|Abstract||I was born on the 25th. January, 1908 (Robert Burns' Day) at the
Hope Inn, Tollesbury, Essex, where my parents were the
licensees at that time. My father, Ezra Walter Gurton had taken
over about a year previously much to the dismay of my mother,
Eva Jane Alverstone Gurton, who disliked inns and all that was
entailed therewith, as her family had been connected with the
brewing and innkeeping business for many years past, and she knew
full well all the drawbacks and misery connected with alcohol
drinking in those days. My father who had been following the
sea as a profession since boyhood, had been working on coasting
steam boats in winter, and been a paid hand on yachts in the summer.
It was in this last connection that he first met my mother when she
was assisting her uncle, Frederick James (Jack) Handley, at the
Olde Shippe Inn, Burnham-on-Crouch. Uncle Jack or "Pip" as he was
known had played cricket for Essex, and was a noted gunner.
In turn he had been licensee of the "Ship" and "White Horse",
Maldon, where his family had originated. Mother's father, Grimwood
Wood, had been born at Langford Hall where his father John Grimwood
Wood had been a miller, and also owner of Osea Island, it was
possibly due to this and the fact that Grimwood Wood was secretary
to the Tottenham Brewing Go. that Osea Island was sold to John
Charrington, a member of the famous brewing firm Charringtons.
My father, the second son of John and Emma Gurton of Tollesbury,
had six brothers and six sisters. Mother had four sisters and
two brothers who had met with tragic accidents in early life,
also their mother, Charlotte Wood (née Handley) had died in
childbirth when my mother was quite young.
My father and mother were married at Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone,
on 2nd. July, 1902, and by all accounts it was a grand affair for
those days, horses and carriages were provided by her brother-in-law,
Charles William Burton who, with his father and brothers, ran a very
successful riding stable in Marylebone High Street. Apparently
they supplied horses for the Royal Mews' stables, and riding hacks
for Rotten Row. My mother's sister, Ida MacBean, wife of Lou
MacBean of United Films Co., Alexandra Palace, was matron-of-honour.
She starred in films under the name of Ida Handley.
The newly-weds first made their home in Queens Road,
Burnham-on-Crouch, and later moved to North Road, Southend,
where father secured a position with the late Mr. Arthur
Taylor (Essex cricketer) as a skipper on his racing yacht.
The marriage was blessed by two sons, Leslie Charles in
1903, and Ronald in 1904, before the family removed to
Tollesbury early in 1907. From the photo's in my possession
they were a happy and most devoted family until 1907,
when Leslie Charles had a fall in the Hope Inn yard,
sustained an internal injury and died. I arrived on the
25th. January, 1908 (Robert Burns' Day), but was not a
good omen. I was an ugly baby, apparently suffering
from alternate periods of extreme constipation and
diarrhoea, consequently was confined to the "pot" as
my earliest recollection.
Apart from this my most vivid recollection was riding in
a pony and trap with a man and woman during a severe
thunderstorm when there was a flash of lightning, the horse
reared and I was nearly thrown out, the woman saved me.
Another occasion was when I was taken into a bedroom at
the Hope Inn, and seeing a woman with a mass of dark hair
laying in bed and smiling at me. My uncle, father's
eldest brother Alfred John Gurton, was with me, and in
later years evinced surprise when I told him, as he said
I could only have been two years old, and on the last
occasion it was my mother who was very ill and had asked
to see me. Mother died on the 12th. May, 1910, in
circumstances very much like her own mother many years
before, my sister only a few days old fortunately survived
and was taken into the care of my father's eldest sister,
Mrs. Florence Collins. It was touch and go for many weeks
before my sister, named Violet Eva Grace, gained strength
and progressed under careful nursing and attention from
Doctor's Salter and Spinx. From this time I was taken
into the care of my grandparents John and Emma Gurton, at
2, United Cottages, Woodrope Road, Tollesbury, my eldest
brother refused to leave his father, and stayed behind at
the Hope, where, for a time, he was cared for by Mrs. Hoppy Lewis.
