These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed John Fieldgate 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 by Frances Belsham.
About John Fieldgate
Lived at Flagstaff Cottage, High St., Brightlingsea.
What John Fieldgate told Nick Butler
The “sump” was where the yachts were.
Cap Pilar: Built at St Malo for the Newfoundland cod trade. Salt out to Newfoundland and salted cod back, to the Mediterranean. Built before WW1, about turn of the century. When they came to break her up it was such a super-human job – they poured concrete over her. Made from Oak solid Oak floors and the lower part of the frames and her keel and the garboard planking and poured concrete over that. Rock salt for ballast.
Valfreyia: 750 tons steam-yacht. My father was master of her. Bayard Brown. Gave recreation ground, there is an account of the opening in the parish magazine just before WW1 an account of bringing Bayard Brown ashore and marching up to the ground. The yacht was first called Lady Tor Freda, it was built in Glasgow in 1888.
During WW1 Valfreyia is taken to the sump. . After WW1 it was put in Wivenhoe’s dry dock, the rent was £5 a day but Sundays were free.
Stewards name was Seeley(?), Munson was another member
Peter Sainty of Vaughn and Blyth: Lives in Arlesford.
Aldous and Stone and James kept going in the slump. When Bayard Brown died the stars and stripes were flown at half mast, his body was embalmed and went back to the States. No local bequest to Brightlingsea. He used to sleep during the day and work at night. He was in real estate in New York. His desk in his day cabin was covered in papers, but he knew exactly where to go to get any paper. He used to go up to London from time to time to see solicitors and my grandfather used to go with him.
Once a year we used to put a certain amount of water in the dry dock at Wivenhoe; the water went up to the boss of the propellers, the engines were started. My father took over from my grandfather as ship’s husband, went aboard twice a week. The crew did virtually nothing, used to dig their gardens. When she was on the river used to steam up quite a bit, but not all the time. His full crew was 35 members at Brightlingsea, at Wivenhoe the crew was cut down.
On one occasion my grandfather turned round and Brown was behind him with a poker ready to strike him down. People would row alongside, he would say “Yes, I’ll give you £5” and he would take the sovereigns out of his pocket and throw them in the river. He gave the tubular bells for Brightlingsea Church. There is a Bayard Avenue in Brightlingsea. He went ashore very infrequently, only when he went to London. Sometimes he gave people money and sometimes not. I am pretty certain the Valfreyia sailed to the Mediterranean with Bayard Brown on board. The relationship between a master and a skipper was very personal.
Rosabelle was 500 tons – Captain Wenlock was the master.
It is frequently said that the men who came from this place, or that place, are better or smarter than others but this is entirely a mistake. Good Cowes men are as good as good Southampton men; good Colne men are as good as either; and as there is no difference in the degrees of worth of the men, so is there no difference in the degrees of their badness. At Cowes, or Southampton, if a man is shipped who has never been on a yacht before, the probability is that he will be no seaman at all – a sort of half waterman and half labourer. If such a one is shipped in the Colne, the probability is that he will know a great deal about seamanship as represented by a smacksman, but he will be a rough hand, and if he is to work upon rigging or in any way assist in fitting out, his work will be rough; his manner will probably be rough also; he will handle things roughly and may possibly show a perpetual desire to smoke, and will expectorate on the deck, and show a partiality for the after part of the vessel. This man will never much improve on his habits, but he will be good at hauling, good at belaying, good at roofing, and good and trustworthy in bad weather.
The Colne started (to become noted for good seamen who could sail the big yachts) before Southampton or Cowes. The Clyde came up at the same time as the Colne.