An Interview with Mr Lewis Worsp

Notes of an interview with Mr Lewis Worsp made by Nicholas Butler in the mid 1980s

These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Lewis Worsp 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

About Mr Worsp

Wivenhoe born and bred.  In 1932 I started and ran North Sea Canners (Great Britain) Ltd it started at the premises which are now Colne Marine.   Primarily we were canning brisling sardines – the Norwegian name for Sprats.

What Mr Worsp told Nick Butler.

Sprats were smoked first, in Oak for about 20 minutes.  Fish were spitted through the eyes with stainless steel spits.   The spits were fitted on to wooden frames, one frame would hold about a hundred sprats.   Two dozen frames originally, when automatic, many more.   This is only one oven, originally six ovens then more when automatic.  Great big fan blew hot smoke and heat.

I started by employing about 20, at the peak about 50, men and women.

Moved in 1938 to Wilkins.

This warehouse was originally built for yacht storage, during WW1 they built bridge building pontoons (wooden boxes that could be joined together to ford rivers so that men and machines could cross).   This is Forrestts. However, the bridge over the Colne was built by the Army at Rowhedge.

In WW2 in the shipyard they built wooden submarines, had a base at Harwich.   Kept these wooden ones out of sight.   Moved them into position when the German planes were in sight.   They were actually bombed by German planes.   The enemy wanted to find out if our subs were at sea.   These wooden submarines were the length of a normal submarine.   They buckled slightly when entering the water.

Wivenhoe Urban District Council started at Little Wick.   I served on it during the last war, I was co-opted.

Valfreyia was in dry dock after the war.   He, Bayard Brown, liked it there and they kept it there.   He used to go to London quite a bit.   He was a fair size. (corpulent)   Yacht lay just below Cooks and just after WW1 entered dry dock.   If you rowed round he’d shout “None to give, none to give” or he’d throw money into the water sometimes. *(More information from John Fieldgate of Brightlingsea High Street)   He left quite a lot of money for different things in Wivenhoe and Brightlingsea.   There was some rumour why he came from the United States and didn’t want to go back, something shady with money.

The smoked sprats used to go on to a machine with a band-knife which sliced the heads off.   The bodies dropped on to a conveyor belt which went to the packing tables.   Girls would put them into tins.   Oil was put in first, either a good vegetable oil or olive oil.   We used to invariably get the Admiralty contract to supply the fleet.   The Navy always had Olive Oil.   Either in a single layer with 8 to 10 fish, or smaller ones, 16 to 20 in two layers, 3 ¾ ounce cans.   Lids were put on by machine, seamed on.  Rubber gasket, an airtight joint.   Hand operated at first, latterly quite automatic.   Cans went into a retorts and were steam heated.   The bacteria were all killed by the heat applied from without.   The “retort” was a rectangular “oven”.   25 cases of 100 at a time, 2,500 tins at a time.   1 hour 20 minutes in a retort, 4lbs pressure per square inch.   Temperature of about 225 degrees Farenheit.   The heat killed the bacteria inside the tine.   Exported all over the world.   Best country, funnily enough, was Fiji, we sent a lot there.   Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia.   Exported more than were sold in this country.   Tins could be either wrapped, or a lable stamped on the top.   You’ve got to have something to press the key down.   Finally lids of cans were painted with pictures of boats.

I had three boats working for me.   I bought catches from other boats.   Three men in each boat.   The boats were engine powered, and the nets were worked by winches.   “We used to can for all we were worth during the canning season”.

Primarily cans from the Metal Box Company.   The season was November and December and a good season might go through until March.   Latterly we would freeze them in a big 100 ton store there so we could do it all year round, which made a lot of difference.   You could employ people regularly.   There were times when we had nothing to do then would peel shrimps, no profit but it gave employment.

Canned Chicken, all the meat of a chicken, raw, then boil the bones and make cream of chicken soup.   The rest of the meat went into the 7 lb cans of chicken meat and were sold to people who wanted to make chicken paste. During the war we started supplying the Army for field hospitals.   Most economical way of giving them chicken, sent out to the Middle East at the time we were fighting Rommel.

