History of Kelvedon Hatch

History of Kelvedon Hatch >> Contributors >> John Page Fitch

John Page Fitch's Kelvedon Hatch memories

On 28th March 1969, Mr John Page Fitch (1890 - 1977) of Mill Lane, Kelvedon Hatch, addressed a meeting of the Parent-teacher Association of Kelvedon Hatch Primary school on the subject of: 'My look at yesteryear'.

His talk was copied almost verbatim by Glyn Jeffreys, the then Headmaster.

This is a copy of the transcript of his memories of his Kelvedon Hatch childhood. [edited it because of lack of space.]

"I was born in this Parish in 1890. My father was born in this Parish in 1856, and my Grandmother was born in this Parish in 1819. So you see, my roots are very deep, and also my affection for the Parish equally deep.

I came to this School in 1893, when I was three years old. It was customary for all children to start school at the age of three. If they lived within a reasonable distance, they could come 'under their own steam'. We left school comparatively early also.

Teaching Staff was Mr. White and his wife, but when I first came, we had Miss Dutton, who left in 1897 to become the Village Postmistress - a task she did for some thirty-five years or so (the Post Office then was a house immediately opposite the double entrance to the school now).

After she left, Mr White's daughter, who had become of age, took on the Pupil-Teachers job. Mr White received a salary of £90 a year. His wife had a salary of £40, and Miss White had £12 a year. So you see how little they valued education in those days.

There were four rows of desks - the first two occupied by girls, and the back two by boys. We had examinations periodically through the year. The inspectors came from Chelmsford. We had one - a Clergyman - who examined us in Scripture. We had to who examined us in General Knowledge, and one for drawing, whilst a lady came to examine the girls in needlework. I never had a prize for General Knowledge or Drawing, but about once a year a got one for Scripture.

This was the room, and the main door was at the bottom, and led out straight t to the School-yard. There was no porch. Somewhere in the roof was a bell. One of the older boys had to ring it every morning at ten minutes to nine, and again at half-past one. Our times were 9.0 am to 10.45 am when we had playtime until 11.00 am. We broke off for lunch at 12 noon. We reassembled at 1.30 pm. when the bell rang, and carried on until 4.0 pm. without a break.

The average number in the School ranged between 75 and 85. It appeared to be a pretty high proportion when it is considered that the population was about 350 - men, women and children. This high proportion may be explained with two reasons:- (a) there were large families - the average was six, (b) we had a master at this School. The School was considered the best school because of this - schools in the neighboring parishes had schoolmistresses. So, boys came here from neighboring parishes, because boys from this School applied for admission to Sir Anthony Browne's School in Brentwood and were admitted fairy readily, but boys from the other three parishes found it difficult, because their schools had schoolmistresses. Browne's School was a fee paying school, so I didn't get the opportunity of seeking admission - I wish I had.

Our parents had to pay two-pence a week for our education, but non-parishioners had to pay four pence a week. When I started school my eldest brother had to leave - my parent's couldn't afford sixpence a week; and in the same way when my youngest sister started, I had to leave for the same reason. So I think that poor people were punished in not having free education.

Corporal punishment represented the cane. Talking of canes - our master used a lot. When his supply was running low, he would detail a couple of the older boys to go down to the Coppice and cut a dozen. They had to be hazel or ash; and these boys , knowing from past experience , always cut slightly thicker ones, because although the ticker ones hurt more, the thinner ones stung, and always lasted quite along time. So the thick canes were always brought. If they didn't bring thick ones, other boys would deal with then at a future date

An escapade always practised in this school was following the hunt. The Essex Hunt always met at the windmill - to top of Mill Lane as we know it now. They meet at 11.00 am and met twice in the village during the winter months. We came out to play at 10.45 am and the temptation was far too great. "over the wall, and up to the Hunt". We followed the hounds for the rest of the day. We probably got two good runs and might even get a kill. But, by the time they called off at 4.30 pm we though all the energy we had expelled to be well rewarded and I'm sure quite sure Mrs Jones will remember those meets. I should emphasis we were on "Shanks' Pony" They were happy days and I bear no ill-will to the late Mr. White, I respect his memory indeed.

