Reminiscences of Ware's Past Part 6 - 27th Sep 1989
To the Pages and Armigers, with love and gratitude, and with thanks to the many people who helped to refresh my memories, especially to George Stockwell and Horace Shambrook, and to David Perman for editing and preparing this booklet for publication.
Growing up in Ware, 1926-1936 by Henry Page
My mother, Rose Armiger, was born and lived all her short life in the Breckland village of Brandon, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. She met my father at the end of the First World War when he was in camp outside her sister's farm. After their marriage they lived with Granny Armiger in Town Street, Brandon. I was born in July 1920, and my brother Leslie in November 1921. My mother died at the age of 32 a few days after the birth of my second brother, Desmond in June 1923. The baby was adopted by a family in North Wales and my father brought Leslie and me to Ware to live with Granny Page at 32 Crib Street, during the summer of 1923.
It is still quite easy to gain an idea of the boundaries of Ware at that time by reference to the rows of Edwardian/Victorian villas - for example, if you walked up Trinity Road you had the villas on your left and on your right allotments and open fields as far as you could see. The left side of Tower Road was built in 1924. But much has disappeared within the town, so let us take a little walk up Watton Road to get some idea of what has gone. On the corner, at 49 Baldock Street, was Percy Moss’s cycle and radio shop. The living room was behind the shop and the window looked out over Watton Road. Behind the shop was a range of outbuildings, already rather dilapidated, where Mr Moss carried out his repair work. Then there was a short row of cottages, faced with tarred overlapping boards, and in front of them an open cobbled area. The Chequers pub still stands as does the cottage next door (No 17), but beyond that was a row of four or five small cottages, with steps down into the living room. Uncle Horace and Aunt Flo and their family lived here: they had a living room, scullery and two bedrooms with the WC across a yard paved with blue bricks up against the high wall of the Ware Brewery. Adjacent to the cottages was The Brewery Tap, kept by Mr James King, and tucked into the corner of Park Road were yet more cottages.
Beyond the New Rose and Crown was a row of about half a dozen cottages, fronted with plaster and boarded up to about three feet, with stable doors. The biggest house on this side of the road was Tidey's Farmhouse (No 55), double fronted with big windows, and used as a dairy and shop, then there were Nos 61 and 63 which still stand. Close by was a black malting extending through to Park Road, which later became the workshops of Crooks the builders, and a sizeable field with the Rose and Crown in the corner. Beyond this, the really big field behind the hedge belonged to John Page, the corn chandler in the High Street and Captain of Ware Fire Brigade, who also owned the little terrace of cottages built with Hitch bricks, still there today. Yet more timber fronted cottages (where I think my father was born) stood at the lip of the old gravel pit, bounded by Wengeo Lane.
This walk became very well-known to us because at regular and frequent intervals we would accompany one of the aunts or Granny to put flowers on the family graves in the cemetery. We always walked on that side of the road, because there was little development and hardly any footpath on the other side. Returning down hill, we would have seen opposite the row of villas (Nos 80-106) and the four larger houses (Nos 50-56) with Brazier's gravel pit, very active at that time, in between. Croft Road had only just been built, and below that was a large field, associated with Clark's Farm in Wadesmill Road and Chapman's Nursery. Where the new half of Gladstone Road is now, there was a back drive to Canons Hotel, now overgrown and with a broken-down gate. The Police Station and the Magistrates' Court (now Powell's Funeral Service) crouched in the shadow of the huge Hope Malting and then came the garden of The Hope. The mulberry tree on the Watton Road roundabout was in the garden of The Hope behind a high brick wall. Now, of course, all the timber cottages, the maltings and the fields have gone.
But let us pause at the corner and look up Baldock Street. On the left was The Hope and the large Hope Malting with its low windows where we could peer in and watch the barley being "worked" with the steeping pit at the top end. Out of sight of our vantage point was the Snowdrop Laundry, tucked in between the malting and the Canons Hotel (now Snowdrop House). We would have glimpsed Thunder Hall but the main group of buildings on the right was Caroline Court and, on the corner of Coronation Road, the huge, corrugated iron building of Mr Harry Matthews' garage.
To get to Crib Street, we cross from the Watton Road corner and, passing Marshall's baker's shop and the dismal Monkey Row, we tum by the Waggon and Horses into Coronation Road. At the far end of this road was the Coronation Hall and the bakery of Mr Cruse, who had a shop at the corner of Priory Street. With Harrington's large malting on the right, we come to Crib Street. Looking to our left up the street towards the gates of Collett Hall, beyond the row of cottages, we could see the high wall and then the tall White House (No 85) where Mr Fouracres originally had his Snowdrop Laundry before he moved it to Baldock Street and went to live in Chadwell Lodge near the level crossing. A row of cottages completed this side of the street to the Bourne. On the other side of Crib Street, opposite us, was Francis Road with the White Horse (No 56) on one corner and Mrs Cakebread’s shop on the other corner. Beyond that was a pair of cottages and then the corner of Princes Street. Past the Prince of Wales was a short terrace of yellow brick cottages, then the high brick boundary wall of the large malting yard, extending right up to Collett Road - this area, together with the maltings behind the houses, stretching almost all the way from Francis Road to the bottom of Crib Street, has now been cleared and replaced by flats. But if we had turned the other way at the corner of Coronation Road and looked down Crib Street, it would not have looked very different from what it is today - although a number of the cottages on the left, marked out for demolition in the sixties have been completely rebuilt.
No 32, where Granny Page lived, was half way down the street. Her maiden name had been Currell and I have an idea that her family came from Cheshunt, because we used to visit relatives there. Possibly Grandfather's family lived in Caroline Court - after marriage they did move a number of times. My father was born in Watton Road, and Aunt Rose used to talk of the time they lived "at the telephone exchange" in West Street. When I came to Ware, Grandfather was making a living of sorts as a rag-and-bone man, although they used to talk of the time he worked as a teacher. I imagine that he and his children were "held back" by poor education and general poverty. Granny Page was a short, rather stout woman, who must have had a struggle to make ends meet. My recollection of her is that she always wore black and, when she went out, she wore a waist-length black cape, heavily decorated with braid - a garment made to last.
A portrait of the family taken in about 1900 shows a smart woman in a black dress with a large white bow, her hair pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck. Grandfather is wearing a tidy enough suit and looks rather smart with his shortish hairstyle and neat beard. The boys all wear rather shoddy looking jackets and long knickerbockers, with long socks and boots, but the girls look rather smarter, with nice dresses with lace collars.
In the picture, there are four girls and four boys. The girls were Mabel, whose tight mouth gave little indication of her later talent for talking the hindlegs off a donkey, Louie, who was to marry a Londoner, Jack Pitts, and died in her 50s from a stroke, Jenny, who died in her early 30s from consumption, and Rose, also a great talker and a sterling character who became the mainstay of the family - the classic maiden aunt. She had a wonderful head of auburn hair. I think Horace was the eldest of the boys - he had lighter hair than Rose and was never called anything but Ginger. He was destined to doing low grade jobs on the land. In the picture, my father, who was called Josh in Brandon but always known as Walt in Ware, looks rather bewildered, trying to hide behind his father, while Alf stands in front of him, blight-eyed and already showing a sharp chin. The baby of the family was Herbert who grew up to be a serious young man, and a strong adherent of the Salvation Army. Aunt Rose used to tell of him sitting in the lavatory at the bottom of the garden, singing hymns. He was killed in August 1918, three weeks after landing in France, in his 19th year. None of the family ever talked much about the war, but I think Granny felt his death deeply - she used to say "He didn't have to go, because of the Salvation Army". I think he had already committed himself to training as an officer in that Army.
