A while ago I wrote here about a Walton headmaster, Mr. Coulson. Today I received an interesting insight into the way this man worked (or should that be ‘whacked’?) his students.
Martin Evans sent me these memories of Walton Secondary School in the 1950s


            I attended Walton County Secondary School from the autumn of 1953 until July 1957 and during the whole of that time Mr B. M. Coulson was the headmaster. Other teachers included Jock Hadden (Technical Drawing), Mr Barrel – called Joe (Science), Miss Ensor – nicknamed Hack (English and History), Mr Pennycate (English and Literature), Mr Broom (Art), Harry Martin (Physical Education) and Mr Langmaid (Woodwork). I also recall a Miss Tordoff but I am unsure wich subjects she taught. Although I was placed in class 1A where the from master was Mr Barrel, Coulson always took the class for mathematics. Coulson was always called Tip. Tip gained his nickname from his habit of caning pupils on the tips of their fingers. Tip’s motivation derived from a book on mathematics he was writing and he used his pupils as guinea pigs to test his ideas. He was not content with average performances in mathematics but demanded excellence in as many of his pupils as possible. For him to achieve some success, or even eminence, in his chosen field, he bullied the pupils, often screaming at them at the top of his voice. The pupils were then aged from twelve to sixteen years and to have a huge man screaming at them and slamming his desk lid down so often or to crash a stick down on their desk was a major ordeal. On many occasions pupils came away from his lessons crying their eyes out. Lessons on mathematics were something to dread. There is no doubt that Tip’s bullying was the cause of distress in the staff as well as the pupils as there were incidents when the staff were bullied in front of the pupils.

Tip often gave us tests on mathematics and I can recall him on one occasion  looking at each pupils’ paper where the answer that 4 x 0 = 4 was written and completely losing any vestige of self control. He stormed down the rows of desks screaming at any child who had written that 4 x 0 = 4, picking up their paper and screwing it up and throwing it away. Almost the whole class was at fault and the test was started again.

A year or so later he gave my class another test and in which we were required to answer ten questions. I looked at the paper and saw to my horror that I could only answer one out of the ten. I knew perfectly well that if I managed to answer only a single question I would be subjected to intense bullying so I did what I had never done before and copied the answers from the boy next to me. I knew that he wouldn’t get them all correct so I was secure in the knowledge that if five or more were correct then I would escape bullying. Tip marked the papers at his desk in front of the class and after marking mine he called me out to his desk. There I saw to my horror that every question was correct and Tip did not believe that I could have answered them all by myself. He did not say anything but just pointed to one of my answers and asked me to explain how I arrived at the result. By some unbelievable piece of luck the question he asked me to explain was the only one I had worked out myself.  I explained how I had arrived at the answer and Tip then quietly asked me to return to my place in the class. The feelings of relief I experienced was palpable and even today I can relive it.

He did teach my class quite advanced mathematics for pupils at a Secondary Modern School. We learn how to use logarithms, simple indices and the concept of brackets. In 1956 Tip decided to segregate a number of his more promising pupils and afford them special treatment. In effect this meant that he would take these pupils himself for additional subjects and more and more mathematics. Presumably this was to provide him with detailed assessment of their progress in conformance with his views on education. I was one of those who were selected. The others were John Harvey, John Gates, Caroline Bide, Peter Townsend and a few others whose names I have forgotten. For subjects such as science, history, art and craft, woodwork, religious instruction, geography and music, there would be little change in teacher but there were occasions when Tip would gather our small group in his own office and take them for such subjects as reading extracts from Shakespeare. On one such occasion I was asked to read an extract from a Shakespeare play about the kings of France and promptly read it using the word “dolphin” instead of dauphin. On hearing this word a number of times and thinking that I was being deliberately awkward, Tip started shouting at the top of his voice; ‘WHAT DID YOU SAY?’ Trembling I then repeated the same passage using the word “dolphin” again. Thinking that he was being mocked Tip drew himself up and was about to launch into a blistering attack on me when with great aplomb Peter Townsend looked into the copy of the book that I held and saw that the printed word really was ‘dolphin’. ‘It does say that, sir,’ Peter said. Tip snatched the book from me and when he saw the word “dolphin” had indeed been printed, he subsided like a deflated balloon. There was never an apology but an explanation was given and the class then continued as before.

On another much later occasion Tip had asked some official of the education system to attend a class of his selected few. During the lesson Tip asked Peter Townsend how to derive the roots of the equation ax2 + bx + c = 0 from first principles. Unfortunately Peter had forgotten how to do it. Tip was getting ready to commence bullying (restrained as there a witness present) when one of the others did the required calculation. Tip was mollified and justified at the same time.

