Reminiscences of Ware's Past

The Ware Society have a number of documents that have been preserved in hard copy form over the years.  The Societies treasurer, Simon Pearson, has taken on the task of scanning these documents into an electronic format so that ll of the society can see them via the website.  We think they shed a really intetesing light on Ware's past, we hope you do too.  Enjoy,

"Reminiscences of Ware's Past"

"6th May 1982"

The meeting opened with the Chairman, DR ROGER LOWERY, introducing the four speakers for the evening, all of whom had been born in Ware. They were DR G. W. (BILL) MAY, whose father and grandfather had also been general practitioners in Ware; MR J.E. (JIMMY) CRANE, who formerly ran a market garden on the London Road; MR S. E. (SID) HORNSBY, who in 1925 opened the garage at the corner of Clement Street and Star Street; and MR F.M. (FRANK) SUCKLING, who in 1982 retired from running the long-established family building firm in Church Street.

The proceedings opened with the showing of slides of old pictures of Ware, mostly from the 1900-1910 period, by two members of the Ware Society, Mr. J Maurice Edwards and Mr. Stuart Timmons.

As usual, the pictures evoked many memories and a great deal of animated conversation, which it is impossible to set down here. But here are a few points from the reminiscences evoked by the picture show.

Before the First World War, there was a pub at the western end of Musley Lane called The Standard, which was kept by a Mr. Sell, who let out sacks to the malt-makers and later ran The Lion in New Road.  In Priory Street (formerly Mill Lane) there was a malting called the tan-yard and the Mill Stream, Black Swan and King's Head pubs - an Italian organ-grinder lived in the street.  In the High Street, opposite the bottom of New Road and near the Bird-in-Hand pub, was the workshop of Bateman the shoemaker - he made "list shoes" for the malt-makers, which had inch-thick soles of laminated leather, for use on the faggot-fired kilns. Beside the Common Wharf in Star Street was Henry Page's barley drying store, now reduced in height and used as a furniture warehouse.  Barley was stored there during wet seasons and it was run by a Mr. Abbott, who lived in Postwood Road and had been in charge of the drums of the Hertfordshire Regiment in about 1910. Mr. Harvey who ran a coach business from the Town Hall lived in a house in Baldock Street, opposite what is now Ware Music.

DR LOWERY: Talking to our speakers at the beginning, there was a suggestion that Frank Suckling was the one with the oldest memories of the town, having been to school in Ware.

MR SUCKLING: Yes, but so did Jimmy Crane.

MR CRANE: Yes, I spent all my schooldays at Ware St. Mary's, which was found behind the church.

DR LOWERY: And whereabouts were you?

MR SUCKLING: At Christ Church.

MR CRANE: St. Mary's was better than Christ Church! (laughter)

MR SUCKLING: I remember when I was at school that we marched down the High Street in 1908, which was the half-centenary of Christ Church which was built in 1858.

DR LOWERY: Yes, and what was the school like in comparison with what there is there now?


MR CRANE: You mean the building? Well, that is not used now.

MR SUCKLING: Well, the old St. Mary's is used as part of the Ware College of Further Education. They do woodwork and such things there.

MR CRANE: During my time there, they built a new extension for a girl's school, which was upstairs. But apart from that, it is just the same as when I was there.

DR LOWER: And when did it stop being used as a school?

MR CRANE: Only a few years ago, when they built the new school up at Kingshill. (in 1962 - ed.)

DR LOWERY: What about the old grammar school, up at the top of Musley Hill, that is now Musley Infants? When was that operating as a grammar school?

MR SUCKLING: It was operating up to 1905, so I am told by people older than myself. It was built in 1857 and it was altered in, I think, 1887 and extended. I think it was closed as a grammar school - so I am told by people older than me, such as Bill Pavey up at Musley. When he moved to Ware, that school was empty and that was 1905.

DR MAY: So up to 1905, it was a secondary school.

MR SUCKLING: Yes,it was a central school, taking the senior pupils from all the schools in Ware.

