ONE of my abiding childhood memories is of lying in bed during the early hours of the morning and hearing the slow, faint, but very distinctive, sound of the arrival of an electric driven milk float.

It was followed by the inevitable clink-clink of the bottles as the whistling milkman left them on our doorstep and then off he went amid the hum of the float which (equally slowly) faded away.

In those days our regular milkman was someone who mum and dad simply, but affectionately, referred to as the “boy Hutchings”.

I think he delivered for what was then Maldon Dairy Farmers. They were based at 16 High Street and offered residents “an early and reliable daily delivery” and, as well as the town, they served Heybridge, Langford, Totham and Wickham Bishops.

That would have been in the 1960s, before Benny Hill’s chart-topping hit ‘Ernie’ had been released.

As you might recall from the words of that song, Ernie “drove the fastest milk cart in the west”, but his wasn’t battery driven, it was pulled by a horse (Trigger).

In my mother’s youth, the milk delivery to her Church Street home was, indeed, by horse and cart and the fresh milk was ladled directly out of churns into jugs.

Although milk bottles had started appearing as early as the 1880s (and later evolved into a wide-necked design with a waxed card seal, followed by the more familiar shape with an aluminium foil top) it would take many decades for glass to completely take over.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Young Cyril with his churn (by permission Kevin Fuller)

The first milk rounds, as such, began in the 1860s and the Maldon district, being predominately agricultural, meant that a fresh, daily supply was easy to hand from the neighbouring farms.

Sometimes the dairy farmers themselves would make the rounds – such as, within living memory, the Carrs and the Sains.

The nutrient-rich, “liquid food” benefits of milk have been known from the very earliest of times and even the word would have been understood by our Anglo-Saxon forebears.

Byrhtnoth and his retainers would have called it “miluk” and their adversaries, the Danes, by the old-Norse “mjolk”.

Throughout the late Middle Ages and into the Tudor periods there are documentary clues to the production and sale of milk in Maldon – including references to a number of “milk houses” (in other words, dairies).

Then in the 19th Century specifically named “milk men” start appearing in the trades directories.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

An advert for Maldon Dairy Farmers

In White’s Directory of 1848, for example, we have Samuel Filby of “Ferry Road” (aka Fambridge Road), John Pretty and Thomas Raymond in High Street, Joseph Rayner down on the Hythe, and John Strutt and George Sewell in Wantz Road.

By 1894, cow keepers James Hutson (in Gate Street) and Emmanuel Sains (on the Hythe) were busy providing daily supplies of milk.

We know from a remarkable surviving contemporary photograph that James Hutson’s son, Henry James Hutson, carried on from his father and had a daily milk round.

In the sepia image he is seen resplendent in his suit and cap, in proud charge of a decorated cart with a polished churn and a sturdy looking horse.

Through a series of investigations we know that the photograph was taken in Maldon’s Victoria Road and you can just about make out number 9, identifiable by its decorated brickwork panel.

The regular supply of milk relied, of course, on dairy herds, sometimes half a dozen on a town smallholding like Hutson’s, but also large numbers grazing on the rich pasture lands across the Dengie.

Places like Tillingham had dedicated dairy farms and another lovely photo shows a very young Cyril Mercier at Midlands Dairy Farm on Grange Road, which in 1905 consisted of some 243 acres.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

The same view of Victoria Road today

Just like Henry Hutson and his cart, the photographer (on this occasion W Baker of Queens Road, Burnham) has captured Cyril with the accoutrements of the dairy – a pail and a handcart with spoke wheels, complete with churn.

Inside that churn there would have been fresh milk ready to be sold to grateful locals, who relied on it, were brought up on it and benefited from its many health giving qualities – the protein, vitamin B, phosphorous, zinc and calcium, which helped build healthy bones and teeth, and provided the strength and energy that was so needed by the working class population of the time.

And so it continues to this day – where would we be without milk for our tea and coffee, for so many uses in our cooking and simply to enjoy as a long, cool refreshing drink.

Nowadays we tend to buy our milk from a supermarket. In our household we favour semi-skimmed in those two-pint plastic containers.

It might be convenient, but it doesn’t have to be like that. A quick search of the internet will tell you that milk deliveries are alive and well.

Many of you still get your milk delivered and I am sorely tempted to return to that arrangement myself.

If I do it will bring back many memories and will be a link to a local past that includes Henry Hutson, Cyril Mercier and even our Saxon ancestors.

I just hope I will be able to get the words of 'Ernie' out of my head!