Transcript Detail

View print layout
Transcript TitleAustin, Cyril & Dorothy (O1998.21)
IntervieweeDorothy Austin (DA) & Cyril Austin (CA)
InterviewerEve Sangster (ES)
Transcriber byEve Sangster


Hertford Oral History Group

Recording no: O1998.21

Interviewee: Dorothy Austin (DA) & Cyril Austin (CA)

Date: 22nd September, 1998

Venue: 97, West Street

Interviewer: Eve Sangster (ES)

Transcriber: Eve Sangster

Typed by: Eve Sangster

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

[discussion] untranscribed material

italics editor’s notes

Interviewed at 97, West Street, Hertford

ES: What was your maiden name?

DA: Platt.

ES: And where were you born?

DA: In Ware. I was actually born in Ware.

ES: But you came to live in West Street?

DA: Yes, when I was a few weeks old.

ES: And how did that happen that you were born in Ware? Had you got relatives over there?

DA: Yes, yes. Dad was in the army, the First World War, and so Mother went to stay with her sister while I was born.

ES: And where was that in Ware?

DA: Cross' Street.

ES: And when was that?

DA: 31st August 1917.

ES: And when you came back, where did you live? What number West Street?

DA: 85.

ES: Oh, that's where Sue Lawrence lives. What was your father, when he wasn't being a soldier? What was his occupation?

DA: He worked at the glove factory, Hornsmill.

ES: And did your mother work?

DA: No.

ES: Did you have brothers and sisters?

DA: One brother.

ES: And what was his job?

DA: He was a clerk. First of all he started at the mill and then he went to Merk, Sharpe & Dome.

ES: Were your parents local people? Do you know where they were born?

DA: Dad was, but Mother came from Wareside.

ES: Not too far away. So where did your grandparents live?

DA: One lot, Mother's parents, lived at Wareside and Dad's parents lived down Hornsmill.

ES: Where did you go to school?

DA: St Andrew's

ES: I was hoping that you might have gone to one of the little dame schools in West Street, Miss Hilton’s or…….

DA: No, private school, wasn’t it?

ES: Yes, but they can’t have been very expensive because there were so many. Did you go to Sunday School?

DA: Yes, St Andrew's.

ES: Were you made to go?

DA: I suppose I was in the first place but then I 1iked it and went two or three times a day.

ES: Did you have friends in the street? Well, who was your best friend when you were a child?

DA: The neighbours, I suppose, the Meads. Drusilla. Drusilla Mead lived next door. Gwennie Brown, Mrs Short, she lived just down the road, didn't she? Her name in those days was Gwennie Brown and she married a Mr Short. She lives up Horns Mill.

CA: The house is for sale now where he used to live. I think she’s in Hertingfordbury now.

DA: No, she lives up Horns Mill.

ES: Well, that's something else I want to ask you. If there are people who either were born in the street or long-time residents whose whereabouts you still know. But she's one, is she? [Mrs Gwennie Short lives in The Dell, apparently.] Is there anybody else who you remember from the old days?

DA: Drusilla? I don’t know where she is now.

ES: And Gwennie? She lives in Horns Mill somewhere? (The Dell)

CA: Pat Playle?

DA: She’s younger than me.

DA: Elsie Brooks, but I don't know what her married name is or whether she's still alive, even.

ES: Right, so who were your neighbours?

CA: Studman. Mr Studman one side [No.83] and Meads the other [No.87]. [The Willicks at No.95

were neighbours when the Austins moved to No.97]

DA: Walkers in the first place before Studman but that was before your time. Mr. Studman one side and Meads the other.

CA: And Witticks.

DA: They were our neighbours after we got married.

CA: Mrs. Witticks was here before ’39, wasn’t she. He worked at the mills.

ES: You were married in '39?

CA: '40.

ES: But you didn't live in the street?

CA: No.

ES: So, with these friends of yours, where did you play?

DA: Mostly across the field here.

ES: What was that called in those days? Not the Brownie Hut, presumably?

DA: We used just to call it McMullen's field.

CA: That Brownie Hut's only been put there since Gascoyne Way. It used to be in Pegs Lane, on the left as you go up, near the entrance to the Grammar School. And also, behind there used to be allotments and they put in a drive going up to the Grammar School. My brother used to go to the Grammar School and he used to go up there and that hut was moved – compulsory purchase and they put that there, the council did that.

ES: And where were the allotments?

CA: Below that, down to the cottages below, and where you go on the underpass, that was the path up there, used to be the entrance. [the underpass is on the line of Wesley Avenue, a direct drive to the Grammar School].

ES: Do you mean those cottages? [these were in Pegs Lane, parallel to Wesley Avenue].

CA: Yes.

ES: What were they like? It was supposed to be the red light district of Hertford.

