In December 2011 I was invited to take part in Team Hadleigh, an Essex County Council led, Heritage Lottery funded project, which aimed to showcase the fascinating heritage and culture of Hadleigh. My role was to interview residents from the town, past and present, and to collect historical soundbites for use on the project website and mobile app. I have a lot of experience in recording sound which I use in music, soundtracks for short film and art installations, but less in interviewing people. I didn’t let this deter me but saw it as a great chance to gain some more experience in this field, meet some interesting people and learn some fascinating facts about a town of which – despite being based in Southend – I know only a limited amount.
So between January and June 2012 I interviewed around forty people, between the ages of 9 and 94. We met at a variety of locations, including workplaces, two local schools, my house, and the Hadleigh Community Archive Office at HOFS. People were very generous and welcomed me into their home and often provided tea and cake, which was obviously my preferred option.
One thing that quickly became apparent is that Hadleigh residents are passionate about the place where they live, and once conversations had started it was hard to stop them talking. That was fine by me; more interesting facts to add to the collection (and more tea and cake).
Personal experiences ranged from pre-World War Two right up to the present day. Stories were told of picnics on the downs, drunken nights at the castle watching glow worms, and memorable matches of cricket and tug-of-war. Local characters such as publicans, shop owners, doctors, Salvation Army sweethearts and Cunning Murrell were remembered.
Boyhood tales of throwing live hand grenades, skateboarding behind Safeways, skinheads at jumble sales and finding used underwear in the Country Park were recalled. All of these tales were interspersed with the facts that would be more along the lines that ECC had in mind when the project started: different kinds of birds that visit the area; facts about the Salvation army barges and jetty; the brickworks; Hadleigh Marching Militaire; smugglers in Daws Heath; the Fire Station in its heyday and the Kingsway Cinema. In fact, I edited nearly 300 usable soundbites from all of these conversations, which were whittled down to around 75 for use in the final website and mobile app.
The project couldn’t have run as smoothly and efficiently as it did without the help and cooperation of many people: the teachers and parents of Hadleigh Junior school and Westwood Academy, the Hadleigh and Thundersley Community Archive, staff at Hadleigh Old Fire Station and Essex County Council.
I’m happy to say that the helpful and friendly people at Hadleigh and Thundersley Community archive will shortly provide a safe home for all of the sound bites, where you’ll be able to listen to them. All you need to do now is make yourself comfortable, fetch yourself a cup of tea and slice of cake, and have a listen…..