ID COR2_008 / Ron Green

TitleEast Mersea life in the early Twentieth Century

My father, Leslie James Green, was born on December 5th 1902 in the old Blue Row Cottages. He was the second son of Arthur John Green (known as Jack) and Alice Jane, née Mingay. Jack was born in the old Workhouse Cottages at Waldegraves on February 3rd 1878.

Alice Jane was born in Camberwell, Surrey in 1871, and came to West Mersea when she was governess to the children of a family that came to holiday at Haycocks Farm. She met my grandfather when she was walking the children through Waldegraves to the beach, and he was working in the fields.

Alice and Jack married at Brentford on November 5th 1899, when Jack's address was given as Green Dragon Road and occupation as gardener. His brother-in-law worked in Kew Gardens and got him a job there.
Their first son, Arthur John, was born in Chiswick in 1901, and soon after the family moved to Blue Row, West Mersea. Apparently Jack suffered from homesickness - something I have inherited!
My grandmother had been used to running water and flush toilets, and after the move to the island had now to cope with more primitive arrangements, like a privy at the bottom of the garden and drawing water from a well.

Some time before 1906 the family moved to Hall Cottages in East Mersea, almost opposite the school. Very little food was bought from the shop. The only bought groceries came in a small cardboard box delivered each Saturday teatime by Underwood, the East Mersea carrier, from Colchester. They lived on what could be grown in the garden, or gathered from the foreshore and fields, such as rabbits and fish. There were good stocks of shellfish, eels and crabs on the foreshore. When the farmer invited his friends for a shoot the labourers were employed as beaters, and not all birds were retrieved. A mental note was made if a fallen bird went un-noticed, and it was picked up later - another free meal.

Charles Cook (known as 'Tuddy' or 'Gunner') winkling off the Monkey Beach with a tendle.

Out on the mud were pools known as pans, where the receding tide often left fish trapped. This was spoiled when some of the Pullen family from West Mersea went along with spades and drained them for a quick harvest. My father recalled going along with his father, who had noticed lots of flounders in a creek, pretty well invisible to the untrained eye. Grandad walked along the bed of the creek and flicked out the fish as fast as dad could put them in the tendle.

Jack Green and his family were champion tendle makers. West Mersea oysterman Ted Woolf would have no other, and they cost half a crown a time. Only the sides were woven, and the bottoms were lined with fine gauge wire netting. These were used for washing the shellfish in a shallow pool. I recall the bows, as the handles were called, hanging around the walls of grandad's shed waiting to be made into tendles. We have a tendle on show beside the fisherman's cottage in the museum.

My aunt Nellie Louise and uncle Rupert Harry were born in Hall Cottage, and all four children did all of their schooling at the school just across the road. As was usual at that time, when the boys left school at the age of 14 or earlier, they got themselves a job at one of the local farms. My dad went tending cattle at Ivy House Farm, but after a year started a bricklaying apprenticeship with West Mersea builder Clifford White, and was a bricklayer throughout his working life. Rupert looked after chickens upon leaving school. He also did a bricklaying apprenticeship, but later, when my dad and uncle Rupert were bricklaying on the new Playhouse cinema in Colchester, Rupert decided to apply to join the police. He was one of the few to succeed, out of a large number of applicants, and worked his way up to the rank of inspector by the time he retired. Arthur, Jack's eldest son, was a groundsman at East Mersea Golf Links.

Farm work, if available, was poorly paid in the 1930s, and when Mr Ingram, the cosmetic manufacturer, decided to build Kiddiesland (now Mersea Outdoors) to give holidays to the poor children of East London, the jobs it created were a godsend.

My grandma was an invalid all the time I knew her. She would be taken out in her wheelchair on a warm afternoon, but apart from that went nowhere. Hall Cottages had no services. Water was obtained from a pump near the church, and was fetched by the men, carrying two buckets on a yoke. Some rain water (soft water) was collected in butts around the house for washing. There was no mains electricity or sewage. The situation ended around November 1940 when a mine fell in the middle of the road nearby, making a huge crater, and causing so much damage to the cottage that the family had to move out. Living in the cottage at that time were my grandma and granddad, uncle Arthur, aunt Nellie, her husband Frank, and their children Daphne and Keith. There was an empty cottage at Weir Farm, and everything, including bedridden grandma, had to be moved there before nightfall.

After two further moves the family ended up in a bungalow in Shop Lane, where at last there was an inside toilet, in a bathroom, and a boiler for hot water. When the new Baring Gould Cottages were built, the family had the first one. Water came from a tower near the farm, and there was mains electricity. Mains water came to East Mersea in 1952.

Grandad worked at Hall Farm, and his main work in the early days was making up trusses of hay to load on to the sailing barges for shipment to London for the horses. He had crewed on the "stackies", as they were known, in his early days, and he was also pilot or "huffler" , bringing barges into Hall Quay, which in those days was served by a deep channel, and on up to the Strood.

My dad's Saturday morning job as a boy was to take the Hall Farm horses to be shod at the blacksmith's forge, opposite the Dog and Pheasant. He was lifted up onto the horse's back, and with a smack on the horse's backside it was a matter of hang on as best you could. The job done, it was back to the farm the same way. Cattle was driven "Rawhide" style to Colchester market at Middleborough, a frustrating and tiring job, as the cattle sometimes got mixed with other herds on the way, and had to be sorted out. After the market there were often new purchases to be driven home. The drovers slept well that night. Sometimes a horse-drawn cattle float was used, and on one occasion "Ninety" Woods, as he was called, took a load to the market. Men usually dressed up a bit for market, and on arrival "Ninety" lowered the tailgate and looked up at a cow's behind --- and you can guess the rest!

The East Mersea Golf Links provided welcome work in the 1930s, and my dad used to go there caddying when there was no building work. On one occasion he was with a gentleman playing in a championship, who turned to him and asked "How do I play this, caddy?" Whether it was dad's advice we don't know, but he sunk the put and gave dad ten shillings. A nice little tip in those hard times.

East Mersea Golf Links was a very fine course. It's said the Ryder Cup Team once played there, and also Walt Disney. It was started before the first world war, during which it closed. It opened again between the wars, but closed again during the last war, never to re-open, although the greens were kept in good order throughout the war by the groundsman Mr Binstead. The army took over during the war, and several buildings were erected. The Dormy Houses and the clubhouse were used by the army. A large part of the old golf links is now Cudmore Grove Country Park, and the lake from which water was pumped for irrigation is now a wildlife haven.
The museum has various items of memorabilia from the club.

Published as Museum Piece in Mersea Courier 4 February 2011.

AuthorRon Green
Published4 February 2011
SourceMersea Museum