Monstrous May, Pagham-verse

#MonstrousMay 2023: The Mermaid

The Mermaid: A Brief Potted History

There is apparently an old Sussex story about a giant knight (Sir Bevis) and a mermaid, which you can read here, but in Pagham-on-Sea The Mermaid is a pub. Don’t confuse it with The Mermaid Inn in Rye, which is actually nice and somewhere to stay. No. Not that one.

The Mermaid in Pagham-on-Sea is not a nice place. In fact, the only place worse is The Prince Albert, but that’s something for another post. It is home to some very human monsters, and currently some very nice undead ones.

The Mermaid is on Hangman’s Walk, which is the place where the medieval gallows was. The gallows was in use through to the eighteenth century until reforms meant that capital punishment was enacted at Horsham, notorious in the nineteenth century for its ‘hanging fairs’. Hangman’s Walk used to be a main thoroughfare along the coast, but with the advent of greater industry and new routes – such as train tracks – Hangman’s Walk became less travelled. Smugglers were hanged there in the eighteenth century because it was a main thoroughfare, and The Mermaid was a place where people gathered to drink before watching the executions.

After the execution of many members of a smuggling gang in the 1740s and 50s, and some graverobbers in the 1780s-90s, the local gaol was destroyed in a daring raid by the surviving graverobber gang, causing much embarrassment to local law enforcement and the magistrate. The gallows was not used so much after this, and criminals were usually sent in the county goal.

This meant a slow decline for The Mermaid, which had never enjoyed a ‘good class’ of clientele.

It was known to be a centre for criminal activity, and its reputation through the 1790s-1840s was of a tavern of ill repute. After a raid in 1847, it was closed for some years, reopened in 1869, by the same landlord, Joss Bell, who had purchased The Forge and Hammer in 1834, and renamed it The Prince Albert in honour of Queen Victoria’s marriage in 1840. The Mermaid was run by Bell’s nephew, Leoline Bell, and he almost immediately ran it into the ground.

By 1878, the Bells had lost The Mermaid in a game of cards to a disgraced soldier, Sgt. James Edward James, who took it over and made it turn a profit again. It became a centre for gambling and opium, with the upper rooms used as a brothel.

James Edward James was a prominent figure in the criminal history of Pagham-on-Sea, running various rackets and with a reach as far as St Leonard’s. He was eventually found murdered in the street, and no one was convicted of the crime, although there was no shortage of suspects.

The Mermaid was bought by Mrs Eliza Green, who also took over the gambling and brothel, and is the main suspect for James’ murder among local true crime enthusiasts.

Mrs Green passed The Mermaid to her daughters Lizzie and Rosa Green, and it continued in Rosa’s family for several generations.

In the 2000s, it was where Ricky used drink (underage) until one night when he cut the landlord’s hand off.

The current landlord is the nephew of the old one, and he is trying to turn things around, and make it more community-centred. As the community want nothing to do with the place, and Hangman’s Walk is dangerous for most people to spend any time in, he has started an Undead Support Group. This is working well.

You can find out more about the pubs in Pagham-on-Sea in this Pub Guide.

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