THE doctor was hard at work at his desk when he fancied he heard a ring from the sprung bell in the hallway.

Sure enough, there came a knock on the study door.

It was Jessie, his long-term, dedicated servant (by that time she had been in his service for coming up to 20 years and would continue for another 30).

“Pardon me sir,” she said, “but there is a man named Heard, come up from Tollesbury to see you.”

Slightly irritated by the interruption, the doctor told Jessie to show him in.

This is not a fictitious scene – we know it actually happened.

It was on Thursday, November 14, 1901.

The Doctor in question was larger than life GP (from 1864 to 1932) Dr John Henry Salter, of D’Arcy House, Tolleshunt D’Arcy, and the details of the meeting are contained in the abridged edition of his diary (published in 1933 by Bodley Head).

The man ‘Heard’, part of a veritable dynasty of that name from Tollesbury dating back to the 14th Century, wanted Dr Salter to provide him with a reference to take a public house in Maldon.

The Heards were well-known for their seafaring prowess and this particular member was no exception, for he went on to regale the doctor with “some interesting sketches of his adventures”.

He had “been to America each time there had been an international (yacht) race”.

He related how, on one occasion, “the mast and rigging of the Shamrock went overboard when the King was there”.

We know so much about Dr Salter and his incredible achievements, but can we unpick the background to this brief encounter?

The Shamrock in question, was undoubtedly Shamrock II – a new, steel, one-masted, 108ft sailing cutter, owned by Sir Thomas Lipton, the grocery and tea magnate, and launched just seven months before the meeting, on April 20, 1901.

There were five Tollesbury men picked as part of her 45-strong crew to race in the 11th America’s Cup.

In the May of 1901 the yacht underwent trials off Cowes and on the May 22, the King (Edward VII), expressed a wish to be on board.

At about 2pm that day an accident occurred which, according to contemporary newspaper reports, “made Britain gasp”.

Suddenly, and without warning, Shamrock II’s whole rig collapsed and went overboard (estimated by Heard in his later chat with the doctor to be valued at £3,000).

Unfazed by it all, the King was seated in the companionway, promptly lit a cigar and casually asked if anyone had been hurt.

Thankfully they hadn’t, but was that near miss enough to make Heard want to come ashore and take a pub?

We don’t know, but regardless it looks like the doctor’s reference did the trick because, in the Licensed Victuallers records we find a Benjamin Heard as publican of the Castle, at the foot of Maldon’s North Street.

The Castle had, to say the least, a mixed reputation. Sometimes described as a doss house, it featured at Maldon Magistrates Court as a place where, amongst other things, “improper liberties” were taken with young women and where “drunkenness” was regularly permitted.

It was rough and tough even by ‘Dagger Lane’ standards, and was favoured by devil-may-care seafarers.

But I bet Ben, with his experiences at sea, could handle it all and often impressed his salty customers by telling them about his time sailing with the King.

By 1904 Ben had been succeeded as landlord by Frank Saunders and the Castle finally closed under a cloud in 1907. Shamrock II, by the way, was beaten by the American defender, Columbia, in that 1901 race.

King Edward VII, as we know, died at Buckingham Palace in 1910.

Dr Salter passed away at D’Arcy house in 1932.

Today a Blue Plaque by the door records his time there – the very same entrance that an anxious Tollesbury yachtsman once passed through to seek support to run a now long-gone Maldon pub.