OH197 Interview with Claude Draper (local government and cooperative society)
KC: This is a recorded interview with Alderman Claude Draper, in his home at 109 Downend Road, Horfield. The interviewer is Kieran Costello from the City Museum Service, and the interview is being recorded on Wednesday September [long pause, no date given]. Claude have you lived a long time in Bristol?
CD: I came here after the War. Um I came into Bristol, I think I ought really to give you a little past history if you don’t mind
KC: Yes please, that would be lovely
CD: I had been active in the co-operative movement, let’s stay with that it’s an awkward, awkward term, nowadays. It’s awkward at the moment because really the shape and size of the co-ops has completely gone. It is very, very doubtful if there are very many youngsters who know what a co-op is. I think that has gone out of the window. I have been active in co-operative business for at least sixty years and my mind can flash back to, who was the fellow who killed himself on the um… I can’t think of the terms.
KC: Yes, I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the co-op to be able to help you on that one.
CD: No, no, I’m sure you don’t.
KC: When did you first get involved in the co-op? Was it in the place where you were brought up?
CD: Well when you think about it, when you are very young, I was capable of getting onto a rostrum before I was 17 or 18. I was active then, and I can recall loads and loads of old stalwart men and women who did a wonderful job of work and the co-op was capable of interesting a very, very large number of… I’m trying to get to it…(pause). I can recall before I came into Bristol here, I can well recall very large numbers of youngsters where I was who were really happy about the idea of being part of the co-op. They enjoyed the fact and co-ops, there were loads of them around. Ramsey MacDonald, you were bound to know that term, that’s one person that I used to know.
CD: Oh Yes
KC: You met Ramsey MacDonald?
CD: Yep, yep, yes, yes I was um…I haven’t prepared myself for this at all. If I spent enough time on it I could probably put before you a very, very long brief about the co-op to be quite honest. And um Co-ops and uh I’m trying to think of the terms that were going on, Co-ops and the one that’s in trouble now with uh, no, it escapes…but a lot of the stuff escapes I can see it in my mind but I can’t put it to words
KC: I understand, don’t worry about that, just you talk as things come to you and what you want to say. I mean perhaps I could maybe just ask then, where were you brought up or born?
CD: Oh, aha that’s interesting then isn’t it, yes, well that gets us back a bit. Um we lived in a great row of houses in East Grinstead… um which um, oh god I forgot now
KC: It’s in Surrey isn’t it? East Grinstead is South of London.
CD: Yes, yes its about 25 miles outside of London. East Grinstead is split between three um…If I walked about a dozen areas one went into…
KC: Was Dorking one of the places you’d be able to walk to from East Grinstead?
CD: Oh no not walk there, it would be a long walk, yeah, it would be a long walk. Um you really couldn’t pick up enough time really to walk that far
KC: Did you used to sort of walk around the countryside as a boy when you were being brought up in East Grinstead?
CD: Well yes, within reason. But um, East Grinstead was a small town of about um, what’s skirting around my mind is there was one big school which had about seven or eight school rooms and um youngsters from seven or eight years old, because you didn’t get into school like they do now aged four. Let me put the picture in front of you. There were no lavatories inside. Lavatories were way down the garden, Outside, everybody there in those days. You had to walk a fair distance up the garden if you wanted to use that, and it wasn’t easy to use one of those places, and you had to rinse yourself there. And because of that type of latrine business women didn’t like going up there because of the rats. There were lots of them around. But that was the sort of rough and ready life it was. And I remember our house, there were three bedrooms and two downstairs and all our heating was done by coal. Didn’t get any electricity or anything like that, that wasn’t even hardly thought of. You lived that rough and ready sort of life. And I always remember my mother used to pay 7 shillings in old money. It was a hard house and um cooking was done by the, I’m visualising the fireplace and it had a little cabin each side of the fire. But it worked. One was able to live. And my poor old father, he was often out of work and my poor old mother, she managed to get odd jobs to do and on the whole if you put the mothers and fathers together that was the sort of thing that made life go.
