Transcriber: Frances Green

Typed by: Frances Green

************** unclear recording

[discussion] untranscribed material

italics editor’s notes

ES: [Undecipherable] Yes, that’s right.

PR: That’s …another little…um, and the idea is that we collect as much as we can of ordinary everyday information and that’s….part of our world as it were now, and store it for those in the future who’ll look back at our world and say… ‘oh, um..that’s .. er, that’s a bit different’.

JLa: [undecipherable] … what they do look back a hundred, two hundred years

CA: That’s when stamps were a ha’penny a time wasn’t it?

PR: Yes.. but, um, and it works well. Because, when we…we just get a very ordinary chatty kind of thing… a little bit of discipline to keep on the point if we can but it’s meant to be very relaxed. And then Eve listens to the tape and either makes a sort of index of it or in some cases… where we’ve had Annie Inman from… (Sergeant Major Inman ).. the Grammar School’s widow, um the whole tape and Molly Warner from the paint shop, the whole script has been typed out because she’s talking about her years in service at Panshanger and .. er…somewhere else….

PL: Oh yes, um…next to, er … Clivedon…. Wasn’t it?

PR: Anyway, those have been really whole .. whole things typed out. Researchers and other people, students… because there are more and more of them especially schoolchildren, now that the syllabusses want it, can just get at it.

JLa: Basically what we’ve got to do then is just …

JLo: …answer the questions…

Jla: …say a little bit about what the post-office and telephone exchange and sorting office were back in the early days..

JLo: You’re going to ask questions?

PR: I’ll ask a few questions and you can just chat, you know, chip in. … and I’ll steer it a bit if I can, um, because what they obviously are looking for… The facts are important but they are not the most important thing. It’s the picture of what it, you know, what it was like that is probably more valuable, um, to most of the kinds of people. You know, they’re not serious historians.

ES: No… I mean the facts, er, in a way are available elsewhere, aren’t they..

JLo: Yes, yes…

ES: ..that stamps were only a ha’penny and so on and so on…

JLo: Yes, yes.

ES: But yes.. er.. it is the… more the human side of it. What it was like actually, you know, to experience it.

PR: So… um..what I ought to do is mention who is here. I will say that. It sounds a bit daft…

All: [laughter]

PR: … when we all know each other… but we have to get that in.

JF: It’s a good idea

ES: So we can identify the voices… for a start.

PR: Um..Shall I go round the room then? Um..It’s Cyril Austin. If his wife were here I could say Dorothy and I could say Platt… and I will tell you why in a minute. And then there’s Pam Lambert, in whose house number 51 Brookside, we are with her husband John (sometimes called Molly)…

PL: Yes, that’s right. To the family but not otherwise… to Cyril as well.

PR: … and I could say Joan Fisher but that would be out of date..

JLo: Very out of date…

PR: Because it’s now Joan Long. How out of date would that be? When were you Joan Fisher last?

JLo: Er…Forty odd. Forty… same age… five years less than your age. Forty five, forty six.

PL: Oh..all right, well..

JLo: Forty five, forty six…

JLa: I beat…We beat her to the alter though.

PL: Yes. Oh yes.

JLo: Cyril was in the front of all of us.

JLa: Oh, Cyril was… army er.. army days wasn’t it?

CA: 1940

JLa: Mmmmm

PR: Now the reason being that I could say, might have said Platt if Dorothy had been here – Fisher and Rogers I could have said – is because this is a little bit of an indulgence because my ma worked at the telephone exchange with both, with, with both …

ES: I see…

PR: Joan and Pam...

PL: So we knew, knew him before he was born!

ES: That’s right.

JLo: Yes.

PR: Yes.. [laughs] so you know details of my emerging if it’s pressed. So, um, that’s a nice little thing. And in a sense we’re talking about the communications industry of the local town I think, or part of it, in… in lots of ways. And we thought that the post office, which is Cyril, John, and the telephone exchange items, could sit …

ES: Mmmm.

PR: … side-by-side quite well. So, um. How do you think we ought to, for tidiness since you’re going to put it together, organise the period? Shall we look at the telephone exchange first for example?

ES: Yes, I mean…

PR: Keep it separate from …

ES: Where was it?

PR: Yes.

ES: And when were you actually employed there?

CA: Well that was Bill Jones wasn’t it, in Fore Street wasn’t it? Where Joan was a telep…a night telephonist there, wasn’t it?

JLo: Yes.

CA: and the old post office was over where the counter is now.

JLo: 1936.

PR: Right.

PL: I came in 1938.

CA: 84-86 Fore Street.

PR: So 1936, 1938. 1936 for Joan.

JLo: Mmmm.

PR And where was the exchange then?

PL: Over the first floor of the post office.

CA: Over the present post office.

PR: Over the present post office which…

CA: 84-86 Fore Street.

PR: Yes.

PL: On the first floor.

JLo And we had an open fire and you were not allowed to make the fire up above a certain amount of coal…

PR: Ah.

JLo …because of course it was rationed.

PL: It was a big room wasn’t it?

JLo: Yes, and we were very cold. It was very cold sitting there.

PR: How many of you then? What was the staff and what were the shifts? How did it operate in ..

JLo: Eight in the morning ‘til ten at night.

PL: Yes. Yes, ah, that was during the war wasn’t it?

Jlo: Yes.

PL: And then eight to eight.

CA: Eight to eight, nine to nine.

PL: When I started I think there were five telephonists and one superviser. And then I got an appointment and then I made an extra one, it was six.

ES: And you worked on shifts?

PL: Oh yes.

JLo: Yes. Mmmm. Any time.

ES: Do you mean the exchange closed at ten when you said..?

PL: No.

JLo: No, oh no. That would be when we would take over.

ES: Oh, I see.

PR: And that would be just one.. one person would it at night?

CA: There’s only one at night.

PR: Hmm?

CA: There’s only one at night.

JLa: Yes, that was ten o’ clock during the war but it was much more general...

JLo: Eight o’ clock [everyone talking together]… but during the war we stayed until ten.

PLa: I think they had about two men on due to the war..

JLo: During the war they had to have two.

PL: Oh, yes. Yes.

PL: And they were allowed to stay….weren’t they?

JLo: Yes.

CA: Not the immediate…

PL: They were on call.

CA: … the immediate beginning of the war. Cos I remember Joan’s upstairs in the telephone exchange one night and I was down in the sorting office and that bomb landed at the back there. And … ooh.. the bedlam it was. All the bells were ringing and the lines...and I tore up to him. He was all right and he said.. ‘I don’t know which one to answer Charlie?!’ [All laugh].

PR: Where did the bomb… which one was it?

CA: On this school down here.

JLo: Longmore’s.

CA: Longmore’s School.

PR: Onto… onto Longmore’s . Yes. Oh, so it suddenly got lively?!

CA: Oh dear. Ah, yes.

PR: So was it really ‘Number please?’..

CA: Yes. You put the plug in. A light came up.

JLo: It was all manual.

PR: Right, so you would be sitting… Let’s picture the…inside the room.

JLo: In a straight line..

PR: Straight line..

PL: Haven’t you got that photograph of your mother?

JLa: No?

PL: …and the switchboard, that was in the local paper?

JLa: No. [laughs]

PL: That was before I went there.

PR: Oh. She was at the switchboard was she?

JLo: In the Mercury was it?

PL: Yes.

JLo: Oh, well you could look for that.

PR: Yes.

PL: In was in the…

JLo: Back in the nineteen…

PL: No. In was in the.. er.. now what did they call it? Mid-week Merc…? Not the… not the Mid-week. It was called something else. Began with..… [indecipherable] it ran for so many years.

JL: Hmmmm. There was another…

PR: Oh, so… and it… it was one sort of bench was it along…?

JLo: In a straight line.

PR: On straight lines..

PL: The positions used to be quite high up.

CA: Until…Until ‘39 when the County Hall opened.

JLo: Yes and we had another three positions [undecipherable].

PR: So if you were sitting… let’s describe the work. You… you clocked in as it were…

PL: Mmm.

PR: … and went and sat down. Then…

JLo: And you must be on time.

PR: Oh.

JLo: Very strict.

PL: Yes.

JLo: Very strict. No..

PL: Three minutes wasn’t it? After three minutes or something like…

JLo: Because naturally somebody’s waiting to go, you can’t be having an exchange where somebody has to wait for you to come on. Well no-one wants to wait so of course it was… all through our lives we’ve had to be good timekeepers. It’s no good coming if you don’t want to keep time.

It’s very difficult to make new people understand that.

PR: Yes – things have blurred a bit haven’t they. So what… so you clocked in and sat down…

ES: Mmmm.

PR: … and what’s facing you?

PL: Lights. Well the callers were at the bottom, weren’t they?

JLo: Mmmm. At the bottom.

PL: A pair of cords. The back one you answered with. Yes and the front one..

JLo: Yes. The one nearest to you, you put in whatever number they wanted.

PL: And if it was a long-distance call or ….[undecipherable]

PR: So.. you saw a light flashing did you...which said someone wants to make a call?

JLo: Just … just an ordinary colour [opal ???] . Yes. A call office was red, but ordinary subscribers were white.

PR: Right.. and when you saw that. You… you… what did you have to do?

PL: Plug it in.

PR: Plug it in to…?

PL: Push the peg forward… [laughs]

ES: No, when you plugged it in .. I mean did you plug it into the subscriber?

PL: The…

ES: So, was there a kind of an aperture for each subscriber?

PL/JLo: Yes. Oh yes. Yes.

CA: Oh yes.

JLo: This was all manual. All manual.

PL: Yes.

ES: So how many subscribers were there? I mean, presumably it was a number you could manage?

JLo: Oh, er..really, oh, I’ve no idea.

PL: About four or five hundred.

JLa: …not all accepted?

CA: Not very many were there.

ES: Four or five hundred, I see, that’s fine.

PL: Yes, four or five hundred… I can’t remember exactly.

PR: And the exchange served just the town of Hertford?

PL: Yes.

JLo: Oooh, and the automatics up Bayford.

PR: Ah.

PL: Dane End?

JLo: No, that’s Ware.

PL: That’s Ware. Watton-at-Stone.

ES: But you had to find the number? I’m still fascinated. So if they say like ‘437’ …

PL: The light would come on.

ES: … you’ve got to look along?

JLo: No, you just put your plug in, ‘cos each of the holes was numbered.

ES: Yes. But you’ve got to find the number. Then the light went out, presumably?

JLo: You’d find it up on the bunk… on the wall above you which was…

ES: I see… yes. But it was really manual then wasn’t it?

All: Yes. It was.

ES: You had to join the two ends. [undecipherable].. was it?

JLo: Yes, you had to pull the key back…

ES: One of those….. no?

JLO: You pulled the, um, pulled the key back didn’t you?

PL: Yes, to give a ring.

JLo: Because it would just give one ring in the person’s house. It didn’t keep on ringing.

ES: Oh?

JLo: It would only ring as you….

PR: Like a doorbell as it were?

JLo: And with timed calls we had to use the clock. The ordinary… an ordinary exchange clock.

PL: And challenge every three minutes.

JLo: Time it on and off.

PR: Ahhh.

ES: When you say challenge it, what do you say.. ‘caller this is..’

JLo: Well, three…

ES: … ‘caller this is… you have had your three minutes, or something?’

PL: Well, for a call-box yes, but usually it was three minutes, six minutes, nine minutes … whatever it is.

JLo: You broke into their conversation.

PL: Mmmm.

JLo: You had a ticket for every call, didn’t you?

PL: Yes. Yes.

PR: Were most of the calls local in those days?

JLo/PL: No. We had London ones.

PL: Where did we go to, a toll place?

JLo: Yes… we had [undecipherable] for toll calls, do you remember? You puts your finger on it and said ‘Hertford’ and gave out the number you wanted …

PL: That’s right. Yes.

JLo: … and the person in London, in the London Exchange would give us a… a junction as we called it. And plug into the number that was wanted. And you shouted… you had two or three exchanges…

PL: That’s it, yes.

JLo: … on the button. And it was Hertford and somewhere else.

PL: That’s it.

JLo: … against one another and you had to say… it was pretty…

PL: There was a lot to learn.

JLo: I wouldn’t say it was hard work but, yes…

PL: You had to be quick, didn’t you?

