ID: FGD_101 / Fred Garrod

TitleTollesbury Memories - recollections from Fred Garrod
AbstractI was born in Tollesbury in the year 1902. My relatives on my father's side had had connections with the sea from time immemorial, fishing and boat-building.

My father owned a fishing smack, and my two uncles also had one. I used to go with them to work almost as soon as I could toddle, and to me this was a wonderful experience. We would leave home about 3, 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning according to the tide, sometimes leaving from the hard at Woodup, sometimes from the Leavings, which meant a walk of about 3 miles from home. The fishermen in those days used to wear great heavy leather water boots, which reached well above the knee, and one could lie in bed and hear them clumping down the street on their way to work.

I used to decide who I would go with according to the work they would be doing. If they were oyster dredging it mostly meant they would be working nearer home in the river Blackwater, of if they were fish-trawling it meant going further out to sea, which suited me better, and there was more interest in the catch.

In the period I am recalling there were about 80 to 90 fishing smacks in the village, all under sail, as motors for fishing smacks had not been heard of in those days. We used to leave the Hard by rowing boat, and as many were leaving at the same time, it was a pleasing sound to hear the splash and rattle of the oars, singled with the plaintive cries of the redshanks and other sea-birds. If the weather was calm it was wonderful to see the reflections of the stars in every movement on the water, oars would make impressions like artists' brushes and pens on the surface.

Once on board the smack, preparations would be made to get under way, the anchors would be weighted, and you would hear the tinkle of the various windlasses all sending out a different note on the still air. Following this you would hear the whine of the blocks as the sails were being hoisted and the regulars could tell by the sound which smack it was. Then they would sail out to their various grounds to work. They mostly got out and short their gear, nets or dredges according to the work, then one member of the crew would go below and prepare breakfast, the other members of the crew having given him their food to cook. Teas was made in the kettle, tea, sugar and milk being put in when the water boiled. Tea was usually drunk from basins and it tasted very good, the condensed milk which was used giving it an added sweetener.. All sat round on bunks eating their bacon, chops or steams. All ate mostly with a knife from the top of a cottage loaf. After this out would come the pipes or hand made cigarettes, and the air became so think with smoke, you could almost cut it with a knife - but I never heard of one dying from lung cancer. They often lived to be 80 years of age and would be still working even then. Following breakfast the first haul would be made, and I was always eager to see what this would produce - soles, plaice, dabs, cod, whiting, skate and dozens of other lovely creatures and weeds that live at the bottom of the sea. Sometimes there would be a haul and the net would be full of nothing but weed, and sometimes the net would get fast on a wreck and there would be a struggle to get the net free, doing as little damage as possible, but more often than not the net would be badly ripped. Whilst the net was over the side for the next haul the first catch would be sorted out and cleaned, plaice and dabs being strung on a thin wire and sold for about 20 for sixpense. Whiting would be about sixpence for 30 but soles would be dearer, whilst skate was sold according to size. Most of the catch would be sold in the village during the evening going from door to door.

If you were at work oyster dredging this was different altogether. Dredges were hauled aboard about every quarter of an hour, bringing up about three quarters of a hundredweight of shell, commonly known as cultch. This was tipped out on to the deck and sorted out whilst waiting for the next haul. The shell would have on it three grades of tiny oysters, brood, half ware and ware *. These would be put into their respective tubs, whilst all preditors such as slipper limpets, tingle whelks, star fish, all enemies of the oyster would be thrown overboard. The same procedure would be repeated throughout the day.

* Fred asks in a note - is it ware or wear ?

PEACE landing fivefingers at Copt Hall, Little Wigborough c1880.
The smack was sometime owned by the Garrod family

Sometimes too, during the winter months, some smacks would sail to Kent to catch fivefingers (star fish). In those days local farmers did not use artificial fertilisers on their fields, and fivefingers and small sprats were recognised manure. When the smacks arrived at Woodup fully loaded they were met by farmers' tumbrils and wagons which would be loaded up for delivery. What a stench this created as they proceeded through the village streets, with the fivefinger juice draining out of the carts on to the road! I doubt if this procedurre would be allowed today - there would be an outcry of 'unsanitry' and 'pollution' and all the rest, but in those days such happenings were a mater of course and people perhaps grumbled good naturedly at the time then forgot about it all.

During the summer months the majority of the younger men went yachting, my father was one of them. So during the summer months I was usually with one of my uncles. At this time barges used to come up to Woodup with stone for road making and go away with a load of hay and straw. My uncle, being the recognised pilot for Woodup and Old Hall, used to pick them up at Mersea Quarters, pilot them to Tollesbury, then when unloaded he would take them back to the Quarters, and there would be a long row home to Woodup. I often used to go with him on days off from school. At this period more than three-quarters of the male population of Tollesbury got their living from the sea.