Ware has a bookful of Pages, but only a few of them are relations of mine. Grandfather's brother, Alfred, lived in Bowling Road. One of his sons, George, married Daisy Cockman, the eldest in a family of eventually 17 children living at 25 Crib Street. George was killed in the last days of the First World War, before their daughter, Kathleen, was born and in due course his widow married my father's brother, Alf. Although, as she used to say, "I was brought up on a malting shovel" (her father worked in the maltings in winter and the nurseries in summer). She was a strict teetotaller and a convinced Congregationalist.
My father spent virtually all his working life on the land. I do not think he was ever unemployed, although there were usually a few unemployed men hanging round street corners. Uncle Alf had spells out of work until he finally left Wickhams for a job as a postman. Uncle Horace, after a long spell at Downfield farm, Poles Lane, was always moving from one tied cottage to another. For many years, my father worked for Mr Walter Vigus at Revels Farm, Bengeo, ostensibly as cowman. The work was hard and the hours long. He would get up at about 4.30 and cycle to work along Park Road, past the Cat and Monkey, and so up to Revels. From Wengeo Lane, the road "under the Park" (Ware Park) was a fairly good track, wide enough for a horse and cart, much as Wengeo Lane still is today. He was never home before 6 p.m. and in harvest time he would not be home until about 9.30 in the evening. Most of the work was done by horse and cart and manual labour. Some of the men lived in tied cottages near the farm, but he would never go into a tied cottage. As far as I know, the only "perk" he ever had was a load of wood whenever he wanted it, which he would have to saw up and hew into logs and bring home on the cart borrowed from the farm and, of course, at harvest time he would have a rabbit or two. This was how things were and he was quite settled in his work at Revels farm. Why he left and went to work at Garratt’s farm, at Ware Park, I don’t know, but he never seemed quite so settled there. (Incidentally, Mr Garratt, the Hertford miller, had the present Carmelite Monastery built as his private house).
When my father reached retirement age, he took the state pension and got a job as a roadsweeper with Ware UDC. The next few years were the most affluent of his whole life. He must have found his work physically exhausting and in the winter evenings especially he really only wanted to doze in the armchair by the fire. He tried to give us two boys as much of his free time as he could, especially in the summer when he would take us along to the allotment in Park Road or on Sunday evenings would take us on long walks around Wareside, round Moles farm to Wadesmill, to Hertford - either "through the Park" or "under the Park", across the Hoppits to the river and home by the towpath, or perhaps on the bus. Sometimes we would join him and other folk in a small group standing outside Goodfellows, listening to the Salvation Army band, and when the S. A. had one of its big concerts at the Corn Exchange in Hertford, with a big London band, we would go. Grandfather Page died in 1928 and when Granny Page died in December 1934, Aunt Mabel looked after us for a time. After she went back to Somerset, we had one or two housekeepers, but this arrangement was totally unsuited to our circumstances and we finally began to look after ourselves, constantly badgered up to scratch by Aunt Rose, until just after I started work we moved up to High Oak Road and my father remarried to Alice Campkin.
At this time, Crib Street was virtually a self-contained community. During the First World War, there was even a laundry at No 85, later used as a shop, run by Mrs Doughty. At an even later stage this house was occupied by a small group of white-robed monks of the Order of Perpetual Adoring Love who consequently used the surname OPAL. At No 62, on the corner of Princes Street, there was a smithy and there were bakers at No 10, at Coronation Road and at the top of the Bourne. By the 1920s, these had ceased, except for the Coronation Road bakery which was to continue for many years. The bakers who worked there were Mr Cooper, a short, quickstepping man who was a stalwart of the Salvation Army, Mr Riddle and, of course, Mr Cruse and his sons.
Although the Red Cow had long been converted into two dwelling houses, there were still four public houses in Crib Street - The Cabin beer house kept by Mr Andrews, The Albion, kept by Mrs Saunders whose husband worked at Wickhams, The White Horse, Mr Brighty, and The Prince of Wales, kept by Mr Han, captain of the Fire Brigade. All the pubs were spartanly furnished, genuine sawdust-on-the-floor premises. The only one which remains is, of course, The Albion. I used to do the Saturday morning shopping for Mrs Saunders, taking her list to the Co-op and receiving 6d. as a reward. She kept the bars spotlessly clean, with a cheerful coal fire in the winter.
Mr Knight ran a sweetshop at No 10, where we could buy a great variety of sweets for a halfpenny - five Sharps toffees, ten aniseed balls, sherbert dabs (a triangular yellow bag of sherbert with a tube of liquorice stuck in the top), a stick of liquorice, ten sweet cigarettes in a packet similar to Woodbines, locust beans and all kinds of boiled sweets chosen from jars on the high counter. We could also buy real cigarettes, Players and the like for 6d. for ten or Woodbines in open packets of five for 2½d. - or tobacco in half-ounce packets. My father smoked Black Bell, a foul smelling shag which made everyone but him cough their heads off.
All these items could also be bought at the small general shop kept by Mr Sam Clare at No 58 (he and his son were keen members of the Ware Town Band). You could also buy sweets at No 85, and just at the top of the Bourne, at No 34 where there was another general shop. If you needed greengroceries you could go to Mrs Harwood's shop in Coronation Road or get general groceries and bread from Miss Miller's. Mr Dorken had a small coal business at No 3, Mr May repaired shoes at "The Busy Bee" at No 41, and Mr Sell, the chimney sweep, lived at No 65.
If you needed milk you could walk a few yards down the Bourne to Mr Spencer's farm, where he sold milk from the cows kept in the field there. But usually our milk was brought to the door by Mr Benny Presland, whose horse used to amble from door to door, seeking crusts while Mr Presland attended to the last customer. Like my father and a lot of people associated with working on the land, Mr Presland wore breeches and leather leggings. He rode around perched on the back step of a small trap in which he carried the milk churn and cans. However, things were already changing because Mr Presland got his milk from Allen and Hanbury's and all the small dairies were disappearing as stricter rules were imposed. Bread was delivered daily. Mr Bill Bolton, who did everything at the top of his voice, delivered bread for the Co-op, and for a short spell I delivered hot rolls on Sunday mornings from Jaggs and Edwards, the West Street bakers. A relative of my family (unkindly called “Hoppy” Page because he had to wear a heavy boot) delivered watercress, and someone else sold winkles for Sunday tea.
Most shopping, of course, was done in the High Street, Baldock Street and Amwell End. Ware Market, held in the High Street outside what is now Ware Garage, was very small with just a few stalls selling hardware, cheap textiles and groceries; in the winters, the stalls were lit with naphtha flares and the children were astounded when the stall holders would make handwarmers by soaking a ball of newspaper with naphtha and rolling the lighted ball round in their hands. Hertford Market was much bigger and we would go there regularly, though it was something of an outing.
