People often ask me where the street name “Guithavon” comes from. It was coined by Witham’s William Henry Pattisson in 1842, when he gave the land for Guithavon Street to be laid out. Previously there had just been a footpath.
For many years I dismissed Mr Pattisson’s choice of Guithavon as just being guesswork. But then I received this message from Gareth John Jones, which does bring “Guithavon” nearer to his research findings.”. He said:
“Hi it is all Brittonic (Welsh) (or supposed to be) everyone in Essex spoke Brittonic once, and probably some people carried on until 600 to 700 AD. There is not much evidence either way. In Cumbria people spoke Britonnic or Cumbric until about 1100 possibly and similar dates are put forward for parts of Scotland. In Cornwall people spoke it until the 18th Century by when it was known as Cornish and in Hereford they spoke Welsh in some Western Parishes until the 19th Century. In Wales people still use Brittonic in its modern form of Welsh.
Guith is pronounced as “Gweeth” and is derived perhaps from “Gwydd” meaning “Woods” Avon is pronounced as “Ahvon” not “Ayvon” and means a “river”.
Someone suggested that the name is made up but the “Gweeth” part is a fair guess of where the With came from in Witham. One might imagine as more Saxons moved in the area known to local Britons as “Gwith” might well add a “ham” to the end to reflect a Saxon settlement. It is all conjecture, the Doomsday Book sometimes presents names when they were better preserved but that was not compiled until long after the Saxon migrations.”
Guithavon Street was built to provide sites for the new church (All Saints), and new schools, the National Schools. However, it also gave access to some more of Mr Pattisson’s land, on which he built pleasant houses and public buildings. And from the street there was an imposing view of the front of his house in Newland Street (now number 57).
Here I am just going to mention two of the lesser-known buildings.
First is the Police Station (above), which was built in 1849, nine years after Essex’s first full-time police force had been founded. It included houses for the Superintendent and for one of his juniors, with their families. Usually a young single constable lodged there too. There was also a room for the court of Petty Sessions.
Then there were the cells, where alleged offenders were put when they were first arrested. In 1861 Henry Carter, a farm labourer, was in a cell on census night, charged with stealing wheat from a farmer.
After the police moved to their new station in 1937, this old one in Guithavon Street became a County Council clinic. Mothers like me, who took their children there during the 1970s, will remember the very small toilet cubicles that had previously been the cells.
The building was demolished during the 1980s to make way for Mill Vale Lodge.
My other special building is the Witham Savings Bank (above). It had been founded in 1817 in Newland Street, and then moved into its new building in Guithavon Street in about 1850 (now number 19, known as Colne House). John Booker used to study banks, and from him I understood that banks were usually built in a classical style at this time. So this “Gothic” one is unusual.
The principles of Savings Banks were established earlier in the century. They were intended for people who did not have much money, and were non-profitmaking.
The trustees, treasurers and managers at Witham were volunteers from the local gentry. Prominent amongst them was the vicar, Revd John Bramston, which may explain the crosses on the building. A paid secretary or actuary lived in. An early schedule shows that the savers mostly comprised labourers, servants and minors.
The Bank closed in about 1895 but the building remains. I think it is particularly splendid. I have asked several times whether it might be listed as being of historic interest, but I’ve had no luck so far. So if any readers would like to have a go, please do.
A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in December 2011