ID DJG_YBW Article from Mersea Museum

TitleYachting between the wars
AbstractYachting re-started slowly in 1919. The ravages of the four years 1914-1918 had taken their toll of both men and craft. Of the forty odd medium tonnage yachts berthed in the creeks, or hauled up into Messrs. Drake Bros' yard at Woodrolfe, Tollesbury, a number had changed hands. The beautiful sleek steam yacht "Winifred" had been sold in 1915 to France as a hospital ship, but had been later torpedoed. A few of the racing craft had been sold to Scandinavian countries where presumably finance was easier, but many of the original British owners had suffered physical and financial losses. Likewise many of the original crew members were not to return to the unstable employment as professional yachtsmen. In some cases a new breed of yacht owner emerged, the "nouveau rich" sometimes referred to, and quite wrongly as "war profiteers". Fortunately, Tollesbury was not unduly affected, as this type of new owner favoured the larger and more ostentatious craft which could not berth at Tollesbury.

Of the twenty-three young men volunteers of August 1914, only about seven resumed their seafaring careers. Seven had lost their lives, several had suffered severe injuries, of these George Leavett had lost his right arm at Hill 60, but was immediately employed in the furrier trade by his former yacht owner, Mr. Glenholm Bradley, who had been awarded the D.S.O., and D.S.C., in the Great War. Mr. Bradley was the owner of the yawl "Pamela" (55 tons) which skippered by Capt. Wm. Rice had escaped from Kiel on the outbreak of War. Another volunteer Steve Barbrook, son of the famous Capt. Stephen Barbrook had sustained a severe leg injury, and subsequently set up a boot and shoe repairing business. Fred Rice son of Capt. Wm Rice, although suffering from the privations he had endured, went into the bakery business with his father, but became seriously ill and died. Of the remainder, Percy Clark, Percy Clarke, Bob Ottley (although he had been wounded no less than five times), Jack Frost, Jack Lewis Walter Lewis, all resumed their yachting careers with some success in later years, and Arthur Brand became a tug skipper at Grimsby. Claude Denny, Louis Lewis, John Frost, Sidney Rose, Frank Layzell and Joseph Ingate, had all made the supreme sacrifice and are remembered. Of that gallant band of young men, there is so far as is known only one survivor to-day, and he is as well as can be expected for his great age and what he endured.
It is not generally known, except by the families concerned, that apart from those who were members of the Reserves or Territorials, there were a number of older men, who had been mates on some of the larger yachts, and some members of the first Tollesbury Scouts, all of whom had been Auxiliary Coastguards in support of the local contingent. They all joined the newly formed Royal Naval Air Service, and became coxswains and skippers in charge of various craft attendant on seaplanes, etc. Some qualified for Board of Trade Certificates of Competency as Masters (Home Trade). A. group photograph of some of these men was taken at Eastchurch, Sheppey, and easily recognised are - Edward Carrington Heard, Henry Frost, George Howe Brand, William Drake Frost, Harry Leavett, Arthur Mills, Edward South, William Wilkinson, Charles Edward Wash, and of the young men, Frederick Holder, Frederick Collins, James Osborne and "Latty" Carter. Edward C. Heard later became mate of "Shamrock IV", master of "Noresca", "Shamrock V", "Astra" and "Endeavour I". George H. Brand for many years was in charge of Mr J. Blott's yachts, and William Drake Frost was for some thirty odd years master of Sir Richard Cooper's various steam and motor yachts. Coming home from school during the lunch hour one day in the Spring of 1919, groups of guernseyed men, displaying embroidered names of famous yachts on their chests, were seen to "be standing on The Square. Word had gone round that Capt. Edward Sycamore, accompanied by some other notable Colneside skippers, were in the village to complete crews for their yachts. Capt. Sycamore, although claimed as a son of Colneside, had at an early age been apprenticed to the Myall family and had been cared for by Mrs. Ann Myall, the only woman known to have crewed in the fishing smack "SWH" with her sons Sidney, William and Harry Myall. The "SWH" in 1963 was being used as a yacht, renamed "Duenna" and rigged as a topsail schooner. The last heard of her was that she had been bought by the publisher, Heinemann and was in the Baltic.