Where you shopped "in the town" depended on your inclination and how much money you had, but there was quite a variety of shops to choose from. Granny Page would never shop at the Co-op at Bridgefoot, though you could get most things there. Neither did we do much trade at Harradence's (65-73 High Street), which was rather out of our reach. The men's clothiers in the town all carried a range of clothes for everybody, often hanging from the ceiling - it seemed a bit beneath us to go to Jackie Henderson's (106-108 High Street), it was something of a presumption to go to Harry Frost's (13 Baldock Street), so we bought most of our clothes at Grover's (28 High Street) with occasional forays to Forbes' (54 High Street). Grover's shop was run by two brothers, Charles and Frederick, one of whom wore a bowler hat in the shop and the other a trilby, with their sister looking after the ladies' clothing and haberdashery at the front of the shop. When I was older I found you could get a made-to-measure suit if you let Mr Grover measure you up and send off for it, but my father bought his Sunday-best suit off the peg, and his working breeches, collarless working shirt and thick underwear. The idea of going to Teddy Waller (49 High Street) or Mr Archie Culver (77 High Street) for a "proper" suit did not trouble us, we knew we couldn't afford it.
We bought our groceries at the International Stores (42 High Street), where the manager was Mr Elphinstone, nicknamed "Lardy" because he presided over the butter counter, where all such items were carved off a huge lump and patted into the right size and shape. Many items were weighed up from huge sacks or boxes and handed over in neat paper cones or rectangular packages. We also shopped regularly at the Home and Colonial (72 High Street), but never at Henry Hicks (75 High Street) or Cooks (52 High Street).
All the main shops were open from 8.30 till 6pm. or 8pm. on Fridays and Saturdays. Early Closing was on Thursday and only the smallest of the corner shops opened on Sundays. We used to buy our meat from Parrott's (100 High Street) next to The Wine Lodge, but when Mr Parrott’s shop burned down one Sunday morning, we transferred to Rodney Stephens (50 High Street), at the corner of Church Street. We bought fish at Donoghue's (then at 15 High Street) or from Mrs Wren (6 New Road) and cooked meat from Chapman's "in the back street" (8 East Street). It is interesting that much of the food we bought because we could not afford better is now sold at inflated prices in health food shops - dried prunes and other dried fruit, beans and pulses of all kinds, sago and semolina.
The Fire Engine house was just round the corner from Crib Street in Church Street (now the Christadelphian Church) and the fire escape was stored in a building with high doors, in the corner by Mr Griffin's house and coal yard. But such proximity did not help much when the firemen had first to catch the horses and stoke up the steam boiler. It was a great day when Ware got its first Merryweather motor fire engine!
Most of the houses in Crib Street were fit only to be condemned, though No 32 was one of the better of them. It was built "on the pavement" and deceptive in appearance, with sash windows on either side of the low front door. Stepping down into the house, you found a brick passage, with a small room on the left which we used as a pantry, with food stored on a small table and a few shelves. The door beyond the pantry opened to reveal the stairs. These gave access to a large bedroom with a very low crossbeam and, on the left, a small landing which was also used as a bedroom. A door on the right of the downstairs passage opened into the living room - the passage had evidently been created by putting up a wooden partition which had reduced the size of this room considerably. At the end of the passage was another door, giving straight into the scullery. This had a brick floor, rather poor brick walls kept more or less acceptable by frequent applications of red ochre. It was illuminated by a small fish-tail gas jet and contained a stone sink and a small black gas stove, rented for a few pence from the Ware Gas Company. I cannot recall what we called the other room at the back - it was quite small and contained "the copper", a brick edifice with a copper built in and this was where the family washing was done. At the back of the scullery there was a place under the stairs where the coal was kept. This desirable residence was rented for a few shillings a week from a Mrs Rogers, who lived in High Oak Road with her brother Walter Burgess, who was a sort of friend of my father's and who worked as a cobbler at Burgess's shoe shop at 41-43 Baldock Street. The back garden was about ten yards long, with the corrugated iron WC at the far end just below the high wall, which was the boundary of the maltings. The garden was overlooked by the tiny windows of the cottages in Red Cow Yard.
Access to the Red Cow Yard cottages was by a small alley, next to 34-36 Crib Street which were occupied as one house by the Hills family. The back wall of these two cottages was the flank wall of No 1 Red Cow Yard and the toilet was in Red Cow Yard, where there was also a large space for drying clothes and for the kids to play. No 30 Crib Street was occupied by an elderly widow named Pratt and, when she died, the tenancy was taken by Harry Ambrose who had married Becky Wareham, whose family lived at No 28. By this time, I was out of first childhood and I remember that Harry used to give me copies of the Sexton Blake Weekly (price 2d.), a detective story magazine, which supplemented my reading of the Hotspur, Wizard, Magnet, Gem and other tuppenny magazines which I borrowed from other boys at school.
To some extent, the routine of Granny's week was dictated by the constant struggle to keep the house clean. There was, of course, no washing machine and no bathroom. Monday was washday and she would fill the copper, light the fire underneath and boil up the clothes, filling the place with steam. When boiled to a turn, the clothes were removed and passed through the wooden rollers of a cast iron mangle, with a galvanised bath to catch the water - this dirty water was then carted outside to the drain and the bath was part filled with cold water for rinsing, each time mangling out the water and pouring it down the drain outside. Small wonder if the job got skimped at times! Not surprisingly, either, that Monday was "leftovers" dinner day, with cold meat from the Sunday joint and potatoes and cabbage fried up as "bubble and squeak". We boys had baths on Friday evenings, in a small bath in front of the fire in the living room. For the adults, it was a more spartan affair - using the long bath which hung on a nail by the back door. The scullery was unheated so having a bath called for some determination.
The living room was heated by an open top kitchen grate, with an oven alongside and a hob at the top of the oven. Some versions of these stoves, called "kitcheners", were quite sophisticated, with the grates enclosed and cooking and warning ovens, a kind of working-class Aga, but ours was not like that. Smoke from the fire would billow out into the room, lodging in the fringe draped around the mantle shelf. The kettle stood directly on the fire and became soot-laden. So, on Saturdays, there was a blitz on the living room, the stove was black-leaded and polished, the Iino was scrubbed including out into the passage. Kettles and other cooking articles were cleaned and polished. My job was to polish all the cutlery and help with the shopping, including collecting the dinner, which consisted of a 2d. piece of fish and a pennyworth of chips for each of us from the East Street fish shop.
Sunday we always had a roast and Sunday teatime was for entertaining other members of the family or for visiting them. Perhaps we were lucky with Dad always being in work, but we always had some kind of cooked meal at midday, and bread and jam (or paste), biscuits and cake (from the International Stores) for tea. I have no feeling that we ever "went short".
Perhaps Aunt Rose helped at times. After a spell working at Swains (who also employed a lot of home-workers folding envelopes by hand) in Crane Mead, she had gone into service at Brickendon Grange and somehow always seemed to have a shilling or two for presents for her many nephews and nieces and for the children of her many friends.