In those days extra tuition during the evenings was a formality and although not compulsory many of the children attended these lessons. Mathematics (taught by Tip, of course) was one of the subjects offered in the evenings and Tip expected his “selected” students to attend these lessons. Thus, my friends and I were required to suffer the bullying tactics of Tip during the day and during the evenings as well. On one occasion I decided that I was not going to the evening mathematics lesson but on the next day at school Tip called for me and asked why I hadn’t attended. With incredible and surprising bravery I found himself saying: ‘I didn’t feel like it, sir.’ However, instead of the expected explosion and hectoring Tip merely said: ‘I shall remember that when you come to me for a reference.’ Luckily that eventuality never came to pass.

In 1956 and 1957 the form master for 3A and 4A was Harry Martin who was a very popular man. Some pupils took examinations from an organisation called the Union of Educational Institutions. Some of class 3A took examinations in various subjects including English, Mathematics and Technical Drawing (taught by Jock Hadden – another popular teacher) in both these years. In 1957 some of us took the mathematics examination. Both John Harvey and I managed to get every question correct but whereas John was awarded 100%  I was only awarded 97%. The reduction of 3% was because I had dropped a large blot of ink on my examination paper. For this achievement I was not praised but thoroughly berated by Tip.

I left Walton County Secondary School in July 1957.There were no regrets at not having to see Tip, Hack and Broom ever again but considerable regrets at leaving Harry Martin, Jock Hadden and Joe Barrel. These latter three were the complete antithesis of the former three. I and the others who had also suffered four years of endless bullying could not believe that their treatment by Tip had been for any other reason than for Tip’s pleasure and self gratification. Unknown to us all we were wrong, completely wrong, as the general comments in my last report showed. Tip himself wrote “ A splendid effort – very high standard reached in most subjects.” This was to be Tip’s last year as headmaster of Walton County Secondary School. Why he left and where he went to are unknown but there can be no doubt that the staff and pupils were delighted to be free from the tyranny that had been such a feature of his management. Tip was replaced by Mr S. E. Rhodes as headmaster.

There is no doubt in my mind that Tip did have the interests in the education of his pupils at heart but the means he adopted for implementing those interests were based upon appalling bullying and he should undoubtedly have been prosecuted. I feel that he did far more damage to his pupils than good.

I have often wondered why there were no complaints by the pupils about Tip’s appalling behaviour either to the staff or to our parents. I never considered doing either and can only think that to complain was to court ever more, and perhaps worse, bullying and that was something that none of us could contemplate.

Martin tells me that he never retained contact with any of his former colleagues from the Secondary Modern at Walton, which is shame. Do you remember him?
I was at the primary school with his brother, Andrew.


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Today the good folk of Walton came together to say farewell to one of the most loved characters that the town has ever seen.

The popularity of Ernest Winston White, known to everyone as ‘Ernie’. was shown by the way All Saints’ Church was packed to the rafters with locals, family and friends to say goodbye to an unassuming man who made a mark on the towns of Walton and Frinton.


Wartime evacuation of Walton resulted in Ernie being born in Whitby in 1941 although the family home was at 73, North Street, Walton.

One of his first employments was on the pleasure boat ‘The Lady Kent’ which sailed with tourists on board from the Albion Breakwater. He later worked for Lilley’s Bakery where he was a favourite with the owner Alf Lilley. A man of many talents, he was also a chef, a dustman and Summer kiosk owner at the Bath House Hotel in Walton as well at The Ocean View and in Holland-on-Sea and Harwich.

1226 High St Nov 1978

He later opened The Whitehouse Restaurant in Walton’s High Street in the premises currently known as Bartalls.

Here he had a snooker hall above the restaurant and every Christmas he would entertain local pensioners with free dinners and teas.

His venture into Frinton caused a lot of excitement among the residents and councillors when he proposed and eventually succeeded in opening the first fish and chip shop the town had ever seen. The business is still trading although Ernie sold out years ago.

He also tried to open Frinton’s first public house and although he failed to get permission I’m sure his attempt led to the eventual submission by the Council and the opening of the town’s first pub, The Lock & Barrel in swanky Connaught Avenue.

Today we all said a fond goodbye to Ernie at a service which was so well organised by his family, even to the touching memory of Ernie’s beloved bike being tethered outside the church entrance.

