ID: PH01_WTK / Elaine Barker

TitleThe History of Whitakers, Lower Road, Peldon

Whitakers appears as a cottage name in several of Peldon's registers, the 1918 and 1929 electoral rolls and the 1939 register, and it appears it was three dwellings during much of its life. Situated between Moss Cottage (the old village shop) and The Cottage, it backs onto the woodland that extends up the West side of St Ives Hill. The woodland has over the years encroached on the land for early pictures show a clear view from the back of Whitakers right up to the top road.

Photos exist of the original building before it was knocked down in the late 1960s, showing a run-down, empty building with an overgrown small backyard but being set-back from the road it had quite a large front garden.

There are traditional S shaped iron tie bars on both front and back of the house, to support cracked or bowing walls, maybe due to subsidence or even the effects of the 1884 earthquake. There are no surviving deeds for the house but the owner of the 1970s bungalow which stands there now, has an album of the house and garden's history put together by previous owners, including the pictures of Whitakers before it was demolished in the 1960s.

In Kay Gilmour's manuscript entitled Peldon In Essex: Village over the Marshes, written in the 1950s she spoke to an elderly former resident of Whitakers which reveals the house was already standing by 1853.

Gilmour tells us

Joanna Locke née Mortlock, born in Whitakers Cottages near the shop received me in 1957 at the age of 104 at her home at Great Bromley.

Joanna told Gilmour some of the history of her family, the Mortlocks and her work as a seamstress.

Mrs Joanna Locke was the third youngest of John Mortlock's nine children, born on 30th January 1853 at Whitakers Cottages. At 13 she went to service in Bermondsey in the house of an oil-merchant who paid her 2/6d a week. She went by train and met her employer.

Joanna's father worked for Mr. Pilgrim at Butler's Farm [now under the water of the Reservoir beyond the end of Lodge Lane.] She came back to Peldon and [in 1873]married [John Locke]a horseman on a local farm a few months older than herself.

The Lockes had ten children of whom seven, and their mother, were alive in 1957. Mr. Locke died in 1923.

Mrs Locke usually had 10s a week clear for her housekeeping allowance after rent and firing [fuel?] had been paid. She worked herself as a seamstress for a Colchester firm of tailors, who sent their work to her by the carrier. If she missed returning it by the same means she would walk to Colchester with it.

Her work was very good and the firm told her that they would always give her all the work she wanted. Often she rose at five in the morning and was already sewing before her husband left the house. For sewing the collars of men's holland coats she was paid 3s a dozen. Later she sometimes farmed out work to her daughters - at ¼d a buttonhole. The Boer War gave her the task of sewing a specimen of the new soldier's tunic with hooks at the waist to hold the belt, shoulder straps and two hooks and eyes at the collar. The specimen was sent to Johannesburg and when the tunic came into production Mrs Locke was paid 8 ½ d for her work on each one.

The Lockes raised their family in Langenhoe and in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses John Locke is described as a Teamster on farm while Joanna was a tailoress. In the 1939 register, Joanna, by then a widow, was living with her daughter and son-in-law, Elsie and Charles Balls, in the Gosbecks area of Colchester.

Joanna died aged 105 in 1958 and was buried in Langenhoe Churchyard on 13th June 1958, the last to have a burial service there before the church was demolished in 1962. At the time of Joanna's death she was resident in Great Bromley and her burial service at St. Mary's, Langenhoe, was conducted by the rector of Great Bromley, the Reverend Ernest Merryweather who had been the former incumbent at Langenhoe. A note appears with this last entry in the parish burials record

a letter of sympathy from Queen Elizabeth was received by the Rector of Great Bromley at the service

Unfortunately, in most censuses for Peldon, the cottages where Joanna lived as a child were not named and it is hard to identify Whitakers and to trace the cottages' occupants after the Mortlocks.

However, in the 1918 electoral register three households are listed as living in Whitakers cottages, Fred Purtell, Thomas and Caroline Reynolds and Elijah Trayler senior (who died that year aged 81).

By the 1929 electoral register the residents are Anna Whiting, a widow, and her two unmarried daughters Beatrice and Rhoda, James Clifford Purtell and his grandfather, Thomas Reynolds, and William Elijah Traylor and Mabel Traylor.

Of these residents Anna Whiting was to remain in Whitakers until her death in 1934 and Thomas Reynolds also. Thomas died in the same year aged 88 having lost his wife Caroline in 1921.

In the 1939 register again three households are listed as living in Whitakers Cottages, William E Traylor a horseman on a farm and his sister Mabel are still there, as is James C Purtell, single, a head gardener, along with his widowed aunt Rosetta Randall née Reynolds. Fred Everitt, a widower and his widowed housekeeper, Louisa Harris are the third household.

