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Just an hour's drive from London, Brightlingsea is located at the mouth of the Colne Estuary where we have sheltered sea sailing and launching at all states of the tide. We race a varied selection of dinghies and catamarans from March to December and are experts at hosting major championships and open events.
Brightlingsea, a maritime heritage town which is rich in character and history, has been inhabited since earliest times.
Brightlingsea Museum is open again for the season until the end of September, on Mondays and Thursdays for 2 - 5pm and on Saturdays from 10am - 4pm manned as usual by a band of willing volunteers. In the Reading Room there is a feature on Brightlingsea notables including Leonard Southern, Noble Eagle, Canon Pertwee and Douglas Went and in the upper room there is an exhibition of roman finds from Moverons, together with a collection of artefacts showing Dr Dicken's many interests. The World War 1 Exhibition has been extended to cover the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Treaty and the Colne Smack preservation Society has made an impressive addition to the display with items from its own collection. The Museum is supported by the 'Friends of Brightlingsea Museum'. New members are always welcome. Anyone interested in joining should contact Kath Taylor a 33 Queen Street. Alf Wakeling would always be pleased to hear from anyone who would like to join his team of custodians.
Brightlingsea Museum was opened in November 1990, and share the building at 1 Duke Street as a tenant of the James Aldous Charity, The trustees of which manage a Reading Room. During the public openings, from Easter to October Each year, visitors are welcome from 2pm to 5pm each Monday and Thursday, and from 10am to 4pm each Saturday. Visiting groups may view the Museum's collection out of opening hours and during the Winter closure. Brightlingsea's association the Cinque Ports, as a Limb of Sandwich, is featured in a permanent display, as are the town's archaeological finds from the Roman site at Moverons and memorabilia from the local railway which closed in 1964. Items recalling Brightlingsea's ship Building, oyster cultivation and maritime history all have a place.
The Empire Cinema - Later the Regal
Brightlingsea cinema opened Boxing Day 1912 as the Empire Theatre of pictures and Variety. The first General Manager was Harry Carr, A well known seaside entertainer who was then performing in the town with his Merry Scamps concert party. Erected by Mr H E Frost and Messrs. Blyth Bros. The Empire was a project of a local syndicate with Charles Leverett as secretary and later the Manager.
The opening performance did not have a happy debut, this having to be abandoned halfway through, this being due to the ‘engine stopping’, but all went well the next day when a large house enjoyed a good show of pictures. Mr Lax of Wivenhoe was the pianist followed later by Mr Reg Cox also Mrs Annie Annis. Many of the local residents and visitors will recall the thrills provided as cowboys and Indians galloped into action to their piano accompanist.
During World War I Australian engineers who were training here staged many a variety concert at the Empire. The first change of ownership came when the Empire was purchased by Douglas Bostock, the Ipswich Hippodrome proprieter and like his father prominent in this part of the world for his involvement with the growth of the cinema. A further change in 1938 the renaming to The Regal and during World War II the picture programs were implemented by local entertainment on stage.
1957 saw a further change of ownership. Charles Sellens became the popular owner. The late Colin Woods son of the late syndicate directors became his manager. Mr Sellens already owned cinemas in the area and in addition to making constructional improvements was able to provide programs comparable to many of the larger cinemas. All appeared to go well during the time when the cinema industry as a whole enjoyed a boom period. The came the decline in the attendance due to the expansion of television. Undaunted Mr Sellens fought this new competition with a scheme of complete reconstruction drawing heavily on his finances to provide a smart up to date building of which Brightlingsea had every reason to be proud. In a dwindling market it was indeed a brave venture, and one that earned the commendation of the townsfolk.
But audience attraction was the objective and in this it failed. Like so many of its kind the Brightlingsea Regal had to give way to the lure of fireside armchair viewing. So in February 1959 Charles Sellen decided to close. This decision also meant the end of the Children’s Cinema which since the early 1950’s had met every Saturday morning. Five months later of 6th July in association with Mr & Mrs Cox and their daughter Peggy, of Ipswich, Mr Sellens attempted a comeback. Mr Cox was also the proprietor of the Ideal Cinema at Lavenham and had provided film entertainment in the Suffolk village for many years. The evening’s program was preceded by an informal reopening ceremony performed by Mrs Winifred Craig, the popular and successful teacher of elocution and drama locally and wife of the New Church Minister. But this brave venture was short lived and Brightlingsea finally lost its Cinema.
In 1964 the building was taken over by Ormandy and Stollery as offices and works for the manufacture of thermo-couples. The firm later removed to the one time Weslian School. August 1990 the building remained unoccupied.
