ID: DIS2021_SFT / Tony Millatt

TitleWest Mersea Seafront
AbstractIn 1900, the sea front by Victoria Esplanade was farmland. The land was owned by the Bean Family who had married into the May family - they had owned and farmed the land for over 80 years.

1817 map showing land owned by Thomas May. The green 'inlet' lower left is Shears Meadow - the present Shears Crescent.

A sale of some land in May 1899 was the sign of things to come, and by the end of 1903 several sales had taken place, often involving groups from London. The 'Avenues' had been laid out and houses were being built on Sea View Avenue and Fairhaven Avenue. A railway was planned from Colchester, coming down between Fairhaven and Empress Avenues to a pier. Brochures were produced, some of them promoting the area as a Temperance Resort. Other plans were for Victoria Hotel and Pleasure Gardens near the bottom of Empress Avenue.

An early plan before the Avenues were laid out. The railway from Colchester ends on the north side of East Road and then an electric railway runs down The Broadway to a pier.

c1912 - the barge MAFEKING on the beach to unload bricks for the houses being built in Fairhaven Avenue. The beach itself looks otherwise deserted and undeveloped.

The Band from the Assembly Hall pose on the railway that was used to transport the bricks up Fairhaven Avenue.

Top of Seaview Avenue - advertisement for the Fairhaven Estate. Postcard before June 1903.

Despite grand development plans for Mersea as a resort, the seafront changed only slowly. Cows were still driven down Seaview Avenue to graze in the fields along the front.

Cows from Brierley Hall being driven up Seaview Avenue around 1911. The house distant left was Shameen, since demolished. In the centre is Fairhaven House, now Aldeborough House, on the corner of Osborne Road.

1913 - just a few huts on the beach.
Vera, Emily and Hardie Weaver - wife and children of Leonard Weaver. He was an early developer, promoting the area as a 'Christian Temperance Resort'.

Boat trips from the beach c1912. Weaver family

Tents on the beach near Beach Road before WW1. Tents were popular before Beach Huts, and were often left for whole of the Summer.

In 1914 the development bubble burst, and some builders and developers went bankrupt, including Willoughby John Bean whose family had once owned all the Esplanade area and much of West Mersea. The land along the Esplanade was soon in the ownership of Clifford White - builder, estate agent, and much more.

Joy Gethen tells us a little about the front at this time:
During the 1914/18 war the greensward was converted into trenches and the grass has never been the same again. Land in the Avenues was cultivated, partly by German prisoners of war living in the Hall Barn. Joyce Gethen - Mersea Memories

Beach Huts and their owners around 1920. The house in the background is Shameen at the bottom of Seaview Avenue.

Seaside fashions in the 1920s

Seaview Avenue.

Beach Tea Gardens, which became the Spinney Cafe after WW2. Along with 10 beach huts, it was originally built in 1896 by the owner of Five Gables, the large house at the bottom of Willoughby Avenue.

Roger Gail tells us:
My great-grandfather Alexander Hales, a builders' merchant contractor, built Five Gables when he came into his inheritance. He had a number of businesses, mostly based in North London, but retired permanently to Mersea in 1914. According to family sources, one of his five daughters, Lizzie, managed the tea house for a time with her husband Fred Brayley.

Peter Tucker [1924-2020] wrote:
I have memories of this cafe from my childhood days. In those times it was known only as The Beach Tea Gardens and the sign on the fence of the early photo shows Tea Garden Cafe. The building on the left in early days was more or less an over-flow servery, with ice-creams, sweets, cigarettes and beach tea-trays when it became busy on Sundays and holidays.
My early recollection at around the age of five to six years, was of the Pierrot show on the beach in front of the cafe. An elevated stage of timber was erected and candy striped hangings at the sides and changing room tents attached to the rear. The troupe dressed in loose clown-like garments with conical hats and bobbles, had their faces suitably whitened, did a series of acts from slapstick to singing accompanied by a battered piano and a concertina which provided the music.
The building became part of the gun emplacement restricted area during the war and housed among other armaments, the dummy loader, which was used to train gun crews on the loading and unloading of the shell and the separate cartridge as used on the battery guns.
The Spinney Cafe was demolished in the late 1970s and replaced with beach huts.

A Boating Lake was built in 1933 in Shears Meadow to the west of the Esplanade, and a small open-air swimming pool was added a few years later. With the coming of WW2, the Lake closed, never to re-open. Flats and houses were built on the site in the 1960s.

View looking east with the beach and beach huts to the right. The swimming pool was just to the left of the huts.

The Boating Lake with the new boats, just before WW2. Muriel Smith on the right.