There were lots of children living in Crib Street at this time. Next door to us at Nos 34-36 lived Mr and Mrs Hills, whose family included Lillie, who wore a leg iron, Fred and Percy. At No 26, we had the family of Ware worthy, Mr Charlie "Wagger" Smith, who opened the town's first supermarket much later. Wagger's father was a roly-poly sort of man, nicknamed "Pudden" and Charlie had two brothers, Joe and Cyril, and a sister. Horace and Elsie Shambrook lived at No 8, Rosie and Tom Scales at No 16 and Bert and Ben Holtby and their sister Celia at No 18. Stanley, Jimmy and Jenny Middleton lived in Red Cow Yard and Eric and Keith Cockman at No 38 Crib Street. Further up the street lived the Stockwells, the Lucks, another family named Smith, the Moneys, the Wells's, another Page family, and at the top the Franklins, the Beadles and other families, many of whom were moved out to the new council houses in Canons Road, Fanhams Road or Cundalls Road.
Looking back, I have the feeling we were allowed a lot more freedom than present-day children. My father had a few simple rules - always be home at mealtimes and, in the winter, if you went out to play after tea, be back indoors by 6 p.m. Mostly we played at the Priory, where Bob Jackson and Mr Smith kept a very strict eye on things, or in Crib Street or Princes Street, where there were lots more children. There was little traffic and most of that no faster than a horse could walk. There were usually adults about - we all walked everywhere - and although most days there were tramps, making their way up to Western House in Collett Road and sometimes knocking on the door for a can of hot water, it didn’t occur to anyone that we would come to harm from them or anyone else. We played all the well known children's games in due season: hop-scotch chalked out on the pavement, marbles, hoops (I got a wonderful steel one from somewhere), tops - the mushroom shape with patterns chalked on the top were favourite - and, virtually all the year round, cigarette cards. Few of us seriously collected sets of cards, preferring to accumulate large numbers of cards which became tattered and dirty from constant flicking against the wall in the hope that the card would fall and cover another and so scoop the pool. A lot of time was spent just charging about, screaming childish abuse at one another (if you were caught swearing, you were in real trouble), until some angry parent came out and pulled the offender indoors, or until someone spied PC Jock Hills coming round the corner from Church Street by the almshouses. There was little real violence in our scrimmages, but I do remember one occasion when a boy stabbed his brother in the arm with a penknife. What a flurry that caused!
In fact, we were probably at greatest danger from our own behaviour. As we grew older, we ranged farther afield using the network of footpaths to explore out towards Wareside, or climbing about the old chalk pit in Holly Cross Road, looking for birds' eggs, before going down to the Buntingford Billy railway line, or looking for frogspawn and newts in the ponds at Clark's Field (now Kingshill). Sometimes, a little gang of us would venture to the "Ojiz", the old gravel pit, approached by a cart track in Park Road, just at the end of the Cut. This natural adventure playground was strictly out of bounds - the old pit was dotted with hillocks of spoil, long overgrown, and hawthorn trees. From somewhere we found sheets of corrugated iron and 5 gallon oil drums to make little huts , where we played cowboys and indians and lit grass fires. We often played on the old barges in the Cut - a very dangerous game. The Cut was chock full of old barges, crammed in higgledy-piggledy, so that it was fairly easy to climb on to one of the barges and then work your way down, jumping from one barge to another and walking along the narrow catwalk round the top of the holds. Most of the barges were full of water and our guardian angels must have worked overtime. There was no swimming bath in the town then. The adults used to swim at Jack Wells bridge, whilst the children played in a shallow area just at the bottom of Harris's Lane, or went paddling in the Lea out at Westfields. Summer evenings, we went fishing with a net for tiddlers, minnows, sticklebacks and "tommyloggers".
The old National Bus garage in Church Street was usually very busy and in the early evenings the buses often had to be moved around. The bus would come out at the West Street end, turn into the High Street and then back into Church Street by the War Memorial. Before the bus picked up speed, you could jump on the platform and get a ride, jumping off at the bottom of Crib Street as the bus turned into the back entrance of the garage this was fine while they were using open platform double-deckers, but when they began to use single-deckers with doors it was a different cup of tea to get a toehold on the narrow step and cling precariously to the door by the handle. Just how dangerous this was I discovered when I fell off and got a graze on my knee, which it took Granny about six months of soap and sugar and hot bread poultices to get rid of. Most of our illnesses were treated by such homely methods. Much reliance was placed on California Syrup of Figs and Galloway's Cough Mixture and Camphorated Oil. I suppose we must have had the doctor for things such as measles, chicken pox and whooping cough, but Lord knows who paid. Diphtheria and scarlet fever were greatly feared and it was moment of high drama when the ambulance came to take some sick child up to the Isolation Hospital at Gallows Hill, Hertford. Many small ailments were identified at school by the District Nurse, employed by the Ware District Nursing Association, a voluntary body in which Lady Chapman (who lived in the Manor House in Church Street) was very active.
If Granny had a family doctor, I suppose it was Dr Stewart who lived at 17 Baldock Street, with his surgery in the cottage next door (both buildings collapsed into the street many years afterwards), but he did not visit often. There was no Family Doctor scheme for women and children, but when you started work you had to pay part of the cost of an insurance stamp, so that when you were ill you would go "on the Panel". We were on Dr Bell's list, and later Dr Colville. This scheme was administered by the Friendly Societies and the big Insurance Companies operating as Friendly Societies (my cousin, Kath, later became a sick visitor for the "Pru") and they had a panel of doctors operating within the scheme. The Friendly Societies had been established for many years. They often had high-flown names. The Royal and Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes met regularly at the Bell and Sun in West Street, where Mr George Harris, late of The Ring, Blackfriars, ran a gymnasium behind the pub (this is now part of the Punch House). My father belonged to the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity, which met at the Priory.
My brother and I were enrolled in the Order of the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society, London, Grand Division. The Ware Section met about once a fortnight in the Congregational schoolroom. The juniors met separately, mainly for games and social activities. The Enfield Division used to organise social events and an Eisteddfod, in which quite large numbers of children took part. The officers of the local Sections had strange names, like Worthy Arkon for the chairman and Worthy Scribe for the secretary. As we moved up into our teens, we transferred to the Adult Branch, the members of which included Abednego (Benny) Day, George Andrews and Silas Barker, all of whom worked for the Gas Company, Arthur Tipler Smith, who worked for the Post Office, and Bill and Norah Knight. Bill Knight was secretary and was responsible for the insurance side. Like all the big Societies, the S of T also ran- and still runs - a thriving Life Insurance business. The policies attracted bonuses and, if you were sick, you could draw ten shillings a week, which was offset against the bonuses.
We were also members of the Slate Club. Each Friday evening, Mr A.H. Rogers, J.P. and his daughter, Mrs Gwen Snow, sat at the receipt of custom in one of the small rooms at the Congregational Sunday School. Each member of the club had a card, printed by Mr Rogers at his premises in New Road, for which you paid 6d. registration fee. Each week, when you paid over your 6d., this was entered on your card and in their big register. If you were ill, you produced a medical certificate and then received a small payment each week. At the end of the year, the books were balanced up and any balance was distributed pro rata to the members.
