Reminiscences of Ware's Past Part 7 - 1993
To my friends in local government, past and present. My grateful thanks to David Perman, for his encouragement and patience in editing this document.
Working for the Council - A Scrapbook for 1936-1946 by Herbert (Henry) Page
When I began working for Ware Urban District Council, the Kensitas packet of 20 cigarettes (slogan 'Life in the raw is seldom mild') contained a double-size cigarette card portraying in cartoon the adventures of a lad called "Henry". He was small, skinny and had a big head. Fred Kent, the Deputy Surveyor thought I was exactly like him - I was small and skinny and still have a big head - and gave me that nickname, which has gone with me at work and in most relationships connected with work.
In The Beginning Were The Solicitors
All my working life was spent "working for the Council" - some 47 years. These reminiscences are more about people than dates, but a little background may not come amiss.
"Going back to the year dot", our local government evolved very slowly over the centuries, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century, local administration was still very "local", being based on the Parish. However, during the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution, the astonishing increase in and mass movement of population leading to the creation of the large towns and political advances such as the expansion of the franchise, created problems and stresses far too great for the Parish to cope with. In a typical British attempt to muddle through, various ad hoc bodies were created, many of them charity- or church-based, but from time to time Parliament stirred itself and set up Boards and Commissions to deal with particular problems. In the background people holding some position of authority or influence, e.g., the J.P.s and the Courts and some Parish Councils jostled for space and by the last quarter of the century, local government was in a state of chaos. The great majority of these organisations, which were short of funds and often with limited, but overlapping, roles, needed only a part-time administrator and frequently this turned out to be a local solicitor.
As people began to look to the new century, the Government created County Councils in 1888 and, a few years later, District Councils. It may come as some surprise that central government did not exactly enthuse over its new offspring and gave them limited responsibilities and very little money. In its early years the Hertfordshire County Council budget was £106,000 so it is not difficult to imagine how much- or how little - each of the thirty odd Boroughs or District Councils in the county was spending. So, perhaps, it was only to be expected that they built on what they'd already got and appointed solicitors and other private individuals to deal with their administration. Some of these worthies held a collection of appointments which would have turned Poohbah, the civil servant from The Mikado, green with envy. If there were any qualms about conflicts of interest these were repressed and it must be said that, within its limits, the system worked pretty well and the people concerned gave excellent service. Some of them brought great dignity and honour to their offices.
However, occasionally, some slightly bizarre situations arose - for example in her excellent Centenary History of Hertfordshire County Council, The Hart Reguardant, Gillian Sheldrick tells how at its first meeting in the Shire Hall, Hertford in January 1889, the County Council received the Borough's official address of welcome, written and read by the Town Clerk, Charles Elton Longmore, who at the time was also County Treasurer. Later Sir Charles was Clerk of the County Council from 1894 to 1930 when he was succeeded by Philip Elton Longmore until 1948.
Things were much the same in the new Districts. In 1907 George Gisby, whose office was at 8 West Street, (now Rankin House) was Clerk to:
- Ware Urban District Council,
- Ware Rural District Council,
- Ware Union (Board ofGuardians),
- Ware Art and Technical School,
- Ware Urban Education Sub-Committee,
- Ware Rural School Attendance Sub-Committee.
He was also Superintendent Registrar.
In 1937, his son, Hugh Marshall Gisby, was Clerk to:
- Ware Rural District Council,
- East Herts Joint Hospital Board,
- East Herts Board of Guardians and
- Ware Art and Technical School.
I wonder how many letters these gentlemen wrote to themselves and did they ever compose both original letter and the response at the same time? And what of the poor filing clerk? Naturally these men could not do all this work themselves and the solicitors' offices had what today we would call "a local government division".
Between the wars there was a flood of legislation imposing major responsibilities on Counties and Districts and it became obvious that these private appointments were no longer suitable. In due course, the senior staff became direct employees of the Council - e.g. from Gisby and Son, Leslie Southall became Clerk and Chief Finance Officer (C.F.O.) of Ware Urban District Council; E.J. Howlett (bald as an egg) became C.F.O. of Ware RDC. (but not till after the Second World War) and Harold Stutchbury moved to become Clerk of Welwyn RDC.
Getting A Job
In the days before "the 11 -plus" the tacit assumption was that when you had finished your Primary education at St. Mary's, you would go on to the Central School in Bowling Road. But on your way through the school the teachers had been keeping an eye on you and if they felt you had a chance, the Headteacher would arrange for you to take the Scholarship Exam. These Scholarships gave various degrees of assistance to enable boys and girls to attend the Grammar Schools at Hertford and Ware. For the most part, pupils were moving up at about 11-plus, but for some reason I was entered for the scholarship just before my tenth birthday and was awarded a Hale Scholarship at the Hertford Grammar School. (Richard Hale founded the school which now bears his name in 1617 and whether the scholarship went back that far l do not know). The original school still stands behind the high brick wall opposite the multi-storey car park in Gascoyne Way but the main door and frame were removed and incorporated into the Hall of the new school built in 1930. The door is so low that most of the masters had to duck as they walked through. From my father's point of view, the important thing was that not only were all my fees met, but there were also grants for books, assistance for clothing etc.
Because I had entered the school at 10 plus, I took the School Certificate just before my 15th birthday, virtually all the other boys in the form being about 16. Most boys left after that summer term but perhaps because I had not reached leaving age and perhaps because I had gained a good string of passes and "Exemption from Matriculation", it was decided that I should stay on and try for Higher School Certificate. We were quite a small group and some of the others had set their sights on University, but that was out of the question for my family. During the course of the winter term, things became difficult for my father who was trying to bring up two boys with the "help" of a succession of unsuitable housekeepers (my mother having died in 1923). He was kept up to scratch by my Aunt Rose. It was she who went to the school, to talk over the problems with the Headmaster, Mr T.H. Bunt, and it was agreed I should leave as soon as I had a job.
Most children were leaving school at 14, and most seemed to settle into a job of some kind without much difficulty. Many of the girls found work with Allenburys (Allen and Hanbury's - already well-known as good employers); the Addis toothbrush works in Ware Road, Hertford; Swain's Envelope Factory in Crane Mead, Ware or The Match factory at Bishop's Stortford. The idea of "going into service" was dying rapidly after the First World War, although some people like Aunt Rose continued in their well established jobs. By this time she was working for a family named Campbell, and continued after their death to work for their daughter Mrs Fender, whose husband was a relative of P.G.H. Fender, the England fast bowler. A lot of girls also worked as shop assistants in the small shops in the town and at Woolworths in Hertford, but more and more were attending Evening Classes to acquire shorthand/typing skills so that they could get a job in an office.
For boys there were openings in a job which is now extinct. Virtually every shop had an errand boy. Even the smaller shops delivered goods to your home. My brother began work as an errand boy at Suitall Valet Service and then went on to Woollatt and Coggin, (the chemists) and Rodney Stephens (the butcher), before settling at the Snowdrop Laundry as van man. Even Ware 's biggest shop, Harradence's who delivered by van, also had an errand boy and this sort of job was accepted as a first step to better things. At Ware Congregational Sunday School I made friends with Eric and Cyril Bardwell. Eric began work at as errand boy for Grover's (the draper's in the High Street) and later served in the shop, but Cyril went to work at Hoddesdon Co-op as Junior Assistant in the Men's Outfitting. He worked in the shop but also cycled all over the district as far out as Nazeing, delivering orders. He was paid 18/- a week, good money for the time especially as the Co-op also had a pension scheme for adults. In due time, Cyril moved to Ware Co-op in the Grocery Section. After the War, both Eric and Cyril took up careers in the Police Force.
Some boys must have settled for rather grim jobs as tea-boys but others went to firms like Wickham's, the railway engineers in Viaduct Road, and the local building contractors and became apprenticed to various trades.
My Uncle Alf worked at the Post Office and he was very keen that I should try and get a job as a counter clerk, as this was a way into the Civil Service by competitive examination. The telephone was rare and the Post Office had a telegram service for urgent messages and employed 14 and 15 year olds as telegram boys. The boys wore blue serge uniforms and a pill box hat and conveyed the telegram in its yellow envelope safely ensconced in a leather pouch on the waist belt. Jobs in the Post Office were in demand because of goodish pay and security and becoming a telegram boy was an entrée to the postal or telephone services, this then gave you a chance to launch out into the wider world of the Civil Service.
Another opening suggested was employment with the London and North Eastern Railway (L.N.E.R.) Nellie Want (now my wife) was friendly with Gladys Fosdike whose father had a Senior position at Liverpool Street and he explained to me what would be needed to get a job there, but this was all overtaken by events set in train by Mr T.H. Bunt. Headmasters felt it was part of their responsibilities to see their pupils settled and Mr Bunt arranged for me and a lad named Jennings to attend at Longmore's in Castle Street, Hertford. We were each given a test, which I did not do very well in, and Jennings got the job. At the time I assumed the job was in the solicitors - I had passed their castellated office in Castle Street every school day for about five years. But after leaving school, the next time I saw Jennings was 25 years later when I moved to the County Treasurer's Department and found he was working in the Registration of Electors Section, having been "in local govemment" (at Longmores) as long as I had.
