Memoirs of Mrs Isabella Rosa Dawson 1880-1972.

Memoirs of Mrs Isabella Rosa Dawson 1880-1972.
Written in her eighties.
My great grandfather, Professor Horace Hayman Wilson, 1786-1860, (son of George IV) had the deciding voice that Hindustani should be taught in the Indian Schools - not English - after the Indian Mutiny. He sent his son, my grandfather, home to England when he was six years old in charge of the Captain. It took nearly six months to come in those days. My great uncle, Thomas Luxmore Wilson (a solicitor) met him and took him to Peldon (Essex) where he owned a farm that he kept for shooting. Here, grandpa met my grandmother, Hannah Tiffen, who was born in East Mersea (North Farm). She was the 12th child and when the 13th child was born, her Aunt Hannah Clark adopted her and when great great Aunt Hannah died she left grandma two farms and the "Dog and Pheasant" and also some cottages. Also a field where both Celebrations of George III and Victoria's 50 years reigns were held. I went to Victoria's.

My great Uncle Thomas was Registrar of Shoreditch County Court and there was a "grace and favour" house that went with it that he passed on to my father and mother and where my four brothers and three sisters and I were born. The house had belonged to George IV and was where Nell Gwyn lived. We had a nice Square with lovely trees in front, but at the back were horrible slums where the real poor of London lived. There were big kitchens at our house and we had always saucepans on the big hobs with soup for the poor families who came in the evenings for it. My mother used to visit these slums and would sometimes take us when we were young because she thought we should know about them. I can remember one family who all lived in one room a bed with a heap of rags on it and wooden boxes to sit on and when out of work the only thing was the workhouse. When I was older I used to visit these places and can remember the very big rooms with high up windows and wooden chairs and not a sign of a piece of material anywhere and the poor old people just sitting round and as far as I know never saying a word. Because of our surroundings, my father had a cottage at East Mersea where we were taken or sent in charge of a Governess for the summer. Our landlord was Old Thomas Underwood and he charged us £10 a year for it. No taxes in those days.

It had two sitting rooms and a kitchen along the back of them, that had beams all along the ceiling with nails each side of them where our wet clothes used to hang in wet weather. Leading from this kitchen were two staircases. They led through two bedrooms with sloping ceilings into two bedrooms big enough to hold two double beds in each. The rent was double usually as we were Londoners.

To get to the railway, you could go by road - twelve miles by carrier cart. A high covered-in cart with very narrow seats and no window, but open in the front where the driver sat to drive the two horses, and we climbed over the seat to get in. But the way we usually went was to cross the water to Brightlingsea. And at high tide we could row up a narrow creek right up to the Station. The Station Master, if he saw us coming late, would keep the train waiting for us and once the engine driver further along the line saw us and put back for us. We spent most of our time on the water and learned to row and sail at a very young age. We used to go in any weather and I remember a friend saying to my mother, "You let the girls go in any weather what would you do if they were drowned?" and my mother quietly answered, "There are worse deaths than drowning."

My mother came to Mersea first 99 ½years ago when my eldest brother was a baby and she soon learned to row and manage a boat. Once there was a young man about 19 years old spending a holiday at a cottage with a country family and the people he was lodging with came late one night to say he had gone over to Brightlingsea with a boat man who was given to too much drink. So my mother went to the shore, got a boat and rowed over. It was then 12 o'clock and closing time for pubs. Only a coastguard on the hard who went at my mother's request and brought the boy out of the pub, very much the worse for drink and put him in the bottom of the boat. Then he said, "What shall I do with the boatman?" and mother said, "Put him in too." So Mother brought them back to Mersea, helped the young man out, leaving the boatman still on the bottom of the boat. She helped the young man to his lodgings (all in bed there) and put him in his room that was on the ground floor and left him, and she never heard anything more about it or learnt how the boatman got home.

