|Colchester boasts the longest surviving borough mayoralty in Essex which is also amongst the oldest in the country. This year (2020), Peldon's Robert Davidson, farmer of Brick House Farm, has become the 188th mayor of Colchester and his wife Liz, the lady mayoress. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, their term has, from the outset, been very different to the experience of their predecessors!
Robert is the third generation of the Davidson family in Peldon, who originally came down in 1925 from Scotland to Essex to farm. At Michaelmas 1946, his grandfather, Robert, and father, Andrew, moved into the 500 acre Brick House Farm, Peldon, taking over from the War Ag Committee who had farmed it during the war; this included Newpots and Sampsons, the three farms having been farmed as one since 1850. On the same day the Sawdon and Gray farming families moved into Peldon Hall and New Hall, Little Wigborough.
Brick House Farm became well known for continuous wheat production, winning a reserve world wheat championship and as a demonstration farm for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for over 30 years, It is now growing its 65th year of continuous wheat.
Although mainly arable farmers, for twenty years, Robert and Liz kept a large flock of sheep and annually lambed over 1,000 ewes. Liz did the bulk of the shepherding and Robert concentrated on the arable side of the business. Visiting the lambing pens became an annual treat for local residents but the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 put an end to sheep farming on such a scale and the number of animals on the farm has dwindled to two faithful labradors! Now the Davidsons' nephew, James, with his wife Zena, run the farm assisted by their team of skilled staff; crops now grown include winter wheat, oil seed rape, barley, peas, grass and most recently rye and maize for grain and bio-gas fuel.
After serving as a Peldon parish councillor since 1982, in 1998, Robert was elected a Borough Councillor representing the five local villages in the Mersea and Pyefleet ward. He was a former leader of the council and Conservative group leader and served as deputy mayor prior to becoming mayor on 21st October 2020.
The mayor of Colchester is the non-political chair of Colchester Borough Council and serves as the civic representative of the Borough. Traditionally, the post is awarded to the most senior councillor of one of the political groups who take it in turns to 'field' a candidate. The mace carried by the Town Sergeant on ceremonial occasions and into the council chambers is the symbol of the authority that resides in the mayor.
Robert follows in his maternal grandfather's footsteps, Alderman Alexander Craig, a Lexden farmer, who was mayor in 1955/6, but is he the first Peldon man to keep this office?
Colchester's mayoralty began in 1635. Prior to that, the town had appointed two bailiffs, drawn from the town's aldermen* who were mainly prominent landowners.
* Today the title of 'Alderman' is an honorary one, recognising eminent service of past members of Colchester Council. The current criteria of eligibility are at least 20 years' service as a councillor or holding the office of mayor.
A charter of 1189 in the reign of Richard I first permitted the annual election of two bailiffs to head the administration of local justice. This included authority over matters relating to commercial and property and land transactions within the borough bounds or 'liberty' as it was called. In rural places such as Peldon, these bailiffs had to share jurisdiction with the Lords of the Manor, Peldon Hall, Pete Hall and Peldon Rectory Manor.
Prior to the charter of 1635, the borough council consisted of two bailiffs, a further eight aldermen, sixteen members of the first council and sixteen of the second council, this was known as the 'assembly'. The bailiffs and two of the aldermen along with the town recorder were Justices of the Peace. Two aldermen acted as coroners and two aldermen and two councillors were key-keepers in charge of the locked town chest containing the borough seal, plate, records and money. These officers, along with the chamberlain, who was responsible for day to day finances, were elected annually.
With the new charter granted by Charles I in 1635, the first borough mayor was elected replacing the two bailiffs. The sixteen first councillors were renamed 'assistants' and the sixteen second councillors became 'common councillors'. It was only the mayor who was elected annually, all other aldermen and councillors had office for life.
The first mayor of Colchester with Peldon connections was Thomas Reynolds, a wealthy clothier, who lived in No 86 and 87 East Hill, Colchester. Thomas's purchase of the Peldon Hall Manor estate represented a momentous change in ownership from the hands of the gentry to those of an industrialist and tradesman. He was an alderman and in 1654 became Mayor of Colchester and again in 1662. His first Manorial Court held at Peldon Manor was in 1650 which may indicate when he first became owner of Peldon Hall.
Thomas died in 1665 and he and his wife Margery (née Decoster), daughter of a rich London merchant, Samuel Decoster,
are buried in St James's Church, East Hill, Colchester, (she died in 1649), marked by an oval alabaster tablet with
a richly sculptured border on the South wall.
The inscription, in Latin, is translated below
Sacred to Almighty God.
Beneath this wall
At one time an eminent magistrate of Colchester
He married Margery Decoster, daughter of Samuel Decoster
A merchant of London
Who bore him eight children, four of either sex
She laid aside the corruptible burden of the body
on April 15th 1649.
He however, enjoyed to the full the fruits of his work
and then, abounding alike in riches and in length of days
when his cup was overflowing,
faithfully and peacefully fell asleep in Christ,
when the almond tree was in bloom, April 29th
in the year of our Lord 1665,
Wealthy he was, and blessed with riches and nobly born children;
Though in the dust lies the flesh, yet dwell in heaven his soul.