My next interview was at Ware Urban District Council. One afternoon early in March 1936, I went along to The Priory with another Grammar School boy, Dick Walby, and we found there were three jobs. Apparently, Mr Southall, the Clerk of the Council had also been in touch with Mr Evans, Headmaster at the Central School, who had sent along a third lad, Reggie Hatherill. We were interviewed in turn by a small group of councillors and before the afternoon was out we were offered jobs - Dick Walby in the Sanitary Inspector's Office, Reggie Hatherill in Mr Southall's office and myself to be a junior to Mr Albert Wright, the Council's Collector. I began work the following Monday. Because I was to be responsible for collecting money, I was to be paid 15/- per week, and the other two got 10/-. This differential continued over the next few years. After a year the Council gave us a rise and put us on a scale on which I received £2.10s at the age of 20, and the others reached the giddy heights of £2.00 per week.
The other Grammar School boy was Dick Walby, a real-life Billy Bunter. His father was a butcher at Hatfield and, although I never met him, looking at Dick it was easy to visualise his father standing outside the shop, huge in his striped apron and straw boater, the very prototype of Mr Bones, the Happy Families Butcher. My last recollection of Dick was when he called in at The Priory towards the end of the War, resplendent in his uniform and seeming to weigh about 20 stone and telling us some story of his spending his time in the Army flying around in a small spotter aircraft - quite ridiculous for his size. He was a Major by then. There was little scope for Majors to work as office boys so he got a job with Aveling Barford, who made steam rollers - much more appropriate.
He came to The Priory as Junior for Charles Lucas, the Sanitary Inspector, who had himself only just arrived. He preferred to be called "Charles" but most often we called him Charlie and sometimes even "Wagger". He was a rather excitable man, with strong ideas about most things, especially religion and politics, discussions about which enlivened many tea-breaks at the office. He worked for the Council until retirement and then continued to live in Ware. I don't recall that he ever owned a motor car, perhaps because he was rather short-sighted - and later in his retirement, when his wife's health failed, he would be about the town - crossing and crisscrossing the High Street with a slightly limping walk - going from shop to shop and buttonholing anybody he knew for a natter about affairs of the day. Every Friday he went to Place House to buy cakes etc. at the W.I. Market. It was on such a trip in the Summer of 1990 that he was involved in a collision with a coach on the corner of Star Street. By this time he had become a town "character" - everybody knew him and those who knew him liked him. As it happened, I passed the scene of the accident just as the emergency vehicles were arriving but as I walked down Amwell End little clusters of people were gathering saying -"It's Charlie Lucas - do hope he isn't too badly hurt". There was a universal feeling of sadness as townspeople realised that the accident had been fatal.
The late 1930's were a very busy time for Sanitary Inspectors - Charles and later his assistant John Chapman spent many early hours examining carcases at the slaughterhouse at Amwell End (and at Baker's butchers shop at 20 Baldock Street) but most of their time was spent on public health matters. As a measure of improving Housing standards by reducing overcrowding, the Public Health Act 1936 had required all dwellings to be allocated a "Permitted Number" of occupants (babies didn't count and small children counted as half) and slum clearance was underway. Many houses were infested with bugs of one kind and another and might need to be fumigated - these were just a few of the jobs that Charles and John had to attend to. Eventually "slaughtering" took place only at Amwell End behind W.G. Clark's shop, but with an access in Station Road. Cattle would be brought to Ware Station and unloaded into a small pound there, or by lorry or even on the hoof. The beasts were eventually collected in the lairage at the back of the slaughterhouse, near the Drill Hall. If the lairage was in use over the weekend, it was not unknown for Soloists for Ware Choral Society to find themselves accompanied by the lowing of cattle, awaiting their fate.
The third lad appointed that day came from the Central School. Reggie Hatherill and his brother Charlie, lived in Redan Road and when my family moved to High Oak Road, he and I would walk to work together. He was a very serious sort of boy - like many boys at that age, idealistic and very much impressed with the prospects of socialism. I suppose we were both influenced to some extent by Norman Daker the Deputy Clerk/Finance Officer who came from the Midlands. Somewhere Reggie got hold of a copy of Robert Tressell's novel “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” and our ideas about socialism and politics were very much at that level. Nothing very startling - after all, everybody believed in a fairer deal, better housing etc. and something was being done about it, though not much - and it was all pretty naive. Reggie and I both became very interested in music. My father had acquired a portable gramophone and I built up a small selection of records, some given to me by Bert Wright and Reggie and I would swap. I loved the classic singers - Gigli and the like - but his favourite was Ravel's Bolero. Although his closest friendship had been created at the Central School he and I made various trips to London - the first Opera I ever saw was at Saddlers Wells, with Edith Coates as Carmen - and we stood for about four hours solid.
It was my good fortune to work as junior with the Collector, Albert Edward Wright, known to everyone as "Bert Wright". He was one of quite a large family, his father being a baker working at Jaggs and Edwards, Churchgate. As you nipped along the twitchell by the Churchyard you could see him (and later Claude Edwards) all be-floured, working in the bakehouse at the rear of the café and shop (now Richard Rainbow's motorbikes). I suppose there must have been a Mr Jaggs at some time, but the only person I knew was Mr George Edwards, a brisk short man, who lived at Churchgate and ran the bakery business and shop with a small cafe in a room off to the side. My cousin Kath served in this shop for some years.
I am sure Bert Wright would be surprised to know what an influence he had on my life. He had an excellent baritone voice and music was his passion. A tall man, with strong features emphasised by an aquiline nose, he took many leading roles in Hertford Operatic and Dramatic Society's productions, using his excellent stage presence to good effect. I particularly recall his Duke of Plaza-Toro - resplendent in black coat and plumed hat - but cannot recall whether I saw him as Mikado or Poohbah in The Mikado. When these productions were in rehearsal, he would sing sometimes the entire repertoire so that even today I can sing little bits of most of the songs from "Take a pair of sparkling Eyes" to "Here is a Courtier grave and serious" (The Gondoliers) or "I've got a little list" to "Three little Maids from School are we" (The Mikado) and many others, including songs from Maid of the Mountains, Chu Chin Chow, Victorian ballads ("Oh that we two were maying") and operetta ("Patiently smiling"), grand opera and anything with a good strong melody. But above all, he loved choral music and oratorio. In pre-war days and indeed just after the war, Ware Choral Society used to rely on local soloists for its productions in Ware Drill Hall and Bert Wright was a leading singer along with members of the Waller Family. Later, as the Society gained a solid reputation under the batons of Douglas Rogers and Robert Vivian, the townsfolk were able to hear professional singers such as Patricia Kern and Jennifer Vyvyan; the first time I heard Janet Baker sing was in Ware Drill Hall. Bert Wright was choirmaster of St. Mary' s for many years so I learned many hymns to add to those already imbibed at Ware Congregational Chapel. At one time there was a hand carillon, of simple hymn tunes, operated by the aged verger, Mr Benny Brazier, and Bert would quietly sing in accompaniment to the bells, murmuring "Up, Benny, up" when the tune dipped a bit. I had no voice and wouldn't have dared take part- I just sat and listened and learned while we got on with our work.
If you had asked Bert Wright to name his "favourite music" he would have said "Elgar's Dream of Gerontius" (which I did not come to appreciate till years after) and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols sung on Christmas Eve by the Choir of King's College Chapel and broadcast by the BBC. Along with everybody else, staff at The Priory worked on that day but after my first year I realised that I was going to be in charge that afternoon. No one would have dared suggested taking a wireless to the office (was it even technically possible?) and in any case, you would need peace and quiet to get the best from that service. Bert was full of zest for life and thoroughly enjoyed Christmas but he used to say that for him Christmas was "over" by the end of that broadcast. For him, that choir and that service was the culmination of the Christian Year. Bert's performances in plays put on by the Hertford Society and later, the Ware Dramatic Society, of which he was a founder member, were enlivening by his remarkable mimicry.
He had begun work at Chalmers-Hunt and Co. whose office was at 80 High Street with the front door facing into Rankin Square. Norman Chalmers-Hunt was Clerk of the Court - he dressed in Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers and went round the town on a bike - and a lot of court hearings must have been pretty informal, I think. Anyway, Bert Wright used to go along to the court with him and he stored up a fund of comical episodes. He especially treasured the tale of the elderly, rather decrepit, townsman who was fined a half-crown for some misdemeanour – as he tottered from the court assisted by his daughter, she muttered loudly "Poor old bugger". I have found that by altering the tone and cadence of your voice, this is a very apt comment on most ups and downs of life.
In keeping with his office as Clerk and Chief Financial Officer, Leslie Southall was the least colourful of the chief officers - he had a large round head crowned with tight curls and seemed to find little to amuse him, even though at times he could use an unusual tum of phrase. If there was some quibble he would say 'A blind man on a galloping horse would be glad to see it'. He was a man of total integrity, very careful for the custody of the council's money and not free and easy with his own. He guided the council through a difficult period of expansion of services, before and after the war. On the other hand, it is difficult to think of anyone more colourful than Robert W. (Bob) Grantham. At the time of his appointment, he the youngest local authority Engineer and Surveyor in the country, he tackled a job of slum clearance and housebuilding with great gusto. He built the Swimming Pool in Priory Street, using salvaged bricks from slum clearance and, if there was some adverse comment about this in later years, at least Ware had a Swimming Pool long before Hertford or Hoddesdon
We always knew when he arrived for work - first the roar of his Lagonda and then the sound of his footsteps running up the stairs, often with a bag of golf clubs, shouting cheerful greetings to anyone he met. All the senior officers wore plus-fours, the fashion of the time, but I think Bob was the only one who actually played golf. When the war came, he joined the forces. After a short return trip to Ware, after the landmine exploded off the Westmill Road, Mr Grantham went to serve in Egypt where he became ill and died on active service - such a waste but only one of many. His successor, Walter John Davis was totally different- slim, dark-suited and much more the bureaucrat - but no one could really compete with Bob Grantham in the affection of the townspeople.
