Tony Forsgate's early memories growing up in Wivenhoe in the 30s and 40s

Tony's talk to the Wivenhoe History Group in September 2016

Page created by Peter HIll

The following text was writen by Tony Forsgate. I had invited Tony, Charles Scofield and Peter Green to come and talk about their memories growing up in Wivenhoe. Tony had gone to the considerable lengths of typing up what he wanted to say.  I for one am glad he did and am even more pleased to publish it.  

Peter Hill, Chairman, Wivenhoe History Group, September 2016



Tony’s story starts in 1929

I was born in my parent’s house in Stanley Road, in 1929.   My parents were Jessie and Tom Forsgate.

My paternal Grandparents lived in the High Street, in Arnold House, on the topside corner of Malting Yard, now occupied by Tom Roberts. The house on the opposite side of Malting Yard was occupied by Captain and Mrs Albert Turner.  Captain Turner was the professional skipper of King George Vs J-class yacht “Britannia”, crewed by local men from Wivenhoe, Brightlingsea, and Rowhedge.

My father trained as an engineer, in his early days being employed in Wivenhoe shipyard, then becoming foreman at Wivenhoe Pit, returning to the Shipyard during the war, and eventually joining Cooks as foreman fitter.  Mother was a seamstress, in her early days cycling to Colchester each day to her work.

An ancestor fought at the Battle of Trafalgar

Grandfather Forsgate’s title was Captain Forsgate as he skippered various small yachts which sailed out of the Colne.   Grandma Forsgate’s maiden name was Snood – she was a descendant of Benjamin Snood whose gravestone was discovered as part of the path in the Carolyn Gardens in the churchyard, and which a few years ago was placed in a more prominent position against the wall of the Falcon yard.   For any newcomers, Benjamin Snood fought in the Battle of Trafalgar.

The Old Bakehouse really was once a Bakery

My maternal grandparents owned the Bakehouse situated opposite the Church.   Grandad Cracknell came from Mistley where he trained as a baker, married my Grandma at Wivenhoe Congregational Chapel then in West Street.   Grandma Cracknell came from a Wivenhoe family – the Oakleys – which consisted of 3 sons and 5 daughters; one daughter became the grandmother of Charles Scofield, another that of Peter Napper.   Grandfather set up in business as a baker, as E.J.Cracknell and Son, the East Essex Bakery.   When he retired, his son Bill took over the business for many years.   The business then changed hands twice before the likes of Tesco appeared which then killed off the local small businesses, and it then became a hairdressers, and then a restaurant.   There were two other bakeries in Wivenhoe at the time, one where Valentinoes now is, and the other was a small business opposite the Fish shop in East Street, but, I believe the lady owner bought in her bread, for re-sale, from Cracknells !!

Bread was delivered by hand cart in the early days. Grandfather’s cart was at one time displayed in Colchester museum. Eventually a small van was purchased and young lads employed to deliver bread, cakes etc. from trade bikes.

As a teenager I worked on a Saturday from the van, earning a priceless half-a-crown for my labours.  Plus the takings of the “swear box” – the penalty being one penny a time.

Springetts, who owned a shop on the riverside at Rowhedge, also purchased a regular supply of bread from Cracknells and this was taken from the bakehouse, by van or bike, to the Rowhedge ferry via the Toll gate where it was collected by Tony Springett, son of the shop owner.

Schooling in Wivenhoe

Wivenhoe children at that time attended the Council School in Phillip Road. I can recall two families from Fingringhoe attending the school – the Hopkins and the Allens – who crossed by ferry every day.   There were no school lunches so all children went home, this included the Dutton family for instance, who had to walk across Ballast Quay to Sunnymead Farm and back twice a day.

The headmistress was the famed Miss Smith, known by various other names to the children, who was more feared than liked, ruling one’s life both in school and out.   One always felt that she was watching you from above in one’s after-school life.   At the time she lived in Colchester with another teacher, Betsy Grasby, who was the opposite of Miss Smith and was popular with the children.   Eventually they moved in to Wivenhoe and Miss Grasby became involved with Council activities becoming Chairman of the Town Council.   Two of the teachers lived locally, Ruth Munson and Etta Dann,   Miss Self and Miss Reason came from Rowhedge via the ferry, Nelson Plummer from Brightlingsea and Tom Wiseman from Stanway area. (Tom’s funeral was yesterday. He was 98 years old).

Secondary Education

At that time there was no local Secondary school, so all children from 5 to 11 attended Phillip Road, plus the girls from 11/12 to 14.   Boys of 11/12 to 14 were taught in the ground floor of the old Boys school, situated where the public library is now in the High Street.   Their teacher was Mr. Gibbons, known as “Gibbo”, who was very strict and often used the cane.   For some reason, for one or two years, boys of 11 were taught by Mr.Plummer in the upstairs room of the old Boys school – one memory from this is that from the upstairs room one had a perfect view of the yachts returning from their summer season abroad, ready to lay up on the wall for the winter.