In 1919 yacht skippers favoured serge tunic s.b. jackets, hook-eyed up to the throat, and trimmed with black mohair braid. Modeled on the pattern adopted for officers of the U.S. Navy, crew members jestingly referred to them as "monkey tamer jackets". The jackets were smart and neat, and only went out of service just before the last war.

At this time it was rumoured that Capt. Sycamore, instead of resuming command of a "Shamrock", was taking over the American built schooner "Hamburg II" 338 tons, requisitioned under war reparations, reverting to her former name of "Westward", and later to be owned by the City financier, Clarence B. Hatry. Capt. Sycamore evidently had fond memories of Tollesbury and its villagers. His daughter married George William Frost member of a well known and respected Tollesbury family, and their son, Ronald Sycamore Frost, whilst serving as an officer in the R.N.R., lost his life in H.M. Submarine P.33 in 1941.

Messrs. Drake Bros., had their hands full at Woodrolfe, re-caulking yachts and preparing them for launching, full time working for their twenty odd craftsmen and eight apprentices. The firm established by James Drake at Old Hall in 1818, later transferring to Woodrolfe, where only the ancient wooden "Granary" stood on The Hard, where it does to-day, did not suffer odd one major accident during their hundred odd years existence. In 1919 yachts at Woodrolfe either in the yard or berthed in the creeks included amongst others, the following :- "Bunyip", "Galisaya", "Carib", "Constance", "Coronella", "Diadem", "Gaviata", "Gladoris", "Hispania" (H.M. The King of Spain), "Joyce", "Lady Bird", "Lady Hilda", "Ma-Oona", "Meg Merrilees", "Otter", "Palmosa", "Patrona", "Rover", "Sylvia" 63 tons (Earl of Craven), "Sylvia" 30 tons, "Yelsa", "Xenia" and ''Zanzara". Many of the yachts changed ownership, "Calisaya" became owned by Lord Lloyd of Fareham, "Constance" was always a pretty picture both in the yard or afloat, skippered by Capt. Dick Page her copper sheathing and bronze propellor were always burnished bright. "Lady Bird" was for many years owned by the Hon. H. Bowen. "Sylvia" 63 ton yawl was skippered by Capt. Ernest Ward for the Earl of Craven who tragically lost his life early in the twenties, "Sylvia" 30 tons was reputed to be the last yacht to have escaped from Antwerp in 1914, and her stern and hatch coamings still bore the marks where she was raked by machine gun bullets. This vessel was purchased by Sir Richard Ashmole Cooper Bt and was skippered by Capt. Wm. Drake Frost, the first of several vessels owned by Sir Richard.

Gradually the yachts fitted out and left Woodrolfe for cruising, all with the exception of "Valkyr", a handsome small German composite built cutter, with "Benz" auxiliary and "Duerr" feathering propeller, which was moved to the head of Drakes' yard. She was never re-claimed. Was she owned by the 7ft tall Prussian officer, who struck his head a resounding crack on the low beam of "The Hope's" diner early in 1914, remarking at the time that he was the tallest man to have dined there in the old pub? In later years I enquired of Will and Alf Drake if this was so, but they told me that in spite of all efforts they had been unable to trace the owner of "Valkyr". Over the years, "Valkyr" deteriorated, and eventually disintegrated.

In 1920 there was still little racing, the year was high-lighted by the America Cup race, the contender being "Shamrock IV" with Capt. Turner, skipper and Edward Carrington Heard as mate. "Shamrock IV" won two out of the five races against the defender "Resolute". There were several Tollesbury men in the crew.

