|Extract from the memoir of Grace Edenborough in the possession of her grandson Adrian Flatt.
I often went away to stay with a family known as the Wilsons, to be
a sort of companion to their youngest daughter Wankie, I cannot
remember her proper name as she was always known as Wankie [ Kate Hannah Wilson ],
we were about the same age. I also helped generally in the domestic
doings of the house. I got to know this family through Stanley. Mr &
Mrs Wilson had three daughters and four sons. The eldest son I never
met, he was overseas somewhere and one day was killed by bandits.
The eldest daughter, Diana, was married to a Mr Arthur Haes, who
worked in the Stock Exchange. They had two or three children, they were
very comfortably off and had a nice house in a suburb of London. I used
to live with them sometimes and help. Another daughter was nicknamed
Smudge [ Isabella Rosa Dawson ], then came Horace, Wankie, Boy and Gray. This family actually
lived near Old Street in London as Mr Wilson's business was there. They
lived in a big old house and on about the second floor it had a very large
room which they used to use to have dances in, just very friendly affairs.
Now, they owned a very old cottage on East Mersea Island which they
used a lot through the summer and even sometimes in the winter.
Mrs Wilson and Wankie were the chief ones to be at the cottage. Mr
Wilson just had odd times there when he was able to get away from his
business; Smudge went down whenever she was able to and Boy and
Gray spent their holidays there as they were still at school. Horace
was working in the mines in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I spent a few summers with them in the cottage and a winter as well
and sometimes I stayed with them in London. East Mersea Island is on
the East Coast of what is known as the Blackwaters. Two miles across
the sea on the opposite side of the Island is Brightlingsea.
The cottage was known to be haunted by a woman dressed in black who
was said to have been murdered there some years before. She used to
every now and again walk about in the cottage or round it outside. I
never saw her but the Wilsons often did and many other people that
stayed there did too.
I used to sometimes share a bedroom with Wankie, it was quite a nice
room. Wankie told me that one night in the middle of the night the
woman that haunted the cottage came into our bedroom and looked at
her and then she walked across the room to my bed and stood by the
side of my bed and looked over on to me. After a bit she disappeared.
It did not wake me and I never saw her.
A man whose name was Mr Brown, a bachelor and very eccentric man
who owned a very big boat, which he had a crew on to work and manage.
He used to go out to sea in it at one time, I do not happen to know the
history of his doings but after some years when he was old and the
boat very weathered he had the boat anchored off Mersea Island as he
was very keen on the Island and always kept a certain crew on it and
now and again he would stay on it himself. He apparently was very
well off and used at times to throw money from his boat to the people
of the Island who went on certain days in small boats, round his boat
to catch the coins he threw out, quite a bit of this money would miss
the boats and go into the sea.
The river Colne runs up from the Island to Wivenhoe. Some fellow
friends of the Wilsons and their son-in-law, Arthur Haes, owned very
sizeable sailing yachts with cabins to sleep three or four people. Now
these fellow friends used to come down for long weekends and holiday
times and stay at the cottage and Arthur Haes and family did the same
and used to rent another cottage. There were quite a crowd of us at
times, we were quite a jolly party. Very often a whole lot of us used to
walk round the Island at night singing songs. The Wilsons had a very
strong sea dinghy quite small and easy to cope with. It of course was
used a lot to go over to Brightlingsea shopping and to the yachts in etc.
The Wilson family were excellent at sailing and swimming. They had
a hut on the shore which was used for bathing from. We all went along
on the yachts sailing and in very rough seas at times. All of us together
formed what we called a crew and old Mrs Wilson we made the Captain
of the crew and she was always known by that name to everyone. She
never actually went sailing, only in the dinghy. All who belonged to
the crew wore red stockingette caps with tassels on. We girls fixed
our tassels so they hung on the left side of our heads and the men and
boys had the tassels hanging down at the back of their heads. We could
always tell where any of our crew were and by the red head gear, one
could see them for quite a distance away and on the yacht.
In some parts just off the Island there were some difficult sand banks,
which the yachts accidently used to get on to sometimes when the tide
was going out and that meant that the yacht could not get off until
the tide came up again. Sometimes the yacht was on the sand bank all
night, very uncomfortable position to be in, the yacht being all on one
side. Whenever any of the yachts were late back after being out all day
some of the rest of us who had got back in good time would walk round
part of the shore of the Island where we knew the sand banks were
and also knew which yacht was missing and the crew on it. We used to
call out to them and if they were on one of the sand banks they would
call back so we then knew they were alright. We often could not see the
yacht because it was too dark.
One weekend Mr Cotton and Mr Barnes were expected to come down on
the Saturday. Well, they did not come and they sent a wire to say they
would be coming on the Sunday and could they be met at Wivenhoe
at a certain time as the Sunday trains did not go on to Brightlingsea.
