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by Sylvia Kent

A red letter day for Billericay was the opening of the town’s Museum. The date was 7 May 1960 and this special occasion was attended by the Museum’s founder, Mrs Alice Mary Cater.  As widow of the late William Alexander Cater (1870-1944), she had been seeking a property to provide a home for her husband’s collection of treasured relics and bygones. Mr Cater was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries for many years.
At last, Mrs Cater found her ideal property, 74 High Street. After 18-months’ work, the 3-storey town house of 18th century origin, built on the site of the south cross-wing of a former Tudor building, was finished. Local dignitaries joined the founder on the steps of the Museum, including Edward Gardiner QC MP (later Sir Edward). Using an ornate key, Mrs Cater opened our famous front door.
But what of the previous owner?  Frederick John Eales was a character impossible to forget. Born in 1871, in a room at 74 High Street, he followed his father Thomas’ trade of saddler and harness maker. Their shop below would buzz with local farmers and ‘horsey folk’.
Fred joined the Essex Yeomanry as a young man, practising his trade at Colchester where he was regimental saddler. He knew much about horses, as did his young wife Clara, a girl from Nottingham who became a superb cook. She held the town’s police contract for stray animals, looked after a variety of animals including pigs, ponies, dogs, poultry, even pheasants.  and also took in lodgers. One well-known individual was ‘Specky’ Dalton, who once stabled eight horses in the Eales’ garden buildings. On Fridays she travelled Essex in her gig, collecting money for work carried out by Fred. Additionally, she led dogs in the Essex Union Hunt Trials.  
In a town of just 2,000 inhabitants, Fred knew everyone! As well as being chief carrier for the town, he was contracted to collect the mail from Ingatestone railway station prior to the opening of Billericay station in 1889.
Alongside his shop, Fred had served as the election agent for the Conservative Member of Parliament for South East Essex, Special Constable for Essex County Constabulary, a delegate of the ancient Court Leet, Lord Petre’s last Ale Taster and organised the town’s sports events. This rather special gentlemen eventually died in 1958 in the very bed in which he was born.