Joy Gethen - Mersea Memories

The text for this article was written by Joyce Gethen for Mersea Island Society Mistral Magazine in 1982. The photographs have been added, some of them from Joyce's collection at Mersea Museum.
Joy Gethen came to Mersea about 1906 at the age of 4 ...

The 'fly' carriage to Colchester from Mersea. Photo Robin Weaver
View at the Cross looking north up Dawes Lane

I woke with a start - the jar of brakes and a hiss of steam on a dark November afternoon. I was 3 years old and had arrived at Colchester station on my way to Mersea Island.

I remember that we travelled from Colchester in a horse-drawn open vehicle called a 'fly'.

We first lived in Woodfield Villas, Mersea Avenue, where my sister was born the following year. Mersea Avenue was then mostly fields - grass and wild scabious.

"Fairhaven House under construction. Leonard Weaver and Charles Gethen are on the scaffolding - from M.J. Gethen"

My father helped with the building of Fairhaven House in Seaview Avenue - now a Nursing Home - and we went to live there for the winter 1906/7. One winter morning I remember being taken into the front room and from there we could see a fisherman whose boat had sunk and who had climbed the mast and was waving for help. My father went off on his bicycle for help and a rescue was made - there were no telephones or cars then and Fairhaven House was one of the first in the lower part of Seaview Avenue which was merely a cart track.

My uncle was one of those who had the idea of developing the land in the area of the Avenue and as a start Fairhaven House was built as a Holiday Home and Guest House - terms £1.1.0. per week. Visitors arrived at Queen Corner - no Fountain Hotel there then but a large tree - and a fleet of small boys with boxes on wheels pushed the luggage to Fairhaven House. The visitors were kind to me, taking me out in the boats rowed by local fishermen and on a trip by hay wagon to Layer Marney Towers. I did not like bathing much as I was put in a two-piece with sleeves and collar of a thick material which was very heavy when wet.

The area had been farms and was planned out in lots. Several semi-detached houses were built and we moved into "Alba" Fairhaven Avenue.

The Beach in 1913. Vera, Emily and Hardie Weaver. From Robin Weaver

The beach was very different then, just one or two huts and one old-fashioned caravan. From the bottom of the bank where the front row of huts now are, to the sand and high water was a stretch of grass, which made a good playground. Amongst the grass were little wild onions - very strong - and yellow bedstraw. We could walk on grass from Lower Kingsland Road to Seaview. The bank where the two rows of huts now are was covered with bushes in many places and on the top of the bank beyond Cross Lane there was a belt of trees of some depth. At low tide there was very much more mud than now and we had to be really careful when crossing it to a sandbank.

A great number of gentleman came down for a Sale of Building Lots but at that time there was little demand and very few sold.

My uncle was a man of many ideas, such as building a barrage at the Strood to provide electricity and to have a railway from Colchester. The station was to be at the top of Fairhaven Avenue and on some maps East Road was referred to as Station Road.

As the land was not developed it was used for grazing by a herd of cows and some of it had another use. In the absence of main sewerage, a horse and cart came round in the early hours, pumped out the cess pools and then emptied the contents on the fields. I can remember seeing the bits of paper blowing about!!

The winter after we moved from Fairhaven House to Fairhaven Avenue my parents said the only light they could see was the lightship in the estuary and as it was a snowy winter we were very cut off.

The late Vicar, the Rev. Pierrepont Edwards, did call to see us. He was, unfortunately, a quick tempered man and I heard talk of his upsetting people and Congregations were very small. When a concert was put on to raise funds for the (old) Church Hall and one item consisted of 12 girls from the Sunday School taking the months of the year, the Vicar was Father Time. On this occasion he said he was so nervous he had his book of words on his knee, which seems out of character. I was December, the smallest one.

About 1908 we moved to Mondamin, now riding stables, and my father planted most of the 3 acres with fruit trees and the rest for poultry runs.

"Mondamin" opposite Brierley Hall in East Road"

"Jim and Oliver Farthing flailing for seeds - from M.J. Gethen"

Next to Mondamin, where Brierley Avenue is, two Farthing brothers, Oliver and Jim, grew flowers and vegetables for seed. One year they grew cabbages and we were subjected to a plague of caterpillars - no sprays then.

Mersea was to me really beautiful in those days - plenty of sun, fields with real hedges and many with established trees. We went to East Mersea for bluebells and primroses, and I spent many hours with my sister on Mersea Beach. There were ponds in the corners of many fields, quite a large one by the a spinny in Empress Avenue, where there was a water vole.

Women and girls used to glean in the fields and my father used to buy hand bunches of corn for a few pence.

First I walked to Sunday School and then also to Church and we allowed 25 minutes, sometimes a cut through to Rainbow Road or coming out by the gasworks building, now part of Underwoods Garage.

I remember going to a Town Regatta before the 1914/18 war. We were rowed to a smack to watch the events but to us children the boat was more exciting than the races. The great attraction on the shore was the band of the Gordon Highlanders, stationed at Colchester. Sadly they were nearly all killed in 1914.

