I don’t usually write about individual businesses, because it’s not my place to advertise. But I am making an exception for Mondy’s, the ironmongers at 63 Newland Street, because it is probably the oldest established shop in Witham (do let me know of other contenders – maybe Richards?).
The shop became an ironmonger’s in about 1904/05, when Albert Mondy came there with his family (usually pronounced “Mundy”). He and his wife Beatrice had been born in Devon. To start with he was known as the manager for Ortlewells, but he bought the business outright in 1922. There was a sizeable garden at the back, with a tennis court, and four stables through the archway.
Before Mr Mondy came, there had been a chemist’s shop there since 1833, and when the last chemist left, some special wooden drawers with metal bases for medicines were left behind. I think they may still be in the shop today. By the way, contrary to popular belief, it was never the George Inn; that was next door, where the Town Hall is.
One sign of success during the 1920s was to acquire one of the new telephones. The Mondys’ first phone number was 66. The number today still ends in 66, after nearly a hundred years, which is rather comforting. Mr Mondy owned several houses in the town, and was a shareholder in the Witham Gas Light and Coke Company. So he felt important enough to always deduct ten percent, without asking, when he paid his bill to Reg Turner. Reg was a newly arrived gents’ outfitter.
Tinsmith Mr Gibbons cycled to the shop from Hatfield Peverel. He made and mended things for the customers in a separate workshop. He was still working when he was 78. The elderliness of the assistants was quite a feature of Mondy’s. It seems only quite recently that they’ve started to get younger ! Another assistant, Ted Chaplin, was still working when he was 91. Mrs Elaine Strutt has told how she once asked an elderly Mr Mondy for something, and he said “Hold on a minute madam, I’ll send the boy for it.” She said “the boy tottered forth, he seemed to me to be twice the age of Mr Mondy ! He lifted up a trap door and went down into the cellar.” Mr Mondy himself eventually retired in 1951 at the age of 83, and then only on doctor’s orders.
The ladies of the family were also well known. Beatrice, the wife of Albert, and their daughters Irene and Nora, were deeply involved with very many organisations including the Conservatives, the Church savings clubs, the Girl Guides, and particularly the Operatic Society; Nora was well known for her singing. During the 1920s the three women used to take an annual trip to Venice, which must have been very welcome.
The inhabitants of Witham must have been very pleased when the shop continued under the Hance family after the Mondys left. And of course we are equally fortunate that it is still with us today.
A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in December 2013