Fitting out in the Spring of each year saw a hive of activity at Woodrolfe. Much scraping, rubbing down and varnishing of spars and dinghies. Gear, sails, etc., were constantly being brought out of the Yacht Stores (they were never Sail Lofts) and transported to the various yachts. Spars were floated down to Rickus for the larger yachts there. As work progressed, the owners would occasionally visit the yachts. At times there were more members of the nobility and baronetage to be found on one square yard of The Hard than in the whole square mile of Mayfair. It was a stirring sight to see the yacht skippers standing on the running boards of the "Bentleys" and "Hispano Suizas" roaring up from Woodrolfe dropping off at their homes or the Square where the owners dined at The Kings Head and sampled the excellent cooking of Mrs. Cowles and her daughter Mrs. Hone.

In 1921 Capt. Charles Leavett was appointed sailing master of H.M. King George V's racing yacht "Britannia" and had a most successful racing season. There were a number of other Tollesbury men in the crew that year and a group photograph taken at that time is exhibited in "The Hope".

Capt. Sydney Leavett, son of Charles, who was a certificated master mariner, and had served under his father in "Britannia" after a successful career in the Port Line, in 1922 took command of the double-topsail schooner "Sunbeam" 532 tons, owned by Sir Walter Runciman (afterwards Lord Runciman). Practically all the crew were from Tollesbury, namely :- Arthur Leavett, chief officer; Robert Appleton; Joe Dawson; William Howe (who was awarded the O.B.E. for rescue work in the Great War); Dick Lewis; Herbert Frost; Chris Elmer; Sonny Stokes; Charles Wash; Walter Mussett; Chris Brand (W. Mersea); and Clarence Rice, ship's carpenter. There were a number of other men, about seven in all from Scotland and other parts. It is interesting to note that "Sunbeam" when first owned by Early Brassey, made a round the world voyage, and on that occasion one of her officers was Capt. Charles Lee, father of Mrs. Mabel Thorington, of this village. In 1929 "Sunbeam" was replaced after over 50 years service by "Sunbeam II" another square topsail three masted schooner. Other Tollesbury men who served in the "Sunbeams" at one time or another, were Fred Carter, Sydney Heard, Sam Crees, Ted Crees and Alfred Ward. Capt. Sydney Leavett was in command of "Sunbeam II" until the end of 1936, when he took over the beautiful three masted staysail schooner "Creole" 697 tons, owned by Sir Connop Guthrie, and was in command until outbreak of hostilities in 1939, when she was requisitioned by the Admiralty for accommodation duties.

In the twenties several of the yacht skippers residing on Colneside and Tollesbury removed to Southampton to be near the large draught yachts which could not berth easily in these parts, as very often yacht skippers were employed all the year round on the larger craft as were the mates in many cases. One of the first Tollesbury skippers to move to Southampton was Capt. Fred Stokes who had the "Sonya" 42 tons, subsequently the "Mariquita" 100 tons, and lastly the"Xarifa" or "Radiant" 290 tons owned by Lord Iliffe. About 1923 the "Mariquita" was skippered by Capt. Walter Bibby who had served with other Tollesbury men in the R.N.A.S., and in "Shamrock IV" in 1914 and again in 1920.

In 1923 Capt. Isaac Rice, Senior, was master of the steam yacht "Bantam" owned by Sir Reginald Tyrrell, M.P., who often had the yacht moored in the River Thames at Westminster, so that he was in easy access to the Houses of Parliament. Unfortunately, Capt. Rice suffered severe injuries when he gallantly went to the rescue of a crew member who had fallen between the yacht's side and the harbour wall at Ramsgate that year. Unhappily he was to lose his life when swept from the bridge of the steam yacht "Medea" 137 tons in a gale off Minorca on 10th March 1926, a full account of which was given in the Parish Magazine of April 1926.

Also in the year 1923 Capt. William Drake Frost took command of the S.Y. "Mallard" for Sir Richard Cooper, and later on the S.Y. "Cala Mara" 313 tons, one of the largest yachts to have berthed at Woodrolfe. In 1929 Sir Richard had the motor yacht "Alice" 529 tons built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. at Wallsend, and the crew mainly from Tollesbury went up for the launching ceremony and brought her round to Tollesbury Pier arriving on Cnristmas Eve 1929 and afterwards went out to the Mediterranean.

