|Abstract||With the advent of Spring, longer days and occasional
bursts of sunshine, the quaysides and hards will soon be hives
of activity, with an influx at weekends of many small boat
owners and their friends all making feverish attempts to remove
the ravages of last season, and the winter weather, from their
craft preparatory to getting afloat by Easter or soon after.
Many of the more dedicated removed a great deal of their portable
gear to their homes at the end of last season, so they could work
on the items during the winter months. Without doubt the
wives and mothers will be very pleased to see the removal of the
gear from the spare room, shed or attic in order that they can
get busy with their more important task of spring cleaning.
All this weekend activity in and around the yacht yards,
creeks and hards, brings back memories of fifty to sixty years
ago, when amateur yachtsmen were regarded as somewhat eccentric,
and the large yachts and their professional crews dominated the
scene. Where there are now some forty odd small craft, etc.,
there would be at least twenty large yachts, ranging from 15 to
300 tons in the mud berths at Woodrolfe, Tollesbury, with an
equal number on chocks in Drake Bros' Yacht Yard.
It is not known when the business of yachts and yachting
became a secondary industry to fishing in this locality, but
dates of the formation of yacht clubs givs some indication when
yachting became a "gentleman's sport" and at the turn of the
century the "sport of Kings".
For although King Charles II commenced yachting in 1660,
it was not until 1720 that the first yacht club was formed, and
that was in Ireland. The Royal Thames Yacht Club was established
in 1775 and the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1815. From thence onwards
with the growing popularity of the sport, yacht clubs were being
formed around the whole of the coast. The Deben Yacht Club was
brought into being in 1838, the Royal Harwich Yacht Club was formed
in 1843, the Royal Corinthian in 1872 and the Essex Yacht Club
in 1890. The pattern was similar throughout the south-coast.
The yachts were traditional straight stemmed craft, with overhaning
counter sterns, long bowsprits, fidded topmasts and in general
very heavy spars, sails and rigging. It is fairly safe to assume
that these craft presented no great difficulty to experienced
fishermen, and as our fishing smacks went as far as Cornwall,
Wales and Ireland in search of fish and oysters, they would at
one time or another have come into contact with yachts of that era.
It is difficult to establish when the first man was employed
on a yacht in this area, but undoubtedly Colneside could lay
first claim to this. There is a clue, however, in the knowledge
that one Captain Jeremiah Easter, who had served under Sir Arthur
Wellesley (Duke of Wellington) in the Peninsular War 1809-11, lived
in Tollesbury subsequent to the campaign, and without doubt was a
fellow officer of Lord Uxbridge (Marquess of Anglesey) who did so
much to promote yacht racing, and had a particular affinity to
Rowhedge, was intrumental in persuading Tollesbury men to
undertake yacht racing. We know that in later years Tollesbury
men often walked to Fingringhoe and Rowhedge to join
at Wivenhoe and Brightlingsea. The majority of the
elder fishermen served at one time or another on one of the more
famous racing yachts. Tollesbury men served in all but one of
the America cup contenders, and quite a number rose to command
some of the finest yachts ever built.
In the mid 19th century, schooling wa practically non-existent,
and the only way to gain some rudimentary knowledge of the three
R's was to enroll at one or other of the two Church schools at 2d
per week. Children invariably left school at 12 years of age
and commenced work, and it was only by means of hard study in
leisure time, that they were able to educate themselves for better
positions. A number of the yachtsmen went home trade coasting
and foreign-going in deep sea ships, in winter time, and qualified
for Board of Trade certificates of competency. Two of the more
successful yachtmasters at the turn of the century, Captain William
Frost and Isaac Rice voluntarily took pupils during the winter
months and taught them the rudiments of navigation. Capt. Isaac
Rice by arrangement with Mr Joseph Jackson then schoolmaster at
Tollesbury, instructed some of the older boys at school, and on
suitable days at 12 noon they "shot the sun" with sextants, using
a bath filled with water as an "artificial horizon". In those
days, Tollesbury school was very much alive to the needs of boys
intending to make the sea as their career. Knitting and darning
classes were regularly held, and for older boys there were
"cookery classes." Any boy could get a good grounding in
seamanship by watching the fishermen at their shore tasks of rope
splicing, net making and sail repairing, and there were always a
number of rowboats available at the Hard for practice in
rowing and sculling over the sterns.
One of the most notable yachtmasters at the end of the
last century, and still remembered as a founder member and vice-
chairman of hte parish council, was Capt. Alfred Carter. Born
in 1837, he was for over 40 years master of the racing yawl
"Hyacinth" 90 tons, owned by Capt. Garth R.N. Capt. Carter
was very proud of the fact that he had beaten the German Emperor
on his home ground, by winning his cup at Kiel Regatta.
Prior to the outbreak of the Great War 1914, quite a number
of Colneside and Tollesbury men served in German yachts, notably
the "Meteors" owned by the Kaiser and "Suzanne" owned by Herr O.
Huldschinsky. In 1909 owing to German public opinion, the
number of Essex men recruited was reducced, and only a few men
in key positions were serving on the German yachts in August 1914.