In about 1936 this system changed as Brightlingsea Secondary School was built and children from the age of 12 were educated there.

In their last year at Infant/Junior school children of 11 were free to take the entrance exam for Colchester Royal Grammar School, the Girls County High School then on East Hill and the Technical School, which at that time was housed on North Hill.   Fortunately this division of education made little difference to the relationships formed over the years, and whatever one’s secondary school, after school one reverted to Wivenhoe boys and girls.

The Doctors

On the medical side there were two doctors – Dr. Walter Radcliffe, whose surgery was at Gothic House in the High Street, and latterly at “Ten Acres” in the Avenue and Dr. Dean whose surgery was in Alma Street at the corner of the High Street.   We also had one district nurse.   One has to remember that the population at that time was in the region of 2 to 2 1/2 thousand people only.   The doctors themselves prescribed and provided any medication, although there was a chemist in Wivenhoe it was not always staffed by a qualified pharmicist.


1939/40 saw the arrival of evacuees from the East End of London to live with Wivenhoe families.   For schooling they used part of the Old Boys school and Phillip Road for half-day sessions under their own teachers from London.   When a mine was dropped at Clacton, causing casualties, many of them returned to London unfortunately in time for the Blitz.

“Up-streeters and Down-streeters”

Nowadays one still occasionally hears the term “up-streeters and down-streeters”.   I have heard it said that the “up-streeters” looked down on the “down-streeters” – this was something I was never aware of, it was more a term for where you lived.   The dividing line was the Park Hotel and this was in being when football matches were arranged between the two divisions.

 A time when Wivenhoe was self-sufficient

How did one spend one’s free time ?   Remember that the population in our day was approx 2,000 to 2,500.   Everybody knew everyone else.   Wivenhoe was a very friendly place to live – unlike to-day one could walk in Wivenhoe and stop and talk to any number of people – to-day I can walk in Wivenhoe and not meet or talk to anyone whom I know.

The village, or small town, was self-sufficient – three bakers, four butchers, a dozen or more pubs, two mens hairdressers, wool shop, shoe shop, the Co-op, other small shops situated down the street, at the Cross, Stanley Road, Queens Road, East Street etc.   Why go to Colchester unless one required something unusual or different ?   Very few people had cars – only the doctors or local business people – good old Eastern National or London and North Eastern Railway !!   Children‘s fare to Colchester for school 3d. Return, adults 6d   Train to London 2s. 6d. return.

Leisure time and leaving school

Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Guides, Rangers. Youth club at the Old Boys School, football, cricket. tennis, sailing.   Harvesting – bottle of water, sandwiches, stick and off round the area in the hope of catching a rabbit.   Dances at the Old Boys School, Fund-raising “Welcome Home” dances at the Forresters Hall in wartime, churches – 3 of, Mothers Union, Womens Institute, Bowls Club, plus the various sports clubs.   In winter-time, as children, one made your own entertainment at home with reading, hobbies e.g. modelling, meccano, stamp collecting cigarette card collections etc. obviously no television!

Leaving school, one joined a trade or profession.   Local trades connected with the sea:  fishing, Wivenhoe, Brightlingsea, Rowhedge shipyards, Paxmans and other businesses in Colchester and the surrounding area.   Some of us went to college and trained as teachers – very few had the opportunity to go to university because of cost and the shortage of universities, unlike the present.   Those who trained away,  eventually returned to Wivenhoe after qualification.   The majority of our age-group had to do National Service for 18 to 24 months, mainly in the Army and RAF.   It was a disruption but did us no harm.   And, of course, there were girls !!   I suppose most marriages were formed within Wivenhoe or the surrounding area at that time.   Based on today’s prices houses were cheap, but one has to consider this in the light of wages and salaries paid in those days.

Wivenhoe, as it was in the 30s and 40s

Take out the Shipyard site and Cooks, and below the bridge is back to its shape and size of our young days.   The left-hand side of Park Road, looking upstreet, is mainly all as it was, with possibly only three or four houses on the opposite side.   Where Dene Park, the Dale etc. now exists, this land was mainly farmland owned by Mr. Alf Bowes, with the top section bordering Belle Vue Road being the gardens of “The Nook”.

The Sledging capital in Wivenhoe

The name “Bobbits” brings back many happy memories of the winter when the slope of that piece of farmland became the sledging capital of Wivenhoe.   At the bottom of the slope was a brook, known to sledgers as “the gravy”, and woe betide anyone who failed to stop in time – they went home in wet clothes on a freezing day.   Linked with winter weather and freezing temperatures, recalls the lake at the bottom of Rectory Hill.   This was originally a stream running from the Sand Pit area and coming out in the wet dock at Cooks.   The lake was hand- dug by the house owner, Mr. Ernie Chamberlain, assisted by a Mr. Daly. I was once told by Mr. Chamberlain how many thousands of barrow loads of earth they had removed.   When we had a severe winter and the pond froze, he would allow people to use it as a skating rink.