On her way out to the Mediterranean in January 1930, the "Alice" called in at Gibraltar to take on stores, etc. As is usual whenever any craft reaches a distant port one of the first priorities is to collect mail and despatch letters home. On this occasion in this most British of towns in the Commonwealth, a number of Tollesbury men converging on the Post Office met the then Vicar's niece, whose husband was an officer in the Royal Navy, emerging from the Post Office. Similar meetings with Colneside and Tollesbury men took place in several Mediteranean ports that year, as a number of the big "J" class yachts were taking part in races off Cannes and Monte Carlo. The notable exceptions being H.M.Y. "Britannia", and "Shamrock V" which skippered by Capt. E.G. Heard was the contender for the America Cup later that year. "Alice" berthed in Cannes harbour between "Westward" and "Aldebaran (ex-Meteor III)" two 400 ton schooners. Other yachts present were "Cambria", "Candida", "Astra", "White Heather" and "Lamorna". "Alice" was the last word in luxury for yacht owner and crew, and was visited by a number of Colneside yachtsmen. On being shown the bathroom and shower installed for the crew of "Alice" one renowned skipper was heard to say "What ! Bathrooms for sailors." The old order died hard.

Another large schooner very active on the South coast in 1930 was the "Margherita" 380 tons, owned by Sir William Reardon Smith, and skippered by Capt. Jack Howe. The crew mainly comprised young ship's apprentices from Sir William's ships. It was the beginning of the world depression, many ships were being laid up around the coasts. It also affected yachting, many crew members had to seek other employment. Bill Polley who for many many years had been a farm bailiff, became an engineer, in the large yacht "Sapphire" and served in the ships of the New Zealand Shipping Co. during the war.

M.Y. "Alice" was in fact the largest yacht ever to have entered and berthed at Woodrolfe. Messrs. Drake Bros., prior to her arrival in the Fleets had marked the deepest channel with stakes or "withies". In 1939 "Alice" was requisitioned by the Admiralty and was on R.N. Patrol Service in Scotland. Other yachts owned by Sir Richard were the "Little Alice" and "Aldic". It is quite impossible to list all the Tollesbury men who were masters of yachts in the 20's and 30's, as so often the yachts were not berthed at Tollesbury. For many years Capt. Harry Pettican took a local crew out to the U.S.A. to man a large yacht there. Capt. Steve Barbrook who had had such a successful career in racing yachts took over the S.Y. "Zaza" for Mr. Wilfred Leuchars owner of the 12 metre "Moyana". Capt. Charles Rice who for many years skippered "Xenia" had the German built schooner "Viva" owned by Mr. Anthony Drexel. Other yacht masters were Capts Edward Collins "Zanzara", "White Fox", "Polaris", "Maruna" and "Alison". Herbert Frost "Cariad" "St. Austell"; George Rice "Velsa"; Alfred Barbrook "Hispania", "Moyana"; Arthur Barbrook "June", Isaac Rice Junr "Dwyn Wen", "Susanna", "Cicely", "Anglia"; Nat Gurton "Chione","Sumurun"; Steve Gurton "Lady Hilda"; Albert Potter "Adventuress"; Charles Pettican "Ma-OOna", "Noreen", "White Lady"; Fred Ward "Grey Mist", Arthur Abbott, William Wilkinson, and many others. "Maruna" after the last War was bought by Cdr. Woollard, R.N. , renamed "English Rose" and crewed entirely by young women. On the 23rd June 1936, the "June" 56 tons, skippered by Capt. Arthur Barbrook, whilst sailing in the Solent was holed by a practice torpedo. It was just before the Munich crisis, and a foreboding of the shape of things to come.