JLO: …Yes, there was a lot to learn.

ES: Were you ever tempted to listen in?

Jlo: Oh you could do.

ES: Yes I know you could. I just wondered, especially as you…they were all local.

PL: Yes.. but..

ES: Or were you…

PL: We were sworn to secrecy…

ES: Yes.

PL: … as soon as we got there, you see.

PR: You couldn’t avoid listening to some kind..

PL: No, quite. I mean…

JLo: We had to listen in to police calls, sometimes emergencies didn’t we?

PL: Yes. Mmmm.

JLo: Oh yes. Yes.

ES: I mean that side of it must be very interesting - more things you weren’t supposed to know in a way?

JLo: Mmmm .


PL: We knew a lot really. Yes. [laughter].

CA: You’re not blushing are you Joan? [more general laughter].

JLo: No, I’m so hot in here. I was bloomin cold outside. Ah.. no..

CA: Shall I open the window?

PR: What… what..I mean [laughs] sworn to secrecy…

JLo/PL: [laughter].

PR: … what sort of things might you overhear that you perhaps …

PL: Well, you could hear… you knew who was…that somebody’s wife was still having an affair…

All: [talking together]

PL: …was having an affair or something. But I mean…

JLa: And business stuff as well, couldn’t you.

JLo: Yes. But.. then I don’t think it was … You heard it but it wasn’t interesting to anybody else.

All: No, no. No.

JLo: You didn’t repeat it because you knew you couldn’t. And so you just kept it to yourself.

ES: And I suppose there was probably was a sense in which in those days since you knew… you could be overheard at the exchange you might be more discreet?

All: Yes. Yes. Yes.

JLo: Agreed.

ES: .. and you would know that there were local people… um, um… doing the work. But in the war did you have to have any, um, take any special precautions?

PL: Oh yes.

ES: Such as?

PL: Well some lines…Bayfordbury, weren’t they?

JLo: Oh yes, you mean..

PL: Wouldn’t that…What’s the word? They… scrambled?

JLo: Scrambled.

PL: Scrambled, yes. Yes.

PR: Wouldn’t…

PL: But then we were automatic towards the end of the war.

JLo: Yes.

ES: What were they doing at, er, Bayfordbury? Were they clearing the spies?

PL: Yes. We didn’t know it at the time

CA: No..

PL: We knew it was something secret.

CA: Was it Bayford or Brickendon?

PL: Brickendon

All: [talking together]… Pearsons

PL: Or was it Bayford?

JLo: No it was Brickendon.

CA: Brickendonbury [indecipherable].. Brickendonbury .

ES: Was it the SO.. SOS..SOSE, whatever? There was an article about Cyril Heath wasn’t there in the Mercury a few years ago..

CA: Colonel Hill, weren’t it [??}

PL: It was Brickendonbury.

PR: Brickendonbury.

CA: We knew him cos you know I was …. [undecipherable].. out there most of the time.

JLo: Oh yes he did… [undecipherable]

PR: Did you get, um, I mean nuisance calls nowadays are a great thing. Did you ever get troubled by…

PL: Not many.. did we?

PR: … people who..

JL: No heavy breathing the other end [laughs].

PR: No? No.

JLo: Now and again we used to have people, didn’t we? Don’t you remember call boxes.

PL: Yes.

JLo: They used to be .. and er… what do…

ES: ‘Phoning up to harass you?

PL: Yes. Yes.

JLo: Not other people I don’t think so much.

PL: No.

JLo: That didn’t come in they could dial the number.. and then of course they did start because they thought they couldn’t be traced.

PL: Yes.

PR: But you were twenty year old girls at the time and they knew where they could speak to us.. .[undistinguishable]. a few people. Maybe… So the call boxes were more or less the same places as they are now were they I suppose?

PL: Yes, really.

PR: Market Street?

A lot more…[undecipherable] … a lot fewer.

JLo: You had one in the post office didn’t we in those days? Didn’t we have one?

JLa: At the counter, two. There was two down there.

JLo: That’s what I mean yes.

JLa: In the far corner.

All: [talking]

PR: Were they then, the call boxes used by more people because people didn’t have telephones.

All: Yes.

JLa: Much more.

All: Mmmm.

JLo: They were busy

CA: We had to count the coins didn’t we?

JLa: Oh.. [undecipherable]

PR: Press button A and press button B..!

All: Mmmm. Yes.

PR: You forget these little …

PL: I know.

JLo: And an emergency button wasn’t there? It flashed when you pressed the emergency button.

All: Yes.

PL: Yes.

ES: So what did you think was… you must have thought something secret was going on at Brickendonbury?

PL: Mmmm.

ES: The calls were all scrambled…

JLo: Well we knew it..

ES: Did you assume it was the military, something military?

PL: Well we knew they were all Poles. You know they .. they sort of didn’t speak much English. But we knew it was secret.

ES: Mmmm.

PL: But… any more than that we didn’t know.

JLo: We had so many of that kind of thing. I mean…

ES: Mmmm.

JLo: … if you went to an exchange where there was air force or Stansted had Hunsdon… I mean you were so used to it, that you didn’t really take any notice. You see it was just all part of your work.

ES: When you say used to it, you mean used to it being scrambled?

JLo: Yes, or used to it being a secret…you know… um.

ES: Yes.

JLo: … service calls that we didn’t.. um.. really take much notice. And we had the barracks didn’t we?

ES: Yes.

PL: It all came through, well most of it came through the exchange.

JLo: In fact it all came …Yes. They couldn’t really have done anything without us. We were exempt from being called up.

ES: Yes.

JLo: Well we had to go and register but that was all because..

ES: Mmm.

JLo: … you know they couldn’t… they’d got to replace us if they called us up.

ES: But when you think - it would be quite a good place to infiltrate wouldn’t it, for an enemy?

PR: Mmmm.

ES: Where were the barracks?

JLo: Right opposite.. [undecipherable]

JLa: Where the fire station is now.

JLo: Oh, yes.

CA: There’s a little notice still on the wall …

PL/JLo: [talking together]

CA … there isn’t there Peter?

PR: Yes, I was going to say. I think Ma listened to Father who she first.. ,[undistinguishable] ..up on the station.

JLo: .. his mother got talking to his father on the telephone.

PL: Oh I see.

CA: It was where the fire station is now.

JLo: … when they’ve got nothing much to do.. [undecipherable]

JLo: … there is a still a war department notice on that wall.

PR: Oh is there?

JLo: Mmm. By the fire station if you look.

JLa: I’ll have a look at that. Yes.

CA: By the fire station.

JLo: Yes, it’s still there.

CA: All the soldiers’ houses were round in a square there weren’t they. They had the barracks square there.

JLo: Well he was lodging here wasn’t he? He was lodging with…

PR: Pa was lodging with the Westwoods …

JLo: Westwoods, yes.

PR: …in Talbot Street. That’s right. And they had a blind date outside The Plough.

JLo: Yes.

PL: Oh that’s right.

PR: Yes. After this conversation but er that..

JLa: It wasn’t the Plough we remember though, well I remember.

JLo: Well, there is a picture of it in Tescos isn’t there?

PR: Yes. So what’s… there was a good sort of camaraderie was there between…

PL/JLo: Oh yes. Yes.

PR: …you.. sort of shared each others’ lives?

PL Oh rather, yes, yes, definitely.

JLo: We were sort of, I don’t know,.. we all mixed in didn’t we? It was quite a…

PL: Mmm.

JLo: It was always the same. When I went back to work. I went back when my family were grown up and it was just the same then. We were very friendly although its, there was, what, twenty, twenty-odd of us...between twenty and thirty women they were all, you were all friends together. It was all gossip.

PL: Mmmm.

JLo: You know. We um, we were ….

PR: Who was Miss Mardell?

PL: She was the superviser [laughter in background]

JLa: Oooh, a terror.

JLo: She was a superviser and…[undecipherable] when we were there first. Miss Dyer was on the board. She was the telephonist at the time.

PR: Oh right. So Miss Mardell… that’s a name to spite a bit of.. [others talking: undecipherable]

JLo: She came from Ware.. yes.

PR: Yes. I always remember this name mentioned at home and, er…. [others talking: undecipherable]

JLa: You would [laughs].

PR: And…

JLa: {undecipherable]… about six foot.

JLo: Yes, very… She wasn’t allowed to speak to anybody, I’d heard my family say that as a child because they lived close to her. Her and her sister, always very awkward [?] little girls, reared in hand, you know, that type. ….. She was also in the service. She … she was a superviser. But not locally.

PR: So she was a tall person was she…

JLo: Yes.

PR: … formidable.

JLo: … with glasses.

JLa: … and very upright.

PL: Her hair back in a bun.

JLo: Yes. Real old fashioned.

PL: Old fashioned to us in those days.

PR: Yes, yes. [Pause]. So was mother, my ma, frightened of her or something?

PL: No, she just wasn’t very popular with her.

JLo: [undecipherable].

PL: Oh no, she wasn’t or anything like that. She wasn’t strict.

JLo: She was prim and proper.

JLa: If you did your work properly, that was…

PL: But you had to be down.. we had about a ten minute .. um..break in the morning, didn’t we?

JLo: Mmmm. Yes.

PL: Well you could go upstairs…

JLo: Have a cup of tea..

PL: [undistinguishable]… and we had to be back on time..

JLo: We shared a room with these… upstairs..

PL: If not… you know..

PR: Ah. Yes.

JLo: She would stand with her book and ... see...check you out and check you back in again.

JLa: [undeciperable]… she did.

JLo: And the same at lunchtimes..

PR: Yes, I remember being almost threatened by, with Miss Mardell.

All: [laughing]

JLo: Oh dear, were you really? [laughs]

PR: Yes, yes. I couldn’t quite work it all out. Oh, and…

PL: She hasn’t been dead very long, has she?

Others: No, no.

PL: It’s not so many years ago she died.

JLo: No

PL: She was pretty well over ninety.

JLo: When she retired, um... Kath got her job.

PR: So Kath Dye came.. um, she was later as superintendent but she was there..

JLo: .. as a telephonist yes, when she left school she went straight there.

PR: She yes, she went straight there.

JLo: [undecipherable] She used to do… [undecipherable]

PL: In those days you didn’t get a full-time job you did two or three hours a day. And that’s how they started.

PR: So we are interested in the Dye family because they crop up on every other tape!

JLo: Oh they must do, mustn’t they! Yes.

PR: In fact we must do some… But Kathleen Dye was the daughter.. one of three… of Will Dye who was the brother of Dan Dye that keeps coming up as the .. the mayor of the town. She she was Dan Dye’s niece…

PL: Right.

PR: … and a career girl really at the..

JLo: Yes, yes..

PR: … telephone exchange.

JLo: Yes, all her working life was spent there.

PL: Mmmm.

JLo: She didn’t go anywhere else.

PR: And popular wasn’t she? All because of this…

JLo: Oh yes.

PR: … great happy face, ever so smartly dressed… seemed bright…

JLo: Very…

PR: … and well turned out.

JLo: Very good for her staff. Her staff were I mean… people who came from head office, which was Cambridge, said they hadn’t seen another superviser who looked after the staff like she did. You know it was always… she would put them first, didn’t she …

PL: Oh yes.

JLo: … in front of others

ES: But it was quite a sought after job in any case wasn’t it?

JLo: Oh yes. You had a pension at the end.

ES: Yes. My mother was a telephonist …

JLo: Yes.

ES: … erm, at the Great Eastern Hotel. And the way she tells it…

JLo: Mmmm.

ES: Um… she had a lovely time [laughs]. But perhaps it was slightly more sophisticated being at a hotel anyway.

All: Yes.

JLo: We were a bit…. We were a bit red tape and all ...

ES: Yes.

PL: But it was considered a safe job.

JLo: Well it was a safe job because after the depression of 1930s, er...your parents looked for a safe job.

ES: Yes, I was going to ask you. Did you…was there a lot of competition… to get it?

JLo/PL: Oh yes. Yes. Yes.


JLo: Well you went to London first …

PL: I went to London, yes.

JLo: because there were no vacancies.

PL: Yes, there were no vacancies locally so I applied to London.

ES: And you had to sit an exam?

CA: Oh yes.

All: Yes. Mmm. [Pause]

PR: So, we’ve talked about things as they were in Fore Street, but then the exchange moved…

All: Yes.

