|Sea-Change: Wivenhoe Remembered
One of the changes in Wivenhoe life most regretted is the sharp decline in the numberof shops, especially in the High Street, where there were twenty shops active in the 1930s, providing for all regular needs. However, then as now, there were also shops at the Cross and scattered elsewhere. And tradesmen, most notably in building, are as active as ever in the town.
He said hed had enough, and did I want it? – Leslie Kemble
I came here at 14, yes 1928 I came here to work. Building and funeral directing. I was out on building, on sites in the building trade.
I was encouraged to come here. We used to go to church quite a lot, and my old chief was the organist and Sunday School superintendent down at the Congregational Church in Wivenhoe, of which I was a member where we were both Christened and we were both married there as well. My old governor was Mr. R.H. Barrell, until he retired, and then I worked for his son, Mr. Lewis Barrell. Kept with him until he said to me one day, I think Im going to retire, would you like this lot? And he gave it to me! He was the only son. He said that hed had enough, and did I want it? And I said Yes.
Well, I ran it, for years, for him. He was only interested in going to church and playing the organ and going to Sunday School. He was a wonderful man. I wouldnt hear a word said against him
Mrs Kemble: He was my fathers cousin, you see, and Leslie was like a son to them. He went everywhere with them.
Getting on for a thousand – Leslie Kemble
Forty-eight years of age when I took the building on, the firm on, myself. I changed it to my name, because I always wondered if I was going to make a success, and I wasnt going to drag his name down to the bottom, so I started on my own, as L.W. Kemble Ltd., until I retired.
I built most of them, in total, at Frinton-on-Sea, in the latter stages, I built 540 houses in Frinton. As you go down to Frinton, the gates are on your right-hand side, turn left, and just down there, I built 540 down there. Bungalows mostly, yes. Yeah, I was building two a week.
And then I had a small estate in Wivenhoe, called Parkwood Avenue , I built 45. Carrying on from Parkwood Avenue , I bought a piece of land off Ted Palmer Dr. Palmer and I built 20 or so down there. Carried on from Dr. Palmers down to another piece of land, and I built another 20 or so down there. And then my chief building operation was single houses for various people who had a plot of land and got me to build a house on it. People ordered a house from me. Theyd got their own ground, and asked me if I would build them a property on it. So I didnt have to lay out any money.
Oh, and Council houses, yeah. Oh, we built, that was in the old chiefs time, but I was responsible, I built 60 Council houses in Wivenhoe as well. [So altogether,] getting on for a thousand. The firm that I went to work for in 1928 was established in 1850, and most of the property in Wivenhoe was built by the old firm, before my time of course! I increased it when I came.
Never ever borrowed a penny –Leslie Kemble
[I was one year President of] the local Federation of Building Trade Employers. [I remember the other members.] Oh yes, quite a lot of them. All friends of mine. Ill tell you what I buried them all! (LAUGHS) Yeah.
I had a lovely staff of blokes, all local, chaps about my own age, and they were just as interested in my business as I was myself. Yeah, we used to start work at half past seven till five, Saturday mornings till 12. Come home and sit at the drawing board in the evening! The only education I had was leaving school at Wivenhoe, at 14, and then going to night school for about two or three winters. Thats the only education I ever had. Mmm. All the rest was which wasnt very much was self-taught. I done most of the designs for the houses. Yeah, used to sit up at midnight and do my own drawings. Hardly any [social life]. Sitting at home, drawing plans for the next house I was going to build! My whole young life consisted of work.
I never had any help apart from David, all the years I was in work. I always felt that I would be guilty if things went wrong when I was in business. And I never ever borrowed a penny. I built one, sold one, used the money from that one to build the next one. And so it went on. No, I wouldnt borrow any money. The people you borrow money from are people who get the interest. I worked, and I only wanted to work for myself, I didnt want to work for them. Never, never ever borrowed a penny all the time I was in business. I started with nothing. £2000.
Boy plumber – Gilbert Whaley
When I was 13/14, before I left school I was a plumber with my father. Ive worked with him down at Clacton , St Osyth, Point Clear, Mersea, Layer, all the way round, and we used to have to go by bicycle and carrying your bag of tools with you. It was the days before vans and all that sort of thing! It wasnt till later on that we got more mobile. I remember my first weeks wages was 15/3d., and that was for five and a half days. I had to work Saturday morning in those days. I had about 2/3d. out of that, the rest went into the family coffers. I did work with him for some years but it was in the days of heavy lead piping, and I didnt like carrying it so much! I thought, No, I think I can find a better job than this! So, much to his disgust I went into an engineering works in Colchester and I was there for a couple of years and then the War broke out. And then began my six years abroad.
