ID: WLD_MOL / Pat Zierold

TitleMOLLIETTE - Exordium to Finale

A while back I was introduced to Owen Fletcher, a Mersea man, whose hobby is the compilation of a "History of Mersea and its People" and who allowed me to extract from his accumulated data all the information he had on the MOLLIETTE in the years before she became the Flagship of the West Mersea Yacht Club. He also allowed me to copy some very old and fragile pictures of her dating back to 1918.

MOLLIETTE's story cannot be told without some reference to her builders, James Pollock, Sons & Co. Ltd. Before the First War, Pollocks were an established firm of Naval Architects and Consultants, founded in 1876, who specialised in the design of steam and diesel vessels, with particular emphasis on various small, odd ball, Naval craft and in this connection, during the early War years, came to the attention of Fisher, the First Sea Lord and Churchill, who persuaded them to turn to shipbuilding itself and, with Government assistance, Walter Pollock, the Chairman, took over a derelict site at Faversham. Unfortunately, by the time the Yard was finally set up the War was nearing its end and shortages of steel and other materials forced them to look for alternative materials for their early ship construction.

Walter Pollock had always expressed interest in concrete boat construction and in July 1917 published a design of "An Improved Reinforced-Concrete Auxiliary Schooner". The first recorded construction of concrete boats dated back to 1848 when some lighters were built of this material and in 1910 Klaus Fougner, a Norwegian, produced NANSENFJORD, an ocean going concrete steamer of 200 tons. During the First War a large number of dumb barges - called "Water Buffaloes" - were built and, in fact, two of them still lie off the Burma Road, where the Mersea Fishermen use them as fuel and service units. By the time Pollock had his Yard ready, War orders were drying up and the general shortage of steel and other materials led him to use concrete for the construction of his first two coasters - the MOLLIETTE and VIOLETTE.

Unlike modern ferro-cement boat construction, where a matrix of light steel rods and mesh is formed and welded into the shape of the finished hull and into which a damp mix of sand and cement is rammed by hand and then trowelled off to a finish by skilled plasterers, the earlier method used wooden moulds and shuttering with wet concrete being poured in on top of a grid of ½ " diameter reinforcing rods. In the case of the MOLLIETTE a bottom mould, up to the level of the secondary chine, was built in wood on the launching ways. As the reinforcing was constructed across the bottom and up the sides, the outer shuttering was erected up to deck level. The bottom was concreted and then the sides were built up in stages - the inner shuttering being moved up progressively. When he started the Yard, Walter Pollock hired 28 carpenters and shipwrights to build the mould and shuttering and then a team of 22 women were employed to mix and pour the concrete. It took 14 months, from July 1917 until September 1918, to build the moulds and 2 ½ months to concrete and complete the hull.

MOLLIETTE was launched on 6th November 1918 and completed trials by 10th February 1919. She left, ten days later, in ballast, for France, where she loaded redundant munitions for return to this country. Thereafter, her story in trade was somewhat unhappy, being more famous for accidents than commercial success. On her return trip from France, while anchored at Erith waiting to unload, she was run down by the steamer PRINCE CHARLES and sustained damage to her stern. On her first trip into the Pool of London, she managed to ram Tower Bridge and on a later occasion succeeded in running down a trot of moored lighters. She also went aground on numerous occasions - at least three times in the Thames Estuary, twice on the East Coast, and once at Dungeness. She was, by all accounts, unhandy under both power and sail and, it is said, had to use her engine when going about, although in this respect the mind boggles as it took at least 30 minutes to start up, using paraffin blow lamps to heat the bulb.

By design she was flat bottomed with twin hard chines running up to straight sides for most of her length. With a length between the perpendiculars of 125 feet and a beam of 25 feet she had a deck to inside of keelson depth of 11 feet 9 inches and a laden draught of 10 feet. She was rigged as a three masted fore and aft schooner with fixed masts stepped down to the keelson. She did not carry top sails. Her 3 inch thick concrete hull was calculated to weigh 290 tons, exclusive of the weight of steel reinforcement, engines, rigging and fittings. Her carrying capacity was 300 tons. Her propulsion engine was a twin cylinder Bolinder hot bulb or semi-diesel producing 120 BHP at 250 RPM. Her auxiliary power came from a single cylinder Bolindcr-Reid of 8 BHP mounted abaft the foremast - this engine powering the cargo derrick and also serving the anchor windlass by means of a chain messenger. Her three officers were accommodated in a wooden deck house aft, while the 5 man crew lived forward in the fo'cs'le. Cargo was carried in 2 holds of 17,320 cubic feet capacity which were floored right to the bottom, without bilges - her builders being optimistic enough to assume that she would be a dry boat.

MOLLIETTE in her trading days

[This is the end of Page 9 of the original publication. There is a gap in the story, before Page 10, which starts in April 1931.]

After her short commercial career, the MOLLIETTE was laid up at St Lawrence Bay and stripped. She was sold in 1925 to Captain Davis and moved to Mersea, being moored opposite the Victory, and fitted out as a houseboat for him. [WMYC Centennial Chronicle Page 34]

Opposite the Victory

In April 1931 the Club vacated its room in the Victory and moved into the forepeak and part of the forward hold of the MOLLIETTE, Captain Davis and his associate continuing to utilize the deck house, the engine room, the after hold and the fo'cs'le. It appeared to be an easy going arrangement because agreement for an annual rent of £10 was not finalised until 31st October 1931 - maybe this was related to the Club's financial year. Matters progressed, Captain Davis had the after hold floored and in March 1932 he moved off MOLLIETTE and into Elmtree House and the Club took over the whole of the vessel for an annual rent of £75.

