|Of White Horses and White Houses
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - May 2010
When we moved to this area we found, as we had, as in previous villages, the interesting job of puzzling out the background to things which were not always quite what they seemed. Local knowledge is a wonderful thing but, at times, it can be misleading to newcomers until the code is broken. Why, for example, was a 'bus stop known as Post Office Cottages? The explanation was simple - the Post Office had been moved to the centre of the village but the old name had stuck - now, of course, it has undergone another move altogether.
When "Post Office Cottages" was explained to us we learned that there had been a public house at the junction at one time. "The squire didn't like it near the entrance to the Hall so he had it moved", we were told. Sure enough there was a White Horse further along the Maldon Road, in the next parish. Now that has also gone. Was the tale of the removal true and, if so, how long ago had it taken place?
The Tithe Map for Birch, drawn up in 1842 was a good starting point. Sure enough the map shows at the end of the main drive to "Little Birch Church" and "The Hall and premises", there is a reference to "White Horse Inn and cotts.," The owner is given as Charles Grey (sic) Round and the occupiers as Kemp and others.
Among papers in the Essex Record Office there is a copy of sale details showing that on Wednesday 19th December 1832, by order of the proprietor, the White Horse at Birch and ten cottages, were sold to Charles Gray Round for £1,020. The description of the property is:
The inn is well situated for Trade, on the High Road, leading from Maldon to Colchester, in excellent repair, and recently neatly fitted up for the accommodation of the Public.
The House consists of a large Parlour, sash window and door, neat small parlour, convenient bar, and a room attached; cellar, brew office, Tap Room, store room, scullery, etc., 4 sleeping rooms and attic, out offices, chaise house, stables, piggeries, shed etc., with a neat garden, now in occupation of Mrs Holland.
The tenements or cottages are in excellent repair in the occupation of yearly tenants. Attached to them is a school room, a small general shop and new erected bake office and a very good pump of water; the whole of which property stand on 2 acres of rich garden ground, which is divided into convenient allotments and let at the low sum of £70. 9s per annum.
A little community centred round a public house with a shop and school room, apparently in good order, sounds ideal but was it a good investment for the squire at that time?
The 1841 census is short on detail, in particular when it comes to addresses as we know them, but "White Horse End Way" is the description given to an area in which 13 families resided. These included Samuel and Elizabeth Kemp, six children and, possibly, 3 lodgers. Samuel is shown as an Innkeeper, and as the name ties in with the Tithe Map, this seems to be the likely entry for The White Horse.
Ten years later "White Horse and near" is the description used but none of the 14 entries included has any reference to innkeeping etc. - however Rebecca Branton, a 60 year old widow, is noted as "Post Mistress & Shopkeeper, with her 20 year old son as a postman and carrier - thus Post Office Cottages. Neither census makes mention of a school room, or staff, in that area and the History of Birch School starts from the opening of the present school in 1847.
Although nothing has been found to indicate when the White Horse, Birch, was demolished and the licence moved to the White Horse, Layer Marney, it must have been around 1850. The 1874 Ordnance Survey map shows an inn close to Smythes Green. The fields in the area were owned by Charles Gray Round. The fields near the cross roads in Birch retained names linked to the pub and are known to have been let out as allotments in White Horse Field during the 19th century. Very strict rules were used to control the tenants and were administered by the Churchwardens.
The continued use of old names can lead to complications and general confusion. In this instance it very nearly led to the loss of life. The Essex County Standard of 26th March 1887, reported "Serious Fire at Birch". Apparently late one evening fire broke out in a barn at "White House Farm", Birch, and the alarm was raised by the farmer's son, Thos. Ely. He alerted the neighbours and opened the barn so that the animals could escape. "A messenger was also sent to Marks Tey Station from whence a message was sent on to Colchester for the fire engine. The fire had already been noticed by the Borough Police, though of course the precise locality was not known, and when the message arrived at Colchester the Brigade of the Essex and Suffolk Fire Insurance Society (under Mr Geo. Beaumont), and the Volunteer Fire Brigade (under Mr J Howe), were practically ready to start. But an unfortunate mistake appears to have been made in the transmission of the message from Marks Tey to Colchester inasmuch as it stated the fire was at the White Horse, Birch, instead of White House Farm. It seems that there was formerly a public house named the White Horse at Birch, and the result was that both Brigades went several miles out of the right way".
The report goes on to say that despite this error the Brigades reached the right spot and dealt with the blaze efficiently as there was a good supply of water. The main premises were saved although some livestock was lost. In fact White House Farm is close to Easthorpe village and it seems likely that any fire on those premises would have been seen from the Birch cross roads.
The White Horse, Layer Marney, formed part of the Round Estate and was included in the major sale which took place in 1918. Then it was a double fronted clay house with a tile roof. It comprised a tap room, with fireplace, good store room and lean-to cellar, living kitchen with open range; pantry and boot hole. On the 1st floor, reached by a staircase from the kitchen, were 4 bedrooms, the second having a fireplace. Outside was a timber and tile washhouse, a cart shed and nearby a timber and tile wheelwright's shop. It was fully licensed, tobacco, beer and spirits being let to Mrs H Everitt at £25 per annum.
The buyers at that time may have been Daniels Brewery, Colchester, as they sought permission to demolish the existing building in 1926 and rebuild on almost the same site but slightly nearer to Colchester.
The building remained much the same until it closed, for conversion to a private residence, only a few years ago. This ends the story of the public house which moved but where the fields, near the former site, retain names by which they have been known, at least within the farming community for well over 150 years ago. Whether the move was due to the squire's wish to improve his estate entrance, is something on which we can only conjecture. Charles Gray Round was known for his works around the area not least in connection with the provision of the school building in Birch along with the Parish Church.