These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mrs Maud Prior of 91 Wivenhoe Road Alresford at the instigation of her daughter Mrs P Bokenham of 116 Wivenhoe Road Alresford 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 Mrs Prior
She was born in Wivenhoe in June 1900 and lived in Wivenhoe until she was 25 then her husband came over to Wivenhoe and they had a bungalow built.
What Mrs Prior told Nick Butler
Before WW1 at Ballast Quay there was a sandy beach where Cook’s sheds are. Mothers used to bring their children there. In WW1 it was rumoured there would be some big sheds built there, Mr Sainty, who lived at the Black Buoy, and others tried to stop it. Those sheds were built. We used to play in an old boat that was left there to rot. The wall was built after WW1. It used to be open like a meadow, we used to play on this little sandy beach. The tide used to flow up over the meadow. Before Cook’s office was a green lawn, paddling on the green lawn. It used to make the meadow all hard and cracked, that’s just how this meadow was. A lid opened under the wall and the tide flowed through. I lived in Paget Road. I remember the brewery and the Yachtsman’s Arms. The brewery itself was an old brick building.
During WW1 I used to work there and look after the chap’s service ration cards or leaflets – that is…for the Wivenhoe men on leave. The horses (belonging to the Council where I worked at Little Wick) used to be kept in the back yard. Mr Watsham on the water cart (used by the Council to water the roads). We used to run around in our bare feet, a lever would then spray us and we would get wet and that would send us home. Happy days in Wivenhoe, lovely marshy green.
Beautiful steam yachts. They’d fit out about March then go off round by Cowes and off up to Scotland and the Hebrides and the Mediterranean. That is all I used to hear about when I went to school. Father was on the Britannia and on Tommy Lipton’s ship and with Captain Cockerell on the Vanessa.
I went to the Infants School under Miss Kent, then I went to the Girls School when I was seven.
In WW1 Wivenhoe was a very busy place. The shipyard bell used to go and the men used to go up from all sides. The yachts never came back any more and that was the end of Wivenhoe (ie after WW1 it was the end because they brought the town a great deal of trade). There was the Venetia and the Vanessa, the owner of the Vanessa was Mr Theodore Pim and the owner of the Vanessa was Capt Cockerell. The Gunreda’s Captain was a H R Oakley. The Rosabelle’s Captain was CXaptain Wenlock from Brightlingsea and across the ferry from Wivenhoe there were two lovely yachts, the Lady Blanche and the Rannoch. The hard used to be beautifully clean when Mr Percival had it. When the men were thinking of going on the different yachts the men used to assemble on the Quay, scores of them. They were talking to each other about which yacht they were going on. I used to go fishing off the Quay.
I got on all right with Miss Kent, there was discipline, the children didn’t live in fear (of strange men) as they do now. We were not afraid of anyone, were we? I think they were happy days. After school holidays Mr Hawkins used to open the pits and then we all used to go blackberrying. In my young days it was the pits and we used to love going there. In that centre field it used to come to a point and we used to go and play up there, no-one used to mind.
Mrs Wright at the school didn’t want any nonsense, we all had to sit up with our arms folded behind us…”Fold your arms girls”
Another thing we used to do was take a bucket for sprats. “The boats are coming up, Mummy”. Then there was a crowd of us with 2d and a bucket. The men would fill the buckets with fish straight out of the hold, with their hands Not just sprats, a bend of fish. They were delicious. Much better than the fish today which are not so fresh. There were also two or three little houses on the left next to the place where you (NB) live.
I never found Miss Kent frightening, she used to wear a straw boater and walk with a stick. Both boys and girls used to get the cane. On Empire Day we used to go out in the playground and salute the flag and sing empire songs.
Wivenhoe Station was very busy, booming in the days of the yachts. The yachts were all painted up, it was like a flower meadow. Then of course these big sheds came along and our little beach was spoilt. The river wall was lovely, the chains (of the anchors) used to go over the wall. There was the Chrysalis.
