About The Shipwrights (1848 -1953)

One of the earliest beerhouses in Wivenhoe

Michael Smither

Last known and only colour photo of The Shipwrights showing some of the structural issues that would lead to its demolition in 1968.
Photo: The Don Smith Collection
Probably the earliest interior photo of a Wivenhoe beerhouse. The gentlemen on the right is James Gunn Pascoe (1876-1961) who was watchman at the shipyard, having previously been a ship’s cook, he lived at the top of Queens Road.
Photo: Wivenhoe Memories Collection
Damage caused by a lightning strike, summer 1913, a lady mangling in the attic of The Shipwrights had a miraculous escape.
Photo: Wivenhoe Memories Collection
George is the one standing with the cheese cutter hat and watch chain. The photo was taken outside The Shipwright Arms in 1922 to celebrate winning the Smack race which were fast fishing boats under sail. The wording above the door states: “George Hillyard licensed to sell beer and tobacco”. The man on the far left is Johnny Turner
Photo: Wivenhoe Memories Collection
Standing outside The Shipwrights
Photo: Wivenhoe Memories Collection
CK21 Maria, after restoration in 2007, and once owned by George Hillyard
Picture from: https://classicsailingclub.com/html/Maria2.html

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The Shipwrights was one of the earliest of Wivenhoe’s beerhouses and the first to be purpose built.  Situated on the corner of Bath Street and West Street its fortunes would closely follow that of the adjoining shipyard. Beer sales fell dramatically following WWII, and time was finally called in 1953.  The building had survived the shipyard fire, the earthquake and a lightning strike and was used for offices for the shipyard after the beerhouse closed but by then was somewhat run down and was finally demolished in 1968.

The Building

The Shipwrights was situated on the corner of Bath Street and West Street immediately adjacent to the shipyard.  The Shipwrights is one of the earliest of the Wivenhoe beerhouses, only The Beehive and The Lion are thought to be earlier.  It is first recorded on the 1851 census1 although is believed to have opened a few years earlier, probably in 1848.

The building follows an almost cliched Victorian format of a street corner location with the door set at 45 degrees to each adjoining street.  When the artist and former Wivenhoe resident, Alan Taylor published an outline sketch of the building on Facebook in 2020 it was mistaken for virtually every other Victorian pub or beerhouse in Wivenhoe.  Although the Victorian pubs and beerhouses were remarkably similar in design they did vary in size and The Shipwrights appears to fall in the middle ground, larger than the likes of The Sailors Return and The Live and Let Live it was also smaller than the three Railway Hotels, it was probably closest in size to The Brewery Tavern on the corner of Paget Road and Brook Street.

James Jenkins and the Tollesbury Murder

Three beerhouses are listed in the 1848 Whites Directory but unfortunately only the landlords are named: Joseph Dowsett, John Harlow and John Summers.  Joseph Dowsett is known to have been the landlord of The Beehive and this is almost certainly the first reference to it.  The other two are thought to be landlords of The Lion and The Shipwrights but it is not entirely clear which is which. The first certain reference to The Shipwrights comes three years later on the 1851 census when James Jenkins is shown as a 38 year old mariner and his wife Ann as a 36 year old beerhouse keeper. Once again this emphasises the fact that it was usually the wife who would be doing the bar work.  This working arrangement was almost universal amongst the beerhouses but also common in the pubs, very few landlords had publican as their primary occupation.

The following year The Shipwrights was to feature in the Tollesbury murder trial2.

“ Mrs Cobb was brutally murdered in her bed, whilst her young daughter slept in a cot nearby, her husband had just left for work.  Suspicion quickly focussed on one Harrington, who it turned out had been drinking in Wivenhoe on the day of the murder.  Both James Jenkins and Mary Ann Wenlock, a servant at The Ship at Launch were called as witnesses3.

James Jenkin’s beer-shop keeper, at Wivenhoe, proved that the prisoner came to his house alone on the morning of the 25th November between 11 and 12 o’clock, and paid for a pint of beer with a crown.