The first wireless we had was given to my father by a man named Brightman, who lived in the old mill at the far end of Ware Park. It was a wooden box with a sloping front, in which were set three knobs which moved a pointer over a semi-circle of brass studs. The set was powered by a dry battery, a rectangular thing about the size of two house bricks laid side by side, which had to be replaced every three months, and a wet battery or "accumulator", which had to be re-charged about every fortnight. The cycle and radio shops (Higgins, Thompson and Percy Moss) sold the batteries and charged the accumulators. We dealt with Percy Moss and part of the floor of his shop at the corner of Watton Road was always cluttered with accumulators waiting for collection. Some while after I had started work, we bought our first new set from Percy Moss, an Ultra in a nicely veneered case and it cost about £8. I also bought my first and only new bike from this shop - an upright Rudge-Whitworth, with gearcase, dynamo lighting and a Sturmey-Archer three speed. It cost about £15 - £8 down and the rest paid off at 10 bob per month. Before the wireless, we made our own amusements for the long winter evenings, sitting up at the kitchen table to get the best of the rather poor light of the oil lamp.
On Saturday afternoons, the cinema in Amwell End had a children's matinee. My brother and I were given 2½d. each Saturday dinnertime - 2d. for admission and ½d. to buy some sweets. This money was supplemented by my small earnings as an errand boy for Mrs Saunders at The Albion and gifts from the aunts. Granny insisted that we saved up in the Post Office Savings - you could get a form on which you stuck twelve 1d. stamps and when it was full you paid your shilling into the Savings Book. Matinees at the cinema were total bedlam - the adults usually had the sense to stay away and the children sat on the long, barely padded benches, shouting advice at the screen - "Look out, mister, he's just behind yer" - and generally misbehaving. A retired policeman, Mr Hyatt, tried to keep some sort of order and, when things got too noisy, Mr Reynolds would stop the show and send us all home. They were both patient men, as I don't recall this happened very often. Our favourites were the 16 and 24-episode serials, involving Tarzan, or cowboy tales with Ken Maynard, who always wore black clothes and a big white hat. The Castle Cinema at Hertford was rather posh: the walls had pictures painted on them, with little electric lights showing in the windows of the houses and palaces or reflecting the moon in the water. Everybody went to the pictures and programmes changed twice a week. When the County was opened there were usually queues on Fridays and Saturdays. If you wanted a bit of an outing, you went to the Pavilion at Hoddesdon, where they had an organ, or for special outings to the Odeon, Enfield, the Astoria, Finsbury Park, or the Regal, Edmonton.
My father had strict rules about fairs and circuses, we were kept away except when he took us. Fairs were held in the Buryfield (this in the days before the Football Club fenced off half of it) and there was great excitement as Thurstons and Mannings huge traction engines arrived, pulling a train of wagons. These engines provided the lighting for the whole fair and for many of the rides, and stood in a row behind the stalls, shaking all over as they generated the electricity. Top highlights of the fairs were the Wall of Death and the High Dive. Sometimes we were specially allowed to stay up late for the 10pm dive, when the intrepid performer climbed to the top of his rickety tower and, after his mate had set fire to petrol on the top of the water, dived into the tank about ten feet across and six feet deep. The Wall of Death was a tall circular tower, made from wooden sections. You paid your money and climbed outside to the top and looked down inside on the motorcycle riders, revving their bikes. When all the customers were in, they would build up speed on the sloped portion at the foot of the tower and then begin riding round the wall itself, at first singly, then two at a time, riding up and down the wall and criss-crossing as they did so. Later variants had a small motor car and even a lion (well, a lion cub), riding on the platform alongside the driver. Even the adults could hardly stand the excitement. About twice a year, a small circus would pitch its tent at Buryfield. We were not supposed to go unaccompanied but we would usually sneak into the ground to have a look at the animals in their shelters or cages. One of the grownups would take us to the actual performance.
Although there were few cars and we relied on bikes for local mobility, there was plenty of cheap public transport. Local bus services were provided by the National Bus Company, with competition from Mr W.L. Thurgood's People's Buses. Often the rival buses ran in immediate competition, leap-frogging at each stop. The single deckers had no conductor and the driver collected the fares and dished out the tickets. Services to London were run by the Skylark and Regent and the fare was half-a-crown (2s.6d.).
Before World War Il, holidays with pay were a very distant prospect for working people, and my father rarely had a whole week off. Holidays by the sea were unheard of and my brother and I were lucky that we could go and stay with Granny Armiger at Brandon almost every year, sometimes together but more often separately. There was a fast train service from Broxbourne via Cambridge and Ely and one of the aunts would take us as far as Broxbourne and put us on the train in the guard's van. Later the railway company stopped this arrangement and then the Aunt would sort out a likely looking adult passenger and ask them to keep an eye on us until we got to Brandon. Here we would be met by a cousin and taken to No 2 Town Street, where my brothers and I had been born. Brandon, in the heart of the Breckland, was a largish village made up of the settlement which had grown up by the bridge over the Ouse with its shops and small businesses and, about half a mile away, the area known as Town Street. St Peter's Parish Church was about halfway between them. Like most cottages in Brandon, No 2 was a two-up, two-down dwelling, built of flint. After the war, the Sanitary Inspectors took against flint cottages and dozens of them were demolished and acres of land covered by cheap bungalows of a kind you could get anywhere. Needless to say, the few flint houses which survived are highly sought after and more expensive new houses now have at least some element of flint in their construction.
Granny Armiger rarely used her small front room, but lived in the tiny kitchen. Across the small yard, there was a brick building used as a scullery/washhouse, with the earth closet to one side and a brick structure about three feet high, in which rubbish was thrown for composting and later used on the large garden. Granny had had an appalling struggle to raise her family of nine children. Her husband, James, had died from pneumonia in the 1890s. One child, Leslie, had died at the age of three and Jimmy died, aged 10, having also caught pneumonia whilst bird-scaring. Lily, John and Mary died in early adulthood and by the time Rose, my mother, died in 1923, only Nell, Alf and Daisy (the youngest) survived. Granny died in 1941 at the age of 84. Daisy, my mother's sister, died in September 1989 aged 93.
In medieval times, one of the features of the Breckland was the rabbit warrens kept by the gentry for food and between the wars people were still a living from the rabbit. Wild rabbit was regularly on the menu and in Brandon there were two large factories processing the skins. Uncle Alf Armiger worked at Rought's and showed me the machine which stripped off the soft fur, to be used in felt hats, and then shredded the skin to be used in making gelatine (well, that's what he said!) But before any of this could be done, the hair in the pelt had to be stripped out and this was done by hand as a cottage industry. The dried skins were taken round to
the workers and collected later. Granny Armiger would sit in the doorway of the scullery, wearing her sacking apron and with a cloth cap on her head, steadily working down a pile of skins, pulling out the hairs with a short knife. This piecework was poorly paid but it helped her and lots like her to eke out a living which was meagre enough, even after the Lloyd George pension came in.