Canny country craftsmen – Gilbert Whaley
When I came home I went back to engineering for about six months. I found working inside very oppressive. So I came out. The first job I got when I left the engineering I went back working with my father, and that was when these Council houses started to be built. I got a job with Masons, a Wivenhoe building firm who were building them, one that my father was doing a lot of work for. My hobby had always been woodwork so I thought, Well, Ill try it. The firm took me on as a labourer and I learnt my trade with them. Masons were at the end of Belle Vue Road , theres the Mill House, right at the end, and at the back was where the old mill was, and we had the buildings there, where the workshops were.
The boss, Walter Mason, ran the building business. He actually was the father of Masons electrical and radio and TV firm in Colchester , who had in those days a shop down where the radio shop is now, and Roy, his son, ran the electrical business. And Percy Blanche, he was the other carpenter. They were quite characters, actually! Typical country craftsmen who had been in the trade all their lives, and probably their fathers before them. They were very very keen on pigs – this is just after the War – there was quite a lot of people who kept pigs. Percy and Walter thought theyd go in for it and they had a long long garden, or Percy did, and he built a sty in the garden and he kept a couple of pigs! I think they raised pigs for about a couple or three years. And, of course, in those days you had all the Ministry of Food Rules and Regulations, you had to register it, and they had to be butchered by a competent butcher.
One thing I do remember about Walter, he smoked a pipe, but it was a pipe without a bowl! The bowl had filled up so that the tobacco was more or less just perched on the top a pinch and he just, a few puffs, and that was gone! And I never saw him clean that pipe out! It was absolutely coked up solid – just a little hole down in the middle enough to take a little pinch of tobacco.
But he was a canny old craftsman. He made some wonderful oak settles, like they used to have in the old pubs, with the carved beads on the ends. He used to spend all his spare time, after work, in the workshop, making these settles and little coal boxes, out of oak. Wonderfully carved linen-fold panels. He was a real old country craftsman. He was in his mid-sixties, when I when I went to work for him.
Depending on how much work there was about if there was any rush on wed take casual workers on. Wed just ring up the Labour Exchange, Have you got a carpenter on the books? Or a bricklayer, or whatever and theyd come along and say, Right. Fair enough. Start. But the thing is, you never knew their surnames. I called one of them Mr, and he looked, he said, Boy, he says, If you want to get on with me, you call me by my Christian name, which was totally different to what wed always been brought up! You never speak to one of your seniors by calling him by his Christian name.
Building after the War – Gilbert Whaley
After the War there was an awful lot of house building went on, the first seven or eight years. So its going on now, all this building. Mind you, not quite the quality that it used to be. Those houses on the opposite side of the road there, they will be standing in a hundred years time. Some of the ones that are being built now wont last that long, because there isnt the workmanship in there. Ours was handwork, as opposed to now it mostly is done by machinery. When we put a roof on, each of the rafters I was cutting individually. Every rafter had to be cut, the top, bottom, and the foot, with a hand-saw, in those days, on site. When they build a house now they just get the firm who make roof trusses, and they come on the back of a lorry, already made up in big trusses, and the whole lot is put up there.
I was with Masons about seven years and when they finally folded up I went to work for Denney, up Ipswich Road in Colchester , painting, decorating, joinery. I was with them 31 years. But that was a progression that took me out from the building trade, into the cabinet making. By that time I was mobile. Id got four wheels as well, so I was able to get about a lot easier.
We were making all built-in furniture kitchens and bedrooms, and all sorts of that sort of fittings. Well, now, you go to MFI and those big firms, and you get all your bedroom and kitchen fittings already made for you. We used to make our own, and do a lot of work for a big firm of interior decorators. I was lucky inasmuch as I was able to design the fittings. There again, that was the craft side of things, as well as the drawing and the planning, that Id learnt at school. That all came into play. It was a job that had interest, and I liked doing it. So I had a very satisfying working life. I loved working with wood. I mean, theres something about a piece of wood. I know this piece has been here for quite a long time but its still lovely to be able to touch it, and to look at that and think that, I made that.
