ID TUP_GEN / Peter Tucker

TitleSome pieces of Mersea History by Peter Tucker
AbstractPeter Tucker tells us some Mersea history and gives us his views on it. Mersea development, Clifford White's Yard, the Fountain, Cresta Stores, the MOLLIETTE, a tale of JOCASTA and Fastnet.

Many attempts were made over the years to bring Mersea up to the developers standards. London housing contractors, Callow and Wright of Willesden had grandiose schemes to make it Fairhaven-on-Sea with links to London via the railway, with a pier at the bottom of Fairhaven Avenue and a station in Station Road (now East Rd. Some places were built and the footings of many more were put down. ( The Greenholt bungalows in Seaview Avenue), and Empress and Fairhaven Avenues set out, before the whole lot became a flop with very few sales and stagnation set in.

Others did attempt in smaller ways. Broadoak Construction on Coast Road. Baddow Construction in Church Road, and others in Yorick Road, East Road beside the police houses and in Firs Road whose names are forgotten, and all of who bit the dust. Clifford White had to take them over and finish them to recoup the bills run up to his merchants side of the business. This has been the form with small time builders for as long as I can recall.

When I started work, I became friendly with Eddie Cornelius as he was a carpenter's apprentice with C.M.W. and we used to go about together, sometimes in summer time going for cycle rides of an evening, usually to visit churches around the area. Maldon, Nayland, Stoke-by-Nayland, Wivenhoe, Rowhedge, Messing and many others came within our reach. On Sundays we would go to evening service at one of the local churches or chapels on a rota basis even going to the City Hall on occasions. A year or so later, I met up again with Ruby and we walked out together on a casual basis which soon became more serious when we found that we got on well together and Ruby worked at together and Ruby worked at Mersea at Lady Crane's at the Firs. This did not meet with Eddie's approval as he thought that girls were a drain on the pocket and that was something that he was not prepared to countenance, so there was a drifting apart in that direction and Ruby and I went for cycle rides and walks on a regular basis and to the pictures in Colchester on Saturdays in the bargain. At that time we neither of us got our feet under the respective family tables but with the coming of the war all of that changed.


[ Clifford White died about 1960. ]

Then came the death of Clifford White and the firm was run for a while by Charlie Brown who was brought out of retirement by Eric White to keep things moving until it was decided what to do. Charlie Brown had been in charge of White's Colchester branch of the firm way back before I joined in 1938. Charlie knew dad and got me to do a bit of sub-contracting for him to wind up the firm's work in hand for he was too old to carry on for long and Eric did not want to give up his good job in London, and so the whole thing was broken up and sold off. For some reason they didn't want to sell as a going concern. This left Russell Baldwin of Peldon, a plumber, with about 18 months apprenticeship to run, and looking for a firm to honour that agreement. I was approached by his father, and following representation to the Building Federation manager at Colchester, of whom I was a member, I decided to take him on.


Change is all around us, and Mersea is no exception. Clifford Whites yard in Barfield Road has taken knocks in various stages. Somewhere around the 1960s a row of terraced houses at the back of the plot were built after the old Forge and Plumbers shop was demolished. This was where I started work and did my apprenticeship, learn to use the forge, helped with the shoeing of horses and got bombed with firebombs during the war. So many memories come back and regrets at the passing of a happy time of life. The chance to learn so many things from top class tradesmen over a very comprehensive range of engineering that would be very hard to find the likes of today. A little later on, a shop with a flat above was built and this served as our Doctors surgery for a year or two until the present day place on Kingsland Hill was built, and in the year 2000, the rest of the offices and stores were demolished and a row of shops and flats built on what was once the Builders Merchants section. Likewise The Fountain Hotel, a land mark on the arrival into the village for so many years, was in 2000, demolished and houses and flats of doubtful design not too tastefully built on the site. However, a fountain with a water cascade in intermittent spurts has been erected to try to compensate for the act of vandalism. Already it has suffered abuse and will continue to do so until demolished or drops to pieces through neglect.