Looking back over the years, my time with my grandparents
were the happiest days of my childhood. Grandfather John
Gurton had in turn been fisherman, yachtsman and a wildfowler
of repute. On the living room wall of 2, United Cottages hung
four wildfowl guns in rope beckets. These attracted my
attention from the onset, they had burnished steel barrels and
looked most impressive, one an eight bore gun with large
red rubber shoulder pad on the stock, had been dredged up
in a barnacle encrusted condition some years previously
off the Bench Head buoy in the River Blackwater estuary
- was this a relic of the Burnham - Tollesbury piracy case of
1890 I wonder ?
In addition to his wildfowling activities in winter-time,
Grandfather was busily occupied with yachting in the summer.
For some years he had been employed by a Belgian nobleman as
skipper of his yacht "Zwerver", and latterly had been employed
by Mr. Sherwood (Sherwoods paints) as skipper of his yacht
"Dryad". When Mr. Sherwood gave up yachting he gave the yacht
to Grandfather who also had acquired another yacht in the
meantime "Marguerite" for £45 a fairly old commodious yawl
yacht originally the schooner "Cleopatra" date and origin of
build not known, double skinned, with clipper stem and much
gold leaf gingerbread work around the stem and stern.
I remember this yacht most vividly, for Grandfather did charter
work with her, and often had to take people away for week-ends.
One of the most striking and unusual features of this yacht was
that it had a flush toilet alongside the tiller in the cockpit,
a most useful innovation when single-handed sailing and unable
to leave the tiller. Grandfather was also local agent for the
Cruising Association, and every Sunday morning when at home
hoisted the flag, red square with white diamond and black
letters CA therein, on the flagpole outside No. 2, United
Cottages. Some people thought the letters meant "Christian
Alliance" as it was only flown on Sundays.
With two yachts, two smacks "Phantom" and "Gem", and a small
clinker-built coaster "Nancy", Grandfather had all his work
cut out to look after them. He had had "Phantom" built by
Aldous at Brightlingsea in 1890, and on most Sundays in that
year had sailed over in "Nancy" to inspect the work done, etc.
"Phantom" was specially built for work in the shallow creeks
and for wildfowling. On this score he had been advised by the
Count de la Chapelle, a founder and Vice President of the
Wildfowler's Association, of which Grandfather and his younger
brother George were both founder members. On the foredeck of
"Phantom", just in front of the mainmast was a portable wooden
baulk of timber which had mountings and swivels for two guns.
The focsle was particularly large to allow two one pounder
punt guns to hang
alongside the sides in beckets, and from the deckhead beams
hung two small canvas bags, one holding gunpowder and the
My greatest delight in those days was to go off with
grandfather each day, trudging across the saltings, to tend
the craft at Woodrolfe, pumping out the bilges and generally
cleaning up with mop and bucket. Quite naturally I did not
keep clean myself, but become plastered from head to toe
by mud. This met with strong words of rebuke from Grandmother,
who had the job each day of cleaning me. However, this was
partly overcome by dressing me in more suitable attire than
the frocks which all small boys wore in those days.
Why we were dressed like that no one really knows - possibly
for reasons of natural hygiene, as so far as I know there was
never any doubt about my sex. My greatest joy was a gift of
a pair of shiny black rubber waterboots, a present from my
Aunt Daisy, my father's youngest sister, who at the age of
13 ½ years had entered the employment of Count and Countess
de la Chapelle, ostensibly as a nursemaid for their daughter
Yvonne. The boots had been purchased with her first week's
wages of 5/-.
Some mornings, Aunt Daisy came home with her small charge
Yvonne usually for a drink of milk and seedy cake. I looked
forward to this, as Yvonne had a small pedal car, and as a
special treat I was allowed a ride occasionally. In the
afternoons, Aunt Daisy or my cousin Florence Collins, who
lived next door, had the duty of taking an elderly lady,
Miss Binnington, who lived with her sister, (Mrs.
Binnington Leavett at the sweet shop at the top of Woodrope
Road) out in a bath chair. I was allowed a ride at the
foot of Miss Binnington and was usually supplied with free
sweets, bulls eyes, peppermints, etc.