My father's mother was born in East Mersea (Hannah Tiffen). My parents knew the Rev Baring-Gould and his wife and large family. She did not enjoy a meal at the Rectory as she was never sure if she might be eating frog's legs or snails. My eldest brother and two of the Baring-Gould boys, when they were young, once opened a sluice gate and let the sea water run over a meadow but the owner let them off "as they owned up to it;" but, of course the meadow was no use for a year or two. Mr. Baring-Gould's book "Mehalah" was about West Mersea but many characters were taken from East Mersea. Rebow and Mrs Dewit were thought to be a boatman and his second wife who lived on a barge moored on the shore at East Mersea. This man had been a sailor but in my time ferried people over to Brightlingsea and looked after our boats etc. The barge was kept wonderfully, so polished, and in the main cabin were ships in bottles etc. His first wife was a very gentle woman and had two children but it was said he was very unkind to her. He could not find a second wife round about and at last went to the workhouse at the Isle of Grain and found a woman there. She was a big woman and always wore a shiny black stiff hat. She could row like a man and took her share of ferrying people to Brightlingsea and would meet the smacks as they came into the Colne for their fish that she used to take round Mersea on a barrow. She had them on wires - soles, dabs etc. and they were very cheap. She was very difficult to understand. Baker on Sunday would dress in a smart sailors suit and walk the two miles each way to Church and sing very lustily. I think he could swear better than anyone and another boatman once put him over the side of a boat and dipped him in the water several times to "wash his foul mouth". When he was old and alone again, he moved his barge to the shore opposite Brightlingsea and died there. I can remember seeing his daughter once (Mehalah) when I was a little girl, when she had a baby. She married a soldier and I don't know what became of her. Our cottage was not an old one and had been taken from West Mersea in pieces (it was mostly of wood) but it had a ghost. A ghost that would appear at odd times. Sometimes in the evenings but more often at night. Since I grew up, I have wondered why my parents kept the house on but both were very interested. My father dug all over the garden thinking he might find a body. He wanted to buy the house so that he could dig up the inside, especially the brick floor in the kitchen where we sometimes heard knocks on the bricks, but old Thomas Underwood would not sell it, neither would he let father dig inside. I only saw the ghost once and was terrified but we were quite used to hearing its footsteps, a heavy step, a light step etc. My father too only saw it once and he told me he was frightened but he used to follow the footsteps at times, night after night, down the stairs, out of the kitchen door, round the house, up the little garden path, through the gate and then along the road, past the little cottage that stood back from the road that was where our landlord lived, as far as the Moorings and then they stopped. We had a little dog that got used to it and would follow too, but apparently would lose the sound of the steps the same time that father did. My mother and one of my sisters saw it quite easily and were not afraid. Once a brother was standing at our gate and just stood aside to let it pass. A friend starting going upstairs one day, came down again and said to my sister, "There is someone upstairs, I don't like to go up." My sister said quickly, "I expect it is the help. Let's go for a walk." We did not like to frighten our friends. As children we were used to the footsteps and would say, "There it is again" and rush to see what it was but could not see it. I did not even in the day time ever want to be alone. Many people were naturally interested and one elderly family (three brothers and two sisters), one a professor of something, borrowed the cottage for a winter. They were quite satisfied "it" was there. They had two dogs who were terrified. Two men, one my cousin and a friend of ours, borrowed the cottage for a weekend. The friend said he was really frightened. The ghost would also be seen in the garden of the house next door. This house was of Queen Anne's time. It was later burned down. No firemen in those days and water had to be fetched in a pail from a well in the garden. We did not have a well in ours so had to go along the road to another garden that had. One let down the pail on a rope and wound it up by a handle at the side. I understand that the ghost still walks and that our cottage often changes hands.

There is also another ghost that walks in Stroodway, but we do not know much about this, but I do know someone who did see it once. There have always been ghosts, we read in the bible about them, and I suppose we shall understand one day, but "our" ghost was an unhappy one. I can still see her eyes so plainly, gleaming between the fingers of her hands that she held over her face and her dress stood out like a crinoline. But I could not see all the way down as she was standing by my bed.