But then, low and behold dear reader; a spate of leaky dinghies and giant anchors have appeared at points on the Island. The dinghies are filled with spring flowers, so that's all right then!. Also in 2001, a forest of new road signs have appeared just before the East and West turnings announcing that this is Mersea Island and the speed limits are of 40 mph, and just in case you missed the first one, you can check every 50 yards or so, (Oops sorry Metres) just in case you missed it that it did say 40. It took years to get rid of the unsightly telephone and electric poles with the overhead cables only to have the right pillocks clog us up again. That dear friends is known as progress!!

In 2001, The Cresta Stores at the corner of Mersea Avenue and High Street North was demolished to make way, it is said, for the building of a Nursing home. This to date is all in the air so will have to be updated later. This was a corner shop when I was a kid and I would have to go down the Avenue to get a few odds and ends of groceries for mother. It was kept by old George Smith and his wife and they raised a family of four boys and a girl between them. George Junior, Alfred, Clem, and Francis. Connie was the girl. Clem took over the shop when the old people retired and later it passed into the hands of Connie who ran it with a girl companion until they retired and the place was leased to Francis and Gladys Hoole. It would now appear to be in the hands of David Smith who is Clem's only son.

I can remember old George who was driven by his dominant wife to work like the proverbial spade going round the houses of the village with a large wicker basket on his arm hawking shrimps welks and fish in all weathers with an old ragged coat and a sou'wester hat. Known as Blucher to all and sundry he was never allowed to rest for long. It was thought that his nickname came from some incident in his life which coincided with that of the Prussian General Blucher, but as he died in 1819, this would be unlikely, It was in fact the long leather boots that both George and the General wore in common and these were known as 'bluchers'. Many workers wore leather gaiters or wangers as they were often called as this was protection for one's trouser bottoms with the mud on the unmade roads. The last person to wear leather gaiters that I recall was Alec Green, who was known as 'Ganger' son of Abraham-of-Spite-Corner in The Lane.


Now for a little more information about the MOLLIETTE. She was a concrete coaster of 300 tons and 125 feet long, built by Walter Pollock, a Navel Architect at Faversham Kent in 1917. Commissioned in 1919, had a short commercial career with many disasters, running aground, being run down, and colliding with a train of Lighters due to her unhandiness. A three masted, low rigged schooner, she had a 120 hp Bolinder semi Diesel engine which took some 20 minutes to start, and was needed to get the ship about. MOLLIETTE was laid up and stripped in the Blackwater in 1924 having failed to make a profit, and was sold to Mr Davis. MOLLIETTE was moored on the Coast Road at Mersea, at the seaward end of Victory Road. Done up by Horace Martin the Builder and was rented out to West Mersea Yacht Club as a Club house and Bar around 1931 until about 1934 when they left at a rent dispute with the somewhat eccentric owner. The Club moved to the large house at the corner of Firs Chase and Coast Road called 'Journeys End' where they have remained ever since.

In MOLLIETTE's next life, she was renamed the Quarters' Social Club and was taken over for a while by Mrs Hone's Social and Sailing Club for a while after their Club on Coast Road beside the drive way to Elmtree House was burnt down. Now 'The Quarters' it was short lived as it broke moorings on a very high tide and got across the creek on the falling tide and being made of Ferro-concrete she broke her back and was finished for habitation. Having stayed where she was with the tide going in and out of her hull at will, nobody really cared what happened to her for a number of years, and she became a real eyesore. Sometime during the war, when America sent it's forces over to help, some airforce officers saw and inspected the boat and decided that if she could be patched up long enough to float to the area off East Mersea, she would make a very useful target for their fighters to practice on.

Charlie French tells that he with a number of Clarke and Carter's men went aboard and with giant bulks of timber, tied the two halves together on a temporary basis. They then built a water tight bulkhead on each side of the crack, which was right through the hull, and used pitch. tar, cement and what ever could be found of use to strengthen the whole job. The men involved were Tiddler Mole, Cliff Smith (Ennew) Jim Clarke Senior and Charlie French.