Over the years there were really very few changes in the composition of the council - it wasn't really very glamorous, but one or two councillors added light and interest to the scene. Harry Gilbert was Chief Clerk at Chalmers-Hunt and Co. He had a straggly moustache and wore rimless glasses. In the winter he could be seen walking back from lunch, wearing his heavy grey Ulster and bowler hat. It was said that when he died and the staff were clearing out his desk they found a mouse's nest - very likely in view of the age of that building (80 High Street). His sister Eleanor had a milliners at 53 High Street and lived with their brother, Tom Gilbert, in the large house next door (now the Alliance and Leicester Building Society).
Probably the person held in highest regard in the town was Alderman Charles (Charlie) Ward – for many years Alderman of the County Council and a Ware Urban District Councillor. He managed the malting firm of H.S. Ward and Sons from their office at the rear of 61 High Street (Woollatt and Coggin). He was cheerful, friendly and had no "side" at all. When he retired from the Urban Council, he and Mrs Ward gave a party for the staff at their home at Murree, Collett Road, and white-coated waiters kept us plied with delicious food and even more delicious champagne cocktails It was a bitter blow when their younger son was killed on service with the Fleet Air Arm.
I am sure he must have had a car but my recollection of him is cycling around the town and later hobbling a bit with a stick. His brother W.S. (Willie) Ward was also active in the management of the firm - a quiet man. He and his wife would drive down into the town in their Lanchester. W.S. was a keen golfer and had a little gate at the end of Warner Road, giving direct access on to the golf course.
Miss Abbott served the Council for many years - a round short woman with shiny rimless spectacles. I think of her always as wearing a three-quarter length fur coat - she was probably more conservative in her thinking and behaviour than any of the other councillors - not for nothing was she called "the oldest young Conservative" in Ware. She was a strong supporter of the Ware Dramatic Society but was not happy when they performed J.B. Priestley's “Acacia Avenue” - allegedly because Priestley had then recently married a divorcee (Jacquetta Hawkes) but I daresay Priestley's broadcasts in support of socialism didn't help.
I'm not sure whether ACV. (Dick) Goldstone ever thought of himself as a socialist: he was Labour member - the only one - for many years. After the war, he was voted off for a short period but never gave up his principles and was soon returned. He worked as Head Postman at the Ware Post Office and was no doctrinaire - he was genuinely concerned to improve the lot of the working man and the poorer people in the town - slum clearance, council housing and civic amenities. A man of middle height, dark hair, saturnine features he was positive but not aggressive in his views. Like so many of his age, he was handicapped by the level of education - he found it hard to express himself and had a tendency to trail off his sentences ..."and that".... but everyone recognised his worth. He got on well with the other councillors - he was often near the top of the poll and did a lot of good work for the town. Later Frank Beazley and "Son" Sharp were to follow in the Labour tradition.
Collecting The Rates
Bert Wright had come into local government by way of employment with Mrs Elizabeth Rookby, who lived and had her office at 93 New Road. She was one of a group of people, often part-time, who were the backbone of the rating system as it developed in the years, following the introduction of the new councils in the latter part of the 1880s. Her changing role in the 30 or so years of her career reflected the slow development of the new authorities. At the turn of the century she was Assistant Overseer. She was responsible for rating matters, a hangover from the responsibilities of the "Overseers of the Poor" to raise and collect the parish poor rate, although the Ware U.D.C. also had a Collector, William Trump, who worked from an office in the High Street and Frederick Halfhide, also at 93 New Road, who was "Collector of the King's Taxes". Frederick Halfhide, was the father of Maisie, whom Bert Wright married. Maisie worked for the Ware Gas Company and in addition to his Rating duties, Mr Halfhide used to go round collecting in the cash from the gas meters (there were very few quarterly accounts). Nelson Powell would accompany him, pushing a little cart with the money in it. Neither the U.D.C. nor the R.D.C. seem to have appointed Valuers, a situation which had not changed in 1917, except that the Collector for the U.D.C. was now William H. Lee, the local estate agent. He had his office at 48 High Street, next to the accessway up to Leaside Church.
By 1929 - no doubt hastened by the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 and other legislation which heaped responsibilities on the Councils - Mrs Rookby's role of Assistant Overseer had disappeared and she was listed as "Collector" for both councils. W.H. Lee was now Rating and Valuation Officer for the U.D.C. and John (Jack) Burnett held the same post for the R.D.C., though interestingly enough he works from The Priory. In 1933, Mrs Rookby was "Rate Collector", but the two councils were really getting themselves sorted out and when I started work in 1936 the U.D.C. was established at Priory and the R.D.C. at No 97 New Road.
Apart from her dramatic "heart and stomach of a man" speech at Tilbury, the one thing that every schoolboy knows about the Virgin Queen is that the Statute of Elizabeth 1601 (the Poor Relief Act) founded our rating system. Alarmed at the depredations of the bands of destitute vagabonds roaming the countryside and the wretched condition of the poor in the towns and villages, the government made the parishes responsible for dealing with social distress. Most parishes dealt with the vagabonds by harrying them from one parish to the next, while eventually the local poor were consigned to the tender mercies of “Overseers of the Poor”, who operated a system of niggardly Poor Relief and, when forced to do so, provided accommodation in Workhouses. To enable them to pay for these activities, the 1601 Statute required the parishes to make a Poor Rate, levied on occupiers of property, and eventually this was also administered by the Overseers. So nearly 400 years ago the principle was established that a local public authority was responsible for meeting the welfare needs of the local people and paid for it by a tax levied on the occupiers of property the value of which was taken as a rough and ready indication of financial means.
The system was showing considerable signs of stress at the beginning of the 19th Century and by 1834 Parliament tried to ease matters by creating group of "Unions" of parishes (hence our forebears' alternative name for the Workhouse in Collett Road- no-one wanted to go to "the Union"). These Unions operated under Boards of Guardians, an arrangement which with minor variants was to continue until 1948.
Before the First World War, the Assistant Overseer and Collector was Mrs Rookby, who had her office at her home at 93 New Road. As a result of various "reorganisations", she eventually became Collector for both - Ware U.D.C. and Ware R.D.C. At one stage, Bert Wright had worked for her, when she retired he became Collector for Ware U.D.C., and Mr R.J.C. Suckling, Collector to Ware R.D.C. When I was at the Rates office, Mrs Rookby's two daughters were still living at 93 New Road, slowly declining into eccentric genteel poverty, both of them tall, thin, their gaunt appearance camouflaged by liberal applications of cosmetics. They were devoted to cats and took in many strays. If you wanted a cat put down and couldn't afford the vet's fee, you took it to Miss Rookby.
This is no place for a dissertation on the virtues or otherwise of the rating system. All taxes are obnoxious, but the rates have always been more heartily detested. From the official point of view, two of the system's virtues were that the rates were based on a valuation (carried out locally) of a fixed property, the yield was flexible, and the money was easy and economical to collect. In Ware, valuation of domestic dwellings was carried out by W.H. (Billy) Lee whose Estate Agents office was at 48 High Street and later by his son, Don(ald) W. Lee, by which time the business had been moved to 21 High Street. Valuation of commercial and industrial premises was done by a London firm, J.R. Eve and Co.
Eventually Bert Wright became Rating and Valuation Officer and Collector. I recall that one of the first assessments we did was of five flats which had been created in Chadwell House. At one time, this had been the home of Mr N.G. Chalmers Hunt and in the period just before the second world war it had been a roadhouse, complete with its own swimming pool.
The most important event in the rating year took place on the first Tuesday of March when the County Council declared the County Rate. Immediately afterwards, the County precept was served on the District Councils who had to collect the money. Of course, the rate in the £ was known for some time before the meeting, and the Urban Council had been working out its own rate so that the full rate for the town was declared at a meeting very shortly after the County. As the money was collected in two instalments, some small adjustments were made to ensure that the rate was divisible by two - we had no truck with halfpennies or collecting different sums in each half year. There was no inflation and sometimes there was no change between one year and the next; any increase was very small, although even in those palmy days I can't recall that the poundage ever went down.
While all this was going on, the Rate Book was being written up. The water charges, which never changed, were collected with the General Rate, so that the Rate Book was a massive volume, about 15-18" deep and about 5' wide, when open, and 3" thick at the spine because of the short leaf inserted to cover both rates and water and separate transactions for each half year. The Valuation list was held at W.H. Lee's office and the Rate Book was written up at first in the neat handwriting of Nora Goldstone, (who was a staunch member to the Sons of Temperance and later married Bill Knight who worked in the Gas Showrooms), then by Moira Stockwell (whose father Fred had a hairdressing business in the High Street) and eventually by Philip Wheatcroft and Don Lee himself. Once reconciled with the Valuation list, the Book was delivered to the Collector' s office and the chore of writing the demand notes began with the Book set on a large specially made lectern in front of Bert Wright or me. This was a tedious task, so it is no wonder that often Bert would have a little singalong of his favourite tunes from operetta and oratorio...
