An Interview with Dr Walter Radcliffe

Notes of an interview with Dr Walter Radcliffe made by Nicholas Butler in the mid 1980s

These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Dr W Radcliffe of 26, Welshwood Park Road Colchester in the mid 1980s as part of his research for his book “The Story of Wivenhoe”.   These notes have been re-typed by Ann Jones from Nicholas Butler’s original notes and posted here by Frances Belsham.

What Dr Radcliffe told Nick Butler.

I was born in Lancashire and came to Wivenhoe 50 years ago after working at Ipswich Hospital.   Dr Kevern suddenly died.  I heard the practice was up for sale, came down and grabbed it.   Dr Kevern was a strange man, he apparently married an actress in London and she left him, then he married his housekeeper at Rowhedge.   He ran his practice from the “Gothic House” in the High Street, he put in a side door for patients.   I bought the house and practice for £800.   The house was very very wet.   Then I moved up to Tenacres.   It was built by a local grocer Stacey Woods.   It was then bought by the Pawsey family who added to it.   We bought it off of them.   In those days it really did have ten acres of land.

The Sailing Club when I came here was going quite well but it was all handicap.   Lewis Worsp and I decided it would be better if we had a one-design class all on an equal footing.   We looked at various ones on the market and decided we could do better ourselves.   The first five were built at Leigh-on-Sea for £45 per boat complete with everything.   The sails and rigging were made by Hector Barr – The Wivenhoe One-Design Class.

There were probably between 30 and 40 members when I joined.   No premises.   Boats kept all over the place. We used to meet at the Black Buoy for parties and suppers and things, but after one they had a heck of a fight about the handicaps.   That set us thinking.   I designed the boat with Lewis Worsp’s assistance.   NB asked what they had in mind when they made the design.   Cheapness in the first place and convenience for the river up here.   It had to have a centreboard otherwise it would fall flat whenever the tide was out.   NB was shown photographs of the launching of the Radclife’s boat the Capriol.   The full details of the Wivenhoe One-Design can be obtained from Walter Evans.   The original plans are in the clubroom.

We started with 5 One-Design, four or five were made at Manningtree, some in Northern Ireland.   Plans were copied.   This was a club on Lough ?.   The fittings were made of manganese bronze, which was then cheaper than galvanised iron.   Clinker built, with steamed timbers.   About 20 at Wivenhoe, 5 at Manningtree and 5 in Northern Ireland.

Colne Yacht Club:   When the war began I was asked to join the committee.   It was used for a while by naval ratings who came to Brightlingsea.

Dr Squire was succeeded by Dr Skinner.   Dr Squire lived in West Street opposite the chapel.   Dr Dean took over from Dr Skinner.   Dr Dean came before the war.   Dr Dean and I worked together in the wartime.   After the war we paired up officially.   Dr Dean originally had his surgery in Little Wick in the High Street.   The garage at Tenacres was converted into a surgery.

The Wivenhoe One-Design was not my first.   I went to school with one of the Brooks of Lowestoft.   My first effort over here.   Later designed a boat which came third in a competition.  (Letter from THB)

The Colchester Medical Society has got a copy of the Tumner pamphlet.   The secretary is Dr Penfold.


I came to Wivenhoe in April 1932.  Suggest contacting the Marquis of Anglesey for family history.   The name Rebow is generally pronounced with the accent on the first syllable.

The villas in the High Street were being built when I came.   The Avenue was only partly built.   A gap from The Cross almost to Tenacres.   Rosabelle Avenue was built after the war.

Unemployment was pretty ghastly.   The upstream shipyard was doing very badly.   It had been a good shipyard. Downstream, Husk’s was also doing pretty badly.   Upstream they were building steel boats.   Husk was still building yachts.   Not bigger than 10 to 12 tons.

When the war broke out the upstream shipyard was taken over because of its dry dock.   Ships came in, tugs, minesweepers and things like that.   Nothing very big.   Quite a few boats came from Belgium and Holland.   On one occasion a patrol ship came up to Wivenhoe and was repaired in the dry dock.   The skipper a lieutenant-commander, stayed with his wife at the Park Hotel.   In the air raids he used to ride down the High Street on a bicycle and man the guns, which he actually fired.

We made some sections of Mulberry Harbours, it was a big job to get them built in time.   A lot of the workmen were Irish, not keen on the war, they were able to obtain higher wages for working properly.   They were billeted in Wivenhoe.   The local chaps didn’t like them.   A lot of retired people went back to work, some of them were very good craftsmen.

When we first came here there were about three quite large yachts moored at the quay.   Then the Cap Pilar came up for a time.   She was taken down to Brightlingsea when the war started as she would have been a landmark. Before the war two or three steam yachts were moored at the river wall.

Lewis Worsp’s parents were sailmakers.

In 1932 everyone had sailing boats of different sizes so the Sailing Club had to have handicapped races.

The fishing industry was declining, apart from the oyster fishing.   Declining yacht building industry.  Farmers were doing well, they were the mainstay of my professional practice.   There was no doctor north of the by-pass until Ardleigh.   Quite a big area to cover.   The practice included Eastgates.   More work outside Wivenhoe than in it.

There was a cinema in Wivenhoe opposite Tenacres.   In the war time this used to be a place for the troops to meet locals.  This was in the factory.

They went on building boats for a while after the war.   This gradually petered out.   Minesweepers were built in Wivenhoe.   There were launching parties at the beginning of the war.   These gradually stopped because there was not enough money for them.

I was a member of the Home Guard.   When we started we had no guns or anything.   We played around with wooden imitation rifles.   Then we were issued with Boer War rifles.   We met up at the Water Tower.   Charles Gooch was the commanding officer, Mr Loveless was 2IC.   Lewis Worsp was also involved, he ran the signals department.   I was MO.   Silly things happened. We were all asked to go to a farmhouse near Thorpe to meet the General commanding this area.   He never turned up because he had lost his way.   We had to go to various meetings in Colchester.   Half of them were a waste of time.   One morning we had to dig lavatories in fields.

The Wivenhoe Home Guard numbered from between 30 and 40 men.   We drilled.   We went up on the fields, which are now the Heath Road estate, for target practice.   Behind the water tower.   We also went to what is now the University and the Colchester Garrison target practice area.

There were troops of all kinds in Wivenhoe Park.   Czechs came here and the Free French.   Charles Gooch moved to Elmstead Market.   Then one day he realised they would be seen from the air and they camouflaged themselves.

The troops disappeared after the invasion of Normandy.

The Mulberry Harbours were towed down the river.   Nobody had the foggiest idea what they were for.


This page was added on 07/11/2016.

Comments about this page

  • Hi there.
    I came across your page while researching an Irish naval architect named Brian Malone. Malone was commended, alongside Dr Radcliffe, in the Yachting World 1948/49 yacht design competition, from a field of 61 entries from 13 countries, to design a 10-ton shoal draft centreboard cruiser.
    So Malone and Radcliffe would have been outside the top five but inside the top eight entries.
    My source is the July 1949 edition of Yachting World, page 266, ‘Designing Competition’, writers Major Malden Heckstall-Smith and Maurice Griffiths.
    His design with remarks would have been published in the following months.
    Hope that’s of some help to you.

    By Conor Byrne (05/01/2023)

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