They waited for a high tide. According to Charlie the day arrived, and with all the tug boats mustered and lines aboard and standing by, and the locals on shore waiting to see the fun so to speak, a very high tide indeed came in and reached its peak with no sign of movement of the hulk. Then as spirits flagged, and comments were rife, came a fearful noise and turbulence as the mud suction let go and up like a giant whale shot the boat to float on the surface. Quickly, the waiting fleet of towing craft moved in and pulled her clear of the area and into the deeper water. A seagoing Tug from Brightlingsea and Bob Stoker took it in hand when it came free of the mud and towed it to it's resting place off East Mersea where she was sunk again in a pre-determined spot, marked with wreck buoys just beyond the low water mark so that she showed her profile at all states of the tide. Tiddler tells me that it befell him to go below and open the seacocks to let the tide in to sink her and then get out quick. For the rest of the war, and after, aircraft used her as a range for practice for mainly 303, 50mm and 20mm cannon attacks, and large quantities of spent cartridges were showered into the sea from the beach to the target area,

Mersea men made a great deal of money from scrap brass after the war in going out on the mud with buckets and sacks until the large quantities dwindled and became not worthwhile to make the trip out to the waters ebb for such a small reward. For the more dedicated who were after brood, picking up cartridges was an added bonus and therefore a sack was part of the kit to take with you and even today it is possible to find several cases should you know where and what to look for,

The wreck stood up very well considering the constant pasting it received at the hands of both the R.A.F. and the American Air Force, and towards the end of her usefulness had to be attacked with rockets and light bombs to break up what was left. After the war's end, charges had to be laid by the Navy to break up the rest so that it did not become a navigational hazard. The rubble is still present today and is a very good place to find lobsters in the rare event of a very low ebb during which most of the residue comes 'adry! (local lingo).

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


Another story of the water front
In the recently published small book "The Centennial Chronicle of W.M.Y.C." on page 8 it is stated that JOCASTA, Geoff Pattinson's yacht, struck the underwater ledge extending South of the visible part of the rock, (Fastnet Rock to the South West of Ireland) without damaging the Rock or the boat. However. I know different. Whilst I cannot vouch for the Rock I can say that damage to the keel of the boat did in fact occur. A large lump of the bulbous lead keel was torn out and it befell me as requested by Bert Carter, to attempt to solder up the gash. With the help of Elgar Mussett we got several gas blowlamps and tried to get enough heat to get solder to run so that I could wipe new solder into the wound. This proved impossible as I suspected and I had to cut a dovetailed section into the keel proper with a saw and rasp. I then moulded a block roughly this shape and forced it into the wound and secured it with brass screws. C&Cs had a large high speed angle disc sander and with a very coarse disc I was able to cut away the surplus lead. It came off like shot from a gun and quickly moved the few spectators that had collected. However with smoother discs to follow it was a job well done "Navvy" Mussett was the skipper and helmsman on the race and a tiller was used at that point of the race instead of the wheel. The tiller was made of 1½ inch steel water pipe and it bent with the strain and I had to straighten this also. Ironical that on a 300 mile race, that one had to cut the Fastnet so fine to gain an advantage and almost lose the boat in the process!

Read More
George Saunders Smith - Cresta Stores
The Clifford White Empire
MOLLIETTE - Exordium to Finale by Pat Zierold

The text has been edited, mainly the MOLLIETTE paragraphs, where information from Peter's other articles has been included to get it all in one place. The facts are as Peter wrote them.
Tony Millatt

AuthorPeter Tucker
Keywordspatterson
Published23 March 2006
SourceMersea Museum
IDTUP_GEN
Related Images:
 The remains of the concrete coaster MOLLIETTE off East Mersea. Taken from a video of the intertidal zone, taken on the morning of a very low tide during CITiZAN survey work. Video is available <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVGI_mn4ntk&t=53s target=youtube>www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVGI_mn4ntk&t=53s</a>
</p><p>MOLLIETTE was built at Faversham in 1919, and was not a success. She came to Mersea 1924, as a houseboat and then a club. She was put ashore off East Mersea in 1943 for use as an aircraft target.  JP02_001_001
ImageID:   JP02_001_001
Title: The remains of the concrete coaster MOLLIETTE off East Mersea. Taken from a video of the intertidal zone, taken on the morning of a very low tide during CITiZAN survey work. Video is available www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVGI_mn4ntk&t=53s

MOLLIETTE was built at Faversham in 1919, and was not a success. She came to Mersea 1924, as a houseboat and then a club. She was put ashore off East Mersea in 1943 for use as an aircraft target.

Date:31 March 2021
Source:Mersea Museum / James Pullen