Cross-examined, I had never seen the prisoner before and did not see him again till the inquest, when he was in custody.

Mary Ann Wenlock, servant at the Ship at Launch, Wivenhoe, said that Jenkins’s beerhouse was only a few steps from her house; on 25th of Nov. the prisoner came in the tap room of the former house, and she took from the prisoner a half crown in payment for two pints of beer.

Cross-examined. Mr. Barton said the witness Emery came in the tap room and they appeared to be drinking together.

William Elijah Wallford, shoemaker, of Wivenhoe, examined.  I was at the Ship at Launch, Wivenhoe on the afternoon of the 25th of Nov., last, and saw the prisoner there; his father and Emery were with him between two and three o’clock, and shortly after that he was alone with me, when he drew up close by me and told me he did not like working on the land for 16d a day.”

The case against Harrington was largely circumstantial and he was eventually acquitted, but the residents of Tollesbury, convinced of his guilt paraded effigies through the streets.  Harrington was unable to return in fear of his life and ended up sleeping rough, his eventual fate is unknown.

James Walter Jenkins died in 1852 and was buried in in St. Mary’s churchyard on 12 October 1852.  The churchyard by this time was nearing capacity and would close for burials six years later, when the cemetery opened.  James left a will in which he is described as living at the beerhouse adjoining the shipyard.  Ann was a widow at just 39, remarrying the following year. Her second husband was Berkley Harvey Sainty who had also been widowed the previous year, his first wife was only 36 at the time. Berkley was left to raise four children whose ages ranged from 1 to 7.  The newly-weds were married in Rotherhithe with Berkley giving his occupation as shipwright, William and Elizabeth Selina Ham were witnesses.

Arthur Sainty

The next landlord of The Shipwrights was Arthur Sainty, Ann’s brother-in-law, by this time Berkley and Ann Sainty had taken over at The Greyhound.  Arthur is recorded as the landlord of The Shipwrights on the 1861 census4 and again listed in the Post Office Directory of 1862 and Whites Directory the following year, after which very little is known of him.  Arthur made a couple of applications for a full licence but was refused on both occasions5 . The Live and Let Live made similar applications but was also refused.  The local public houses tended to oppose such applications for obvious reasons and it may be that their landlords had more influence.  The only Wivenhoe beerhouse to make the successful transition to public house was The Brewery Tavern in 1960, but by then licensing law had changed and beerhouses were almost obsolete.

Joseph Harvey and the Shipyard Fire

The next landlord of The Shipwrights was Joseph Harvey who was the youngest son of Thomas Harvey and Elizabeth Martin and uncle of the actor manager Sir John Martin Harvey.  Thomas himself was a prominent shipbuilder and land owner as well as being the landlord of The Black Boy.  Joseph is known to have run The Shipwrights from 1867 to 1881 although he is only occasionally mentioned in the trade directories of the time.

Joseph married Sarah Ann Powell in 1858 in Shoreditch6, when Joseph gives his occupation as ship builder.  Sarah and Joseph were the first to raise the alarm on the night of the shipyard fire, Thursday 22 August 18727.

“A few minutes before 12, Mrs. Joseph Harvey, who resides at the beerhouse at the opposite corner of the entrance to the yard, saw that a fire had broken out in the loft in question. Her husband not being at home she at once ran to the house of the foreman Burr, residing near the Church claimed his assistance. Meanwhile the flames had been seen by Mr. Joseph Harvey himself, who was walking on the quay with Police Sergt. Hewitt. They with others, ran to the spot, and it was seen at once that a great conflagration was at hand.”

The fire virtually destroyed the shipyard and many of the adjoining houses that ran along the west side of Bath Street.  Householders made desperate attempts to rescue belongings, the scene at the Oakley household must have been particularly tragic as they rescued the coffin of their recently departed daughter who was due to be buried the following day.