A E Sparrow and Son – William Sparrow
The business was actually set up in 1922, by what would be my great-grandfather, who was the A E Sparrow, the business is still called A E Sparrow and Son. That was Albert Edward. And he took his son into the business, who was my grandfather, I never worked with him – I knew him, but he was not as keen on building, so he took a pub, you know, and he had the Rose and Crown on the front, and he was much more interested in being a landlord. But we had our builders yard in the back of the Rose and Crown, in the outbuildings there, and my father, as soon as he was able, really, took over the firm and ran it, even though it was still owned by his father, he spent much more time in the pub!
I think it was quite common practice to do something else when you were a builder. I mean, being a pub landlord actually wasnt that unusual a thing to do as well as building. People had a different attitude, I think, you wouldnt hear of it now! Its a job to explain to you really, but it wasnt abnormal to have more than one business. When you had a business through the war years, there was no building work to do, so you needed something else to earn money, and something like a pub, people would be a builder and have a shop. It was very popular to be a funeral director, because you could make the two jobs work together. Because you had your own joinery shop in those days, so youd be looking to make use of bad weather, you could make coffins. Mr Kemble, in the village, he done that. We had a yard there which when you look at it now, you think, Well, how did we all fit in? But, of course, we didnt have vehicles, so they would have barrows to take things around on, and people didnt have quite such high expectations.
[The company built] most of the bungalows in Keelars Lane, and the house just at the end of the bungalows, so there must have been four or five there that spring to mind, that we done. Quite a lot of the houses along St Andrews Avenue in Colchester , they were built by us, and then just odd ones dotted around really. I think, in, like Ernest Road , what they used to call the Spion Kop, that part of Wivenhoe. It was called the Spion Kop, and it was just open, what would be waste ground, and there was a chap actually, he just fenced it off and claimed it, you know, nobody owned it. Thats where all of Ernest Road and from the old houses of Manor Road , downwards, all the bungalows there, they were all built on there – my father and grandfather worked on building some of them.
Apprentice – William Sparrow
I did know, like, from quite an early age that that was what I was going to do, so I dont know when, exactly, probably about 14 Id made my mind up that I would do an apprenticeship. My father would have liked me to have worked harder at school and not come into building, so I reached that age and I used to do quite well at school until that time, and then I stopped – used to go to the Youth Centre instead of doing homework! Yes, that was basically it. My father gave me the job, I would have been, well, 16. And I went off to college. I worked with him, I used to work with him sometimes in the summer holidays, and then I went off to college and done day release, and then I was away for block release, Sheepen Road . And that was over four years then, to do an advanced craft. I think they do it in about six weeks now! But then, it was quite a drawn out process.
People just tormented you really, I suppose, as the boy! People werent soft on you, and its difficult for me to say, but because I was the bosss son at the time, they knew him very well, so it wasnt like they were worried that if they were horrible to me, theyd be in trouble!Yes, it was more the other way round, you know, I think I did take quite a bit of flack really, because of who I was. He didnt stick up for me, I had to learn to do that for myself. Yes.
Early work – William Sparrow
Well, when I started, we were doing mainly refurbishment work I would say, myself. My father liked to buy old houses – he would go to auction and buy properties or, you know, he just sourced them, and wed do them up, so that was our main work during the winter, and then, you know, summer time, wed maybe do a couple of extensions, and we used to do quite a lot of decorating, and whatever else came along really, just general repairs. Worked on loads of houses all in the village. Dont seem to do quite so much of that now. Ive tried to move away from doing some of that! I didnt want to just keep doing odd jobs so much, so mainly I like to do, like, large extensions, really, if I can. Thats what I think Im best at. And Ive built a couple of houses, which are for sale now, Ive got a couple at the top of the village. And, you know, its very easy to build new, so if youre building for somebody else new, its very competitive, whereas if the building spec is all right, as long as you can sell them, but otherwise, extensions for customers, thats good.