There was also a man ghost but was not so often seen and never in the house only in the garden - he was lame. I understand that the ghost is still at the "Myth" (we gave it that name) and that the cottage often changes hands. When my grandfather and grandmother were married (Frederick Horace Wilson & Hannah Tiffin 1839) the wedding was kept up for a week and there was a marquee on the bowling green, a lovely open space where we used to play cricket and games, and a sloping mound with trees and blackberry bushes at the back. In my time the mud off the bowling green was dangerous. Now it is firm - no grass on the bowling green - just sand and shingle and not so many trees. One night a man named King was very troubled and could not sleep - he felt there was trouble on the water and at last got up and went down to the bowling green and heard cries for help from the mud. So he crawled down and was able to save a man (a stranger) who thought he could walk from his boat that he had moored offshore.

There used to be smuggling once upon a time and an old man told my mother (this was over 90 years ago) that when he was young he used to go smuggling with the older men, but when a "Preventative" man was killed once he gave it up.

When we went to East Mersea Church before Mr Dunn was Vicar, the pews were high all round. Ours was a very big square one with very narrow seats on all sides (some sat with their backs to the altar). A brother-in-law, Fred Cockrell, whose family owned the farm (The Hall) next to the church, was taken as a small boy for the first time, described it when he got home, "They put us in a horse-box and shut the door." I love the old church and many of our past generations are also buried there - Tiffins and Wilsons also Blackwell.

I remember when a man with a family would earn ten shillings or less a week and at harvest time the women used to go gleaning and the miller at West Mersea used to grind the corn for them without payment. His name was Smith. The baker's cart used to come around East Mersea three times a week. We used to have many rough journeys to Brightlingsea and on two occasions we could not make it and had to take shelter on a barge each time. Once we stayed six hours until the tide went down and the wind dropped. The bargemen were fine and made us very strong tea, without milk and we sat round talking and singing together. They would not take anything.

I believe my husband, a friend (Mr Wellington) and I were the first people to go to Mersea by motor-car. The two men sat in the front and I high up sitting sideways in the back - no cover and we wore our hats with scarves over the top of it and wound round our necks. Something went wrong with the works and the two men had to go all the way to London with the vital part to get it repaired. This would be about 1906. This took four days. Geof and I were married in 1906 from my sister`s (Mrs. Haes) house in Westcombe Park, London. We have four children, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Bella and Rosemary. All are married. Eleanor and Bella are in South Rhodesia (Eleanor's brother-in-law is Sir Roy Welensky who was born in Rhodesia 58 years ago). His father was one of the pioneers.

In the first World War, we had soldiers stationed near the shore at East Mersea and they gave their orders to the ship off shore by a loud speaker. One night I was standing at the gate at the "Moorings" (that belonged to my brother-in-law Mr Arthur Haes at that time) when I heard the sound of a Zeppelin passing along off the Bowling Green and soon afterwards saw a blaze in the distance that looked like several stacks on fire at the same time. I had heard the soldiers on shore reporting to the ship (or the other way round) "Enemy aircraft passing." The next morning we heard it had been brought down at Peldon and my husband and I went on bicycles and joined thousands of other people biking or going in any vehicle they could get. It was an extraordinary sight this huge long ship, broken or bent in several places, only the frame left. We got through a ditch and a hedge. The airmen had run out of power and had had to come down. They frightened the people living in a cottage near. Then the crew walked along the empty roads looking for somewhere to give themselves up. They got to the Strood where they were taken by soldiers from Colchester and also from Mersea. There was an altercation as to whom they belonged and Mersea won and they were put in a barn next door to the church (West) for the night.

