EDWARD Bright, the 'Fat Man of Maldon', has got to be one of the town’s most famous historic characters.

We all thought we knew his story, but in recent years, in-depth research undertaken by Mrs Lynne Raymond, has done much to separate fact from fiction.

One of the remaining mysteries is about Edward’s waistcoat.

Although Maldon’s Museum in the Park displays a replica, the original is nowhere to be seen.

So what happened to it?

Our search begins shortly before Edward’s death, on Tuesday November 10, 1750, aged 29, and weighing; “upwards of 42 stone”.

The story goes that his “green baize waistcoat” had been sent to his tailor to be let out.

It was still awaiting collection, but somebody (possibly Edward Codd) got hold of it. Edward Bright’s funeral and interment in a vault at All Saints' Church followed on Thursday November 12, 1750.

Then, three weeks later, on Tuesday December 1, 1750, the waistcoat re-surfaced in the Black Bull Inn, on Maldon’s High Street (where Santander now stands, at number 53).

Inside, the landlady, Widow Day, witnessed a wager between Edward Codd and Henry Hants.

The bet was to see whether five men could be buttoned inside the waistcoat; “without breaking a stitch or straining a button”.

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As it turned out, not five, but seven men got into the garment.

It was, as engravings of the event are titled; “The Surpriseing Bett Decided”.

In the New Year, on Thursday, January 28, 1751, Edward Codd was at it again – this time in the King’s Head.

On that occasion he was joined by a Mr Long and they challenged Mr Pattisson using the same waistcoat.

Nine men were buttoned in that day (“The Surprizing Wager Decided”).

“The last coat worn by Edward Bright” is then mentioned in The Freemans Magazine of 1794 as being in the ownership of Mr John Fry, of Newington Green.

The following century the waistcoat appeared in the written record again – in an article by Mayor Edward Arthur Fitch in The Essex Field Club magazine of 1887 and again in his ‘Maldon and the River Blackwater’, published in 1894.

A year later, on Saturday, June 29, 1895, celebrations were taking place at the official opening of the Promenade.

Some of the townsfolk dressed as characters from the past, including the landlord of the Market Hill Ship Inn (John Wood) who was bedecked in the “padded out waistcoat of Edward Bright, the Fat Man of Maldon”.

The next sighting we have relates to the beginning of the end. According to contemporary minutes, the chairman of Maldon’s Museum announced on August 22, 1927, that “Mr Wilding (a local builder) would be pleased to present Edward Bright’s waistcoat to the museum and it was resolved to have a case with glass front made for it”.

On January 12, 1928, the bespoke display case was delivered to Councillor Furlong. Presumably the waistcoat was then put in it and exhibited in the collection, then housed in a room above the town’s fire station, in London Road.

Frank Wilding died on June 11, 1932, and his principal beneficiary was auctioneer Harry Thomas.

Turning once more to the museum’s minutes, on September 15, 1932, Mr Thomas “was pleased to present to the museum the waistcoat of the late Edward Bright, loaned to the museum some time ago”.

The chairman and the committee must have been really pleased, knowing that the museum could keep the famous item in perpetuity.

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Just seven years later, this country was at war and the collection placed in temporary storage, including, of all places, in a potting shed at what was then the council offices on Market Hill.

On July 16, 1942, the Times published a letter from Rev Seymour, vicar of All Saints', confirming the waistcoat to still be in existence.

When the conflict was over, the return to civic “normality” was a slow process.

In 1964, the museum was eventually re-born and rehoused at 71 High Street.

Throughout the 1970s I was privileged to support the then curator, Cath Backus.

I got to know the objects well, including in the reserve collection. Among the glass cases of stuffed birds, bottles, glinting gun barrels, skulls and other eclectic items, there was no sign of the waistcoat.

There is no doubt that Cath was instrumental in saving the bulk of the collection and recovering it from its “temporary”, inadequate repository.

As the objects re-emerged it was clear that a number had mysteriously “disappeared”.

I often asked her about Edward Bright’s waistcoat and she, at least, seemed convinced that it had got damp and had rotted away, or had been eaten by vermin.

There were others at the time, however, who wanted to believe it was still around somewhere.

Although, I am sure, that was just wishful thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was true and that one day it was returned to the place where those “surprising bets were decided”.