The Shipwrights itself was in danger of being engulfed in flames and was evacuated, in true Wivenhoe style, the local residents rose to the occasion, proving only too willing to help:

“Amongst the men rendering assistance were, as usual, some “loafers,” who, whilst getting the barrels of beer and porter from the cellar, broke in the head of one cask, and gave rise to some drunkenness.”

You can read more about the shipyard fire here.

Ann Blyth around 1886

The next landlady was Ann Wilhelmina Blyth, Ann’s maiden name was Pond, she married Joseph Nunn Blyth on 22 May 1848 at St. Paul Shadwell8.  Joseph had previously been landlord of The Ship at Launch at the other end of Bath Street.  Mrs Blyth is only recorded as a beerhouse keeper in the Kellys directory of 1886, on 1 January 1887 Mrs Blyth became Mrs Mills. Wilhelmina is listed as a publican on the 1891 census9, the same census lists Alfred E Doubleday as her nephew, single aged 27, who was then working as a joiner and fitter

Alfred Doubleday from 1894

Alfred Edward Doubleday was born in 1869 at Colsterworth, Lincolnshire and married Caroline Hooks in 189310, they had four children but lost their first child in infancy shortly after taking on The Shipwrights. Alfred is recorded as the landlord of The Shipwrights from 1894 until the 1901 census11.  After leaving the pub trade Alfred reverted to his former occupation as a builder and joiner, he died at Elmvale on Belle Vue Road in 194812, Caroline passed away five years later.

George Hillyard in 1902

The next landlord of The Shipwrights was George Joseph Hillyard who would prove to be the longest serving of all the landlords of The Shipwrights and one of the longest serving of all Wivenhoe publicans.  George was born in Rowhedge on 10 September 1875 and started work at the Rowhedge shipyard at the age of twelve.  At the age of 19 he joined the crew of the American registered yacht the Margarita in Scotland and regularly sailed to America and the Mediterranean. He was on board her in 1898 when she had to run the gauntlet of the Spanish Navy at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.

George married a Wivenhoe a girl, Sarah Margaret Goodwin at St. Mary’s on 15 May 190113 and took over at The Shipwrights the following year, the couple had one daughter, Margaret Rosina (known as Rosie), born in 1904. As a beerhouse The Shipwrights was only licensed to sell beer and tobacco, both were cheap.  Upon his retirement Gorge reminisced that when he stated as a publican a man could have four pints of beer, some tobacco and still have change from sixpence.

Lightning strike in 1913

In the summer of 1913 the ninety foot chimney at Forrestt’s shipyard was struck by lightning, virtually splitting it in two and sending much of the brickwork crashing through the roof of The Shipwright’s.  Rosie, George Hillyard’s daughter, was interviewed by Nick Butler in the 1980s and leaves us this account:

“When the lightning struck the chimney in the shipyard, a blacksmith’s chimney which smoked a good deal, Mr King a butcher, was in the Bar (his shop was opposite the Old Congregational Church in West Street)   Mr Cracknell the baker, was also in the bar.   The lightning struck a knife out of Mr King’s hand, it was never seen again.   My father, who was at the beer pumps, was knocked right over to the tills.   Mr Cracknell lost half his moustache.   The chimney stack crashed through the roof.   Slates flew off the roof as far afield as Station Road. My aunt, Mrs Gertie Short, was in the attic mangling, she jumped down two flights of stairs in two jumps.   It was June, it was the chimney stack that was struck.

If they cycled workmen used to call in early at The Shipwrights Arms early in the morning for tea and coffee, no alcohol, a lot came from Alresford and Elmstead.

Dad used to sell fish in our backyard.   A ‘bend’ of plaice, etc which was a string laced through the fish’s eyes, customers would buy mixed fish.

We had 8 soldiers billeted on us during WW1 at any one time some from the Staffordshires.”