When we returned to London after our holiday we heard again the noise of the Zeppelins; they dropped bombs within five minutes walk from us. A sister-in-law staying with us had heard them off Lowestoft. There was a crash so we retired to our cellar. We had big cellars in our old house (it belonged to Charles II at one time and Nell Gwyn lived in it). After this we had many families from around come to us for shelter. We had a man round to look at them and he said of course that they were not bomb proof but they would be glad if we would have them as there no shelters built yet, of course.

In the second World War it was airplanes and I remember standing on our doorstep at Charles Square and seeing the first that got to London passing over our house in perfect formation. They dropped bombs all round us and I went out directly it was over with a friend and saw the damage. One house with the entire side down and could see a woman walking up the stairs inside and also a woman lying in the road dead. We had strong cellars in our house and after this every night people would come to us for shelter. The children would come in screaming but directly they got inside they felt safe and we never had any more trouble. They used to sit on the coal and were quite content (we put sacks over the coal). Once a girl with scarlet fever was carried in but I did find a corner for her and the family. Later the Tubes were kept open all night. When the war was over there was great rejoicing. I remember the Boer War in 1899 to 1902. No wireless then and we used to go to the Mansion House for news that was given on paper placards pasted on the Mansion House. There were huge crowds at the Relief of LadySmith etc. I shall never forget once being borne along with the crush as far as Trafalgar Square - quite a walk home too.

Brightlingsea

There used to be a very wonderful clergyman at Brightlingsea - Mr Pertwee he was not a good preacher and would give very long sermons. We used to row over to Brightlingsea and walk over a mile to the old Parish Church to the service. It was always a crowded church with many men and sailor boys. In those days there was a hospital ship (afterwards a Police Boat) in the Colne. Once three sailors were brought home and put aboard her with smallpox. No nurse could be found so Mr Pertwee went on board alone to look after them until arrangements were made for them to be taken to Colchester Hospital. He was unmarried and his housekeeper had quite a trouble looking after him as if a poor person came to the door, he would give his meals or anything he could. We were usually large parties and if he met us in Brightlingsea he would shake hands all round but that was usually as far as we got.. He was not a talker but a doer.

We used to row across most days to do some shopping and for many years our doctors came from Brightlingsea, a Dr Dicken and a Dr Cooper, we used to fetch them and take them back. One night my nephew, Ted Haes (about 10 mths) had a screaming fit and we did not know why or if he were in great pain and at last we decided we must take him to the Doctor. I ran down to the shore and woke my brother (Horace) and his friends who were sleeping on an old smack (that we had for a spare bedroom) that lay on the saltings, to tell him to get the gig ready. Then I got our dinghy ready and by that time my brother-in-law arrived and he and I rowed over to Brightlingsea and he ran up to Head Street to prepare the doctor and I sat waiting in the boat. Then the gig arrived with its four rowers, my mother and sister in the stem with a now very quiet baby. They hurried out of the gig and up to the Doctor who was waiting for him, and my nephew sat up and smiled at him. The doctor said, I don't know what may have been the matter with him, but he is all right now." So we returned to Mersea in the early hours. At first we did have Dr Green who lived at the Strood, four miles away. I can remember him driving over (with a groom) one Boxing Day to see my sister Diana who had a sty in her eye. Also there came a new Dr Folk who lived next to Dr Green. Dr Green died there and Dr Folk left and we did not take to the new doctor, so that is when we started going over to Brightlingsea.

When I was fourteen, there was a sad accident. Duglas Wallis aged two years old who came to East Mersea with his family on holiday. He was in a shed with his two young sisters and his nurse had gone to Bakers barge for their bathing dresses. Along the beach she had to cross a narrow bridge over a stream and he must have followed her and fallen in, but no one saw him. My sister and I going down to the shore were met by the family looking for him I found him floating face downwards in the stream. It was 11 hours before we could see a doctor - one from Brightlingsea and one from West Mersea. They arrived at the same time, but nothing could be done.