There were about 2,500 assessments, but the task was lightened in two ways The rates for council houses were collected with the rents and the council had resolved that the rates on 500 or so very small properties should be paid by the owner, who was rewarded by a discount of 10% if he paid before the end of June or December. This "compounding" applied to properties with a rateable value of £10 or less e.g., the cottages in Bluecoat Yard, with a rateable value of £8, and most of the older houses in the town. The Edwardian villas in Star Street, Bowling Road and all over the town had rateable values of £12 and they paid rates of £3m 12s and 8s and 9d water rate per half year. When the semi-detached houses were built on the east side of Trinity Road and elsewhere in the 1930s, the rateable value was about £20. The demand notes were despatched as they were written, the whole job being completed by about the middle of April and October.
Money came in in a steady trickle. A great many payments were in cash - bank accounts were not all that common. A few people tendered £5 notes- a majestic document much bigger than the present £10 note and printed on stiff white paper. It was said to be not too difficult to forge and in view of its real value (£5 was two, nearly three weeks wages for some people), we used to note the name and address of the payer on the back - some notes had at least a partial life-history on the reverse. Each night we cashed up and next morning (except Monday and Tuesday, when there were rent collections) I took the money down to the bank. Later we had night safe bags.
Early in June and December, we really began to press for payment of the rates. Final notices were prepared and despatched and either Bert or myself would sally forth with our big receipt book and call on some of the shops and commercial premises. When the tenancy of a public house changed hands, the brokers used to come down, check the inventory and make sure the bills had been made. I used to calculate how much rates were due and present myself at the pub to collect the money. I hated this job, partly because the Congregational Church (and my Aunt Daisy) had steeped me in the evils of strong drink and to go into a pub for any reason was a first step on the downward path and partly because - well, have you ever tried to get into a pub outside opening hours? Somehow, although I was expected, it took ages for someone to answer the door! Once inside, there were the brokers sitting at one of the tables and the whole transaction was over in five minutes, and I retreated back to the safety of The Priory.
Then came the time to take non-payers to court. The summons list contained about 12-20 names, most of them the "regulars" and when I had typed it, I made an appointment to see Lady Chapman at the Manor House in Church Street to obtain her signature to the "Complaint". After that, the summons were issued and despatched. Bert Wright would attend the magistrates' court, but later this duty fell to me. At this time, the Chairman of the Bench was Mr Swann of The Lordship and later Mrs Overton. The court used to take the routine stuff first - licencing matters and then the rates summons. By the time of the hearing most people had paid. The court knew quite a lot about the circumstances of the defaulters but had no option but to issue a Distress Warrant. The proceedings were informal. At one time, a scheme of refurbishment was carried out including the provision of a ''dock'' complete with spiked railings - the Magistrates were appalled and insisted that it be removed.
The legal process ground on - the bailiff went to the house and returned the Warrant - "No effects". Meantime we were trying to find ways of getting the money without resorting to the next step. Those one or two who still hadn't paid were in dire straits, due to illness or unemployment and no-one wanted to send a man to prison. Pointless anyway. If matters got as far the Magistrates hearing, the Committal Summons would "give time to pay". Help was drummed up from somewhere, perhaps a local charity or the British Legion and the balance would be written off. By this time, we were well into the next half-year and the wretched ratepayer started off at a disadvantage. This system of debt-recovery from people who really hadn't the money was inefficient and barbaric and it is sad that, at bottom, things haven't changed much. One way and other, the Council usually ended the year with very small arrears. One year after the war by working strictly to rule we had no arrears at all - this was never repeated.
Here Comes The Rentman
Unlike some of the really big authorities, Ware Urban Council had no council houses until after the First World War. At the Khaki Election a promise was make that there would be "Homes Fit For Heroes". Legislation was passed to redeem this promise. Ware's first council houses, those in Croft Road, were built in 1922 and, in real terms, were probably the most expensive ever - due partly to some inflation in the house-building trade and the most generous subsidy arrangements - the government met all the costs in excess of a penny rate. They were also a great step forward in the provision of "houses for the working classes" being larger and incorporating a "parlour". Similar houses were built in the villages by Ware R.D.C. A pair of houses at Catshill, Stanstead Abbotts, still has W.R.D.C. 1922 engraved in the plaster but for some reason when the houses in Croft Road were refurbished, the present East Herts District Council obliterated the panels on the block at the bottom of the Road. The Government soon took fright at the level of subsidies and made changes so that the houses built in 1924 (90-120 Musley Hill and 1-31 Tower Road) were rather smaller, though still better than those which came later.
The next impetus for building Council Houses was the programme of slum clearance. All over the town there were very old cottages, some in clusters of two or three as in Sams Yard, Eagle Yard and George Yard, others covering whole streets likes Kibes Lane, or the bigger yards such as Caroline Court and Chapel Yard, the corner of Crib Street and the Bourne which had deteriorated to such a state that they really were "unfit for human habitation". Before a Clearance Order could be made the houses had to be surveyed by the Sanitary Inspector, Albert Dickinson (who owned quite a lot of them) and from 1936 on Charles Lucas and John Chapman, and the Medical Officer of Health, Dr A.D. Whitelaw, whose appointment covered other councils as well. Photographs taken at the time and now held by Ware Town Council provide depressing evidence of the totally dilapidated state of these houses.
When the legalities were completed, some of the houses came into the possession of the council, who then had the job of re-housing the tenants and making sure the old houses were demolished. In many cases, ownership of the land stayed with the landlord, who had to comply with the Demolition Order. In some instances, freehold was bought because the council wanted the site for road-widening. It took years for some schemes to come to fruition. I collected rents from four houses in Star Street now under the tarmac of Ware's first bypass - Bowling Road. The few houses in Chapel Yard, on the west side of Amwell End, were the grottiest of the lot, but the crumbling shops in Amwell End remained in use until after the War. Mr Storey, the baker, moved across the road to No 7 from No 12 which was taken over by Mr W. Carter who built up a good business renovating the cottages in Crib Street and elsewhere, before emigrating to Australia. Mrs Charvill had a small confectioners shop at No 8 close by the Victory pub. Walter Baker's greengrocery business eventually moved over the bridge to 18 High Street. Although the imposing new offices of the Northmet Power Co. (now Bridge Travel) had replaced shops and a malting, the clutter of small shops on the other side remained and proved the salvation of a number of small businesses. Frank Hoath, the saddler, from whom my father bought leather to mend our shoes, moved about from No 1, to No 17 then across to No 18, and ultimately to No 104 High Street. Mr Thompson, the radio dealer, also had a shop at No. 17. He was a Methodist and one day invited us to see the new wonder of the age - television, in black and white on a 9" screen. He later moved to No 18 High Street, where his son Ronald continued for many years until his health failed. Mr Ernest Chappell started his furniture business at No 13 (the old "Bird in Hand" pub) and later moved to No 23. When the road-widening was finished, this group of shops, crumbling but not unattractive, were replaced by the existing unsympathetic quadrant of shops and pub. It is a mystery that the planners allowed this flat roofed building to be put up on such a prominent site. Perhaps the Northmet offices were built without their help?
Representing The People
Although administered from County Hall, the job of local Registration Officer, a specific, separate appointment, was invariably held by the Clerk of the Urban District Council. In this capacity he was personally responsible for the preparation of the Register and the conduct of elections. It seems to have become traditional for the Rating Officer to have the job of preparing the Register - no doubt because he was likely to know more about people's changes of address than any other officer and was able to check the accuracy of the Register from the information in the Rate Books. Anyway, Leslie Southall had appointed Bert Wright and he gave me the job of dealing with one part of the town.
The method was archaic, but it had a certain logic. This was before the use of addressing machines so there was some sense in delivering the Registration Form to the address and checking details on the doorstep. The information was entered in little hardback notebooks, which lasted several years - people didn't move all that much. The amendments to the Register were compiled from the notebook, with checks against the completed form as necessary. The system worked very well, really, although the pay wasn't very good - I was paid about £3 for canvassing the whole of the NE corner of the town. When the population grew and the franchise was extended to all adults over 18, the doorstep canvassing had to disappear in favour of postal circulation of the forms. For local government elections, only householders and their spouses were enfranchised and there were voting rights for people who had businesses in the town.
Ware Urban District had twelve councillors and there were no wards in the town. One-third of the council retired each year, so there was an annual election, involving the voters of the whole town. The work of dealing with the legal niceties, publication of notices, setting up the polling stations, printing the ballot papers etc. was done in the Clerk's office, and Leslie Southall was also responsible for the conduct of the election, including the appointment of the staff. There were always moans about the fee payable but, as this was the only "perk" available to us, virtually all the staff were glad to take part. Elections were held on Saturdays and the count was done in the evening at the close of the poll.
In pre-war days, only the Labour candidates owned up to a political label - the others all stood as "Independent", including well-known members of the Conservative Club. To be fair the council operated on a non-political basis, maybe because Labour only ever had at most three councillors. Even so, there were wry smiles when one voter, conveyed to the Poll in an "Independent" car, flung open the door and shouted in a loud voice "I wanna vote Labour" - I think the car took him home all right.
The only untoward experience I had was when a voter with whom I had had a number of verbal confrontations about his rent, marched up the trestle table, seized it and overturned the lot into my lap. The police were outside and, after letting him vote, they gave him a severe talking to in the back of their car and packed him off home to sleep it off.