DR LOWERY: So the grammar school then moved down to Scott's House at Amwell End, did it?

DR MAY: No, that was Ware Grammar School for Girls which started in 1906, when the boys went to Hertford. I attended the kindergarten section of Ware Grammar School until 1916.

MR SUCKLING: Ware Grammar School many years ago used to be at Churchgate. Do you remember Everards' and Jimmy Davy, who had the plumbers' business? Well there. And I believe there was a builder there prior to that. Where the [Text Box: FOur,ID t R.5] telephone exchange is now.

DR MAY: Churchgate - Jaggs and Edwards, you mean?

MR SUCKLING: No, just opposite to Jaggs and Edwards (which was a famous Ware bakery - ed.)

DR MAY: I wondered if we would see tonight a picture of the forge, that used to be just along there.

MR CRANE: That was on the corner of Church Street, opposite the War Memorial.

DR MAY: There was the police station, next door.

MRS RHONA HUGGINS: No, it wasn't next door. The police station was a little further up Church Street.

DR LOWERY: Yes, the police station was just round the back of the forge. But was that the only forge in Ware?


DR LOWERY: But people talk about that as the forge.

MR. CRANE: Well, that was the most public one. There were about six forges in Ware.

MR SUCKLING: Jim Copse's was one.

MR. CRANE: Yes , Wells's Goodfellows', old Charlie Berry down in Bowling Road next door to where this lady (Mrs Huggins) lives.

DR MAY: Obviously, the forges were the predecessors of the modern garages, because you had to shoe the horses and now you change the tyres.

DR LOWERY: One of the interesting things about Ware is that it looks as if it is Ware in the valley and Musley on top of the hill. How much was that a division, or did the two really merge together ?

MR CRANE: Before the First World War, there was not a lot up at Musley. Those first homes, the council houses, just by the grammar school, as you call it, were built in 1926. There are sixteen houses there. And where those council houses are built, there used to be Allenbury's cricket field.

MR SUCKLING: And during the First War, they had the horses of the yeomanry there.

MR CRANE: Yes, the Northumberland Yeomanry were up there.

DR LOWE RY: So, if Allenbury's had their cricket ground up there at Musley, what went on in this area down here, where Allenbury's - or now Glaxo's have their sports field now?

MR CRANE: They used to grow blackcurrants and peppermint down here. They wanted a ton of the hay of the peppermint to make one gallon of peppermint. And they used to grow their own blackcurrants for the Allenbury's Blackcurrant Pastilles.

DR LOWLRY: Was that an extensive thing around here?

MR CRANE: No, just that one field, where Allenbury's old sports ground was. They did not at that time have anything on the other side of Harrison's Lane, as they have now, because that was the brickfields. It is still called that.

MAN IN THE AUDIENCE: Was that where they built the barges?

MR CRANE: No, the barges were not built at the brickfield. There was a dry dock down Star Street and the barges used to go in the dry dock when they needed repairing. Right at the end of Star Street, what we call the tumbling bay - right beside that, where Pope and Meads have got their works. And that

was a dry dock and if any of the barges wanted repair - they used to tar them very heavily in those days - they always used to be taken there.

DR LOWERY: And was there a particular firm which ran the dry dock?

MR SUCKLING: Yes, Albany's.

DR LOWERY: Because Albany's used to be river carriers.

MR CRANE: Yes, but they used to be corn merchants as well, and coal merchants.

MR SUCKLING: There are remains of barges still up at Allen and Hanbury's sports field. They were brick barges, were they?

DR MAY: No, they just dumped them there.

MR CRANE: Yes, up in the brickfield which is Allenbury's sports ground now, there used to be a cutting, that went from the River Lea right up to the top of Park Road. And some years ago, all the old barges were taken up there and dumped. And a lot of people went up there and took them to pieces and went home and burned the wood. But there are still one or two barges up there now.

MR HORNSBY: Prior to that, the barges used to go up there to be loaded with sand and gravel - and bricks.

