My Pa was an amazing fellow.
He was born November the 14th 1915, in Tolleshunt Knights. On his birth certificate it says his Mother’s residence was 72 Fambridge road, but essentially my Pa was brought up in the legendary Dagger lane. Dagger lane was so called, my Father said, because the ruffians who lived there were supposed to carry daggers with which to rob any unfortunate passer by who happened to stray there. It’s also said that sailors carried knives for self defence, and Maldon being a busy shipping port there were always a fair amount of sea faring men in the town.
Dagger lane was actually North Street and my Father, his Sister Gladys, his Brother John, and his Ma and Pa all lived there, at number 55, before his Mother took off in 1922/23.
In his memoirs my Pa discribes Dagger lane and the surrounding area with great detail. One his first memories was falling down the stairs, at the age of 4 and a half, ( 1919 ) and striking his head on the chamber pot that had been emptied and washed and put at the foot of the stairs, ready to be taken up and returned to its place under my Grand Mother’s bed.
The wound on his head was quite bad, so my Nan wrapped him up and took him to the nearby Queen’s head pub. The landlady, Annie Maxwell, was a great friend of my Nans, and from there he was rushed up to the Doctors opposite Maldon police station(now a Dental surgery and coincidentally the place where Alfie would have his treatment to assess the removal of his last wisdom tooth, aged 90!).
My Father couldn’t remember the Doctor’s name, only that he had a white beard and Mutton chop side burns! The Doctor put a small pad of gauze on my Pa’s nose, shook a few drops of Chloroform on it, then put 10 neat stitches in the wound.
Father even remembered the time he left the surgery, 7.30 a.m.!
Whilst my Pa never claimed to be academically smart, he enjoyed woodworking at school ( which held him in good stead in several jobs ) and adored Geography. He told me he studied Geography intently, dreaming of what these strange and foreign lands were really like. It was this dreaming that eventually lead him to traverse the Globe, many times over.
He told me a story about one of his Teachers, a Mrs Shaunessy, who took him and his whole class to see Charlie Chaplin in “The Gold Rush” in 1925. He loved Chaplin and that movie, but I think he was genuinely touched by her generosity, after all, as he said, it “must’ve cost a fortune” to take some 30 kids to the local Cinema. And he reckoned the tickets would’ve cost at least “3 old Pence” each.
After his Mother fled the family home his Sister Gladys took over as the home keeper. When he complained that she no longer had to go to school and he did, Gladys would bribe my Father with a halfpenny or a farthing, which he usually spent at a shop called Wasketts, at the top of Dagger lane. Wasketts had “a most delicious selection of sweets, arranged on low shelves and displayed in the boxes they came in, mostly Barrats confectionery”. The prices ranged from 2 gobstoppers for a farthing, to expensive chocolate, at 2 old pence a quarter ounce.
Mr Waskett used to sell strong elastic to the older boys to make catapults, which were used mostly to stun rabbits, which were a major part of the diet in those times ( the late 1910’s/early 1920’s )
But Pa told me his Father would come home with pigeon and blackbirds, which he would dress and cook. It seems inconceivable to eat song birds in this day and age, but it gives us an indication of how poor people were then.
Fortunately, at that time Maldon was a thriving fishing port, so when it could be afforded fresh fish was available. And my Pa loved sea food! I remember him bringing home tin pails of whelks when I was 7 or 8, which he’d boil alive in a big pot my Ma used to make her jam in! He said eating whelks gave you “Tread like a cab man’s whip”. Hmmm……..
My Pa’s Father ( also Alfred Ruffle) was a Stoker at the Gas works. He worked 8 hour shifts, 7 days a week, but as a result of his hard work, could afford to buy my Pa shoes for school. Apparently his Mother seemed to reappear in 1923/24, and his Father went out and bought a wind up gramophone, “just like the one on the “His Master’s voice” records”. This made the Ruffle family the envy of the street, and apparently one of Pa’s favourite records was “When Johnny comes marching home again”. He also loved the “B” side “Larboard Watch”. Can anyone tell me who the artist was who did this particular version?
Father wrote a lot about Dagger lane. He said that it’s reputation for being rough and violent was founded, mostly he said the bigger boys with their rough upbringing bullying anyone foolish enough to venture down the lane at night. He said fights between families were quite common, and blood often flowed.
My Ma said she hated to walk there because of the strangely handicapped people that lived there. With clubbed feet, withered limbs, and all manner of scary physical deformities. It’s been suggested that incest was rife in our corner of Essex, perhaps that could explain it?
But Pa never mentioned that, tho’ he did write all about his favourite characters…….