These electoral and 1939 registers shed some light on unnamed cottages in the earlier census of 1911.

In 1911 three households are living in homes described as being near The Shop (Whitakers was next door). These were Thomas Reynolds and his family including nine-year old grandson, James Purtell, Elijah Traylor (Senior) a widower with his son and daughter, William Elijah and Mabel Traylor, plus Mabel's daughter, Gladys aged 9. The third dwelling is occupied by Susan Christmas a 72 year old widow born in West Mersea.

Peldon's burials register reveals that William Elijah Traylor was to live out his days in Whitakers (he died in 1953 at 85).

Between 1957 and 1959, Peldon's postwoman Renee Ponder, her husband Bob and daughter Valerie rented the right hand cottage, Valerie remembers helping an elderly lady with shopping, Mrs Newby who lived next door in the middle cottage. In the third cottage next to the shop she remembers Mrs [Rosetta] Randall.

Rosetta Randall who died in 1960 at 83, and Fred Charles Everitt, also in 1960 at 94 also lived out their days in Whitakers. Did Whitakers Cottages then remain unoccupied until bought by the next owners in order to demolish it and build a new bungalow?

The existing bungalow now named Whittakers with a double 't' was built by Mr and Mrs Short following the demolition of the old building. They immediately bought an extra strip of land to extend the back garden, being very keen gardeners, and in their day there was no fence between Whitakers and The Old Cottage giving a pleasant, flower-filled, open aspect.

Under construction. The new Whitakers built in February 1970

When the Shorts sold up, John and Berta Nash moved in and lived there for many years, their daughter still lived in the village until recently. Widowed, John managed to stay in his own home into his nineties and was a bee-keeper, supplying honey to the village. It was John who set Peldon's retired Professor of Music, Bill Tamblyn, on the road to keeping hives, of which there are a number locally, in villagers' gardens, churchyards and on Essex Wildlife Trust land. [Appendix 1]

The current owners, who bought the bungalow from the Nash family moved into a caravan while they had extensive work done on the bungalow in 2013 and eventually moved into the house in 2014.

I was interested as to why the cottages were called Whittakers; the only person of that name I can find in Peldon is Mary Whittaker in the 1851 census who was the widow of Joshua, a thatcher from Tolleshunt D'Arcy. Newly widowed (in 1850) it is likely Mary moved to Peldon to be near her daughter although by 1861 seems to be back in D'Arcy. Her daughter, Ann Whittaker, married Benjamin Cudmore in Peldon Church in 1843 - were the Whittakers living here prior to Ann's marriage and gave their name to their home which persists today in 2021?

An unexplained reference to the cottage was by Archie Moore, a wood turner who moved with his wife, Chris, to Peldon in 1965. Upon the demolition of Whitakers, Archie bought a quantity of its oak beams, lead and slates. He was told Whitakers had once been a chapel and he presumed the old building subsequently adapted into a home. At the time of the building's demolition Chris Moore tells me a sign was found saying 'Methodist Chapel' and in the Summary Book of the 1911 Census, the building, occupied by Mr Reynolds, Mrs Christmas and Mr Traylor is named 'Meeting Cottage'.

This clearly indicates that the cottages were used for non-conformist meetings as was the custom before villages had their own chapels. Peldon's Methodist Chapel was not built until 1893 and it is known cottages and a barn were used prior to its erection.

Alan Cudmore, a descendant of Benjamin mentioned above, confirms

I did hear mention of a chapel, perhaps more accurately a meeting place between the village shop and Bunns Corner.

This would seem to confirm another part of Whitakers' history that we have yet to discover!

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project

Appendix 1: Beekeeper and editor of the Peldon and Wigborough Parish Magazine, Bill Tamblyn interviewed John Nash and wrote this article in September 2008 to celebrate John's 90th birthday. John Nash died in 2014.

Village Enterprise The ninth in our occasional series of articles on individual or collective enterprise illustrated by those who live and work in Peldon and Wigborough

John Nash

Despite the road works on Lower Road, Peldon, each morning John sets off for Copt Hall to visit his hives on Crooks farm. The road menders have got used to his land rover and wave him through - 'important horticultural business'!

John reminds me that, during the WW2 and in the immediate aftermath, beekeepers were given a fixed price for their honey 2/9d a pound and, "if you kept bees you got 25lb of sugar a year to feed the bees". Beekeeping was a serious business then. Swarms were much more frequent then than now and people wereon the look-out for locally produced honey.

After the war he made virtually everything for his hives. He kept a little book (which I have copied!) in which he made meticulous notes about dimensions for each lift, or brood box or super, and like my own father (who was a veteran of WW1) he scrounged the timber to make much of the furniture he has now. (It breaks his heart to think that, after a recent bout of disease he may actually have to burn some frames). He has had up to a dozen hives at various times - though he keeps telling me he is going to give up! But he also repeats "it's in your blood".