Tollesbury in those days prior to 1914, had no piped water
supply. Drinking water was obtainable at various public
pumps in the village: Mell Road (2); West Street (2); and
a well at North Road near the workhouse. There were also
some privately owned pumps. Water for most purposes was
obtainable from the wells supplying most of the older houses,
and also towers which were specially constructed for the
more newly built houses. There, "tanks" were usually square
dug holes in the ground, bricked and cemented, and collected
the rain water which came off the roofs of the houses.
It was beautiful soft water, but not fit for, drinking.
I used to enjoy lifting the lid of the tank, shout down,
and get the echo. Periodically the tanks had to be cleaned
out, this was done when there was little
water to be baled out, and it was necessary to get
down inside and clean out. I remember my cousin
Stanley Collins putting swimming slips on and going
down on one occasion, but he had to be drawn up fairly
quickly as the air was foul. The water from the
village pumps looked beautifully clear, and cold.
It was drawn as required, usually in the afternoons
and pumped into clean galvanized or wooden buckets.
The buckets would be carried slung on a yoke across
the shoulders, or separated by a hoop or square wooden
frame, so that they did not spill over the bearer.
The filled buckets used to be placed on a table in
the kitchen, and covered with a clean white cloth,
a polished dipper was always nearby for use in
ladling the water. Grandmother always insisted on
strict economy with water, as with most other things.
Soap was always stacked on the kitchen window ledge,
so that the outside layer would harden. Friday night
was bath night, the copper in the kitchen would be
filled early afternoon with water, and the fire lit
under it. Soon after tea, when all things had been
cleared away and washed up, the large galvanized iron
bath would be brought in, and put before the living
room fire. Although I did not relish it at the time,
bath nights in those days were the most comfortable of
my experience. A change into a clean shift and long
night gown, and off I was " packed to bed soon after
seven in the evenings.
Some evenings I was allowed to stay up much later,
usually when a large haul of fish or bag of wildfowl
had been made by Grandfather or my uncles. The principal
fish were hoppers or dabs, small variety of plaice,
which were gutted and cleaned, and sold forty for
sixpence. My Aunts used to take them round in a zinc
bath to various houses with the call "Hoppers already
cleaned, ready for the pan", only to be met with the
answer in many cases, "not tonight dear, thank you".
There were all kinds of wildfowl during the winter-times.
I particularly liked oxbirds, these were split down the
breast and skinned, they were sold for sixpence a dozen.
Grandfather also had an oyster laying and pit on the
saltings. The "Gem" worked on his behalf and oysters
were sold at fifty for three shillings. These were days
of plenty of material things, but there was also extreme
poverty. Grandmother often spoke of the times when as a
girl she had to go gleaning in the fields after harvest to
collect the wheat which was sent to the miller for grinding
into flour, the collecting of brush wood for the fires,
making of "rush candles" from cooking fat and bull rushes.
Her Grandmother, Mrs. Howard had lived to a hundred years,
and in the last years of her life had lived in a small
thatched black boarded cottage on the triangular patch
of ground still visible at D'Arcy Road near Gorwell Hall.
Grandmother's early experiences had imbued her with a
thrifty and careful nature which she carried out
throughout her life. Always insisting on thriftiness
by her children. I was particularly fortunate in having
six uncles and six aunts, but my particular favourites
were Uncle Alfred and Aunt Daisy, possibly because I was
always receiving presents from them. Uncle Alfred went
steamboating and was away for months at a time, quite
naturally I looked forward to his homecoming. I eagerly
looked for his sea-bag, and being of an inquisitive nature
used to delve in to find something or other. On one
memorable occasion I pulled out a small roll of
flannellette which contained a nickel plated revolver.
I was delighted, but immediately was reduced to tears,
as Grandfather took the revolver away from me, and rebuked
Uncle Alf most sternly. Apparently Uncle had purchased it
abroad for no apparent reason, and Grandfather insisted
that he dispose of it forthwith, which he did. My
inquisitiveness once caused me some pain and taught me a
good lesson. Some days when Grandfather went to work in
the River he took his food in a little wicker basket which
were a local product especially for luncheon baskets and
on his return in the afternoon would put the basket down
outside near the water-tank, whilst he struggled to get
out of his long leather sea boots and stockings.