George owned two smacks, CK6 Daisy from 1905 and CK21 Maria from 1915, Maria survives to this day.  George was a regular competitor in the Wivenhoe and Rowhedge Regattas and is pictured with the Smack Race Cup winning crew outside The Shipwrights in 1922.

George ran the pub continuously for 25 years but Sarah died in 1927 aged just 4714.  It was at this point that George relinquished the licence of The Shipwrights and became a shipwright himself15.

Landlords Robinson and Edwards

George Robinson then took over on 2 July 1927 and ran The Shipwrights until 8 Aug 1931 when he handed over to William John Edwards.  William John Edwards was ex-police, the licensing authorities had a clear and understandable bias towards ex-servicemen, but William John Edwards is believed to be the only Wivenhoe publican who was also a former police officer.

George Hillyard back, from 1937 for a total of 44 years

After a ten-year break, George Hillyard returned to The Shipwrights formally taking the licence on 25 September 1937.  In 1940 George re-married, his second wife was Marjorie Margaret Mawdsley (nee Cudmore) the fate of her first husband, Sydney Mawdsley is uncertain, Marjorie was the forewoman of North Sea Canners and is shown living at The Shipwrights with her son on the 1939 Register.

Forrestts shipyard had been in decline for many years but wartime demands created a boost, the yard turned out mine-sweepers as well as sections of the Mulberry Harbour used on D-Day. The Shipwright’s is one of the few for which we have an interior photo from this time and shows two customers standing at the bar smiling for the camera, the gentleman on the right has been identified as James Gunn Pascoe, the watchman of the shipyard.  After the war the shipyard went into rapid decline and this decline is clearly shown in the sales of The Shipwright’s.  Sales had reached a high point of 90 1/8 barrels and 29 bottled barrels in 1945 but had fallen to a low of 10 3/8 barrels and 10 bottled barrels by 195316.  Marjorie died at The Shipwright’s on 21 January 1953 and George was a widower once more, this probably had a major bearing on his decision to retire.  George Hillyard finally called time on Thursday 19 March 1953 and retired to live with his daughter Rosie Marshall on Paget Road, he died at Westwood Park old peoples home, Little Horksley on 8 January 1967 and was buried in the new cemetery.

The Last Beerhouse to close and demolished in 1968

The Shipwrights was the last beerhouse to close in Wivenhoe, The Brewery Tavern outlived it but would gain a wine and then full licence in the early sixties. The building continued in use as offices for the shipyard for some time but became increasingly derelict and was finally demolished in 1968.  The Shipwrights is one of four pubs or beerhouses in Wivenhoe to have been demolished and in common with The Ship at Launch at the other end of Bath Street and The Sailors Return, is now open space, only The Brewery Tavern was redeveloped. The modern-day road named The Shipwrights lies slightly to the west of where the actual pub once stood.

Links to other pages on this website:


  1. PRO Ref HO 107/1782/28/18
  2. The Tollesbury Murder: Anatomy of a Victorian Crime, Shaun Villiers Everett
  3. Essex Standard, Friday 5 Dec 1851, p.3 cols b-e
  4. PRO Ref RG/9 1101/37/17
  5. Essex Standard Wednesday 10 Sep 1856, p.3 col. a
  6. Parish Register: 8 Jul 1858, St Leonard Shoreditch
  7. Nick Butler, The story of Wivenhoe p.108
  8. Parish Register: 22 May 1848, St Paul, Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
  9. PRO Ref RG12 1413/30/11
  10. Parish Register: 19 Jun 1893, Upton Park, St. Stephen, Essex
  11. PRO Ref RG13 1712/34/17
  12. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1948, p. 763. Effects £1445 1s. 4.
  13. Wivenhoe, St. Mary the Virgin, parish register, 15 May 1901.
  14. Wivenhoe Cemetery Burial Register, 5 Feb 1927
  15. Newspaper cutting 26 Mar 1953
  16. ERO Sales ledgers Ref

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This page was added on 14/09/2020.

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