MR CRANE: And these barges used to bring rubbish home from London and they used to burn a lot of it when they fired the bricks in the brick-kilns. There were two brickfields - number one and number two. Number one brickfield was between Harrison's Lane and the Cut, and number two brickfield was on the other side of the Cut.

DR MAY: And there was an old footbridge over the top.

MR CRANE: You used to be able to walk through there, but now I think Allenbury's - or Glaxo's - have done away with that walk.

MRS HUGGINS: No, they have put another footpath there.

MR CRANE: But the path used to go right through to what we called the Cat and Monkey. That was a house and the gentleman who was there used to have a ferry across the river and you used it if you wanted to walk to Hertford.

He was Mr. Mickleborough and he used to charge a penny to take you across the river. It was where the viaduct bridge is now. You could walk right along under Ware Park, by the old French's Corn Mill, and right through to Bengeo and come back through Ware Park.

DR LOWERY: When did that operate as a ferry?

MR CRANE:    Oh, it must have been fifty years ago.

DR MAY: It stopped between the wars, I should think.

MR CRANE: And the old house was allowed to fall to pieces.

DR MAY: You used to be able to hire boats there, I seem to remember, because boating was a great thing in the nineteen twenties. People used to row boats up and down the river then.

MR CRANE: There used to be boats at the island at Ware Lock.

MR SUCKLING: And one of the children that lived there drowned as a result. In the Cut between the brickfields.

MR STUART TIMMONS: It was also a great rendezvous for cyclists. They used to put on special teas for cyclists at the ferry house.

MR DAVID PERMAN: Can I ask you what Ware was like in those days generally as a town, and as a community?

DR MAY: It was five or six thousand strong. That's what we are talking about. It was much smaller.

MR PERMAN: Was it a very closely-knit town?

MR CRANE: Yes, because everybody lived in Ware itself. There used to be a thousand people living in Amwell End. In Amwell End, there were at least five yards with very small houses in and each of them only had one door, that was the front door. And everything had to go through that. And one gentleman who lived down there had fourteen children and many of them made double figures. And there were five of these yards down Amwell End and over all of the shops, that were there then there were people living. There was the Chapel Yard on the right-hand side, where those new shops are now and there were about thirty houses in there. Dozens of people used to come out of there and dozens of children.

MR PERMAN: It is said that they built the Mission Hall down there because they did not want the Amwell End people to come to the churches in Ware. Is that true?

DR MAY: I don't know about that, but the Mission Hall was built in association with Christ Church.

MR CRANE: And there was another thing, the Mission Hall was quite a nice little place and there was a clock on it. That was the only way that people living in these yards knew the time, by coming out and having a look at the Mission Hall clock.

DR LOWERY: Where was the Mission Hall?

MR CRANE: Right next to the cinema, or what used to be the cinema. When the Jarrow march was on - I don't know if anybody here can remember it - the people on the march stayed in Ware one night on their way to London and they were put up in that Mission Hall.

MR HORNSBY: The march was in October, 1936.

MR TIMMONS: I can remember them coming down Baldock Street.

MR CRANE: And where the Drill Hall in Amwell End is today there was a yard there full of small houses. And up at. Poles the name of the family living there was Hanbury and it was they who had the Drill Hall built. And I have often wondered who handed it over to the Military. It was built

for the T. A. (Territorial Army), but it was also built for people in Ware to use. Eventually it became Crown property. It is now owned by East Herts District Council.

DR LOWERY: Can anybody enlighten us on that point? Does anybody know the history of the Drill Hall?

MR SUCKLING: They used to have very good roller-skating in there and a very good floor for it.

MR CRANE: I can only say there were yards there before it was built by the Hanburys, who used to live at Poles.

MR SUCKLING: And they had Scott's Grotto too.

MR CRANE: No not that Hanbury family, not Allen and Hanbury's. The Poles family was the brewing family of Truman, Hanbury and Buxton. The Buxtons lived at Easney and the Hanburys lived up there at Poles.

