ID TXA00710 / Tony Millatt

TitleBaring-Gould's novel Mehalah features Red Hall on the marshes. Did it exist?
AbstractRed Hall in Mehalah
An enquiry to the Museum said "I have been studying Baring-Gould's Mehalah and I am interested in sites related to the novel. "I was wondering if there is (or was) a real-world equivalent to what the novel calls Red Hall. The novel says that the reclaimed salting of Red Hall divided the Tollesbury Fleet from the Virley and Salcott Creeks.
The saltings of Red Hall are, in real life, Old Hall saltings lying between Tollesbury North Channel and Salcott creek. The very name 'Old Hall' suggests that a Hall used to exist and may have been on the site of the present day Old Hall cottages. This area used to have a thriving community.
Old Hall marshes were reclaimed in the sixteenth century by the Gardiners of Bourchier's Hall (see 'Where is Syphon Creek?' by Mike Gibson, an article on Brunel's Old Hall syphons in the 1997 Town Regatta Programme). Old Hall is a fascinating area with its syphons, the wind pump mentioned in Mehalah (you can still see its base and there is a photo taken when it was still standing), its decoy fleets and the decoyman's cottage. Not least that it was the favourate area for Mersea wildfowlers to do a bit of poaching!
The 1874 Ordnance Survey map shows no trace of any buildings other than the Old Hall cottages at the head of Old Hall creek.
Ray Island
In the novel, Mehalah lives with her mother on Ray Island. These days there is no obvious sign of habitation on the island, but the warden is confident that was a house. He has found bricks etc dated to 1350-1450, fragments of roof tiles, and a midden with oyster shells, whelks, bird and fish bones, fragments of pottery. Some pottery was dated to 16th-18th century.
The Mersea Barrow
The novel Mehalah has two Danish brothers dancing on the Barrow. But when the Barrow was excavated in 1912, by S. Hazzledine-Warren, he wrote to Baring-Gould about the story. Baring Gould replied that the legend of the two Danish brothers, used in his novel, had no local association with the district.
AuthorTony Millatt
Published31 July 2010
SourceMersea Museum