THE other day I was talking to a resident of ‘Cannibal Island’ – that’s Heybridge Basin to the uninitiated.

He was going on, as Basiners do, about how lucky he is to live there and how he and his fellow Cannibals are fortunate to be able to enjoy two really good pubs – the Jolly Sailor and the Old Ship.

While they are both different in character, I couldn’t disagree with him.

However, I pointed out that historically he would have had even greater choice and to prove it I later shared with him my copy of William White’s 1848 Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Essex.

There, under ‘Inns and Taverns’ sure enough, we find one “Edw. Tovee” at that very same Jolly Sailor.

Strangely, however, there is no mention of the Old Ship, but there is a “Carpenter’s Arms, Danl. Montague” and a “Chelmer Inn, Jph. Going”.

Under a quite separate section – ‘Beer Houses’ – there is also “Joslin, Ann”.

In summary then, one still familiar pub, one current hostelry missing, but three long-gone establishments.

It’s all a bit confusing, so I decided to go in search of the stories behind the watering-holes that our Victorian (and earlier) predecessors would have known and enjoyed at the Basin.

An easy starting point and the one constant is the Jolly Sailor.

This was actually built before the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation was completed.

In those days it would have sat on the sea wall side of what was the obscure and isolated Heybridge Marsh.

However, the brewers ‘Woodcock, Hodges and Wells’ had the foresight to predict a good business opportunity.

When the canal finally opened in 1797 trade went through the roof with a constant stream of locals, workers and visiting mariners making their way there for a pint or two.

Edward Tovee, who we know, from the directory, was behind the bar in 1848, is first listed as landlord in 1835.

He once got into trouble for serving drinks on the Sabbath and his wife, Ann, took over running the place.

She was succeeded by John Robinson (1863), Robert Rix (until 1882), William Steward (up to 1889), John Woodcraft (1890) and then Alfred ‘Tishy’ Clark.

Tishy’s wife, Jane (née Woodcraft), followed on as landlady until her death in 1952 (aged 92) and one of her children, Mona Clark, continued the family tradition until her retirement in 1968.

The elusive ‘Old Ship’ opened next, but not where it is today, rather where the private house ‘Myrtle Cottage’ is located.

Another Tovee (Richard) was running it in 1800 and Henry ‘Bristol’ Hall and his wife in the 1890s.

The ‘Chelmer Inn’ (actually the ‘Chelmer Brigg’) was partly where ‘Miranda Cottage’ is and (from the construction of an extension in 1858) what is present-day Old Ship.

This was also, from at least 1808, the location of the Basin’s own resident brewery.

The Brigg finally closed in 1894 but was re-opened in 1906 when the Coggeshall brewer, William Bright, relocated the Old Ship there, lock, stock, barrel and licence.

Located on the corner of Chapel Lane, the Exchange is now another private house (called the Old Exchange).

It first opened its doors in 1841 with Robert Joslin as licensee.

By 1848 it was being run by that same Ann Joslin, ‘Beer House’ keeper.

From 1862 it was Henry Joslin, but more about him later.

After the Joslins followed the Eves (1871), Edward Pearmain (1874) and Edward Woodcraft.

The Exchange then closed sometime around 1882.

Back to Henry Joslin and, before he was at the Exchange, he ran (in 1855) the Carpenter’s Arms, where Kedge Cottage is today.

Known locally as the ‘Peace and Plenty’ and sometimes, rather insalubriously as ‘Bog Hole’, the Carpenter’s was originally Daniel Montague’s carpenter’s shop.

To supplement his income, Daniel then started selling beer.

James Chaney was there in 1851, William Allen in 1859 (after Henry Joslin) and it closed under Henry Harris’s tenure in the 1860s.

A further pub (not mentioned in the directory), the Live and Let Live, is now the house The Anchorage, but remains a bit of a mystery – as, of course, do those unrecorded, illicit front-room boozers.

There is no doubt that the Basin was once a real Mecca for ale with a wide choice of surroundings.

We (and of course my friend and other Cannibals) are still able to experience a little bit of that heritage when we visit the Ship and the Jolly today.

I personally have some very happy memories of drinking in both.

In more recent times I found myself waiting for a skiff to take me on board a barge moored in Colliers Reach.

It was a hot day, and arriving at the Basin around lunchtime, I quenched my thirst with a pint at the Jolly.

Staring over the sea wall I brought to mind the words of Maurice Griffiths (in his Magic of the Swatchways) who, standing on the same spot some 86 years earlier, said that “...on the horizon Osea lay like a mirage with its purple undulating masses of trees”. Yachts were “riding to their moorings” and there was “a shrill call of a curlew”.

Nothing has really changed that much and a pint in one of those ‘Inns of History’ is a perfect aperitif to a sail on our historic river.