|Ancient Order of Foresters: Court 5105
According to A History of Court Sailors' Home, West Mersea 1867 -1967 by Sybil Brand, The 'Court Sailors' Home', West Mersea, was founded on 4th September 1867 and its first member was a Mersea fisherman, William Balls. By the end of that year there were nine members but no Secretary and meetings were most probably held in members' homes. By June of the next year the licensee of the White Hart public house, W H Traveller, joined the society and the White Hart became the regular meeting place.
The Court Sailors' Home was not a building it was a branch of the national organisation 'The Ancient Order of Foresters' (AOF), a 'friendly' society founded in 1834, at a time when there was no free health care and no sick pay. If you couldn't work, you and your family would go hungry hence Friendly Societies sprang up all over the country.
The term 'court' is and was used much in the same way as 'lodge' is used by the freemasons. The branch number for Mersea is Court 5105.
The White Hart's W H Traveller became the first official secretary. His name appears as such in a book of rules published in 1873. Above his name are the signatures of three men
Boatman Haward CR [Chief Ranger]
Antonio Fisher SCR [Sub Chief Ranger]
Boatman Haward was the first Chief Ranger, the role was that of chairman or president. Close to a hundred years later, in 1971, the A O F minutes report his granddaughter returned Boatman's old ceremonial sash presented to him on his retirement. His unusual Christian name was adopted from a surname but he was a mariner and at the time of his death in 1919 was a mariner in the Merchant Service. Descendants of his still live on Mersea island, running seafood restaurants and working as oyster fishermen.
During its history, Court 5105 first met in the White Hart then moved to the WI Hall (part of the current British Legion building), The British Legion, the WI Hall in Barfield Road, the Church Hall then the Council Offices. Its earliest members were largely oyster fishermen and agricultural workers. In the days before national insurance, these 'friendly societies' ensured their members were well-provided for in times of sickness and to that end members paid in regular 'dues'. Joseph Pullen, who lived in Yew Tree House on the Coast Road, was secretary for a total of thirty seven years between 1884 and 1921 and it was a common sight to see the society's members walking under the huge walnut tree at Yew Tree House to pay their quarterly dues. Later, funds were also used to lend mortgages to the members.
The importance of the AOF locally was quite considerable and a large proportion of working men from Mersea and Peldon were members. Such a big occasion was the annual festival that Mersea School would give the children the day off; later on this also coincided with the arrival of the fair. Representatives from the society were always present at important occasions and processions, their regalia included embroidered aprons and Lincoln Green sashes and in 1935 the society even erected an archway with their emblem over Barfield Road to celebrate the King's Jubilee.
In the 100 years covered by Sybil Brand's book (she was a member herself) membership went from 9 in 1867 to 515 by the end of 1966. In 1973 the minutes record a membership of 456.
In the rule book of 1890 the society set out its purpose
1st Insuring certain sums of money on the lives of its members, and for the burial of members' wives; 2nd Paying a weekly allowance to members when bodily sick, and thereby unable to follow their employment; 3rd Supplying medical attendance and medicine to members; 4th granting relief to members in distressed circumstances; 5th Assisting members when compelled to travel in search of employment
The titles given to officers included Chief Ranger, Woodwards and Beadles as well as Secretary and Treasurer.
Prospective members had to be nominated and seconded by existing 'brothers' and their application would be turned down if
the Court was not satisfied with the health of the applicant
There was an initiation for each new member, they were
Instructed in the signs and passwords outside the Portal
They would then be admitted through the Portal by the Beadles and were
accorded the Foresters' Fire and heartily welcomed.
The Foresters' fire is still remembered by some older members and at the annual High Court weekend, to which all branches are invited, it is still customary for a long-standing member to start off the 'fire' involving clapping, and drumming of feet. There was even a Foresters' song.
The Foresters however was one of the first Friendly societies to move away from these rituals and secrecy more associated with freemasonry.