Ernie Bike

17th October 2017

Today I have been given permission to reproduce below the Eulogy which Ernie’s son, Mark, delivered at the funeral. It’s full of humour, love and sadness all rolled into one:

My Dad Ernie, was born on the 2nd of August 1941 in Whitby Yorkshire, I could so easily be talking with a funny accent, wearing a flat cap and racing pigeons with a ferret down my trousers. The reason for him being born t’up north was due to the war after his mum and 2 brothers were moved away to escape the bombs and 3 actually fell at the school he would later attend Walton Primary in Standley Road just round the corner from his family home at 73 North Street where he grew up with Brothers Ted, Basil, John (Who sadly died at an early age) and sisters Maggie and Cathy.

His first ever job was on the Lady Kent pleasure boat ride that left the Albion breakwater every hour during the summer and would go round the end of the pier and life boat and back again, this was a first job for many youngsters and I too had that privilege at roughly the same age of around 13.

From there he went to work at the bake house for Lilley’s and incidentally my sister was actually named after one of them, Alf which she changed as soon as she could talk.

The Lilley’s were a huge part of my Dads life and Alf treated Ernie like the son he never had, it seemed no matter what my Dad got up to Alf would forgive him, his daughter Sally sent us a beautiful letter last week with plenty of stories about my Dad including ruining the delivery bike because instead of taking bread to various businesses around town he was often seen giving his mates rides in the tray bike which resulted in trashing it within weeks, it seemed it was impossible for him to get the sack because of Alf’s love for Ernie, even destroying 80 apple pies never got in the way of their friendship and after my Dad left Lilleys to work on the building sites Alf still showed his love for my Dad and on a very cold icy winters morning Alf spotted my Dad wearing only a shirt and no jacket, Alf asked him, ‘Where’s your coat boy’? My Dad replied ‘This is it’, Alf drove back home and found a leather bomber jacket and gave it to my Dad and said ‘Keep yourself warm boy’ and they remained friends throughout their lives and my Dad was always invited to any Lilley family gatherings.

After stints as a pier boy making people sick on the Waltzers where he met my Mum, they married at 18 and had 4 children together Hilary, Matthew, Julian and me and in later life he had Claire with Jenny and 7 Grand Children including my Daughter Ellie who I am so pleased he got to meet just a few weeks before he died. 
He had other jobs as a chef, a dustman and renovating houses but his real talent was in retail.

He ran the kiosk at the bathhouse for around 15 years and anyone that knew Ernie would know very few people ever left without buying something.

One particular sale has remained in all our family’s memories until today about the Lady who came to buy some flip flops and she was a size 5 but the smallest size we had left was a 10, that wasn’t going to stop my dad making a quid so he went inside and got a breadknife and proceeded to cut the footwear around her heel and after paying her pound off she walked albeit in comedic fashion up the Esplanade. There he is today still making money as you will discover when you try to leave the church today it will cost you 3 quid to get out to pay for the wake.

Dad went on to run kiosks at Ocean view next to the Kino, Holland on sea and Harwich, he was then and always will be the donut king, sorry Nigel Speight.

While running the kiosk he along with my mum Hilary, Matthew, Julian and I went back into the shoe business selling some of the most hideous shoes I had ever seen, we were of course made to model them on the first ever Walton Market in the 70s but his bad history with footwear soon came to a halt and we left that to the experts who are still there today.

We then opened a Café in the high street where Bartalls is now called ‘The Whitehouse’ with a snooker club above, At Christmas my Dad would show his love of the people and the community by laying on Christmas dinner and tea for local pensioners and even gave them all a gift and provided transport if they needed it, a generous man with a big heart.

Dad had dreams of being the first person to open an ice cream kiosk on Frinton seafront but all his efforts were denied in an attempt to keep Frinton ‘Special’, eventually my Dad did something everyone said was impossible and became the first person to open a fish and chip shop in Frinton’s Old Road which is still going strong today, we then tried to open the first pub in Frinton but it proved even more of a challenge than the chip shop, but I still like to think that my Dad had more than a little influence on the way Frinton has changed for the better today with its chip shop and pub.

My Dad was a fighter, a few of you here today will know that Ernie narrowly escaped death in a dreadful car accident in the mid 70s suffering bad head injuries, punctured lungs and broken ribs and it was touch and go for 2 weeks in Black Notley hospital. But a lot of you here today will know my Dad suffered in later life from Dementia, a terrible disease where the body remains the same but the mind is no longer the person you know.

At this point I want to thank the staff at Blenheim house care home for making his final few weeks the happiest we could of hoped for, their caring and patience goes well above and beyond the call of duty, I personally will still go in there when I can and just say hello to the staff but just as importantly the residents whose faces light up and beam huge smiles when they see that someone cares enough to spare them a moment of their time. My dad was a proud man and you would see him pushing his bike towards the end of his life as he was no longer capable of riding it but instead of using an electric scooter he had in his garage he would use his famous bike as a walking aid.