Granny was a gentle religious woman and in the evenings she would play her melodeon and sing simple hymns. A favourite was "Sing them over again to me, Wonderful words of life". In the summer, we might stay in Brandon for two or three weeks and Granny would make arrangements for us to go to the Baptist Sunday School, where I made a friendship, which has been lifelong, with Leslie Mutum, son of the Sunday School Superintendent. From this time on, virtually all the holiday would be spent in each other's company, rambling or playing in the fields with the local youngsters and, on fine days, swimming in the Ouse, just above the old bridge. When all else failed we could always go and hang on the crossing gate, while the expresses from the North thundered through or explore the disused timber yard, where my father had worked after the War. During World War Il, the yard opened up again and is still a thriving business. Of course, it wasn't really so Tom Sawyerish, but I always enjoyed these holidays in Brandon. Virtually all my cousins and their children have moved back to Brandon or close by.
No child who attended Ware Congregational Sunday School for any length of time could plead ignorance of the world at large. We knew about the barbarity of foot-binding in China (the missionary showed us the tiny shoes), about the caste system, the child marriages and the purdah for women in India, about the poverty and total lack of education in Africa had not the missionaries started schools? We knew all about the wonders of Papuan wildlife and the paradise of the South Seas - the missionaries brought us artefacts and showed magic lantern pictures from all over the world. The gospel was conveyed throughout the world by the London Missionary Society (LMS) and all Congregational churches supported its work in every way, including financial. At least once each year, a missionary would visit us for Missionary Sunday, and missionaries on furlough or retired would also come to preach when the minister was on holiday or the church was temporarily without a minister. Funds were raised by sales of work and similar means but the main source of funds was the Missionary Box, which all members were asked to have at home and which appeared each Sunday at Sunday School.
The Missionary Secretary was Mrs Holford, a quiet-voiced but slightly formidable lady who took a teenage boys Bible Class. She was committed to the Congregational Church and the LMS was her life interest. The Monday following Missionary Sunday was the AGM and Mrs Holford, who had laboured for weeks collecting the boxes would stand up and read from a list about a yard long, made of three foolscap sheets stuck together, the names and amounts for all the boxes, correct down to the last halfpenny. The halfpenny (½d.) was real money in those days and on the reverse was a ship in full sail. As the first martyr of the LMS had been John Williams, who had been killed in Tahiti and in whose memory the LMS operated a boat connecting the islands, we collected our ship halfpennies to raise money for a new boat called the John Williams V.
Aunt Rose used to say that I went to the Congregational Sunday School because they took toddlers of three, younger than the children taken by other churches. I suspect that the real truth was different. Although Aunt Rose was Church all her life and Granny Page also went to St. Mary's Mothers' Union, which was held each Monday afternoon in the Vicar's Room in Church Street, on the other hand Aunt Daisy and Uncle Alf were active workers at the Congregational Church and Aunt Daisy took the infants' class on Sunday afternoons. Sunday School was held in the building erected in 1850 "at the exclusive cost of Joseph Chuck, Esq., of Widbury House", as it says on the foundation stone (the school has recently been converted into housing as part of Leaside Walk). The original building consisted of two large rooms on the ground floor and one long room above, approached by a central staircase. All the rooms were furnished with forms and a few tables. The infants met morning and afternoon in one of the ground-floor rooms and the Bible Class met in the afternoon in the other. During the week, this room was used by Miss Farrow's private school and was let in the evening to various charitable groups. Alongside the Chapel was a corrugated iron structure, called the Iron Room, and this was used by the older boys and girls on Sundays and for a variety of meetings during the week.
The infants' school was conducted in the morning by the Misses Adams. Morning and afternoon, the routine was one of singing and listening to Bible stories, by poster-size pictures, obtained from the National Sunday School Union. Use was also made of the blackboard and flannelgraph. Except for chorus singing, there was not much planned activity for the toddlers, so things got a bit hectic at times. The furniture did not help and, when the new school was built, the most important thing from Aunt Daisy's point of view was that the new primary school was furnished with toddlers' chairs and tables. Still, most of us enjoyed singing - or shouting - the choruses. Among the favourites were:
Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light,
Like a little candle shining in the night.
In this world of darkness, so we must shine
You in your small corner and I in mine.
or, when the collection was taken:-
Hear the pennies dropping.
Listen while they fall,
Every one for Jesus.
He shall have them all.
- although our offering was more likely to be a halfpenny or farthing. The morning session used to last until about 11am when the infants went home and the Misses Adams came into the back of the church (heralded by an aura of mothballs) to enjoy the second half of the service.
When we were about six or seven, we moved up to the Big School. This met in the long upstairs room, illuminated by obscured glass windows overlooking the chapel yard, and had a single large skylight at one end. There were two fireplaces, one at either end and at one end a platform, where the Superintendent sat and conducted the assembly. Metal rods were fixed in the roof at intervals of eight feet or so and, when the class activity began, heavy red baize curtains suspended from these rods were drawn across to give each class of eight or ten scholars some privacy for Bible study. The Free Church Sunday Schools were associated in the East Hertfordshire Sunday School Union. All the schools took part in the annual Scripture Examination and during the spring there were special classes each week for two or three months so that we could learn the special lessons and Bible tales. In May the annual rally of the EHSSU was held, when certificates and prizes were presented and a shield presented to the winning Sunday School.
The Sunday School Anniversary was held in June or July each year. The Methodists used to come round from New Road for our special service in the chapel on the Sunday afternoon, and we returned the compliment for their anniversary. Quite an occasion was made of it and various scholars read the lessons or recited poems or, perhaps, sang little songs, either as solos or in groups. I can clearly recall the year when I was to recite a long poem which I had to rehearse, with Mrs Fanny Bowyer sitting in the back pew urging me to speak up - you had to be not only word-perfect but also audible.
Then, of course, there were the Sunday School treats! When I was very young, the summer treats were held in the huge field where Presdales Drive now is. The men of the church were busy the night before putting up swings on the branches of the trees and on the day there were organised races and simple entertainments. The lady at the Grange Cottage used to allow the ladies to prepare the food and make the tea - and it never seemed to rain. Assembling at the Church, we would march down to Hoe Lane, some of the bigger boys struggling with a huge banner and the younger children being taken in a waggon belonging to Mr Moses (MO) Ward. Later we began to venture as far as the Congregational Church at Nazeing, travelling by double-decker bus.
The Revd. R. Bond Thomas was Minister from 1919 to 1940. He married Hilda Harradence (from the department store) and they lived in Hampden Hill with their son, David (another son, Robert, died in infancy in 1929). Mrs Bond Thomas was an effusive woman, though rather vague, and her big contribution to the life of the church was to build up the Women's Own, an inter-denominational group which met on Tuesday evenings. Mr Bond Thomas was a serious man, with a strong streak of Welsh Calvinism in his preaching and lifestyle. The 1930s were not easy years for the Ware Church and, looking back, I feel he must have been saddened by the changes in the world outside the Chapel. Although he tried hard, he did not relate well to us young people and we often didn’t understand his very high standards. Mind you, this was the time when Salvation Army lasses were not allowed to wear make-up or silk stockings and, although the Congregationalists were not quite so strict, we were not expected to drink or go anywhere near the dances in the Drill Hall in Amwell End. Fortunately, we were not prohibited from going to "the pictures".
