These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mr John Leather in the mid 1980s as part of the 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.
Responses by Mr Leather to Nick Butlers questions.
- What are the earliest charts available of the Colne Estuary? Where can I get copies of maps and charts throughout the period covered by my book?
A: The coast has not changed much since Roman times. You can get charts from the Royal Institute of Navigation, at the Royal Geographical Society. (But the National Maritime Museum thinks that the British Library would be better).
Q: What are the earliest references to boat building at Wivenhoe?
A: Wyatt see “The Northseamen”
Q: What about the Nonsuch?
A: She was built as a government vessel. Bought by the Hudson Bay Company.
Q: What do we know about the Armada and Wivenhoe? Why was Sir Roger Townsend knighted?
A: Hakluyt? National Maritime Museum?
The following man-of-war were built at Wivenhoe:-
St Fagans (5th rate) 1654 Wivenhoe (6th rate) 1665
Inspector (sloop) 1782 Comet (fireship) 1783
Pearl (sloop) 1828
They were probably built in Wivenhoe Shipyard because it was a fair length. More water upstream than downstream therefore ships probably built above the town rather than below.
*5th rate, 6th rate, etc depended on the size of the ship and its gun powder. After 1740s depended more on guns.
Q: What do you know of Wyatt and Moses Game? What books should I consult?
A: The Northseamen
Q: What draught boats could and can get up to the Hythe?
A: Variable. Until about 1960 average draught was about 13 feet when loaded. Since then the depth of the bed has been increased by dredging and by driving ships up the river. Their screws dislodge the bed of the river. Still not very large ships get up to the Hythe.
Q: What do you know of the Martin family?
A: My branch of the family in Wivenhoe and Rowhedge. Most of them seafarers. Other Martins owned revenue cutters and leased them to the government. Family generally concerned with revenue work and salvaging.
Q: Where do I go for information about Philip Sainty?
A: The Northseamen. More to be discovered, particularly about his smuggling and personal affairs. Perhaps Essex Records Office. See also The Field.
Q: Where do I go for information on the Harveys, father and son?
A: Newspapers. Martin Harvey’s autobiography.
Q: Are there plans available of the yachts built by the Harveys?
A: No. They were destroyed by fire.
Q: Given that Wivenhoe was one of the yacht-building centres, was it the largest and which were the others?
A: No. Southampton was the largest. Wivenhoe built her largest yachts in the 1860s and 1870s. Then it died. The largest of all were built on the South Coast and the Clyde.
Q: Where would one look for plans of the wooden minesweepers?
A: Deposited with the Rowhedge Ironworks, probably mainly at the University of Essex.
Q: And for the mulberry harbours that were built at Wivenhoe?
Built by a contracting company. One of the large civil contractors. Albert Cork. Retired naval architect. Sent over to superintend the construction of some of those mulberries. Perhaps the Imperial War Museum might have plans. They were built all over the country. We only built the ramp ends. One still in use at Southampton, in B berth, for Isle of Wight Red Funnel ?? pier, Southampton.
Q: Largest tonnage of the big yachts?
A: Steam? Circa 2,000 tons. Valhalla 1680-200 feet in length. May have been built at Leith. Largest racer built on the Clyde: Valkyrie III. 137 feet. Drew 20 feet. 14,000 square feet of sail.
Harvey designed racing yachts of moderate or of fairly great tonnage. Circa 90 feet in length.
The Field. Founded circa 1830. Extensive place to browse in, there are headings and sub-headings. Start at 1860 and go on to 1882.