Subcontractors – William Sparrow
Theyre all subcontractors now, so Ive not go no employees at all. It has changed several times. Traditionally, for years, people used to get their holiday stamps in the building trade, because somebody would have work now, and then when that contract finished, they didnt have any, and somebody else had got the work, and people would move on. And so what they done is, they used to keep a holiday book, buy the stamps, and that way theyd get their holiday pay, but they were always self-employed. And then the government decided that we should all be employed, which doesnt really work, because we just cant guarantee people work, basically, and so after a while, people drifted away, went self-employed again. But now theyre trying to get everybody to go back employed again, so were getting hassle now, but subcontractors all come on the cards. National Insurance contributions, theyre much less if youre self-employed. So thats what theyre after, the employers contribution towards the employees National Insurance, which I dont have to pay. But theyre changing all the rules continuously.
Revolutions in tools – William Sparrow
Mainly its been tools which have sort of revolutionised things, and the amount of work which people do. I still use the same traditional sort of methods of construction if I can. If Im building a new house, I like to do it much the same as has always been done, you know, with a brick and block cavity wall. New things, insulation has absolutely gone over the top now! You cant get air into the houses now, so you have to put vents in, built in, so people dont suffocate! Which always seems a bit pointless! But weve put in massive foundations for everything, for even the slightest thing that always seems a shame to me.
People used to build on good ground, thats one of the big differences. So if its a bit of rubbishy old ground, you didnt build there, theres no point, you might as well build on the good bit, so somewhere like Keelars Lane, those foundations up there were all hand-dug – bungalows, you know, four or five people would do it in a day, just dig it out with a wheelbarrow, and then theyd hand mix all the concrete and put it in, whereas now, the foundations are so huge that you couldnt contemplate it! So its still dug in a day, but now its done with a big excavator, and the concretes still poured in a day. We just have loads of lorries coming in, and instead of having four or five people do it, weve just got one chap on the dumper and one on the digger, and the two people there for the concrete pour.
Were filling the gaps, because lands so valuable now. But we can pile anything with the little mini pilers, they can get them in anywhere, so theres nowhere you cant build. But its meant the methods have had to change, you know, to get suitable foundations and stuff in.
The Local Authority are good really, and they help us with all the regulations. We work to drawings most of the time, so its the job of the surveyor or the engineers – he will put all of the current Building Regulations on there, so well get the drawing, well look, well have a list, and it will tell you on there how deep and wide the foundations need to be. Theyve just steadily got bigger and we have to employ different techniques to get them in, but we all learn from each other.
The workshop like at the back was just very basic. There is nothing much in my memory there, really. It was just somewhere to store a few tools and bits of materials, but we didnt have anything like as much equipment to take to jobs. We had so much more time to do a job! Comparatively, wages were so much lower than what the materials – the materials were the expensive part of the job, and the labour was cheap, whereas now, its the other way round. You know, we just waste and throw away, you know, it makes you sad to see how much you throw away really, but its not worth picking it up and salvaging it and storing it. But labour – you cant let anybody sit still for a minute. So its completely the opposite, really, to how it was.
Time and rush – William Sparrow
The main difference is the rush. You know, every day is a hurry. We didnt used to worry about that when I first started work. It wasnt just because I was younger, wed knock off when it was dark, and if it was raining, wed, you know, paint scaffold tubes, or wed just do odd jobs in the yard, and now, theres nothing to do in the yard like that now. Youd have to send people home and not pay them, you cant afford to say, Well, you know, the weathers a bit inclement, well stay in and well sort out the workshop. None of the maintenance jobs get done, basically. Im sure it applies throughout really. People dont get time to do things. I mean, everything we throw away – we dont sharpen saw blades, nothing like that, we just throw them away and buy a new one, because I cant pay a carpenter to set and sharpen his saw, because he can spend an hour doing that, and, at £15 an hour, I can buy a saw, brand new, which will be sharper than hell ever get his one that hell sharpen, for about £4 or £5. So I just bring a new one back and he throws the old one away. Which, as I say, is a shame, but that is how its all set up.
I dont regret it – William Sparrow
I couldnt sit here and say, I really enjoy it. My father enjoyed it more than I do. But I dont regret it, because I feel quite lucky, with the place that Im able to live in. I like where I am, Ive got no desire to move. I do please myself. I like the sort of people – probably just because Ive been brought up with them – who are in the building trade. I know were getting more and more rules, but weve not had rules and regulations, and thats where its been quite nice – a way to live and to work, in that sort of environment, we make them up as we go along, your own rules! We dont clock in, we dont clock out, we go to different places, see different people a lot of the time, and in the summer its nice when the weather is nice.