The Church Secretary was A.H. Rogers, J.P.,known as "Ally" and "Old Glory". He really had no voice at all and used to stand up in the choir, grating away and bickering with Mr Edwin (Teddy) Waller, the choirmaster. He owned a printers and newsagents/stationers business on the corner of New Road, and was always seen about the town in frock coat and pinstripe trousers with a carnation in his buttonhole. He was a kindly man, cheerful in a dry sort of way, and had a reputation as a magistrate for not dealing harshly with those up before the Bench.
The Waller family were active members of the choir. Mr Teddy Waller was a rather stout man, who walked with a slight limp, helping himself along with a stick. He was very fond of aniseed balls and would sometimes dip in his pocket and hand a sweet to a member of the choir with a cough; it was as well to check whether it was a nice glossy brown or had been sucked white before its temporary stowage in his waistcoat. In their prime, this family all had excellent voices and sang at one time or another in the Ware Choral Society, especially Teddy's daughter May who took solo roles. May, the wife of A.D. Harrington who had a grocer's shop on the corner of Raynsford Road, was the organist at the Congregational Church and her sister, Gwen (English) acted as relief organist. Their brother, Oscar, and his wife eventually moved on to Christ Church but another brother, Victor, continued at the High Street. Teddy Waller's sister was married to Mr F.W. Goodfellow, who had the ironmonger's and Falcon Ironworks at 51 High Street, and they had two daughters, Dorothy and Olive, who were as tall and thin as the Wallers were portly. The Wallers lived next door at 49 High Street. Other members of the choir at this time were Grace Sewell (later Snow), Nellie Want, who later became my wife, and Beatrice Almond (Carter).
Teddy Waller was also Superintendent of the Sunday School and presided at the afternoon sessions. He was not a Deacon, unlike Mr Freddy Crane, who took charge in the morning and worked as an engineer at Allenburys: he had a large voice, which came in useful when the children got too obstreperous. Mr Alfred Lee, Sunday School secretary and another Deacon, who also took an active role in the afternoons, was a gentle, quiet voiced, unassuming man, quite unlike his brother, W.H. Lee, the estate agent. These three men between them ran the Sunday School for many years, aided by a contingent of teachers, young and old. In later years, I became Church Secretary and came to know its members as friends and to appreciate their commitment to "the Congre". One of them was Mr Edwin (Teddy) Sewell, who was the postman for the Wareside area which he cycled round. Teddy Sewell was a man of strange moods, but he was in his element when we held a Sale. He loved woodwork and fretwork and, for weeks before the day, he would live in his little shed making toys. On one occasion when we had a really big event, he set up a model of a village in the Holy Land. He loved dreadful puns: he would have a piece of toast somewhere on his stall at the Sale, labelled "the grub that makes the butter fly".
Just as Joseph Chuck was the great benefactor of the High Street church in the 1850s, the Misses Isabella and Maria Adams played a similar role in the period between the wars. They owned land and houses in Homefield Road, between Musley Hill and High Oak Road, together with land and property in High Oak Road which today would have made them millionaires. They lived in Musley House, which was in fact a pair of semi-detached villas, converted into one dwelling, with a huge drawing room between the two rear wings. This is the only one of the Musley Villas which still stands. Their sister, Mrs Sarah Rayner, lived in the larger of a pair of houses next door with the small house being occupied by their cousin, Mrs Agnes Holford. All of these ladies lived to a great age. Mrs Rayner, who supported the church financially but otherwise did not play a prominent role, was a tall, thin lady, with her hair tidied back into a bun, looking like one of Ronald Searle's headmistresses in the illustrations to St Trinian's. Mrs Holford, on the other hand, was active in all aspects of church life - the Sunday School, Bible Class, a member of the Diaconate and especially in her support for the LMS. She was the widow of Horace Holford and obviously not as well off as the other ladies. Although she could seem forbidding, she would invite members of her Bible Class to tea, where she would serve such delicacies as Golden Drop gooseberries from her garden which we ate in her rather cluttered drawing room, with its large religious engravings and a huge, illuminated address, which had been given at some time to her husband. Each year, when the asparagus was ready, she would walk out to Red House Road (now Post Wood Road) with a bunch for my mother-in-law.
In the field opposite their house, the Misses Adams kept a few Jersey cows, which were tended by George Parker, who was their general factotum. They gave much money to the Congregational cause and unobtrusively helped the poorer children in our Sunday School. And their generosity extended also to the Town of Ware. They gave land in Kibes Lane for the car park (the Town Clerk has a plaque commemorating this). When they died, they left their property, after generous arrangements for the protection of their tenants, for the benefit of the Ware Congregational Church, the Herts Congregational Union and the London Missionary Society. During the years following their death, all the villas, except Musley House, were sold or demolished, and the money was used to buy houses and bungalows for the occupation of retired Ministers and missionaries or missionaries on furlough. It had been the wish of the Misses Adams that the field should be used as a playing field for the Sunday School children, but the Settled Land Act put paid to that dream.
I think I must have "joined the library" when I was at St Mary's School in the late 1920s. One of the teachers there, a Mrs Ruth Thomason, was one of the voluntary helpers and I think she may well have introduced me. All of the teachers at the school were anxious that children should read as early as possible and, as there were few books at the school, they must have welcomed the new service. The library was held in the large room in the Priory, which is now the office of the Town Clerk (although this has been partitioned to provide an office for the secretaries) and was open for a few hours a week. As far as I recall, the children's session was on Monday from 6 till 7pm. Needless to say, children were not allowed inside the Priory until the witching hour and, as the time drew near, the caretaker would let us in and shepherd us up the stairs. At that time, the caretaker/gardener for the old Ware Urban District Council was Mr Bob Jackson and he used to don his uniform, complete with peaked cap, and keep a stern eye on us as we gathered at the top of the stairs. Only a few children were allowed in at a time and we had just ten minutes to choose our books, from the children's section only. The idea that a child might borrow from the adult section would have raised an eyebrow and upset "the system".
I cannot remember exactly when but, in due time, in the early 1930s the library was transferred to its present premises at 87 High Street. The rooms on either side of the entrance hall were used and it must have been about this time that sessions were open to adults and children simultaneously, the childrens' books being in the room on the right as you went in and the main library on the left. The staff were still volunteers - I recall Mr Jimmy Clare, who worked at Allenburys, and Miss Olga Hyde, who presided over the counter at the Post Office. Do I also recall Mr Alfred Tustin, a teacher at the Central School in Bowling Road, or was that back in the days of the Priory? Other active helpers were Mr Charles Dewbury, who was Superintendent of the St John Ambulance Brigade, and Mrs Rogers, wife of John Rogers, the bootmaker in Baldock Street and brother of Mr A.H. Rogers, J.P.
St Mary's School in Church Street was divided, like ancient Gaul, into three parts - Infants, Boys and Girls. When you entered the school, the infants' room was where the doctors' waiting room now is. To your right there was a large room, divided by two floor-to-ceiling sliding partitions, where the older infants were taught and, on the left, there was another large room, similarly divisible, for the boys. The girls had rooms upstairs. The boys' rooms were entered by a door at the back of the school, where there was another classroom and the Headmaster's study.
