ID ML2012_011_P47 / Ron Green

TitleMersea Bygone Days - Old Mersea Shops Part 1.

My early memories of Mersea shops comes from the mid 1930s when we lived in Barfield Road and my mother used to take me with her when she went shopping in my pre-school days. Then later when I left school in 1946 and started working for builder Clifford White & Co. As the 'Boy' I was often sent off to buy cigarettes for the men and got to know all the little shops very well.

Cigarettes were in very short supply so soon after the war and it was often impossible to get the men's prefered brands. So often I would return with Craven A or du Maurier and they would not be happy.
'Bl---y du Maurier, was that all you could, get bl---y du Maurier?' I well remember the time we were re-roofing the barn at Reeves Hall Farm, East Mersea and I started off going to East Mersea post office which was much further down East than it is now and doing every cigarette shop right down to Cudmore's at the end of Coast Road.

Cudmore's was one of those little shops in the front room of a cottage and was tucked away round behind Wm Wyatts boat shed which is now the Dabchicks club house. It had the usual little handpainted sign over the door giving the proprietor's name and 'Licenced to sell tobacco'. A small bell hung on a spring at the top of the door which rang as you entered and someone, usually Mrs. Hilda Cudmore came from a room at the back to serve you. In the the summer months teas were served in a shed in the garden which had chairs and tables covered with oilcloth - in the days before plastic came along.

Up the Coast Road a short distance and next to Gowens was another similar cottage shop known as 'Alice Hewes's , she was really Mrs. Reed but was one of these local ladies who were always known by her maiden name. She had taken over the shop from her father John many years earlier and her son Brian 'Mick' Reed was my classmate at school and worked for many years for Ted Woolf.

The shop opposite the top of the causeway now Mersea Pearl was Sid Hewes's. I don't recall that being a proper shop until Alf Parish opened it some years later but Sid did hire out sailing dinghies.

Coming up Coast Road to the church, directly opposite was another little front room shop Danum House. My mother used to go there to buy wool. It must have closed at the start of the war never to open again. Next to Danum House was Mr King's wireless shop, a new shop built in the 1930s.

There were only two TV sets on Mersea pre war, one at East Mersea Hall and the other belonged to Mr King who lived on a houseboat which sported an H aerial - MEG MERRILEES I believe. Mr King closed his shop at the outbreak of war and never opened again It was well known later as Jack Botham's.

I didn't know much of the shops in Church Road. The first on the right Howards Stores was run by the Dixon family and supplied groceries to wealthier families who ran an account. Bessie Dixon told me they only settled up at Christmas. An early form of interest free credit? Reeves shop furthur along sold clothes, linen and other other household requirements while Robins on the corner of Churchfields provided the groceries for the families in the Coastguard Houses, until they burned down, and Churchfields.

Back to High Street and as a young lad I could go into the White Hart off licence though a door on the front to a short passageway. The doorway is still there but long since boarded up.

Group of local lads on Liza's doorstep. A photo taken by the late Ted Woolf in the mid 1940s.

The names are 1. Ron Procter, 2. Hugh Maylor, 3. Dick Cudmore, 4. Ken Mole, 5. Don Procter, 6. Johnny Hempstead, 7. Peter Vince, 8. Jimmy Simmons, 9. Derek Cranfield, 10. Gerry D'Witt, 11. Don Pullen, 12, Dennis Cook, 13. Dennis Whiting, 14. Arthur 'Bob' Milgate, 15. Burton Cook.

And so to 'Liza's, Miss Eliza D'witt's little sweet and tobacco shop, a favourite meeting place for the local lads who congegated on the front step most evenings. The shop had seen better days and I dont recall electric lighting, just a large ornimental parrafin oil lamp hung over the counter. It was usual when entering to shout 'Shop Liza' and after a considerable wait she would come shuffling through from the Kitchen.

Liza was born in the shop in 1873 so would have been in her mid seventies. Sometimes her younger sister Mrs Asanath Stoker who lived next door would be serving; only two years younger but much more agile. Eliza would have lived all of her life in Church Villas.

Across the street from Liza's was Johnny Hart's gents hairdressers. As well as cutting hair Johnny, in common with most gents hairdressers I suppose, provided another service 'For the Gentleman'. Often when having your hair cut the door would open and no one would appear but stay behind a little screen. Johnny would put down his scissors and reach up to a box on the top shelf and take out a small envelope. With a few mumbled words and money paid the gentleman would go out of the door and Johnny would nip over to the front window and peer over the curtain at the couple walking down the street. 'Cor, she was a bit of alright booy' he would say and with his familiar chuckle continue with your short back and sides. Johnny rented his shop from Arthur Cock the butcher next door and when he retired the little shop was demolished and the butcher's was extended over the site.

Arthur Cock's butchers shop is now the only old shop in Mersea with same family name. Started many years ago by Daniel Rehoboam Cock the farmer of Brickhouse, it was passed down to his son Arthur many years ago. He was still working in the shop until well into his nineties and would cycle from his home in High Street North most days to do the accounts.

He was a very casual man and there is a little tale which I believe to be true. A lady came into the shop with some sausages she had bought earlier. When she got them home she noticed brown streaks along them and brought them back to complain. Arthur took a quick look at them and assured her that they were alright. 'Thas jist where we oiled the machine missus' he said. Wheather or not she was satisfied with that is not remembered.

Article published in Mersea Life, November 2012.

AuthorRon Green
PublishedNovember 2012
SourceMersea Museum