Counting the votes took place at The Priory. There was little "block" voting - there weren't any blocks - so every single vote had to be counted on the large specially printed sheets. Counting was usually over before midnight and I would walk home, keeping an eye open for inebriates from the dance at the Drill Hall. The first election after the war had about a dozen candidates and counting went on until 3 a.m. It took some years for us to acknowledge the growth of "block" voting but Cecil Burt eventually persuaded Leslie Southall of the need for change and counting never took so long, once "blocks" were segregated and counted separately.
A Few Names – Splendid Or Otherwise
Work in preparing the Voters' List revealed some splendid names. They included the following:
Roland Hayes Evans Umfreville Pickering of Thunder Hall
Eric Worger Graham and his wife Cornelia Paternella who lived in Little Widbury
Ida Georgiana Cruttwell Abbott for many years a District Councillor
Arthur Dupont Harrington, grocer, of Cross Street
P. Kennedy Drever, ironmonger, of 51 High Street
George Hyslop Maughan, solicitor
Thomas Caston Forbes, draper, of 54 High Street
Archibald Houston Andrew, the Vet.
Raymond Otto Seaton Milde.
Earlier generations had a fascination for nicknames, which were passed down from father to son. Mr. Adams, who worked for Frank Suckling, the builder, was a good man on a 60-foot ladder but I doubt if he ever sold a pig's trotter in his life, yet he was always called "Trotter" Adams after his father (or was it his grandfather?) who was a butcher. Who knows why one branch of the Saunders family were happy to be called "Con"? When Thomas Saunders acquired his house in Park Road, he linked the nickname to his wife's name and called it "Conmae".
Some of the splendid names must have derived from family links on marriage, and the source of some nicknames is obvious- Mr. Wilkins, the baker of 29-31 Amwell End, was "Doughy", and "Donkey" Bray kept horses and donkeys in a field behind his house in the Bourne. I doubt if Cuthbert Quilter Linn was happy to be called "Cutty", though Abednego Day, who was a fitter at the Gas Company, never minded being called "Benny". The cruel nickname "Doll's-eye" speaks for itself.
George Stockwell recalls a galaxy of names from Crib Street and The Bourne, including "Smoker" Scales, "Buster" Presland, "Wagger" Smith and his father "Pudden" Smith, "Brusher" Adams, who was a maltmaker, and "Scoffer" Want. Why was a lad named North who lived in The Bourne called "Gorger" North and why - oh why - was his father called "Poppy Slosher"? Perhaps Mrs. Flinders, who lived in Church Street, really was christened "Polly", but why was Amos Saxon, one-time goalkeeper for Ware Town, called "Gaggy" and his painter colleague, William Hills, nicknamed "Knocker"? Mr J. Abbott had a small business doing contract work for the councils with horse and cart, and later a noisy old lorry, but why was he called "Doogie"? A very fat man, he lived in The Pound (in London Road - now part of Grange Gardens) and on fine evenings would lean on the lower half of his "stable" door and talk to passers-by.
"Cast Iron" Kate lived with her husband Chris Bell in a Council House in King George Road. Rake-thin with a voice turned to gravel by chain smoking, she and her friend "Dirty Dolly" Cox, fat and cheerful, used to prowl round the town pushing their bicycles, always first in the queue at rummage sales. When the Bell 's got into trouble with their rent, the Council workmen sent to clear the house found bundles of rummage, underclothes, etc. piled up in all the rooms, and every tread of the stairs with a walkway up the middle. No wonder Chris never raised his quiet Irish voice above a whisper and went round with a resigned look on his face.
When the re-housing schemes got under way, the Surveyor devised a scheme to provide dwellings for about half-a dozen or so really large families - blocks of three dwellings with a five-bedroom house at each end and in the middle a one-bedroom flat for elderly couples, widows and single persons.
Amongst the tenants was a couple called "Donkey" Want and his wife - always eccentric. Things went from bad to worse when there were complaints that they were keeping goats in the house and they were evicted. They settled in a shanty made of wood and corrugated iron - down on the river bank, way beyond Jack Wells ' bridge - their goats living on the reeds. The police or other people in authority used to go and check up on them from time to time but it was argued, as it is now, that they had the right to live how they wished and it was not until they were in really poor straits that the Medical Officer used his powers to arrange their compulsory administration to Western House.
Paying The Wages
The medieval boundaries of the The Priory - or more properly the Friary - remained virtually unchanged until mid-Victorian times. The original access to the Friary was by a gateway (roughly where the back gate is now) into Mill Lane - a very narrow street leading down to Ware Mill (Allen and Hanburys). The Friary was very much part of the town and the old cottages in Mill Lane and Black Swan Yard clustered round it. Almost opposite Mill Lane stood the old Forge and the cottages in West Street and Church Street along with the old police station (now a public garden). The houses in Mill Lane and Black Swan Yard were demolished in the early days of slum clearance, although Black Swan malting remained and was used by George Yorke when he moved across from the Old Forge and lived in No 1 Priory Street In the 1950's. It became obvious that something had to be done about the problems caused by Allenbury's vans and lorries (some problems never go away) and the houses and shops on the corner of the High Street were demolished to a great outcry.
This was nothing to the fuss created when in 1953 the Priory gates were demolished and disappeared. In mid-Victorian times, the owner of The Priory, by then long used as a private house, carried out a scheme to create a new front drive alongside No 87 High Street. As part of the scheme a battlemented gateway was erected with huge double gates and a small wicket gate alongside. The boundary wall, part of which still stands, was continued along the rear of the houses in the High Street and Priory Street where the old main entrance was converted to the back drive complete with battlemented gateway and ranges of buildings for stabling, coach houses and cartsheds. This later became a council depot.
The "new" drive into The Priory had been planted with yew and box and similar trees which over the years had drained all goodness out of the soil which supported little or no plant life. The setting may have appealed to Gothic romantics but in the winter the aspect was forlorn and dreary with rain dripping off the trees.
In 1953, when a celebration of the Queen's coronation was being discussed, some of the council, led by Ken Samways, were determined that the money should not be frittered away on some "monument" and it was decided to "do away with" the old gates and the existing gates were put up, the wrought ironwork being carried out by Yorke's. The removal of the gates revealed the high red brick boundary walls. Mr. (later Sir) John Hanbury, of Allen and Hanbury's, gave climbing, flowering shrubs which still adorn the walls.
The local authorities had acquired the premises next door to The Priory. No 87 High Street comprising the splendid three-storey red brick house, complete with a portico and substantial iron railings in front, was once the home of the maltster, Henry Page, and the maltings and gardens extended down to the river. The house was connected by an imposing stone archway to No 85 High Street (now demolished), the offices of Henry Page and Co. The malting buildings included a fine conical kiln capped by a most handsome octagonal cap which, alas, was pulled down after the war as more and more of the buildings were taken into use as stores. In those days, most surveyors saw themselves primarily as engineers and, as the cynics claimed, rather seemed to "want to cut down anything more than about three feet high".
The ground floor of 87 High Street was used by Ware Town Nursing Association, which had a large clinic in the large room at the back while the County Library, then largely voluntary, had one room at the front, later steadily expanding stage by stage to take over the whole building. The first and second floor flats were used by the District Nurses and later by Mr Raison, the council foreman. Mr Raison's predecessor, Mr Woodcock, lived with his wife and two good-looking daughters in the Priory Lodge, now the Museum, tucked, sunless, just inside the main gates.
At first, depot activities were concentrated in the Priory Yard, but over the years more use was made of 87 High Street and the Priory Yard was finally demolished in the early 1950's as part of the road-widening scheme. Later new premises were acquired in the Priory Street maltings near Allen and Hanbury's, still used as a depot and dog warden's premises by E.H.D.C.
Much of the manual work was arduous, dirty and smelly. Working hours were long. Under agency arrangements, which I believe still continue, the Urban Council carried out maintenance and repairs to county roads - i.e. the numbered roads like the High Street (A 10) Watton Road (B 1001) and Star Street (A 119) - and the costs, within agreed budget, were claimed at intervals, as well at the "District Roads". There were no gritters, or street sweepers, and little use was made of diggers. If you wanted a hole or trench dug, someone got to work with pick and shovel. If it snowed then someone loaded a lorry with grit and salt and off went the lorry with a couple of men spreading grit by the shovelful over the tailboard. When a road needed repair, you got the tarboiler (which looked a bit like Stephenson's rocket) out of the shed, lit the boiler and towed it to the work site, while Dan Patmore steamed up the roller and trundled along after you. By such simple means; muscle power, horse and cart, and later a lorry or two, roads were kerbed, re-surfaced and "improved" all over the town. They even found time to clear the footpaths of snow and in the summer to water the dusty streets with the water cart - a simple tank on four wheels, with a sprinkler along the back.
To keep the surface drains clear, at intervals a man would be sent round with a long-handled ladle with which he removed debris from the gully depositing it in a little, smelly heap alongside the drain, to be collected later by the sewercart, (very similar to the dungcart used on farms) a sort of tank with a flap lid, drawn by the council's Suffolk Punch, who lived in the stable at the depot, and was cared by Mr Devoil, and later by Frank Smoothy.