CA: (Laughs) I was a bit young in those days. No, all I can remember is Watson used to live there, two girls - Minnie Watson. They used to be the ladies, I think.

ES: I’ve just written a book for oral history and it’s coming out in a couple of week and Charlie Watson, the father, he’s the stepfather in the book and he’s got 2 girls of his own and they are : Lil, I think was one.

DA: Minnie was one.

DA: Yes, we used to play in McMullen's field, or, where the allotments are now, that was a field.

ES: And what did you play?

DA: Don't ask me now! I used to play with the boys as much as anything. Football. I was a bit of a tomboy. I also learned to swim down there, down the river.

ES: Was it ever frozen down there? Did you ever skate on those water meadows?

DA: Not on this side of the river. The other side of the river, Pateman's field, that used to get frozen over. [Patemans Dairy., St. Andrew Street]

ES: You're talking about the bit between the river and St Andrew's Ditch. How often was that frozen? Well, obviously only when it was cold enough. I mean, looking back, did it seem as though you might have skated there almost every year?

DA: Yes, quite often. And it used to be frozen for some weeks at a time. Not just the odd day like we get now.

ES: There must have been quite a depth of water then, for it to have been frozen above the grass.

DA: Yes. I didn't skate. We used to make long slides, terrific slides. Seemed as if half Hertford used to go down there and slide, it was quite popular.

ES: That seems to have quite disappeared, whether its because of drainage work.

DA: It doesn’t flood now.

ES: Did you use the shops at the end of the street?

DA: Occasionally, yes.

CA: What was that? Castle Stores?

ES: Was there a cash and carry? Somebody I was talking to, Elizabeth Laker that was, she had a friend, somebody’s cash and carry. I must ask her again. What was the Castle Stores? Was that a grocers’ shop?

CA: Yes. Mrs Swallow used to keep the Castle Stores.

ES: And where was it?

DA: Where the garage is now. Then there was the entrance to Wallfields. Mr Jackson used to live there. And that stores was just round the corner, where the first car stands.

ES: So it would haver had a West Street number then? Do,… what’s the last number, 3?

CA: I would have said it was in Castle Street.

ES: So you remember Wallfields Alley, because at some stage, looking up beside the pub there were cottages on the left.

DA: I do remember it but didn’t know what it was called.

ES: And also it was the name of the twitchel that runs along the back, but do you remember when there were cottages there? On the other side there?

CA: Where the public house toilets are now.

ES: Yes, and in the past that wasn’t so. I think they were there in the ‘20s. But there were also cottages built on the County Hall side of the alley.

DA: I don’t remember those.

ES: You remember Ivy Passage, of course and then there was Cox’s Yard which was about no. 14. You know No. 12, the big house, well next door there are wide garage doors, go under there and come into a little yard and that used to have dwellings.

DA: No, I don’t remember. I remember Ivy Passage but never went down there. (to CA) You did, didn’t you?

CA: That was 22 A,B,C & D.

ES: Who did you visit down there?

CA: I didn’t visit anyone, I just know they were there.

ES: You just went to have a look.

CA: Yes, and the next house was 26 or 24 and the Silversides used to live there.

ES: Well, Miss Hilton’s was one of those, there were two, maybe the Silversides took it over from Hiltons and Mrs. Silversides used to live at no. 25 at some time, and Sister…what was her name?

CA: I remember someone coming out of there who woe a black hat and a dark coat.

ES: I wonder if she was a nursing sister, I have it in my mind that she was something to do with the Salvation Army. Do you remember any notable people in the street? For instance I think there has always been somebody quite posh living at no. 12. Miss Cox lived at no. 12 which is why the yard in between no. 12 and 14 s called Cox’s Yard. But who was Cox?

CA: All I remember the old man was a big fellow, a bit bent over, but what they were, I don’t know.

ES: But they must have been affluent. We’re really talking about the ‘20s and ‘30s. Was the street middle class or mixed?

DA: Mixed, you’d get little cottages.

CA: There was a big house where those two new houses are, by the public house, a big house there [No.35]. There was troops in there during the war. Someone named MacBean used to live there.

ES: There was a laundry there. Then it was a tea-rooms. Do you remember that? Pat Hurrell said it was a big building set back and in front of it there was something like a single storey garage, but you don’t remember it when it was a laundry – do you remember a collar factory? (No) One interviewee, Annie Inman, she worked at the collar factory, she was over 100 when we interviewed her, so a different generation. If you can’t remember any notable people in the street, were there any stranger character? Was there a policeman lived in the street?

CA: A DS Armitage who lived at no. 41 next to Mrs. Hebbes. There was a police house with n enamel plate with the words “Herts Constabulary”.

ES: So, those 2 new houses, that was just part of Miss McMullen’s garden?

