TODAY supermarkets look like reducing shopping to a dead level of uniformity, but in the Mersea of my childhood our
shops gave us not only infinite variety but some unusual individuals as owners.
Would you find a rhyme like this tacked on the door of a cobblers' shop today?
This is the man who won't refuse,
To mend or make your boots and shoes.
His leather is good, his price is low,
Give him a trial and then you'll know.
Jack Lungley's one-story wooden shop stood in Captain's Road and the rhyme was his way of advertising.
PASSING my home in Churchfield and going south, the first shop is Blackwater Stores, then a grocery combined with a
draper's shop. There was a men's department too, selling shoes and clothing of all kind. The two shops boasted
four show windows and were owned by Samuel Cant White, father of Clifford White, our late builder and estate agent.
At one time, an enterprising son Horace had a sixpenny stall outside on Saturdays, a favourite resort for any child who had a whole sixpence to spend. I've a shrewd suspicion that's where my Christmas presents were bought when money was tight.
I had the entrée to the house at the next business establishment, the Post Office and grocery run by Mr Ashton
Turner, for the daughter of the house was my school friend.
All Post Office business was transacted behind an iron grille with a little pigeonhole just inside the door.
Beyond was the shop, a fascinating place on early closing afternoons in winter. The black tea canisters, lacquered
in red and gold, loomed like huge Buddhas perched on their high shelves in the half darkness.
Joining one side of the shop was a bakehouse. Is there any better place to be on a wet winter's day than a clean
whitewashed bake-house, warm from the baking, with the scent of new bread still lingering? Toby Greenleaf, in his
white baker's cap with a dusting of flour on eyebrows and moustache, would be doing a final clear-up. I couldn't
find a photo of him in his white cap, but here he is after giving the bakehouse a fresh coat of whitewash.
A door from the shop led to the living room, where we had tea. On a little desk just inside, telegrams were
despatched and received. They were few and far between, and the sight of an orange envelope made our hearts miss a
beat then. There was no 'phone. An A.B.C instrument, a disc inscribed with letters and numbers with a pointer
pressed to indicate the letter or number wanted, was used. A similar disc was installed at the other end of the
There had to be one drawback to having tea there, just to heighten the enjoyment of the rest. Mr and Mrs Turner
always drank China tea, or it could have been green tea, with a peculiarly smoky flavour. Out of politeness, I
dare not ask for milk so swallowed it like a dose of medicine. That was a small price to pay for the shop, the
bakery and the sight of a real ostrich egg brought home by an uncle from his African travels.
I STOOD in awe of Mr Turner, general confidante and adviser to Mersea. If legal advice or a reference was wanted,
he was the man to be consulted.
The wisteria Mr. Turner planted in front of the house still bears masses of purple bloom, but the Post Office and
bakery are there no longer. Before the 1914-18 war the present Barclays Bank was built, the Post Office
transferred there, and the grocery and bakery sold to Mr. Howard. Howard's Stores still exists, but the bakehouse
ceased to function some years ago.
[In 2023, Howard's Stores in Church Road has become the Unique Fish Bar and Kebab. The wisteria is still
going strong. Barclays Bank, the former Yorick Road Post Office, closed in June 2023, its future not clear. ]
Mr. Turner was post master when the accompanying photo was taken, but retired a few years after.
The newsagent's shop in the foreground, enlarged from a garage about 1919-20, was run by C.F. Williamson, a
sergeant-major retired from the Regular Army who had seen service in Ireland during the Easter Rebellion and was at
the Battle of Arras. He got his daily exercise by delivering newspapers on horseback.
One Christmas Eve early in the 1930s the little wooden shop went up in a mass of flames and a more substantial shop
was built which eventually became the present three-storey building.
CONTINUING from Howard's stores along Church Road, the house next to the White Hart boasted a shop, where Mrs. Herbert Mussett sold sweets and soft drinks. A bottle of stone ginger beer bought there was my Saturday night treat and afterwards my thrifty mother used the stone bottle for a bed warmer.
Before my day a thatched cobbler's shop stood in the corner of Yew Tree House Field opposite. It was a favourite
rendezvous for Mersea fishermen in bad weather, so my father said, and the proprietor was a very discreet man.
One of the gossipers would look curiously at the pile of boots and shoes to be called for and single out a pair.
"They're nice shoes, Mr. Smith,"
"Ah, yes," blandly, "They belong to the Wear'ems. The Wear'ems are a very large family."
Mr. Smith was giving nothing away!
I DON'T know what the health authorities would think of another sweet shop we patronised, for Miss Sally Amos kept
shop from her bed at what is now an antique shop near the church.
Miss Amos's bed stood on the left-hand side facing the window with a little counter beside it; her goods stood in
bottles in the window or in boxes stacked round the room. The customers lifted the bottles down or the shopkeeper
raked the boxes to her bed with a long stick. She managed to shut the door-latch with it, too.
My brother could mimic her high-pitched voice. "What do you want, little boy, a yanky panky or a farthin'
everlasting stick?" (A yanky panky was a flat square of sweet striped horizontally in pink and brown. Half the
fun was getting the paper off before we could bite it.)
"Oh, you're John Brand's son; I thought you were George Brand's son."
The boys tormented her by going in four times to spend a penny, a farthing at a time.
One of her callers was Mrs Angelina Hewes, now an almost legendary character who always draped a cape over her head
in place of a hat.
"Mrs Angy," as she was known, was married to a "vinkler", her own word. [meaning 'winkler']. "Vinklers" earnings
were small, so to augment their income Mr and Mrs Hewes kept a pig.
One hot summer night my cousin Jess heard the following dialogue.
"Jim!" No answer.
"Jim, vot do you think that pig veigh?" No answer but a grunt.
"Say vot you think, man, say vot you think."
YOU'LL wonder what this digression has to do with Miss Amos. From an apocryphal story concerning Mrs Hewes, I
think Miss Amos was paralysed.
Mrs. Angy was paying a visit to the shop.
"Which is the bad leg, Miss Amos?"
"It's my right leg," Miss Amos told her. "Tis a good thing it ain't the left. They say that's where the sowl
Paralysed or not, the indomitable woman even managed to work a sewing machine.
One day we heard our shopkeeper must give up her shop and go to the infirmary. Of course, I was there. Children
always get wind of any unusual happening. I watcher her go, saw the cart drive off, and felt utterly miserable.
Child as I was, I knew a gallant, independent woman had had to surrender her liberty at last.