Fears for their safety were widespread in these parts, but
apparently the Kaiser issued strict orders for their safe
conduct back to these shores, and within a matter of weeks they were
serving in the Royal Navy. One who served in the Dover Patrol
was Mr Frank Bowles who was chef in the "Meteor", and he recounted
at that time the Kaiser's liking for dressed crab and lobster
mayonnaise. It can be imagined that the Kaiser had explicit
faith in the Essex members of his crew, but little could be foreseen
at the time of ultimate events, otherwise there could have been
more retaliation, knowing Essex men as we do.
One of the more colourful yacht skippers here at the turn of
the century was Capt. Alred Redgewell, affectionately known as
"Uncle Billy" by all and sundry in the village. For many years
he was employed by Messrs Albert and William Brooks as master of
their various yachts including the large yawl "Wanderer". He
was held in high esteem by his employers, who regarded him as a
friend and treated him accordingly. The majority of yacht owners
were kind considerate gentlemen, very oftenmost generous to
their skippers and crews. The only qualitiies they expected
apart from professional efficiency being loyalty and integrity.
The number of houses bearing old-time yacht names bear testimony
to the number of yacht owners who were well satisified with employees
who had rendered good service. Apart fromowning a home of one's
own, one of the status symbols of the more successful yacht skipper
was to have a pony and trap. Capt. Redgewell was different, he had
a donkey and cart. The tale is that he asked on of his children
what was required as a present, and the child replied
"A donkey" meaning a toy one. The redoubtable "Billy" it is said
brought the donkey home to Tollesbury on the deck of the yacht.
A yacht which attracted quite a deal of interest at the
beginning of the century was the "Sonya" designed and built
in 1904 by Nathaniel Herreshoff at Rhode Island, U.S.A., for Mrs
Farley Turner. The yacht was brought to London Docks on the
deck of the s.s. "Minnetonka", and William James Drake, son of
the founder of Drake Brothers Yachtbuilders was specially asked
by the American lady owner to superintend the unloading of the
yacht. The steel wire slings, eyes and shackles, supplied for
loading and unloading the yacht, were formerly part
of the rigging of the America cup defender "Columbia" (1899-1902).
It says a good deal for the quality of the gear at that time, for
up to a few years ago, the slings, etc., were still in good
condition although exposed to the weather at Drake's Shipyard.
The cutter yacht "Sonya" 42 tons was skippered by Capt. Frederick
Stokes of Tollesbury, who subsequently had charge of "Mariquita"
100 tons, and towards the end of his yachting career, the three
masted schooner-ketch "Radiant" 290 tons, formerly "Xarifa".
Capt. Stokes was then residing in Southampton, where quite a number
of Colneside and Tollesbury yacht masters settled down.
Another successful racing skipper was Capt. Steve Barbrook.
In 1908 he had charge of Sir James Pender's 23 metre yacht
"Brynhild" 174 tons. Heavily sparred and rigged, the yacht did
not do so well that year, and it was decided to re-rig her with
a more fair weather rig for season 1909. When leading the racing
off Southend in May of that year, the mast snapped off at the keelson
and drove down through the hull of the yacht. "Brynhild" sunk
within six minutes, and the 22 man crew and 6 guests were rescued
by "Shamrock"and "White Heather" which were also taking part in the
race from Harwich to Southend. In 1911, Capt. Barbrook was skipper
of the 19 metre "Corona" owned by Mr Almeric Paget (later Lord
Queenborough) and Mr Richard Hennessey, and had much better luck.
For a period up to the 1914 War, Capt. Barbrook was sailing master
to H.M. King Alfonso of Spain in the 15 metre "Hispania". King
Alfonso evidently had a high regard for Capt. Barbrook and his family,
for he was succeeded in later years by his nephews Arthur and Alfred
One of the most successful racing yachts prior to 1914
was the cutter "Creole" 54 tons, built by Forrest of Wivenhoe
in 1890 for Colonel Villiers Bagot. During 23 years of
racing, she made 569 starts and won 339 races as follows :-
1st 166 ; 2nd 132 ; 3rd 38; and 4th 3 times. The cups
and trophies won presented a most impressive array. During
the whole of "Creole's" racing career she was skippered by
Capt. Charles Leavett who also had a crew from Tollesbury.
Capt. Leavett was held in very high esteem in yacht racing
circles, and always insisted on well set sails and good sailing
trim. The sails of "Creole" were made by Gowen and Company,
then of Tollesbury, whose founder Mr A.A. Gowen, had been
sailmaker in the tea clipper "Cutty Sark". In an issue of
"The Field" on 1913, there appeared the following write-up,
which had to be learned by heart by the then sailmakers and
apprentices of Messrs. Gowen :-
"Of the handicap yachts there was a fair fleet,
and Col. Bagot's old Creole appeared smart and
trim with a very nice fitting new mainsail,
which somebody said was made by the Sailmaker
at Tollesbury. If this is the case it would
seem that racing canvas can be obtained from
other places beside Gosport, Cowes and Gourock."