The streets and lanes like Hoe Lane and Hollycross Road, which had been transferred from the Rural to the Urban Council in the review of boundaries in 1933, were maintained on the "lengthman" principle. The roadman was responsible for all aspects of routine maintenance for his "length"; sweeping, weeding, grass cutting, etc., although of course in foul weather it was "all hands to the pumps". When we had a rainstorm, someone turned out to clear the debris from the gratings placed over the culverts of the Bourne and other streams flowing into the Lea.
All household refuse, including copious amounts of ash from domestic fires, was placed in the dustbin and collected weekly by the "dustcart". The Shelvoke and Drewry dustcart with its lids on either side was a big improvement, but the heavy bin still had to be hoisted up and tipped over the side. This vehicle had a wide cab and the driving controls were very similar to those associated with the trams. Mr. Pike who lived in Coronation Road was the first driver, with Ernie Haggar as his relief. Ernie's real job, assisted by Bill Pratt, was to drive the gully emptier, which greatly lightened the task of clearing the drains and emptying cesspits, though it didn't make the job any sweeter smelling.
It is no wonder that these men were rather a clannish lot, deliberate in their movements, not very talkative except amongst their colleagues and friends. No-one wanted to acknowledge just how much civilised life depended on them but no-one ever need feel ashamed of "working down the council". Most of them were paid a basic labourer's wage, but there were a few "tradesmen" whose pay was linked to wages in the building trade. One such job was that of "pavior" which seems to have disappeared nowadays. Bob Wareham did this job, lugging the heavy slabs and kerbs, cutting them to shape and leaving a rather smoother path than we now have in our tarmac and brick paving. He was assisted by men like George Baker, a friend of mine from the Congregational Church, who like most of these men, could turn his hand to most things and make a good job of it.
As the number of council houses increased, a small team of building tradesmen grew up. Eddie Sampford and Teddy Clibbon were the carpenters and among the painters were Mr Kent (father of the one-time Deputy Surveyor), Amos ("Gaggy") Saxon, "Knocker" Hills and Sam Clare, a stalwart of the Ware Town Band. Mr. Hills was a drummer in the Herts Regiment Drum and Fife Band - he had bright yellow hair and walked ramrod straight until his death. The plumber was Bernard ("Bomber") Wells. Two generations of the Luck family also worked "in the yard" together with little Sydney Skeggs, with his large moustache - who worked as assistant to all the various tradesmen - invariably cheerful and liked by everyone. He lived with his wife (well known from old photos of Caroline Court), similarly short of stature, in a little house in the Bourne.
I got to know these men quite well, when I moved from the Collector' s office into the General Finance section, working with Cecil Burt, the Deputy Clerk and Finance Officer. One of my jobs was to "do the wages". This began on a Wednesday afternoon when the timesheets were brought across to The Priory by Vic Riley the storekeeper, countersigned in the Surveyor's office, and thence to me. The timesheets were designed with a sticky flap at the top comer, on which the details of the hours and pay were written, together with perforated slips, which were used for costing the various jobs, all the calculations being carbonned through on to the timesheet.
Just after the war, the idea of collective bargaining using the Whitley Council was in its infancy, but as it became routine that rates of pay were determined in this way, the whole process became fairly simple. The actual rates of pay were abysmal. The élite trades, linked to the building Industry, received about 2/ 3d (11p) per hour, with much lower rates for labourers, who were rewarded for extra responsibility or unpleasant work by supplements of say 1d per hour for wet work or working on high ladders. The working week was 48 hours and rates were laid down for plain-time, time-and-a-quarter, and time-and-a-half, with lower rates for those under 18. Those were finicky times and a farthing was still worth having, so the rates were worked out to the 1/16th and 1/32nd of a penny. Thank heaven for the ready reckoner books. We used the Gilbert System - printed sheets, backed with a nasty purple colour carbon. By offsetting the sheets, the information for the current week was simultaneously impressed on to the sheet for the following week. Since the only information you had to accumulate was pay and tax, this messy system was most inefficient, but we used it for years, until ultimately we could afford a machine - second-hand, of course!
The money needed to pay the staff was collected from the bank on Friday morning, when I strolled down to the Westminster Bank and openly carried the money in a canvas bag back to the office. Such innocence! Years later when I was auditor at Southgate, dealing with the pay for admittedly a larger staff, I had to organise different routes from bank to office for the pay car. We even had someone standing outside the bank, on the alert for robbers, suspiciously eyeing people from other firms doing the same. In Ware we paid out at about 4 p.m., outside the storeman's office in the depot behind No 87 High Street.
It was the job of the council to provide a clean, wholesome water supply for the town. Water was drawn from two wells, one in Musley Lane and the other at Musley Hill, whence it was pumped to the Water Tower. The enterprise was managed by the Surveyor, who had little difficulty supervising his workforce. The Water Inspector was Walt Masters, a short man with a straggly walrus moustache who, as the years went by, seemed to get more and more bent so that in winter his dark blue coat almost trailed on the ground. He lived in the cottage just by the Tower. He never went anywhere without his peaked cap and his meter reading book under his arm. The plumber was Jack Trundle, rather self-contained but not unfriendly. Each morning, one of his duties was to climb the St. Mary's Church Tower and wind the clock, and half an hour daily duly appeared on his timesheet. I can't recall ever seeing him without his faded grey trilby. The third member of the team was Charlie Maynard. These three were the operations force - they laid mains, dug up the roads and repaired leaky mains, kept the pumps going, mended bursts, installed and read the meters. No wonder the water rate for many houses in the town was less than £1.00 per annum.
At that time, the one authority was responsible for water supply and sewage disposal. Ware Urban Council's Sewage Farm was at Rye Meads. The fields around the plant were farmed as a Nursery Garden, and the manager was named Creasey. He cultivated the farm and sold the produce and each Friday came over to The Priory to render his stewardship and pay in any monies received from fishing or from farm sales. One or two houseboats were berthed at the farm, for which a small rent was payable. One of the tenants was a Polish lady who one day came to pay the rent and give notice. She had got a council house - who could doubt that as she said "It's as better as a house boat, don't it?"
When the Lea Valley Trunk Sewer was laid, the new plant was to be located at Rye Meads and the Urban Council negotiated a really good bargain in the terms for the sale, including free sewage disposal for the Urban District for long years ahead. Alas, the big boys won the day at the time of local government reorganisation when the Urban District was subsumed into East Herts District and it was ruled that this consideration no longer applied
Hertford Borough decided not to join in the original scheme and continued to operate their own Sewage disposal Works, the odour from which could be perceived along Ware Road in the Summer. At one time the Mercury reported that the Council was spraying the sewage with a more acceptable smell, though I don't think it was ever the case that "if you fell into a sewer in Hertford, you came up smelling of violets".
One of the problems for the councils was that linking into the Lea Valley Sewer also meant extensive repairs to the town sewers, some of which were very old and for which the debt charges would be borne by the burgesses. Perhaps it is only coincidence that when reorganisation was well under way, Hertford Borough Council decided to link into the main sewer, put in hand an extensive programme of repairs to town sewers, the debt charges on which are now being met by the new authority, and sold their old sewage works for a good sum which they use to pay for Castle Hall. Well done, Hertford.
Ware Volunteer Fire Brigade and The Ambulance Service
This booklet would be incomplete without some reference to the Fire Brigade. James (Jim) Long's family lived in Church Street, in a cottage by the French Horn. Grandmother lived opposite in a cottage alongside Rodney Stephen's butcher shop. The children went to Ware Congregational Sunday School. Jim's father Joe was a member of the Volunteer Fire Brigade and at the age of 13 (in 1933) Jim joined as a messenger boy. At about the same time another 13-year-old, Bernard Wackett, also joined his father, William Wackett, a bus driver living in Coronation Road.
The Brigade had been formed in 1889 and over the years was very much a family affair. When Jim Long joined, amongst the members were Wally Baker, the greengrocer, following his grandfather (Nathaniel or “Nat”) Baker who had a greengrocery business at 116 High Street (demolished) and lived opposite the Church in a cottage later occupied by Mrs Polly Flinders. Tom Davey of "The Victoria" in Star Street and his son Phil were also there along with Fred Devonshire (River Street) and his brother "Diddy" who was afflicted with harelip. The family lived at 15 Musley Lane - father played the Tuba in the Ware Town Band. There was also an uncle and nephew, "Tiddler" Newman and Joe Newman. "Patcheye" Hammond was related by marriage to Bertram Lambert, living in adjacent houses, 12 & 14 Park Road.
By 1908, John Page, the corn chandler, was captain of a Brigade of 16 men and 2 boys. Later his son, also John Page, took up the mantle and he was followed by Joe Hart of "The Prince of Wales", at the corner of Princes Street and Crib Street. His plumber son Billy was also a member of the Brigade. Captain Hart was followed by Arthur Brazier, engineer in charge of the boiler at Western House.
In 1907 the Brigade had acquired a steam fire engine and when the alarm went, Billy Shepherd could be seen at the Engine House in Church Street, busy getting up steam - he had been disabled by Trench Feet in the First World War and rather hobbled when on Fire Drill but he was still very quick.