KC: It was very much about each of them supporting the other? In order to earn money, it didn’t matter who earned the money because you just had to take the work as it came along whether it was for the man or the woman.
CD: Yes, if the Father was out of work, he hadn’t got any income coming in at all. That was out of the question. So my Mother was in effect willing to slave away in order to keep the family going.
KC: How many children were in the family, how many brothers and sisters did you have then Claude?
CD: In our family there were five. We didn’t go any further than that. My Mother wouldn’t let the Father go further than that (laughs). But never the less, it did work and we were all boys, there were no girls in our family at all. I think my Mother would have liked to have had a couple of boys, a couple of girls and three, what’s the word flashing in my mind and that was the First World War.
KC: Because you must have experienced that as a boy mustn’t you?
CD: The first war, the first world war, my Father took me down the garden, it was quite a long garden, and I said what is that booming? He said that what you can hear, is the sound of the guns in Flanders, and I was five then, Amazing isn’t it? And uh, he was too old to go, to be interested, but nevertheless the three older boys they were taken, so they had to sort of join up.
KC: Are we talking about your three brothers, three older brothers now?
CD: Yes. But um we had an allotment. Allotments were… they were able to um… we had a lot of food from our own allotment, which was a Godsend. People didn’t see them as a Godsend, it was part of life. I’m being bits and pieces aren’t I?
KC: No, it’s flowing, you’re remembering what are the memories of your childhood which is how people remember, they go from one thing to another, it’s not a chronology I wouldn’t do that if I was doing my childhood. I’d be going from one thing to another just as one thing makes you think about something else. So you’re doing brilliant, you’re doing brilliant.
CD: And the weather was so different. You had to accept the fact that the weather was going to be very beastly. You had excellent summer, beastly sort of weather, and one benefit, you could take up the skating side.
KC: So what you are saying is that the seasons were very defined? Summer was warm and hot, winter was cold and icy and you noticed the difference between the two, you didn’t get wet summers or warm winters. Your Father, what sort of work did he used to do when he could get work?
CD: He was um, he earned his cash by being a painter and in the winter it wasn’t at all fashionable to have work to do and so loads of those people were out of work. And uh the only time that they sort of cadged around was doing those... mother used to make her clothes, yes. She decked us out with suits. Quite nice suits she made too, and very rarely bought things in shops. Couldn’t afford that.
KC: Were most people that you knew in East Grinstead, were they like your family in finding it difficult to make a living?
CD: Oh yes, yes they were.
KC: So you weren’t an exception as a family, you were just whatever… in the same situation as everybody else was in East Grinstead.
CD: Yes and some of the kids very rarely washed, they hadn’t got the facilities for that, and um I’m visualising one now, you could be near a young lad who clearly hadn’t washed for ages. Where they actually lived, I couldn’t describe that. But that was the state of British living. And although most people had some sort of house, the fact remained they had very, very few furniture around, but people had come up through that way. They had um second hand furniture, they never got any new furniture, second hand furniture.
KC: Where did you get the second hand furniture from?
CD: Second hand shops. That’s the way they made their living, selling old furniture. If they were going to live themselves they would have furniture up to about £1. But you know, If you wanted a table for instance you could buy a second hand table, or a second hand chair. Um being able to go out and buy a second hand bed, these are all second hand stuff. But they were good pieces of furniture.
KC: Did you resent having to live in poverty as a child and having to live like this?
CD: Did I resent? no, I can’t say I resented it, no. I would prefer to have had something better, but I was quite happy there. I can remember the first bike as we called them. Being able to ride that but nobody pinched your bikes because they weren’t worth pinching. But there were loads of bikes around.
KC: I’m interested when you were a boy, what kind of games did you used to play, either in school or in your free time?
CD: Well you played football, um cricket, lots of games around, yes.