Rubber sea boots were not favoured by fishermen in those days.
As usual I could not wait, but put my hand in the basket, and
was promptly seized by a large live crab. Screaming at the
top of my voice I ran down the path to the gate. Fortunately
for me, Capt. George Rice was passing at the time, quickly
seeing what had happened, he out with his knife, and prised
the money box of the crab, which immediately let go of my
My fingers turned black, and I remember losing my nails,
but careful first aid and a special ointment made by
Grandmother out of dock leaves and pigs lard soon healed
my fingers, but I had been taught a good lesson.
Woodrope Road was specially fortunate in those days,
there were at least two lady bountifuls. One was Aunt
Susan, wife of Sam Gurton,
Grandad's brother, and the other Mrs. Lufkin. These two
women were always on hand in times of trouble or
jubilation, and took particular interest in all the
residents in that area. Grandad had had five brothers,
William, Edward, Samuel, Stephen and George, and six
sisters, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth, Trinity, Rosetta and
Ann II who was born after the early death. In those days,
1911, Aunt Susan was best known to me. William Gurton
had some years earlier contracted smallpox whilst at
sea, had been put ashore at Gravesend, and brought
to Tollesbury, where he died in an isolation tent on
the small marsh.
As a child I remember people talking of the Boer War,
although it had ended some nine years previously.
Children were warned when ill behaved that "Old Kruger"
would have them, and I particularly remember the songs
or ditties which were sung at that time, especially
"Dolly Gray". One Saturday in 1911 I was taken to a fete
on the Parson's Meadow (now known as the Glebe) and
remember being presented with a mug, it bore the pictures
of King George V and Queen Mary in commemoration of
their Coronation. I was three and beginning to take
notice of things more vividly.
The day of the week I liked the best was Sunday,
everything was done more leisurely. No cleaning was
done in the house, consequently I was left undisturbed,
and to a certain extent to my own devices. Early in the
forenoon, the visitors used to drop in, mostly my uncles.
The wine bottle and biscuits or cake were brought out,
and for those who wished there was beer drawn straight
from the barrel in the pantry. During these sessions,
Grandmother busied herself with the cooking which was
always something extra special on this day. The meat,
batter pudding, etc., could be taken up to the bakehouse
in the village, there were three at one time, and
collected after church, the charge on Sunday was 2d.
for roasting the dinner, on weekdays the charge was 1d.
In the winter-time we often had duck or oxbirds for our
main meal. Oxbirds were especially delicious, these were
sold 6d. a dozen, already skinned and prepared for the oven.
I used to watch them being split down the breast and skinned.
On special occasions we would have a goose, Grandfather used
to speak of the occasion in 1904 when he had a tumbril full
of black geese part of a great bag on the Blackwater Hewert,
the local tradesmen were relied upon for the main essentials.
There was no such thing as a "Super-market", possibly the
nearest approach was a branch of the "Co-op Society" -
"All for each, and each for all", established in the village.
Tradesmen called practically each day, and there was always
a welcome visit by the local brewer, Mr. Stone, when the
barrel would be exchanged for a new one. Grandmother always
pocketed the key after it had been tapped, this was a
precaution to prevent indiscriminate use.
Sunday afternoon was a leisurely affair. I would be taken
off to Sunday School by my cousin Flo Collins, and
afterwards would have a ride in Miss Binnington's bath chair.
Grandfather would have a nap or go down to the yachts if
the weather was suitable, he already knowing that the
moorings were all right. In the evenings, the oil table
lamp would be lit, and books brought out to read. In
summer time or during the time of light evenings,
Grandmother liked to sit by the front window, and watch
the road scene, she marvelled at the various creations
worn by the young ladies of that time. Occasionally
Grandmother attended the Congregational Church in the
evenings, I was too young to accompany her.