I know I could tell hundreds more stories about my dad but I’m probably rambling already, so I would like to end by saying my Dad would be so pleased to see how many people came here to pay their respects today (Especially at 3 quid a head)

My dad never did Facebook or any social media, I don’t think he even ever wrote a text message, his equivalent timeline on social media was his daily walk through Walton high street where he would like people in person and give them a real thumbs up, he accepted everybody’s friend request and gave everyone a genuine smile not an emoji, he never deleted anyone from his friends list, if you were his friend you were a friend forever, many of you on that list are here today and I want to thank you for the overwhelming support you gave my family and I on social media after our dad died, twitter allows 140 characters, Walton has had many more over the years, Ernie is one of the final ones, never to be deleted from ours and your memories.

Thank you


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Whatever Happened to Tarret?

Over the many years of writing this blog, I have received many messages of interest, but none more so than one which arrived recently from Charles Auld regarding the houseboat “Tarret” which used to be moored near the Yacht Club.

1422 Houseboat Tarret (B)

He writes:

Motor Yacht Tarret was built at Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson’s yard in Newcastle in 1938 as an experimental hull shape.  My late uncle was then a director of the company and Tarret was registered as his private yacht (I think to avoid having to have her measured for Lloyd’s Register and thereby revealing the hull shape and dimensions).  At the beginning of WW2 she was commandeered by the Admiralty and her hull shape used in the design of MTBs.  I knew that after the war she had become a houseboat, but I did not know where until, quite by chance, I found your photograph on the internet.

Later correspondence revealed a lot more about the vessel:

  Tarret herself was named after the Tarret Burn, a fast running river in Northumberland (near Otterburn).  I have seen some discussion on-line saying that she was built by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson [‘SH&WR’] for the Admiralty, but this is not correct.  SH&WR built liners, cargo ships etc – they didn’t built small ships.  My understanding is that they were experimenting with a new hull form for high-speed liners, but the tank tests using normal size models were inconclusive.  Apparently if you built a hull about one-third of the real size it gives much better results, so they built Tarret at 110 feet long to see how it would work out.  As she was not being built for sale, she was built as cheaply as possible.  Some second hand engines were acquired and I understand that she was painted grey because SH&WR were building a number of warships and it was cheapest to ask the supplier simply to send some more grey paint.  As I said earlier, my understanding is that Tarret was registered as my uncle’s private yacht partly to keep the hull details secret and also to avoid the expense of having her registered as a British ship

My uncle was Paulin Denham Christie (his father, John Denham Christie, was chairman of SH&WR from 1930 to 1938).  I remember him as being a kind but somewhat eccentric uncle.  As well as being a director of SH&WR he was also an officer in the RNVR.  He was mobilised in 1939, but then it was discovered that he was a graduate shipbuilder (which was a reserved occupation) and so he was compulsorily demobilised and sent back to shipbuilding.  He always loved the sea, so he then joined the RNLI and became coxswain of Tynemouth lifeboat for a number of years.  He also ran a Sea Scout troop on the Tyne (he had a sailing boat called ‘Gratitude’ which was an old Thames sailing ketch, very similar to the one in your archive photograph 102) and the family reckoned (unkindly!) that the Sea Scout troop gave him a cheap crew!  There is a photo of him with the then Princess Elizabeth at some Sea Scout get-together during the War:


[He got teased about this photo: “Yes, your Royal Highness, this is a sailing boat…”]

1423 Houseboat Tarret(B)

Charles Auld would dearly like to know what happened to Tarret. Was she broken up or was she one of the houseboats which were destroyed by fire? I remember photographing at least two which were on fire when I was just a lad. If anyone can tell me what her fate was I will see that Charles gets to know.

Both of the photographs of Tarret above were taken by Putmans in 1951


Gary Edwards, the former Walton  Lifeboat Coxswain, informed me that “She sank in the Black Deep while undertow to somewhere on the south coast. She was pretty rusty and some of the holes in the hull were repaired with roofing felt! Which washed off under tow!”

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Epic Rescue by Walton Lifeboat 100 Years Ago

This year, 2017, is the 100th anniversary of the rescue of 92 lives by Walton’s Lifeboat from the SS Peregrine (below) aground on the Long Sand Head.

S S Peregrine
My thanks again to Steven Walker who has sent me the following item for publication here.

100 years ago the Walton Lifeboat was involved in the rescue of refugees escaping war in Europe. It was one of the most dangerous rescue missions ever undertaken by the RNLI and took place within sight of The Naze. On December 29, 1917 the SS Peregrine had run aground off Walton on a notorious sand bank as it was attempting to make its way to the river Thames and eventual safety for the passengers.