Infants were taught by Miss McCabe, the Headmistress, Miss Elsie Lambert and Miss Kimber (inevitably known as Miss Cucumber). Amongst the teachers of the girls was a lady named Mrs Ruth Thomason, the one who I think introduced me to the library. She was a thoughtful woman, very interested in the welfare of her schoolchildren, and also a friend of my Aunt Rose. When I got to the Hertford Grammar School, she arranged for me to go to her house at 21 Baldock Street to do my homework in the peace and quiet of her kitchen. Miss Medcalf was Head Teacher of the girls and Mr Lloyd, Headmaster of the boys' section, assisted by Mr Wheeler, his deputy who died young, and Miss Howard.
Memory of these times is fickle, but I suspect we had a more liberal education than many might think. Photos of the infants' room show that much of the teaching was based on play and there was opportunity for self expression through painting and woodwork, as well as learning multiplication tables by heart and other parrot-style leaming. All the teachers were determined that we should leam to read as soon as possible and, if much of the teaching was rooted in Britain's imperial past, then we did leam a vast amount of geography and about the peoples of other lands. We had regular singing lessons and it was not till many years later that I realised Miss Howard had taught us Schubert’s Lieder, "Hark, hark, the lark", Ben Jonson’s "Drink to me only" and Shakespeare’s "Where the bee sucks", as well as a variety of rousing songs of the sea. Miss Howard used to play for morning assembly - "New every morning is the Love, Our waking and uprising prove" - and also assembly late in the afternoon - "God who madest earth and heaven, Darkness and light". She was a pleasant woman and wore pince-nez spectacles with her hair pulled back in a bun. She was a good teacher and all respected her. She lived in New Road with her sister and two brothers and they all attended the Catholic Apostolic Church there.
The Headmaster, Mr Lloyd, was a stocky man, with a small bristly moustache. He smoked a lot and would have made a good advertisement for some of todays aromatic pipe tobaccos. He had a clear idea of what the school should be doing and guided it with a firm hand. Teachers were allowed to use the cane but, apart from the occasional stroke on the palm of the hand, it was not used very much. More reliance was placed on being "kept in". St Mary's was a Church school, so the Vicar used to attend from time to time to make sure we learned the Catechism - the children of Catholic families were excused these lessons and also used to come late to assembly. Nobody had heard of ecumenism in those days! On certain days, we went across to St Mary's Church for special services. On Empire Day we would have a special assembly, sometimes with the whole school out in the playground, and on Armistice Day (November 11), like the whole nation, we observed two minutes' silence. As Christmas grew near, thoughts turned to Nativity plays and carols and the school party, for which the partitions were folded back in the big rooms and the children would take a few cakes, biscuits, etc, and there was tea and lemonade and buns. A high old time was had by all.
The Hertford Grammar School was fee-paying, but I had the good fortune to win a Hale Scholarship, which met the fees and also provided a cash grant for clothes, books, etc. School uniforms were bought from Graveson's in Hertford. There was also a system of free bus tickets and I was able to rush home for lunch – just! The Hertford Grammar School for Boys (now called Richard Hale) had amalgamated with the Ware Boys School in 1906, but it was not formally opened in its present premises until July 1930. I started at the school in September. The school stood on rising ground and, throughout my time there, we could watch the dust carts of Hertford Borough Council, as they tipped rubbish to build up the playing fields. In the summer, if you were doing "detention", you were quite likely to be sent up to the playing field with a bucket, to pick up stones.
The Headmaster's name was Marsh. I think he must have been an ex-Naval man because, on Speech Days, he would stride on to the platform, wearing a frock coat with gold braid and a sword by his side. When he left, his place was taken by Mr T.H. Bunt, a tall, thin man with a prominent Adam's apple. He was a first class Headmaster, supported by a very good specialist staff, and during his time the school enhanced its reputation for giving an excellent all-round education.
My contemporaries at St Mary's had gone to the Central School and contacts began to fade, but I made new friends at my new school. My closest friend was Alf Drewery, whose parents had come to Ware from East Molesey to open a little shop at 24 Bowling Road (still owned by Bunty Drewery) where we boys used to gather and drink soft drinks made up by Mr Drewery in a magic machine which mixed coloured flavourings in a glass of water. During the holidays, Alf and I wandered over all the footpaths around Ware. Unlike me, who relied a lot on hard work and a good memory, Alf was genuinely intellectual and clever. During the War, we lost touch but still had news from time to time. He was at the beginning of a good career in the Civil Service when he was killed in a most tragic car accident.
Other friends were George Chalkley and Bill Dell, whose father kept The White Swan in West Street (now part of Tesco's), where we used to play in the huge kitchen at the back. I was also friendly with Peter Riddle, the postman's son, who joined the Officer Training Corps which had regular sessions on Thursday mornings. Peter revelled in the Field Days, when the Corps fielded in their World War I khaki and puttees and carrying their rifles, under the sceptical eye of the school caretaker, Sgt Major Inman, and the officers chosen from among the teachers. I avoided this organisation for the usual muddled reasons of not having the money and not understanding the whole idea. But I had great fun playing War Games with Peter in the front room of his house in Star Street, where he had lots of toy soldiers and used to lay out the battlefield with broken trees made from cardboard and shell-holes on cardboard circles. He was killed in the battle for the Falaise Gap; it’s painful to think of him and others like him who showed so much promise at Grammar School and were killed in their early twenties.
The Grammar School had a six-day week, theoretically with half-days on Wednesdays and Saturdays when we had to play games - cricket in the summer and Rugby in the winter, for which we had to hike up to the pitches at Balls Park. In the summer, we also had swimming in the Hartham baths, which was really a dead loss since, if there was a lesson in mid-morning, we would have to rush down to Hartham, swim and rush back to school all within 40 minutes. I hated it and only leamed to swim after someone pushed me in. Barely ten years old, I was a skinny, almost cowardly sort of boy - the sort that would have benefitted from an Outward Bound course if there had been one - and it took me a long time to settle in the school. I was out of my depth for a long time. There was no distinction between the poorer scholar and the rest and the masters did their damndest for all of us, but shortage of cash does make a difference. I was by no means the only one who could not afford a hot meal in the school dining room and special events were a bit of purgatory.
For all that I am very glad I was able to go to the Grammar School and readily acknowledge what a beneficial effect the education they gave me had on my whole life. Academically, my progress through the school was erratic - excellent results one year in the B Form, not so good next year in the A Form. But all came out well in the end when, after some special tuition from masters like Mr R.J. Moxom, I got a string of good results in School Certificate and gained "Exemption from Matriculation at London University". Only a handful of the really bright boys went to university and there was no way we could have afforded it. By my fifteenth birthday, things were very difficult financially at home and, after an interview with Aunt Rose, Mr Bunt arranged some job interviews for me, along with two other boys.
After failing to get a job at Longmore’s (I never could do arithmetical problems involving calculations of the amount of wallpaper you would need to paper very strangely shaped rooms!) I was interviewed by Messrs Leslie Southall, Walter Clark and T.H. Burgess and started work in March 1936 in the Collector’s officeof Ware U.D.C at the Priory. Because I was handling money, I was paid 15 bob (15 shillings) a week – two other lads appointed on the same day got 10 bob. But that’s another story…