Reader, begone; here silent our record, no more could it utter.
Always the rest will remain written upon life's scroll
It is highly unlikely Thomas actually lived in Peldon and he would usually be represented at his manorial courts by a steward.
In the eighteenth century, another Colchester mayor with property in Peldon was Captain Matthew Martin, a feted captain of the East India Company. He lived in Wivenhoe in a mansion close to Wivenhoe Hall and in 1720 he bought Alresford Hall.
His daughter was to marry into the wealthy and powerful Rebow family in Colchester and he stood as a Whig MP for
Colchester in 1721-22 and 1734-35. He was also Mayor of Colchester in 1726. He was a popular figure much esteemed for
his affability, integrity and generosity [The British Critic Vol XXIII 1804 277-9]
Captain Martin left a substantial portfolio of property in Westminster, Wapping and Colchester of which Priest's House near Peldon Church, bought in 1726, was one. This he left to his son, Samuel Martin, when he died in 1749.
Charles Cann Smallwood was born in West Mersea in 1887. By the 1891 census his family, mother and father, George and Fanny (née Cann) Smallwood, a younger brother and two sisters were living in the Bakehouse by Peldon Church [probably Church Cottage]. By 1901 the family was living in the Post Office, a newly built house on Lower Road, Peldon, between the Common and the Methodist Chapel. This white weather-boarded house is now known as Spring Cottage. Charles's father, George Smallwood, ran the Post Office from there becoming one of the most celebrated Postmasters in Peldon; he served the village for 44 years.
Charles himself became a telegraphist and clerk working for Colchester Post Office and rose through the ranks within the Post Office service. In 1926 he was the first Labour Mayor of Colchester.
Leonard Dansie is probably best known for the auctioneers, Reeman Dansie. His great grandfather, William White, ran Peldon Village Stores from at least 1862 and Leonard's sister, Olive, was to carry on the family business and continued running the stores right up to retirement in 1981.
Leonard was born in 1899 in Mersea, and the 1911 census finds his family living in and running Peldon Village Stores. In 1916 Leonard started work for the company that was to become Reeman Dansie auctioneers where he became a partner in the 1920s. Leonard joined the borough council in 1945 and was mayor between 1947 and 1949, becoming an Alderman in 1953. A particular interest of his was Colchester's Museum service and he was an acknowledged authority on the town's history, regalia and traditions.
A life-long Methodist he held a number of offices in the Methodist Church and he, his parents and sister were stalwarts of Peldon's Methodist Chapel. He was to retire from the auctioneer's in 1970 when Reeman Dansie amalgamated with the firm Howe and Sons.
He served on the council until the reorganisation of local government in 1974 and when he died in 1975 the town flags were flown at half mast. In his obituaries and tributes he was referred to as 'Mr Colchester'.
He will not be forgotten as one of the most notable public men of his generation John Bensusan Butt
In normal times, the annual installation of the mayor happens in May after the borough elections. During the ceremony in the town hall, the mayor takes the oath before the Chief Executive.
Because of the Covid 19 pandemic, the 2019/20 mayor, Nick Cope, stayed on in post an extra 6 months and the ceremonies to install the new mayor had to depart from tradition.
In June 2020, former leader of the council and Conservative group leader, Robert Davidson, was sworn in as mayor by the town serjeant, Paul Lind, at home in Brickhouse Farm when he and Liz were presented with their badges of office.
The mayor-making ceremony was held in October, it had to be streamed on YouTube from the Grand Jury Room at the Town Hall.
Robert will serve for 18 months not the usual 12 months while his deputy, Tim Young, former Labour group leader, should be installed as mayor in May 2022.
In modern times, the role of mayor is to represent the Council and Borough at official functions at home and abroad and to chair meetings of the full council.
One of the Davidsons' first duties in October should have been to host the Oyster Feast but, again, because of coronavirus, this was cancelled and the Mayor and Mayoress instead visited the Colchester Oyster Fishery situated on the Pyefleet Creek on Mersea Island.
It is tradition for each mayor to choose a theme and to nominate charities to be supported during his or her year in office. Robert's theme, encouraged by the good work during Covid 19, is 'Helping Others' and his mayor's charities this year will be the Essex Air Ambulance, Rural Community Council of Essex, SSAFA, St Helena Hospice, East Anglian Children's Hospice and Samaritans in Colchester.
It has been the custom over many years for our mayors' names to grace roads in the borough, Stanley Wooster Way, Dansie Court, Vint Crescent, Bawtree Way, Papillon Road, Hawkins Road, Sir Isaac Rebow's Walk, Smallwood Road, Paxman's Avenue, Smythies Avenue and many others. Will we see a Davidson Drive?!
So to answer my question, 'is Robert Davidson the first Peldon man to hold the office of Mayor of Colchester?' I think we say 'yes'. Our other candidates either once lived here or owned property here but Robert is the first to be living in the village while in office and I wish him and Liz an enjoyable term in the next eighteen months!
Peldon History Project
Thanks to Robert and Liz Davidson
Peldon Village Stores - Dansies
Peldon Post Offices