MR SUCKLING: The Crofts owned some of the maltings and the Sandemans lived at Presdales. They were all in the drink trade.

DR LOWERY: These yards in Amwell End - were they built by firms or did they just develop?

[Text Box: 11] MR SUCKLING: They go back much further than anybody here can remember.

MR GERALD SAYE RS: Which speaker has got something to say about Caroline Court?

DR MAY: Yes, well who was Caroline?

DR LOWERY: Where was it?

MR CRANE: It was a yard up Baldock Street, where Charvill's garage is (Now Ermine Court). I think there were twenty to twenty-five houses in there. There was a big cobbled drive-in and houses on both sides, all around.

MRS HUGGINS: Then a little way down there was Monkey Row, by the baker's shop.

MR CRANE: There was Monkey Row, yes. And up Mr. Surridge's yard, there were houses up there too.

DR LOWERY: Where was that, Surridge's yard?

DR MAY: Behind Mr. Surridge's shop (the hairdresser's on the opposite side of Baldock Street to the yards just mentioned - ed.)

MR ALEC SURRIDGE: Next to Page Calnan's (now Brown's builders' merchants), there is a side gate which goes up to what is my garden now. It is much bigger now, because when I first went there I remember there were five or six old people living up there. Their houses were pulled down and it became a private garden.

MAN IN THE AUDIENCE: Yes, there was an umbrella man, an umbrella repair man living up there.

DR MAY: Can you remember the name of the yard?

MR SURRIDGE: It was Albert Yard.

MR. CRANE: And of course there were yards in Crib Street. There was Red Cow Yard and another one opposite, though I cannot remember the name of it. And there was another one at the bottom of Crib Street. Even in Church Street there was one yard.

MR HORNSBY: I lived in the Red Cow.

LADY IN THE AUDIENCE: Where was the Red Cow? Can you tell us which was the Red Cow, please?

MR HORNSBY: It was a double fronted house and it has a green door now. Number forty.

MR CRANE: It was closed in 1912.

MR SUCKLING: They shut a good many pubs in Ware.

MR HORNSBY: I was born in the Oriental Tavern in the High Street, where Mr. Timmons's shop is (Claire's Cards). That was the Oriental Tavern.

MR CRANE: There were six pubs in Crib Street. There was the Cabin, then the Green Man and then the Albion, then the Red Cow, then the White Horse at the corner of Francis Street and the Prince of Wales. My grandmother used to keep the Prince of Wales and my grandfather worked up in the brickfields. Everybody that worked in the brickfields drank a lot of beer and they used to send a boy with a wheelbarrow to go and fetch the beer. And my grandfather used to send home to his wife for the beer from the Prince of Wales and, eventually, she had to get out, because she went broke. He forgot to pay. But all these people that worked in the brickfields when it was a damp or wet day, they just packed up work and went straight to the pub and stopped there till twelve o'clock at night. And a good many of these pubs in those days had a skittle alley at the back and they used to play skittles all day long. I remember my mother getting a bit upset with my father, because there was a pub where Ware Garage now is called the Wheatsheaf and you had to go up Church Street to get round the back of it. And one day my mother got fed up with my father being in there for quite a long time, so she pushed about three of us round there in the pram and pushed it in there and left us.

MR HORNSBY: That's how the expression came of being weaned on beer.

MR CRANE: There's no doubt that the women used to have a tough time in Ware, and the men used to work hard but, while working hard, they drank hard. And they did not get a lot of money. Another thing in Ware was that it was infested with rats. And all of these malting firms used to give the men tuppence for every tail. They used to cut the tail off and hang it up. When one of the officials of the malting firm came round, they would put them in for tuppence a tail at the end of the week. And very often they would take them round from one malting to another.

MR SUCKLING: They used to keep cats in most of the maltings. And one owner, who was very particular, had two holes cut in his door, one for the kitten and one for the cat.

