Colchester Memories

PUBLISHED: 08:17 07 May 2014




In a sequel to his successful book, Colchester Voices, Patrick Denney’s Colchester Memories explores the rich resource of experiences from Colchester residents. Here Patrick introduces us to just some of these records

We Used to Play Leapfrog and High Cockalorum

Our desks were all set in lines facing the front and there were steps going up to the back of the class. The desks were all grouped in twos, with perhaps between 40 and 48 children in a class. In front of each desk was a little slot with your slate in and every child had one. It wasn’t just for the younger children, but for all ages. You would use this to write and draw on and then you would rub it off. Once a week we would go to St John’s Green School for woodwork or domestic science. I remember making a bronze ashtray. I had to cut it all out and then knock it into shape. 
It looked quite nice at the finish and I had to buy that for ‘tuppence’ or ‘thruppence’ (two or three pence). At playtime, we would play games such as leapfrog or high cockalorum. This is where one boy would bend down against 
a wall and someone else would then jump on his back, and then he would get off and bend down behind the first boy. And then someone else would try to jump onto both of them and then he would join the other two and so on.

John Conner (born 1913)

The Third Hand Was Considered the Lowest Form of Life

I’d made up my mind from very early on that I wanted to work on the barges. Even as a young boy, I was always playing about on the river. So when I left school I had arranged to go straight on the barges. I was going to be employed by the mate at a pound a week, plus my grub. And it so happened that the barge was at Colchester on the day that I left school. So I left school at 15, went home and collected my gear, and went straight down to the barge ready to sail the next day. My position as third hand was considered the lowest form of life and you would get all the horrible jobs. After a while, the skipper came forward and stood at the top of the hatchway and threw this little bundle of rag down and said: ‘Here you are, get that up because we’re sailing first thing in the morning.’ And I picked it up and untied the strings and it turned out to be a brand new flag, 6ft long. To put that up meant that I would have to go up to the top of the 90ft mast. And when I looked up I could see a little old worn out flag, waving away and I thought to myself, ‘Cor, I’m not going up there.’ And I thought that I would go home. But then I thought, well, 
if I go home and have to tell my mum that I can’t get up a barge’s mast, which is going to be my future living, and then I’d got my younger brother 
at home who thinks I’m Superman, so I would have to lose face there. So in the end I was more afraid of not doing it than going up there. It was a test that lots of other people had been given them. As it turned out, and after working well into the night to get it done, because it was dark when I’d finished and I hadn’t had any supper, I managed to get the new flag fixed to the top of the mast.

Jim Lawrence (born 1933)

The Soldiers Were All Singing and Whistling

I was six years old when World War I started. There were soldiers galore in the town and everyone had a soldier or two billeted with them. It didn’t matter how many children you had, you still had to take a soldier. We had two staying with us and they had to sleep on the floor on a mattress. When they were embarking for France, there were thousands of soldiers coming out of the barracks. Officers on horseback and these soldiers all singing and whistling as they went along, and the people lined the streets giving them bread, cakes, fruit and cigarettes as they went by. We used to have to queue up for potatoes and margarine at Macklin and Ranson’s. 
We would stand there for hours sometimes. Then sometimes they would say that they had run out, but we still used to wait until the next lot came in. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. I remember that my older brother used to queue up at the Maypole in Long Wyre Street and he used to carry a box on the back of his bicycle to put his rations in. One night 
he lost his bike – and his rations. 
Albert Bridges (born 1908)

People Were Jammed in Like Sardines

I can remember the time when Colchester played Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup in 1948. I took a young friend along with me and we managed to shin up a drainpipe and stood on top of the gents’ toilets to watch the game. It was a stupid thing to do because it was only pieces of corrugated iron. There were about 16,000 people crammed into the ground. They were perched on trees and anywhere else where you could get a view of the pitch. People were jammed in like sardines. A lot of the Colchester players at that time were only part-timers, but we had some good players such as ‘Digger’ Kettle, Len Cater and Arthur Turner. The footballers in those days were all well known to everyone and you would perhaps meet them in the town. Huddersfield had several stars and internationals playing for them and we were expecting to be hammered about 5-0. When the game started, the U’s seemed to be holding their own and by half-time it was still 0-0. And then with about 20 minutes to go, with the U’s pressing at the far end of the pitch from where we were, we heard a terrific roar and we realised that Colchester had scored. A player called Bob Curry had put the ball into the net and we were 1-0 up. The crowd were shouting and screaming but the worst part was that we still had about 20 minutes to go. It would have been lovely if it had been the last minute, but for us it seemed like the longest 20 minutes you could imagine. As the game drew to a close, Huddersfield were running rings around us. They hit the post, the crossbar and they did everything but score. And then at the final whistle the whole place erupted and there were celebrations in the town. Everybody streamed out of the ground in a good mood and were talking about it all the time. It was the first time that a non-league club had beaten a league club since before the war. 
Hugh Harvey (born 1932)

Find Out More

Colchester Memories by Patrick Denney is published by Amberley Publishing

And is priced at £14.99. ISBN: 978-1-4456-1854-8


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