In 1936 Clifford White from Mersea and Mr Sheffield, a builder from North East London, owned most of the land along the foreshore between Seaview Avenue and Broomhills Road. In April that year they sold it to West Mersea Urban District Council, with the condition that the Council built a road along the front - and hence the concrete Victoria Esplanade was built. Maybe someone had premonition that the road would be useful when the inevitable War came, but it does not show in the papers of the time, which were aimed at developing the seafront area. Money was borrowed to build the road with the hope of a good commercial return on this investment - but World War 2 meant that his did not happen.

The Concrete Road, newly built, taken from the bottom of Empress Avenue. Beyond the tents, at the bottom of Fairhaven Avenue is Fairhaven Cafe with the house being built to the left of it. The Cafe lasted until 1973 when it was sold, and Fairhaven Court flats built on the site.

World War 2 saw the sea front being armed, as particularly in 1940, the threat of invasion was real and this area of the coast was considered the front line. Beach huts had to be removed, the beach was covered in barbed wire and mined. The area was closed to the public. Two gun emplacements were built, each with a 4.7 inch gun built in Japan in 1918. Flanking the gun emplacements were searchlight bases to illuminate targets and get their range. A Battery Observation Post was built in front of the western toilets. 373 Coast Defence Battery of the Royal Artillery were based in the area to man the guns. There was a similar arrangement at Cudmore Grove East Mersea, manned by 372 Battery.


A rare wartime view, looking across St. Peter's Meadow to the beach and Fisherman's Hard. Hove Creek comes in bottom right. There is a line of barbed wire just inland from the beach and at least one sand bag emplacement on the beach. The photograph was taken from Galiots on Coast Road.


This aerial view from around 1960 shows the two gun emplacements on the left and the searchlight cafe bottom right. Of the gun emplacements, the left hand one was demolished around 1980 and the right hand one thrives today as the Two Sugars Cafe. There were mostly just bushes along the north side of the Esplanade.

In February 1946 the Concrete Road was officially re-opened. The Council bought the gun and searchlight emplacements for £5 each from the War Department. They had ambitious development plans and started Compulsory Purchase proceedings to acquire the Beach Tea Gardens site near the bottom of Willoughby Avenue - the only part of the foreshore not owned by the Council. They did not proceed; they started again in 1973, but Local Government Reorganisation meant the end of West Mersea Urban District Council in 1975 and that scheme, along with much of West Mersea's independence, died with the Council.

The way it might have been

Ice cream from the former searchlight emplacement June 1947.
Mrs Joe Dawson and Mrs Bob Stoker

The East Coast was badly hit by flooding on the night of 31 January 1953. There was significant loss of life in nearby places like Felixstowe, Jaywick and Canvey Island. In Mersea, the damage was just the flooding. Beach huts floated, and some departed for other shores.

The Greek steamer MICHALAKIS ashore on the beach near Empress Avenue February 1958. She had been laid up in the River Blackwater and broke loose, drifting through several other ships before ending up safely on the mud. She was refloated by tugs a few days later, taken to the Thames for dry-docking, and then returned to the River Blackwater.

Victoria Esplanade Car Park on a popular day in summer around 1960. Willoughby Car Park is top left and Alexandra Avenue comes down in the centre.

Children's Special Service Mission Sunshine Corner on West Mersea Beach. It evolved into the Beach Club and has been running since before WW2. It continues to run, except in Pandemic years.
Upper left background is a concrete observation post from the Cold War. 1966

Ambitious plans drawn up by Essex County Council Architect's Department for West Mersea Urban District Council.
The map shows the Victoria Esplanade area from Willoughby Car Park entrance to Fairhaven Avenue. There is a swimming pool at the eastern end and tennis courts in the present Esplanade Car Park. The estimated completion date September 1975 was added afterwards and is interesting as West Mersea Urban District Council was abolished April 1974 and West Mersea was largely taken over by Colchester.

The Monkey Beach during the Pandemic. The Police Launch ALERT IV standing off to observe social distancing. August 2020

The article above is taken from the display in Mersea Museum Summer Exhibition 2021.

Thanks to:
Jack Botham
Essex County Standard
West Mersea Town Council
Betty Chambers
Ian Clarke
Richard Clifton
Roger Gail
Ron Green
Brian Jay
Peter Rudlin
Peter Tucker
Hardy Weaver
Robin Weaver
Carol Wyatt

AuthorTony Millatt
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 Monkey Beach on a hot Sunday in the midst of Coronavirus pandemic  TM8_1121
ImageID:   TM8_1121
Title: Monkey Beach on a hot Sunday in the midst of Coronavirus pandemic
Date:9 August 2020
Source:Mersea Museum / Tony Millatt