The Steam fire engine was originally pulled by horses and later by the dust lorry. It was replaced by a Merryweather motor fire engine, which had a brief moment of glory in the film “The Galloping Major” featuring Basil Radford and Joyce Grenfell. The last duty of the old steamer was the rather humiliating activity of pumping out the footings for the new Northmet office. In 1890, the Brigade had acquired an escape, by public subscription. This was housed in a special building with high doors, in the corner of Church Street by Mr. Griffin's coal yard. For practice drills it was towed into the High Street outside Gideon Talbot's shop and garage (No 47) and the firemen took it in turns to venture down the chute. Regular drills took place in The Priory playing field when dummy hydrants had been installed and the Brigade also took regular part and did well in competitions and special displays. Some of the volunteers worked at Allen and Hanburys who had their own fire engine - Glaxo now have two appliances.
The police took all fire calls and the alarm was given by Allen and Hanbury's works klaxon and by bells in the firemen’s homes. The volunteers were paid a turnout fee and an hourly rate whilst at the fire. The council paid these fees and reclaimed the money from the Insurance Company.
Jim Long recalls the worst fire in Ware in the years between the wars - the destruction of the Hope Malting in Baldock Street. Fire Engines from Ware and Hertford attended and the blaze was so fierce that the houses in Gladstone Road had to be evacuated. Damping down continued for about a week. When the War broke out, Jim was called up in the Territorial Army and served in the Army Fire Service with the 8th Army in Egypt. In preparation for war, the Fire Service was reorganised and the local council lost much of its independence. The Auxiliary Fire Service was created to augment the existing brigades which were eventually nationalised. The National Fire Service was transferred to Hertfordshire County Council control after the war and the County Fire and Ambulance service was created.
When Jim Long was demobilised, he undertook more training and for a time served at Poole but eventually returned to Hertford and recalls how in the floods of 1947, as a member of the Hertford brigade, he helped with the rescue of flood-bound villagers at Stanstead Abbotts, when 27 survivors were taken to safety. After 25 years in the County Service, he retired and took a job as a Storekeeper at Wickhams. Fire fighting had become a more and more dangerous occupation and one of his old friends in the Ware brigade was killed as a result of falling from a roof fighting a fire at Allenbury's. Jack Riddle was a larger than life "character" and it is fitting to pay tribute to him and all the volunteer firemen who served Ware so well.
During the war, the Fire Service became more and more associated with the Ambulance Service. Before the war, the town relied on the St. John Ambulance Brigade. I joined the Brigade in my early teens along with Cyril Bardwell. My Uncle Alf belonged for many years, but on the night of the rail crash at Welwyn Garden City, the ambulance was called out and the vehicle went round the town collecting members. They picked up "Sgt" Fred Milton at 1 Princes Street but did not go to No 22 for my uncle. He was very hurt by this - "Why didn't they come for me - after all, I was in the trenches in the war?" and he resigned. Cyril and I severed our connection when we were called up in the R.A.M.C.
Bob Jackson was one of the mainstays of the Brigade -the ambulance was housed at The Priory, so he was handy for callout. Mr Smith the gardener was also a member of the S.J.A.B. The office of the Superintendent was honoured in the town. Charles Dewbury was followed by Tom Forbes, the draper and he by T.H. Burgess. More recently the office was held by the late Fred Woodhouse, a signwriter who did freelance work as well as working for W.L. Thurgood. Fred was one of the host of people who, in their own quiet way, made such a contribution to the "family feel" of Ware. A soft-spoken, serious man, who was committed in his membership of Christ Church, he became well-known for his paintings, especially when he ran a painting class for pensioners at Age Concern in Priory Street.
"Let slip the dogs of war"
Before Mr Neville Chamberlain's now notorious trip to Munich in 1938, most people did not want to face the fact that war with Germany was becoming inevitable. Even after that event, although many people talked of having gained a breathing space, little seemed to happen- preparations for the role of the local councils seemed half-hearted, but steps were taken to set up an A.R.P. organisation- the control-room behind the Ware Museum was built and A.R.P. Warden's posts were set up in various parts of the town. Council staff received rather minimal training in control centre duties and those who seemed unlikely to be called up for some time enrolled as wardens, received a tin helmet and blue overalls and got ready to report to their local post - in my case, the waterworks at Musley Hill. Plans were devised to requisition vans for use as Ambulances and by the time Mr Chamberlain made his announcement of the outbreak of war at 11 a.m. on Sunday, 3rd September 1939, a somewhat rickety organisation existed. I'm sure those most involved were very thankful that it was not to be tested for some months.
Nothing very much happened during the winter following the German invasion of Poland. In anticipation of the bombing of London and the big cities, school children were evacuated into "safe areas", sometimes with strange results. Girls from two schools in Hastings came to Ware and my Aunt Daisy took care of two girls for many months. Leslie Southall was Billeting Officer and the voluntary organisations worked overtime settling the girls into their new homes and supporting the temporary parents. Distribution of gasmasks to the civilian population was completed. As the weeks went by with no hostilities children began to drift back home, especially those who came from London. Food rationing was introduced and this was overseen by Mr W.A. Toone. Mr Lucas became Fuel Officer. The pace quickened after Dunkirk. Norman Daker, Deputy Clerk, joined the Home Guard - a most unlikely recruit even to that "Dad's Army", as we know it. Pill boxes and firing points for Smith guns and tank traps like concrete dragons appeared. Everyone was calm and very determined.
Cyril Bardwell had joined the R.A.M.C. some time before Dunkirk and in early September 1940, he was on leave and we were taking a walk out towards West Fields allotments (Widbury Hill), when a squadron of planes flew high overhead.-"They're Heinkels" Cyril said. Soon the Battle of Britain was well under way. Fortunately Ware was spared any significant attack. A land mine was found hanging from the trees somewhere up beyond Westmill Road and after it had apparently been defused, an unhappy decision was made to move it into the town. Found to be getting hot, it was then taken to Brazier's gravel pit where the experts exploded it and much damage was done to the houses in Croft Road and Fanshawe Crescent. We all had a lot to learn about air-raid damage.
The German Air Force made very effective use of incendiary bombs. To protect factories and offices, the staff were recruited as Fire Watchers, and trained in the use of stirrup pumps, and the long-handled shovel and bucket of sand. It was said that sometimes the bomb burned a hole in the shovel and there were grim jests about the Germans using the wrong sort of bomb. Nellie Want, now my wife, was part of the fire-watching team at the coach-builders, Thurgoods, then at Watton Road. Mr A.C. Ledger and Frank Hayward slept in the office and the four girls in the air-raid shelter, covering from teatime Friday till Monday morning on a rota basis. The nights in the week were covered by the men in the works. When the place was bombed, fortunately the nightshift of firewatchers had not come on duty and, although severe damage was done, no-one was hurt.
The only deaths from bombing were the Webster Seaman family, who were living in No 63 New Road, when it had a direct hit. Sadly and ironically they had come to Ware with the Stadium company who had evacuated to an old malting in the High Street. Their tombstone poignantly records that they "Died together" on 18th September 1940.
As the "phoney war" dragged on, there was much naive discussion whether it was better to wait "the call-up" or try to get into a desirable arm of the services by volunteering. Anyway, in the early summer of 1940, Reggie Hatherill and I went down to the RAF recruiting, at Uxbridge, I think, and tried to get into the RAF as pilots. I recall an interview with a rather bored RAF sergeant who took one look at my glasses and my skinny frame, muttered something about "everybody wants the glamour jobs, and we want a lot of people to do things like sweeping out hangars" and shooed me off back to the outer perdition of civvie street. It did not seem to occur to him to recruit me as a "hanger sweeper outer" but perhaps we were at the wrong place. In any case, the whole process was a bit lackadaisical. However, Reggie did get accepted and finally got into the Air Force on 19th August 1940.
In September Reggie began to keep a diary, now in the possession of his mother's cousin. He wrote it up every two or three weeks and as well as setting down some of the boring details of service life - movements from comfortable hotel billets to primitive barracks on the edge of some bleak airfield - he also wrote about his love of the countryside and philosophised, somewhat naively, about life, politics and war aims. Sometimes he told of the books he was reading and discussions with other chaps in the unit about books and music. What comes over most strongly, is how homesick he was. He recorded in great detail his "hitchhiking" trips home, the wonderful meals his mother cooked, his walks with his father and friends from school days and on almost every leave "I went down to the (ARP) Centre and had a long talk with Norman (Daker)”. He was rather sweet on Brenda Holland (as we all were) and obviously enjoyed his chats and outings to the cinema with her.
Reggie also recorded very honestly the progress of his training - successes and problems - getting lost on navigation exercises (like everyone else) and on one landing putting a wingtip into the ground. In May 1941, "I had a CFI Test". At the end of the course he assessed me as "Slow to leam and an average flyer, which was not surprising in view of the fact that I took eight hours to go solo". Ominously perhaps, as he moved on to the bigger planes, he recorded increasing attacks of air sickness. He was killed on 6th November 1941 when his Wellington bomber crashed on landing.
My Army service was distinguished only for its lack of incident. There were few opportunities for glory - not that I would have recognised one if it bit me - I was in less danger from the enemy than were my relatives at home. Some time round about my 20th Birthday (July 1940) I registered for service and in due time was told to report to Medical Examination Centre in Victoria Street, St. Alban's. The elderly doctor noted my weight (113 lbs), observed my flattened breastbone and asked whether l had ever worked as a cobbler. At that time shoes were repaired using a "hobbing foot" (my father had one which he used when repairing our shoes at home) on which the shoe was placed and held steady against the chest of the cobbler. On being told 'No', he graded me B5 and I went home to await events. Later, another army doctor told me I had had rickets as a child - Dr Stewart had attributed it to "injudicious feeding".