KC: Were there any games you used to play in the schoolyard, with marbles or things like that…
CD: Yes marbles were played, it’s perfectly true. Youngsters used to collect together possibly seven or eight youngsters, all boys, Girls didn’t mix at all. At our early age one didn’t take much notice of girls to be quite honest, at least I didn’t get much need to be worried about the fact that we would perhaps go off three miles to one of the um distant, I was starting to think of one, it was um… you had a few sandwiches and at that time you went off and had a game and I can remember, I’m visualising it now, having a box with my sandwiches in, a few other odds and ends in. I went to Kings coat
KC: Ah Kingscoat, yes, I remember
CD: Kingscoat yep, Kingscoat I can well remember, yup. And you would build up a bit of activity and the youngsters they just were anywhere from seven and eight years old up to about five or six people. They’d have a little group there, excuse my stuttering, and we used to play around in and outside the, um… I’m looking at that youngster there, that’s my great, great granddaughter…she’s about, very deceiving; the people who took their photographs made them look older than they were.
KC: These old black and white photographs?
CD: Yes they did. Now they were… where was she? She was born in Exeter I think it was. My eldest daughter, She had an ability about her to live on nothing, that might sound strange, but she did. She was bright and brilliant but thoroughly lazy and it didn’t take her long to get to a point where she left home. And she didn’t do any work. My daughter decided that it would be good for her if she went in for training nursing, but she made a mistake there. My daughter there couldn’t keep her hands off the boys and as a consequence she took up a very rough and ready sort of house in Exeter. But it didn’t work very well and although she hung onto the boy and had two other girls, none of them got on very well until they were literally thrown around and they literally fought their way out of poverty and each, three of them, have done well. They are completely different
KC: I mean in your political life has the fact of trying to overcome poverty, was that a very strong reason for getting involved in politics, to try and make things better?
CD: Oh yes, that is perfectly true. At eighteen I was fighting away, and being a politician. Not that I wanted to get anywhere, I simply wanted to stir everybody up (laughs), yes.
KC: Did you succeed in stirring people up do you think?
CD: Oh yes, yes I did, I remember the town I was in, East Grinstead, I was being threatened by the people who employed me but I was able to keep my head and I did a lot to organise people and a large… a considerable number of youngsters, not youngsters seventeen or eighteen, got onto the Council. Yes they did.
KC: Can you remember any one issue where you thought, yes I’m going to be a politician, get up on the soapbox and make a speech. Can you remember any event like that that prompted you to get onto a box to stir people up?
CD: Well I can remember lots of issues like that, but I can’t think of the detail that would illustrate it. I remember getting on a soapbox as you say at um, where was it? I can’t figure the name of the smaller town around which we used to go in and out of.
KC: What were the sorts of issues then, the events that actually made you do this?
CD: Well the sorts of issues were take your fingers out, and remember I was employed at that time too.
KC: Yeah what were you employed as. What was your job?
CD: Well in those far off younger days I managed to um get my elder brother to encourage his brother to take me on as a… it was a garage, they ran a garage, two garages in fact, and Rice their name was, I’ll always remember that and I’ll always remember having the sauce to find my way into the firm by way of buying a share (laughs). And um the boss, he had an annual meeting and he would give the little collection, the little group a way of encouraging them to become better boys so to speak. I can always remember being pretty saucy to him (laughs).
KC: Eventually you came to Bristol, which was after the War, is when you actually arrived in Bristol. What actually made you come to Bristol?
CD: Well that’s a fairly easy one to answer. I made an application for a job concerned with the cars and the like and um, I went through a pretty gruelling sort of time but I knew a lot of people in the Co-operative movement, and I got a bit of favouritism. And um, although the rate of pay wasn’t all that big, nevertheless I managed to get um, down here. And, I mean, It started off as a single person in a CWS factory and the um, CWS in effect gave me leverage and um, that developed into getting a garage of our own. The only thing we did of course, and it lasted for twenty years anyway, we in effect built our self up and encouraged the Co-op Societies. Bristol and all the way around, it went down from, where did we go to, I’m trying to sketch the area… way above Gloucester, down to, um, I’m trying to think…
KC: Down to Cornwall?