We used to row to St Osyth, past Brightlingsea shore and up a narrow creek over at high tide, that was said to be "cut by an eel (it had 12 turns) and we would go over the Priory and the old Church that had a circular altar rail (I understand there was only one other in England). It also had high pews but there was one at the top at the left side like a room - long seats on the four sides with cushions and curtains you could draw. Also a fireplace with a poker that we were told, the Load a leper's window.

The house I live in now was for over 50 years the Vicarage. Mr Pierrepont Edwards bought it as there was no Vicarage. Mr Smythe, the vicar before, rented Borough (Barrow sic) Hall and he had a dog-cart to go about in. He was a tall man and his wife was very short.

When I was about 11 years old, an American millionaire (Mr Brown) came to East Mersea in his yacht the VALFREYIA and anchored off shore. He drank, and we understood his family were anxious to have him shut up, so he came to England to escape. At first there were about 25 crew, but over the years they dwindled to two or three. He never put to sea in the fifteen years and sometimes, at first, would escape down to the shore at East Mersea and his Secretary and some of the crew would follow and find him and take him back. As he got worse he took to throwing money over the sides at the rowing boats that used to gather round for it. At first he would allow the people on board; but as they got so many he took to throwing it. The people came from all around and in time even from London. In the end, he took the yacht to Wivenhoe and I don't remember what happened in the end. There were times when he thought people were after him and used to rush about the deck with knives followed by the crew.

We used to sail to Bradwell at times. There was an old church with steps outside and little platforms for ladies to mount their horses. Also an old barn on the Point that was discovered to be a very old church. I have heard the oldest in England and I hear now it is a beautifully kept church. I was only a year old when Mr Baring-Gould left. Mother said Mrs Baring-Gould was beautiful, but later stout. She was once a factory girl when Mr Baring-Gould fell in love with her and his sister had her educated and she lived with her for a year and then they were married. Mr Baring-Gould was a great walker but also a dreamer.. Once everyone was waiting in the church and the bell kept on ringing, but no Mr Baring-Gould. So at last my father sent up to the Rectory and he was found digging in the garden. He was (for those days) a High Churchman and had a little chapel in the Rectory which disappeared when he heard the Bishop was coming to see him. Also a cross was carried in Processions (not done then).

Mrs and Miss Mackesnys (writers) came to East Mersea from America and had our cottage one winter and after rented the thatch one next door and were there when it burned down. Both are buried at East Mersea. I believe that Mrs Mackesnys brought Dora away from America because she was in love with a married man. A Lady "Something" and a lawyer came to Miss Mackesnys funeral. They were the only mourners.

In the French Revolution, some people escaped to England and to Mersea. One lady started a dame school at ----- (now the Anchorage). She later married a Mersea man called King.

The house I live in now was once the vicarage and the stipend was £50 a year.. Rev. and Mrs Pierrepont Edwards bought it and added to it, opening the loft to make a third bedroom and halving another to make a bathroom, and added a scullery - now my kitchen. They also built the Hall at the back for church uses. There was no vicarage at the church then but East Mersea had a very large vicarage in those days. The present East Mersea vicarage was built in Mr and Mrs Dunns time.

When I was 11 years old Rhodesia was born and my Uncle, a bachelor bought shares in the Wankie Mines, saying these will pay in the children's time; but we had to sell them as there were so many demands for money. My brother Horace went there many years ago and later my brother Gray. They are both buried there, also two sisters-in-law, but Gray's wife is still alive. But my brother 'Boy's' wife went out to her children as Boy's son and also a daughter went out and have settled there with families.

Barnum's Show. I went to the London Show when I was about 10.

Note This article was in papers given to the Museum by Martin Dence in July 2011. The compiler of it is not known yet.


