The Old Water Tower  

    Earls Colne   CO6 2SZ

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  NEWFANGLED WAYS                                2018 Exhibition   

How the village moved with the times

The title of the exhibition was inspired by the poem by Charles Benham, then the editor of the Essex County Standard, written at the end of the nineteenth century.


This photograph, taken in 1872, shows the view from the corner of Burrows Road looking towards the Baptist Chapel before Reuben Hunt built his house ‘Tillwicks’ on the village green

Charles Tyler, the local pharmacist, took this picture of the High Street from the corner of Queens Road. Although the view is still recognisable, there are no street light. No telegraph poles ….  and no traffic

Mr Tyler’s most famous photograph of the forge has appeared in many publications. If you look at the right - hand side you will see a carved wooden arm hanging in the window. It was sent to the blacksmith, by a practical joker, in response to an advert for “a strong hand” to assist him in his work.

At Colne Ford, a narrow wooden footbridge allowed pedestrians to cross the river. Horse-drawn vehicles had to risk using the ford itself, on the right of the picture.

Philip Buck, recalling memories of his childhood in the 1850s, made the point that rural life in those days had its drawbacks

“Rusticity was everywhere apparent. The oaths were un-kerbed and made of flints and brickbats. Numerous projections existed, ready to trip up the unwary. In  the absence of gas, the candles in the houses did not illuminate the paths or lessen their dangers. I once saw a stranger walking along the path in semi-darkness opposite ‘The Castle’ tavern, suddenly bang with his full force into some palings which stood out from the house.”

Lower Holt Street

High Street, looking West, in 1900

The Castle in 1900

ALL ABOARD - the Coming of the Railway

When the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway Company built a branch line between Chappel and Halstead in 1860, the station at White Colne also served Earls Colne

Whte Colne  Station

 But William Buck, the younger brother of our previous contributor, was proud of being one of the first passengers.

“The day on which the railway was opened in February 1860, I had a trip to Chappel and back. No station had been built then and tickets were issued from a square wooden hut. Uniforms were not provided for the railway staff and, as the train was approaching, the old man who acted as Porter would ring a handbell.”

The original ‘request stop’ at the bottom of Station Road, Earls Colne, was known as Ford Gate Halt. The picture shows the wooden hut which served as an office for the Station Master, George Evans.

In 1862, the Colne Valley line reached the town of Haverhill and the local paper, announcing the great event, proclaimed:

“The shareholders have cause to to congratulate themselves on the accomplishment  of an effort that their children’s children will boast”

In 1903, Reuben Hunt provided land and finance for a new station at Earls Colne, including a large goods yard and a house for the station master. Two years later, the station officially became known as ‘Earls Colne’ in the railway company’s timetable.

Further facilities were added, including a Ladies Waiting Room and, as well as the regular services, the company provided special trains for Excursions, as Ted Scillitoe could recall:

“Hunts had an annual outing to Yarmouth and the whole Works was closed and, consequently, the schools were closed. The children all used to go, and the picture shows the platform crowded, with everyone eagerly awaiting the arrival of the train. Hundreds of them, there were, crowding on to the train to go to Yarmouth for the day”

The Colne Valley line became part of the Great Eastern section of the LNER in 1923 which, in turn, became part of British Railways in 1948. The photograph shows the large number of people required to staff the Earls Colne station in 1947.

Passenger services were wihdrawn in 1961 and, like many other rural branch lines, the Colne Valley fell under ‘Dr Beeching’s axe’ in 1965.

Station Yard at Earls Colne


The Gas Works at the bottom of Colneford Hill was completed in 1835 and the Essex Standard prepared its readers for exciting developments:

“This pleasing spot in the Colne Valley is rapidly improving under the spirit of progress evoked by the presence of the ‘Iron Road’. Now the parishioners are bestirring themselves to secure illumination of their residences by means of gas”

Laying the gas  main in Earls Colne

Opposite ‘The Lion’, Tanswell and Payne shoe shop - later owned  by the Rozzzier family - was able to illuminate their display windows, with gas mantles on the outside to reduce the risk of fire.

As this picture shows, when there were floods at the Ford, production at the Gas Works was brought to a standstill.

Henry Massingham was both Company Secretary of the Gas Light& Coke Company and Chairman of the Parish Council, formed in 1894, so it was not long before the subject of gas street lighting appeared on the Council’s agenda.

