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Transcript TitleBatchelor, John (O2004.17)
IntervieweeJohn Batchelor
Transcriber byJohn Batchelor


NOTE: This is one of a number of self-recorded personal history transcripts.

It is typed directly by the individual and, since it was not conducted by interview, is in a different format to that normally adopted by HOHG

On June 13th 1944, as a three-year-old living at 36 Ashcroft Road, London E3, one of my earliest childhood memories was emerging from the shelter of the nearby woodworking factory to find our house had been wrecked by the very first VI doodlebug to land on London.

We (mother, father and elder sister) high-tailed it out of there (a good move in view of the thousands of doodlebugs that followed) and made our way to Uncle Charlie's in Hertford. Charles White was the licensee of the Talbot Arms and ran it with my grandmother Catherine (Kate - the brains behind the business) and his Irish wife Catherine (Cath). My mother's name was also Catherine, but was known as Kit. The pub then had a small, smart private bar, a larger wooden-floored public bar, and a lounge further back which was really a converted living room to which drinks had to be carried from the public bar. It had a piano and wind-up gramophone. There was a cellar with good old fashioned barrels and pipe-runs installed. It was certainly not an off-license for the more up-market Dimsdale Arms next door at that time, and I doubt if it ever was, judging by the design of the bars and the cellar, though I have no idea of the Talbot's earlier history.

I recall very little of that year at the Talbot, but have been told that it was a lively pub drawing a great deal of custom from locally-stationed American and Canadian servicemen, many of whom were regulars until, for the worst of reasons, they failed to appear next night. I believe we suffered a near-miss from a V2 which wrecked the site by the Castle where the Castle Cinema stood. I recollect my fourth birthday at the Talbot, because my family surprisingly managed to find the necessary ingredients for a cake, complete with candles.

We moved back to the East End in 1945, to a "prefab" bungalow surrounded by bombed-out houses, and I started school there. However, at some stage, probably during 1946, my mother became ill with severe bronchitis (the dampness of Hertford never agreed with her) and I was sent away to Hertford and the Talbot Arms for about six months. I attended a local primary school for a couple of terms.

Free time was spent roaming the churchyard at the back (not then ruined by the Gascoyne Way) and Folly Island and Hartham with my younger cousin Geraldine (it was perfectly safe to do so back then), with the occasional trip on the 333 to Bengeo. At the Talbot I became a major consumer of Smith's Crisps and a mean darts-player, and became familiar with the pub culture and customs which have served me well from the other side of the bar ever since.

Of course, I often visited the Talbot with my parents, both before and after we moved out to Hainault in Essex in 1948. An overnight stay was always obligatory as the journey was slow. If we travelled by train it might be shunted into a siding at Broxbourne for nearly an hour for no obvious reason, and in any case the train would be so dirty a bath was a necessity upon arrival.

My uncle seemed to be very well-known in the town, and usually ran the beer-tent at functions over at Hartham during the summer. However, his popularity might have been partly due to his alleged generosity towards some of his customers, a diminishing band after the War as new houses and pubs were built further out of town. He descended into financial crisis and had to give up the pub, though I am told he discharged all of his debts to the Brewery (Macs of course). He left there around 1954 to join the staff of the Ely Hotel, a large roadhouse Pub/Restaurant/Hotel on the A30 in Hampshire, run by Mr Ellis, who (surprise) had run the Dimsdale in Hertford up to that point He stayed there until he retired, but continued to work in catering at race meetings until he badly injured his knee in a fall at an Ascot meeting. He died about 20 years back.

I visited the Talbot in its death-throes in the early sixties. It was dismal and run down, and seemed much smaller than I remembered it as a tiny child. Certainly a passageway that ran from the living quarters behind the bar to the main road had gone, as had the private bar as I recall. I went next door to the Dimsdale and had a very English meal in its discreet restaurant, served by Chinese waiters, a novelty back then. Hertford still seemed to be pretty lifeless in those days, with few restaurants, though I think my visit was on a Sunday, in the days when that meant little was open.

A few years back I visited the scented-candle gift shoppe that has now occupied the front of the old Talbot. They have a basement section which used to be the cellar, and there is an alcove or storage area close to the steps which used to be the gents' toilet and which doubled as our frequently-visited air-raid shelter back in 1944·5. It had retained a detectable characteristic odour of stale, beery urine which brought back memories of my family huddled together in fear and listening for flying bombs and rocket explosions.

I still occasionally visit Hertford as many friends moved from here in Beckenham, Kent when our company, the Wellcome Foundation, was taken over and they were obliged to move to (now) GSK at Stevenage. I attended last year's Beer Festival at the Castle Theatre, and indeed was at Old Knebworth only last night, at the Lytton Arms Beer Festival, which may explain if my writing is a bit stilted. My own favourite pub in Hertford is the White Horse, though I haven't been there since it became a Fullers House. There are many pubs in Hertford that I haven't tried.