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Related Images

 Links with the author of Mehalah.. Sybil Brand talks to an old lady now 90, whose parents were friends of Baring Gould. Mrs Isabella Dawson née Wilson of the Old Vicarage, East Mersea.
</p>
<p>Swinburne once compared Mehalah, Sabine Baring Gould's Essex marshland romance, with Wuthering Heights.
Other critics thought it had more than a touch of Thomas Hardy. I've always thought the opening picture of 
the marshes with their sea pinks, purple sea lavender, the sea aster and the flooding tides, worthy of comparison 
with Hardy's description of the reddle man crossing Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native.
</p><p>
Mrs Isabella Dawson, née Wilson, of the Old Vicarage, West Mersea, whom I've recently met, is a direct link 
with the Baring Goulds. She's 87, and was only one year old when the writer left Mersea, but her parents were regular visitors at East Mersea Rectory. It's fascinating to trace the links which brought her to this area.
</p><p>
Mrs Dawson's grandfather Fredk Hayman Wilson, was sent home from India when he was six to be educated in England. When he grew up he visited an uncle who had shooting at Peldon and there he met his future wife, 
Hannah Tiffin, born at North Farm, East Mersea. Hannah belonged to a large family (she was the twelfth child) 
so when the thirteenth was born her aunt, Miss Hannah Clark, adopted her.
</p><p>
Mrs Dawson tells me Their wedding was kept up for a week in a marquee on the Bowling Green, a lovely open space 
where we used to play cricket, with a sloping mound, covered with trees and blackberry bushes at the back.
</p><p>
This spot is on the beach just west of East Mersea Stone. It was once, Mrs Dawson says, used for playing bowls. Now it is just sand and shingle and not so many trees.
</p><p>
At Aunt Hannah Clark's death she left the former Hannah Tiffin two farms, some cottages and the Dog and Pheasant.
</p><p>
Mrs Dawson was born in a Grace and Favour house in Charles Square, North London. Being a building of historic 
interest, once lived in by Nell Gwynn, it has survived demolition and now stands alone in the square surrounded 
by blocks of flats.
</p><p>
We had a nice square with lovely trees in front, but at the back were horrible slums. Because of these 
surroundings little Isabella and her brothers and sisters were sent to East Mersea with a governess for the 
summer.
</p><p>
Very often the parents joined them. They knew the Baring Goulds well but said they didn't enjoy going to the 
Rectory for a meal as they were never sure whether they might be eating frogs' legs or snails!
</p><p>
No doubt the Reverend Sabine acquired his taste for French cookery on his many visits to the Continent. 
He still kept them up while at East Mersea.
In his Further Reminiscences Baring Gould mentions Mrs Cockrell, the wife of a prominent farmer. The Cockrells 
lived at East Mersea Hall and he says the name is a Huguenot name corrupted from Coquerelle. When Fred Cockrell, 
their son (who afterwards became Mrs Dawson's brother-in-law) was taken to church as a small boy, and ushered 
into one of the high square pews he said: They put us in a horse box and shut the door.
</p><p>
Baring Gould wasn't in sympathy with his parishioners and neighbours in East Mersea, but he does mention an 
intelligent farmer named Cant he describes as a strong dissenter.
</p><p>
Any visitor to West Mersea entering the Union Church will see on the right-hand side of the pulpit a marble 
tablet to the memory of Samuel Cant: For 51 years Deacon of this Church. Died January 1898 in his 90th year.
</p><p>
This was the strong dissenter and, as a child, Mrs Dawson knew him well. The owner of Ivy House Farm, a widow 
named Agnis, married her foreman, a man named Cant. Samuel was their son.
</p><p>
Samuel Cant's wife was an invalid confined to a red-curtained four-poster bed and the Wilson children were 
encouraged to play in the farmyard where she could see them.
</p><p>
Mr Cant was also a strong Radical living among Tory farmers. He knew his own mind. At one election his fellow 
farmers painted his horse and gig blue. That didn't deter him from voting. He rode behind his blue horse in his
blue gig and voted yellow.
</p><p>
Afterwards the small child Isabella was given a tiny brush to help clean the horse's legs. She says now most of 
the paint wouldn't come off. It had to wear off.
</p><p>
I could find no mention of Mehalah as a person in Further Reminiscences but there was a real Mehalah in 
East Mersea. She was Mehalah Baker, daughter of a retired sailor who lived on a barge moored on East Mersea shore.
</p><p>
Mehalah's mother, a gentle woman, died and Mehalah married a soldier. After that Mrs Dawson knew no more of her, 
but her father went to the Isle of Man to find his second wife, a real fishwife.
</p><p>
She was a big woman with an enormous voice for shouting her wares: fish she got from Colne smacks and offered 
for sale from a barrow wheeled round Mersea. Her headgear was always a stiff shiny black hat fastened with tape 
under her chin.
</p><p>
Foul mouthed
 
