Monday 6 April 2020

By way of Southend Pier

Time is an essential ingredient of this pub, which first started receiving travellers sometime in the 16th century (though not before a local landowner was burnt at the stake for heresy at the back of the inn in 1553). As the village was on the main coaching road between a busy county town and a fording place over the river that goods, animals and people upstream, we can imagine the rumble of wheels, the call of the driver, the sound of the horses, steam rising off their flanks on an early morning, plus the promise of a warming drink and something nourishing to eat. 

The licensee’s parents came to the pub in 1938, when it lacked electricity and running water. There was snug at the back of the bar, were women used to sit as was the fashion then, in order, it is told, to avoid  the prying eyes of village men, especially one who was noted as a bit of a rake. ‘You had to watch him,’ recalls the licensee, ‘one story I recall about him was when he was old and I asked him where he went to for his honeymoon. He looked at me and said, “to bed, of course”.’ 

This has always been an agricultural area, though time once more has changed the surrounding countryside, but it is still a place of stories about the farmers and the men who worked their fields and the head cowman who would come in during calving. ‘He would ask for two bitters, one would be the expensive one and the other the cheaper. I think my mother once asked why he bought two bottles and he said one was for him and the other was for the cow, which was supposed to help with the calving. Of course the farmer paid for it.’ 

Then there was the tale about the two locals who during the harvest would work nine miles away. ‘My dad noticed that they did this long walk every day and also noticed that when they set off one would walk ahead of the other. He asked why and the reply was that if they talked during the walk they would have nothing to talk about during the day!’

The pub is an outstanding example of survival and prosperity. The world has changed and the village inn that survives on selling beer and the odd snack is a rare thing; now it has developed an enviable reputation for its food, which you could argue is reflected in it current interior layout. It remains traditional within: flagstones, timber paneling, ceiling beams and a sense of comfort and joy. One part of the main bar is devoted to the contemplation of time with a glass of beer or wine, a chat with friends or a leisurely read of a newspaper. The second has more of the feel of a dining space with tables arranged as neatly as a parade of guardsmen.

Time flows like a river, but it’s easy to sit in the pub’s main bar, a pint of beer (this is about the moment rather than tapping in) to hand and remember the men and women that have passed through its doors over the centuries. And if you listen carefully you might hear a tinkle of laughter as a long-dead regular tells a tale of the day he went to Tilbury by way of Southend Pier. 

Adapted from London Local Pubs, published 2015

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