Carpentry and decorating – Colin Andrews
After I finished at the Station pub I moved back here and started decorating. I suffered a long illness, as a boy, and I couldnt go to school, and so used to get bored and my dad used to give me various tasks to do, such as decorating thats where it first started, I think. I do a bit of carpentry from time to time, and associated works, a bit of glazing and whatever requires doing really. Carpentry is just kind of instilled. My brother is a very skilled craftsman in timber and maybe its something in the blood, I dont know. Ive had no formal training, I have to say. I wouldnt say I earn a high living exactly! Its quite good. I always identified it as a good place because there are many academics live here, and academics and the practical side of life just dont mix, do they, so theres an opening for a practical man.
But weve got quite an elderly element in our community, and people like to just have somebody they can call on. Ive got a lady, I did a towel rail, fixed a new towel rail for her yesterday- mines the only name that comes to mind! Then theres an old gentleman around the corner, somebody had felled a small tree across his back gate and left it there, and theyve moved from Brentwood fairly recently so they dont know anybody, but through Faye I knew them so I just popped along and sorted it out for them and chucked it away and disposed of it. And they just need the assurance that they can call on somebody. That means a lot to them, and means something to me!
Im currently working with two women that live in Wivenhoe and they also do fabrics and blinds, curtains and soft furnishings, but they like decorating most of all. They are motivating me at the moment. Id probably have retired fully if it wasnt for them! I like contact with people as much as anything. But its also somewhat creative and its the satisfaction of completing a job after. Mind you, you dont get much time to sit and admire it, as soon as its complete you leave, dont you! But we renovated a place a few weeks ago and the ladys given us the key to go back and have a look now the carpets and the furnishings are in, which is quite rewarding.
Im not doing jobs for the younger people so much. No, the general consensus is the older group, probably because theyre less mobile, and probably more affluent. Youngsters have different priorities, and I think they are probably influenced by television and all these D-I-Y programmes, that they will do it themselves. Some might become a little bit wiser! The influence of television today, is pretty bad, in the DIY market. I mean, how many programmes do you get on there now saying, Buy a house and do it up and make loads of money? But theyre not qualified to do it and the work they do is less than second rate. And some poor innocent person comes along and inherits it with all the consequent problems. We might deplore the old Nanny State but we do need some kind of control over it, because standards deteriorate.
Signwriters – Charles Scofield
I was born in May, 1930, at Border House, Anglesea Road , Wivenhoe, where I lived with my sister, my parents, and my grandfather C G Scofield. My grandfather and father ran a painting and decorating business, traded as C G Scofield and Son. In addition, they bought property and land. Mr Goodwin, of Gas Road , owned a builders and undertaking business. On his death the property was willed to my father, Mr A G Scofield, but he did not continue to operate the undertakers side of the business.
When I got demobbed I took on the signwriting, and I done the Lifeboat Institution for 28 years put the names and the flags on the lifeboats. That worked out roughly about one a month. There was 12 boats but there was two reserve boats, and we always used to say a lifeboat once a month. And my father used to come and give me a hand sometimes, and then I took over doing those. I enjoyed the lifeboat crew people – they used to tell me some stories. And then I took on several estate agents Reeman and Dansies, Boydens, Lesters and I had a couple of signwriters who were part-time. Of course, we used to do the transport at various garages. I packed up in 1958. I wrote and told everybody trade wasnt continuing, and that was it.
Chimney sweep – Ray Hall
I went to work for the Lathe Company and I was there for about two years until they had their clear out, and then I went to Paxmans. A friend of mine, George Hoy, was a chimney sweep. Hed bought a business and he had it for about six years, I think, but he was getting bad in arthritis. And lunchtimes I used to come home and I have a half a pint in the Flag, go home to dinner. And hed been on to me for some months, This little business would suit you, he said! And he used to keep on like this. But one Wednesday he came in and he said, You know, he says, look at my arthritis Thats all right, George, I said, Ill buy it. And he looked amazed! He said, You mean that? I said, Yes, Ill buy it. I said, Dont worry about it, I said, Ill buy your business from you.
And for a few years I did chimney sweeping. I started off with about 400 customers, and I finished up with about 2,100, I think it was. I used to range from, well, anywhere, from Clacton, all round to Sudbury and most of the villages in the Colchester area.
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