In 1898 there were alterations to the School - the was put up, and under the balcony some sort of cloakroom. We hung our clothes there , and there were two washbasins put in. Previous to that there were no means at all for washing. You used slate and pencil. We always sharpened our slate-pencils on this brick wall - now boarded over. I would like to say that my brother always insisted on our taking a damp rag to School to wipe our slate with, but I'm afraid many of the children didn't, they always used their elbows and spit. On gloomy days, light in the school was given by oil lamps, hanging in pairs on long chains.

I shall now say something about the Parish. Next to the Church, this schoolroom was the most important room in the parish. There was a chapel - where the bungalows now stand behind the Handy Stores - but it wasn't allowed to be used except for Chapel services . So everything in the village all the meetings etc., was conducted in this room.

The children were especially catered for regarding entertainment. We had Magic Lanterns, Conjurors and Concerts of various kinds, and we also had a Brass Band in the Parish, but in the early days we got more discord than harmony the Brass Band. The Magic Lantern wasn't always a success. Sometimes it would go up in a puff of smoke. I think they must have turned the wick up too high on occasions, that would be the end of the Magic Lantern for that evening. I must say there were always people in the audience who would come up to the platform to give a song or recitation or something. So, we always had a full evening's entertainment. The cost was:- for ordinary entertainment, 3d adults, 1d children, but if we had a "smash-up" affair" it was 6d adults 3d children. I always remember the first time we saw a phonograph. Mr Dutton of Woodlands, down the road, introduced this to the village. It was a machine with an enormous horn. To us it appeared as if it went half-way down the room. We thought it was a wondrous thing to hear voices and singing coming from this enormous horn, - most entertaining.

[...] There were a number of wells in the Parish almost all of them were privately owned, so were not available to the parishioners. But there was one well which was a public well. It was down in the Coppice, and that, I think, supplied at least sixty percent of the population with drinking water. To get to this well, you went about 200 yards down the main drive of the Coppice. Then you found a narrow path, rather steep, leading down, and finally you got to the well. When you got there you found just a hole in the ground, but it had a wooden frame around it, easier I suppose to dip your water and, of course, it prevented the sides from caving in. [...] That was your drinking water. What you used otherwise was rainwater, and that you gathered from the roof of your house or outbuilding, and it channeled into a tub or tank, and you used for everything e.g. washing of clothes, person, vegetables and even boiling of vegetables. I remember when drinking water was excessively scare, Mother had to make our tea with rainwater, and I can assure you that it was very disagreeable. [...]

The ponds dried up in the summer, which made it difficult for farmers to water their cattle and horse. So it was the usual thing to see a string of water-carts going down the Ongar Road to Langford Bridge to get water for the framers to give to their cattle; and it was noticeable, particularly near large ponds to see warnings: 'Steamrollers and Steam-engines are prohibited from drawing water from this pond'.

To commemorate the Coronation of King Edward VII, the Church arranged a subscription list for all the Parish to contribute for a pump at the Coppice. They got the money, I think it was £22. [...] Noble's (of Ongar) fixed up the pump with a pipe leading down to the well, and that was, I think, one of the greatest blessings that this Parish had at that time and for a very long time. [...]

There was no gas or electricity - which meant that it was paraffin lamps and candles. You can imagine this School - we had six lamps here - and as the School was used almost every night of the week, there were six lamps to be trimmed and filled and looked after and lighted before the meeting started. It was a bigger problem in the Church. You had eighteen lamps in there - 16 in the Church and 2 in the Vestries. I used to help the Verger to clean and fill them. There we had services three times every week - Sundays and two week-night services. So it meant there were 18 lamps to be trimmed, filled and lighted before the service started.

[...] Everyone adopted the cat-like method of disposal,. Everything was buried. Tins and bottles were put in a sack which, when full, was taken down to the Coppice, tipped in the ditch and covered with leaves. As there were no dustmen, other rubbish was burned.

There were no daily papers, but we had Sunday newspapers. They were delivered by the Carrier on Saturday afternoons, although dated Sunday. We boys delivered them into the Village during Saturday evenings. There was a chance of a daily paper, because Mr. Jones of Kelvedon Hall, and Mr. Royds and his sons [...] went to London every day, and they brought daily newspapers back with them. After a certain period of time they sent a servant up to the Men's Club in the Church House (now the Handy Stores) so that the men might see a daily newspaper even though it might be four or five days old. Communication with the 'out-side world' were very restricted. We had the 'Penny Post' and telegrams but it was a long time before one got news of outside happenings.