PR: When…?

PL: 1941.

JLo: ’41. We went…

PL: January.

JLo: January we think. We’re not so… January/February we think…[undeciperable]… could find nothing in the record.

PR: Yes, we can check the facts quite easily…

JLo/PL: Yes, yes.

PR: … so long as we get the picture of things.

JLo: Yes. The new one was opened was opened which is still there. Of course.

ES: Yes.

PR: Yes. Now. Yes…

JLo: [undecipherable]

PR: … we know, but the ones listening [laughs] in fifty years’ time might not so where is the… where did it move to from Fore Street?

CA: Where it is at present.

PR: Yes, which is?

JLo: Well that’s…. I don’t know what you’d call that.

PR: Rooks Alley wasn’t it?

CA: Bottom of the London Road.

PR: London Road.

JLa: Junction… junction of London… London Road and … er…

JLo: Gascoyne Way.

Jla: Well, Gascoyne way now but in those days it was Fore Street wasn’t it?

All: Mmm.

PR: Yep. So to get to it then, you’d walked up Rooks’ Alley would you?

JLo: Yes.

PR: Yes, up Fore Street.

JLa: ‘Cos Tasker-Hevan… Evans House was in front

All: Yes, that’s right.

JLa: Behind Arthur Evans House…. [undecipherable] was build behind there…

All: Yes, that’s right, yes.

JLa: … then when they build Gascoyne way…

All: Yes, yes…[undecipherable] you had to walk up the side, didn’t you..

JLa: … the sorting office went behind Gascoyne Way where it is by the telephone exchange.

Others: Mmmm.

PR: Well they keep cropping up, the Tasker-Evans.

ES: [laughs]. They certainly do, yes.

PR: Fun isn’t it really. Reverend Harry Evans is mentioned.. [undecipherable]

Jla: Harry, yes… [undecipherable] North Oak, didn’t he [undecipherable]

All: Mmm. Yes.

PR: And then the…near to the music shop.. um.. Elliots…

Others: Elliots.

PR: I believe..

JLa: Fifteen.. yes… no.. It was 150 wasn’t it, Fore Street?

JLo: When did they build the new bit?

Jla .. [undecipherable] LEx 158 wasn’t it…

CA: Something like that.

JLo/PL: [undecipherable]..

JLa: then there’s Inspector of Taxes and, um,…

JLo: no the next one.

JLa: Christ’s hospital.

CA: 162 they were.

JLa: 162 was Inspector of Taxes. So.. LEx would be … [undecipherable]..

JLo: Because the old one isn’t used any more…

JLa …not far away.

PR: No. So it’s gone on one stage further.

JLo: Yes. Still. Yes. To the.. er.. brand new one.

PR: Brand new one.

Jlo: You were…

PL: .. I moved there in 1947.

JLo: Yes..

PL: Yes, that was the original..

JLo: Don’t you remember seeing men up there building it?

PL: No.

JLo: On the scaffolding?

PL: No. [laughs]

JLo: I do. I remem… I don’t say I remember seeing inside of it but I can remember them being on the outside putting it up. Because it was ages before they moved in.

PR: Mmmmm… A Lot of hue and cry because it’s such an ugly building and.. er.. didn’t require local planning permission, did it?

PL: No, it’s a crown building.

JLa: It’s not been… it’s not the very tall building down there now by the way.

PR: Ah.

JLa: It’s the one immediately behind it. That tall building was only built recent… not too many years ago.

PL/Jlo: No, no.

PR: Twenty..

JLa: No, it’s the very small building behind it. That was the…

JLo: .. original exchange …

JLa: …originally, the first automatic exchange.

PR: Yes. Yes.

JLa: The present building…

JLo: Which is now obsolete..

JLa: … right in front.

CA: In the sixties that was John.

JLa: Mmm?

CA: That was in the sixties that was put there. You had to get out of the sorting office didn’t you?

JLa: We got out the front one and the buil.. back one they built… they built the.. um…[pause]… the three-story or the main building of the telephone exchange after we’d moved into the present sorting office.

PR: Mmm.

JLa: Cos, um, you were… you were there when they were building it.

CA: [undecipherable] other side.

JLa: Got the…the.. sorting office number one two. The second sorting office wasn’t it?

CA: That’s right.

JLa: It was right on the site where the present very tall building is now.

PR: Ah.

JLa: And it started off in Fore Street naturally. That was number two and number three is where it is now.

PR: Ah. Yes, so it rolled forward. We ought to move on to sorting offices, but I won..

ES: Yes.

PR: Can I just ask.. will you let me say one more quick thing…

ES: Yes.

PR: About the.. the telephones?

Jlo: [Undecipherable]… codes.

PR: I wondered whether you had any.. I mean did you ever pick up any early news. You know, did you find out things that were happening early in the town by..?

ES: Well, you must for instance have known if a doctor was called to a, you know, heavily pregnant woman or something. I mean you presumably got those bits of information first didn’t you?

JLo: Well only when it was manual..wasn’t it.

PL: Not when it was …

ES: Oh no, of course not.

Jlo: No.

PR: But you… you don’t remember any anything…

JLa: I mean you couldn’t listen to every call.

PR: No. No. But, er, you didn’t get a buzz on.. on anything that was going to be, er, revealed to the rest later?

PL: Not really, did... We just knew during the war that.. um.. there was that meeting between Eisenhower and um…er.. whatsit?

CA: Churchill?

PL: Yes, and Montgomery.

CA: Oh, Monty, yes.

PL: And we knew… there were only two or three of us told. We knew that.. that they were staying in the tunnel.

PR: Oh.

JLo: ‘Cos they used the tunnels.

CA: At Bayford. Yes.

PL: They used the tunnels.

CA: The Bayford tunnel.

JLo: No, the other tunnel.

PL: The other..the Watton tunnel.

JLo: The Watton tunnel

CA/PR: Oh. Oh. Right. Right. Yes.

Jla: Yes, same one as the … King and Queen

JLo: Yes. We knew they were coming out there… yes, [undecipherable]. They used to sleep there some nights.

PR: The was the…

ES: You mean the … the Mole tunnel.

PR: The Mole tunnel. Hmmm. That’s come up.

ES: That’s come up. [laughs].. Yes.

JLo: Well they did have a telephone provided in case of..

ES: Yes.

PL: And we knew it was a special line, and that … we knew who that was… well only if [undecipherable]

Jlo: But then you see, I don’t think we took much notice. It was our work.. wasn’t it..

ES: Yes.

So really..

ES: Yes. But I mean that’s interesting isn’t it?

JLo: Yes, it was interesting but..

ES: Um.. but that was for safety. You mean the royal family slept in the tunnels?

CA: When they were.. when they were really hitting London.

Others: Mmmm.

ES: Yes.

PR: Any, er, well known numbers…I mean but, it was… apart from number one presumably, two, three, four and like that?

JLo: Yes. Yes. Oh we know who they were. I can still remember..

PL: Who was one? Three was Longmores.

JLO: Three was Longmores, yes.

PR: What were the famous numbers [laughs]?

PL: One six… oh no, One three was the police.

JLo: Yes, that’s right, mmm.

PL: What was the hospital?

JLo: Seven five?

PL: I don’t know… they went to four double nine. You see they lay all.. all , as the switchboards got bigger, they moved, they changed the numbers to a bigger number.

PR: Yes.

PL: One ‘O’, that was…um… Motor Tax?

JLo: Yes, I think maybe it might have been.

PR: Some of them around Old Cross um..were very low.

PL: I think they were.. Russells

PR: Russells…was that number one?

PL: I think it was.

PR: Yes, might have been.

PL: Yes. I think it was.

PR: Ours was twenty-two for a… a very…[undecipherable]… at home. And the rectory was twenty-six or twenty-seven, so I wonder whether they’d done a sort of sequence up St Andrew Street and er..

JLo: Into the town centre…

PL: Mmmm. Might have done.

PR: Ahh. Now, the interest in the other side of the business…

??? Mmmm.

PR: … the sorting office is, um, also an indulgence because my granddad…

JLo: Yes.

PR: … was at at the sorting office. Now, with your…

JLo: I remember him.

PR: …with your father Joan.

JLo: Yes. Yes.

PR: Was he a contemporary of my granddad’s then?

JLo: Oh yes. Yes. They were all… they were postal clerks.

CA: Actually we were called sorting clerks…

JLo: I can’t say …

CA: … sorting post..

JLo: who was senior.

CA: .. sorting clerks and telegraphists. That’s what we were called.

PR: Ahh.

JLo: Your … your grandfather was older than my father but..

PR: Mmmm. Mmmm.

JLo: … I, I don’t know…

PR: So this is all very . er.. in the distance really, cos grandfather died in 1930.

JLo: Mmm. Mmmm.

PR: Which was twelve years before I was born, so…um…because they had mother late.. very late in life.

JLo: Yes.

PR: An only child and .. um …her mother I think was forty-three when she was born.

JLo: Ooh.

PR: Um… but I’ve got at home some kind of indentures granddad went through when he was.. um.. I s’pose in Victorian times.. He married in 1900 and had to pass his apprenticeship and then ..

JLo: Oh yes.

PR: … get duffed-up by the… the lads and they… things with ceiling wax and [undecipherable].

JLo: That’s it.

CA: Bit of what’s that called…

JLa: Mailbag. Oh we all got that christening…

ES: Did you?

JLa: …didn’t we Cyril?

CA: Ooooh yes.

JLa: .. tied down in a mailbag..

CA: Oh, when we first joined, we were always put in a … in a mailbag. Parcel bag that was.

ES: A what bag?

CA: A par..A parcels bag. Parcels used to go by the trains you see.

ES: Yes. Mmmm.

CA: Then you’d stick them in extra big bags. Ohh, we were always dumped in a … in a parcel .. thingmy.. er parcel bag. That’s the small ones. There were one or two big blokes who couldn’t quite fit in them.

JLa: … their job to get in [undecipherable] [laughs]

ES: Oooh. And so, anyway, this is obviously where you all met?

All: Yes.

ES: Is it? So..

CA: Well we were all..

ES: How did you actually meet? How did the…


JLo: Well we met on the stairs didn’t we?

PL: We weren’t allowed to be all alone with a man.

CA: No. The females.. the females were in the front one. And we were at the back one.

PR: So it was.. er.. love at first sight on the stairs?

JLo: We had to walk through the sorting office the..

CA: Yes, they had to come through the sorting office.

JLo: We had to go through the sorting office to get to work.

PR: Ahhh. So you did your…

ES: And was there a lot of sort of … [undecipherable]

CA: Well.. I didn’t.

PL: Ooooh. No. [lots of laughing].

JLo: There was, wasn’t there?

JLa: I didn’t..

PL: I can remember you…

ES: It sounds a bit of a nightmare to have to walk through a .. er.. a sorting office with these blokes..

PL: Chasing the girls up the stairs!

PR: Aha..

Jlo: That’s what I said.. on the stairs!

CA: I couldn’t do it now Pete [laughing]

PR: Aha!

CA: Lizzie Griffin, do you remember her John?

JLa: [undecipherable]…I remember her going upside down in my bag.

PL: Oh no!

JLa: Yes, they did!

PL: She was a big girl.

JLa: No, she wasn’t. Not..Lizzie wasn’t a big girl was she?

CA: Peggy, Peggy Griffin.

PL: Oh, she was quite fat. Mmm. Oh I’d have shown you a photo if I’d known. I’ve got it upstairs.

PR: Er….[pause]. So Cyril, when did you begin, can we trace your career?

CA: 1930..

PR: Right… straight from school?

CA: Til ‘66 [??]… Pardon?

PR: Straight from school?

CA: Yes, yes.

PR: Where did you go to school then? Lets, lets… can we concentrate on Cyril for a few minutes Eve…

ES: Mmmm.

PR: … and just get .. um.. a bit of the life story and then..

CA: I went to Bengeo School.

PR: Right.

CA: And Mr Salmon who was the superviser.. Assistant Postmaster.

Jla: Ted Salmon.. Ted Salmon.

CA: Ted Salmon. He sent to Bengeo School ‘cos he’d had some good lads from there. And there was two of us but.. um.. who was it.. Newman and myself. But, um, Newman lost his job because he pinched a couple of pennies from them… we used to save a penny a week to the headmaster .. um.. for holidays and that. And he’d stolen some of the money so he lost the job and I got the job.