Although the America Cup challengers did not berth in these parts Colneside and Tollesbury men from the first challenge in 1870 were members of the crews. Samuel Clarke who passed away in 1940 at the great age of 91 years had served in the first challenger "Cambria" of 1870 and on another occasion. As is generally known Capt. Edward Carrington Heard was master of the "Shamrock V" in the Cup races of 1930, and again in 1934 in Sir T.O.M. Sopwith's newly built "Endeavour". Unfortunately due to a bonus dispute the greater part of the professional crew left the vessel and their places had to be taken and filled by volunteer yachtsmen, who had not the experience of the professionals. It is however fair and right to say that two Tollesbury men did crew on that occasion, namely Edward "Ted" Heard son of the master, and Ralph Sailor Frost. It is generally conceded that had "Endeavour" been favoured by a totally professional crew that the results of the races would have been in the favour of "Endeavour". In the challenge of 1937 Capt. Heard who at that time was master of "Astra" was again appointed to "Endeavour" which acted as a pace-maker for the new challenger "Endeavour II" and proved her superiority. The epic voyage of "Endeavour I" from the U.S.A. at the conclusion of the races in 1937 is generally known and remembered in this village.

By 1939 most of the yachts were hurriedly laid up. The largest steam and motor yachts were requisitioned by the Admiralty and their crews were enrolled in the R.N. Patrol Service. Many of the men who were R.N. Reservists were drafted for service in H.M. Ships and auxiliary cruisers. The heroic exploits of the "Rawalpindi", yacht "Campeador", and "Jervis Bay" pay tribute to some Tollesbury men who lost their lives in those epic engagements.

By the end of World War II yachting was never to be the same. The days of yachts with large professional crews were finished. However it is gratifying to note that the enthusiasm for yachting has not diminished as can be gauged "by the success of the Annual Boat Shows throughout the country, and the production of fibre glass boats for the people of moderate means.