It was the largest single rescue undertaken in the waters off the East Anglian coast, with 92 people plucked to safety from a stricken ship in treacherous conditions. Passengers and crew tied themselves to the engine room of their ship after it ran aground in high winds and eventually broke in half. But they were all lifted to safety by brave rescuers in what has since become the world’s oldest motorised lifeboat the James Stevens No14. The lifeboat was fitted with a petrol engine in 1906, becoming one of the first motor lifeboats in the RNLI.

The coastguard informed the Walton Lifeboat Station at 9.30pm of the emergency on the ship, which was carrying 59 passengers, including children and 33 crew, mainly Belgian refugees from the fighting in Flanders. An epic rescue mission, lasting almost 14 hours, then took place against a backdrop of easterly gales, heavy lashing seas, rain and sleet.

The Peregine’s Captain Bill Branthwaite Capt. Branthwaitehad driven the ship across the sunken bows of the Swedish steamer Iris – which had been wrecked the day before, and whose crew had been rescued by the Clacton lifeboat – after sending out an SOS through wireless telegraphy.

Knowing that his ship might rupture at any time, the captain persuaded the passengers to move to the boat deck, where they were tied to the engine room skylight and funnel and covered in blankets and tarpaulins. With the ship’s ribs breaking and time running out, the James Stevens No.14 reached them at 4am following an arduous search and used the help of a nearby Government patrol vessel, Clacton Belle, to begin the difficult transfer of passengers to safety.

Shortly after the lifeboat left, the Peregrine broke in two. The crew then took shelter on the fore part of the wreck under the bridge until the lifeboat was able to return at dawn. On his return Coxswain William Hammond found considerably more dangerous conditions, with the Peregrine locked into the wreck of the Iris.

It took six teams pulling the lifeboat alongside the bow of the Iris, competing with the heavy seas, to carry out the rescue of the remaining panic-stricken crew, who were all amazingly saved free of injury. The severely damaged lifeboat reached Walton quay at 12.15pm, where a large crowd had gathered to greet the survivors after the miraculous rescue.

956 James Stevens No 14 Crew

Praise for the rescue crew (pictured above)  followed, culminating on January 12, 1918, when a letter was received from RNLI HQ confirming an award of the Silver Medal of the institution to the Coxswain Hammond and Bronze to the Second Coxswain, Mr J C Byford. During its service the lifeboat was launched 126 times and 227 lives were saved.

John Steer, who wrote a history book on the Walton lifeboats, said: “They were lucky to survive. “A few months later a smaller ship went ashore and was seen by everyone but by the time they got there everyone was lost.”

The James Stevens No 14 was re-discovered in the 1990’s and purchased by the Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust to restore her to her motorised state of 1906, and then use her to take the public out on short trips in local waters around Walton-on-the-Naze.

The restoration was completed after considerable hard work, voluntary effort and fundraising activity enabling James Stevens No.14 to be re-launched by TV presenter Griff Rhys Jones in September 2009 at Titchmarsh Marina, Walton-on-the-Naze, the craft’s operational base and where she is normally on view. On 3 June 2012 she was one of the historic vessels that took part in Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames

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John & Diane Weston

At this time of year when I find little time to write here I am always pleased to receive items I can include without too much effort on my part.

The following  piece, written by Steven Walker, is about probably two of the best and most dedicated naturalists Essex has ever known.

On the northern edge of the Naze lies the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve dedicated to John Weston, who was warden at the Naze for many years until his death in April 1984. To the casual walker it remains quite hidden behind the lagoon. The reserve was officially created in 1971, is 3.6 hectares in area and made up of blackthorn and bramble thickets, rough grassland and a number of ponds. It is a haven for migrating birds, butterflies and small animals. John was an environmental activist ahead of his time and together with his wife Diane dedicated much of his life to protecting, observing and recording wildlife around Hamford Water and the Naze. He spent his childhood in Lower Kirby where he developed a particular interest in bird watching, eventually becoming a founding member of Essex Wildlife Trust. Together John and Diane were at the forefront of the fight against a huge development at the Naze in 1959 for a hotel, leisure and housing scheme. This was just one of a number of applications for development threatening the Naze in the late 1950s which would have had an adverse impact on wildlife and the environment. In 1963 Essex County Council and the old Frinton and Walton Urban District Council were eventually forced to purchase the eastern part of the Naze, and declare it a public open space. The Westons organised a Little Tern and shore nesting bird wardening scheme at the Naze which began in the early 1970s and continues to this day. Diane was Chair of the Tendring local group of Essex Wildlife Trust for twenty five years following John’s death. She had also been joint Recorder and a Vice-President of the Essex Birdwatching Society. Over the years she organised numerous bird recording and fundraising events, maintaining the profile of Essex Wildlife Trust. Like John, she was a passionate conservationist and spent much of her time before her death in September 2014 to conserving wildlife in Tendring. Thanks to John and Diane Weston and the many people they inspired to carry on their work, the Naze remains a public amenity for all to enjoy.

