My Father, Alfred William Ruffle, part one

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.

55 North Street

55 North Street

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!).

The Queen's Head

The Queen’s Head

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…….

6 Responses to “My Father, Alfred William Ruffle, part one”

  1. Well done bruv,great to see Dads memories written so well.
    Loved the pic’s especially Dad at the start and him and Mum in 1935,just after they got engaged.Keep up the good work.

  2. Terry, great read, really interesting.
    Loved the photos!

  3. Hello Trry,

    Thank you for this lovely story of your family. It’s interesting to me because my grandmother, Mary Dice, was born in Tolleshunt Knights, near the Bushes Church in 1892. I also had family in Maldon and am related to quite a lot of Tolleshunt, Tiptree, Messing, Layer Marney, Totham families:

    Howard, Hull, Frost, Olley, Wright, Cornwall, Samson, Vince to name a few.

    There’s an old version of Larboard Watch played on a wind up gramaphone that you can see and listen to on YouTube on the follwing link:

    I have quite a lot of old photographs of the above villages and towns and their people from the early 1900s onwards: though not of Dagger Lane or the gasworks (where was that?). If you have any more information about places or people you’re interested in there, I’ll have a look to see if I have any pictures that might of interest.


  4. Hi terry what a lovely thing to do for the memory of family.

  5. I am interested that it is written that he was born at Tolleshunt Knights though grew up in Maldon.

    Was there a special reason his mother came to Tolleshunt Knights to give birth or might she have moved to Maldon when he was an infant.

    We need to remember that in 1915 – the Parish of Tolleshunt Knights was even larger than it now is as it included much of the land that is now within Tiptree Parish.

    I am only sorry that we do not have, as far as I am aware a comprehensive history of the families and occupations of folk living in the rural parts of what is now the Maldon District.

    Thank you for publishing these records.

    I moved to Tolleshunt Knights in 1983 after a brief sojourn in east Hanningfield following my move back “down south” from Maghull, in what by then was the Sefton Borough Council area of what had been the West Lancashire district. Like so many people moving – the reason for my relocation was to come to a job vacancy which meant I was living nearer to my family in the south east.

    I remain fascinated by the reasons and circumstances of folk settling in what to them is a “new” area – be it to get away from something , such as unemployment or to move towards something such as to the home area of a spouse who one may have met whilst working away from home – as happened to one of my children.

    So even a move between Tolleshunt Knights and Maldon gives me curiosity.

    thanks again.

    Now this post is accessible to more folk by way of Facebook, I do hope others will add their responses to the story of Alfred William Ruffle…..

  6. What a lovely read, I lived near your family from 1946 to 1959, my maiden name was Cole. Also my paternal Gt Grandfather George Gymer lived in North Street but was lost at sea 1882, 6 months before my Grandfather was born. My Gt Grandmother remarried a James Boreham. I am always interested in any family history

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