L.W. Southern 1890 - 1966
For some forty years Len Southern served the local Community as its "East Essex Gazette" Correspondent, also as an active member of the Deputy's Christmas Gift Fund. For sixteen years he was the Fund's secretary. It was from his home a 7 Queen Street that the annual parties left to visit hospitals and nursing homes in Colchester and Clacton. In addition to writing for the local newspaper, Len contributed articles and reports to the national, under the pen-name L. Western Starr he also wrote for the "Grocers' Gazette". His weekly poetry was a feature of his local writing. His books on Brightlingsea history are much sought after today.
A worshipper at Brightlingsea Methodist Church, Len was a circuit steward for a number of years. As a member of Toc H he became a job master. Brightlingsea Town Football Club had his support and for a time he was the Secretary of the Brightlingsea Charity Cup. The son of William and Harriet Southern ( nee Gladwell), who were in business as a Grocer a London House Stores, and later in the High Street, Len took over his father's business on returning from serving as a bandsman in the Essex regiment during World War One. on relinquishing the grocery business in 1937, he obtained a small-holding in Edward Avenue which he worked for eleven years.
Len's wife, formerly Ruth Sybil Cook, pre-deceased him in 1942. Semi-retirement saw him moving to Queen Street in 1948 from where he continued his many local interests up to his death on 1 May 1966. Len was survived by his second wife, Daisy (nee Welham) and his and Ruth's daughter, Blanch Eileen and sons Eric and Keith.
Jacobs is about 600 years old, and takes its name from the original owner, who was probably the builder of the house. Not much is known of its very early history. It consisted of one large room open to the roof, in the style of the period, the fire being a brazier on the floor (of beaten earth), and the smoke escaping by a louvered lantern – a kind of fixed shutter in the roof. The King Post (the main support of the roof) was about 14ft above the floor in the centre of the room. The east and west wings were added soon after, and it was then architecturally described as a fine example of fourteenth century timber-framed construction of the contemporary ‘H’ shaped plan. It is interesting to compare the ceiling joists of our modern houses with those in the dining room at Jacobs.
In the 15th century, when many Dutch and Flemish weavers settled in England, the property came into the hands of some rich shipping merchants named Beriffe, who were connected with weaving. A ceiling of beautifully carved and moulded oak was built into the hall, dividing it into two rooms, one above the other. The decorated brick turret, with its spiral staircase in the corner of the forecourt, was built for the purpose of getting into the room above – an afterthought presumably. Similar staircases have the entrance outside: this one is unique in that its entrance in inside the main hall. The fireplace was added probably in the 16th century, and is larger than the usual 9 or 10 foot opening, having a span of 12 feet. It was not built in the centre of the room as in other houses of this period, notably Penshurst Place in Kent, but into one quarter of it. The niches in the back of the fireplace were probably for flint and tinder. The fire is in regular use today and burns day and night all the winter.
Records show that the Beriffes occupied Jacobs as late as 1624, The house as we see it today from the High Street was if fact the back of the house, which actually faced the sea. The estate extended considerably on either side, and reached down to the sea, which however, has most likely receded. The family also owned a cottage and land on East End Green, and a farm called Morses about a mile from the town, near the old church.
There are six very fine brasses in this church, memorials of the family. The earliest is of John Beriffe, who died in 1497, and shows effigies of himself, his three wives, five sons and four daughters. The latest brass is the only one which retains its proper inscription, name, ‘John Beriffe of Jacobs died ye XX of Maye Ao 1542. Here lyeth William Beriffe his eldest sonne who hath been Deputie of Bryghtlyngsee XII years who had issue by Ann his wife II sonnes and III daughters, who died ye IX Maye anno domini 1578.’ All the brasses are identified by the family’s Marks.
Little is know of its history for the next 200 years or more, presumably it deteriorated, and eventually was adapted to suit its fallen condition. This brings its history to the middle of the 19th Century – that unfortunate period of ‘tidying up’ during which so many of our churches suffered. Jacobs was divided into seven ‘lets’ as they are called in the locality, three in each wind and one in the original Hall. The west wing was almost entirely rebuilt, converting it into three cottages. Many of the old timbers remain, although an open fireplace seems to have disappeared. The front of the house now faced the roadway. It was plastered all over and the upper stories which projected at each end were underbuilt with brick. A shop was erected between the wings, in the forecourt, in which boots and sweets were sold (a somewhat unsavoury combination!) Later sweets and vegetables were sold. Only the top of the turret could be seen above the shop, which was on a level with the road. The window in the turret was blocked up, so that it was quite dark inside, small boys are said to have paid to look up there. The back of the house now looking towards the sea was weather-boarded, and on the south end of the east wind a fireplace and chimney were added.
