ID: DJG_TSC / Douglas J. Gurton

TitleThe Origin of Tollesbury Sailing Club
AbstractShortly after the Great War there came to reside in Tollesbury a gentleman, named Major Kenrick McMullen, a member of a notable brewing family in Hertfordshire, who had been serving as a staff officer in the Army. He and his family settled down in the village, and eventually acquired land north of the railway line at Station Road where the Major designed and built the farming complex now known as Great Downs. The Major, as he was generally known in the village, and his family, wife and several husky young sons were devoted to sailing in their leisure, and for a greater part of the year resided on their Fifie built ketch "Nan" 29 tons. Major McMullen possessed a great driving force and was quick to realise the potentialities of Tollesbury as a centre for yachting for the person possessed of moderate means. Hitherto the amateur yachtsman was regarded with some suspicion and scepticism by the fisherman and villager in general, but Major McMullen gained the respect of the professional yachtsman and fisherman, and in some measure received their support. In 1920 he mooted a scheme whereby a road could be driven across the "Little Marsh" just west of the existing old coal shed and store in Woodrolfe Road, across the saltings by "Chattersons's Creek" out to the "Whale" where water at all states of tide could be found to facilitate the work of fishermen and yachtsmen alike. Public meetings were held, and plans drawn up by Major McMullen, who was also a civil engineer, were displayed for the benefit of all. Although the scheme received the approval of the populace and interested authorities, the lack of funds prevented the scheme reaching fruition.

This setback did not deter Major McMullen, and he persevered with his interests in sailing, designing and building some very controversial craft. These boats were lightly constructed of somewhat unorthodox materials, laths and hardboard in particular. Some critical villagers called them "paper boats" but their performances defeated the critics. Equipped with large standing lug-type "lateen" mainsails, these craft could leave traditionally equipped sailing dinghies virtually standing, and made many yachtsmen sit up and take notice. In these projects Major McMullen was assisted by his sons, but when they were away at college, he had the ready and willing help of a number of local youths, in particular Peter and Hubert Heard, their cousin Frank Heard, Jack Lewis, Frank Pettican and others. Possibly the most controversial or freakish craft was the "Carton", so named as its principal component was hardboard. This boat somewhat similar to the old flatfish type of sailing boat, had twin keels and twin rudders, and its shape was very much akin to the present "Fireball" class of craft. It was exceedingly fast, and won a number of trophies on the Blackwater and Crouch for its owner. Races were held at suitable states of tide in the evenings and at week-ends at Woodrolfe Creek and in the Fleets, and so was instilled a keen interest in small boat sailing amongst young and old alike in Hie village. In 1924, Major McMullen had acquired an interest in the newly formed Tollesbury Yacht and Boatbuilding Company on the dissolution of partnership of some members of the old established firm of Brake Brothers which still continued operations at the lower boatyard by the Hard. Major McMullen designed small cruiser yachts and was ably assisted in their building by Francis Drake, his father, his uncle Tom Frost, whose sons Tom, Albert and Sid also took part. A boatyard was established on the saltings near the yacht stores and adjoining Bontings Creek and is known to-day as Frost and Drake's boatyard. Tom Frost senior, designed and built an 18ft sailing cutter which he named "Barbara", she was tender but exceptionally fast.

With the introduction of larger and a polygot collection of craft, including "Tern" owned by Francis Drake, the sailing cutter of the old s.y. "Winifred", and several fishermen's re-rigged row boats, including "Imp" owned by Lennox Leavett, and National dinghies it was necessary to formulate handicap classes, and thus was born the "Tollesbury Sailing Club." In 1936 a meeting of interested parties was called at Mr. Jim Chaney's electrical shop at 8 High Street, Major McMullen was appointed President, Capt Edgar Heard father of Peter and Hubert was elected Commodore and Walter Bibby owner of "Firefly" was nominated Secretary, but owing to his absences at college, Norman Brand acted in that capacity for the interim period.