MR CRANE: The men had to work hard. Now my father was only a very small man and they used to have ladders to carry the barley off of the carts up to the loft. And the men used to run up these ladders with the sacks, which weighed two and a quarter hundredweight and they used to get three-halfpence to carry two sacks up there. And they would work on it all day long with very little food, as well.

DR LOWERY: But, Dr May, with people carrying two and a quarter hundredweights up ladders, what sort of medical problems did they come back with ?

MR CRANE: They didn't have any troubles at all. You have only to look at their families and their families prove they were fit.

DR MAY: Fit to drop.

MR CRANE: They used to work all day and then, very likely, they had allotments to go and work on in the evenings. And then they might go to the pub and stop till twelve o'clock, because the pubs were open in those days from six in the morning till twelve at night.

MR HORNSBY: Then they used to chuck stones up at the pub windows early in the morning to make them open. Their tongues were hanging out with thirst.

DR MAY: Early in the morning, yes, that was the thing.

MR CRANE: During the First World War, I worked on munitions at Waltham Abbey. I had to catch a train and my younger brother, we used to have to catch a train at Ware Station at five to five. I lived in West Street, in the house that is now described as the oldest town house in Hertfordshire -number two - all the family lived there. And we used to have to walk down the street by what is the Brunch Bar now, but that was Mrs Lee's and there would be a queue outside there at a quarter to five in the morning, waiting for a cup of tea. And all these fellows who were waiting there were people who drove horses and carts. And what they used to do was go to the stable and feed their horses and while the animals were having their breakfast the men would go back to Mrs Lee's and have a cup of tea. And that used to happen every morning, even Sunday mornings. The malt-makers used to work at two o'clock. Now I have read some of these stories about Ware and about these gateways along the High Street. Now I think it's a sin for these gateways to disappear, as they have been disappearing. Many of these firms have built new shops and done away with the gateways. In some of the literature that you see on old Ware, they will tell you that these gateways were from the coaching days. Well, the truth was in my time that these gateways were made with a little wicker gate in the middle, and that was for the men to go through in the early hours of the morning, probably at two o'clock, so that they did not disturb the people that lived up above. All the way down the south side of the High Street, these gateways used to be and they all had one or two maltings down each yard. Over the top of these gateways, the gentry were living all down the right-hand side of the High Street, as you go down the High Street from here at the Priory. There was only one bank and where the Post Office now is, that was where Frederick Hitch, the builder, used to live. They were practically all private houses, all down the High Street. And when these men went to work, they used to open the little gates, so as not to disturb the people up above. And they were the people that owned the maltings and the malting firms rented them from them. As far as coaching was concerned, it was the Saracen's Head where everything used to go. The reason for having all these maltings along the High Street was the access to the river and, when these barges went to London, they would bring a load of foreign barley back.

MR HORNSBY: What about the entrance here with the high timber gates? Where are they now?

MR CRANE: There were two lots of gales to the Priory, one set in the High Street and one in Priory Street. Now a few years ago, I was chairman of the Ware War Memorial Committee right at the end, before it was wound up, and I went to a meeting when only two members turned up - Mr. Southall (former Ware Town Clerk) and myself. And we started on the question of these gates. And I said, there is one thing I would like to ask you, Mr.Southall, and that is what happened to the gates from the Priory? Now anyone who knew the gates from the Priory would know they were beautiful gates.

MR HORNSBY: All studded.

MR CRANE: You couldn't find anything like them in this country today.

And Mr. Southall told me that the gates were put in the outhouses which used to be in Priory Street and they simple disappeared. And that was the only answer he could give me. I should say they are on somebody's estate now. Now during the First World War, this building, the Priory, was a hospital and the soldiers used to stand up at the top there in their blue uniforms.

MR SUCKLING: Dr. Stewart was in charge here.

DR MAY: Dr. W. G. Stewart MBE was the Medical Superintendent, Mrs. Stewart was the Matron and this room was one of the wards. I remember coming in here.

DR LOWERY: When was that, in the 14-18 war?

