The Shoulder of Mutton

Fordham, near Colchester, Essex


The 'Shoulder' has a style all of its own. The first thing that you will notice is that it is a very old building. In the summer months, many choose to sit outside to enjoy the warmth of the sun and to watch the world go by. Every year the Colchester Morris Men would come to dance, which always drew great interest. Ramblers favoured this watering hole as it is close by the 500 acre Woodland Trust land, with its newly planted fields, and also because it was alongside the River Colne, which has the Essex Way following its course.



The medieval timber framed building known as the Shoulder of Mutton appears to have been originally built as a private house, perhaps for a copyhold tenant, maybe a yeoman farming family, around the year 1380. It was constructed in a typical style of that period (a Wealden style house) in oak having two cross wings and a hall. The angle of slope of the roof suggests that it has always had a clay tile roof (not thatch or shingles), a roof style which came into use from around 1200.


c 1910. Nicholl and Co.

With Mr Clampin standing 3rd from left with bowler hat. 


 Referring to the typical plan layout shown below (this is not necessarily exactly as the Shoulder was), the original design (pre 1600) would have comprised a central hall, fully open to the roof, with a hearth in the centre for warmth. It is unlikely that cooking was done here due to the risk of setting fire to the building, this probably being done in a separate building close by, now gone. The smoke from the hearth would percolate up into the roof space and find its way out through windows and gaps in the tiles.

Some time in the 17th century, this central hall was completely removed and replaced with the present section so that additional accommodation from an upper floor and a brick chimney could be introduced, as happened to so many other buildings of this type at that time. Folk didn't want a draughty old hall reaking of smoke. The new fashion was to install a chimney where the smoke problem could be eliminated - a new era of comfort in the home.


To the right of the plan is a cross wing, with upper storey, split in two at ground level, for use as service areas, perhaps a buttery and a pantry with store rooms or sleeping quarters for servants above. This was the low status end of the house, for employees and servants. The position where the two doors leading into the service rooms were situated can clearly be seen in what is now the restaurant area. The partition wall and the doors have been removed at some point and the wall that separated the hall from the service rooms has been stripped of its wattle and daub infill to make the room more open plan. The existing fireplace in the corner of the room is a recent addition. At the opposite side in what was the other service room is clear evidence of a diamond barred window and a trimmer in the ceiling where a stairway would have led up to storage rooms in the floor above. Remember that windows did not use glass until around 1550, so the vertical diamond shaped bars acted as a deterrent to intruders (the diamond shaped holes are still there where the bars once fitted). Also still there are the top and bottom slots where a simple shutter was able to slide over the window. There is also evidence in the side wall of a further window, now only visible from outside the building, due to internal plastering and panelling. The mortice slots of the dividing wall cannot be seen as panelling has been used to cover up the overhead beam. The front wall of the building in the restaurant area has been considerably altered in recent times, perhaps the mid 19th century, to provide the window and wall area.

From the outside, the jettied (jutting-out) upper floor is visible. Jettying was a fashionable feature of the time, usually only appearing on the public side of the building so that passers-by could judge the importance of the owner. Jettying also gave additional floor space above. There is evidence of the brackets that gave additional support to the jettied structure. This jettying is repeated along the whole front of the building, although considerable changes have been made to the frontage over the centuries.

The roof of the cross wing uses the tried and tested crown post system where a continuous beam helps to keep the roof trusses upright with additional braces and end support from hipped gables.

There is a section of a jettied extension attached to the service cross wing, which would probably have been much bigger at one time. There is evidence of a small window between it and one of the service rooms. It had a side purlinned roof.

The difference in size of the oak timbers is evident between the 17th century central section and the 14th century cross wing. The earlier building , as was normal at that time, was greatly over-engineered by today's standards. The vertical posts were based on whole tree trunks, squared off in their 'green' state by the carpenter before cutting and marking the joints prior to assembly. It is extremely difficult to cut seasoned oak so it is probable that the timber used was all fresh cut at the time of the building's construction, making dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) a very useful method of accurately dating a building. By contrast, the later building section has much smaller timber sizes.

The gaps between the building's timber framework were infilled with wattle and daub. This comprised thin sticks (often coppiced wood) sprung into place vertically between the upper and lower bearers. Then smaller sticks were used, intertwined horizontally between the vertical poles and fixed with bast (a form of binding from the lime tree), to form a grid onto which could be put a mixture of mud and straw. This was set back slightly to allow a final coat of hair (probably horse hair) plaster to give a smooth finish. As time went on, especially on outside wall, gaps opened up and draughts became a nuisance, so the outside walls were fully plastered, covering up the timber frame, as is evidenced by old Victorian photographs. Then of course, in the 20th century it became fashionable to uncover all the beams again, as can be seen with so many old buildings of this type today.

