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The following are extracts from the book 'Stories of the Colne' by L.W.Southern published 1949

A Maritime History of Brightlingsea

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Yachting and fishing, two industries that have brought fame, and wide

World renown and a certain amount of good fortune, to our town of Brightlingsea are in danger of becoming extinct.

So the men who have helped to win that fame, men who have faced the rigors of the North Sea and the English Channel; men who have shared equally in the glory of success and achievement, and witnessed sordidness, tragedy and courage in shipwreck and drowning.

Many of them men have passed on, and there is little in cold print to recall their history’.

There are still, however, a few of these fine old worthies left, with fragrant and fresh memories, memories that in some cases have beaten the human frame, and from them we aft glad to hear the stories told, not in boasting, but in true nautical manner and speech, often with twinkling eye, and no little humour, and with the freshness of the sea itself, and to record them so that the stories known to a few, may possibly be shared, and interest many.

So I have endeavoured in not too statistical a manner, for statistics aft apt to be dry and unpalatable, but rather historically to bring between covers, some of the more interesting adventures and achievements, some catastrophes, of the past sixty years or so, that will help to show future generations a little of how their forefathers lived.

I do not present it as a complete record of the maritime interests of the town, nor have I ventured to deal individually with many old worthies who perhaps could add many chapters. But to individualise when there are so many is dangerous, and I apologise to any who would have liked to add their experiences.



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Perhaps there are many tales are told of the valour and fortitude of a former vicar of the parish, the late Canon Pertwee, who was a vicar of brightly and see for many years, an edition to be forming many acts of valour himself took any interest in the recording of the brave deeds of others. It is said that on the very wildest of nights he walked the one-and-a-half miles to the Old Parish Church, and climbed the steps up to the Belfry tower, remained whilst the storm lasted, showing a lighted a lantern against the iron barred windows, that could be seen by Mariners out at sea, and provided a welcome Beacon by which they could make their way into the safe harbour of the Colne.

Many a time when the vicar accompanied crews in the roughest of weather, or to stranded and wrecks of vessels, and on one occasion when they had stayed a little to long, there was a difficulty in getting off, through the breakers curling up on the edge of the sand, and every effort had to be made to get clear, the vicar took a spare oar, and after divesting himself of his borrowed pilot cloth jacket, pulled like "one to the manner born". It is recalled too, that when one of the deep Sea vessels came in with her flying at half mast, and it turned out that some of the crew were down with smallpox, the vicar at the thought of any help he could best fulfil his duties. The vessel was anchored in the road, and for the first night the authorities could find no one willing to go on board to nurse the patients. The vicar knew of there sorry plight and urgent needs, and after the doctor had visited the infected boat, he put off in a rough suit of oilskins, alone in his canoe and nursed the sufferers carefully throughout the night. plaques.gif (2158479 bytes)Perhaps one of the most memorable acts for which he will always be remembered was the effort he made which resulted in the place in a round the walls of the parish Church so smaller tablets as memorials to the brightening seen men who lost their lives at sea. They give the names, dates, and short account so of the disaster, storm of collision, as the nature of the cash that he happened to be, and at the present to land there are several hundred of these unhappy reminders of the dangers that beset our men in the fulfilment of their duties, and in the nature of the call in. Brightlingsea has been favoured by visits from a number of royal seat in connection with its yachting interests, including his Royal Highness the late King Edward the VII and his son, the Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness Duc de Abruzzi, Italian prince, otherwise known as Prince Louis of Savoy, a nephew of the King of Italy, also paid a visit to the Colne. It was the Duke Alexander of Russia, cousin of the Czar of Russia, who came to the Colne to purchase the ‘Lady Tor Freda’ from Mr. Bayard Brown, and more recently of course,mary.gif (76349 bytes) the visit of her Royal Highness Queen Mary to the Hard, and her interest in the stall of Brightlingsea and natives is still remembered. On this memorable occasion the Queen took away with her a fine lobster presented by a local Mariner.


The Cinque Ports

Although much of the traditional ceremony carried out at Brightlingsea in connection with the famous Cinque Ports, of which the port is proud of it be known as a non-corporate member of Sandwich, concerns itself with the town, and is managed by officials of civic rather than maritime experience, the Cinque Ports themselves are closely associated with interests of the sea, and the original five mother port’s of Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, Romney and Hythe, were all well-known seaports of the Kent and Sussex coasts.
Of the many traditions in which our country is so rich it, and is so proud to maintain, those of the Cinque Ports, and there vital services to the nation, are probably among the least known and very little referred to. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that so little has been written about them, and records of their origin, and history are vague, and very scanty. But although the dignity of the Cinque Ports is now little more than decorative, it is the inheritance of a great past. Very few, for instance realise that for centuries, ships who passed any ship belonging to the Cinque Ports were required by law to dip their top sales in recognition of the guardianship of the nation’s safety and honour upon the sea, for which the Cinque Ports were responsible.