The organisation was dominated by men but early in the 20th century 'sisters' appear in the Court's minutes.
From the society's inception, those from Peldon were mostly agricultural workers. In the minutes between 1917 and 1952 a Peldon farm bailiff, a poultry farm hand, horsemen, and labourers are listed as new members. There was a blacksmith, a roadman, a carpenter, engineman, a clerk and a newsboy. Most were teenagers or in their twenties.
Joshua B Cudmore, born and bred in Peldon, and an agricultural labourer on a farm, must have joined the society as a seventeen year old only around five years after its inception. He was born in 1855 and lived to 80 years old in the cottage that is now known as Honeysuckle Cottage on Lower Road in Peldon.
He was an active worker for the Ancient Order Of Foresters, holding office as Woodward to the Court Sailors' Home at West Mersea for about 40 years. He had been a member of this society for 63 years. Essex County Standard 11.4.1936
Joshua was Peldon's Woodward, (between 1925 and 1930 he is listed as such in the minutes), and it was his duty to visit any sick member within 48 hours of being informed of their illness and thereafter would call each Saturday morning to hand over their sick benefit.
Senior and Junior Woodwards were also expected to verify a claim was justified and to ensure that any conditions related to the claim were not breached.
In the minutes' book of the Court on 1st February 1935, just over a year before he died, it is clear Joshua was unable to continue in office.
It was decided not to nominate a Peldon Woodward for the time being in place of Brother Cudmore
It would seem the Mersea Woodwards took over looking after the society's Peldon members thereafter.
Harry Ponder was born on 22nd February 1882 in the 'Thatch Cottage' at the beginning of Copt Hall Lane, Little Wigborough.. Harry spent his entire life in Wigborough and Peldon working with horses at Copt Hall and Peldon Lodge and on the land; throughout his married life he lived with his wife in Hillside Cottage, Church Hill, Peldon. He joined the Foresters' Friendly Society at the age of 18 around 1900. He was a member for 77 years and was their longest serving member. Harry died on 18th May 1977 at the age of 95. His granddaughter remembers that her father, Ernie, Harry's son, also joined the Foresters.
Ron Green (born in West Mersea in 1932) joined the society when he began work and recalls building his bungalow in Firs Road in 1956. Needing help with funding, he was able to borrow £1,000 from the Foresters. He also remembers that Mersea mothers would take out a policy for their sons when they started work. In the minutes for 1933 there is an eleven month old son of one of the members admitted to the Junior Section! Now, as someone over 75, Ron receives a 'dividend' annually as a 'Christmas Box'.
Mersea-born Peter Rudlin joined in the 1970s having a job which, at that time, didn't offer sick pay - he was a fourth generation to join the society, his great grandfather, George French, having joined in 1880 and later becoming president or Chief Ranger. George was to become one of the trustees in 1932.
The Mersea Court celebrated the 100th anniversary of its foundation with a dinner at the Fairhaven Cafe
on the Victoria Esplanade on 23rd September 1967 to which members of the District Committee were invited. There was also a Thanksgiving service on Sunday 15th October with a short parade to West Mersea Church.
The year before it had been proposed
To peruse our old minute books and other records with a view to obtaining items of interest in the Court's life, which together with other matters such as old photos and stories which could possibly be obtained from some of our older members and incorporate the whole in a Centenary Souvenir booklet for distribution to our members. Court 5105: Minute book September 1966
This booklet was duly produced by branch secretary Sister Sybil Brand, local historian, who believed her family to have been involved with the Mersea Court since near its inception in 1867.
One of the 'rules' in the 1890 handbook, Rule 8, stipulated the Anniversary of this Court shall be held the first Friday in July
This anniversary was first known as the Foresters' Feast but certainly by 1897 it was 'Frenchified' as
Sybil Brand put it and became known as The Foresters' Fete. An entry in the Peldon School logbook for the weekend of July 2nd 1897 reads
A Foresters' Fete was held at Mersea and several Peldon men are members of the Club Essex Record Office E/ML 36/2 1891 - 1910
Sybil Brand goes on to describe the festivities
Tickets were supplied to every member, fishermen and farm workers some of the latter came from Peldon for this, their only day's holiday in the year, barring Sundays.