During the 1914/18 war the greensward was converted into trenches and the grass has never been the same again. Land in the Avenues was cultivated, partly by German prisoners of war living in the Hall Barn. I would meet about 20 large Germans, 6 footers, in charge of one 5ft British soldier trailing a rifle.

Being on the coast an evacuation scheme was prepared, every individual being allocated. My elder brother had joined up in 1914, but my younger brother was to drive a milk float. As my sister was under 10 my mother was allocated a place with her in a wagon, but I would have to walk - also not to use the roads, leave them for the troops - which all seemed pretty awful as I was only 13.

Later in the War we had soldiers billeted on us for one of the early aircraft lookouts - a wooden platform at Brierley Hall Farm.

It was a big excitement when a Zeppelin came down at Wigborough. When the crew set it alight my bedroom was made as light as day. The next day there was a great treck to see the skeleton - many on foot but I was on the step of my father's bike. The crew had spent the rest of the night in the (old) Church Hall.

After the War a Peace Memorial Committee was formed and the Glebe field was purchased to the be Recreation Ground. It was later conveyed to the U.D.C.

In the 1920s the route from Mersea to Colchester witnessed the Battle of the Buses. There were Berry's, Primrose Bus Co., Thorp's etc. all manoeuvring for passengers. It was quite exciting and we must have been fortunate there were no serious accidents. Part of this time I was going to Colchester daily: sometimes I cycled and if it turned wet I stopped at Primrose bus and the driver would put my bike on the canopy over the driver's seat, which had a wire guard for luggage.

In the 1920s there were innovations at Mersea. Urban powers were given and water and sewerage schemes started. East Road was 'up' for a considerable time as it was difficult to get the trench dry.

The British Legion Hall was built, one portion being given to the newly formed Women's Institute, but which they sold just before the 1939 war. There was a Debating Society and a Dramatic & Operatic Society. I remember one production in the Hall Barn where there was a big central fire for heat.

The Mersea Island Guide Co. also started and in this Mrs Cotton was Captain and I Lieutenant, and I am very pleased it is still in being.

"Joyce Gethen with Sarah Hockaday at the 1st Mersea Guides 50th Anniversary celebrations in 1976."

One day the Water Tower caught fire. I believe at the time the engine oil was stored in the building, hence a large cloud of black smoke. As someone said, it seemed a good opportunity to make a cup of tea.

I started work full time in the Council Offices in September 1939. During the war we had our excitements. First we had evacuees with all their problems. The incendiary bomb in the Council Offices fell on the roof when I was home for lunch, but I was doing A.R.P switchboard duty several active occasions: when one of our planes crashed near the Fox, when the first flying bomb landed in England and the evening one landed near Empress Avenue, also the night Colchester had its worst blitz. I also got chased by a soldier with a rifle as he seemed to think I might be a German parachutist - merely because I right-angled on my bike to get to my then home which was across part of a field. It was real though and I stopped very quick.

Since the 1939 War Mersea has of course greatly increased its population, but I can think with nostalgia of the peace and beauty of its quiet beach and fields in my childhood.


Mary Joyce Gethen was born in Canada c1902, to Mary Howard Gethen and Charles Hall Gethen. However, we need to go back a little further. In 1904 Leonard Weaver was becoming a developer on Mersea. He was not from Mersea, but from Willesden, London. We find that in 1890 Charlie Gethen was with Leonard Weaver, his wife Emily, two children and Emily's sister Mary when they went to Canada. While in Canada Charlie Gethen married Mary. Leonard's family drifted by to Willesden by 1901, and then in 1904 they moved to West Mersea. When the Gethen family returned to England a little later, they also came to Mersea to live.
Mary Joyce had elder brothers Harold and Eric and younger sister Margaret.

Read more:
Memories of World War 2 by M.J. Gethen

Thanks to
Douglas Cooke archive at Mersea Museum
Mersea Island Society Mistral magazine
Mary Sparks
Anne Taylor
Robin Weaver

Author: M.J. Gethen
1982

Related Images

 Jim and Oliver Farthing, East Road, flailing for seeds. This is where Brierley Avenue is now.
 The 1911 Census and 1936 Electors list show both James and Oliver Farthing at Cross Farm.  MMC_P579_BMMC_P579_B
Jim and Oliver Farthing, East Road, flailing for seeds. This is where Brierley Avenue is now.
The 1911 Census and 1936 Electors list show both James and Oliver Farthing at Cross Farm.
 Mondamin in East Road, opposite Brierley Hall.  TM3_2796TM3_2796
"Mondamin" in East Road, opposite Brierley Hall.
 Vera, Emily and Hardie Weaver (in sun hat - born June 1910, so this picture is around 1913 ?). [Emily was wife of Leonard Weaver, mother of Vera (about 1902), Hardie, Ken (1912) and Peter (1916)]  WVR1_020WVR1_020
Vera, Emily and Hardie Weaver (in sun hat - born June 1910, so this picture is around 1913 ?). [Emily was wife of Leonard Weaver, mother of Vera (about 1902), Hardie, Ken (1912) and Peter (1916)]
c1913
ID: MIS_1982_A02
Source: Mersea Museum