Weston John1966

John Weston pictured in 1966

  John was a ‘fun guy’ – I knew him well. He was always up for a laugh.

One Christmas he decided to add a lighted candle to the top of a hat he was wearing. Dancing around his mother’s front room he promptly set alight the paper trimmings which festooned the room.



Frost Alec-John Weston

John Weston with Alec Frost at a fancy dress function

Weston Diane

Diane Weston

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A Bible Comes Home to Walton

Over the years I have been able to assist many readers of Walton Tales with information to help them with their genealogical research into Walton families. Now, this blog has helped me with my own family history.

After reading Walton Tales, a lovely lady named Jenny contacted me as we share a great grandfather. Although I should have perhaps remembered her from my childhood, I rather embarrassingly did not.

Jenny sent me copies of two hand-written pages at the front of a family bible owned by her grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Southgate who lived at Kirby Cross. I remembered this lady from my childhood as my father’s ‘Aunt Lizzie’.

The bible entries added or corrected some of the data I had researched many years ago.




I recently met up with Jenny, who lives in Suffolk, when she spent some time at the Lifehouse Spa and Hotel in Thorpe-le-Soken where she gave me the bible. She felt it should return home to Walton.


Frost Robert Arthur miller



Our great grandfather, Robert Arthur Frost pictured while working in the water mill at Walton.

Frost Robert Arthur + Mr Simmonds Tide millers

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Walton’s Telephone Exchange

During the summer months I find it difficult to find time to write posts here, so you can imagine how pleased I was to receive a story about Walton Telephone Exchange from Alan Beales, who was the engineer  trusted to keep the old exchange working back in the 1960s.
Alan’s story follows with some interesting additions by Rita Griggs, one of the telephonists.

Here are a couple of photographs from my Archive which I took in 1968 just before the exchange closed for good

Telephonists (3) 1968

Telephonists 1968


WALTON TELEPHONE EXCHANGE 1965 – 1968 (by Alan Beales)

In November of 1961 I joined the GPO on a two year apprenticeship. When this was completed, I was posted to Clacton and trained up to maintain the Exchange Manual Board.  My supervisor was called Ted, who spent most of his time in the rest room, handing me endless lists of repairs to sort out.

At this time I was only 18 and easy fodder for the practical jokes that were played on me by the operators.
I swiftly became bored with this job (and the endless banter) and requested a transfer to become a Linesman, which was my goal in life.

In 1964, I was then teamed up with various Linesmen in Clacton to learn the trade of repairing the phone network from the exchange to the subscribers’ phones.
My ambition was now on track.


By 1965, I was considered fit enough to be let loose on the unsuspecting public on my own. I was informed that because of the increasing demand for telephones, there was a new position at Frinton and Walton as a fully-fledged Linesman.
However, there was one snag, I couldn’t drive.
I was told that if I took an intensive weeks driving instruction and passed my test on the following Friday afternoon, I could take up the offer of the job on the following Monday.

There were three of us taking this driving course but I had the biggest advantage of us all
The Driving Instructor on the first morning out, commented on how unusual it was to find someone who had mastered the art of gear changing, braking etc. so quickly.
I pointed out that I have been driving Tractors since I was 13, the Instructors attitude immediately change to being quite hostile, “well we will soon get you out of those bad habits”.

I was successful and on the Monday morning I was given a Morris Minor Van and told to report to Bob Stone, Senior Linesman who covered Frinton and Walton.
Bob maintained Frinton exchange and I was to look after the subscribers and exchange at Walton.

At this time I was only 20 and on my first morning, Bob immediately took me on a conducted tour of Frinton and Walton exchanges.
It’s a good job he was with me, as I was shaking with nerves as he introduced me to the Supervisors, Alice at Frinton and Winnie Moss at Walton.
However, they soon put me at ease and made me feel very welcome.
Walton Telephone exchange was located in a private three storey house, to the right of the Head Post Office in the High Street.

walton tele exchange

However, my first visit into the Exchange, I was very relieved to find Rita Griggs who was a youngster like me, as the other ladies present were of a more senior age.