PR: You got the advantage.

CA: That’s how I got.. how I got that.

PR: Now, was that Ted Salmon lived in Raymond Street? [undecipjerable] 13 Raymond Street?

JLa: Ted Salmon, yes. Sid Fisher was under your father wasn’t he, under Ted?

CA: ‘Til Ted retired.

JLa: Til Ted retired.

JLo: And then they were made both the same weren’t they?

CA: Pardon?

JLo: Ted was overseer…

CA: That’s right.

JLo: … he was Head Postmaster, overseer.

CA: And your dad hadn’t.. [undecipherable]

JLo: Dad was under him.. then eventually they were made up and they were both overseers.

CA: That’s right. Yes. That was Dowse’s time… Mr Dowse.

JLo: I didn’t know Dowse.

JLa: Yes. 29 Castle Street.

PR: Oh yes. Yes.

JLa: Then he moved to 138 North Road.

Jlo: That’s it.

PR: So you’ve acquired your first job Cyril…

CA: Yeah.

PR: … aged?

CA: Fourteen and a half.

PR: Fourteen and a half.

CA: I was a little lad then.

PR: So how did it go?

CA: We…Well, we .. um…used to be in the messengers room, in the room which was ..all the telegrams came by morse code. The sounder. And if you made a noise in there you got a book thrown at you.

PR: [laughs].

CA: They used to take it down by morse code. After that we moved upstairs in..into the tele-printer room didn’t we?

Jla: Not.. oh, very much later. Very much later.

CA: No. it was a lot later. Up the top there. Right. But your father.. and daresay your grandfather …was a.. a morse operator.

JLo: Oh yes.

CA: And you see the way they write.. always jerk their hands. They don’t write normally like we do.

JLo: No.

CA: They’re waiting for the pip pip, de-dah de-dah de-dah coming through and their arms are jerking..

Jlo: Oh yes.

CA: I always remember your father the way he wrote…

PL: Oh. Yes.

CA: … his arm was always on the jerk you know… he was … he was writing one.. one that has just gone. He was writing one down. He was also listening to the pips coming … pips and dashes ... coming through for the next one. There was always a jerk in their writing.

JLo/PL: Mmmm.

CA: Well that left Hertford...that packed up in Hertford in the very early thirties didn’t it?

JLa: Yes.

CA: When we had teleprinters.

JLa: Who was it lived up North Road… always walked like that … got teleprint.. teleprinter cramp?

PL: Oh yes.. er..Whittaker.

JLo: Whittaker. Bill Whittaker.

CA: I didn’t know it was cramp.

JLa: All wrote like that. Sitting there all … all day with .. with one shoulder up and…

JLo: That’s it.

CA: Cos you had a shield over the .. the sounder they called it then, didn’t they?


ES: Well, that was to keep the noise out?

CA: That’s right yes.

PR: So you want into that room…

CA: Into that room..

PR: … immediately on your arrival.

CA: That’s right.

PR: And what would your duties have been at that age when you were…

CA: I was a messenger then. A messenger boy.

PR: So you were waiting around ‘til someone said..

CA: That’s right.

PR: … take this.

CA: That was in the same room you see that’s where I learned the morse code before I went into the army. You see… and .. and.. er.. then I went into the sorting office.

PR: Well let’s have.. let’s stick with the.. sorry. This is a school-master. [laughs] I forget. But when you were given a message what would it have looked like and what would you have done with it?

JLa: Well, it was stuck in an envelope.

CA: They used to put it in an envelope…

PR: Right.

CA: … and you’d deliver it to the address on the envelope.

PR: And that could have been anywhere within what radius.

CA: All Hertford.

ES: You didn’t have a bike then?

CA: Yes.

ES: And a uniform?

CA: Yes.

PR: And did you go one at a time or did you wait until you had two or three…?

CA: Well, it all depends. You know they.. If the sounder was still going you’d wait until they finished because they .. they couldn’t envelope them.. um.. immediately.

JLa: They weren’t held up deliberately.

CA: No.

JLa: If they were coming through you waited ‘til the whole batch was in… [undecipherable].. Claydon’s the fishmonger. You’d get two or three for there, wouldn’t you?

CA: Er… several every day.

JLa: Yes..

ES: What, just orders?

JLa: Yes.

CA: So many crates of this, so many crates of that.

JLa: .. fish box prices they were sending to Donaghue’s… and of course later on in the day Donaghue used to come in the counter and send out how many stones of fish back to Grimsby or Hull or wherever it was, didn’t they?

CA: That’s right. And sometimes you’d have a reply.. He’d open it and he’d say, oh, could you hang on a moment, and he’d just reply to it and we’d take it back and it would be sent off again from Fore Street.

PR: And what.. was it called a telegram, or…?

CA: It was then.

PR: Yes, by then.

CA: It was called a telegram.

PR: Yes. And so you… and what was the name of your job… tele..?

CA: Messenger.

PR: Telegram Messenger or just..

CA: Messenger boy.

Jla: [unclear] …so why I’m aged 64 now.

JLo: You had a nice little round hat, didn’t you?

ES: I was just thinking that and then thinking perhaps they only wore those in hotels.. but didn’t …

JLo: Yes. You did, didn’t you Cyril?

CA: There was a round hat to start with then.

Jla: Would you like a cup of tea? I would.

All: Oooh. Yes. Yes please.

PR: So that initial beginning when you were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen?

CA: That’s right. Actually it was by accident that I got there ‘cos I was going to… there was a cabinet-maker called Norris’s. But work was very short then, as it is now really...

PR: Mmm.

CA: … at that time. And my mother, her father was contracted to the post office when there was horse-drawn vehicles.

[Pause - sounds of tea-cups rattling]

CA: So she said ‘oh, take that’s a job for life’. And that’s how it happened.

PR: Mmmm.

ES: What was your mother then? Did you say your mother was contracted?

CA: Her father.

ES: Her father.

CA: Contracted [undecipherable] from Welwyn post office to Welwyn station by mail coach.


CA: They were contracted.

PR: Ahhh.

CA: Had a string of twelve horses.

PR: Where was that based then?

CA: Old Welwyn. Now, what’s the name of the pub that goes.. right on the .. as you go along the B1000. Into Old Welwyn on the hill, on the corner, that public house there. That yard down the bottom.

PR: Yes.

CA: That was the stables. They had twelve horses there.

PR: Oh.

CA: Or mail coach… [undecipherable] ‘cos they used to send the mail off. And the post office was opposite, by the bridge.

PR: Yes. How did you come to be at Bengeo School then Cyril? What… ?

CA: Well, my parents lived at Bengeo when I was born. I was born at Bengeo. That’s where they lived.

PR: Whereabouts were you born?

CA: In Bengeo Street.

PR: In the.. in.. in the…[undecipherable]

CA: That’s right.

PR: So you started at the post office, messenger boy. And then, what…

ES: Did you ever have any adventures as a messenger boy?

CA: Only dog bites. Old cart and his dog bit me… {undecipherable] and his collie dog bit me. [laughs]

JLa: It still persists today, don’t it?

CA: Oh yes.

PR: But we’re some way off you being called up aren’t we, or are you… did you do that until you were called up?

CA: I went in the sorting, as a postman in the sorting office. I used to ride a motorcycle and side car and deliver Hertford Heath then… Haileybury College and around that area. Hayley Lane.

PR: Oh.

CA: After that… well that was about the time when I was called up in the.. 3rd September ’39.

JLa: Mobilised, yes.

CA: Mobilised. Yes.

PR: Yes.


CA: I joined the territorial in 1934.

ES: Which regiment were you in?

CA: [undecipherable] Regiment

[pause. Background conversation. Laughing]

CA: Lieutenant Peter McMullen gave me half a crown for joining…..[undecipherable] normal it was then…

PR: Yes.

CA: … when I joined.

ES: Have you read Robert Kiln’s book about the Hertfordshire regiment? It.. it’s just, um, the only reason I ask because I’.. I’ve just read it. And I can’t remember if that’s says.... [undecipherable] but if he a territorial..

CA: What name?

PR: Kiln, in the...

ES: Robert Kiln.

PR: Robert Kiln in the Maltings in..

ES: And Alan…

PR: …West Street.

ES: Alan Melville’s…

CA: Alan Melville. I know Alan Melville well..

ES: … in the TA wasn’t he?

CA: Yes. Yes.

ES: Yes.

[Pause. Background conversation]

PR: So after your war service then, back to Hertford…

CA: Back to the post office.

PR: …post office.

CA: Then after a while…

PR: Still in the same place Cyril? Was the … was the sorting office..

CA: Where the counter is now. It was still there. Up the back passage.

PR: Yes. So you went up the .. up the yard to it.

CA: Mmmm. That’s right.

PR: Um..And the post office entrance was on the Fore Street.

CA: Front.

PR: On the Fore Street itself, for customers.

CA: [undecipherable] …counter was there.

JLa: Yes, counter.

PR: And that stayed at the back until…

CA: Forty … about forty-six, forty-seven.

JLa: Somewhere about there.

CA: About forty-seven.

JLa: That’s right.

ES: Did you say you were, um, in communications in the army because, er, you knew morse code? Were you a signaller?

CA: That’s where I was in the first place. I was signal sergeant in the.. in the, um, regiment. Regimental signals.

ES: Yes.

CA: Then I went into kew/Q (??] branch after that. After a few courses.

ES: Did you go out of the country or did you, er…

CA: We went from… we went from um. .[undecipherable] . Lincolnshire to Gibralter. Gibralter. We did a bit of training in north Africa, then we went into Italy. I was then invalided back from Italy and I went into France, Belgium, finished up north of Hamburg.

ES: Right.

CA: And I was in communications then.

PR: So you finished up at the end of your working career in a senior position.. but in Hertford?

CA: In Hertford, yes.

PR: Did you ever have to go anywhere else in the course of the career?

CA: No. Only on interviews.

PR: Mmmm.

CA: I wanted to get to the coast.

PR: Oh, I see. Just … just looking around?

CA: Yes.

JLa: And everyone else did as well.

PR: Yes. [laughing] Indeed.

CA: I went out for one or two [undecipherable]

ES: Really?

CA: Yes. I went up to… where was it? Where we used to go to London for an interview? We used to have the Postmaster and three or four throwing questions at you.

JLa: Kind Edward building was it?

CA: No, wouldn’t be King Edward Building.

PR: But local knowledge of course is very very important..

CA: That’s what happens.

PR: So the..

CA: Some would get promoted in the same office you see.

PR: Yes. Yes.

CA: Er, you know. It’s just a matter of getting known.

PR: Yes.

CA: That’s how I got promotion at Hertford where I finished up.

ES: And the people don’t necessarily want to get rid of the best, do they?

PR: No. they know you, and you know the territory…

CA/ ES: Yes.

PR: … which… So what were you when you finished then Cyril? Supervising?

CA: Um.. what’s that. Postal ..

JLa: Assistant..

CA: No. No, what was it? It used to be Inspec…Inspector, then they changed it to .. god.. dear oh, dear.

JLa: It’s gone out of my mind for the moment.


JLa: Assistant Inspector wasn’t it?

CA: No, no above that. Harry was Assistant. I was above Harry then.

JLa: Oh.

CA: He went as an AI. Post Office…

[Pause. Background conversation..]

CA: That’s funny.

PR: But when I used to do…

CA: I was in charge of the sorting office.

PR: Yes. I meant. When … when I did the Christmas post for a few years, I had to watch out for you!

CA: Mmmm. That’s right [laughs] We used to employ about fifty people then, didn’t we, when you came? That was..

JLa: It was more than that later on, didn’t we?

CA: 1957, 58.. Mrs Burrows used to sort the grammar school boys out, didn’t she.

PR: Yes, that’s right. Yes.

JLa: Pre-selected they were.

PR: [laughs] Yes. She was the school secretary, Mrs Burrows. And what was her husband, er..

CA: He was a sorting clerk telegraphist.

PR: Right.

CA: Jack, wasn’t he?

JLa: Jack was.

PR: Lived in The Drive…

JLa: Same as I was.

PR: … Bengeo. Yes.

JLa: He was senior to me.

ES: Originally the, er, telephone exchange was in Railway Street, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it…

PR: No.

