"Another teat for the children was to go by Carrier's Van to Colchester. The journey was long and arduous. The horse stopped at all cottage doors to collect letters to post and parcels to be delivered. The 'boy' used to run down the lanes to collect or deliver while the horse had a snooze or nibbled the hedgerow. It took all morning to reach Colchester and at 4pm we started back, sitting among the parcels, feeling very tired but happy in having our horse ride treat. I recall to this day the smell of Colchester. The dusty streets with the water cart spraying the dust down, the smell of the shops, especially the butchers and fish. Then tired feet and eyes gazing at all the marvelous things which our pennies could not buy."
From "Miss Mussett Remembers"
Carrier's Close is situated at the bottom of The Lane in the Old City part of West Mersea. Why Carrier's Close?
From early times carriers formed a vital link between scattered communities providing transport for goods and people between various locations. Many carriers were probably farmers who required carts for their main business, carrying their neighbours' goods to and from market at the same time as their own. The basic farm carts used by early carriers later developed into covered carts with benches down either side allowing more comfort for passengers.
The carrier would arrive and depart from a particular inn at a set time and day; timetables of carriers leaving and the places they served were posted in the 18th century but it is likely that such routes were common knowledge to the locals well before then.
Carriers in the main respected their horses and it was not uncommon for passengers to be asked to get out and walk up the hills to save the horses. Journeys by carrier were leisurely affairs with the cart not going above a gentle walking pace and making many stops en route to collect or deliver produce.
Just up The Lane, on the left, close by The Ship Inn, there lived a family called Cudmore. The head of the household, George, is noted in the censuses of 1861, 1871 and 1881 as a carrier. In his younger days he'd been a farm labourer like his father before him and, probably started as a carrier by taking goods to sell from the farm into Colchester. In 1855 he married Maria Abbott from Dedham and settled in The Lane to bring up his family.
George's horses were stabled behind the 'Old Victory' and he took produce to sell in Colchester and also passengers each Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. He set out from The Victory and stopped at The Plough Inn which was on, what is now, St Botolph's roundabout and made the return journey the same day. He would have picked up goods and passengers on the way and used the bugle (pictured here) to announce his arrival. There were two other carriers operating from West Mersea to Colchester; William Rudlin and James Such. Customers would put a letter C in their window if they wanted George to stop or an R for William Rudlin.
George died in 1884 at the age of 57 but his sons, Alfred, Frederick and Bertie carried on the business after his death with Frederick and Bertie later becoming mailmen travelling to and from The Fleece Hotel in Head Street.
Maria, meanwhile, opened a grocers shop in The Lane, which, no doubt, was stocked by her sons on their regular visits to Colchester and, when Maria died in 1903 aged 68, her daughter Georgianna (Annie) kept it open into the twentieth century.
Carriers were gradually replaced by the Post Office for letters and parcels and buses for passengers.
Our database, in the museum, has many pictures of Mersea's carriers, including one of George with his carrier's cart crossing the Strood. We have the original lamp and bugle used by George Cudmore and documents referring to the carriers.
Published as Museum Piece in the Courier, Mersea Island, 19 November 2010