These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mr E Barnes 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 his original notes.
About Mr E. G BARNES
He lived at Seaview, St John’s Road. He was born in Wivenhoe, in The Folly.
What Mr Barnes told Nick Butler:
My grandmother, Mrs Carter, used to keep a sweet shop on the corner. The houses extending down to the water were pulled down just before the War. Houses in Gas Road were also pulled down before the War. Apple orchards were where the council estate is now. The orchard displaced by corn during the War. Mr Loveless used to farm that. There was nothing down here at all ie, at Cook’s before 1940. It was blown up ie, a large firm suddenly appeared. This was all common land when I was a boy. Husk’s finished this side of the brook. His sail loft has been pulled down. His sawmill was at the end of this road, the open space on the corner. Cox and King were where Cook’s car park is. Where Cook’s office was a builder’s yard owned by Goodwin.
Vosper’s put up all these sheds. Hutton’s from Birch put up all the sheds ie actually built them. Vosper’s employed about 100 men and women. They did mostly new work, not repairs.
I can remember when the unemployment house used to be in Alma Street. I have seen people queueing up. As many as 400. From Alresford, Fingringhoe and Elmstead. As many as 400. The queue went down Alma Street to the Grosvenor. One or twice a week. There was more friendliness to each other than what there is now. They’d give you a card and if you didn’t take the job they’d stop your dole. You started off with the dole and after a certain length of time, (which I think I heard was 13 weeks) that dropped off. It was much less. A man named Brooks used to be in charge of it. It was where Bill Woodward used to live. A large hall inside.
Gasometers taken down around about 20 years ago. Nationalised in 1949. They put a pipe under the river. It got hit, obviously they didn’t get it deep enough. So then they brought the main in from the main road. After we got on North Sea Gas we didn’t need the holders. Cook’s office has been up about 28 years. 25-30 years. Holders went.
Three gasometers. The front, smaller one was used for gas engines. To run the gas works itself. I started work there when I left school. I left at 14. We used to be known as upstreeters and downstreeteers. Keen rivalry.
The gas works employed the boss, one stoker and myself and then wee used to hire and fire as required, almost on a daily basis. A day’s work three days, three weeks sometimes. We used to do everything. You used to maintain the plant. Outside work. The fires had to be kept going.
How was the gas made? In short you baked coal. You had a big furnace underneath and ovens. Stuff the coal into the ovens. That baked the coal and when you pulled it out it was coke. That went up the pipes, ie, the gas. It went through certain purifying processes. As the gas cooled so tar was formed. The gas was a dirty yellow. Then it was purified and became invisible. About 99% of Wivenhoe was on this system. The gas holders floated on water, so the holders used to go up. The only problem was when we used to get flooded out by the tide and we had problems. It used to put the fires out. The fires were called retorts. Ovens were called retorts. If you had to reline a furnace it took three or four days before it cooled down. We sold the coke and tar. Kent Blaxill used to come and get tar and then local fishermen used to line the bottoms of their boats. If we had more that we could use locally a tanker would come and take it away. Corrugated iron fencing all coated with tar. That was as good a waterproofing as you could get. When I was a boy, people used to line chicken fences and all sorts.
All the goodness hadn’t been taken out of the coal at the temperatures we used to use. Much better coke (than the usual stuff).
The coal used to come by rail and Joliffe’s delivered it with horse and tumbril. No colliers came up the river.
There was a reason for the gasworks being so low. You needed it for the pressure. The gas is lighter than air. They hadn’t got pumps to regularise it. They had to rely on the natural pressure. They relied on gravity.
In 1949 Wivenhoe stopped making its own gas. In, it might have been 1948, there was talk of having a new plant. The new gas came under the river. I have laid pipes. You used to do everything at that time of day. The gasholders were on the East side of as Road and the Works on the other.
People used to think that the gas cured Asthma. At the purifying plant we used to have stuff called ‘peat’. They brought the children there and they stood there. These purifying boxes contained a peat earth from Norway I think is where it used to come from. When it was taken out it was very pungent. Assumed to be good for Asthma. It used to make your clothes smell.
The River, Fishing Boats, Yachts and Flooding
There were about six fishing boats between the wars. When I was a boy they used to empty the sprats on the Quay. They (the farmers) used to come down with the wagons and tumbrils and cart them away. Before Worsp, there was Hillyard and Edgar. Hector Barr was where The Granary is now. Then he moved to The Nottage. They used to build boats in The Storehouse. Sailing boats.
Husk’s used to turn out quite a number of pleasure boats.
In 1929 we had a big flood and the height of the water in The Folley was fantastic. Flooding was recognised as a natural hazard.
I can remember about four or five yachts. The Rosabelle was one.
There used to be a baker’s shop in The Folley and another one in East Street. Four bakers at that time of day. Large grocer’s shop in West Street when I was a boy. The Black Boy car park was Sun Yard.