John was born in Islington, but the family moved back to Great Leighs, Essex early on in his childhood. His father had been a horseman in the London Fire Brigade. He left school at 14 and had a succession of jobs - he worked for Western Electric Construction, travelling round villages bring electricity for the first time; he worked in an iron foundry - Kale and Elliots of Braintree, but finally ended up working for Post Office Telephones working on 'external works' - cables, poles, telephones as a labourer but, years later he ended up as an executive engineer.

He was conscripted in 1939 for 6 months 'training' - the first time we had conscripted men since the time of Elizabeth 1st . He was to be in the army for 6 ½ years. He was evacuated at Dunkirk. He went to join the Royal West Africa Field Defence Force but saw no action until the Americans came to Dakar and after a catastrophic loss of supplies in ships that were sunk, the British had to supply transport.

Of course, he got malaria, and speaks wryly about his continuing illnesses and about the reputation of Mersea as a 'mosquito coast'. He was in an 'experimental' ward in Colchester where various drugs were tried out to cure malaria.

So - to what does he attribute his long life (after all he was 90 this year)? Longevity may not run in his family. John was the eldest of 6 children. His father (like mine) badly gassed in WW1, died before he was 50. John too has had many illnesses but he confides "I don't reckon 90 is much of an age these days - after all there is that chap who fought in WW1 who was 114! And he adds, jokingly, that he has lived long because "I must have lived a purer life"!

He has been in Peldon 15 years now, and in Fingringhoe 37 years before that. He nursed his wife Bertie (Berta) until she died 5 years ago. His daughter Christine still lives in the village. He has seen a lot of changes - and deeply regrets the passing of the village shop. " Of course, I remember when we got the post at 7am in the morning, and the shop was a meeting place for so many of us" He is sad too about the loss of the garage, and feels that is it losses like this that eventually break up the community.

But let's end where we began - with the bees. John has honey - lots of it - and still has regular customers. Honey will keep for 5 or 6 years. Some say honey was found in the graves in the Pyramids! John's is more recent! But it is all getting so much harder: "The bees just aren't there" says John, "and neither are so many other insects" Farmers were told by the NFU to let bee keepers know before they used spray but this no longer happens. There have always been diseases - Nosema that causes dysentery when bees are stressed; Foul Brood, where the lavae are malformed; varroa - not so much as a disease as a plague of blood-suckers that debilitate the hive. And the mysterious hive collapse which may or may not be present here.

I lost my only colony in the spring. John lost both his colonies from 2007 in 2008 as well. We have replaced them with healthy swarms we collected together - now his is hived at Crook farm and I have a large and small swarm at Malting Cottage. Mine are a bit fierce - so, as John is my mentor, he will have to teach me how to deal with this. Something to do with replacing the Queen.. which sounds a tricky business.

Personally, John is a great mentor, and I a very willing apprentice. He has such a fund of stories and has a great sense of humour. I suppose I could say he is 'living history' too, for his memories are our past and the building blocks for our future.

Happy 90th John!

See also Whitakers and The Cottage on Lower Road

Article updated 31 Oct 2021

AuthorElaine Barker
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 Whitakers Cottages, Peldon. Since demolished in the 1960s and replaced by a bungalow of the same name.
 They were rented by Renee and Bob Ponder in 1957. They were just to the east of the village shop.  PH01_WTK_001
ImageID:   PH01_WTK_001
Title: Whitakers Cottages, Peldon. Since demolished in the 1960s and replaced by a bungalow of the same name.
They were rented by Renee and Bob Ponder in 1957. They were just to the east of the village shop.
Source:Peldon History Project
 Whitakers Cottages, Peldon. Rear view. They were just to the east of the shop and Post Office and were demolished in the 1960s  PH01_WTK_003
ImageID:   PH01_WTK_003
Title: Whitakers Cottages, Peldon. Rear view. They were just to the east of the shop and Post Office and were demolished in the 1960s
Source:Peldon History Project
 Whitakers Cottages, Peldon. Rear view. They were just to the east of the shop and Post Office and were demolished in the 1960s.  PH01_WTK_005
ImageID:   PH01_WTK_005
Title: Whitakers Cottages, Peldon. Rear view. They were just to the east of the shop and Post Office and were demolished in the 1960s.
Source:Peldon History Project
 Bungalow being built in Peldon which replaced Whitakers Cottages. Just to the east of the shop and Post Office.  PH01_WTK_007
ImageID:   PH01_WTK_007
Title: Bungalow being built in Peldon which replaced Whitakers Cottages. Just to the east of the shop and Post Office.
Source:Peldon History Project