ES: … I thought.. um.. on one of our tapes, Dr Mortis was saying …

PR: Oooh.

ES: I thought it was in the Wiltshire Café. Where the Wiltshire Café is now.

PR: Oh right. I don’t remember him saying that.

CA: That’s before my time.

ES: Yes, I just wondered how long in your knowledge [background ‘I’ll give you this one’..] it had been in, um, its present [background ‘you can manage that’]. Yes, yes, thank you. Yes.

PR: So..

JLo: John and Peter, you’ll be all right there?

JLa/PR: Yes, I will be. Yes, we’re OK.

PR: John, what about your career? Can we do a trace through from school days like we did with Cyril?

CA: I remember you walking in, can’t I?

JLa: I know you can. [laughing]

ES: Happy days.

PR: So, Hertingfordbury to start with?

JLa: Yes.

PR: Born there?

JLa: No.

PR: Right. You tell the story.

JLa: Born in London.

PR: Born in London.

ES: Ah, where?

JLa: Lea Bridge Road.

ES: Which is…?

JLa: East London.

ES: East London, yes.

JLa: Leyton. And er, grand…

[background: Thank you very much, Peter… excuse me giving Peter his first.., and the sugar there..]

JLa: Grandfather…

ES: Sorry, I didn’t catch that.

JLa: My grandfather was employed as a manager of.. of trust.. of a Trust House you see. Or Trust Houses. And, um, he moved around a little bit. Both during the war and after the war.

ES: Really.

JLa: First war I’m talking about. Very…. First war. And um.. [undecipherable] Stratford-on-Avon..

[background… ‘Cyril…help yourself to sugars’]

JLa: [undecipherable] done Little Courtney in Oxford, then they went to Bath Swan, Stratford on Avon and while they were at Stratford on Avon, um, a message came [undecipherable] a message came through to them saying would you go to, um, I can’t remember the name of the hotel.. it was Ventnor on the Isle of Wight.

ES: Mmm. No, thank you. [background talking]

JLa: They went to a hotel there. Well they got down to the London station and some representatives, er, of the Trust Houses met them there and said ‘Unfortunately Mrs….’ This was.. I’m talking about 1920… 1922. [background talking] Somebody died, manager..manageress she was..[undecipherable] and they had to go to Hertingfordbury rather … rather than Ventnor.

PR: Oh.

Jla: So there you are.

PR: So…

ES: Oh, that was it.

PR: So that’s … that’s the arrival at the White Horse.

JLa: So I arrived there.

JLo: Yes. Help yourself to a biscuit …

PR: And then where did you go to school?

JLo: …if you’d like one, won’t you?

JLa: I went to Birch Green School and then Hertford [background ‘you all right?]… Hertford Grammar like you.

[background talking]

JLa: I lift there in 1935 and, um, immediately joined the post office. I’d … I’d already .. I’d passed the examination… written examination. And I went straight into the sorting office, immediately after Christmas.

[background chatter; undecipherable]

JLa: And the first six months … eight months in fact… the first six months was solely employed travelling to the central telegraph office at St Martins le Grand in the city, each day to learn tele-printing operating. ‘Cos morse had gone out. Morse went out in the early thirties. And, er, you know, they were mostly girls down there doing it in those days, weren’t they? Well they had to give us six months’ training. So I had this six months’ training. Immediately after that six months’ training you had to go to the Counter-training School in Queen Victoria Street. Again in the city. And, um, had two months’ counter-training. Then of course I came back to Hertford and… and took on the whole lot.

PR: Yes. So let’s do the Hertford bit then. When you came back here..?

Jla: Well, I was first employed in.. in the sorting office. And our basic jobs there were sorting outward and inward mail. First it was outward mail. We had… we had terrible duties. We were sorting outward mail up…for up to eight and a half hours every night. And often… [undecipherable].. then we could finish at half past eight every.. every evening. Or, you were put on night work or early morning work. And the late one.. there was another late one… didn’t finish ‘til eleven. So we had terrible duties. And that was the outward sorting. Then when… when you’re eighteen, [laughs], you… you were… well you picked it up as the years went by, the inward sorting, mail coming In to Hertford. You had to sort it into the different streets and villages and that.

PR: Mmm.

JLa: Because the reason for that was… because you couldn’t be employed on night duty af.. after ten or eleven o’clock was it, at night?

CA: Ten, was it?

JLa: Couldn’t have been ten, ‘cos we had a duty that didn’t finish until half past. It must have been…

CA: Was that eleven o’clock when the mail went to London. The mail went to London..

JLa: ….yes.. on the er.. on the ten something from Liverpool Street. 10.48 I think it was, to Liverpool Street. Anyhow. As soon as I was eighteen we had to go on nights, earlies, lates.

PR: Mmm.

JLa: But all the time we were taken off and put on counter work. And at other times we were on telegraph work when we had to work the… the teleprinters.

PR: Yes.

JLa: You see, but.. and… and teleprinting work was getting massive in those days. It really was, wasn’t it?

CA: It was.

JLa: And, um, we had these teleprint… we had two teleprinters in Hertford. They.. they all worked, again to the Central Telegraph Office on London. That’s the only terminal we had. Everything was either sent to, or received from them. And um…bear with me a minute… oh yes. That’s right. I’ll continue on with telegraphs at the moment. They’re not.. it’s a very.. not far to go on that one. Back in 1940… a beautiful bomb dropped right on the Central Telegraph Office in London and everything went out. We went on duty that morning and switched the teleprinters on and all we got was yards of tape being thrown out. It was completely gone, you know. A hit, a direct hit on it.

PR: Mmm.

JLa: And, um, they had to switch the terminal to somewhere in.. Anglia.. East Anglia somewhere. And all the telegrams had to circulate round there.. but it’s… they soon got it fitted up again. So we had to transmit our telegrams to there. Then of course, I was called up as well, so off I went. And, er…

ES: And did you go into Signals?

JLa: I want to the Royal Corps of Signals. Mmmm. Then, um, naturally, I… I… besides… and again, besides having to do telegraphs, sorting office, counter, we had to, um, we had to do writing work as well, didn’t we?

CA: Yes.

JLa: We had to go up in the writing room, you know, the.. er.. do the clerical work up there.

PR: Yes.

JLa: Like working out the wages. [laughs]. All those sorts of jobs.

PR: And…

JLa: And sending….answering letters of complaint. Which Mr Fisher used to sign. Ahem [laughs].

JLo: Yes, and our wages too. They were responsible for us lot too.

JLa: Oh yes, we were responsible for telephones. We had to pay their wages as well.

PR: Yes.

ES: It’s strange though, that they weren’t encouraging specialists but making everybody … [undecipherable]

JLa: .. Jack-of-all-trades….[undecipherable]. They were a jack-of-all-trades. They did the lot. Except go out and deliver, did we?

CA: No.

JLa: That’s the only thing we didn’t do was deliver mail.

PR: So, as it… as time went on and you got more and more… we’re going back from the … the war as it were and got… did they.. did it become more specialist then, in later years?

JLa: In the war it was.. … during the war..?

PR: Well..

JLa: Because I missed a lot of it.

PR: Yes, but after, for you when you came back was your job still as varied right through to the end?

JLa: Yes, it went through, yes… still carried on. But then after a while we lost the telephones didn’t we? I can’t remember what time we lost the telephones they were…. Cambridge always did the technical side..

JLo/ PL: After you left.. [undecipherable]…yes. Yes.

JLa: We never did the technical side. Cambridge always did the technical side.

Jlo: It would be 1940/50 something [undecipherable].

Jla: We did the clerical side of telephones.

PL: 47?

JLa: I suppose it was 1950-ish was it, somewhere?

Jlo: Somewhere there, roughly.

JLa: We um.. we lost the, um… we lost that completely so they went… although they were billeted in, well I say billeted with us, and they used to send the pay sheets down to us and we used to have to pay them. Go up the sort.. telephone exchange and pay the girls. But they’d worked it out in Cambridge for us.

PR: Right, right.

JLa: And that was the end of the telephonist side of it for us.

PR: Mmm.

JLa: But down on telegrams we had people [background comments about air raids]… pick the phone up and say ‘I want to send a telegram please’. And of course the operator would put them through as… put them through to .. in our little telegraph opposite. It was no bigger … it was no than our kitchen out there. A pokey little place.

PR: Yes.

JLa: We had two teleprinters clanging away and we had a little box on the wall .. we had to plug in just like the telephonists had to.. plug in and we only had one through didn’t we? And we did.. they just used to dictate the telephone.. telegram off to us and we used to write it down and make out a ticket with the charge on. And that was it… we used to transmit it for them. And it used to be charged to their telephone account, you see. [pause]

PR: So,.. all .. all the … the postmen, the delivery postmen would have sorted and delivered all the time, would they? Would that be their whole job?

JLa: Well they only did… they only sorted the inward mail.

PR: Right.

JLa: They never…Postmen in those days never sorted outward mail, only inward.. didn’t they?

CA: Only inward delivery.

JLa: Inward .. all for delivery. All for delivery in Hertford and surrounding districts.

PR: Franking machines?

JLa: Yes, but… we, well they used to bring them in with a cheque. We used to give them extra credit. So like you paid… well in those days it was a few pound but now… well just before I retired in ’82, [laughs] it was four and five hundred pounds. The postage on a franking machine, you see..

PR: Oh.

JLa: They used to have to bring them down the office.

PR: Yes, yes.

JLa: Pitney Bowes, and Roneo and ….

PR: Right, so. What about the collection of mail around the town from the post… from the posting boxes?

Jla: Ah, that was… that was postmen.

PR: Right.

JLa: And the… and the … and the sub-offices throughout the town.

PR: Has that changed..? I mean in Hoddesdon they’ve got little boxes all over the place now. Red boxes on stilts on, on tied…where… um, oh no, that’s not… that’s for the delivery people to have their..

JLa: Delivery [.. parcels?].. by a mail man.

CA: Oh really, they’ve got them up there.

JLa: Yes, they’ve got them around.. all around the Hoddesdon area..

CA: Yes, it comes in, er, Enfield, doesn’t it?

PR: Yes.

ES: What did you say it was?

JLa: Well the postman, if he’s got too much… he got… used to carry thirty-eight pounds, that was his weight… over that. They put them in the van now and deliver them… and put them in these boxes en route.

ES: I see.

Jla: Somewhere near the end of his delivery, you see. And they … they put them in there and the postman opens them, picks up another bag and carries on delivering… save going back to the office.

ES: Oh I see.

PR: Some are on little posts and some are actually strapped to posting boxes.

JLa/CA: Yes.

PR: Who would have collected the mail from the boxes around the town then? Who’s job was that?

JLa: That.. that was the postman, van-driver, a van-driver goes around collecting those. There used to be nine collections a day.

CA: Yes. I know.

JLa: In 30.

PR: Oh really.

JLa: 30. You’ve got three now.

CA: That was before the war.

JLa: You’ve got three…

ES: Four.

Jla: Four?

ES: In West Street we’ve got four, haven’t we?

PR: Oh. And have the sites of those boxes changed much over the years?

JLa: No. No, they’re the same, since… a few extras.

CA: Mmm. You got quite a lot … quite a lot more now.

PR: Mmmm.

ES: But why did the, um… the service get relatively worse? I mean is it partly the volume of letters? Because I mean reading my mother’s early, er… letters…

CA: 1964 I think they got worse, didn’t they John?

ES: But I mean she would write a card saying… or somebody would write to her um, let’s go out this evening, or I’ll meet you at, er, you know Victoria Station at six.

[background conversation]

ES: They would send a postcard and presumably my mother kept the appointment… I mean that would be unheard of, wouldn’t it?

CA: Well, first .. there wasn’t a first then.. ordinary mail always got first day delivery John, didn’t it?

JLa: In those days, we always…it all was really first class service. If you posted it in Hertford at eleven o’clock at night here just before the war or just after the war that would go by mail van into, um, Mount Pleasant at half past eleven, that would be at night.

ES: Mmmm.

JLa: Mr Boxford was one of the last every time to bring his letters in…[laughing] just after you’d left he’d come in the back when the box was closed.. and they used to be in London by midnight.

ES: But, er….And in Hertford if, um, would, er.. a letter posted locally reach… going to a local destination, reach there the same day?

