TUCKED away off the beaten track in Blue Mill Lane, Woodham Walter, The Cats has been described as the archetypal country pub.

Those who visit quite rightly rave about it and the way the landlord keeps his beer.

I concur with the reviewer who once exclaimed: “There is no finer place to drink Greene King IPA.”

The enjoyment of the beer in question is made even more pleasurable by the old world charm of the building where it is served.

Straight out of the pages of Thomas Hardy, it sits back from the narrow lane, resplendent in its own grounds, red-roofed, its two gable dormers staring out at you above a long veranda covering the entrance.

Step inside and you will feel like you have been transported back to another age – a time of relaxed conversation, untainted by piped music, electronic games and the all too usual gaudy, gimmicky pub décor.

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Instead you will be warmed (in the winter months at least) by an open fire and by a satisfying feel of sanctuary, coddled as it is by low ceilings and gnarled beams.

But that timeless atmosphere somehow makes it very difficult to date it – to discover its true roots. How old is it – medieval, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian?

I am not the first and I won’t be the last to ponder that intriguing question. Even my late friend, the local pub expert, Ken Stubbins, declared in his otherwise comprehensive book Here’s Good Luck to the Pint Pot! (K. Brown 1988): “I know very little of The Cats history.”

The foremost village historian, Part Ryan, does, however, give us a few leads in her Woodham Walter A Village History (Plume Press 1989) when she tells us that: “The Cats, a timber-framed and plastered building of late eighteenth or early nineteenth century date was described as a double cottage in 1819.”

Maldon and Burnham Standard: The Cats pub as it is todayThe Cats pub as it is today

Looking at it from the outside you can almost imagine that arrangement – two joined cottages, each with one ground floor room and one above.

The official Grade II listed building entry confirms those origins, and dates the front range to the 18th Century, with a later, 19th Century rear. That back section possibly replaced an earlier outshot contemporary with the façade, and recent work revealed a date carved in one of the beams of 1881.

So if we have potentially decoded The Cats structural beginnings, how about its human activity – who originally lived in the building and what about the successive landlords that have served from behind its bar.

Pat Ryan’s research revealed that the earliest occupiers styled themselves farmers, although they actually only owned a small area of land.

Then from around 1870 they added beer retail as a secondary source of income.

Sure enough Kelly’s Trade Directory for 1878 includes one William Davis, as a “beer retailer” operating out of the building. William is still there by the time the 1881 census was taken.

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At that stage, 60 year old, Woodham Walter born, Mr Davis, was in residence with his 29-year-old nephew-cum-assistant, William Henry Green, and 26-year-old niece/housekeeper, Sarah Alma Green, who both hailed from nearby Ulting.

William Davis died in March1891 and nephew William Green took over. He is recorded at The Cats in the 1891 census, still with Sarah, but also another sister, Eva (a teacher), and just to confuse things another Eva, his eight-year-old niece.

William and Sarah are still there in 1901, minus Eva and Eva, but joined by nephew, William – a merchant’s clerk.

William Green died in 1906, leaving effects of £413 to his spinster sister, Sarah. By 1911 Sarah Green is the “innkeeper” in her own right and is assisted by another niece, Martha.

Sarah Green remained the landlady of The Cats until her eventual passing on November 11, 1921.

Less than two years later the little beerhouse was up for sale, along with 13½ acres.

From the 1930s, but definitely at the outbreak of the Second World War, Henry R Woodham was the licensed victualler, along with wife Edith.

“Harry”, as he was known, doubled as an ARP warden during those troubled times, but then continued at The Cats, at that stage a Trumans house, as its stalwart landlord right up until his death on December 21, 1951. It was then the turn of Mr and Mrs JW Gill and then in the 1960s RG (Lou) and Cath Lewis.

Today (and ever since 1980) Wally Hicks is the landlord and The Cats is a free house.

Along with his wife, Anne, The Cats continues to be in good hands and all of those reviews attest it to be a great place to visit, to enjoy quality ale, good food and convivial company and surroundings.

It really is, as you might say, the cat’s whiskers.