CD: Yes, that’s right, you’re very right. They were all very pleasant people, and encouraged them to spend their money with the CWS in buying cars, vans and the like. They had to have means of getting about themselves.
KC: So you worked as a representative of CWS actually selling vehicles?
CD: Yes, that’s right.
KC: Um When did you first get involved with the Co-operative Wholesale Society? Was that in East Grinstead? Back in East Grinstead.
CD: Oh yes, yes, I was um… although I was employed in East Grinstead, I also for my sins, I managed to get elected to the managing board of the Brighton…
KC: The Brighton, I suppose, Society. So when you came to Bristol did you try to get yourself involved in the management of the Bristol Co-op?
CD: Well that did in fact develop it didn’t take long. Because I was young and healthy I managed to get elected to the Board there. But it wasn’t easy being an elected person to the Bristol & District Society. I could manage to hold that one down but I didn’t get the sort of business out of Bristol that I had hoped to get. Indeed I was trying to use the Bristol Society, to use the activities of the Bristol Society, and building up my contacts with other Co-ops, lots of them as there were, and it went very well.
KC: Could you just explain to people what the Co-op was? Yes because you said right at the beginning of this interview, a lot of young people wouldn’t really know what the Co-op used to do because there are so few of them around. What was the Co-op like in your day in Bristol? What sort of things did it do?
CD: It did everything. Bristol was a very large society, yes, they succeeded well. But um, when we came down here this house is the same house as I entered into. I have never moved (laughs).
KC: So you must have lived here over about 50 years?
KC: Yes in this house then?
CD: Somewhere about 194… yeah Somewhere about 43 and I’ve been here ever since, good job the house has completely changed, I mean we’d um bought the house for 17…
CD: Not £17, it couldn’t have been
KC: I think it would’ve been a bit cheap at 17 shillings (laughs) (50:43)
CD: They were… the house was bought for £1, 700 so I was able to pay for that. These houses were built for… sorry I can’t think of the actual date. They were originally bought for… trying to think of the right price, I bought for about £1,700 and they were originally built for £1500, can’t think of that word.
KC: Have I got it right that you bought it during the War in 1943?
KC: No, it was after the War you bought it?
CD: No, I remember when we first came down here. I did my level best to encourage an Alderman
KC: on the City Council but he was unable to help.
CD: Yeah, City Council Yeah, but he was unable to help, he said it’s no good looking here for help of that kind. He said you’ll have to sort one out for yourself. Now why was it we came here? Somebody introduced this job to us here. I can’t recall.
KC: So from what have just been saying there, have I got it right that you were probably trying to find a house to rent first of all and approached an Alderman who said he wasn’t able to help find you a house and so you had to go and find one to buy as a means of actually getting one.
CD: Yes, well that was the best thing to do.
KC: So was it difficult finding houses to rent in Bristol after the War?
CD: Was it difficult… I don’t know. I can’t think that one out.
KC: Don’t worry, the thing is did you see lots of bomb damage around Bristol when you came here.
CD: Oh yes, oh dear yes, there was bomb damage, there was on place down the middle of Bristol here, which is at long last being developed now. Let me try and get that one straight. No I can’t.
KC: I think that is Castle Park that you are talking about, the green area by the old church right in the middle of the city, because that was very badly damaged after the War, and they knocked it down. It was a car park for a long time and turned it into a green area for people to sit in.