CA: It could do.

ES: It could do, yes.

CA: It could do if it was posted… collected by nine o’clock.. the next delivery went out at…[ eleven?...undecipherable]

ES: But was it really that it all just got so big.. or that people didn’t care quite so much about the quality of the service?

JLa: I don’t know whether it got so big, because the staff increased. You ain’t got the same staff. Actually the postal side, then… or the postmen were all ex-servicemen. They was queuing up from the army, navy and air-force… and it was the discipline in those days.

PR: Mmmm.

JLa: That was… and everybody did the job.

ES: Mmm.

JLa: Weren’t they?

CA: They were.

JLa: They were smart in those days.

CA: You had to wear white collar and black tie.

JLa: Going back to ‘thirty-nine again, the ex-regulars were still on reserve you see. Ex-regular sol, um… service people. And in 1939, September the third, they’d all gone.

ES: Mmmm.

JLa: They were all reserves you see. And we were scratching the bottom of the barrel… even Cyril had gone.. they’d all gone. And we was just grabbing anyone who looked in the door.. Come on in [all laugh].

PR: Now we.. we have to keep reminding ourselves of our listeners’ view of things. We.. we get caught up in your own history.. so a lot of people think, um.. letters and the post office and they think first of all of red letter boxes, don’t they, out… from outside.

JLa: That’s true.

PR: Around the town there are some very old ones aren’t they, Victorian…? [undecipherable comment]. Have we not got a Victorian..?

JLa/CA: No. No.

PR: Where are these, um…

CA: We had … we had to take those out, Peter, because the … the aperture’s never big enough for…

PR: Right.

CA: Have to be a certain aperture and I can’t quite remember…

PR: There is one…

CA: .. more than four and a half inches, weren’t they, they were then?

JLa: Yes, they were…

CA: The last ones… had to be removed.

ES: Mind you, they haven’t all been removed have they? I mean they…maybe in Hertford… but there are some around. I know there’s one in Little Heath.

JLa: There are some…but the… I don’t think you’ll find one that doesn’t conform to the proper aperture size.

PR: And how were they … well it’s not in Hertford but it presumably is still collected in Hailey ???, Hailey Lane

JLa: What the one opposite… the one with the big flap..

PR: The one with the flap… the .. the big Victorian one. Victorian one there.. that’s collected around Hertford isn’t it?

[background conversation]

ES: I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised in that one in, er, West Street conforms because, if you’ve got a biggish letter you have to fold it up, don’t you?

PR: It’s quite a modern box actually, that one.

ES: Yes, yes.

CA: That IS a modern one.

ES: Yes.

CA: That .. that conforms with it…[..about an inch..] I think it’s eleven inches. But you see you get people pushing envelopes that size and they stick half way.

ES: Mmmm.

CA: Well it’s not meant for that, you see. It’s not business.

PR: Have there been any, um, disasters… no fires and things like that…?

CA: Fire-works!

PR: Fireworks in boxes.

JLa: Yes, yes, we had fireworks.

CA: November the.. what was it 5th?


PR: So there was nothing Cyril that, erm… you didn’t have any major problems with any boxes ever that ... fireworks were a nuisance, but…

CA: One or two fireworks, yes. And, um, Christmas, Boxing Day… get called out there. My postmaster lived at Watton-at-Stone so the ‘phone call came from the telephone exchange to raise the supervisor… the only one that had got the key to the office. Well that was the telephone exchange; you’re not supposed to go in the sorting office on your own.

PR: Oh.

CA: But that particular case, I had permission to get the key and go to Hertford Heath and clear the box. Someone had put a large envelope, with a newspaper, and it was stuck up and full up… and just empty the box.

PR: Yes.

JLa: That happened a lot.

CA: That used to happen….

JLa: Even those two large ones in Fore Street.. the old box, not these things up the passage....

PR: Oh, yes.

JLa: The big ones.. that….

PR: Yes.

JLa: Well they had a bag at the back, didn’t they?

CA: Mmmm. Yes.

PR: I remember when I was doing that little bit of sorting before Christmas you know, and those things.. there always used to be, um… and I knew where he bought them… the cover of a little notebook with some scribbled nonsense on it from a bloke we called ‘Blackjack’. Used to sit outside the public library smoking his Blackjack, er, stuff. And he used to write this stuff, buy a notebook from Farnhams.. or .. or from the, er, money, his post-office, and then scribble… I don’t know. I never knew his name.

JLa: I know the bloke you mean.

PR: But there .. there used.. every night there were two or three of these. One, you know I was just doing my odd week or two.

JLo: [undecipherable…employed as a casual for Christmas?..]

PR: Yes. Yes.

JLa: I think he was a bit of a nutter.

PR: Yes.

JLa: Smoked this pipe didn’t he?

PR: Yes. That’s right. I .. I don’t know whether he was in the town for a long period or not, but, er.. I can … can remember him as..

All: Mmmm.

PR: Ah, right.

ES: You were going to say about the, er, air-raid warden?

JLo: Yes. Yes. We took all the air-raid messages at.. in.. in. They were given to us and then we put them out to different places to sound the sirens.

PL: Hospital.. [places?] wasn’t it?

JLo: Yes. Where ever there was a sign, we had to pass the message on.

ES: Who sent the message then? Where did it come from? I mean was it… did it come from coastal defences saying you know.. ‘planes are heading your way.’?

JLo: Yes, somewhere like that, wherever they were…

ES: Oh I see.

Jlo: … stationed when they picked it up.

JLa: What was at Leahoe?

JLo: Hmmm?

JLa: What was at Leahoe?

JLo: Oh…

PL: It was only ARP I think, wasn’t it?

JLo: Yes.. they they… we were the source. Yes. We were the… in Hertford who picked it up and then, as I say, as we gave it out we heard all the sirens going..

ES: And you had a set, er, number of people that you had to inform… the police..?

JLo/ PL: Yes.

ES: ARP, the hospital?

JLo: Yes..all printed, yes. Yes, it was…

PL: Air raid message, yellow.

JLo: Yes…

PL: It was..Air raid warning..

JLo: Air raid warning, red… it was mauve

PL: Yes.

JLo: It was one that was a sort of a mauve. And then the red was the actual siren.. and then the yellow was the all-clear, wasn’t it?

PL: Yes. That’s it. Something like that.

JLo: Mmm. So we had to sit there while the air-raid was on and wait for the all-clear to come through. We had special gas-masks issued. We had to try those out.

PL: …telephone..

JLo: Yes..

PL: with a microphone..

JLo: so that they plugged into your position.

PR: So when the doodlebug in…went in to the Mill Bridge…

PL/ JLo: Yes. Mmmm. Yes?

PR: .. where.. where were you then?

PL: Well, it was a Sunday morning, wasn’t it?

JLo: Yes. We were called on duty immediately.

PL: Yes.. they said come as soon as you can for me.

JLo: Yes.

PL: Oh, do you…‘cos you weren’t here then, were you?

JLo: No.

ES: Why did they send for you because they thought there’d be…

PL: Oh because of the work. No, because of the work.

CA: Pressure .. pressure of work.

Jlo: There was everything to be telephoned you see.

PL: When… when you get a bomb dropped in the town I mean, you… was…

ES: Why do.. you mean because of people ‘phoning in to say ‘are you all right?’ kind of thing?

PL: Yes, mainly.

ES: It’s mainly that. Oh, I see.

JLo: And ‘cos the lines were down, some…the overhead lines a lot of them, weren’t they?.. That caused a commotion. Yes.

JLa: Yes, there’s a lot of work, overhead lines.

JLo: They’ve got to get extra help, haven’t they if they’ve got.. anything…[undecipherable]

PL What was the one when we were on duty that weekend, though? All the… the three … three seniors were away.

JLo: Yes, I can’t think what that was.

PL: Di was off.

JLo: Yes.

PL: Yes, because we … had to cover the whole of the time between us, didn’t we?

JKo: Yes. Yes, we did.

CA: Was Spratley there at the time? ( Supervisor St Margarets Road Hoddesdon)

Jlo/PL: Yes, Yes.

CA: … Spratley, she was there at the time.

JLo: Oh yes, she was there.. mmm, did she come before you?

PL: Yes, she was senior to me.

JLo: Yes. Yes.

PR: So they sent a mail van to pick you up did they…[undecipherable]?

PL: Mmm. Eva Dickson? I don’t suppose you knew Eva Dickson?

JLo: No.

PR: I’ve heard the name, but I can’t...

PL: Same age as me. But she got married before she was twenty. Married Fred Bacchus. I expect your mother knew her.

PR: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes, she…

PL: We lived near each other and they picked us up. It was just panic.

PR: Yes. Were you at 76 North Road then?

PL: Mmm.

PR: Yes.

ES: But the raids were the exception I assume, rather than the norm in Hertford were they?

JLa: Well, we didn’t have a lot of bombs.

Jlo: There were quite a lot really, didn’t we?

PL: Yes we.. but it wasn’t desperate, was it?

JLo: No, no.

PL: But we did have… we used to get them. We used to get them, didn’t we?

JLo: Oooh, yes.

PL: We had that landmine down [Mill/Ware??] Road.

JLo: Oh yes.

PL: I was staying with your mother then. I was.. I went there to sleep at night because I couldn’t get home when I finished at ten o’clock so I used to go to Peter’s mum.

PR: So was that the one in, er.. Tamworth … Tamworth Road?

PL: Tamworth Road, that’s right. I was there that night.

PR: Oh.

PL: With your .. with mum.

PR: I don’t know when our back bedroom window blew in.. er, but that was probably the Mill bridge one, was it?

JLo: Yes.

PL: Yes, I should think it would have been…

PR: Mmmm.

PL: … wouldn’t you? Although they did have another one up on Campfield Road or somewhere?

JLo: Yes, because, um, our ceiling fell down.

PL: Yes, they had something.

JLo: ‘46

PL: They had one or two other ones up there.. one of the other…

JLo: My mother went upstairs and her ceiling was on the bed.

PR: It had done…funny things aren’t they, the dynamics, like acoustics with sound that, er… it was the back window-pane is still, um, very thin glass, the replacement of that which was war-time…

PL: But you spent your early days under a table didn’t you?

PR: Yes. [laughs]

PL: The dining-room table. I remember his mother and, er, his grandmother..

PR: Yes, with a baize green cloth.

PL: Yes.

CA: You don’t get under there now, do you?

PR: Not a lot, not a lot! [laughing]

[all talking]

PR: Then it was down the cellar. I’m not sure… it was the cellar first wasn’t it, and then I think they got fed up with the atmosphere, you know, down there and they went to the table to stop the flying glass.

JLo: Amazing we slept in the cellars. We did at home.

PR: Yes.

PL: We slept in the cellars.

PR: Oh, can we, um, talk about some people because personalities are…

JLo: .. the exchange was completely closed.

PR: Oh yes.

JLo: In 1986. The exchange is finished , there is no operators there whatsoever. I don’t know if anybody realises that.

PR: No. we’d better put that on, hadn’t we?

ES: Yes.

JLo: It closed and the work is now done by Cambridge, as far as I know. If you dial 100, you will get someone in Cambridge.. will answer you.

PR: Right. So we really … really are talking about an earlier era..

PL: Yes.

JLo: They’ve got one engineer there who can look after the equipment.

PR: Yes.

JLo: I understand there’s only one now, for everything.

PR: John, you were going to ..

JLa: I was just going to say, back in 1966 we took over the administration of Ware post office as well.. but …

PR: Right.

JLa: …promptly in 1967, we were both taken over by Stevenage.

PR: Right.

Jla: And I was sent to Stevenage for.. seven years, wasn’t I?

PL: Yes. Mmmm.

JLa: For seven years.. I.. I .. I offered to go to Stevenage and so I had to work in Stevenage for that time. And subsequent now…

PR: Were you dealing with Hertford business in Stevenage?

JLa: Yes, the whole of the Stevenage and Hitchin and Ware postal areas.

PR: Mmm.

JLa: The whole lot.

PR: They … they didn’t get you to specialise in the Hertford end as it were?

JLa: No, no, no.

PR: Because of your knowledge. You did the lot?

JLa: Yes.

PR: Well, so Hertford really was for telephones, er, and for post office, quite big?

JLa: In its day.