I well remember the Relief of Mafeking for instance, in 1900. We didn't get that news for two days, but when we got it, the Church got very busy. The bell was rung, on and off all day long. The then Rector rustled up an Evening Thanksgiving Service for the same evening , and the Church was packed.

Again, when peace was proclaimed at the end of the South African War in 1902, we didn't get that for a day or two, but of course the festivities for that were so prolonged it didn't matter so much. They were spread over a longer period and thus there was a longer period of enjoyment.

Now to the Church. The Church was the centre of everything. All activities revolved around the Church. There were no other organisations in the Parish whatsoever. The Church was very pleased to supply members of the School Board - this school, although was never a Church School. It was run by the School Board, and the Church supplied the members. It ran the Men's Club; it ran the annual Horticultural Show; it provided the overseers of the Parish before the Parish Council Act came in, and it ran the Cricket Club. In fact it did everything in the Parish. The subconscious influence of the Church in the Parish was profound.

On a Sunday morning we had 'two bells' - that is to say the Church bell rang from 10.30 to 10.40, and the second rang from 10.50 to 11.00. When the first bell rang, everything stopped. I well remember my Mother - I heard her many times - go to the back door , and shout to my Father who was working in the garden: "Can't you hear the first bell going? Aren't you coming in?". The 'Old man' picked up his tools and put them in the shed without a word. Then Mother would go round the living-room and gather up the Sunday paper and a magazine she had each week, and put them under the cushion on the sofa, and they weren't allowed to be seen for the rest of the day. You could read a book though.

On the right-hand side of School Road, from Mill Lane down to the bottom, there were a number of Common Gardens as they were called then - you would call them Allotments now I suppose. They belonged to the Lord of the Manor, Squire Wright, and he let them out to the Cottagers to cultivate. He charged them a shilling for "ten rod"; one shilling and nine-pence for "twenty rod". Well, on a Sunday morning…I saw it so many times on my way to Church - I was in the Choir then - you'd see all those men who were working on the allotments, when the first bell went, packing their tools and putting them in a truck and go home. By ten minutes to eleven, you wouldn't see a man in the Village anywhere,, except those of course going to Church [...]

The morning service on Sunday was attended by the higher-income group You would see a "carriage and pair" coming along, probably from Kelvedon Hall; a "brougham and single" from Mr Royd's perhaps, and others; and of course the farmers would come along with ponies and tub-carts. In those days every farm had its farmer. [...] Well the morning service went on. But Sunday evening, everybody… I mean everybody.. who was able, went to Church. The Church was always full to the door every Sunday night. I well remember on those occasions, we, the choir that is, came to the main door to process, and I can always remember 15 to 20 lanterns in the Church porch. This was winter of course. People who came to Church, brought their lanterns with them. In many cases as the people had to cross fields, footpaths on fields - because it was so much quicker that way than going round the roads. So they brought their lanterns, put them out, and went into the Church. I shall always remember the foul smell in that porch, because you see, in those days they didn't use paraffin in the lanterns. They used Colza oil, rather thick glutinous yellow stuff. It was good for lanterns because the wind did not blow the flame out. The oil held in better. [...]

After Church, the people assembled either in the churchyard or on the road, and their long talks, they probably hadn't seen one another since the previous Sunday. Those who gad occasion to, went to the Vestry to pay their Boot Club, Coal Club, or put their money in the Savings Bank. The Church ran those things to.

[...] The Sunday School had 127 members. Before the new Church was built, the elder Sunday School scholars went down to the old Church (now a ruin in the grounds of Kelvedon Hall) on Sunday mornings for their Sunday School, but we Juniors attended in this very School Room for our Sunday Afternoon, Sunday School. So, even back as far as that, Sunday School was held in a room other than the Church.

Perhaps, ladies and Gentlemen, you might think that this is rather a dreary address that I've given you, but I can assure you that there was no depression in this Parish. It was a very close-knit community. They asked for little, and got less, but they were all a very happy community, and if any family had a misfortune, the whole Parish, together with the Church always saw to it that family was relieved of their necessities."

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