|By Ron Green with Tony Millatt and Brian Jay Mersea Island Museum
We continue the history of Orleans, the large house by the Monkey Beach in West Mersea.
At the end of the 19th Century, Orleans belonged to Thomas Gilbert a wealthy gentleman who was a JP, Churchwarden, Captain of the Yacht club, Parish Councillor etc. He committed suicide in February 1904. He had become infatuated with a variety actress Miss Florence Bates and they became engaged. She was just nineteen and he was 21 years her senior. She eventually found his jealousy and possessiveness unbearable and broke off the engagement. She and her sister Lottie got parts in a pantomime at Birkenhead and Gilbert followed her there, where he shot her with a revolver. She survived, but he then turned the gun on himself and died. He had probably sold Orleans by then as Willoughby John Bean had taken out a mortgage on Orleans in May 1903. In 1913 the sale of 'This Highly Desirable Marine Residence' was withdrawn but came up for sale by auction on June 25th 1914 at the Hall Barn together with other property of WJB who was now bankrupt. Orleans sold for £1450. We have been unable to find who the purchaser was but Isabel Margaret Smith and Olive Francis Guthrie Smith were listed there in the 1936 Register of Electors.
During the war, girls of the Women's Land Army were billeted there. One report says there were 70 of them but this was a gross exaggeration. The 1914 auction lists eight bedrooms, two dressing rooms and two bathrooms. Mrs Guthrie Smith and her companion Isabel were living there at the time. The Land Army girls were taken to their place of work by Underwood's coal lorry driven Stan Deal. Not a luxury means of transport and not very clean.
I started work in 1946 for Clifford White, the local builder, who did the maintenance work on Orleans. Mrs Guthrie Smith owned it then. One of the jobs that my father Les and I did was to repair the balustrades in the garden. This was all renewed this year by my son Laurence - a third generation of Greens doing maintenance work at Orleans.
Isabel Smith died in the late 1950s and Mrs Guthrie Smith had died a few years earlier. The house was then sold by auction. It was was demolished and replaced by New Orleans luxury flats 1959-60. The gardens have been retained and are the finest gardens on Mersea Island.
This card of Orleans was posted June 1906
The lovely view from New Orleans this summer. The balustrades are in the middle of being replaced. Photo by Laurence Green.
Published in Mersea Life November 2017, Local page 32.