The Main Hall was divided across into two parts and a small sash window and a door at each end replaced the original leaded lights. The large fireplace was boarded up. There is an old man living in Brightlingsea who once lived in this part of Jacobs, and he remembers there being a little fire grate in the right hand corner of the opening, the rest of which was a closet. He says that nobody ever bothered to look inside all the years he lived there. A staircase was put up in the back part of the room, leading through a trap door into what is now called the King Post room. At that time, however, the King Post was not visible, having been completely enclosed in matchboarding, and yet another ceiling was added at the collar of the King Post, completely hiding the lovely roof. In short, Jacobs, as originally built, was absolutely unrecognisable both inside and out. There are still postcards of the house in this state, which, though depressing, are interesting.
About 1923 the house was accidentally ‘discovered’ and the uncovering began. The shop was pulled down and most of the inside and outside plastering was removed. In 1932 the ancient Buildings Trust bought the property, and in 1936 repairs were started in earnest on the main block and the east wing. The west wing will be dealt with later.
The entrance in the opposite corner to the turret, which had been bricked up, was opened and doors were made to the pattern of the old Tudor door in the Hall for this and the entrance at the back of the house, Correct windows were made for the Hall, and rotting beams were replaced by sound old ships’ timbers, carefully chosen from the local shipyards. Under the plaster facings between the beams were the original wattle and daub walls in most excellent preservation. It seems incredible that hazel sticks could have been bedded in stiff clay and dry cut grass for at least 600 years.
Everything has been done to preserve the building as a perfect example of early English architecture. The additions of bathroom, electric light and refrigerator enable the house to be run efficiently, without in any way spoiling its atmosphere of quiet comfort. Her Majesty Queen Mary visited Jacobs on Monday, June 13th 1938. In honouring this ancient and beautiful house with her presence she added another page to its history. Her Majesty asked many questions about the house as she went from room to room, and in the Street Bedroom remarked that it was a charming home. The Queen also went in the garden, and before leaving graciously signed the visitors’ book and accepted a history of Jacobs. The Royal party included Princess Alice Countess of Athlone, The Earl of Athlone, and Viscountess Byng of Vimy.
Cinque Port Wreckhouse
The original Cinque Port Wreckhouse is the rectangular two story building with the confines of the now vacant James and Stone Shipyard. and it is said to date from 1780. An Act of 1821 specified that Wreckhouses should be established in Brightlingsea, Wivenhoe and Harwich, in addition to the three at Dover Deal and Ramsgate. It is reasonable to conclude that it was the 1821 Act wich led to use of the Existing Waterside building.
On 10th August 1886, the property was purchased by Joseph Bridges from the Lord of the Manor. Here the Bridges family carried out their blockmaking business. In 1934 J.H. Bridges sold the Building to John James and Co. Ltd. From the 1870's the Cinque Port Wreckhouse functions were performed at the 'Old Customs House', the largely weatherboarded building, at 4 and 6 Waterside (now occupied by the Harbour Commissioners) and, later in the building at 126 Sydney Street, (now the HQ of the North London Sailing Association). It is not known for certain when this move took place but in the 1911 Brightlingsea Year Book and Directory 126 Sydney Street is given as Customs House.
A Maritime History of Brightlingsea
Yachting and fishing, two industries that have brought fame, and wide. World renown and a certain amount of good fortune, to our town of Brightlingsea are in danger of becoming extinct. So the men who have helped to win that fame, men who have faced the rigors of the North Sea and the English Channel; men who have shared equally in the glory of success and achievement, and witnessed sordidness, tragedy and courage in shipwreck and drowning.
Many of them men have passed on, and there is little in cold print to recall their history’. There are still, however, a few of these fine old worthies left, with fragrant and fresh memories, memories that in some cases have beaten the human frame, and from them we aft glad to hear the stories told, not in boasting, but in true nautical manner and speech, often with twinkling eye, and no little humour, and with the freshness of the sea itself, and to record them so that the stories known to a few, may possibly be shared, and interest many.
So I have endeavoured in not too statistical a manner, for statistics aft apt to be dry and unpalatable, but rather historically to bring between covers, some of the more interesting adventures and achievements, some catastrophes, of the past sixty years or so, that will help to show future generations a little of how their forefathers lived. I do not present it as a complete record of the maritime interests of the town, nor have I ventured to deal individually with many old worthies who perhaps could add many chapters. But to individualise when there are so many is dangerous, and I apologise to any who would have liked to add their experiences.
