|Memory Lane: Our village centre
From Ron Green and Tony Millatt, Mersea Museum
I think everyone is pleased to see the White Hart all refurbished and busy again. Together with our Parish Church it is the centrepiece of our village and has been for several centuries..
The White Hart has changed over centuries as fashions and needs have moved on. A detailed heritage survey was undertaken for the recent rebuilding work, and concluded that the oldest part was 15th Century, in the centre towards the back, and this was part of a larger building which was later replaced.
An advertisement in one of the developers' brochures for Mersea in 1909 sets the scene for us at the time. "Excellent Accommodation for Gentlemen, Families &c. Wines, Spirits and Cigars of the first quality. Stabling, Billiards and Motor Garage. Terminus of the Motor Omnibus Service in connection with Colchester. Fishing and Boating in the immediate neighbourhood. Proprietor A.H. Went." Arthur Went was one of the longest serving landlords, from 1895 to the early 1930s.
The White Hart around 1914. Brian Jay photograph.
I think the last major change was when the lockup garages were removed. These had been a pair of cottages the front of which had been extended forward and two pairs of doors fitted. The building had joined the White Hart with the cottages next to the shop which is now Jan's collectables and the area was opened up to make a parking space. I can just remember this change shortly before the War.
There are now no doors out onto the High Street pavement as the doors of the Public Bar and the Off Licence used to be. During the warm summer evenings the Public Bar door was usually open and the aroma of Daniels mild and bitter and tobacco smoke used to waft out into the street, and some of the drinkers would cross the road to perch on the church wall. Leo Michael-Smith was landlord for almost 20 years after the War. He was a popular man, at one time Commodore of the Town Regatta, the Dabchicks Sailing Club and he was also on West Mersea Council. He was a white Russian and former body guard to the Czarina in the days of the revolution.
Leo also served in the Peldon Home Guard together with that other popular landlord Ivan Pullen of the Peldon Rose.
Published in Mersea Life July 2022 page 67.