The initial arrangement of the lights was approved in Maay 1899. There would be 32 lamps from Station Road to the top of Colneford Hill with 12 placed in the side roads. The lamps would be lit from the middle of September to the middle of March (except on nights when the moon was full!!)

These ‘before and after’ pictures of the Foundry Lane junction show that the position of the lamps took little account of the hazard to traffic

It was not until 1932 that the Parish Council decided once more to move with the times and  a contract for street lighting was signed with the East Anglian Electric Supply Company. Even so, the lights still remained off during the summer and on nights when there was a full moon.

KEEEPING IN TOUCH - Postal & Telephone Services,

Early postal services were provided at the Tawell family’s drapery store, which is now the Draper’s House Restaurant.

Joseph Farrants took over the business and continued to act as Postmaster for thirty two years. When he retired in 1901, he thanked his assistant, Miss Sally Walsh, for her loyal support

New purpose-built premises opened on the opposite side of the street. Shop fronts were added to the former farm house, providing accommodation for a small sweet shop and the showroom of the Gas Light & Coke company as well as the post office.

A few months later, the Parish Council started to make enquiries about the installation of a telephone service. The G.P.O. (General Post Office) insisted on a guarantee of at least 12 subscribers and the local paper made the excited announcement in September 1902, a year before Halstead got on line.

On Wednesday next the village will realise one of its favourite ambitions and people will be talking over the newly installed telephone system. What is the next enterprise to be? The switchboard is large enough for 30 subscribers, if they should turn up.

When Mr Gordon Kelly became the Postmaster in 1953 the exchange was located in the dining room and was manually operated. As this picture of Mrs Dorothy Kelly shows, the family had to make sure that one of them was always on hand to dea with callers

The telephone exchange eventually moved to a building in Park Lane, whch is now used as the Nursery attached to the Primary School


In 1894, the District Council began to consider improvements to the Earls Colne water supply, but the earlier plans would have made only a few additions to existing wells and pumps.

Occupants of Hunts houses were more fortunate. They had a supply piped from the well at the Atlas works.

After a very hot summer in 1890, when many wells ran dry, Reuben Hunt provided a public water tank at the end of Queens Road  which was also connected to the Atlas Works supply

By 1907, the construction of a water main was still underr discussion, as the local, paper reported:

“The Vice-Chairman of the District Council said he was heartily sick of the Earls Colne Water Question that had been before them, on and off, for nearly 23 years. Young men had grown old in considering it and it was time the matter was brought  to an end”

Pump at Tillwicks

Still, it was another seven years before a bore-hole was drilled for the pumping station in Tey Road and the local houses were connected to the water main.

The pumping station fed the water tower in Coggeshall Road but, in the early days, there were many complaints about the quality of the muddy-brown water, The landlord of ‘The Lion’ wrote to the local paper, disgusted that his customers were having to spoil good spirits with such water


As We Were

All Aboard

Keeping In Touch

Lighting the Way

At the Turn of a Tap

On The Road

On Call

Despite the arrival of the railway in 1860, most people’s journeys relied on horses until well after the First World War.

The message on this particular postcard reads “Off to Tiptree for a Strawberry Tea at six pence each”

From an early age, Edith Willsher of Burnt House Farm helped her father with his milk round by horse and cart. By 1922, at the ge of 17, Edith and her cousin were doing the milk round ontheir own. In the picture above they have stopped outside the cottages in the High Street opposite the chemist’s shop

Tim Osborne’s father owned a bakery at White Colne and also did his deliveries by horse and cart but, as Tim explains, when a new horse was bought from the local dealer Don Stedman - seen in this picture on his rounds - problems arose.

“The old horse used to run away, you know. It used to take it into his head and suddenly run off. Opposite the shop there was a builder called Eves.  They used to go gover to Eves’ and get a long ladder and  put it across the Colchester road for when the horse came round the corner, so they could turn it into the yard. Yu could see that happening now, couldn’t you!!

Colchester Road

Colchester Road

Colchester Road

The Lion in 1900

Upper High Sreet in 1909

Walter Buck, who later operated a carrier service between Earls Colne and Colchester, had childhood memories of the 1860s, when donkey carts were also in regular use.