AuthorDouglas J. Gurton
Published24 March 1980
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton
IDDJG_YBW
Related Images:
 Smack 492CK S.W.H. S.W.H. stands for Sid, Will and Harry Myall and the lady in the shrouds is probably Mrs Ann Myall, mother of Sid, Will and Harry, who used to crew on the smack. 
 She was first registered as CK492 27 November 1911, auxiliary engine fitted 1925. SWH was skippered by Len Trim in the 1950s. In 1963 she was being used as a yacht, renamed DUENNA.  ATR_SWH_001
ImageID:   ATR_SWH_001
Title: Smack 492CK S.W.H.
S.W.H. stands for Sid, Will and Harry Myall and the lady in the shrouds is probably Mrs Ann Myall, mother of Sid, Will and Harry, who used to crew on the smack.
She was first registered as CK492 27 November 1911, auxiliary engine fitted 1925. SWH was skippered by Len Trim in the 1950s. In 1963 she was being used as a yacht, renamed DUENNA.
Date:July 1924
Source:Mersea Museum / Alison Taylor
 Tollesbury fisherman Harry Myall on the left - Person at the tiller not known. Smack S.W.H. 492CK  ATR_SWH_005
ImageID:   ATR_SWH_005
Title: Tollesbury fisherman Harry Myall on the left - Person at the tiller not known. Smack S.W.H. 492CK
Date:1924
Source:Mersea Museum / Alison Taylor
 British large racing schooner MARGHERITA. 1913. Designed and built by Camper and Nicholson. 162ft length overall, 100ft w.l. Captain Alfred Embling of Gosport with a crew largely from the Solent area. 14,000 sq.ft. A very fast and successful racer in the 'A' Class - the largest yachts.
 She was also owned by Sir William Reardon Smith, and skippered by Capt. Jack Howe. The crew mainly comprised young ship's apprentices from Sir William's ships. 
 Photograph used in The Big Class Racing Yachts page 103.  BOXB2_400_057
ImageID:   BOXB2_400_057
Title: British large racing schooner MARGHERITA. 1913. Designed and built by Camper and Nicholson. 162ft length overall, 100ft w.l. Captain Alfred Embling of Gosport with a crew largely from the Solent area. 14,000 sq.ft. A very fast and successful racer in the 'A' Class - the largest yachts.
She was also owned by Sir William Reardon Smith, and skippered by Capt. Jack Howe. The crew mainly comprised young ship's apprentices from Sir William's ships.
Photograph used in The Big Class Racing Yachts page 103.
Source:John Leather Collection
 SUNBEAM under sail. Thought to be the auxiliary schooner SUNBEAM built 1874 for Lord Brassey, Official No. 70573, broken up 1929.  BOXF_029_001_001
ImageID:   BOXF_029_001_001
Title: SUNBEAM under sail. Thought to be the auxiliary schooner SUNBEAM built 1874 for Lord Brassey, Official No. 70573, broken up 1929.
Source:John Leather Collection
 CREOLE. Postcard mailed 11 July 1972 to Frank Drake, High Street, Tollesbury from someone sailing on it the day before.
 CREOLE built 1927 Official No. 149134.  CG15_055
ImageID:   CG15_055
Title: CREOLE. Postcard mailed 11 July 1972 to Frank Drake, High Street, Tollesbury from someone sailing on it the day before.
CREOLE built 1927 Official No. 149134.
Date:Before July 1972
Source:Mersea Museum / Cedric Gurton Tollesbury
 Ketch XARIFA. Captain Fred Stokes, originally from Tollesbury, was skipper.
 Photo from R. Ashton, London S.W.  DWS_009
ImageID:   DWS_009
Title: Ketch XARIFA. Captain Fred Stokes, originally from Tollesbury, was skipper.
Photo from R. Ashton, London S.W.
Source:Mersea Museum / Derek Shakespeare
 Sydney Charles Leavett is on the left with his father Charles on the right. On the yacht CREOLE, 1938.
 Used in Biography of Sydney Charles Leavett, page 6. [BOXB2_005]  PBIB_LEA_002
ImageID:   PBIB_LEA_002
Title: Sydney Charles Leavett is on the left with his father Charles on the right. On the yacht CREOLE, 1938.
Used in Biography of Sydney Charles Leavett, page 6. [BOXB2_005]
Date:1938
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Bibby Collection
 Lord Brassey's 159ft auxiliary topsail schooner SUNBEAM in the trade winds during her circumnavigation of the world, 1876-1877. Captain Isiah Powell of Rowhedge was master of her Colne crew.
 This caption from The Northseamen, page 197, which has the same picture. Thought to be a painting.  PBIB_NAV_021
ImageID:   PBIB_NAV_021
Title: Lord Brassey's 159ft auxiliary topsail schooner SUNBEAM in the trade winds during her circumnavigation of the world, 1876-1877. Captain Isiah Powell of Rowhedge was master of her Colne crew.
This caption from The Northseamen, page 197, which has the same picture. Thought to be a painting.
Date:c1877
Source:Mersea Museum / John Rigby Collection
 Crew of yacht SUNBEAM, crew taken at Southampton, dated 1923. Crew members: Arthur Leavett, Clary Rice, Dick Lewis, Charles Wash, Walter Mussett(Navvy), Sid Leavett, Stokes, Herbet Frost, Chris Almer, Bill Howe. I believe all the ones named are local to Tollesbury and I recognise Navvy Mussett in the front row; second fom left on the photo [Peter Bibby].
 SUNBEAM built 1874 for Lord Brassey, Official No. 70573, bought by Sir Walter Runciman 1923, broken up 1929.  PBIB_SUN_001
ImageID:   PBIB_SUN_001
Title: Crew of yacht SUNBEAM, crew taken at Southampton, dated 1923. Crew members: Arthur Leavett, Clary Rice, Dick Lewis, Charles Wash, Walter Mussett(Navvy), Sid Leavett, Stokes, Herbet Frost, Chris Almer, Bill Howe. I believe all the ones named are local to Tollesbury and I recognise Navvy Mussett in the front row; second fom left on the photo [Peter Bibby].
SUNBEAM built 1874 for Lord Brassey, Official No. 70573, bought by Sir Walter Runciman 1923, broken up 1929.
Date:1923
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Bibby Collection
 Brigantine DUENNA, formerly the smack S.W.H.
 Back says With thanks and Best Wishes to all at Frost & Drake. Julia and Lawrie  PBIB_SWH_015
ImageID:   PBIB_SWH_015
Title: Brigantine DUENNA, formerly the smack S.W.H.
Back says "With thanks and Best Wishes to all at Frost & Drake. Julia and Lawrie"
Date:1967
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Bibby Collection


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