‘Spion Kop’

Many of the houses in The Avenue were in place, apart from the original Council house estate and a number of dwellings beyond Harvey Road.   “Spion Kop” as it was termed, consisted of Stanley Road, Manor Road, Ernest Road, and none of these roads were tarmaced, until 52 years ago.   Apart from a number of semi-detached houses and terraced houses in Stanley, Manor (the 24 row) and Ernest Road (the 10 row), the remainder of the land was used for allotments and playing areas.   At one time Wivenhoe Rangers played on one pitch and Wivenhoe Athletic played on an adjoining pitch, so, together with the King George V playing field, children had much playing space. Annual visit of fair to the field and sometimes the circus.

The Cross area

Beyond the Horse and Groom, on the left, there was the old smithy, the old workhouse and the adjoining house, and Claude Watsham’s farmhouse.  I believe the farm was owned by the Gooch family, but no houses were on the Broomgrove site.

On the opposite side were a set of semi-detached houses, and Mr. Lennox’s farmhouse. Behind that was farmland owned by Mr. Lennox – so no Vine Farm houses.   Beyond The Flag, in Flag Lane, were a few houses only, Feedham Close stands on the piece of land bequeathed by Jonathan Feedham to the Charity of his name and this was farmed by the Warren family.

The land on both sides of the Colchester Road from Cross Farm and The Flag was owned by the Gooch family and farmed by Mr. Garnham.   Boundary Road was previously called Garnham’s Lane – an unmade road to the farm.   The houses opposite Boundary Road were owned by the Gooch family, one being occupied by Mr. Paul who was the coachman and butler to the family.

Wivenhoe Park and the Army

Wivenhoe Park was requisitioned by the Army at the beginning of the war, with the Gooch family moving to one of their farmhouses in Elmstead.   One of the first regiments based there was the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, followed by another Tank Regiment, then a Czech Regiment and finally by the 2nd S.A.S.   I can recall watching one of the tank regiments driving their tanks down to the station on a winter’s night prior to loading them on to railway wagons – one of the tanks being driven by my future brother-in-law – to take part in the desert campaign.   As teenagers we were allowed to fish in one of the lakes at the Park.   Can anyone tell me where the “low-way” is ?

‘The Broomy’

Where Broomfield School stands, and its surrounding area, was another play area for us as it was mainly wasteland, covered in broom.   For some reason, during the summer months pre-1938, a fire would start amongst the broom.   The fire cart was based in the Council yard – roughly where the Scout and Guide hut is – and was pulled by hand.   It was quite exciting for we youngsters to see the firemen pulling the cart up The Avenue and over to “the broomy”, as it was called and attempt to beat out the flames as no water was available,   Post-war part of “the broomy” became the home of Wivenhoe Rangers football team.

One unusual wartime happening was as a result of a minesweeper arriving at Wivenhoe shipyard for repairs lasting several weeks.   The result was that five of the crew eventually married five local girls.

One further question to end my piece.   Can anyone tell me the old local name for the small piece of grassed area facing the Paget Road houses, on the river-side of the railway crossing, at the rear of the first few houses in Anglesey Road ?? (cat —- lawn !!)

Tony Forsgate

To see more about the bakery and Tony’s grandfather Ernest Cracknell, click here

This page was added on 28/02/2016.

Comments about this page

  • Really Interested in this, my Grandad was Alfred Dally who spent many hours with his daughter (my mum) Joyce Dally digging out the pond…… In 2015 I lost my mum and visited the pond, the kind owner let us in his garden to view it in its glory, wildlife and all…… Wivenhoe holds a special place in my heart, The Dally, Rutterfords and O’Hallorans being among my family….

    By Pauline Moore (22/05/2018)
  • My father, Keith Dann, probably could have answered the question as he grew up in Wivenhoe but alas he has just passed away.

    By Peter Dann (20/08/2016)
  • Dear Peter
    Sorry to learn that your father passed away recently. Isn’t always the way that when you have a question you want to ask, that is when it is too late.
    Peter Hill
    Chairman, Wivenhoe History Group

    By Peter Hill (16/09/2016)
  • In the 1970’s a postcard made its way from Spain to a member of Wivenhoe Football Club, who lived in one of “the first few houses in Anglesey Road ?? (cat —- lawn !!)”

    addressed only to :

    Person’s Name,
    (C** S*** G**** )

    [Admittedly the postcard had the place-name written without asterisks]

    By Daryl Williamson (31/05/2016)

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