THE COMPLETE & UTTER HISTORY OF THE PUB IN LANGFORD, ESSEX
One lunchtime in the early 1970s I sheltered from a downpour by seeking refuge in the Chelmsford Public Library.
By the look of the clouds that gathered I gathered that I would be there for sometime so I wandered about and eventually came across ‘The Essex Room.’ It was about the size of a wardrobe and contained a goodly number of Essex-related books. I borrowed some scrap paper and a pencil from the Librarian, who didn’t seem to want to trust me with a pen, and began searching for information about the village in which I was raised, namely Langford in Essex. Amongst the data I culled from old Essex trade directories were scraps of information about the village pub, The White Hart.
Langford is today (and forever has been) a village of no more than 260 souls. I lived in the village from the age of two until I was 23 years old. Langford nestles astride the River Blackwater and the ‘Long Ford’, from which its name is derived, can still be seen beside the concrete road bridge constructed in 1922. A few yards east of the river stands Mill Cottage.
In 2009, a very good friend of mine, Irene Allen, with whom I was at the time collaborating on a book about the history of the village, (see below) enquired of staff at the Essex Record Office whether they held in their archives any details of pubs in the village. She was told categorically that “Langford has never had a pub.”
It is true that Langford does not have a pub but it is patently untrue that Langford never ever had a pub. In the 1980s, in another act of collaboration, I helped local pub historian Ken Stubbings fill a gap in his knowledge about the White Hart which was included in his book “Here’s Good Luck to the Pint Pot!” – A Brief History of Maldon’s Inns, Alehouses and Breweries.’ Ken wrote
‘Langfordhas never had a pub – so many people will tell you – but they are wrong! A house standing off the road near the driveway to Maldon Golf Club, the ‘White Hart’, was run by Edward Eavery in 1832. By 1845 the Goodey family – Charles and Elizabeth – had taken over. They reigned until 1874 when the Byron family took residence at Langford Hall. The Hon. Mrs. F. Byron of London, having taken over the old pub, stables and chaisehouse, complete with brewhouse and coal-house, put Goodey into one of the three tenement houses called ‘Turners’ at Langford. Being strict Methodist her initial move in cleaning up the village had been to close the pub! Langford has never had another pub to this day. The house, now extended, is called ‘Mill Cottage.’’
Mill Cottage, which stands at the junction of Hatfield Road and the road that leads to Maldon Golf Club, was indeed in a previous life The White Hart. (In the watercolour painting painted circa 1914 which accompanies this article the property of which the White Hart formed a part can be seen on the left.) The earliest reference to the pub (1832) is merely the extent of the information that the available directories record although the date does tie in very nicely thank you with the introduction of the 1830 Beer Act, that marvellous piece of legislation which allowed ordinary folk to sell beer once they had purchased a license for a couple of pounds. By 1845 Eavery was named in Pigot’s Directory for that year as a ‘Beer Retailer’ but by then Charles Goodey (sometimes spelt without an ‘e’) was trading at “The White Hart Inn.” So Eavery had set up on his own elsewhere in the village; either that or White’s Directory had got it wrong. (Eavery is known to have later taken up the license of The Flying Tinker in Ulting, about 1½ miles west of “The White Hart.”) The Directories list Charles Goodey at The White Hartfrom 1845 to 1860, Elizabeth Goodey from 1861-1865 and Stanford Charles Goodey from 1866 until the early 1870s. After 1873 there were no further entries for The White Hart.
Langford has been ‘dry’ for over 130 years.
Subsequent research seems to indicate that the Stubbings/Chaplin theory about the Byrons no longer holds water. Although no primary source material has (yet) been found to confirm the theory that when the Byron’s came to Langford, they shut the pub and sent Goodey to ‘Turners’, one of the arguments against the theory is that the Byron family first came to the village in 1851, when Mary Jane Wescomb (one of the daughters of the estate holder Nicholas Wescomb) married the Hon. Frederick Byron and they moved in to Langford Grove not Langford Hall. The 1851 date does not tally and with the Goodey’s continuing in business into the 1870s, well, the ‘strict Methodist’ theory seems to be threatened.
Another rumour was that the pub was closed because of the unruliness of the Irish labourers employed on the railway; a branch line constructed to link the main line town of Witham to Maldon which lies on a hill overlooking the Blackwater estuary and at the time a key port. If this was so, then the navvies must have stayed around for quite some time as the railway was completed in 1848!
But the navvies did return…eventually.
Mentioned in The Domesday Book, with its sheep, cows, villeins and a plough or two, Langford remained a sleepy rural village on the River Blackwater, with and without its pub, until in the mid-1920s until the Southend Waterworks Company obtained the Government’s approval (and that of the Byron family) to extract and treat water from the River Blackwater. This involved the construction of a huge pumping station in the centre of the village and a treatment plant near the western boundary of the village about a mile distant. The building work brought in hundreds of Irish navvies, all of whom worked all the hours the good Lord gave, plus a few, and all (presumably) were in search of drink to wash the dust from their throats at the end of every tortuous day.
But Langford had no pub…
So the labourers had to travel by foot or cart or whatever to the nearest watering hole, “The Half Moon” in The Square, Heybridge (now an Indian Restaurant), 1½ miles east of Langford. “The Anchor” was a few yards further on and “The Queen’s Head”, “The Maltsters Arms” and “The Wave” (now closed) around the corner in Heybridge Street. Stories of the rowdy labourers coming home on a Saturday night from an evening’s imbibing abounded in the village for many years and some say that on a quiet summer’s night if you cup your hand to your ear and listen you can probably hear the raucous singing of the boys coming home from Heybridge – or rather the sound of juggernauts thundering through the village.
As a young lad growing up in Langford I chose not to frequent the public houses of Heybridge. My ‘local’ back then was The Sportsmen’s Arms, Nounsley about three miles away. It was my brother Michael’s fault. It was his local and he knew that I could get served there even though I was only sixteen.
Today Langford remains publess. (An image of Mill Cottage (previously the White Hart but now a private residence) taken in 2006 accompanies this article. Further major extension works were undertaken to the property during 2017/18.
There was a rumour in early 2006 that Mill House, a bed & breakfast establishment next to the church and a few yards up the road from Mill Cottage, had applied for a licence that extended alcoholic sales to non-residents. If this had been successful then such an action would have brought the licensed trade back into the village for the first time in well over a century. Nothing further was heard…
I wonder if Langford has been dry for the longest period of time than any other village. Perhaps someone out there can tell me. Can anyone beat 136 years? If so, please contact me via my Contacts page.
For anyone interested in learning more about the village of Langford, Essex please see LANGFORD – AN OBSCURE ESSEX VILLAGE TRANSFORMED (Langford: Allen Chaplin Publishing, 2014. If you have any problems obtaining a copy please contact me. For those interested in the history of the Langford Waterworks then I modestly recommend my book GOING WITH THE FLOW – A HISTORY OF LANGFORD WATERWORKS AND THE MUSEUM OF POWER (Langford: Allen Chaplin Publishing, 2017). Please contact me for details and cost.
© 2006 Patrick Chaplin. Revisions 2012-19
The original version of this article appeared in the Pub History Society’s Newsletter Autumn 2006 and is reproduced with permission. For more details about the PHS and how to join please check out www.pubhistorysociety.co.uk.