Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - May 2001
Ask many people for directions as to how to reach your destination and the answer is likely to include reference to a public house particularly in a country area. With the passing of the years it is not always possible to say where a particular alehouse actually stood and our area is no different to others in this respect. The earliest mention of an alehouse hereabouts is just one example. In the Essex Quarter Sessions papers for 1614 there is a note that a certificate "by the inhabitants of Great and Little Birch that John Bundock of Great Birch being desirous to be licensed to keep an alehouse is one who from his childhood hath been well known to them to be of good conversation and dwelleth in a house the farmers whereof had victualled from time to time for 20 years". The petition went on to state that there was already a similar place on the main road in the parish but the owner lacked ability; was nasty and travellers wanting to stay overnight found that due to "want of clean lodgings and diet" they had to trouble the neighbours for lodgings!
From this we know that at least two places existed and that one had been used since 1594. From what follows it will be seen that it would be very hazardous to try to link the above notes with the present premises! A typical rural area is often described as having a church, a village green and a public house - in this area we lack village greens as such and the number of churches and licensed premises have declined over the years. Now only Birch and Layer Breton can boast a pub as the one at Layer Marney closed within the last few years.
Probably the best known, "The Angel" at Heckford Bridge, stands on the main road! Apart from the possible reference above (!) the name first appears in the Quarter Sessions records, in 1769, when the occupier was Burden Fairfax. We have no way of telling just how long the house had been trading - the Angel sign is said to be one of the oldest known and is also quite widespread. After Fairfax the occupant changed every few years through Courtman (1776) Glanfield (1784) Bateman (1805) and Glanfield (perhaps a son of the earlier licensee) in 1821 until the records cease in 1828. When the Tithe Map was compiled in 1841 the owners were Glanfield Executors with Ann Duffield as the occupant. Ann is shown in the census as being the innkeeper with one son, an ironmonger's apprentice, and they had one male and one female servant.
By 1851 Barnabas Pettitt, born in Alphamstone, is described as a Maltster and Innkeeper employing two men. By 1855 it was run by Thomas Day. The next licensee seems to have been Thomas Goody, born in Sudbury but his wife came from Springfield, and in 1881 Thomas's sister was shown as an "Innkeeper's Assistant" while his niece, Phoebe Mead, was nursemaid to the youngest infant. The Goody family held the licence for more than fifty years as in 1937 Clara Goody, a daughter of Thomas, who was almost 60, appears in a local directory as the licensee.
During the Second World War, when the Home Guard used one of the meeting rooms, the licence was taken over by Albert Jones and later, by Olive and Harry Pullen before passing to Sidney Farr. The Angel has undergone many changes and, no doubt, many were the tales told in the bar over the years. Customers of the smithy, which once stood next door, would find it hard to recognise the place now. In earlier days the pub stood, amid a number of outbuildings, beside the Roman River ford crossed only by a plank bridge. Structural alterations not only to the pub but also to the grounds around have changed the character of the area and it is hard to imagine that watercress grew where cars are now parked, the water coming from a spring which still flows under the garden and road. Harder still to accept is the fact that Sidney Farr was lauded in the local paper in 1975 for selling water from the now hidden spring! The headline reads "Birch, where spring water works miracles". Mr Farr took over the licence in 1959 and had heard about the water's amazing qualities from a local. His wife claimed to have sent bottles all over the country and had received stacks of letters in return! The water was claimed to cure or relieve common colds, eye complaints, baldness and skin diseases - some even claimed it was an aphrodisiac. One wonders why with such a product "on tap" they retained the licence! Moving down the road Layer Breton is still served by the Hare and Hounds which, the licensing records show, seems to date from 1803 when the licensee was James Bundock followed in 1810 by Richard Bundock and four years later by Berry Bradbrooke. In those days licensees had to provide sureties and it interesting to note that they were often other licensees. In the case of the Hare and Hounds in 1814 one of the sureties was James Bateman, from the Angel, while a few years later it was the licensee of the King's Arms, Great Wigborough. From 1823 to at least 1828 the licensee was Joseph Rowe but at the time of the Tithe map in 1841 the owner and occupier was given as Edward Holloway although it is hard to imagine how the nine persons appearing in the census were housed!
