ID DJG_MEC Article from Mersea Museum

TitleMechanisation in Tollesbury
AbstractMechanisation came to Tollesbury in a big way in 1919, before this reliance had to be placed on horses, sails and man. Mr George Osborne was the pioneer so far as motive transport was concerned, with the first 'bus "The Alpha", closely followed by Mr Richard Collins with one of Moore Bros' coaches from "Seaholme", where it was used as a "summer house", and placed on a Ford "T" model chassis, to inaugurate a Maldon 'bus service.

Before this there were few automobiles in the locality. Mr George Fisher at the Garage in West Street, a wooden and corrugated iron structure, had a number of old vehicles including a "de Dion Bouton", and Mr Fairweather licensee of "The Plough and Sail" opposite, possessed a "Bentall" tourer, with a brass cylindrical radiator. Dr Spink of "Hilton" owned an elegant maroon "Lanchester" and Dr Salter of D'arcy had a grey Humber, but the show piece of all was the "Argyle Voiturette" with bicycle handlebars for steering, used by the Rev. R.V.O. Graves of "D'Arcy Vicarage". The latter vehicle could never ascend Woodrope hill, and we children had to be encouraged to give it a push. Petrol in those days was invariably supplied in two gallon green painted cans embossed with the name "Pratts", another brand appeared on the scene later in red painted cans, there were no petrol pumps in those days.

In 1920 Mr James Collins of "The Victoria" signed a contract with H.M. Postmaster-General to supply, maintain and run a motor mail van, painted in post office red and bearing the Royal cypher "GvR", for the conveyance of H.M. mails between Tollesbury and Witham, the then postal town for the district. Before that it had been a red painted padlocked box, mounted on axle and two iron tyred wheels, drawn by a spirited mare, departing from Tollesbury P.O. at 7pm each evening, after local postal packets, parcels, etc., had been extractor, and franked for delivery in the immediate district in the morning. As today it was a long day for the sub-postmaster and staff, with possibly not so much paper-work. The sub-postmaster retained one key to the postal box or van, and the duplicae was held at Witham P.O. Eventually several people locally owned "Ford T model" tourers, purchased for about £110 each, and painted black. Messrs. Osborne and Mr James Collins at this time had such vehicles as "hackney carriages" licensed for five adults including driver.

In 1919 there was an acute labour shortage. Of the three hundred and fifty young men, only a few were returning from the forces, at least fortyeight had made the supreme sacrifice. Rotten Row and South Dock at Woodrope were full of laid-up smacks, awaiting crews. The situation with farmers was desperate. The German Ps.O.W. from Maldon, who came to the village each morning by makeshift lorry, driven by an unfortunate man suffering from "King's Evil", were gradually returning to their fatherland, and would not be available to work on the farms. They were not accompanied by guards, and there was only one instnce of two P.O.W.s trying to escape. They had walked along the sea-wall from Heybridge and were arrested by Fred and Edward Collins of the smack CORSAIR at Thurslett, at 3am one morning.

Mr George Wombwell of Hall Farm, who had been a pioneer in many directions, he had started the two brickfields, played an active part in bringing the railway to Tollesbury, and as a great friend of Dr Salter shared his view that the young people of Tollesbury should learn to swim, and had constructed the swimming pool at Woorope, firstly as a business proposition in 1907. Dr Salter who was the Admiralty Surgeon for the district was appaled by the number of seafarers unable to swim.

Mr Wombwell who was one of the largest landowners in the village, had contracts to supply produce for Covent Garden, and shortage of skilled labour was a serious problem. He brough in steam traction engines, and four furrow ploughs, which were hauled back and forth by steel cables, to plough and cultivate his fields. At this time there were no houses on the south side of Mell Road between The Mount and the Coastguad Station which was still manned. It was fascinating to watch the huge ploughs, being drawn between the two engines stationed on the headlands. It was a speedy operation, but the resultant crops of peas brought other problems. I had never heard the word "strike" #before, apparently the pea-pickers wanted one penny more for picking a bag of peas. Apparently this was uneconomic, and in spite of the efforts of Mr Jack Banyard, Mr Wombwell's foreman, and a speech by Mr wombwell from the top of a card, some of the vociferous pea-pickers decided to "strike", and we children were ordered out of the fields by the strikers. I ate my prepared lunch of bread and cheese, and went home to tell my father that I was "on strike". He was not impressed saying "I'll give you strike, you cango and muck out the stables." It was my first contact with industrial relations.

We children liked to watch the oil engine driving the chaff cutter and turnip and kohl-rabi crusher in the old black barn in Station Road. The old barn bore the legend in large white letters "Vote for Flannery" a reference to Sir Fortescue Flannery M.P., who promised so much for Tollesbury, but lack of finance and the Great War killed the schemes. Before long the farmers were able to obtain "Fordson" tractors, starting on petrol and running on paraffin, but there were still a number of die-hards who persevered with horses.