Well, Wankie and myself arranged to go and meet them. We had to row
the dinghy up five miles. Now, that Sunday morning it turned out wet.
It was raining before we left the Island, then the wind got up and it
began to get more rough but we got up to Wivenhoe alright because we
went up with the wind and the tide.
Well, when we got there Mr Cotton and Mr Barnes did not arrive and
we heard after they had missed the train. Under these circumstances
Wankie and I had to make up our minds how best to get back, whether
to walk five miles to Brightlingsea and then cross the two miles to
the Island or whether to row back. Once we started in the dinghy we
realised we would have to keep going because we could not put into
shore at all, as most of the river on both sides was quick mud and one
would just sink in it. It began to rain very heavily and heavy gales got
up and we were against the tide and wind, it was very rough. We had
to keep our dinghy just heading on to the waves and just danced over
them. We left Wivenhoe at 12 o'clock and got to the Island at about 5
o'clock after rowing for five hours without stopping. We were soaked
through and numb, but were glad and relieved to get to the Island.
Mrs Wilson and who else was at the cottage at the time did not worry
about us because they thought we had got the two men with us and
were very surprised when they saw us come back alone. I often felt it
was fortunate we did not have the men, for if four of us had tried to get
back in the dinghy, we never would have made it because the four of
us would have sunk the dinghy more down and the waves would have
just swamped her.
Now, Horace Wilson came home on leave one year from South Africa and
stayed for some months. He brought a very nice sailing yacht and fast
sailing punt. He was very keen on sailing and excellent at it and taught
me to sail. Our crew all joined the yacht club over at Brightlingsea;
quite a few people had yachts and small sailing boats over there and we
all used to do quite a lot of racing. We were of course put into different
classes. The big yachts together and the small boats together. Smudge,
Wankie and myself very often used to sail the punt in the races. We
were a scratch boat and gave all the other boats time and if I remember
correctly in spite of it we always came in first. The punt was very fast
and she used to just skim along the water on her side.
The last time I started to go to race in her, it was arranged that I should
sail her and Boy was to go with me to look after the jib. Boy was so
keen to sail her and begged me so hard to let him so I did so and I
looked after the jib. The wind got up and it happened to get very rough
and the sea got very choppy, so we had to put two reefs in our sail and
Boy put down the centre board but not really sufficiently, and so she
was not balanced very well. I did not realise this just looking after the
jib. There were buoys anchored out in certain spots marking out the
course for the race. We had to pass one of these buoys going over to
Brightlingsea from the Island where we started the race from and Boy
said to me "Grace, as we go over let us tack round that buoy for a bit
of practise", so I said "alright", so as we got near the buoy he started
to tack, the wind caught the sail side on and put us over and I called
out at Boy and said, "what are you doing", he was already in the water
and calling out to me to come, the next minute the sail was flat on
the water and I had to get out into the water. The punt just filled with
water and went under a certain depth but did not really sink and was
got up again alright.
Boy was a strong swimmer and I was a good one, but it was not easy
in a rough sea with so much clothes on, as one used to wear such a
lot of clothes in those days, and very long dresses too. Some men on
a barge saw our boat go over and got into their dinghy and came and
picked us up. So under the circumstances we were out of the race that
day. I was glad that I was not sailing the punt so I did not put her
over. Some of our crew racing in the bigger yachts saw us go over and
were very disturbed, they saw us being picked up by the men off the
barge and knew we were alright. Boy and I had to go home and get
into dry clothes, the cottage was about a mile or more from the shore.
Getting upset like that from the punt made me fear to go in her again
but Horace made me go in her and by myself too, I overcame my fear
after a bit.
Horace and I got keen on each other and became engaged, I think I
very likely was about 19 or somewhere about that age. Horace was
quite a bit older than me. A short time after we became engaged he
had to return to South Africa and he felt that I would eventually join
him out in Africa, but this did not happen as after we had been engaged
for a time, something turned up that I was not quite happy about and I
broke the engagement off. Naturally this upset me for quite a time and
I had to readjust my life.
Smudge married Geoffrey Dawson and Wankie, Percy Cotton. Roughly
about the year 1907 I went to see Smudge in her house after her
confinement of her first baby. She had twins. Somehow or other soon
after that I lost contact with the Wilson family and strange to say, have
never seen or heard anything of them since.
Thank you to Adrian Flatt for letting us use this article and to Colin Clark for the work he did to help bring it to surface.
Arthur Haes and Diana Mary Wilson
Memoirs of Mrs Isabella Rosa Dawson 1880-1972
An old lady remembers by Alan Dawson
More on Grace Edenborough