ID: WW01_011 / Winifred Hone

TitleComing to Tollesbury - from Winifred Hone memoirs
AbstractMy father Frederick Evelyn Cowles took over the tenancy of the Kings Head Tollesbury on 1916. I think I can say that they were the happiest days of his life, he loved the honesty of the locals with their forthright and carefree way of life. My father was a learned man and many were the letters he wrote and many came to him for advice. As a young man he had dearly wanted to go to sea, but owing to parental authority being so strict he had to enter his fathers business, that of a tea merchant. (Letter from Osborne House). His eldest brother Denis John Cowles was allowed to pursue his scholastic and recreational pursuits.

Kings Head Tollesbury around 1906. Postcard from Cedric Gurton

I first arrived at Tollesbury on the railway, described in the London timetable as the Kelvedon Tollesbury light railway (known locally as the Crab and Winkle). It carried produce from the farms to the market as well as passengers. The line linked up with the pier situated in the River Blackwater about one and a half a miles from Tollesbury station. There had been visions of creating a port for passengers and continental trade.

I had a trying journey with two small children, and with a lot of luggage having to pay excess for the pram and the cot. On leaving the station I noticed a large painted notice asking 'was your journey really necessary'. After that journey I thought the authorities must be joking. Tollesbury had become a thriving concern as a lot of troops were stationed there and the four trains in and out of Tollesbury each day were always full. Journeying from Kelvedon to Tollesbury seemed to create a sense of isolation as most of the stops were really sidings and it was difficult to find the sea, it seemed to be connected with Tollesbury only by going over footpaths and farmlands. It wasn't long before I realised that the 'Crab and Winkle' was really the railway described in the London timetable as the Kelvedon Tollesbury light railway, to people who had little or no transport this friendly little railway meant the difference between a ride to your destination or using shanks pony and was really nothing to clown about. It consisted of three coaches. The guard used to issue the tickets and collect the fares, as there was usually a long wait at Kelvedon for the London train and if the spring flowers were in bloom he would halt the train and his passengers a chance to pick a bunch to take home with them. To get to the pier you used a hand trolley as no trains ran to the pier during the war, the journey was all down hill easy to get there, coming back was different story, all uphill. Posters warned that careless talk cost lives. It wasn't a question of idle talk, communication was so remote that we had an air base within a few miles and knew nothing about it. It was thought that we could be invaded from the River blackwater. Dr Salter had reported that when he had been down on the marshes shooting he had sighted German submarines lying quite snug and out of the way of storms and probably doing repairs. We were in complete ignorance of this, the locals never believed it and said it was more like shoal of porpoise as higher up the river at Osea Island was a naval base with a thousand sailors stationed there and gun boats. There wasn't much wartime activity that you noticed. You would wave the departing troops good bye, welcome the incoming troops and endeavour to keep the home fires burning . Trains had run down to the pier since 1906 and there had been a refreshment room rigged out of a railway carriage. Also at the end of the yachting season the big yachts would finish up with a regatta on the River Blackwater sailed and manned by the skippers and crew before laying up for the winter in the mud berths.

The first steamboat left Tollesbury pier for Clacton in 1907 for a day trip. According to Dr Salter the engine broke down and they had to stay the night, this caused great embarrassment as they had no night clothes with them.

The manor house adjoining the church was farmed by the Wombwells, a delightful family. Buller ran the farm, George another son was a schoolmaster very politically minded particularly on tariff reform and one daughter who married a clergyman and Fred elected secretary of the Blackwater Oyster Co. In later years to be known as 'dear old Fred' because of his endeavours to fight any battles for the fishermen with the fishery board. Tollesbury was famous for its sprats. Every winter Mr. Stuart from Scotland used to journey to Tollesbury to pickle these sprats to send to America. When the prohibition act came in it did not stop crime in America but it did stop the prosperous small factory that gave employment to yachtsmen in the winter, as these sprats were needed on the counters and bars as appetisers.

The home comforts fund which was started at the beginning of the war had headquarters in am empty shop made quite comfortable by the compassionate people who started it as a refuge for the troops to read, write letters home, sing a song with tea and cocoa and home made delicacies from stored rations. We at the Kings Head were lucky and had a large piece of ground my father turned into an allotment growing all sorts of vegetables as they came into season, also ducks, chickens and four pigs so rationing, when it came in, did not bother us and we had plenty to spare for the less fortunate. My mother used to cure the sweets hams but the bacon had to be properly processed. We always had roast pork for those who liked it and plenty of pure lard. My mother [ Mary Walklate Cowles ] was a wonderful cook and she must have made thousands of cakes for the troops, one speciality was lemon cheese cakes.

During my time at Tollesbury the Duke and Duchess of Athlone visited Tollesbury. That was a special day. They took tea after arriving and departed just as quietly as that had come. Countess Chapelle entertained them, she was known as Madame in the village, quite an apt name. But under that aristocratic exterior she had quite a kind heart.

The locals endeared themselves to everybody with their forthright and carefree way of life. The Rev. W. Carter was the vicar of the lovely little church of St Marys which is well worth a visit. The font in the church is unique and is known as "The Swearing Font" bearing the words:
'Good people all I pray take care
That in this Church you do not swear as this man did'

The man was John Norman, in August 1718 came into the church swearing and talking out loud during divine service. He was given the alternatives of paying five pounds or being prosecuted. He paid five pounds and the money purchased the new font hence the name 'the Swearing Font'.

The church also possesses a few pages of the minor profits from the great bible of 1540 . These were strangely enough in a chimney at the Kings Head. The Rev. Carter was kindly, friendly, very hospitable and did every thing in his power to make the billeted troops remember with pleasure their forced stay at Tollesbury. He entered into every activity that would help them forget the monotony of war and being separated from their families. The church hall became the community centre and the frequent dances held there most enjoyable. The vicar was always M.C. The dances were of course the old fashioned variety and when it came to the Lancers the vicar would always request solemnly 'do not lift the ladies off their feet'. In spite of his request he seemed to be the instigator of this particular pastime which the ladies seemed to anticipate with delight. Socials, whist drives, consorts and very often an entertainment by the school children contributed to this hive of activity by the local residents.

AuthorWinifred Hone
SourceMersea Museum / Wendy Brady