On 5th April 1931 the Minutes of the House Committee recorded the first Meeting in the "Flagship" and took the decision to hire a full-time Steward to run the Club's own Bar and on 19th April, the next Meeting, confirmed the appointment of Jim Gladwell as Steward at 50/- per week, with the understanding that Mrs Gladwell would help out as and when required. Despite some health problems Jim Gladwell remained as Steward until well after the Club moved into our present premises.

With the Club taking over the whole of the MOLLIETTE the accommodation was revamped. The Deck House became the Bar, the Fo'cs'le the Ladies Room, the Forepeak was the Galley and the Forehold became the Gun Room - housing a special bar and bunk rooms along the seaward side - this area was sacred to the gentlemen - and the newly floored After Hold became the Dining Hall and Dance Floor. Speaking Tubes provided communication between Bar and Galley with the Gun Room and Dining Hall. During the tenancy of the MOLLIETTE her berth was changed so that she lay bow on towards the Coast Road and it was not until after the Club gave up the lease that the attempt to bring her closer to the road resulted in her hogging on the edge of her new berth and breaking her back.

The end of the MOLLIETTE is local history, after the Club relinquished her she was taken over by some ladies called Hone who used her as a rather easy going sort of nightclub, of which I believe there are many lurid stories. As mentioned earlier, she broke her back when being moved and lay in a flooded condition until the outbreak of World War Two when the Army commissioned Clarke & Carter to patch her up so that she could be used as an Observation Post. Jimmy Clarke and Charlie (Tiddler Mole) built a pair of massive bulkheads at the break and fitted Spanish windlasses between bow and stern to hold her together.

Then, in 1943 she was taken over by the American Air Force for use as a floating target. They spent about a week using a pair of R.A.S.C. launches trying to pull her out of her berth with little success and, finally, employed Bobby Stoker, who maintained and moved the various other target barges in and around the Blackwater, to shift her. Using his Smack PRISCILLA, with his son David and Tiddler Mole as crew, he hauled her into deep water. His recent comment was "The Army didn't know what they were at, with the old Smack she came off the mud like s..t from a shovel". They then towed her to a designated spot on the Cocums. There she was moored with anchors bow and stern although, as he put it, "A b....y waste of time and money because she was already settled on the bottom with the water she was taking". From then on she was subjected to a series of airborne assaults, dive bombing, machine gunning and rockets and it speaks well for her construction that she never broke up.

The Molliette Beacon on the Cocums marks her final curtain, except for a reference to her builders. After the War ended, Pollock's had a fairly successful history, weathering the Depression Years. In 1949 Walter Pollock, the founding Chairman died and control passed to his son, Marshall and nephew Alan. Unfortunately, both these gentlemen died suddenly in 1964-5 and this family yard, left without a firm management, started a steady decline and by 1970 had passed into Receivership. However, before this, in 1964 Pollock's started the construction of an Ambulance Launch for the P.L.A. and in early 1965 the HUMPHREY MORRIS went into the water. After 15 years' service in the Port of London she was acquired by Rodney Hill for use as a service boat for his salvage business. Last year Rodney retired her from commercial life and started to convert her into a private motor yacht - work he finished early this year while she lay in the Quarters prior to leaving, still with her original engine, on a lengthy run around the British Isles.

It is, I feel, a fitting postmark that one of the last vessels built by Pollocks should now be wearing the same Burgee that their very first construction used to fly.

Apart from the help I have received from Owen Fletcher, I am indebted to Rodney Hill for a lot of additional information that he researched concerning Pollock's, to Nick Greville who trawled diligently through old Club records to find me salient dates regarding the Yacht Club days and to Dick Gladwell, Peter Clarke and Bobby Stoker and others who recounted so many little anecdotes concerning the MOLLIETTE.

This article by Pat Zierold was saved by Wenda Lord - it was published, but there are no clues as to where. Mostly likely it was in the West Mersea Yacht Club magazine, which happens to be called "The Molliette". Pat has done a lot of research and goes into great detail - it would be nice to find the missing section.

A Concrete Boat

A police raid on the East Coast Cruising Club, West Mersea, led to fines and costs totalling over £80 at Colchester on the principals for selling intoxicating liquor during prohibited hours and using gaming machines.

The club was also struck off the register and disqualified for 12 months.
It was stated that 40 persons were aboard when the search warrant was executed.

May Hone, manageress, was fined £49; Diana Hone, assistant manageress, £15; and Winifred Hone, assistant manageress, £5.
Fifteen guineas costs were awarded against the club.

From Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette 30 September 1935, with thanks to British Newspaper Archive.

"After the War, out by the MOLLIETTE, instead of oysters Douglas Stoker was dredging for the brass shell cases left in the area. He made a lot of money selling the brass of scrap - and invested it in a piece of land where he built a bungalow. He called the bungalow MOLLIETTE. [Douglas Stoker talking to Dennis Chatters on Lions Talking Magazine 62, LN006202_001 ]

The bottom of the MOLLIETTE on the Cocum Hills off East Mersea is still remarkably intact after all these years. This photograph was taken by Jim Pullen during a very low Spring Tide, 31 March 2021.

MOLLIETTE had a sister VIOLETTE which was even less successful and returned to her builders. Her remains are still in existence - see

Read More
Some pieces of Mersea History by Peter Tucker
CRETACRE - another concrete vessel at Mersea

AuthorPat Zierold
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 MOLLIETTE on Coast Road.  WW03_CRD_007
ImageID:   WW03_CRD_007
Title: MOLLIETTE on Coast Road.
Source:Mersea Museum / Wendy Brady