ONE of my most vivid childhood memories is lying in my bed early in the morning and hearing the slow, faint but very distinctive sound of an electric milk float coming in.
It was followed by the inevitable clinking of bottles as the hissing milkman left them on our doorstep and then he left amid the buzz of the float which (just as slowly) faded away.
Back in the day, our regular milkman was someone mom and dad simply but affectionately referred to as “the Hutchings boy.”
I think he delivered for what was then Maldon Dairy Farmers. They were based at 16 High Street and provided residents with “fast and reliable daily delivery” and, along with the town, served the Bishops of Heybridge, Langford, Totham and Wickham.
It would have been in the 1960s, before the release of the chart-topping Benny Hill hit “Ernie”.
As you may remember from the lyrics of that song, Ernie “drove the fastest milk cart in the west”, but his was not battery powered, it was pulled by a horse (Trigger).
In my mother’s youth, milk delivery to her Church Street home was indeed done by horse and cart and fresh milk was poured straight from churns into jugs.
Although milk bottles started to appear as early as the 1880s (and then evolved into a wide-necked design with a waxed cardboard seal, followed by the more familiar shape with a foil lid), it would have to be several decades for glass to completely take over. .
Young Cyril with his churn (courtesy Kevin Fuller)
The first rounds of milk, as such, began in the 1860s and the district of Maldon, being predominantly agricultural, allowed fresh supplies to be obtained from neighboring farms on a daily basis.
Sometimes the dairy farmers themselves would go around – like, in living memory, the Carrs and the Sains.
The benefits of milk, rich in nutrients and “liquid foods”, have been known since ancient times and even the word would have been understood by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors.
Byrhtnoth and his servants would have called him “miluk” and their opponents, the Danes, by Old Norse “mjolk”.
Throughout the late Middle Ages and until the Tudor era, there are documentary clues to the production and sale of milk in Maldon – including references to a number of “dairies” (in d ‘other words, dairies).
Then, in the 19th century, specifically named “milking men” began to appear in trade directories.
An advertisement for Maldon Dairy Farmers
In the 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 on Hythe, and John Strutt and George Sewell in Wantz Road.
In 1894, cow ranchers James Hutson (on Gate Street) and Emmanuel Sains (on the Hythe) were busy providing daily supplies of milk.
We know from a remarkable contemporary photograph that James Hutson’s son, Henry James Hutson, continued from his father and had a daily milk round.
In the sepia image, he is seen resplendent in his costume and cap, proudly in charge of a cart decorated with a polished churn and a sturdy looking horse.
Through a series of investigations, we know that the photograph was taken in Victoria Street in Maldon and you can roughly make out number 9, identifiable by its decorated brick panel.
The steady supply of milk relied, of course, on dairy herds, sometimes half a dozen on a small urban property like Hutson’s, but also many grazing on the rich pastures of the Dengie.
Places like Tillingham had dedicated dairy farms and another nice photo shows a very young Cyril Mercier at Midlands Dairy Farm on Grange Road, which in 1905 had some 243 acres.
The same view of Victoria Road today
Much like Henry Hutson and his cart, the photographer (on this occasion W Baker of Queens Road, Burnham) captured Cyril with the dairy accessories – a bucket and handcart with spoked wheels, complete with churn.
Inside this churn there would have been fresh milk ready to be sold to the grateful locals who relied on it, were raised there, and benefited from its many health-promoting qualities – protein, vitamin B, phosphorus, zinc, and calcium, which helped build healthy bones and teeth and provide the strength and energy the working population of the day so badly needed.
And 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 savor as a long, refreshing drink.
Nowadays we tend to buy our milk in a supermarket. In our household, we prefer semi-skimmed foods in these two quart plastic containers.
It might be convenient, but it doesn’t have to be like that. A quick internet search will tell you that milk deliveries are doing well.
Many of you are still having your milk delivered and I am very tempted to come back to this arrangement myself.
If I do, it will bring back many memories and be a link to a local past that includes Henry Hutson, Cyril Mercier and even our Saxon ancestors.
I just hope I can get the words “Ernie” out of my head!