CA: Cottage garden.

ES: Did you ever go to Miss McMullen’s garden parties?

DA: Yes, but not that I can remember, mother used to take me when I was very little.

ES: And did the whole street go?

DA: Whether you paid to go in, I remember going with mother, she liked parties, used to go down Ashley Webb’s.

ES: Where was that?

CA: Port Vale, Vale House, he was a good mayor, and chairman of the town football club.

ES: Did you ever have pocket money as a child?

DA: When I got older I think. Didn’t have much, just coppers, I ..

ES: Did you run errands? Help in the house?

DA: Well, yes, go shopping. Used to go shopping, as long as I could take my hoop with me. Remember playing tops and things in the road here. There was no traffic. A horse and cart now and again which you stopped for.

ES: What’s your first name, Cyril? I her quite a lot about you from Peter Ruffles and I came with Peter, didn’t I, when we did that interview before. Was Cyril your first boyfriend?

DA: No, not really.

ES: Where did you meet your first boyfriend, was he a neighbour, or someone you met in town. Did you go to a dance at the Corn Exchange?

CA: Go on, who was he? (laughter)

DA: I can’t remember.

ES: So how did you meet Cyril?

DA: Through my cousin who worked at the Post Office and you worked at the Post Office, and my girl friend worked at the Post Office, Kath Dye.

ES: Did somebody ask you to make up a foursome?

DA: I don’t really know, do you?

CA: Kath Dye was my brother’s girlfriend and they came up to tea.

DA: But that wasn’t when we met, I think it was just in town.

CA: I used to play tennis at the Rectory and you and your girlfriend came up and used to watch us play tennis – that was the Revd. Oliver’s Rectory at Bengeo - he taught me dancing.

ES: What were you doing in that part of town, where did you live?

CA: Bengeo.

ES: Oh, well, that explains it, doesn’t it.

CA: I went to Bengeo church, you see.

ES: In those days churches played a very big part in one’s life, don’t you think?

CA: I went to a boys’ Bible class and Sunday school.

CA: We used to run dances at the parish hall in Duncombe Road once a month. 6d. that used to cost. Had our own little dance band.

ES: Did you play in it?

CA: I never played. I started to learn an instrument but I never played in it. There was Charlie Mansfield, violin, and Jack Clark on the drums and, Fred Newland, he played the comet. That's what it consisted of, three piece band. And a lot of girls used to come from Ware and we used to walk them home through the Park at 11 o'clock at night.

ES: Through Ware Park?

CA: Yes, along the bottom road.

ES: (to Dorothy) You may have to leave the room.


ES: Once you did make contact, you two, where did you do your courting? What did you do, go to the pictures?

DA: Once or twice a week, yes.

CA: I was always footballing, wasn't I, on the weekends?

ES: (To Dorothy) You used to go and watch, I suppose?

CA: Mostly Ware, 'cos I played for Ware Territorials. They were a good football team.

DA: Otherwise, it was walking. We used to walk.

CA: All the way round Hertingfordbury, through the brick fields and back; do a bit of cuddling under the arches.

ES: Happy days, it brings it all back to me.

CA: Were you local, then?

ES: No, Potters Bar, but I mean, it’s the same. Was that very different, then, Hertingfordbury park?

DA: No, except for the smallholding, it hasn’t changed at all.

CA: I think when the nursery opened, a drive there now used to be a footpath. There used to be a railway along there that used to go from the North Station to Welwyn Garden City and it was more or less a cart track and the sugar beet used to be loaded on at the station.

ES: I wondered how long ago that it was actually the path to the big house. In Hertingfordbury Park there are remnants of old buildings and specimen trees, once part of somebody’s garden.

CA: All I can remember is those cottages that are there now and the pathway in front of the cottages and the bridge there into the big house. As you go under the viaduct there’s a bridge there that’s charted on the map and you walk right in front of the house.

ES: You were married in 1940 and you went into the war?

CA: 1939, first day of the war.

ES: Because you were in the TA?

CA: I joined the TA in 1934 under Col Peter McMullen. I think he was Lieutenant then. I had the King’s shilling.

ES: Was it an actual shilling?

CA: It was a shilling, yes.

ES: Have you kept it?

CA: I kept it for a time until I got hard up!

ES: And what happened to you?

CA: At Bengeo in our own billet for a time then we were moved off to Dovercourt.

ES: Did you go abroad?

CA: Finished up in the Middle East, then I got wounded in the Gothic Line, north of Italy Then I came back home invalided ’44, County Hospital, convalescing at Wormley, and Bedford.

ES: Were you badly wounded?

CA: In the leg, I was blown up, there were 3 of us and there was a mortar in the wood. The officer was killed, I got blown up and the sergeant never got a scratch. I finished up in Germany in the line of communications. Could be worse.