Perhaps there are many tales are told of the valour and fortitude of a former vicar of the parish, the late Canon Pertwee, who was a vicar of brightly and see for many years, an edition to be forming many acts of valour himself took any interest in the recording of the brave deeds of others. It is said that on the very wildest of nights he walked the one-and-a-half miles to the Old Parish Church, and climbed the steps up to the Belfry tower, remained whilst the storm lasted, showing a lighted a lantern against the iron barred windows, that could be seen by Mariners out at sea, and provided a welcome Beacon by which they could make their way into the safe harbour of the Colne.
Many a time when the vicar accompanied crews in the roughest of weather, or to stranded and wrecks of vessels, and on one occasion when they had stayed a little to long, there was a difficulty in getting off, through the breakers curling up on the edge of the sand, and every effort had to be made to get clear, the vicar took a spare oar, and after divesting himself of his borrowed pilot cloth jacket, pulled like "one to the manner born". It is recalled too, that when one of the deep Sea vessels came in with her flying at half mast, and it turned out that some of the crew were down with smallpox, the vicar at the thought of any help he could best fulfil his duties.
The vessel was anchored in the road, and for the first night the authorities could find no one willing to go on board to nurse the patients. The vicar knew of there sorry plight and urgent needs, and after the doctor had visited the infected boat, he put off in a rough suit of oilskins, alone in his canoe and nursed the sufferers carefully throughout the night. Perhaps one of the most memorable acts for which he will always be remembered was the effort he made which resulted in the place in a round the walls of the parish Church so smaller tablets as memorials to the brightening seen men who lost their lives at sea.
They give the names, dates, and short account so of the disaster, storm of collision, as the nature of the cash that he happened to be, and at the present to land there are several hundred of these unhappy reminders of the dangers that beset our men in the fulfilment of their duties, and in the nature of the call in. Brightlingsea has been favoured by visits from a number of royal seat in connection with its yachting interests, including his Royal Highness the late King Edward the VII and his son, the Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness Duc de Abruzzi, Italian prince, otherwise known as Prince Louis of Savoy, a nephew of the King of Italy, also paid a visit to the Colne. It was the Duke Alexander of Russia, cousin of the Czar of Russia, who came to the Colne to purchase the ‘Lady Tor Freda’ from Mr. Bayard Brown, and more recently of course, the visit of her Royal Highness Queen Mary to the Hard, and her interest in the stall of Brightlingsea and natives is still remembered. On this memorable occasion the Queen took away with her a fine lobster presented by a local Mariner.
Although much of the traditional ceremony carried out at Brightlingsea in connection with the famous Cinque Ports, of which the port is proud of it be known as a non-corporate member of Sandwich, concerns itself with the town, and is managed by officials of civic rather than maritime experience, the Cinque Ports themselves are closely associated with interests of the sea, and the original five mother port’s of Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, Romney and Hythe, were all well-known seaports of the Kent and Sussex coasts. Of the many traditions in which our country is so rich it, and is so proud to maintain, those of the Cinque Ports, and there vital services to the nation, are probably among the least known and very little referred to. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that so little has been written about them, and records of their origin, and history are vague, and very scanty.
But although the dignity of the Cinque Ports is now little more than decorative, it is the inheritance of a great past. Very few, for instance realise that for centuries, ships who passed any ship belonging to the Cinque Ports were required by law to dip their top sales in recognition of the guardianship of the nation’s safety and honour upon the sea, for which the Cinque Ports were responsible.
It is probable that the five original ports’ came into being well over a 1000 years ago. It is known that when that the Saxons came to this country after the Romans had left, they had to make provisions against possible attack upon their shores, for even as today, no shore was more vulnerable than the shores of Kent, and Sussex, in all probability this protection of their coast came to be recognised as a protection to the country itself, and as such was rewarded by a Royal acknowledgement. It is possible therefore that the protection of the shores by the Saxons was the forerunner of the Cinque Ports themselves.
Years later, a large group of less important coastal villages came to be greatly attached to the main ports, these were known as "Limbs", and the reason for the association was the increasing demand of the Crown upon the ports as the duties of the sea surface became more urgent, and more exacting. These "Limbs" were endowed with practically all the privileges of their Head Ports, and were known as Corporate members, governed by a deputy from the mother port, and occasionally they had corporations of their own and we are entitled to claim the title of Baron for their Burgesses. Then there was another class added, known as non-corporate Limbs, who too, were governed by a deputy appointed by the Head Port.
