|The picture of Digby's shop around 1910 which accompanied this article is no longer available on www.merseamuseum.org.uk . It is available in Brian Jay's book Mersea Memories, available from the Museum Shop.
Digby's shop taken around 1910. Photo by courtesy of Miss Dorothy Brown.
The business originally known as Digby Brothers was started in 1909 by two of the five sons of George Digby, from a large house and shop in Barfield Road, with stores, garage and workshop at the rear. They provided many new services for the local community, with stock including ironmongery, oil colours for lead glass, plus china and glass. Cycles and motorcycles were featured, and they were decorators and also agents for wireless and sewing machines. It is thought that two hand-cranked petrol pumps installed on the forecourt were the first on the island.
In addition, John Stacey sold goods to householders on the island from a horse-drawn van. It has been said that when John has finished the round at the east of of the island, near the golf course, he would say "home now" to his horse, and get in the van for a sleep! The horse always found its own way back to the yard behind the shop.
Edgar Potter Digby, one of the five brothers, served his apprenticeship at Cromptons in Chelmsford before joining the P and O Shipping Company as an electrical engineer. He was lucky to survive World War One. Whilst he was serving aboard the S.S. MEDINA, she was sunk shortly after Edgar had left the engine room at the end of his shift.
In 1919 Edgar left P and O to take over the family business at West Mersea. One of his first tasks was to install his own electrical generating plant for the shop and house and to provide charging facilities for wireless accumulator batteries.
During the 1920s and 30s Edgar also ran a ferry service from Mersea to Bradwell Quay by motor boat, the return fare being 2/6p (12.5p). He was also a keen yachtsman, sailing his converted lifeboat PORT ERROLL not only in local waters but on longer voyages to the continent, accompanied by Hugh Banham. In addition to being a Regatta committee member, Edgar also served on the West Mersea Urban District Council (as it then was), and was responsible for a leading light being install at the beach end of Broomhills Road, as a navigational aid to craft on the river, before a light was fitted on the Nass beacon.
Willliam Hugh Ogston Banham was born in Norwich in 1912, and came to the island as a schoolboy when his mother, Mabel, became housekeeper to Edgar Potter Digby. As a young man, Hugh was very skilled in electronics, especially wireless, and carried out classified work whilst serving in the R.A.F. during World War Two.
In 1942, Eileen Brown became shop assistant, replacing Maisie Hewes, who had been called up to join the A.T.S.
After leaving the R.A.F. at the end of the war, Hugh returned to the shop and, following Edgar Digby's death in 1959, took the business over, with the assistance of Eileen Brown. The business then became known as DIGBY'S OF MERSEA ISLAND. Eileen remained working at the shop until Hugh Banham's death and the closure of the business in 1983.
In addition to repairing a vast range of electrical goods in the shop, Hugh had also served customers from his Jowett van with ironmongery and paraffin. During this time security for the rear yard was taken care of by the large, aggressive and noisy geese roaming freely and reacting quickly to anything unusual.
Hugh was responsible for the famous annual Tide Timetable, being very particular with the monthly tidal predictions. Like Edgar, Hugh was an active member of the Regatta committee and always gave a helping hand on the committee barge.
With the passing of Hugh Banham in 1983, the shop door finally closed on a local era. Customers could no longer step back in time as they entered the rather gloomy interior of the shop, knowing that if they couldn't eat it they could get it at Digby's.
Future generations will not see the like of this shop again - but visitors to the museum this summer will be able to see many reminders of Digby's, including memorabilia and photographs, in the special display.
Published as Museum Piece in Mersea Courier No. 505, 13 May 2011