CD: Well you see when I first came to Bristol the place was in a bad state, and it was the case of a rebuild really. There were um, within the first, taking a period of ten years, 1943-1953, ten years. I’m thinking in terms of the civic people. They built a lot of shops.It was the only authority down here that managed to build a considerable number of new schools, about 20 odd new smaller schools. In effect whether it was Labour or…
KC: The Conservatives
CD No I was thinking… there was a very strong Labour movement down here, um but the Conservative grip upon the town was very strong anyway, so it was a tough fight between the two. When I’m thinking in terms of a tough fight I don’t mean the fact it was… it was a pleasant enough contest, and a great many houses were built in those ten years. And a lot of the rough and scruffy stuff was thrown out and newer stuff was put in its place. Now a lot of that now in the 30 years growing up through, a lot of new stuff was put down. But that is going now, because it isn’t good enough nowadays. And um, a lot of tall stuff that we have still got, a lot of tall stuff now, but that has been improved considerably. You have got to give credit where it is due in Bristol. They took control so to speak and we have got to say now that we’ve got a pretty picture really. But unfortunately the other half when Bristol lost control, which it did from time to time, the Conservatives passed all sorts of judgements and the Conservatives were able to pass acts and the like and houses were sold. But even so the body of people running the um, the houses that were built were sold to the people. So it um, all the main areas which grew up and were used by a lot of people who had got bad houses and wanted better houses, they actually took over…we had got to the point here, we agreed that we would sell our own houses. We still own a lot now.
KC: Tell me, what was very interesting there was you were talking about this period just after the War when houses were being built, and that although there was a contest between you and the Conservatives, it was very gentlemanly. Could you think about any things that you thought about that a Conservative would disagree with? What I’m trying to get at here is what was the difference between what the Conservatives believed in after the War on Bristol City Council and what you and the Labour group believed in.
CD: Well the Labour group believed in the correctness of houses and the like being built and let to people. We believed in local authority stuff, but we had to give way a lot on that and the ability of the City Council to keep those houses at low rates, had to give way on that and most of our houses now of course are the £50 mark a week, but we’ve got such a large number of people who couldn’t possibly think in terms of £50, they are down to £20 and £25. As a consequence there is a fair number of people in Bristol paying quite heavily, paying quite large rates to subsidise the others. But even so, for all that, Bristol’s held its ability to keep the flag flying for good housing for people.
KC: The other thing too that you were involved in I think was education wasn’t it, because you were Chair of the Education Committee for a long time.
CD: Yes, when we started the development of the new comprehensive housing, that’s wrong… when we took on the job of building the new, what do we call them?
KC: Schools, the new schools that were built in Bristol after the war.
CD: we managed to get six or seven good schoolmasters who desperately agreed that they would come and put Bristol on the map for comprehensive schools. And so we became a comprehensive school people in here. But even so, although we had built a large number of schools the fact remains that we have never fully completed the need of the city for better and better schools. Now that is beginning to change again.
KC: What sort of battles did you face by people who did not want comprehensive schools in Bristol?
CD: Well it didn’t work that way. Bristol believed in schools and comprehensive schools were the thing to go for. Even now that battle is going on.
KC: But did anybody in the city, I’m not thinking here of the Labour group because that obviously supported it, but there would have been for example grammar schools or the Citizens Party would have had a different viewpoint to yours. Did you face problems in trying to implement a comprehensive school’s strategy or were you sufficiently powerful enough that the opposition didn’t matter.
CD: Well that’s another tale isn’t it. Bristol is one of the strongest of private school areas, and so there is an awful lot of, not necessarily people who lived in Bristol, but people who lived in and around Bristol. There’s an awful lot of schools in…now that had the effect of course of having a depressive situation on our own schools. But nevertheless we did very well, we did. Well that is another tale. That really didn’t go well. We had some fine jokers there (laughs). We had some really successes and some real failures. But nevertheless it went well and we are still building schools now.
KC: Could you think of one success and one failure, just to give an example of that?
CD: One success and one failure… I wouldn’t have thought so, but having their capability… the emphasis of building up… we’re not as strongly comprehensive as we used to be but that is changing now see due to the pressures of above, and there is a lot of our own school masters and mistresses gone. We have got a completely, a considerable change in the type of person who will come down here, but that is slowly changing. We’ve got a lot of good people again. We had a position at one stage where after that first ten years it began to alter itself. We lost our best people that we’d brought in. They had come to a point where they had come down because they realised that Bristol was a winner, so they came down and they finished off their own people and people on the City Council changed, there were lots of changes going on all the time, but I would think with the clear intentions of the government to bring their own style of person in. We were going to slowly get to a point where it would be true to say I would think anyway that um…