Each Sunday Baker would walk the two miles each way to church and sing very lustily. However, Mrs Dawson says 
I think he could swear better than anyone; another boatman once put him over the side of his boat and dipped 
him several times to wash his foul mouth.
Baker and his second wife were always considered the originals of Eljiah Rebow and Mrs D'Wit in Mehalah.
</p><p>
Baring Gould does speak approvingly of one neighbour, the Rev A. Pertwee of Brightlingsea.
</p><p>
Mrs Dawson says of him He was not a talker but a doer. A hospital ship stationed in the Colne had three sailors 
put aboard suffering from smallpox. No nurse could be found but Mr Pertwee went aboard and looked after them 
till they went to Colchester Hospital.
</p><p>
He was unmarried and his housekeeper had quite a trouble looking after him. If a poor person came to the door 
he would give his meals or anything he could.
</p>
<p>
Thought to be from Essex County Standard c1967 - cutting from Heather Haward scrapbook.
</p>  HH01_026_001HH01_026_001
Links with the author of Mehalah.. Sybil Brand talks to an old lady now 90, whose parents were friends of Baring Gould. Mrs Isabella Dawson née Wilson of the Old Vicarage, East Mersea.

Swinburne once compared "Mehalah", Sabine Baring Gould's Essex marshland romance, with "Wuthering Heights". Other critics thought it had more than a touch of Thomas Hardy. I've always thought the opening picture of the marshes with their sea pinks, purple sea lavender, the sea aster and the flooding tides, worthy of comparison with Hardy's description of the reddle man crossing Egdon Heath in "The Return of the Native."

Mrs Isabella Dawson, née Wilson, of the Old Vicarage, West Mersea, whom I've recently met, is a direct link with the Baring Goulds. She's 87, and was only one year old when the writer left Mersea, but her parents were regular visitors at East Mersea Rectory. It's fascinating to trace the links which brought her to this area.

Mrs Dawson's grandfather Fredk Hayman Wilson, was sent home from India when he was six to be educated in England. When he grew up he visited an uncle who had shooting at Peldon and there he met his future wife, Hannah Tiffin, born at North Farm, East Mersea. Hannah belonged to a large family (she was the twelfth child) so when the thirteenth was born her aunt, Miss Hannah Clark, adopted her.

Mrs Dawson tells me "Their wedding was kept up for a week in a marquee on the Bowling Green, a lovely open space where we used to play cricket, with a sloping mound, covered with trees and blackberry bushes at the back."

This spot is on the beach just west of East Mersea Stone. It was once, Mrs Dawson says, used for playing bowls. "Now it is just sand and shingle and not so many trees."

At Aunt Hannah Clark's death she left the former Hannah Tiffin two farms, some cottages and the Dog and Pheasant.

Mrs Dawson was born in a Grace and Favour house in Charles Square, North London. Being a building of historic interest, once lived in by Nell Gwynn, it has survived demolition and now stands alone in the square surrounded by blocks of flats.

"We had a nice square with lovely trees in front, but at the back were horrible slums." Because of these surroundings little Isabella and her brothers and sisters were sent to East Mersea with a governess for the summer.