DR MAY: Yes, in 1914, when so many of the big houses - and this was a private house in those days - when so many houses in this neighbourhood and all around were given over to become convalescent homes. That is what they were. These chaps from the war were dealt with in hospital and then sent out to recuperate in the country. And one saw them walking around the town in their blue uniforms, with red ties. They still wear them, so I understand, and the RAMC still issues them, but naturally one does not see them as one did. And the flag of course, the Red Cross flag that they had up at the Priory gates, is in the Parish Church now. And there is a plaque somewhere. Is there not a plaque outside, saying this was a hospital? I can't remember.

MR CRANE: Of course, the last family that lived here was named Walters. They found Mrs. Walters suffocated in a smoke-filled room somewhere here. And then Mrs. Croft bought it and handed it over to the town on a 99-year lease. That's what I understand, because I remember seeing it in the Mercury that it was on a half - a - crown (12.5p) a year rent. And we have had over fifty years of it, so 1 don't know what will happen when the 99 is up. But, of course, the Crofts were a big family in Ware. The Library is their old house.

MR SUCKLING: Their town house.

MR CRANE: Yes, and then they built Fanhams Hall. And when there was a fire at the Victoria Maltings at Amwell End, a lot of timber was taken from that malting up to Fanhams Hall when it was being built.

DR LOWERY: Were Crofts maltsters?

MR CRANE: It was Henry Page and Co. They were big maltsters. And of course there was Lord Croft, he was a young man in those days. He joined the Hertfordshire Regiment, and in Ware, if you wanted a job with Henry Page and Co, you had to join the Hertfordshire Regiment. The Hertfordshire Regiment was part of the British Expeditionary Force that went to France in 1914 and, eventually, they were called the "Old Contemptibles". In Ware today, there are still five Old Contemptibles alive and there are not many towns in Britain can say that. There are five alive today and they are all over 85, coming up to 90. That was Brigadier Croft then, and after the war he was made Lord Croft and he died of a heart attack, going back to London one night.

MR. SUCKLING: Lord Croft was in the Cabinet as Secretary for War in this last war.

MR CRANE: He was a very good chap and the Croft family is sadly missed in Ware today.

DR LOWERY: Harking back to the point you made earlier about the Priory being a convalescent home, was there ever a hospital in Ware? I know there is the old people's hospital up at the top.

DR MAY: There was a hospital at the Cannons Hotel, run by the County Council, until it moved to Ware Park. The Cannons Hotel (later called the Ware Moat House) was a private house before that. (see Reminiscences No. 1).

MR SUCKLING: The Bartletts were the name of the people who lived there then.

DR MAY: Now can we establish when it was turned into a hospital? About 1920?

MR SUCKLING: No, it went to Ware Park in -1922.

DR MAY: It went to Ware Park in 1922; well, it must have been established long before that then. That is the only hospital that there has been in Ware. But the one you mentioned, Mr. Chairman, Western House started as a workhouse. Because it was a workhouse it had an infirmary for the aged -what are now known as the geriatrics of course - and then in 1938, I suppose, a special block was built, which is now the hospital part of it. Then the lower part on this side of the road was built again at much the same sort of time for the tramps, of course in the old days, the casuals, these people off the road, the so-called gentlemen of the road. They could come in for a night but they had to do a day's work. Then they were passed on to another parish. Then in 1938, just before the outbreak of the Second World War; the people from the Barnet Infirmary were evacuated to Ware. They came to live in that block there and that is why it is called Barnet Block, and has now been turned into Willowfield. That is the story of that part there. That is the only medical institution that has been in Ware at all.

DR LOWERY: Up to what time did it operate as a workhouse up there?

DR MAY: Well, it slowly evolved. It changed its name, like lunatic asylums, that are no longer called lunatic asylums. I think that if you look at various maps you will see that it started as Ware Workhouse, and then it was a Public Assistance Institution, and then I think it was politely called an infirmary. And what is it called now? A hospital, I suppose.