“On a Saturday afternoon it was not unusual to see a  load of coal being drawn up the High Street of Earls Colne on a four-wheeled  carriage  by eight or nine donkeys. The men not only bought coal, but shop-keepers in the village, requiring things from the wholesale shops inn Colchester, would ask them to bring whatever they wanted. So they were looked upon as general carriers”

The Moore family of Kelvedon started a business as horse-drawn carriers, as this late nineteenth century picture of Horace Moore shows

Moore’s bus in 1951

Moving with the times, the firm switched to buses in the 1920s and started a regular service between Kelvedon and Earls Colne. Here, their bus is parked on the Green outside Priory Farm while the driver takes a tea break.

When Moore’s buses were taken over by Eastern National in 1963, the Earls Colne to Kelvedon service was withdrawn  

Moore’s bus in 1961

Like their Kelvedon competitors, the Blackwell family began their business as horse-drawn carriers. After the First World War, Sidney J Blackwell started a motor bus service from their Coggeshall Road depot.

Claude Snell, who left  school at 12 to become an errand boy at the drapery shop owned by  Joseph Farrants, recalled the effect which the new bus service had on local traders:

“It had  been a flourishing business when I went there. Besides Mr Farrants and his wife, there was a milliner who made hats and also dress-making, and another young woman who came in on Fridays and Saturdays. I was always trotting round the village with parcels and orders. Then, when I was 18, things began to change on Earls Colne. Blackwell’s Buses were running to and from Colchester  and people started shopping in Halstead and Colchester much more frequently than they had in the past. One day, Mr Farrants said ‘I think that I must reduce our staff. I’m sorry but I can’t afford to pay you . I  shall have to take on another boy who is still at school.’ So he gave me a week’s notice.

The bus conductor supplied tickets from a wooden clip board. Even when engine power increased in later years, he would repeat the familiar joke when the bus reached the steep hill at Aldham:

“Right! Anybody in a hurry had better get out and push!”

Blackwell’s started a coach service to London in 1929, with a later return time  than the last train, making it more convenient for outings to the theatre and other attractions.

Other local traders began to seize the business opportunities offered by the increasing demand for motor vehicles. The Walford family, who originally sold pedal cycles, diversified into motor bikes.

In this picture, Mr Walford is working on a Walls Auto-cycle, an early form of moped, in the yard behind the shop.

Next door to Walford’s, Joe Gage took over a shop which had previously sold groceries, drapery and furniture, to begin his taxi business.

The dubious distinction of causing the first motor car accident in the village fell to Walter grimston of Colne Place. As he was Master of the fox hounds, a churchwarden and a Justice if the Peace, the Halstead Gazette’s report of the accident in September 1902 must have caused him considerable embarrassment:

“Colne, in order to be in the fashion, has just had its first motor car accident. But, fortunately it was not a very serious one. On Wednesday while Mr W. E. Grimston. J.P. Was driving  his car near Stone Bridge. he collided with a fruit cart from Halstead which lost three spokes from one of its wheels.”

Present-day motorists may be surprised to learn that the corner by the George Hotel was widened to accommodate increased traffic, and, with reckless drivers hurtling through the village at twenty miles an hour, the Parish Council lobbied (unsuccessfully) for a ten-mile-an-hour speed limit.  

At the end of the nineteenth century, Silas Poulter lived in a cottage next to Mulberry Close. He decribed himself as a carrier and job master, meaning that he hired out horses and vehicles to local customers

Lower Holt Street

His son Bill, seen here in the left-hand driving seat of a pre-1914 car, trained as a motor engineer and opened the Priory Garage soon after the First World War. In later years he recalled some of his early motoring experiences to John Stedman, who became an employee and a friend of the family.

The Poulter family

“ He used to tell me about his early days in motoring, including steam transport to London, seeing vehicles without conventional steering wheels, men walking with speed-limit flags and people walking in front in thick fog, the oil lamps and the wooden spoked wheels, and himself sitting in Colne Ford waiting for the wood to expand which tightened the wheels. He drove a car from 1912.

