Wyn Jones recalls from land sale brochures of sixty years ago estate developers' plans.
Photographs of their progress by Keith Mirams.
From the Magazine Section, Essex County Standard, transcribed by Pauline Winch.
Queensville Road has a long way to go before becoming the suburbia of the land agents plans.
Anyone who finds the West Mersea of today too crowded for his taste can at least console himself that plans hatched
in the early years of this century to develop the town into a miniature Clacton never materialised.
The palmy years between the Boer War and the First World War were momentous times for Mersea. It was during this
period - when the place was being described far and wide as an Essex Riviera ripe for development - that much of
the land on which the town now stands was sold.
Farmers found they could make more money by putting agricultural land on the market for housing development. This
led to a succession of sales in the first decade of the century, the like of which north Essex has never seen since.
Prospective buyers came from as far afield as London - for about three shillings day return on the train to
Colchester - and were regaled with beer and oyster luncheons in large marquees when they reached Mersea.
There were widely trumpeted proposals for a light railway linking Colchester and Southend via Mersea, Tollesbury
and Maldon. There was even to be a pier at West Mersea - with a statue of Queen Victoria and a bandstand on the
East Road appeared on the developers' maps as Station Road. The railway was shown to follow what is now the line
of Fairhaven Avenue.
Fairhaven Avenue was intended as the line of the Railway.
The maps and brochures were rich in names that spoke of the contemporary mood of imperial confidence: Queensville,
Empress Avenue, Alexandra Gardens, Prince Albert Road.
A medallion of Queen Alexandra lent a regal air to the glossy souvenir of a Press visit to the Mersea Estates Co's
Queen's Estates. J.H. Gardner, the auctioneer, was also offering "busts, statues, statuettes or high class
monuments" like the "colossal bust of H M The King Emperor" which he had already supplied to the corporations of
Aberystwyth and Cape Town, or the "statue representing HM the late Queen in her Coronation Robes, executed in the
finest Ravaccione Marble and supplied by J. H. Gardner to the Queen Empress Memorial Fund, Rawal Pindi."
"There are those," the "Daily News" prophetically commented, in August 1907, "who think that a little energy and
enterprise will suffice to transform West Mersea into (sic. 'a') flourishing seaside town."
Among the first of the Mersea land sales was one in October, 1905, when 80 freehold building sites and six business
plots on the Firs estate were offered. Rail fares to and from Colchester were refunded to purchasers.
Literature advertising the sale was breathless with enthusiasm. The Firs estate was described as "admirably placed
in a high and healthy situation in the heart of the parish."
"Mersea Island," it was said, "is one of the warmest and cosiest places on the east coast; of great historical and
romantic interest, and world-famous for its native oyster fisheries. Now on the verge of a grand future, resulting
in great advantage to those who purchase now."
"A bus service between Colchester and Mersea has ... been started ... and the certain early coming of the proposed
Colchester, Mersea and Southend light railway, with piers and steam ferries, will open up this hitherto neglected
but delightful holiday and business resort to an unprecedented degree, bringing the Island within about 2 hours of
London, and making it also more accessible from the important and populous market, manufacturing and military
borough and port of Colchester only eight miles distant."
Plots fetched between £10 and £50, and bidding was
In September, 1907, the fourth sale of the first part of the Queen's estate was held. The auctioneer, Mr E. Beard,
urged those present to "acquire a bit of Mersea cheap." He assured them that land in the town would soon be
selling at four times its then value, and that the buyers "at almost prairie value" would congratulate themselves
on their far-sightedness.
The "Building Trades Journal," which admittedly could not claim disinterest in the situation, was cooing at that
time: "As a health resort, Mersea stands A1. The air is bracing, and the amount of sunshine makes this district a
likely rival to Clacton in the near future."
"The inhabitants are noted for their longevity ... Visitors who come to Mersea say they were never better in their
Mersea was given the big sell all over Britain. It was almost as if it had never previously been charted and had
only just been discovered by estate agents and the national Press.
The "Daily Mirror" of August 26, 1907, was billing it as a new weekend resort. "The island," it claimed, "is
rapidly becoming popular for weekend bungalows and sporting residences ... Crops this year on the island are the
heaviest in Essex, and the Mersea oysters are accepted by Government analysis as the standard for purity."
The brochure for the sale of 100 plots on the Queensville estate in September, 1908, contained a map showing the
proposed route of a railway from Colchester to Mersea. This would have followed a route similar to that of the
Mersea Road, and readers were reminded that a Bill authorising a railway from Colchester to Southend had been
passed two years previously.
The railway would have cut through the Queen's estate, with a pier jutting out to sea opposite. "The island,"
declared the brochure, "has from time immemorial been known as the most healthy place upon the East Coast, and the
Press are unanimous in praising it as a resort where the suffering can be restored to health and the healthy
The yachting, sporting and angling attractions of Mersea were also boosted, as was the charm of its peace and
quiet - although, perhaps understandably, nobody explained how this latter quality was to be retained in the mood
of land-buying euphoria which was sweeping the island.
Mr H.J. Weaver, of Suffolk Avenue, West Mersea, remembers hearing about the sales from his grandfather, the late Mr
Leonard Weaver, who helped organise them.
"Most of the land sold at the time," he said, "has now been built on. Hundreds of houses on the Firs Estate,
Fairhaven Avenue, Seaview Avenue, Alexandra Avenue, Empress Avenue and many other roads (sic. houses?) have gone up
on the plots."
"It was planned to give Mersea a pier with a statue of Queen Victoria on it. But all we've got is the Victoria
Whether the plans for the pier and railway were just fanciful schemes aimed at whetting the appetites of
prospective land purchasers is an open question. Such a project may have been sincere in conception, but
impracticable when it came to carrying it out.
The junction of Prince Albert Road and Willoughby Road.
Whatever the reason, the dream of turning Mersea into a mini-Clacton was never realised. No doubt most of the
present-day Mersea residents - and the majority of its visitors - are grateful.
Echoes of those old-time sales, however, still continue to be heard. Several fields, capable of accommodating
several hundred houses, remain undeveloped between Kingsland Road and Empress Avenue.
There were acquired as individual plots earlier this century by the later Mr Clifford White, a West Mersea estate
agent, and the late Mr H. Sheffield, a local builder. The land has now been handed down to their sons.
Plans now before the Minister of Housing show this area as scheduled for residential debelopment. Mr W.
Carrington, clerk to the West Mersea council, reveals that it is here that the bulk of the town's future housing
will probably be built between now and 1981. A new entrance road to West Mersea is destined to run more or less
through the middle of the land.
It shouldn't be long before all the land snapped up in those bygone sales is built upon.
Piers, railways and royal statues may have proved too far fetched. The present reality may be rather different from the Edwardian speculators' dream. All the same, their basic forecast wasn't so very far out.
Shears meadow at the end of Victoria Esplanade is at last being built upon and will bring a new element into the sea front scene.
Victoria Esplanade sixty years after the land sales still has undeveloped plots which give it a rural look - a far cry from the Edwardian planners ideas.
The skeleton of a war-time pillbox on Victoria Esplanade marks the spot where Edwardian planners had envisaged a pier.
Queensville, West Mersea, Estate Sale. 30 September 1908