All these Limbs seemed to have been attached as the need arose for further contributions of ships and men, and the national emergencies became more difficult. Brightlingsea was one of these Non-corporate Limbs, being made a Limb of the Head Port of Sandwich, and had distinction of being the only member outside the counties of Kent and Sussex. How Brightlingsea secured her alliance with Sandwich is not known, but it is suggested that Brightlingsea oysters were a big attraction to the men of Sandwich. It may also be a reward for the service either in ships or men, or both, at times of national emergency, as records suggest they did, from time to time.
The same traditions that apply to the parent Port of Sandwich are observed in the main by Brightlingsea, and perhaps one of the more interesting, and more important, is the election each year of a Deputy to the Mayor of Sandwich, known as "The Deputy", the election itself be known as "Choosing Day". This traditional ceremony can be traced back to the year 1559 remained in abeyance for about 83 years, and was resuscitated in 1887 by Mr. John Bateman, and since then it has carried on with all its original dignity and civic ceremony, at the Old Parish Church, the Choosing ceremony takes place way up in the Belfry tower.
At this ceremony, six citizens are chosen each year, in addition to the Deputy, to be the Deputies Assistants, who attend with him at the various civic functions. Another interesting proceedings is the election of Freeman, my formerly known as Jurats, the qualification for which demands that the applicant should be either.
Then, on paying 11 pennies (except in the first two qualifications, which is free), the candidate, on repeating certain quaint and historic oaths of allegiance, is duly admitted a Freeman. A Freeman,for many centuries, enjoyed many privileges, including that of being exempt from service to County juries, but this privilege was made obsolete in recent years.
Though the Cinque Port’s themselves still retain the shadow of their honours and privileges, many of them have been automatically eliminated by the great changes brought about in the civic and economic conditions of England. Today, except for the consciousness of the glories of the past, the ports differ very little from other seaport and boroughs. But in regard to those former glories there is still a great deal of tradition remaining. They still recognised themselves as a distinct group and representatives of that former Great confederation that formed the Royal Navy of England.
Without doubt, one of the most attractive spots of the town in earlier days was the "Hard", with its fine causeway, constructed in 1882. It was the harbour of the industrial enterprise, and the maker of business interests, and a place of interest for townsfolk to gather and watch the boats arrive from the various yacht’s at anchor, or the sailors on their return from the fishing expedition.
Even today, it is a feature of interest, and large numbers make it a customary walk, imbibe the fresh sea breezes or the bracing ozone, and watch the ferry boat’s unload passengers from St Osyth Stone, and artists find inspiration among the many maritime interest. There, the ever-changing panorama of the boats coming and going, yacht’s, barges and small craft, are a delight to watch, and in their season the spratters coming in, followed by a sea birds, mainly gulls all anxious to share some of the few thrown over to them by fishermen, and circling round and with their plaintive cries, as the skiffs go out to load up and bring the sprats ashore for pickling and sale in the town.
Quite a number of well-known characters have been associated with the Hard. One of the more notable perhaps being "Old Moley" as he was known, the Mersey ferry man at a carrier who, fair wind or foul, wet or dry, maintained a service as a carrier from Mersey to Brightlingsea almost every day, with amazing regularity. During the summer months he bought cucumbers which he sold in the place, and the town are generally benefited from the business he transacted on behalf of the Mersey clients. Another character of more than local renown, who used to give the causeway quite a lot, as much as "Old Moley" did was "Old Baker", of the barge Pandora, famous as a character in S Baring Goulds book "mehalah."
Old Baker first lived on his famous barge in East Mersea in 1884, and gained his livelihood by ferrying from Mersey to Brightlingsea Hard. In 1900, when his wife "Matey" died, he lived alone, and had the old barge shifted to St Osyth Stone so as to be near the coast guards, who came to visit him every night, and saw that he was comfortably settled in. In those days are Brightlingsea actually boasted of a hospital, although not on shore, but for many years a hospital ship lay anchored off Mersea shore, to which injured and sick sailors were taken and treated. The first hospital ship and was replaced in 1892 by a more, odious vessel which did duty for 23 years.
During the 1914/18 war there was a different opinion between a Brightlingsea Urban District Council and the Colchester Town Council, regarding the hospital ship. The Colchester council declared that it was unfit for further service and should be sold for breaking up and replaced by a better ship. The Brightlingsea Council opposed the idea, and at the same time applied to Colchester to contribute toward the upkeep of the boat as it was continually used the harbour and fishing purposes.
Yacht racing, formed an important part of Brightlingsea's yachting history, and in the arts and crafts of racing. the Brightlingsea yachtsman became famous. It was a common sight at the end of the season to watch the yachts coming into the Colne bedecked wilth small flags, heralds of their successes in racing contests on various parts of the coast. One of the first clubs formed was the Brightlingsea Sailing Club in 1885, with headquarters at the Royal Hotel.