In this picture from the 1940s, there is a pump reserved to supply military vehicles. Even after the war, some customers received special treatment, as John Stedman recalls:

Priory Garage in 1930

“They kept open for petrol from 6 a.am until late evening..To get people he knew out of trouble during the night, he would throw the keys to the petrol pumps out of the front bedroom window of his cottage to the stranded motorist below, so they could serve themselves and pay him when they were next in. He was still in control of the pumps in the bedroom where the electric isolation switch was and the emergency cranking handles were always kept out of sight.

At one time, it had a motor cycle recovery vehicle which carried the motor cycle and a looped rigid bar from the recovery vehicle was coupled to the towing motor cycle.

Bird in Hand pumps

Poulters had a very good trade considering they had opposition from three other garages, all selling petrol within about a mile. Even the Bird in Hand pub on  the Coggeshall Road had two petrol pumps at one time. In 1972, a year after the sad and untimely death of his only son. Bill, and six months after the death of his wife, May, bravely trying to keep the garage running, Bill Poulter senior had to finally sell the Priory Garage

ON CALL - Medical  Services

Dr John Polly Taylor moved to Earls Colne in 1812 and set up his Practice in the annex of ‘Boxteds’ in Upper Holt Street.

In 1842, he was joined by his son, John..

To celebrate Young Doctor John’s 60th birthday in July 1899, the Vicar - the Reverend David Methven - organised a public collection and presented the doctor with a portrait, reminding the audience that Doctor John could rightly claim to have ‘brought most of Earls Colne into the world’

‘Young Doctor John’, as he was known to the village, was President of the Cricket Club and was famed for his hospitality, as well as his gift for telling stories.

“In the coldest winter and the hottest summer, in the midst of blinding snow and rain and under a tropical sun he has ever been ready, day or night, to meet any call and to turn out in his well-known gig at any call off duty. Dr John Taylor is a thorough Englishman, a regular John Bull. We might go to the four corners of the globe but we would never find another John Taylor

Revd David Methven

Dr Ted Pallet joined the practice in 1887. In this picture he is seated on the right of the Senior Ambulance Class which he taught

To commemorate his Golden Wedding in 1943, he was presented with a portrait which now hangs in the Surgery at Earls Colne. When he retired two years later, the local paper calculated that he and his two predecessors had served the village between them for a total  of 133 years

Dr Lily Mackinnon became Dr Pallet’s junior partner in 1927. Although it was unusual for a small practice to have a woman doctor at that time, she was popular with her patients and became the Senior Partner on Dr Pallet’s retirement.

Just before the National Health Service was introduced in 1948, Dr Brian Taylor moved from  a post as House Surgeon at the Colchester General Hospital to become a partner in the Earls Colne Practice. Five years later he was joined by Dr Mark Cutts.

The picture shows Dr Taylor at his wedding, with Dr Cutts, on the right, who acted as Best Man.

In 1974 the practice moved to  a purpose built surgery in Queens Road

Throughout his medical career, Dr Brian Taylor always tried to ‘move with the times’. As well as being a qualified anaesthetist he also studied psychological medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture.

The picture shows him being presented to the Queen at a reception for homeopathic practitioners.

Coupled with his dedication to his patients was a lively interest in a wide range of village activities. In an interview recorded towards the close iof his long and fulfilling life, he summed up his approach to his work.

“One of the  ways in which I practised was to see a need or gap in my knowledge, or in the way I practised or the way I got results from what I did, and to try to remedy that gap, fulfil the need. So that meant that I did move . All the time the number one priority was the people on my list and my commitment to being a GP. That was what I was under contract for. But I became interested, as I said, in anaesthesia. I became interested in psychological  medicine and I trained by going to Ipswich, where there was a psychiatrist who ran a group of doctors who chose to go, in which we began to discuss amongst ourselves what  is called ’family medicine’”.

3 verses from A Ballad of Protest, written and spoken in Essex Dialect

by Charles Edwin Benham around the turn of the nineteenth century

sex Ballads

To listen to the recitation, click on the speaker icon

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Atlas Works Water Tower – now housing Earls Colne Heritage Museum


If you wish to view As We Were, please scroll up

If you wish to view ALL ABOARD, please scroll up

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If you wish to view LIGHTING THE WAY, please scroll up

If you wish to view KEEPING IN TOUCH, please scroll up

If you wish to view AT THE TURN OF A TAP, please scroll up

If you wish to view ON THE ROAD, please scroll up

If you wish to view ON CALL, please scroll up