DA: Well, at least you got back. Suffering from it now.

ES: What, in your leg?

CA: Shrapnel in the back.

ES: Can you feel it?

CA: Can sometimes, when it’s against a chair, its broken up, it gets sore

ES: When you got married, then, you were living at 85. How did it happen? When did you move to 97?

DA: Ray was about six, wasn't he? .

ES: This is your son? And why did you, I mean, it wasn't a great adventure, was it, for you to just

move about 5 doors?

DA: No, but houses were very short. We couldn't get a council house. We didn't stand a chance of getting a council house 'cos Mother had got three bedrooms. And this house came up and we were thankful for it at the time.

ES: Did you rent it, then?

DA: Yes.

ES: Were your parents fairly affluent or just rubbing along?

DA: No, just rubbing along.

ES: You rented it. Who owned it, then? Who did you rent it from?

DA: Somebody from Ware, wasn't it?

CA: Harris

DA: All these houses belonged to a diamond merchant in London.

ES: And when did you get the opportunity to buy this one?

DA: We didn't. We still rent it.

CA: Wouldn't sell it.

DA: Won't sell it. We've asked two or three times. Last time we wrote, two or three years ago, and said as we were the only ones that were renting and they wrote back and said, at this moment in time, they don't want to sell.

ES: Did this chap own all?

DA: All ten.

ES: And just yours he won't sell?

DA: Well, of course, it's a family affair. They've got handed down to children.

ES: So this might be. They were in one person's hands but now. And of course property’s the best place to put money.

CA: I’ve spent thousands on this house, central heating and all that.

DA: Just because it suited us to stay.

ES: And how many children?

DA: Just one, (Ray born 1943).

ES: So, how did you manage during the war, you were living with your mother and Cyril away, it

was just like the old days. Do you remember anything particular about the war? Did you have a shelter?

DA: A dug-out in the garden.

ES: What happened to that?

CA: Anderson Shelter

DA: Pulled down I suppose. I wouldn’t want to go through the war years again.

ES: A lot of people don’t particularly feel like that, do they.

DA: I consider it was 6 years out of our married life.

CA: Best years of your life, really, your twenties.

ES: Have you got any photos of West Street, or you in the garden of 85, you might have a look, if you don’t mind. They were rather the days for taking photographs, weren’t they.

CA: Yes, black and white.

ES: Or a picture of you at school.

DA: I’ve got one of these, Peter Ruffles sent it the other day.

ES: You’re not in that one of St. Andrews? (Yes!) Oh, let’s have a look, tell me which one you are. Oh, I haven’t seen this, this is a lovely one. I wonder where he got this.

DA: He wanted to know if I remembered anybody else. I didn’t think I could help him at all. That’s his mother on there.

ES: Oh, yes he has looked out some of his old photos because there’s a sweet little one of him aged about 5, he looks such a dear little thing. Which is his mother then?

DA: That’s his mother and that’s me behind.

ES: I must get a copy, what date is this 1922. Actually you look older than that.

DA: Well, that’s what I said to him. I would have said 6 or 7. You’ve got a lovely face, actually, but it’s strange, if you didn’t know the context that could be the face of a teenager, you haven’t changed much, it’s not a baby face.

DA: No, I don’t think that’s 1922.

ES: She doesn’t look a 5 year old either.

DA: No, I think that’s wrong.

ES: What did you do?

DA: I was in the reading department of Simson Shand.

ES: And what did that involve?

DA: Proof reading.

ES: You presumably didn’t just go to St. Andrews School?

DA: Yes, I left at 14.

ES: And were you working there when you got married? (Yes). And did you stay there until Ray was born?

DA: No, I was called up. I did stay at home for a while, In fact I stayed with Cyril in Cheltenham after I got married for some time and then I was called up and was in the office at Murphy Radio at Welwyn Garden City.

ES: When you say you were called up, do you mean in the services?

DA: No, war work, Murphy Radio.

CA: Simson Shand didn’t employ married women then.

ES: What a strange thing, but they had to change their turn.

DA: Yes I think they did, later on, after the war.

ES: And how long did you…..

DA: I suppose I was over Murphy Radio 9 months and then I was expecting Ray.

ES: And you haven’t worked since?

DA: No, except for about 10 years I was at Abel Smith, just as a dinner lady.

Peter Ruffles had sent Dorothy a photo of her class at St Andrew's School. This was discussed and Dorothy said that she left school at 14 and worked as a proof reader for Simson Shand, which did not then employ married women. Eventually, she was 'called up' and went to Murphy Radios in Welwyn Garden City until her only child, Ray, was born. She hasn't worked since, except for ten years as a 'dinner lady' at Abel Smith School

The interview ends