The Sunday School treats were lovely. We used to sit under this tree on the Rectory lawn. Somebody used to take Mrs Carolin from the church in a wicker chair (wheel her because she was an invalid). Some people said that when Mr Carolin used to get to the Park Hotel he used to go in and have a drink (leaving her outside in the chair)
We used to have a procession all round the village. We had our mugs (which we were going to use for the tea) tied in a bandoleer fashion over our shoulders. We went under the tree where Dr Dean lives now. On May Day we used to have big hoops all trimmed up with flowers and the queen was in the centre with the flowers made out of tissue paper and we’d be off what we called May-ladying. We used to go up to the Hall. Prizes were given by Mr Gooch for attendance.
We were not fed at school, we used to take something for our lunch, this was put out of reach on top of a cupboard until lunchtime. Most of us went home for dinner.
There were huge fires in the school and gas lights. 9am to 4.30pm with a break 11 to 11.30am. Mrs Wright would be on the steps with a bell. She was a lovely person, a biggish person who always had a hair done in a certain way. If we attended regularly all the week we’d get a postcard. She was a lovely schoolmistress and so was Miss Kent but she was strict. They would have discipline. When my mother was ill I had to stay away. I thought that was a happy school. Miss Morris used to bang on the locker. Mrs Wright had standards 6 and 7 and she didn’t allow anyone in if they didn’t try hard.
In election time, oh my word. The people on the yachts – some owners were Liberals and some were Tories, had canes with yellow or blue bands on. Gothic House was the Conservative HQ there was a banner with electric lights across from Gothic House to the high wall around the Hall. We did used to have fun. Songs: “Vote boys vote for Mr Newton, Stick old Lever in the mud, Mr Newton is the man, and we’ll elect him if we can, if we only stick old Lever in the mud” In those days it was a real beano.
That slogan “In Theft They Trusted, in Peckham They Busted”, went up during the election.
My father and the crew had their waistcoats covered with blue satin. My father got into a fight in The Pointer at Alresford. In those days it was a hilarity. There seem to have been no fights, physical ones, at election time. (Contrary to what that curious rather spiteful account of life in Wivenhoe by Mrs ? Miss McKibbon) My father went crazy during the election. No fights in Wivenhoe.
When the men came home from yachting in September they were glad to get a job in the shipyard. My father used to come home in September until March came round and then back on a yacht.
During the Regatta which was held in September, I can remember a round bandstand used to be on the Quay and the Wesleyan Band used to play. When the Regatta was held in Wivenhoe there were fireworks on the Fingringhoe side. When the Regatta was held in Rowhedge there were fireworks on the Wivenhoe side. They were lovely. There were stalls with cockles and mussels.
Guy Fawkes night, Mr Ernie King used to have a four wheeled dray with a guy sat on it, I don’t remember a bonfire. Children dressed up with masks.
On Anchor Hill on Saturday night there used to be a man selling crockery, he had two gas flares.
Lord Mayor’s Day..I don’t know what it was about.
Shows at Forester’s Hall, and they used to have dances sometimes, and the Wesleyan Chapel which is now the Methodists.
Mr Wadley was a strict man, in those days there was no nonsense, Mrs Chidwick was very nice, she taught the boys.
My mother was born in 1860. When she was 11 there was an epidemic of small pox and my mother got it. People thought it was the seamen who brought it with them. 79 fever powders and 4 black draughts.
WW1: Soldiers were billeted in the stores on the Quay. The Suffolks. Staffordshires were billeted on the people. Signals camped out on Valley Road. RAMC at Millfield. At the top of Gas Road were a lot of sheds. The yacht stores Army Service Corps were there. Venetia store, Vanessa store. Just past Dean’s Antiques were the main stores.
Patriotic songs: Lest we Forget: God of our Fathers. For this Maypole Dance there was a piano outside, Mrs Wright’s daughter used to play. We really meant it, no-one playing about.
When we went to school we really respected the teachers. You never heard such a thing as answering back. Mrs Wright could use the cane, she was a very serious looking person. You had to be good to get in to Standard 7. I left at 14.
In the backyard was the fire service equipment. Horses were stabled there, I think there were two. We were all happy somehow or other. In East Street there used to be a shop Miss Polly, she’d have dolls, hoops, spinning tops and everything. At the top of West Street there was a man who used to sell fireworks.
Polly Havens came from Donyland Hall, she had no end of cats. We were warned by the school mistress not to go past. She was a very nice lady, well-spoken. They had the RSPCA men down to attend to them.