|A well-known local eccentric, Ernie Richardson, lived on a boat along from Strood Villa, also known as Pyefleet House. He lived by the sea wall, over the road from Bonners Barn, on a flat-bottomed boat barely 3 foot deep. Russell Martin, the farmer at Moor Farm nearby, said the boat only needed about a foot of water to float and that it was possibly an ex-army vessel. There were a number of these American pontoons kept at the Strood during World War 2 in case of emergency. Brian Jay from Mersea Museum suspects it was in case the Strood was destroyed and these pontoons would be attached to each other across the channel with boards secured across them to allow safe passage. On the Mersea Museum website there is a picture of one such pontoon at the back of Ray Island, this one having a slogan daubed across it 'Home Rule for Mersea'. [ EC62_11_042_002 ] On Ernie's pontoon he built a shed no more than 8' by 8' in which he lived. He was known for shouting at people who walked nearby.
Ernie had spent his early life in Wanstead, Essex living in the family home. In the 1911 census his father is listed as an iron and timber merchant and the family is living in a large house, Letcombe, Blake Hall Road, Wanstead, Essex. Business must have been good for there were twelve rooms in the house excluding scullery, lobby, office, warehouse and bathroom. Ernie was 4 years old.
In the 1939 register Ernie was living with his half-sister and widowed father in Ilford.
He then moved to Peldon before the start of the Second World War and moved to this boat on the saltings to avoid call-up as he was a conscientious objector. At the time the area where he took up home was classed as West Mersea but after the 1953 boundary change it became part of Peldon.
Local stories of Ernie tell of him doing his rounds selling shell-fish. Bernie Ratcliffe, former farm worker from Wigborough, remembers Ernie travelling round the local villages on his tradesman's bicycle with pots of shrimps and cockles for sale. Russell Martin remembers Ernie's bicycle had no tyres, he pickled cockles to sell and used a net to catch flounders.
Ernie also used shells to make little animals as ornaments which he sold.
He would help youngsters net the creeks for flounder and from the picture below it is clear he was also a wildfowler.
Len Bellamy and Ernie Richardson in Peldon circa 1936
There are several slightly different stories of the 1953 floods concerning Ernie. Russell Martin relates it was thought the mooring ropes of the boat had rotted and Ernie woke up to find his boat floating up the Pyefleet Channel. He had a rowing boat attached to the boat and was able to row ashore. Penny Burr who was living at The Peldon Rose at the time with her father, landlord Basil Ivan Pullen, remembers that Ernie knew the big tide was coming and was outside trying to make the boat secure but it floated away and he was up to his waist in water. He turned up at The Rose where they found him dry clothes.
The father of Peldon resident, Jane Anderson, was close friends with Ernie when they lived in London. Her father, Len Bellamy, used to bring his young family over to Peldon to see Ernie, and Jane remembers coming on holiday and camping opposite the Peldon Rose by Rose Farm in about 1948. She remembers collecting water from the pub and also that someone let their cows out amongst the visitors' tents! She thinks Ernie wasn't married but may have had a relative, Phyllis, who may have lived in Strood Villa. Jane also remembers camping near Ernie on the saltings in 1954.
I don't think my mother ever forgave my father for that holiday!
Ernie Richardson in around 1954 on the saltings near The Strood
Jane's sister has done some research into Ernie life which is reproduced below
Ernest Joseph John Richardson was born on 17th March 1907 in Stepney East to Joseph John and Martha Richardson. Ernie was the youngest of five boys. For a while the family lived in a very large house in Wanstead, East London. Ernie's father and grandfather were very wealthy iron and timber merchants who left large sums of money in their wills.
At the 1939 census, aged 32, Ernie and his father are living in Ilford, Essex. Ernie is a ship printer heavy work.
One of Ernie's brothers, Albert James Richardson and his wife Grace are living in Pete Cottage West Mersea in 1939 [Pete Cottage became part of Peldon in 1953]. He is a club steward and Grace is a cafe manageress.
Albert died in Colchester in June 1972 aged 76 and Grace died in Colchester in December 1978 aged 78.
Ernie lived on the Saltings in a houseboat - a wartime amphibian boat that was covered in canvas or tarpaulin, which acted as a roof. His only form of heating was a small black oil stove, which caught fire on occasions. He made some money by fishing and selling his catch either in the Rose or on the side of the road and probably drank most of the proceeds.
In later life Ernie lived in a caravan at Rose Farm and ended his days in 1997 aged 90 in a residential home, Trippier House, on the Greenstead estate.
Peldon History Project August 2018
Thanks to Jane Anderson