In 1851 Holloway was also a shopkeeper and with him were his wife and her two daughters by an earlier marriage plus a grand daughter and an ostler. Edward continued as licensee until he died in 1866 when his son-in-law Richard Law took over and remained for at least thirty years. The next licensee was William Mead until the First World War. We know from the Valuation Act papers of 1910 that the house was then owned by the Colchester Brewery Company and that it had been purchased in 1896 for £950. It is described as being of "brick and tile or brick and slate, old but moderate. On the First Floor were three bedrooms and one small room, on the Ground Floor a kitchen, pantry, living room, sitting room, bar, tap, bar parlour and club room, two cellars. Outside a small meadow and garden plus several outbuildings". No mention is made of the well which is now inside the premises but was then in the garden. Joseph Palmer was the next licensee and was succeeded by his son, Edmund, in 1937. It would be interesting to know if the main road crossing the Heath a few yards from the frontage of the premises was really added due to the fact that it was thought unseemly for burial parties going to the cemetery near the Chapel to pass a public house!
Now for the tale of the house that moved. In the 1841 Tithe Map for Birch there are two entries of interest. First there is the White Horse Inn and gardens, owned by Charles Grey Round, and occupied by Kemp and others. This was situated near what is now known as the Old Post Office on the Maldon Road where some field names relate to the inn. By 1851 the inn had moved to Smythe's Green, Layer Marney. The story is that Squire Round objected to having to pass customers outside the pub when on his way in or out of his estate at Birch Hall and so, as the owner, he had it removed. It seems that in 1851 it was a beerhouse with Judith Davey, a widow, the licensee but by 1859 it had passed into the hands of William Everitt and then to Charles Everitt who also traded as a wheelwright. He was succeeded by his widow, formerly Harriett Sparrow, until she died aged 90 in 1922. Her daughter Jael Rawlinson then took over so we have another long stay by one family. By 1933 it had passed to D G Fowler and a few years later to Fredk West. It finally closed during the 1990s and was sold for conversion to residential property.
In addition to these properties there were others licensed to sell beer at some time or other. Birch parish had very strange boundaries when the Tithe Survey was conducted in 1841 and it included a small area of land on which stood the Bell within yards of Easthorpe Church almost opposite what is now The House With No Name. Boundary changes in 1889 led to the Bell becoming part of Easthorpe. Little is known of the Bell apart from the details in the book about the village by the late Tony West under the item on Bell Cottage. The original occupier was James Hutley, the local blacksmith, but by 1881 the publican was James Hellen. In 1902 the occupant was Harvey Hart followed by his widow in 1922 shortly before it closed.
Somewhere in Birch in 1831 there was a new beer shop run by James Seabrook who was prosecuted for allowing people to gamble on the premises. "He convinced the Bench that he was ignorant of the offence and was discharged with an admonition to be more careful". Other beer sellers included a Robert Finch who, in 1851, is shown as an "Agricultural Labourer and Beer Shop Keeper" in Layer Breton. This was short lived and had ceased trade by 1861 but was probably close to where the village shop stood until a few years ago. Another beer shop at Layer Marney appears on the 1838 Tithe Map of the parish at the cross roads next to Almonds. The original owner was George Addy and the occupier William Sparrow is shown, somewhat grandly, as a brewer in the 1841 census. The 1881 census shows the licensee as Mrs Edwards who remained for some years but by 1910 the licence had passed to Walter Church with the final occupant possibly being John Keeling just before 1920. It is possible that Harriett Everitt at the White Horse was the daughter of William Sparrow, forming a local monopoly! It is interesting to link family names between the various houses and also note the length of time some families remained in the premises. There are earlier references to alehouses in the area but no specific details exist. Frequently licensees carried on other trades and we were reminded of the tale told of a Suffolk house where an enquiry as to how much beer was sold was met with the response of the licensee's daughter to the effect that her father brought a barrel home from market every fortnight but she had no idea how much he sold as he drank more than half himself!
Our thanks on this occasion go to Mr and Mrs Howard, Mr and Mrs Richer and the two licensees. Those wishing to read more about local inn signs should consult the recent publication "History through Essex Public House Signs" by the Revd Keith Lovell.