Up to this time the only form of mechanisation on the farms had been the annual visit of the threshing tackle, steam engine, threshing machine, caravan for the operators, and the large water-butt trundling behind.

The only motor craft on the river was the "Dan" owned and operated by the Oyster Co., which was powered by a "Dan" hot bulb single cylinder engine. Started each morning by a blow-lamp, the initial explision could be heard for mmles. The Rev. R.V.C. Graves had the motor lauch left behind by the S.Y. "Winifred", and periodically he took Mrs Graves for a trip to West Mersea. Mr Fred Banyard was in charge, and Mr Miller the chauffeur was engineer.

Messrs Drake Bros of the Yacht and Boat Yard, commenced to prepare smacks for the installation of marine engines. The "Kelvin" petrol-paraffin engne was the most popular, and they were installed off centre line, with the shaft and propellor on the port quarter, which had to be protected by cages to prevent fouling of dredge and trawl warms. In 1922 the Garage at West Street changed hands and wa taken over by Mr John Staley Palmer, a certificated marine engineer, who converted part of the premises for living quarters, and devoted his expertise to the increasing vehicular traffic and sea-going craft including yachts. Mr Palmer had a rival in Mr West who established an engineering work-shop on the corner of the Little Marsh at Woodrope, and concentrated on marine engines also the production of a simple wich which could be driven off the main engine. These winches were a boon to fishermen and the design was patented. Mr William Rollason, a former chief of police of Gibraltar, went into business in Mr Reynolds former butcher shop at East Street (now Medicellany) as a motor cycle engineer and photographer. Dr Turner who had succeeded Dr Spin always road a "Douglas" twin-opposed motor cycle, but Messrs. Probets at West Street still maintained their pedal cycle business as an adjunct to the selling of ironmongery and hardware. The premises have long since been demolished and the site is now occupied by the telephone sub-station and an attractive bungalow.

In 1924 the family firm of Drakes at Woodrolfe (formerly Woodrope) dissolved partnership, and alfred son of the original founder and a relative Tom Frost, together with Major Kenrick McMullen established a new firm the Tollesbury Yach and Boatbuilding Co with Alf's son Frank and daughter Violet taking an active part, and built many small craft. The old firm of Drakes was carried on by William and Alfred Drake newphews of Alfred senior. Whereas in the old days there was full employment for 12 to 15 hands and 8 apprentices, there was invariably a cut-back in employment and some use had to be made of mechanical power. The huge windlass formerly manned by four men, became steam driven, and the two handed saw pit located on the present site of the "Flats" was superceded by a circular saw operated by a large oil engine at the Yard. It was a wonderful site to see 50 ton yachts drawn up on the slipways, and manoeuvred across to hard standing in the Yard, as also the launching of these huge vessels in the Sprng of each year. The Tollesbury Yacht and Boatbuilding Co situated in Gowen's sail making shop (now Volspec) was eventually superseded by the firm of Frost and Drake all relatives of the original founders, with premises at the Yacht Store.

In 1932 elelctricity came to Tollesbury via the Colchester Corporation, and more use was made of this form of power by all sections of the cummunity.

AuthorDouglas J. Gurton
Published17 January 1980
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton
Related Images:
 West Street, Tollesbury. Plough and Sail Commercial Hotel. G. Fisher. Postcard mailed 30 March 1907.
 Used in Tollesbury Past photo 10.  CG10_427
ImageID:   CG10_427
Title: West Street, Tollesbury. Plough and Sail Commercial Hotel. G. Fisher. Postcard mailed 30 March 1907.
Used in Tollesbury Past photo 10.
Date:Before August 1905
Source:Mersea Museum / Cedric Gurton Postcards
 Tollesbury Marine Lake and swimming pool. Postcard 81074 posted 25 August 1926.
The pool was constructed by Mr George Wombwell in 1907.  CG12_257
ImageID:   CG12_257
Title: Tollesbury Marine Lake and swimming pool. Postcard 81074 posted 25 August 1926. The pool was constructed by Mr George Wombwell in 1907.
Date:Before August 1926
Source:Mersea Museum / Cedric Gurton Postcards
 The Bathing Pool - Tollesbury Marine Lake. Postcard 126382.  CG12_263
ImageID:   CG12_263
Title: The Bathing Pool - Tollesbury Marine Lake. Postcard 126382.
Source:Mersea Museum / Cedric Gurton Postcards
 GIRL ELSIE HH21 was built by Tollesbury Yacht and Boatbuilding Co. in 1954 for Fred Good of Harwich.
 Desmond Drake on left, David Frost centre, Tom Frost (Snr) right.
 Photograph courtesy of Trevor Green.  PBIB_TFD_007
ImageID:   PBIB_TFD_007
Title: GIRL ELSIE HH21 was built by Tollesbury Yacht and Boatbuilding Co. in 1954 for Fred Good of Harwich.
Desmond Drake on left, David Frost centre, Tom Frost (Snr) right.
Photograph courtesy of Trevor Green.
Source:Mersea Museum / Trevor Green

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