This great feast of food and drink ad lib was held at the White Hart but the day started with a procession. A hired band from Colchester led, preceded by Brother William Munson on a piebald horse, followed by officers in regalia and members wearing their green sashes. They paraded the village calling at The Fountain and Fox, then back to the Vicarage (Kingsland House). There on the lawn the band played to Rev T R Musselwhite probably the first Court Trustee elected in 1879. After that the feast.
Opposite the White Hart, close by Hall Barn was a meadow where the fair and the feast were held and here were
the rock stalls, the gingerbread stalls and the roundabout. In the early days, the roundabout had a glorified barrel organ operated by hand.
Rows of trestle tables and benches would be set out for a sumptuous feast for the members and if the weather was inclement they would be set up in the barn.
In later years, Mr Bugg's Fair would arrive, the huge steam engine which powered the fair trundling over the Strood being greeted and followed by excited children.
It would seem the Foresters' Fete only continued into the early part of the 20th century although Bugg's Fair continued its annual visit to the island. Thereafter, the society's minutes record more conventional annual dinners and the occasional dance. In the 1917 - 1930 minute book held by Mersea Museum there is no mention of there being a fete, did it end with WW1?
Mersea Museum has a scanned copy of Sybil Brand's book and a box of the minutes books for the Mersea Court extending from 1917 to 1983. The minutes detail the business and finances of the society, correspondence, elections for officers and the annual meetings of District, Area and High Court.
Awards of Distress grants are discussed. Lists of the sick, and payments to them, are listed monthly as are payments for optical and dental treatment. Annually the Christmas 'box' is sent to retired members and donations to funds for the AOF lifeboat, war memorial and convalescent home. AOF diaries, wall almanacs and calendars are ordered.
During the seventies, the Court continues to arrange an annual dinner. Following the closure of Fairhaven Cafe in 1971 it relocates to the Fountain Hall courtesy of Mrs Lewis. For Juvenile Members a coach trip to see a film at The Odeon, including ice-creams, pencils, and pens and balloons becomes an annual fixture.
In 1974 for the first time in its 107 year history The High Chief Ranger of the society attends a Mersea Court
meeting and we shall remember the occasion for many years.
Loyalty to the organisation is clear with the same names and the same families serving for decades and being awarded long-service medals.
At the close of the minutes' book 1977 - 1983, Sybil Brand is still an active member having served as treasurer, secretary, junior beadle and on the Management Committee. She had been in office since 1943.
Today, nationally, there are in excess of 70,000 members and 70 in Mersea's Court. Local meetings involving the half dozen members of the committee are still held in the Council Offices. The organisation has moved with the times and offers many financial services and accounts but still keeps its friendly society approach. Branches arrange social and community events and continue to support charities, a lifeboat has been funded by the society from very early on in its history, and a convalescent home in Bridlington is run by the society. The Mersea branch still places a poppy wreath on Armistice Day at West Mersea War Memorial.
The new home for the society's museum and archive is at Tunstall, Stoke on Trent and displays beautiful banners, and some artefacts used ceremonially in the past; some rather fearsome cudgels and axes, as well as sashes, ribbons, collars, medals, badges, jewels, framed certificates and commemorative pieces.
Peldon History Project
For more information:
AOF_SLH A History of Court Sailor's Home West Mersea No. 5105 A.O.F. 1867 - 1967 by Sister Sybil Brand.
HH02_AOF Rules of Court "Sailors' Home," 5105 Ancient Order of Foresters 1890
Peter Rudlin's Foresters' Friendly Society Sash front and back. SCR shows his official title in the local branch, that of Sub Chief Ranger, ie Vice President.