54. Medina Villas, 80-84 Newland Street
The three Medina Villas were built in Newland Street in 1883. They replaced Medina Villa, a Georgian house which can just be seen on the photo of the fair, taken about 1870 – left of centre, with the poles in front (photo 1)
The villa was a girls’ school for some time before it was demolished, first Miss Hitchcock’s, with a French governess, then Miss Ford’s. Both had servants living in. I think some of the old bricks were incorporated in the new buildings – if you walk up the side you can see them, or you could at one time..
The new villas were constructed for a speculator, Richard Spurgeon, by a well-known local firm, Joseph Smith. In the 1880s, it was the fashion to display names and dates on new buildings, and as seen in the photo, it was done here (photo 2). There are also many examples in Braintree Road.
The villas must have been amongst the tallest buildings in Witham, and also the smartest. They had three storeys and a basement. At the back there was ‘roof cistern’ to catch rainwater to supplement the town supply, together with a toilet in the basement, and a toilet and bath on the first floor. Most of Witham houses had neither of these – Witham’s first drainage and water supply system had only been inaugurated 14 years before.
At the first auction, nobody bid for the houses, but eventually Mr Bright Wool, from Colchester, bought them and rented them out. One of the tenants was Mrs Mary Keningale Smith. She lived at number 80 for many years, the photo shows her in what was probably her back garden, with her canary (photo 3) She was the widow of Edward Charles Smith, a prosperous grocer.
To begin with, the villas all had attractive front gardens, as shown in the photo of number 80 on its own (photo 4). But in due course the temptation to make money by building on the front was too much to resist. A drapers’ shop was built in the centre, and then a new Post Office on the left, which had the town’s telegraph equipment, and later the telephone exchange (photo 5). The right hand side was not built on till later.
In the 20th century, one of the best known occupants was Cooper’s lavish drapers’ and haberdashery shop, shown in photo 6.