My senior area manager back at Clacton obviously didn`t trust me with a decent van so I was allocated the oldest vehicle in the fleet which had rubber front wings. Nice and flexible if you were to hit anything.
I think it was only on my second day at Walton, I had parked in the road outside the Telephone Exchange.

Looking out of the exchange window, I saw a Police Car parked behind the van with two policemen gesticulating at these wings. I hurriedly went out and made my presence known, to which they immediately remarked “are these wings legal?”
Having the vehicle only two days I had no idea, but I assured them that the GPO would never allow illegal vehicle on the road. They seemed convinced and left.

The Switch room at Walton was located in the front room of the house, with the kitchen and rest room in the lounge at the rear. The exchange Power Room was in the cellar, directly underneath where the operators were working.
Power for these small exchanges was supplied by a bank of lead acid batteries at 50v. These were invariably made of glass with exposed terminals and continuously trickle charged from the mains supply.
50v Direct Current was distributed out to the customer’s telephone, at this low voltage it posed no danger to the engineers who were working on exposed live wires.

In the event of a mains failure, these batteries would continue to supply power to the exchange hopefully for at least 24 hours.
Today the same system is used, but now with the addition of a standby Diesel Generator which immediately takes over on the loss of the mains supply.

The exchange day staff would work split shifts possibly 8 – 1 pm, 1 pm-6 pm then 6 pm until 10 pm. After 10 pm, the day shift finished and the night staff took over until 8 am the next morning.

The Night staff were permanent residents in the two floors above the exchange.

If anyone in Walton required the services of the operator, a bell would sound in the corridor or the switch room to alert the staff on duty.
I think Mrs Drinkwater, the Night Operator had some kind of bed or easy chair in the switch room.
After Mrs Drinkwater’s retirement, Marie Seaman took over until the exchange finally closed down.
I can only assume the house was owned by the GPO and eventually sold after closure.

The Switch room was very compact with three switchboards, a very small table for the supervisor and a Main Cable Frame where the underground cables terminated from the outside.

Telephonists (4) 1968

Each switchboard was designed to handle 100 subscribers.
At the time of writing this text, Rita Griggs informed me these were extended with the 3 boards eventually serving 400 Walton subscribers.
When the subscriber lifted their handset at home, this would cause a dolls-eye (flap) to drop on the switchboard which was labelled underneath with the relevant number.
The switchboard had a row of 24 paired cords each with an associated lever switch.
To answer the calling request, the operator would plug a cord into the jack associated with this line, operate the lever switch forward and speak to the calling subscriber.
If they required another local number, the other half of the paired cord was pushed into the switchboard jack associated with that number. Again with the lever, she would pull this back to send a ringing current to the other parties telephone.
This would complete the connection and the operator withdrew to answer the next call.

One of the most common practical jokes played by the operators on engineers was the use of the “ring” lever on the switchboard. The switchboards cords didn’t have a very long life span and frequently required changing.
Even on Walton’s three position suite, it was a daily task to change defective cords
I would go to the rear of the switchboard, take off the wooden cover to reveal the wiring inside and find the terminating position of the faulty cord.
I would proceed to undo the exposed brass connection terminals at the end of the cord and release it, ready to be replaced.
Normally there would be a small battery voltage on these terminals which was quite harmless.
However, if the operator knew what cord you were working on, they would permanently pull back hard on the associated switchboard key into the “ring position” and then sit and wait.
The normal harmless battery voltage was now changed to a much larger 70 – 90 volts AC voltage on the cord terminals.
Now when I touched the exposed terminals with my bare fingers, I would receive a nasty shock.
It was far from lethal, but usually gained the desired response from the back of the switchboard with “ouch” and a sudden reflex movement.
Switchboard plugs were manufactured with brass sleeve connectors and it didn’t take long for them to tarnish, which resulted in a very noisy connection. The cure, a rag and a tin of Brasso brought them back to new.
That would be a normal weekly routine, to take a board out of service during a quiet period and clean these plugs, with the “whiff” of Brasso in the air.

I recall one instance, it had been pouring with rain for hours, when Winnie Moss the Supervisor reported strange noises and smell from the cellar.
I was in Lower Kirby at the time and I raced as fast as I could through a torrential downpour to the exchange.
When I opened the door to the cellar, I was confronted with water nearly two feet deep, only a couple of inches from the top of a bank of lead acid batteries.
I hurriedly found a bucket in the kitchen and started to bail out the water, at the same time I asked Winnie to put out an urgent call for another engineer to come to my aid.
Eventually Bob Stone from Frinton arrived and between the two of us we gradually reduced the water level with copious buckets of water being thrown out the front door.
GPO batteries were not like car batteries; they weren’t sealed but had exposed terminals. If the water had ever reached the stage of short circuiting these terminals, the resulting damage could have been catastrophic.