PR: In.. in its day, relative to surrounding districts.

CA: Pre-war.

JLa: Pre-war and during the war. Yes.

PR: Important. Who was Mr Gardner?

JLa: Harry Gardner?

PR: Mmm.

CA: Lived up Mangrove? He was, um, he was Head Postman I think for us wasn’t he?

JLa: Mmm.

CA: Then he made Assistant Inspector. Until he retired. He was Assistant Inspector when he retired.

PR: Tall, white haired.

CA: I was Assistant with him.

PR: Yes.

CA: And then they … staff increased and we made up .. made two AI’s and myself.

JLa: .. in the end.

PR: He always seemed very severe, to us younger chaps.

JLa: Well he was another .[undecipherable]. man you see. You know, ex-military fellow and, er.. upright and..

CA: Acting sergeant-major wasn’t he? … 76 Battery… up St Andrew Street there, ,.. he went into the war. Came out as captain during the war.

PR: Mmmm. When would he have started at the post office then? What.. er.. what sort of area would he have spanned? Because he was a good bit older than you Cyril, wasn’t he, although you were…

CA: Oh yes, yes. Um, I don’t know whether he was there when I ... when I joined. Was he there when you joined John?

JLa: Harry Gardner? Harry… Oh yes. Well I didn’t go ‘til ’32.

CA: Oh, Bush was Head Postman. Oh Harry was a postman then, wasn’t he?

JLa: He may have been.. I don’t know. Mmmm.

CA: That was before my time.

PR: Well I think maybe, probably, yes, it would have been mid-20’s. It would have been in my grandfather’s time. Yes. Well presumably, er, well you must have just missed my grandfather at the post office because he died in 1930 but he was 59? So he would have still been working…


PR: … at the time that he died. But you came the year…

CA: After.

PR: … after. Yes. And it’s quite interesting to pick up these odd names. I’d forgotten them, but during the talk this afternoon they… they.. names I’ve heard mentioned at home. Like Miss Mardell [laughs] and, er..

ES: What were the inspectors inspecting at the post office?

CA Well it was… actually it was in charge of all the postmen and … and the administration.

JLa: Really it’s a supervisor .. [undecipherable].. Supervisor instead of inspector.

ES: Oh, I see.

CA: They just gave it different names. It’s gone from Inspector, post-office controller. Now they call them managers.

PR: Any tricky postmen to manage from the discipline point of view.. I mean, there’s…?

JLa: [laughing]. Just one or two.

CA: One or two. One or two. One or two of them that didn’t know what belonged to them.

PR: Yes. Or..

CA: Of course we’ve got the watching gallery up there, mind you. We had the watching gallery in the… well there still is the present sorting office.

Jla: What we call a watching gallery.

ES: Which is what?

CA: Well you go in there … and there was dark glass – you’d watch the postman sorting to see whether he puts anything in his pocket while he’s sorting.

JLa: It happened occasionally…[undecipherable]

ES: I’m sure .. it seems to me almost an unfair temptation. For people, don’t you think?

CA: For some.. for some people.

PR: It is a temptation.

CA: For some people. For other people it never occurs to them, does it?

PR: But when you mentioned going in, you know, as the key-holder… and not meant to..

ES: Being on your own.

PR: … being on your own, yes. I mean the security side was…

CA: Security side. Very secure, yes.

PL: Very secure, aren’t they?

JLo: Yes. We were very secure.

CA: Well, I think after the war some of these servicemen had to scrounge for a living, and they’d pinch anything.

PR: Yes. Yes.

CA: And I had occasion… one who was in… prisoner of war, Japan. Well they reckoned him and Jim Gaye, Marratt and Gaye…

JLa: Marratt.

CA: … they used to pinch the food for them. They used to collect food…. He’s the one. I just put a blue envelope there with three pound in it and a mark on it and turned my back and he’d picked it up and put it in his pocket… [undecipherable] picked him up straight away, just like that.

PR: Yes, yes. Desperate to...

CA: Desperate.

PL: I wondered how that was done.

JLa: I had several of those.

ES: Of course a lot of valuables would be being transported wouldn’t they, through the post office?

JLa: Oh loads, particularly in those days.

ES: Yes, more so.

JLa: More so than…

ES: … now, but I mean registered letters were used a lot, weren’t they?

PR: There’s that lovely, um, enamel thing on the Munnings post office on Old Cross that says ‘Don’t…’ It’s still there isn’t it?.. ‘Don’t put any jewellery in this post box’ and, um, valuables and that sort of thing. But I mean it still tells you if you post a letter now, not to post jewellery. I can never imagine anyone even thinking of doing that. But there’s a warning there.

ES: Mmmm.

PR: 1993. Not to put your jewellery in the box. [laughs].

ES: Well I suppose there’s always been this rather paradoxical thing that you’re sending valuables but you’re advertising them because there in a registered envelope.

PR: Yes. Yes, straightaway.

CA: But it would be dangerous to put jewellery in an envelope though, wouldn’t it, because it goes through a stamping machine and it would get crushed.

ES/ PR: Mmmm

CA: So you wouldn’t… you wouldn’t do that.

PR: No.

CA: You’d register it.

PR: Well…But they obviously think that the public need warning, or they do….

JLo: Do they realise now that it all goes to Stevenage, that you don’t stamp anything there…

CA: No. Nothing.

PR: No, no. The Hertford postmark has ...

JLa: Gone.

PR: … gone.

ES: Has it?

JLa: It’s gone to Stevenage….[undecipherable]

CA: Well they use it at Christmas, don’t they?

JLa: …mechanised letter office now.

CA: They use it at Christmas. Post office (bed-runs???) and telephonist (bed-runs???) are all going over to Stevenage.

JLa: Mechanised letter office. When we going?

JLo: 5th May.

JLa: 5th May. We’re going to have a look at it one afternoon.

PR: Ah?

JLa: Very.. very interesting. [undecipherable]… I’ve seen it. But, um, ‘cos when I, um, got over there I did my seven years up there, I was promoted back to Hertford. I came and took charge of Hertford you see. Postmaster.

PR: Yes. So, some of the old postmen like Mr Ginn

JLa: Yes…

PR: From Hornsmill… he’s at Birchley Court now, isn’t he?

CA: That’s right. You don’t see him about much but he is about.

PR: No. He is about [undecipherable].. and… and Whyman from Parker Avenue, or up….

CA: Is…Is he still about?

PR: No. He had a heart attack after he clipped his hedge.

CA: Oh, that’s right. He was clipping his hedge. I remember that now. Yes. I’m very surprised to hear you knew that!

PR: I remembered it from somewhere. Oh I was… I was working at Farnham’s* you see, probably at the time and it was the Farnham’s delivery area.

[* transcriber’s note: Farnham & Son, newsagents of Old Cross]

CA: I see.

PR: That sort of bit. But I’d remember there. And John Knott in more recent times. There are lots of long-standing…

CA: Post-war… post, post-war postmen..John Knott was. He was a plumber weren’t he? He came to us as a plumber.

PR: Ah.

CA: You know, he was a plumber before he became a postman.

PR: Yes. But he’s put in a good many years now… He’s still doing this… is he still doing this?

CA: No, no. He’s just retired. He finished about January I think [background talking] it was.

PR: Ah. But, um, I mean there … there were characters there weren’t there, with old Whyman and, er..

CA: Oh yes…. Well pre-war there was more characters then.

PR: Oh.

CA: Bill Smith and old [Harry Ford???] and [Bill Wood-Harrison??] and all those. Ex marines they were

JLa: He was a worrier was old Bill Smith.

CA: Bill Smith?

JLa: He was a worrier.

CA: He used to have a big pair of boots and he could see his face in them. All.. highly polished.

PR: Yes.

ES: You mean he worried about his job?

JLa: Yes, well… yes. He was worried, really worried, all the time, weren’t he?

CA: Who was that one?

JLa: Bill Smith.

CA: Bill Smith.

JLa: He was another worrier.

PR: Where did he live then, was he…?

CA: Parkhurst Road.

PR: Ah.

JLa: Mmm. That’s right.

PR: Yes.

CA: He’s been going years, though.

PR: Yes. No it’s nice to just put a label and, er…

CA: He used to have a wife… Bill was about that size, his wife was about that size… six foot two. Every pay-day Bill used to walk down the yard [laughs]… she’d be waiting at the bottom for him, for the wages [laughing]. She used to say to the postman.. ‘See you’ [??]

[much laughing]

CA: Characters they were, really characters.

JLa: It was like that in those days. Every penny counted.

PR: Yes.

ES: Was it a well-paid job?

CA: It wasn’t, I think… think the top wage was about £3.00 something

Jlo: No.

JLa: It was, it was the, it was the thought of a pension at the end of it that held us I think.

CA: And quite hard work.

ES: But the… I mean, the thirties, they were the times when that was so important, a pension wasn’t it?

CA: It was the depression wasn’t it, in the thirties.

ES: Mmmm.

PL: I think for a long while, er, the top wage was about £3.50, wasn’t it?

JLa: About £3.50. Yes, £3….

[undecipherable… that’s all we had, , the war]

ES: Appalling money.

JLa: £3.50’s the top one.

JLo; Yes.

JLa: I started off in ’35 at twelve and sixpence a week.

JLo: Yes.

JLa: Twelve shillings and sixpence a week. And they used to knock two shillings off straight away for training. So I got ten shillings and sixpence. [laughs].

PR: Mmm.

JLa: Mind you I didn’t have to pay any national health stamps or anything on those days.

CA: No, no. no.

JLa: But up to… up to the, um, 1947 when they put the national health service in, there were three different stamps. There were the health insurance stamps, the unemployment stamps, and the agricultural workers’ stamps. We had all those three to sell over the counter.

PR: Yes. Yes.

JLa; I did quite a few years on the counter. I haven’t mentioned much on that, have I?

CA: Well when we had to pay national health we got five pound… five shilling rise and that paid for…[undecipherable] the stamps [laughs].

ES: Did you enjoy working on the counter?

JLa: Yes, it was most enjoyable.

ES: I mean actually… post office counter staff have got rather a bad reputation, haven’t they? As being dour?

CA: Oh, we did have.

JLa: They shouldn’t have now. [laughing]

ES: No, but why was that? Do…Why is that, do you think? Are they not a business?

CA: General public… I mean it’s the general public, it’s the attitude to the general public, really.

CA: Don’t you get it when you wait in a queue down Tesco’s and things? I get a bit..[undecipherable]


ES: Well, not… but I mean it’s, yes, well maybe.

JLa: Mmmm. Oh we all get it everywhere, don’t we?

PR: Well, yes, I mean, I suppose it’s a bit different if you’re running a greengrocer’s shop and there’s, then there’s..

CA: Oh, well..

PR: … there’s much more self-interest there to be jolly isn’t there, and, with… with your remarks, and, er…?

ES: Yes, that’s true.

CA: A lot of people think they can just walk in and be served straight away, don’t they? They don’t though…

PR: And with the range of services that are being offered…

CA: Well, there’s a massive range of services.

PR: Yes. Yes, there’s a …

CA: So, you get someone wanting to send a couple of quid to Australia by telegraph, in those days. That took … took time to do that, didn’t it? Time you wrote out a telegram and took their money and charged them the poundage, and the fees and the telegraph charges. There were all those things you had to do. They think: ‘just write it out, and done’!

PR: So, Sid Fisher.

JLo: Yes.

PR: Famous name. When did he start?

PL: Oh, I can’t remember how old he was. Um. He started when he was sixteen, I know that.

PR: In Hertford?

PL: Yes. And then he was sent to Mitcham.

ES: Do you know when he was born?

PL: Er…I’m just trying to think. Now he died in .. well [Janet was?] forty…trying to work it all out. He’d ret… he’d retired at sixty, hadn’t he?

JLa: Yes.

PL: He was just coming up to sixty-one when he died.

CA: Yes. He’d been to the butchers, hadn’t he?

PL: That was… ‘fifty-three. ‘Cos Janet was born in fifty-two. Oh, no, he died .. fifty…at the end, er.. Christmas fifty-two. He was coming up to… he wasn’t sixty-one until the May.

ES: That was 1892.

JLo: Yes, yes. 1892 he was born and he started work when he was fourteen.

ES: In 1912, then.