Much to the chagrin and disgust of Capt. Leavett, the
mainsail was badly stained on one occasion by a gunpowder wad
fired from a starting gun at The Castle, Cowes, and despite
all efforts the dirty black smudge was never eradicated.
In 1921 (?), H.M. King George V asked Col. Bagot for the services
of Capt. Leavett as sailing master for his cutter "Britannia".
Unfortunately there was a clash of personalities between Major
Sir Philip Hunloke, the King's helmsman and Capt. Leavett, who
had had vast racing experience since the days when he served in
"Valkyrie", and like all good racing skippers thought ahead and
anticipated racing tactics, changes of sail, etc. However,
in spite of their differences, "Britannia" had a most successful
racing season. Capt. Leavett's racing days were however not
finished, for in 1924 owing to the illness of the regular skipper,
his services were sought by Sir Thomas Lipton for his 23 metre
cutter "Shamrock". The cutter under his command had a most
successful racing season, which unfortunately was sadly marred
by the tragic loss of the mate, Theodore Lewis of Tollesbury,
in August that year whilst racing in the Solent.
In 1928, Col. Bagot had an accident at his home and died.
By the terms of his will, "Creole" which had been laid up at
Brightlingsea since 1914, was to be broken up and his trophies
to be distributed, many to the original yacht clubs which had
Other local men specialised in the command of large cruising
craft such as Capt. William Fost, who owned a thriving barge
and coal merchant's business, but was for many years master of
Colonel Bibby's schooner yachts "Morning Star" and "Tamesis".
Prior to this he had been master of the steam yacht "Grace
Darling" 169 tons, and at the beginning of this century, the
largest yacht to have entered and berthed at Woodrolfe.
One of the unique features of this yacht was that although
constructed in 1887, she possessed a fresh-water distilling apparatus.
Capt. Zachariah Lewis had the charge of the large steam
yacht "Samaritan" and schooner "Vera" owned by Mr A. Solomons.
"Samaritan" straight stemmed and painted black, with a great deal
of gilt gingerbread around the stem and counter, was too large to
enter Woodrolfe Creek, owning to her draft, and had to berth down
at "The Whale". "Samaritan" was sold to the Turkish Navy for
use as a gunboat prior to the 1914 War.
Capt. Isaac Rice, senior, was for many years master of the
steam yacht "Winifred" owned by Major Hilder. Like most local
yachtmasters he preferred to have local men as crew, and he was
fortunate in this respect always having a full complement
including his chief engineer, Mr Arthur Allen. "Winifred" was a
familiar and splendid sight each winter in her berth at Woodrolfe,
until early in 1915 when she was taken away by a French
naval crew for duty as a hospital ship. For a time after
Great War I, Capt. Rice was in command of the smaller steam yacht
"Bantam". In 1923 he was badly crushed and injured when
he went to the rescue of a crew member who had fallen from a
boarding ladder between the yacht and quay wall.
1926 when in charge of the steam yacht "Medea",
he tragically lost his life when swept off the bridge in
heavy seas off Sardinia. He had been on the bridge for over
In spite of the precarious nature of the employment, for very
few men apart from skippers, mates, etc., received pay or
retainers during the period of yacht lay-ups, there were never any men lacking
for crews. Wages were always good in comparison with shore standards.
In 1914, men received 26/- basic per week. Special duties
men received extras, e.g. Bowspritmen 2/6 per day, Mastheadmen
5/-, for these were the days of jackyard topsails and gaff mainsails.
In addition there was the prize money, £1 per man for 1st prize,
15/- for 2nd prize, and subsistance allowance 2/6d per day when
racing, as it was not possible to cook or prepare meals when racing.
Whether win or lose, there was starting money of 10/- per race.
Apart from the monetary gains there were also what could be termed
fringe benefits today. Principally they were the articles of
clothing, supplied each year by the yacht owner, and which became
the employee's property by the time honoured custom after completing a
The number of professional yachtsmen in regular employment now
in this area could be counted on two hands, but effort is being
made to encourage the return of yachts for mooring, berthing and
slipping facilities in this locality. Let us hope that within
a short space of time this venture will meet with success, and
that Woodrolfe, Tollesbury, will regain some of its old time glory
and provide additional employment and trade for the village as a
The typewritten article from Douglas Gurton is dated 10.3.70 and concludes with a photograph caption below. The exact photograph with the young lady standing on the bulwark has not been found yet, but the photograph below is thought to be from the same set.
Owners, Guests and Crew on board yawl "Wanderer" circa 1887.
The trendy dressed young lady standing on bulwark
holding gun "Annie Oakley" style is surprisingly dressed
similar to current young ladies' fashions - sombrero hat
maxi coat, trousers and knee length boots.
(Photo loaned by Mr Charles Wash, aged 87 years, whose
father was the cook depicted in each photograph.
Mr Wash informed me that his father died when he himself
was aged 4 years, which would place the date of the photographs
in excess of 83 years circa 1887).