Very often the parents joined them. "They knew the Baring Goulds well but said they didn't enjoy going to the Rectory for a meal as they were never sure whether they might be eating frogs' legs or snails!"

No doubt the Reverend Sabine acquired his taste for French cookery on his many visits to the Continent. He still kept them up while at East Mersea. In his "Further Reminiscences" Baring Gould mentions Mrs Cockrell, the wife of a prominent farmer. The Cockrells lived at East Mersea Hall and he says the name is a Huguenot name corrupted from Coquerelle. When Fred Cockrell, their son (who afterwards became Mrs Dawson's brother-in-law) was taken to church as a small boy, and ushered into one of the high square pews he said: "They put us in a horse box and shut the door."

Baring Gould wasn't in sympathy with his parishioners and neighbours in East Mersea, but he does mention an intelligent farmer named Cant he describes as a strong dissenter.

Any visitor to West Mersea entering the Union Church will see on the right-hand side of the pulpit a marble tablet to the memory of Samuel Cant: "For 51 years Deacon of this Church. Died January 1898 in his 90th year."

This was the "strong dissenter" and, as a child, Mrs Dawson knew him well. The owner of Ivy House Farm, a widow named Agnis, married her foreman, a man named Cant. Samuel was their son.

Samuel Cant's wife was an invalid confined to a red-curtained four-poster bed and the Wilson children were encouraged to play in the farmyard where she could see them.

Mr Cant was also a strong Radical living among Tory farmers. He knew his own mind. At one election his fellow farmers painted his horse and gig blue. That didn't deter him from voting. He rode behind his blue horse in his blue gig and voted yellow.

Afterwards the small child Isabella was given a tiny brush to help clean the horse's legs. She says now most of the paint wouldn't come off. It had to wear off.

I could find no mention of Mehalah as a person in "Further Reminiscences" but there was a real Mehalah in East Mersea. She was Mehalah Baker, daughter of a retired sailor who lived on a barge moored on East Mersea shore.

Mehalah's mother, a gentle woman, died and Mehalah married a soldier. After that Mrs Dawson knew no more of her, but her father went to the Isle of Man to find his second wife, a real fishwife.

She was a big woman with an enormous voice for shouting her wares: fish she got from Colne smacks and offered for sale from a barrow wheeled round Mersea. Her headgear was always a stiff shiny black hat fastened with tape under her chin.

Foul mouthed
Each Sunday Baker would walk the two miles each way to church and sing very lustily. However, Mrs Dawson says "I think he could swear better than anyone; another boatman once put him over the side of his boat and dipped him several times to wash his foul mouth." Baker and his second wife were always considered the originals of Eljiah Rebow and Mrs D'Wit in "Mehalah."

Baring Gould does speak approvingly of one neighbour, the Rev A. Pertwee of Brightlingsea.

Mrs Dawson says of him "He was not a talker but a doer. A hospital ship stationed in the Colne had three sailors put aboard suffering from smallpox. No nurse could be found but Mr Pertwee went aboard and looked after them till they went to Colchester Hospital.

"He was unmarried and his housekeeper had quite a trouble looking after him. If a poor person came to the door he would give his meals or anything he could."

Thought to be from Essex County Standard c1967 - cutting from Heather Haward scrapbook.


c1967
 Isabella Dawson as she was at seventeen, photographed in the garden of the house in Charles Square, North London from where the family came to East Mersea for the summer.
 From <a href=mmphoto.php?typ=ID&hit=1&tot=1&ba=cke&bid=HH01_026_001>Links with the author of Mehalah </a>, by Sybil Brand.
 Heather Haward scrapbook.  HH01_026_001_001HH01_026_001_001
Isabella Dawson as she was at seventeen, photographed in the garden of the house in Charles Square, North London from where the family came to East Mersea for the summer.
From Links with the author of Mehalah , by Sybil Brand.
Heather Haward scrapbook.
ID: MF08_006
Source: Mersea Museum / Martin Dence Collection