Returning to the 14th century central hall that once existed, this would have had a high end and a low end. This was a social status issue where the family would have sat at on a bench in front of a trestle table at the high end, warming themselves and in full view of the cross passage, whilst the workers would use the low end. Two doors would have existed to form a cross passage through the building from front to back, sometimes screened but usually just a simple thoroughfare. Privacy for the family must have been minimal in the hall area, especially when you consider that the hall would also have been the area where the family slept.

At the high end was a further cross wing, known as the parlour (from the French word 'parler' to speak). This wing was of a superior construction than the cross wing at the low end and does not appear (due to the absence of mortice slots) to have had a dividing wall. There is an interesting knee feature giving additional support, which was probably matched at one time with another knee opposite, before later building modifications were made (the modern day entrance has been much modified in recent times). Evidence of the original double window on the front face is clear from the diamond slots and the shutter grooves on each side. The parlour cross wing area was the private domain of the family with no access to it from the opposite wing at the low end of the building. It has been considerably modified over the years to add an extension where the pool table is now situated, and a further rear extension for the toilets is comparatively modern.

At some stage, the building became an inn. It is known that the parlour part of the building was used as a butcher's shop, which is shown in an old photograph. This is probably why the name, the Shoulder of Mutton, was taken up. As with the Three Horse Shoes and the Vulcan, both Fordham pubs, and both associated with the trade of the blacksmith or farrier, inns and taverns often took a name that was associated with a nearby or in-house trade. The original owner of the building was probably a yeoman farmer who owned land in the area and provided work for others in Fordham. The house was built next to the river and close to the ford that would have existed on the Colchester to Halstead road. It would be interesting to search through Fordham Wills and Inventories of past residents to see whether a family can be identified who might have lived there at some time.

This is the oldest pub in Fordham. The earliest licensing records that we have show it as an inn from 1769 when James Miles was the licence holder. It is quite possible that it first became an inn shortly after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries around 1536 when travellers were forced to find alternative accommodation and the inn as a social amenity was born. Kelly's Directory for 1886 gives the landlord as Henry Archer and in 1902 Jubal Partridge, who was mentioned in the celebrated Fordham murder trial as having arrested the murderer Thomas Johnson. The inn was transferred by Colchester brewers, Charrington Nicholl (in 1885, their XXXX Strong Ale cost a farthing over two old pence per pint and XX Ale cost a little over a penny ha'penny per pint) in 1934 to the Romford brewers Ind Coope, who held it until the inn was sold to Kent brewers Shepherd Neame in 1999[?].
This seems to show that, in the 19th century, trades other than inn keeping were also as important to the proprietor.




Anything that you can add to the history of the Shoulder of Mutton would be gratefully received.


The following references to the

Shoulder of Mutton

have been taken from various trade directories,

Post Office listings and the census, as well contemporary accounts.


1841 - James Firman, innkeeper

1848 - Thomas Funnell, a victualler

1851 - Maria Paul

1861 - William Osborn, Publican & Poulterer, age 32, born in Bergholt West, Essex, Census

1862 - William Osborn, a Brickmaker & Farmer

1870 and 71 - William Osborne

1874 - Mrs. Sarah Clark

1878 - Charles Neep

1881 - Henry Archer, Innkeeper, age 44, born in Derby, Census

1882 and 1886 - Henry Archer

1886 and 1890 - Jubal Partridge, a Smith

1891 - Jubal Partridge, a Blacksmith, age 46, born in Fordham, Essex, Census

1894 - Jubal Partridge, a Smith

1895 - Jubal Partridge

1898 - Jubal Partridge, a Smith

1899, 1902, 1906 and 1908 - Jubal Partridge

1910 - Edward Addy

1912, 1914, 1917, 1922 and 1925 - William H. Key

1925 - William Horn

1929 - Frank North

1933 - William Toyne Fairburn

1937 - Mrs. Mary Fairburn

1938 to 2001 - Landlords unknown but included Mad Max, reputably a man of temperamental disposition.

2001 - Dave and Pauline Nickerson


on the right of the picture, Pauline and Dave Nickerson

2008 - Tom and Sheila Howells

2011 - Steve Purnell, the last tenant, who removed, in March 2013, to the Queens Head across the river in Ford Street, Aldham.

Steve Purnell, Theresa Jephcott, Julie, George, Neil, Stevie on the last night in 2013.

Steve Purnell

2014 - Mrs Maggie Morgan bought the freehold of the building from Shepherd Neame and re-opened the pub, after refurbishment, with the Beehive craft centre as part of the business. It wasn't to stay open as a pub for much longer. Mrs Morgan had associations with the Stockwell Arms and the Little Crown, both in Colchester.


Note: Much of the building structure information is based on a talk given by Richard Shackle, since deceased, to the Fordham Local History Society on Thursday 20th March 2003 at the Shoulder of Mutton and based on his structural survey of the building in Jan 2000.
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This web page was archived in 2015 but re-instated 20th October 2023.