My Father wrote about a number of characters from Dagger lane, and most were renowned for one thing or another. The era he writes about is the early to mid 1920’s.
There was Masher Hedgecock, who would dispose of your unwanted animals for sixpence. He would take them to thesea wall, along with his shotgun………no vets or RSPCA in those days!
Claudy Clayton would kill and dress chickens, and prepare them for your pot.
Mr Wordward the mat repairer, who could be seen most days outside of one shop or another in town, repairing the big mats.
Mr Mills was the local baker, he made biscuits so hard it was impossible to break them with your teeth! They were of course, Seamen’s biscuits, and mostly bought by the fishermen, for a farthing.
Mr Grimwade ran the shop my Pa said was an “Alladin’s cave”, a general store that sold everything, and where a slate could be obtained. They sold food, clothes, cigarettes, firewood, sweets, everything you could think of. No health regulations in those days, the parafin was kept under the cheese and butter counter, second hand clothes next to the bread shelf, together with second hand shoes! The only thing that wasn’t kept and sold in the shop was coal, which was sold from the back of the shop by a man called Darkie, who Dad said was always black with coal dust.
The Grimwades also had a guest house and pub, the Castle. The cellar of the guest house was apparently a flophouse in late Victorian times, where a length of sturdy rope was tied between opposite walls. When people got very drunk and passed out, they were slung over the rope, hanging by their armpits. When morning came, the rope was unceremoniously cut and the hapless, no doubt very hungover individuals “flopped” to the floor!
Dad also talked about, though sadly never witnessed, a dancing bear, which was owned by a travelling entertainer who passed through and stayed in Maldon for a couple of months. My Pa’s Dad told him that the bear was kept in the cellar at Grimwades whilst his owner was in town. Try and visualise a rude awakening on the floor of the flophouse only to be greeted by the sight of a large dancing bear? I can imagine some swearing sobriety from there on in!
Across from Grimwades was Mr Sisson, he made all manner of things from cane. He had a wooden leg, a memento from the Great War. He also made kites, but Pa could never get one to fly!
Taylors, the sail makers was the place were my Pa bought his “rope soled paddlers”, deck type shoes I assume, made from rope.
Every Friday night, Mr Grainger sold cheap windfall apples from the Downs road, sixpence a peck(16 dry pints or 9 litres).
He owned most of the houses in Downs road at that time.
Mr Farr was the local cobbler, and ironically he had a club foot! He eventually succumbed to “Religious Mania”!
Rocky Markham the rock man, who demonstrated rock making at the fair ground, which was situated behind the Ship and Anchor pub.
Mr Burch was the blacksmith on the Quay. You could buy an iron hoop from him for sixpence. Because there were virtually no cars on the road at that time you could roll a hoop or whip a top from one end of the town to the other. Pa said he would start at the Queen Victoria in Spital road and roll his hoop all the way to the Quay.
Around this time, the Reverend Kevill Davis was the Vicar at St Mary’s church.
He apparently gave my Grandmother his own walking stick when she had a bad leg. He was a popular figure, a kindly man whose services were well attended.
As I’ve already said, my Ma hated to walk Dagger lane because of the terrible physical handicaps some of it’s residents had, and Father said that Rickets ( a type of bone disease caused by bad diet ) and terrible deformities were common.
A dwarf by the name of Georgie Woodward lived in the lane. Pa said his head was large but his body and legs were the size of a baby. His arms were apparently normal, but short and very strong, Pa said he swore like a trouper and terrified him!
The “square” between the top of Dagger lane, Church street and the Ship and Anchor were a hive of activity in the evenings, and the High street was as busy at 10.30 p.m. as it was in the daytime, with most of the shops open. On the top of Church street a Salvation Army band would play, and Salvationists would preach temperance and reformation, tho’ Dad said he knew several Salvationists who loved a tipple!
Bare knuckle fighting was staged at the front of the Ship, with many betting on the outcome of the fights. Also proper troubadours were common then. Men and women would show up in the square and sing loudly, unaccompanied, some of which my Pa said had wonderful, almost operatic voices. Some would also dance.
Drinking was probably more common and excessive than even in our times. There was never any shortage of drunken, happy people. Pa recalled a chap called Oscar Payne, who was very fond of the local ale, Shrimp beer, produced on the Fullbridge.
Oscar was a “dear soul”, who would get very drunk and entertain the revellers inside the Ship and Anchor with his singing and dancing, tho’ his wife Carrie had a sharp tongue and would chastise him in public!
Pa mentions another pub entertainer, Umna Smith, who apparently played the mouth organ wonderfully. Perhaps he inspired Dad to take up the mouth organ? Dad could certainly hold a tune, but his mouth organ playing was fantastic. He could play any song, in the “vamping” style.
Pa left school at 14, in 1929, but prior to that he had what he called his “Newspaper Empire”. He acquired a paper round selling evening papers, and employed several boys. Competition between “The Star” and “The Evening News” was extremely keen, so speed was of the essence.
As soon as Pa and the lads got the papers off the train at East station he would slash the strings holding the bundles of papers, and give his “Star Runner” as he called him, a quire ( 25 ) of papers, who would cycle “like Billio”(2) to the bottom of Market hill, that is 1 in 7, and give the papers to another runner who would run up the hill to be the first paper up that evening.
They’d sell papers from 6 til 10.30 p.m., at which point my Pa’s greatest pleasure would be to go to Mr Johnson’s fish shop at the top of the lane, ( later Copsy’s ) and buy a cod cutlet and chips costing threepence.
And if his evening’s earnings were exceptional, he’d treat his lads to a one pence portion of chips, which they were always very grateful for. They’d sell as many as 10-12 quire some nights.
The “News” were fast apparently, but because they had to take the papers from the station to a newsagent 100 yards along the road they couldn’t cut the string on their papers, so “The Star” were the fastest.
So that was my Fathers first gainful employment. He also mentioned he’d worked for Joan McCready’s Father at Jacob’s farm, picking stones from the fields, putting them into big wicker baskets(mind numbing or what!).
However his next job would be a good deal more exciting…………..
All pictures (except the “Shrimp logo, which was taken by Terence Ruffle) courtesy of John Prime, Maldon society archivist (and all round excellent chap).
Footnotes 1) Colin Heely, who I met along with John Prime recently, and who has lived in North street for 69 years, says the name Dagger lane was derived, he was told as a lad, from the “Degga” boards on a barge, the stabilising lee boards on the sides of the vessel. And that the Maldon pronunciation was “Dagger”. Also the lee boards cut through the water “like a dagger”.
2) Like “Billio” is said to be derived from the Maldon fire and brimstone preacher Joseph Billio, who preached with such gusto that anyone doing anything well or being advised to do something well were told “to go like Billio”. In fact this is a piece of folk etymology, the phrase dating from much later than the minister.