I was also informed by Rita Griggs; the exchange had previously suffered a catastrophic failure, where the entire system shut down.
Winnie Moss despatched Joyce West off in her car up the Walton Road until she came to the first call box that was connected to the Frinton board. They would then pass on her urgent request for assistance.
We had various people coming round to the front door to see why they were not getting an answer”

The most likely cause would be a power failure in the cellar.

Rita also recalled “Winnie used to send me across to Osborne’s for ice cream and going over to the library on a Saturday afternoon how free and easy life seemed to be then. Marie Seaman used to send Ron I think that was her husband’s name across to Osborne’s for sweets during the evening shift. I think Osborne’s did well out of us.”

Each morning I would visit the exchange, where the Supervisor would give me a list of problems in the exchange and the telephone lines that required attention.  The exchange was always given the highest priority for any repairs.

Winnie Moss would often say, “It`s no good going to such and such a house, the lady has gone out  and won’t be back until after lunch”.
This avoided many wasted visits, when access was required to a property.
Winnie appeared to know most things that were going on in Walton.

All customer faults were usually resolved within a few hours of being reported, unlike today.

When I was there, some of the operators were Winnie Moss, Rita Griggs, Marie Seaman (night op), Doris Brice, Mrs Boon, Jackie Markham, and Joyce West.

I was very well looked after by these ladies, whenever I arrived if it coincided with a tea break a cup of tea was always waiting for me in the rest room. This was always welcome after being outside in the cold and wet weather.

My other duties were associated with the Head post Office next door. You must remember back in the 1960s the GPO was responsible for the Royal Mail and the Telephone network.
One of the most tedious tasks was to wind all the clocks once a week in both buildings.
In the front office of the HPO there was one large clock facing the road and another behind the counter.

I would emerge from a side door carrying an enormous step ladder, I then had to negotiate a path through the queue, erect the steps so I could reach the clock by the window.
Amazingly someone in the queue always held the steps steady for me, no Health and Safety in those days.
With a 7 day spring it took ages to fully wind up, I always took it very easy as I always dreaded the sound of a spring breaking

I also had to maintain all the machinery at the rear, in the Sorting Office.
There was no official training; you just had to figure out most things by yourself.

One very messy task once a week, was to clean and thoroughly overhaul the automated stamp cancelling machine. The main problem was the build-up of indelible ink on the rollers and the guides of the machine. These had to be removed and thoroughly cleaned in special fluid, then reassembled in addition to topping up the large ink reservoir.
With no Latex gloves in those days, the only way to get your hands reasonably clean afterwards was the copious use of Vim and a scrubbing brush.
I must have removed a layer of my skin each week undertaking this task, no wonder I had smooth skin!

Another task was a monthly check on the Counter Scales. I had a wooden box which contained a variety of given weights; these would be placed on the scales if they gave an accurate reading. If there was any discrepancy the scales were adjusted.

One of most interesting customers was a visit to the farm on Horsey Island owned by the Backhouse family.
The only drawback, being it was only accessible by a causeway during low tide, I think I had 2 hours leeway either side.
The owners were keen horse breeders, who relied heavily on a working telephone.
It was too hazardous to use a heavily laden small van to traverse the causeway and so I would arrange for a large Bedford 4 wheel drive truck and a driver from the Colchester Depot to get me across to the island.

I can recall sitting on the seawall on numerous occasions at 5 am or 6 am, waiting for dawn to break, the lorry and the scheduled early morning low tide.
I had to take over every conceivable piece of equipment to effect a repair, the option of a return visit the next day was not on.

Over the years it must have cost the GPO a fortune in repairs, it seemed like I was over there at least once a month, but I never did get trapped there by an incoming tide.

However, in 1969 the GPO was divided into the Royal Mail and Post Office Telephones, so our partnership with the Postal side came to an abrupt end.

I was at Walton and Frinton until they both closed down in 1968 when they were taken over by the automated telephone exchange in Old Parsonage Way.

When the exchange finally closed down Winnie Moss, Doris Brice and Rita Griggs moved to the Colchester manual board.
Joyce West moved to Telephone House, working in the Administration Centre next door.

Rita Griggs joined as a telephonist when she was only 16, working at several manual boards in the Colchester area. Her final posting was to Walton until its closure, she subsequently transferred to Colchester finally retiring in 1973
Rita currently lives at Wix.

The day after closure, I was transferred back to Clacton until 1973 when I was transferred to Colchester.


Alan Beales: – Engineer
Rita Griggs: –  Telephonist


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