It is probable that the five original ports’ came into being well over a 1000 years ago. It is known that when that the Saxons came to this country after the Romans had left, they had to make provisions against possible attack upon their shores, for even as today, no shore was more vulnerable than the shores of Kent, and Sussex, in all probability this protection of their coast came to be recognised as a protection to the country itself, and as such was rewarded by a Royal acknowledgement. It is possible therefore that the protection of the shores by the Saxons was the forerunner of the Cinque Ports themselves.
Years later, a large group of less important coastal villages came to be greatly attached to the main ports, these were known as "Limbs", and the reason for the association was the increasing demand of the Crown upon the ports as the duties of the sea surface became more urgent, and more exacting. These "Limbs" were endowed with practically all the privileges of their Head Ports, and were known as Corporate members, governed by a deputy from the mother port, and occasionally they had corporations of their own and we are entitled to claim the title of Baron for their Burgesses. Then there was another class added, known as non-corporate Limbs, who too, were governed by a deputy appointed by the Head Port. All these Limbs seemed to have been attached as the need arose for further contributions of ships and men, and the national emergencies became more difficult.
Brightlingsea was one of these Non-corporate Limbs, being made a Limb of the Head Port of Sandwich, and had distinction of being the only member outside the counties of Kent and Sussex. How Brightlingsea secured her alliance with Sandwich is not known, but it is suggested that Brightlingsea oysters were a big attraction to the men of Sandwich. It may also be a reward for the service either in ships or men, or both, at times of national emergency, as records suggest they did, from time to time

bateman.gif (22850 bytes)The same traditions that apply to the parent Port of Sandwich are observed in the main by Brightlingsea, and perhaps one of the more interesting, and more important, is the election each year of a Deputy to the Mayor of Sandwich, known as "The Deputy", the election itself be known as "Choosing Day". This traditional ceremony can be traced back to the year 1559 remained in abeyance for about 83 years, and was resuscitated in 1887 by Mr. John Bateman, and since then it has carried on with all its original dignity and civic ceremony, at the Old Parish Church, the Choosing ceremony takes place way up in the Belfry tower.choosing.gif (1450257 bytes) At this ceremony, six citizens are chosen each year, in addition to the Deputy, to be the Deputies Assistants, who attend with him at the various civic functions. Another interesting proceedings is the election of Freeman, my formerly known as Jurats, the qualification for which demands that the applicant should be either.

  1. Brightlingsea born.
  2. To marry a Brightlingsea born woman. Or
  3. Shall have resided in the parish of Brightlingsea for it least the year at the day.

Then, on paying 11 pennies (except in the first two qualifications, which is free), the candidate, on repeating certain quaint and historic oaths of allegiance, is duly admitted a Freeman. A Freeman,for many centuries, enjoyed many privileges, including that of being exempt from service to County juries, but this privilege was made obsolete in recent years. Though the Cinque Port’s themselves still retain the shadow of their honours and privileges, many of them have been automatically eliminated by the great changes brought about in the civic and economic conditions of England. Today, except for the consciousness of the glories of the past, the ports differ very little from other seaport and boroughs. But in regard to those former glories there is still a great deal of tradition remaining. They still recognised themselves as a distinct group and representatives of that former Great confederation that formed the Royal Navy of England.


The Hard

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Without doubt, one of the most attractive spots of the town in earlier days was the "Hard", with its fine causeway, constructed in 1882. It was the harbour of the industrial enterprise, and the maker of business interests, and a place of interest for townsfolk to gather and watch the boats arrive from the various yacht’s at anchor, or the sailors on their return from the fishing expedition.

causeway.gif (1423986 bytes)Even today, it is a feature of interest, and large numbers make it a customary walk, imbibe the fresh sea breezes or the bracing ozone, and watch the ferry boat’s unload passengers from St Osyth Stone, and artists find inspiration among the many maritime interest. There, the ever-changing panorama of the boats coming and going, yacht’s, barges and small craft, are a delight to watch, and in their season the spratters coming in, followed by a sea birds, mainly gulls all anxious to share some of the few thrown over to them by fishermen, and circling round and with their plaintive cries, as the skiffs go out to load up and bring the sprats ashore for pickling and sale in the town. Quite a number of well-known characters have been associated with the Hard. One of the more notable perhaps being "Old Moley" as he was known, the Mersey ferry man at a carrier who, fair wind or foul, wet or dry, maintained a service as a carrier from Mersey to Brightlingsea almost every day, with amazing regularity. During the summer months he bought cucumbers which he sold in the place, and the town are generally benefited from the business he transacted on behalf of the Mersey clients. Another character of more than local renown, who used to give the causeway quite a lot, as much as "Old Moley" did was "Old Baker", of the barge Pandora, famous as a character in S Baring Goulds book "mehalah." Old Baker first lived on his famous barge in East Mersea in 1884, and gained his livelihood by ferrying from Mersey to Brightlingsea Hard. In 1900, when his wife "Matey" died, he lived alone, and had the old barge shifted to St Osyth Stone so as to be near the coast guards, who came to visit him every night, and saw that he was comfortably settled in.
hospital.gif (1233317 bytes)In those days are Brightlingsea actually boasted of a hospital, although not on shore, but for many years a hospital ship lay anchored off Mersea shore, to which injured and sick sailors were taken and treated. The first hospital ship and was replaced in 1892 by a more, odious vessel which did duty for 23 years. During the 1914/18 war there was a different opinion between a Brightlingsea Urban District Council and the Colchester Town Council, regarding the hospital ship. The Colchester council declared that it was unfit for further service and should be sold for breaking up and replaced by a better ship. The Brightlingsea Council opposed the idea, and at the same time applied to Colchester to contribute toward the upkeep of the boat as it was continually used the harbour and fishing purposes.

Yacht Racing

Yacht racing, formed an important part of Brightlingsea's yachting history, and in the arts and crafts of racing. the Brightlingsea yachtsman became famous.   It was a common sight at the end of the season to watch the yachts coming into the Colne bedecked wilth small flags, heralds of their successes in racing contests on various parts of the coast. One of the first clubs formed was the Brightlingsea Sailing Club in 1885, with headquarters at the Royal Hotel.

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