PL: Yes. They had to have a grammar school education in those days, didn’t they? There was that little old grammar school thing…

JLa: Before counters started..

PR: So he … he would… was he born in Hertford then?

JLo: Oh yes. At The Bell.

CA: There was one… one school in Ware…

PR: Well, now, where’s the… where’s The Bell*, Joan?

*[transcriber’s note; this is referred to elsewhere as the Little Bell public house]

JLo: Opposite St Andrew’s church.

PR: Right.

JLo: [undecipherable]… where [?Bert Laurence?] went.

PR: About… about 38, St Andrew Street.

ES: It… it isn’t there now. You mean near the Three Tuns?

PR: It’s where the motorcycle shop…. There was a motorcycle shop wasn’t there, and then there was Beaumont’s Hairdresser’s next door.

PL: I think his mother kept The Bell because he.. he was the youngest of ten children. And he got the Newton Scholarship.. you’ve heard of that? At the grammar school.

PR: Ah, right. Yes. Yes. Ah, so that would have been, er, in the, er, Edwardian times, I think, 1910 or something like that.

PL: Mmmm. Yes. And he want to Mitcham. I don’t know for how long. Then he came back here and then of course he was in the 1914-18 war.

PR: Mmm.

PL: Well with…he went in in about the first six months.

PR: Mmmm.

PL: And then he stuck there ever since.

PR: So really, we’re jumping back a generation further than we’ve been talking about now…

PL: Mmm.

PR: … doing much the same pattern. Much the same style of things.

PL: Mmm. Yes. And of course, they were mostly men in those days weren’t they, when your grandfather was there. There weren’t many women.

PR: Oh no, must have.. must have..yes. Must have been. I never .... never thought of it that’s, um, you know, women there but granddad having dies twelve years before I was born, it’s all hearsay. You don’t start remembering…

JLo: … no, that’s the trouble isn’t it. That’s what I find. It’s.. it’s very frustrating I think.

ES: But the post office seems to be rather like the railways… the people are loyal.. have a loyalty to it?

JLo: Oh, yes. Yes. And families too, doesn’t it.. I mean, I think, you’know..

CA: It did in our day. I don’t know what…

JLo: Yes. Mmmm.

PR: So he was, having started at The Bell and going into what wasn’t really a highly-paid job but was secure..

PL: Secure. Yes.

PR: But did he buy that North Road House and then…

PL: He never bought it.

PR: Ah.

PL: That was rented. He couldn’t afford it.

PR: ‘Cos much more property was rented, that’s… yes.

PL: Mmm. He couldn’t afford it.

PR: Mmmm. I was wondering how on earth he could…

PL: And the old St Andrew’s School where he … he went, his name was on the register there. Old Miss Turnbill …

PR: Mmmm.

PL: …told me. And in those days they used to pay… the well-to-do were paid sixpence a week and the poor ones were one penny.

PR: Mmm. Had to pay…?

PL: A week.. it was to go to school. Yes. Schooling. And they were in the one-pennies. I can remember my old aunt. Do you remember auntie Ada… perhaps you don’t... She was ten years older than dad. You don’t remember her? Your mother….

PR: No. I can remember your Dad, but then I was only ten or eleven when he died of course.

PL: Of course you were. Yes, yes.

PR: If we’ve got our dates right.

PL: Mmm. Mmmm.

PR: No, er... I remember an Ada Fisher but she was married, um, you know married a Fisher living in Sele Road. Up the last house in Sele Road, um, up the County Hospital hill. But that was a different, that was a different Fisher.

PL: Mmm.

JLa: There was old Sid Fisher.

CA: That weren’t Sid Fisher was it?

JLa: No, no… Sid Fisher was a postman. He was a…

PL: Oooh, yes. I remember. Um, not Sid Fisher, um… he was a bit gingery, wasn’t he?

PR: Yes…

PL: When you first started…Edie was my age…

PR: There was a daughter Julie…

PL: Edie, Julie.. and..

CA: And a son …

PL: The son was the middle…

CA: …was a plumber at, um, Norris’s weren’t he?

PL: Yes.

PR: Right.

CA: Jimmy. Jimmy Fisher

PL: Jimmy.

PR: Right.

PL: And he.. his father was Jim Fisher.

CA: Your father was Jim Fisher?

PL: No.

CA: No [laughs] I don’t think so.

PL: No, his… er, young Jim Fisher’s father, was Jim Fisher.

CA: Jim Fisher.

PL: Lived in the first house in Sele Road.

CA: That’s right.

PR: Yes. On the steep way up. Yes. And the wife there was called Ada.

PL: That’s right. Yes.

PR: Yes. But that’s not your aunt, that was, er…?

PL: I think they are distant, you know, I mean… but not close.

PR: So he rented 76 North Road.

PL: We lived in Sele Road to start off with, when your father died.

PR: Oh.

PL: Because there was no building, no houses.

PR: Mmm.

PL: Then we moved to a house in North Road. You couldn’t afford a mortgage.

CA: It was unheard of in those days.

JLa: Not very many of us could in those days, could we?

PL: No, no.

PR: No.

PL: It was fifty pound down I think. In those days, you couldn’t afford it.

PR: Well, no. I don’t know how my grandfather did it, ‘cos he moved from the… one of the cottages in Hertingfordbury Road, opposite where we live now. And that house was £324.00

PL: That’s it. Scales built it

PR: Scales built the very first one. Was yours a Scales house?

PL: Yes. Yes. They built all the houses.. [undecipherable].

ES: Now what.. er..

PR: He … he paid off the mortgage the year before he died.

PL: No.

PR: No, my.. my .. my granddad did.

PL: Oh, yours.. yours did, yes. Yes.

PR: Yes.. and that must.. an enormous sacrifice for £324.00 on the money that he was getting, you know..

PL: He was probably earning under £3.00 a week when he died.

PR: Yes, yes. Must have…

CA: Must have been.

PR: 1930.

JLo/ PL: Mmmm.

PR: But they scrimped and saved. I suppose in a way not having children until mother was born in about 1916 …

PL: Mmmm.

PR: … and for her honey.. well I know grandmother didn’t work but at least they didn’t have thee expense of children before family allowances. So they probably put everything into that… but you can take your hat off to him really for having got it going, you know, um, stuck at it.

JLo/ PL: Mmmm. Yes.

PR: Any other characters in your grand.. in your father’s day? My grandfather’s? I can’t think of any more names.

PL: It’s a job to know, isn’t it. It’s a job to remember. Because there was the man that, um, you told me about pilfering and things… your… there was somebody who lived very near where your grandfather did, he was helping himself.

PR: Oh?

PL: And the joke went .. went really, that.. what was your father’s name.. your grandfather?.. Bill. Bill George..?

PR: Yes, Will. Will they called him…

PL: .. yes, that poor old Bill George was helping him carry this stuff home…

PR: Oh, and not know!?

PL: … and didn’t know it! [All laugh] I mean I was only, what, about seven I suppose. And I can remember this, but it was …[undecipherable].. all straight above my head…

PR: Yes.

PL: … but I can remember that.

PR: Mmm.

PL: Of course he.. he, he was had up. I think he was dismissed of course immediately.

PR: Yes, yes.

PL: But great big parcels and things I think he took.

PR: And he’d get my granddad to help him carry them ..

PL: Yes, yes. This man lived at the bottom of Sele Road.

PR: Mmmm.

PL: I mean it’s funny how you remember some things though isn’t it?

PR/ ES: Yes. Yes.

PL: And as a child that stuck in my memory.

PR: People always said nice things about my granddad though. I’ve always got that feeling that he was a…

PL: Mmm.

PR: … a good bloke.

PL: Your mother was like him in stature and everything.. not like your grandmother.

PR: No.

PL: Your grandmother was taller.

PR: Yes, she was tall. Yes. But then I remember Sid Ilott at Harry Harry who..

PL: Oh yes.

PR .. who was always giving me, when I was quite small, giving me a talking to about my granddad, and I’d got to grow up to be like him. I was out at the gate, you know, it was a…. didn’t like to.. mmm. Yes. Yes.

So do you remember when I was born, then? Can you remember? Were you…?

PL/ JLo Yes, oh yes.

JLa: These two can.

PR: Fifty years ago.

JLo: Fifty years ago on December the fourth.

PL: Yes, I know it is.

JLo: I had a telephone call to say you’d arrived.

PR: Oh!

JLa: And I even had a letter out,.. out in the desert somewhere to say you’d arrived!

PR: Oh, well, there we are!

Jlo: Yes, because your father… your father wasn’t here, so I don’t know who rang around. Probably…

PR: Grandmother.

JLo: Your grandmother I suppose. Yes.

JLa: Didn’t you, you wrote and told me that…. One of these air…aircraft things you used to send.

JLo: .. out in North Africa.

PL: Well your father didn’t see you ‘til you were about three or four.

PR: No, no..

JLo: …quite old, yes. I’ve got some very nice photos of you at that age.

PL: You were a dear little boy…

ES: Very nice, ahh.

JLo: … curly hair.

PL: A pretty little boy.

JLo: Very pretty when he was a baby. [all talking].

ES: So you were all good friends were you? Yes, the three of you?

PL, Jlo, Jla: Yes

ES: Yes, I see. So it was quite an exciting…

All: Yes. It was. Yes.

PL: We always kept in touch with both of them really, haven’t we?

JLo: Yes, yes. Mmmm.

PR: I’ve got a doll called Pam at home….

[All laugh]

PR: … knitted in Ware, Baldock Street. Was it number three?

PL: Number three, yes.

JLo: That your mother?

PL: Yes, I mean. Peter’s grandmother used to visit my mother quite a bit. They got quite friendly.

PR: I used to come over into the cobbler’s shop ..[undecipherable]

PL: ‘cos Peter’s been involved in the Ware, um, Civic Society. I don’t know if you’ve seen his poems that have been floating around about when, er…

ES: No.

PR: No, well. You ought… you ought to, yes, ‘cos Pam’s uncle John…

PL: No. No, my grandfather.

PR: Er.. grandfather, grandfather John. Um, yes, not uncle. … [undecipherable] with these generations isn’t it, I’m going up to grandfather, and, er, some super things…[undecipherable]

ES: Oh yes, it’s an anthology isn’t it, of poetry…

PL: About Ware.

ES: … about Ware, yes.

PL: And he wrote them.

PR: So that’s the, er…

JLa: …Grandad wrote that one…

PR: Mmm. Real Hertford stuff.

ES: Is it the Ware Society that have, er, produced it?

PR: Yes, it’s in the Ware book of pictures of Ware… pictures.

ES: Mmmm. I must get a copy. I have… I have had all the others but, um, I’m not on a mailing list or anything. I just have to wait ‘til I see, you know [?David??]

PL: The other copy’s at County Hall at the moment. Kate Thompson is doing something about him but I don’t know what? You know Pete?

PR: Yes, yes.

PL: She borrowed the other copy from Marjorie, and, er, with the poems but what she’s doing I don’t know

PR: …[undecipherable]..

PL: Oh, I see.

PR: … the obituary’s on that front one. 1938.. [undecipherable]

JLa: My grandfather wrote all that.

PR: Did he?

JLa: Beautiful handwriting it used to be… of, there’s some of it there photocopied. But we’ve lost the original. I mean we we didn’t lose the original..I tell you who did lose the original – bloomin’ Mercury office.

ES: Ooh.

JLa: We handed it into the Mercury office for Cyril Heath…

PL: Yes.

JLa: … to take bits out of it. And

PL: We didn’t when we…

JLa: it just disappeared.

PL: Yes, we never had the original back but..

JLa: Someone’s got them.

PL: Someone’s had them and photocopied them

JLa: … because they photocopied them. We never had them photocopied.

PL: … Mr Hermann in Ware got them..

ES: Yes.

JLa: Someone… someone’s sitting on them now.

EL: …[undecipherable].. given to him. But he doesn’t know where the originals are and he’s told … he told me he doesn’t, he has no idea.

JLa: No, someone over Ware’s got them somewhere.

ES: Is all this in, um, this publication?

JLa: No.

PL: No, only pieces of it.

ES: Oh. [pause]. Mmmm. It looks interesting.

PR: Yes, it is.

ES: And this is…

PR: He’s done a lot with the places, in putting down markers.

PL: Yes, he was born in Ware and that was his home, and he knew everybody.