|Two Ladies recently called in to the Museum asking what we had on the early days of West Mersea Women's Institute. Something they said was of special interest to me as they believed the present headquarters in Kingsland Road was put up by the army in 1939. I knew it wasn't put up until after the War but was interested to hear of the army connection. I had always thought it was the large wooden building that stood by Cudmore Grove (Cumber to us locals) in East Mersea during the War when the area was occupied by the army. I remember looking into a similar building after the army had moved out and us lads were free to explore the vacated buildings.
In the early days of West Mersea W.I., the meetings were held in a room at the back of the British Legion clubroom. Our museum has scans of the plans of the buildings and some details of land transactions. The land for the British Legion had been sold by Mrs Ruddock, and then in 1930 a part of it was transferred to the W.I. (and a part given to the Library Committee, as we saw last month). A hall was built by the W.I. It was not just used by the W.I. - in 1933 the school started to use it as a Dining Room.
Mrs Ruddock lived at The Gables in Melrose Road and was a significant benefactor in the years between the Wars. She helped finance the building of the British Legion and also donated land to the school.
In 1939 a lot changed. The W.I. Hall to the rear of the Legion Hall was sold for £280 back to the British Legion, and Mrs Ruddock died; she had backed many of these transactions. The school was already using the Legion Hall, and with the outbreak of war and the coming of evacuees, the use increased. In 1942 a School Canteen opened at the back of the Legion Hall and was not replaced until a new canteen on school premises opened in 1949.
9 May 1947 the Women's Institute opened their 'new' hall in Kingland Road. They are still there. It is shown left of centre in the aerial view above, which dates from about 1960, and looks east with Kingsland Road across the lower half. The W.I. Hall was built on land given by A.W. Berry who lived at Port Arthur, the house down the road from the W.I. Hall. Berry had an engineering works in Colchester and ran buses to Mersea. He owned a lot of the land at the top of the photograph; even in 1960 it was still bushes, trees and fields.
It is all changed now. Elmwood Drive was built next to Port Arthur, in the centre, and this area is all housing. Another house was built between the W.I. Hall and Port Arthur; houses line the west side of Kingsland Road.
Published in Mersea Life August 2019, local page 22.