The list of founder members was most impressive, including among many others, the names of Sam Heard, brother of Edgar, and who had served in "Shamrock III" also Capt Ned Heard of "Endeavour" fame. The newly formed Club was unique inasmuch as the greater part of its members comprised professional yachtsmen and fishermen. The annual subscription was agreed at 2/6d per annum, and the emblem of a "Stag's head" was adopted as the Club's badge, thus ensured the continuity of the crest previously used by the old-time Tollesbury Regatta of pre World War I days. Permission was obtained for the erection of a "starters hut" on the saltings near the Gridiron at Ricketts Hard, and races became a regular week-end activity. From the start the Club was recognised by the old established Clubs of the Colne and Blackwater, also the Y.R.A., now R.Y.A. Mr. T.O.M. Sopwith (later Sir Thomas) donated a handsome silver trophy, local firms and members followed suit. The Club prospered and under the able and strict guidance of its Commodore, and the valuable and meticulous care of the Secretary, Walter Bibby, became an institution to be reckoned with in sailing on local waters. It is stated that some of the fishermen members were so keen, that after spending a week or so on the "Cant" off Sheppey, they would return to Woodrolfe but before proceeding home would launch their craft for a trial spin.

Alas by the end of autumn 1939 there was a curtailment of activities. Peter and Hubert Heard were recalled to the Royal Haval Reserve as was also Frank Pettican. Frank lost his life with two other Tollesbury men in the armed merchant cruiser "Rawalpindi", Hubert was lost in the "Jervis Bay" and Peter suffered a similar fate. Hubert and Peter had been two of the keenest members of the Club.

By 1946 most of the surviving younger members of the Club had been demobilised, and activities were re-started. An old paint shop and boatshed together with portion of the Little Marsh were purchased, and with the able and willing help of members was established as the headquarters of the Tollesbury Sailing Club. The Countess de la Chapelle, who for many years had resided and taken a great interest in the village, donated a magnificent Stag's head mounted on plaque and other items of club furniture.

Membership of the Club widened and embraced many in surrounding parishes in all walks of life. The new incumbent, Rev. Legh B. McCarthy, recently demobilised from the Forces, took up sailing in his leisure, and several yachtmasters also plied their skills, notably Capt. William Drake Frost in "Agatha" and Capt. George Brand. Under the auspices of the Club the ancient ceremony of "Gooseberry Pie" festivities on St. Peter's Day was revived for the village as a whole, and the first Fishermen's Service was held at Ricketts Hard, later to be held in the parish church. With the decline of fishing in this locality these services were discontinued, but seafarers services are held periodically at the parish church usually supported by a minister from the Missions to Seamen. Over the years changes in the hierarchy of the Club inevitably took place, but tribute should be paid to those who played such a great part in the establishment of the Club, principally Major Kenrick McKullen, Edgar Heard, Walter Bibby, Syd Harrington, B.W. Wilkinson, Dr. J. James, Charles Pewter, Derek Leavett, Ned Heard, Dick Frost, Jack Farthing, Laurie Hardy-King, Capt. Nelson Rice, and many others too numerous to mention.

To-day sees the Club on the threshold of a new era, instead of handicap classes with the exception of the "cruiser" class, there are the three recognised classes of "Flying Dutchmen", "Fireball" and "Enterprise" classes, and efforts to construct a new Headquarters more in keeping with similar sailing clubs. In these projects the Club is ably led by Capt. Lance Hill and an enthusiastic and capable band of helpers.

This article is printed in Tollesbury to the year 2000, page 75.

AuthorDouglas J. Gurton
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton
Related Images:
 Tollesbury Sailing Club - newspaper report on Whitsun sailing.  PBIB_TSC_001
ImageID:   PBIB_TSC_001
Title: Tollesbury Sailing Club - newspaper report on Whitsun sailing.
Date:9 June 1946
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Bibby Collection
 FIREFLY rounds the home buoy. Tollesbury Sailing Club.  PBIB_TSC_003
ImageID:   PBIB_TSC_003
Title: FIREFLY rounds the home buoy. Tollesbury Sailing Club.
Date:cJune 1946
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Bibby Collection
 DOODLEBUG and UGLY DUCKLING running close. Tollesbury Sailing Club.  PBIB_TSC_007
ImageID:   PBIB_TSC_007
Title: DOODLEBUG and UGLY DUCKLING running close. Tollesbury Sailing Club.
Date:cJune 1946
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Bibby Collection
 Peace Celebrations Race, Tollesbury Sailing Club, August Monday.  PBIB_TSC_009
ImageID:   PBIB_TSC_009
Title: Peace Celebrations Race, Tollesbury Sailing Club, August Monday.
Date:August 1946
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Bibby Collection
 Watersports, Tollesbury, August Monday, 1946  PBIB_TSC_011
ImageID:   PBIB_TSC_011
Title: Watersports, Tollesbury, August Monday, 1946
Date:26 August 1946
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Bibby Collection