We didn’t can anything else of much importance, herrings sometimes, sprats and chickens alternated until we got cold stores.

The fishermen used to produce plaice, roker, and soles which we sold in the fish market.

The sprats simply disappeared from this district, so we employed people during electrical work in the 1960s.

After the war we developed again, put in new plant and so on.   Before the war probably under 50 were employed, after it about 50.   No fish to catch, went in to frozen food and sold the building out to Ross.   They soon called themselves Eastern Frozen Foods.   They didn’t stay long.   Then Wilkins of Tiptree bought the premises, still own it, use it for storage, nobody employed there, cold storage for frozen fruit and large cans of tomato puree.

I was in the Home Guard, I was a warden, not much rest in those days (WW2)  Wardens used to turn out if a siren went, if they were wanted.   We used to have groups, our base was under the pottery was an air raid shelter.

A stick of 4 bombs fell on the playing fields.   Incendiary things.  Often used to see German planes by day and night.  I used to buy the branches of Oak trees for smoking, one day I went up and a German plane passed low enough for me to see the rear gunner’s face.   The next time Endean’s father, who was in the Home Guard, took his rifle up in order to shoot at a plane, if one appeared.

After 1942, there were not so many planes and mostly at night.   In the summer of 1942 could stand on the Quay and see dog fights.   A plane came down on Vine Farm, on fire, made a tremendous noise.

Sailing Club owned the No. 1 Wivenhoe One Design.   Wivenhoe Sailing Club was reformed soon after the war and they had a handicap class.   This was not very satisfactory, they got fed up so Peter Pawsey and I decided to start a new One Design class.   We got somebody at Leigh-on-Sea.   Mentioned this to him.   Designed a design for six boats, showed it to Walter Radcliffe, a poor design, we can do better than this so he designed it.   Six boats were built initially.   We put the numbers 1 to 6 into a hat.   I drew No. 1.

  1. Lewis Worsp 2. Walter Radcliffe 3. Hector Barr
  1. Leslie Berry Old Heath Laundry 5. Arthur Turner – sailor 6. Billy Cracknell – baker

A lot of the Wivenhoe One Design were or are being rebuilt.   50 years old a year ago (1987)   We raced here and at the Colne Yacht Club.

There was a club before WW1 reformed after the war but when we got the One Design sailing became much more popular. (Malcolm Goodwin has got all this at his fingertips, builds boats behind the dental mechanics, he’s quite busy.   Makes to special order Class boats – Hornets.)

There are special Wivenhoe One Design races in the regatta, many more than 8 Wivenhoe One Designs here.

A yacht of my own Maid of Wyven (no r) 17 tons Sloop. Spent 3 ½ years building her.   Launched in 1950 Shipwrights lent a hand.   A cutter when I built her.

Cox & King.   Had some of the sheds taken over by Cooks.   Handled yachts, laid-up yachts and stored them, don’t think they did a lot of building.   Husk’s upstream of the brook.   Cox & King downstream.

Sand and Gravel, started up well before WW2, Walter Wix has information.

Dan Chapman may have that journal.

Bobbitts Hole – a valley which went down to the brook.

The Bartlett family. Their oyster layings were at West Mersea, would go down in their smack, live aboard and come back on Friday.   Layings were marked by withies that were grown at Bobbitts Hole.

My grandparents lived at East Mersea Hall, a farm next to the Church.   One of the Harvey’s had a farm, married a Croyden and one of their offspring was Sir John Martin Harvey.

The sister of my wife (Thelma) lived at Quay House and Michael Martin-Harvey wanted to look over the house one day.

Hector Barr: Sailmaker, finished up and sold the premises to The Nottage, there were originally 3 or 4 houses there, Hector Barr pulled the houses down and rebuilt it.   Employed about one person plus his wife, if that. Made a lot of sails.   Made sails for the Wivenhoe One Design.   Wife still makes sails.   Mrs Barr lives in The Avenue.

Entering Wivenhoe was ‘front’ road and ‘back’ road.   The ‘front’ road is The Avenue and the ‘back’ road is Belle Vue Road.

The ropewalk at Ropery House, sheds ran along The Avenue from the house towards the Colne


This page was added on 09/11/2016.

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