The school holidays in the summer were governed by the fruit and pea-picking season. We used to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to go to work in the fields. The sweet smell of the honeysuckle and sweet briar was very pleasant. I'm afraid this will never be experienced again as all the hedgers have been cut down. Later in the day, the hedges would be alive with beautifully coloured butterflies of all sizes. At the end of the picking season, about the end of June, was Fair Week, known locally as Gooseberry Pie Fair. Everyone in the village made a large pie filled with gooseberries, in large 'Sunderland' earthenware pans, brought home by bargemen from their trips north for loads of coal. The dishes were lined with pastry, usually made from home-cured lard, filled with the gooseberries, the top pastry put on, then taken to the local bakers where they would be placed in the oven all night, which would turn the green fruit to a brilliant red. We used to fetch the pies in the morning and some of this delicious repast was even enjoyed before breakfast! Other uses to which bakers' ovens were put was the baking of cakes and Sunday dinners. The dinners would be taken during Sunday morning and collected when the people came out of Church or Chapel as the case might be. Dinners cooked this way always seemed to taste better somehow.

During this period too, the village received its usual quota of travelling gipsies and such - hurdy-gurdy men and women, women with baskets of pegs, combs, laces, elastic etc. for sale, whilst others would come round with a trolley with china and so on for sale. We children used to save old bones, rabbit skins, and woollens, and sell them to the rag-and-bone man for a few coppers.

The Horse Fair at Tolleshunt D'Arcy - outside the Red Lion

Another annual event was the horse show at Tolleshunt D'Arcy. This attracted the farmers and tradesmen from all around, and it was a grand sight to see the well-groomed horses, their manes and tails trimmed with coloured braid, the brass of the harness polished to an unbelievable brightness. Tumbrils and waggons, all newly painted in gay colours and varnished; also the tradesmens' vehicles, butchers, bakers, grocers etc with the owners names in gold leaf on the sides. The show usually ended with a spectacular display given by a cavalry regiment from Colchester in full dress uniform, who performed feats of spearing tent pegs and bursting balloons with lances while galloping at full speed on their horses.

The next holiday from school would be a fortnight in the latter half of September, usually referred to as the Blackberrying Holiday. This also coincided with the home-coming of the yachtsmen after a season of yacht-racing or cruising in the south of France. Then the yachts would be laid up, and the smacks got ready for the coming winter's work.

Talking of yachting reminds me that Tollesbury also had its annual regatta, held in the Blackwater off the end of the pier. Their would be smack races, races for yacht's cutters, rowing boats and so on. One race would be with the men using shovels instead of oars. There would be the comic side too, with the "Pull Devil - Pull Baker", this being a kind of tug-o'-war, the boats being joined by a long rope, and while the oarsmen would be trying to pull their opponents over the line, others in each boat would be pelting their opponents with bags of soot or flour.

At fair-time the meadow, usually the Mount, would be crowded with people from Tollesbury and adjoining villages. There would be the usual 'steam-horses' for adults, a smaller hand propelled round-about for children, and swings and the usual array of stalls. The steam organ would send out its melodious (to us!) tunes, and it was al a gay spectacle in the flickering naptha lamps.
There would be all sorts of things to win at the stalls, or to buy, such as home-made rock, coconuts, 'locus' beans and ginger bread. The older lads would chase the girls with small water pistols then scatter them with confetti making a horrible mess - but all clean fun! This kind of fun usually lasted until midnight.

November 5th was also a high-light in the village with a huge bonfire, usually on the Green. And next to look forward to was Christmas, with carol singing and Sunday School parties, and a concert in the Parish Room.

In those days there were no buses and if one wanted to go to Colchester, it meant going by carriers cart, leaving Tollesbury at 9 in the morning, getting to Colchester about 12 midday, leaving there about 4 in the afternoon and arriving home about 8 o'clock. Sometimes in the summer months parents wuld club together and hire a wagonette and take the families to Colchester or Maldon for the day.

Tollesbury Station October 1904, a few days after opening

The train started running from Tollesbury to Kelvedon about 1904 - it has now been closed in the name of progress!

Before the coming of the railway it was a frequent sight to see horses or cattle being driven through the village for pasturing - sometimes a large flock of sheep would be driven through, and what a stampede there would be to close all gates or you had the garden full of sheep!

As for children's games, we made our own, and they all had their 'season'. Kites, tops, 'buttons', hop-scotch, marbles, knuckle-stones and trundling hoops. The girls had wooden hoops, the boys had iron ones, made either at Mr Beecham's forge in the East Street or at Mr William's marine blacksmith shop at Woodup. Now all these games have disappeared, more's the pity.

Summing up, I would say we were happier and more contented in those days than they are today.

"Woodup" is also known as "Woodrope" or "Woodrolfe".

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Fred Garrod Tollesbury Memories 2.

April 2021 typewritten copy sent by Kevin Bruce. Typed for web and photographs added.
Photographs from Martha Frost, Kevin Bruce and Cedric Gurton.
Some of this had been printed in the Tollesbury Parish Magazine in the 1970s.

AuthorFred Garrod
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 Red Lion, Tolleshunt D'Arcy on the occasion of the Horse Fair. The pub is W. Bright & Sons - they were a Coggeshall brewery. The pub was later rebuilt and looked totally different.  KBC_TOL_075
ImageID:   KBC_TOL_075
Title: Red Lion, Tolleshunt D'Arcy on the occasion of the Horse Fair. The pub is W. Bright & Sons - they were a Coggeshall brewery. The pub was later rebuilt and looked totally different.
Source:Mersea Museum / Kevin Bruce