A pub fracas which led to a bizarre 1887 court case raises many unanswered questions. Stephen Nunn sets off to find the pub.
Presiding over the Court of Petty Session that 18th day of July in 1887 were erudite local doctor-surgeon George Parker May MD (in the chair), Rev Edward Russell Horwood, long-serving vicar of All Saints (and Rural Dean) and wealthy landowner James Barritt Esq, of Maldon Hall Farm.
The local magistrates courts had been held in the same format since the 1730s and dealt with minor theft and larceny, assault, drunkenness, bastardy examinations, arbitration and deciding whether to refer a case to the quarter sessions.
Since 1872 they had also been responsible for approving licences for Maldon’s many pubs and beerhouses.
The venue for the court was the Moot, or town hall.
Its perfectly preserved Dickensian courtroom, complete with magistrates’ bench, witness stand, accused’s dock and seating for lawyers and jury, can still be seen there today.
It was to this room that the prisoner was brought in custody, escorted by a resident police officer.
George Schilcht stood accused of unlawful wounding, but it was clear right from the start that it wasn’t going to be a straightforward case.
“Please state your full name”, instructed the clerk.
After an agonising silence, the response was: “Ich verstehe nicht.”
George Schilcht was German – a visiting navvy engaged in building the Maldon-Woodham Ferrers extension to our railway line.
The bench adjourned to try and find an interpreter. On reassembling, a Mrs Havernal, teacher of languages, joined the court.
Proceedings finally got under way and it was explained that, on the previous Saturday evening (July 16), the accused was drinking in a High Street beerhouse called the Melbourne.
He had only had one pint, but was clearly jolly and proceeded to entertain everyone with an extensive programme of his native songs.
That was at 9 o’clock and by 11 o’clock the customers had had more than enough.
When he wouldn’t stop, Michael Davies, a shoemaker from nearby Mill Road, with two other (unnamed) men, tried to drag him out of the building and up to the police station (also in the Moot Hall).
The German was having none of it and struggled, resulting in Davies and his supporters receiving “severe cuts across the hands”, which according to Davies (who brought the subsequent charge) were “done with a knife”.
Schilcht was then seen to knock violently on the door of Mr (William) Clarke’s clothier’s shop and, at that point, he was apprehended by the police.
George Schilcht’s version of events (relayed through Mrs Havernal) was quite different.
He was not drunk. He had already paid Mrs Rayment, the landlady of the Melbourne for a night’s lodging, but her husband had “turned him out”.
He didn’t know why he was being manhandled.
Frightened for his life, he hit Davies and the others “with a stick” and tried to seek refuge in Mr Clarke’s shop.
After some deliberation, the bench decided to dismiss the charge, but strangely “cautioned the prisoner against using a knife in a struggle”.
Not only that, but the decision was “greeted with applause”, as the German had “many sympathisers”.
It was all a bit odd really and leaves us, 133 years later, with a number of unanswered questions.
Why, for example, did the landlady not speak out about the lodging agreement?
What was Davies’ real motive – did he just not like “foreigners”?
Did George Schilcht have a knife and did he use it?
Why were some locals so sympathetic towards him?
And for me, above all of this, what is the story behind that now long-lost beerhouse?
It would appear that the Melbourne Inn, or Lord Melbourne, was somewhere at the bottom end of the High Street, in St Mary’s parish.
Named after Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848), the prime minister who taught statecraft to the young Victoria, the beerhouse might have even existed during his lifetime.
It was initially owned by the Coggeshall Brewers, Board and Bright, who employed Sarah Spurdon (a native of Norfolk) as their landlady. Sarah married Heybridge man Samuel Livermore in 1878 and he took over the licence (as well as working at the ironworks).
That same year, ownership passed to John Strutt, but the Livermores stayed on until 1885 when they were succeeded by George Farrow of Purleigh (who doubled as a tailor).
As we know, the Rayments were there in 1887. Fisherman Arthur Wright followed (and he is listed at 166 High Street in the 1891 Census).
The Melbourne closed for good a year later in 1892.
Some have suggested that it originally stood in the area of 182-184 High Street, now occupied by the House of Delight.
However, that makes no sense as the row of buildings there at the time were church almshouses. Perhaps it was at Arthur Wright’s at number 166 (now Greenwood’s the undertakers)?
I personally favour a position on the other side of the road, next to Maldon Tandoori (at 191-193) where, many years later, Markham had his rock shop in a former railway carriage. In fact, so convinced am I that, the other night as I walked by, I swear I heard some distant German singing, followed by what sounded to me like a nasty fracas coming from that very same vicinity!