When I registered, I had asked for service in the R.A.M.C. and was quite pleased when contrary to the Services' usual perverse way of doing things, I was instructed to report to the RAMC Depot on 14th November 1940. I was also very pleased because on the day I got my calling-up papers, Nellie Want and I got engaged to be married. Boyce Barracks, Crookham, turned out to be one of the prefabricated camps which had been built to house the pre-war conscripts, so that the accommodation was good. The only untoward incident occurred on the night we all arrived when the siren went and we all traipsed off to the air raid shelters which were ankle deep in water. 'Never mind' said the sergeant-major, ‘tomorrow you can come and bail them out'. I think the Germans must have heard him, for I don't recall another Air Raid alert.
We really were a scratch lot and for the next three months the Instructors tried to turn us into something like soldiers, teaching us drill and saluting and, strangely perhaps in the R.A.M.C., how to use a rifle, whilst building up our physique in the gym. The ones with two left feet got consigned to the Pioneer Corps and the rest of us soldiered on with lessons in first aid and simple medical matters and the clerical procedures of the Army Medical Service. This was all enlivened by trips on about two days a week either to the local railway depot to load Army lorries with coal or into the Hampshire countryside to build anti-tank defences, which would not have impeded a horse and cart let alone a tank. All very cushy, really.
During my time there, Nell came on a weekend visit, sharing a room overnight with another soldier's wife in a little house in Fleet, owned by an ex-Guardsman who on the Saturday evening regaled us with hair-raising tales of life at Knightsbridge Barracks before the war. We hesitated whether Nell should go home Sunday afternoon or wait till the evening. Fortunately, she got the afternoon train and was back in Ware before the notorious "firebombing" raid which destroyed so much of the City of London on 29th December 1940.
Eventually the three months was up and, armed with Pay Book, AB64, Pt I - certifying that I had not only been recommended for training as a clerk, but I had actually been trained and mustered as a clerk class III, had had inoculations and vaccinations, been fitted with army spectacles and had my teeth checked by the Army Dental Corps. In February 1941 I was sent off to Amersham along with half-a-dozen other chaps. On arrival at the station, we were met by a Special Constable who was armed with billeting forms. Old Amersham was a beautiful, ancient town (and still is) with small shops supplying all the residents needs. Now all arts and crafts and expensive clothes, the residents go up to 'new' Amersham-on-the-Hill.
We all wondered how the Special had chosen the homes for our billets - one chap, Reynolds, was taken to a largish modern house at the far end of the High Street (was the Special getting his own back?) but the rest of us were settled in the pub and various cottages in Whielden Street. I was left at the beautiful timber framed house owned by the Misses Siviour. These two ladies were in their seventies and the other occupants were their 96 year old sister and her daughter and handicapped son. I was to have a small room just inside the front door with a table and a chair, and a mattress appeared from somewhere and was placed on the floor. The Misses Siviour were elderly but sprightly. Heaven knows what they really thought of it all, but they were very kind, gave me nice meals in their lovely timbered dining room with a huge brick fireplace, and generally did their best. The niece seemed to do a lot of the work about the house, but I rarely saw the widowed sister and her son. Knowing no better I took things as they came - of course, I ought really to have made a fuss if only on their behalf - some of the other chaps did swap digs, especially after a few weeks when the married ones were able to get their wives to Amersham, but I stayed at this house until about July.
In preparation for the war and anticipated casualties, the Government had built Emergency Medical Services (EMS) hospitals, often in the grounds of the old Workhouses or Public Assistance Institutions. These hospitals were supposed to be temporary but most of them are still in use and likely to remain so. The best example locally is the Herts and Essex at Bishop's Stortford. All the hospitals were much the same pattern- a long spinal corridor with wards on either side. The hospital at Amersham had been built in the grounds of the workhouse, and our small unit had been sent there to deal with the clerical procedures relating to the military patients. Although this was after Dunkirk and the air raids, there were almost more clerks than patients. At our head was Major Magowan, a GP in his fifties who must have devoted some of his time to the medical side; a C.Q.M.S. (Warrant Office C1 II), a regular soldier who never found any work to do and about a half-a-dozen of us civilian soldiers, one of whom was soon promoted to a staff sergeant and another to sergeant. Later we were joined by another Regular Army sergeant, who was supposed to rehabilitate the wounded and help them regain physical good health.
There was little for us to do, and Major Magowan set about devising activities to keep us out of mischief, including long brisk walks along the valley and up into the woods and copses which still make Amersham very popular with walkers. Some of us began to attend the Baptist Church where we were welcomed into the home of the Minister, Rev Russell Baker. Summer was coming and in the longer evenings we took walks into the Park at Shardeloes, or walked across the meadows up to new Amersham for the cinema or the Little Theatre, crouching beneath the railway bridge where a repertory company put on new plays every week. Those who were married found lodgings for their wives and the rest of us had our girl friends for visits. Nell made the awkward journey several times and stayed overnight with Mrs Rolfe, aunt of a young woman who worked in the hospital laundry. It is one of the peculiarities of the Anny that in all the time we were at Boyce Barracks, we were not allowed out of the Barracks after 10 p.m. - not at all for the first few weeks. Even at Amersham we were not allowed home without a pass which was not granted. It is difficult to convey how relaxed everything and everyone was, away from the areas being attacked from the air. In many ways the phoney war still continued - food rations got smaller, clothes were rationed, petrol was almost impossible to obtain. Away from the bombed areas there was no sense of danger or of urgency, especially it seemed at the War Office. It was too good to last, of course, and at the end of June/early July, like a bolt from the blue, came the news that the unit was to be disbanded. Major Magowan went off to a hospital in Aylesbury, from which affairs at Amersham were to be administered, and the rest of us were sent to the Military Hospital at Tidworth, where I stayed about three weeks. So, this set of Army friendships came to an end, although those of us who went to the Baptist Church kept in touch and it was from this source that I later learned that Staff/Sergeant Peck had been killed at Aznio, but who knows what became of the others?
After three weeks at Tidworth Military Hospital and R.A.M.C. Depot (where I leamed to use a scythe) I was sent off to Taunton to 8 Corps HQ, located in Hestercombe House. Hestercombe is about three miles outside Taunton and is now the HQ of the Somerset Fire Brigade - and increasingly well-known for its Gertrude Jekyll garden-not that any of the Other Ranks were even allowed near the garden or the front door. Much of the build-up of American and British forces took place in the South-West peninsular and eventually a new South-West Division was created, primarily to administer services in this country. The offices were moved to Pyrland Hall, about a mile nearer Taunton with the Medical team in Bishopsmead, a property belonging to the Diocese of Bath and Wells.
As D-Day got nearer all the men with low medical categories were re-examined to sort out those fit to serve abroad. Somewhere in this process, I was sent to the Military Hospital at Moretonhampstead and when I came back from leave in mid-July 1944, the Chief Clerk, C.Q.M.S. Bradley, told me I had to go into hospital as it seemed that tuberculosis had flared up in my right lung, and I would have to be discharged from the Army.
Thid was a great shock. In those days, if you got TB they began to think about ordering your coffin. But there it was. Later the same day I was whisked off to Moretonhampstead. The hospital was in the five-star Great Western Hotel, overlooking the outer reaches of Dartmoor. Here I stayed for about three weeks, isolated in a luxury en-suite bedroom and, among other things acquired a taste for Guinness which the Army placed great faith as a restorative.
After discharge I was moved to Ware Park Sanatorium, where I was to spend about nine months, being discharged after VE Day. The hospital was administered by the County Council; the Superintendent being Dr Sharpe and later Dr Crofton. It comprised a number of large wooden huts, erected at the time of the First War, and alongside each ward, three or four small huts, big enough to take only a bed, a locker and one chair - when you were getting better you moved outside. Much reliance was placed on fresh air. The huts were quite popular, especially amongst those who were feeling the strain of separation from their best beloveds - one of my fellow patients was found in flagrante delicto and discharged next day.
Although tests gave no further sign of active tuberculosis, it was decided I should have an A.P. - an artificial collapse of the right lung. Some minor adhesions were severed in an operation at Victoria Park Hospital. My daughter Susan was born in late September and the first time I saw her was on one of my trips to this hospital. The months passed and eventually I was discharged home - just in time to see the VJ Day bonfire at the comer of Baldock Street and Watton Road, organised by George Bell, the greengrocer. In order to keep the lung "down", for the next three years or so, I attended the County Hospital once a fortnight to have a refill of air.
It was some few weeks after that that I returned to work at The Priory. The council were very generous to me, although there was protection of jobs they went the second mile - reinstated me on the day of my discharge from the Army and re-graded my job at a salary of £200 per annum, plus cost of living bonus £59.12s. There was virtually no medication for tuberculosis so for some years I coasted along, "not over-doing it", drinking up my daily free pink of milk. Then, one day I said to myself - looking at various people I knew - "if he can qualify, so can I" and after three and a half years of correspondence course with Rapid Results College, shut off in purdah each evening in the front room, I got the magic letters I.M.T.A. By this time, I was working at Southgate Borough Council but after a short spell there I got a job in the County Treasurer's Dept. When the County decided to replace Doctors in some Administration posts with qualified laymen, I moved into the Health Dept. and then to Social Services in 1971 - a new and very fulfilling time of "working for the council".