Wivenhoe is Saxon. Hoe means a ridge, that spur of land jutting out to the River
Colne which contains the present High Street. Wiven is an old genitive form of
Wifa, a proper name. At some time after the Romans left and before the Normans
arrived our town belonged to a tribe or individual called Wifa and that is the
first thing we know about ourselves.
Ten years after the Norman
Conquest, the Doomsday Book records a community of less than thirty adults who
owned sheep, pigs and a mill. No doubt they also built boats and fished.
In the Middle Ages Wivenhoe
passed from one family of grandees to another. Early in the fifteenth century we
were acquired by the Earls of Oxford, one of whom created the road we call The
Avenue. The Manor House, which stood at the top of the King George V Playing
Field, had a gatehouse with high towers which were used as a seamark by sailors.
Having backed the future Henry VII at Bosworth, (1485), the thirteenth earl
settled here, together with a companion in arms, Viscount Beaumont. The Viscount
and his wife are buried in the church, their graves marked by handsome brasses.
The church itself, which has
occupied the same site from Saxon times to the present day, acquired, by about
1500, a tower, which rose high above the surrounding timber-framed houses, in
which bells rang and a clock chimed.
In 1585 the manor was sold
to a Norfolk courtier, Roger Townshend, who was knighted when he fought against
the Spanish Armada.
Our earliest record of
boat-building is in 1575. One Richard Quykeskey rented a shipyard upstream of
The Quay which for the next four-and-a-half centuries was central to our
economy. We also owned commercial craft. Before the seventeenth century was out
we were sending two packet boats regularly to London, laden with Colchester's
bays and says (certain types of wool and cloth). It is virtually certain that in
1650 Robert Page built the ketch Nonsuch which later sailed to Canada and
inaugurated the Hudson's Bay Company. After the Civil War, Page built a warship,
the Fagons, a frigate with twenty-two guns, one of several naval commissions.
Shortly before the
Restoration the manor was sold to a family of Dutch merchants called Corsellis
who lived at Wivenhoe until 1899.
In the eighteenth century
Wivenhoe developed as a port and the up-stream shipyard was invariably busy, for
we never ceased to build fishing smacks and cargo vessels, while a ropery
flourished at The Cross for well over a century. Our own fishing fleet landed
sprats and oysters in large quantities.
The town also developed
socially. Several private schools were founded and in about 1750 a local doctor,
Horace Flack, built a public bath which was developed and publicized by his
successor, Thomas Tunmer. It adjoined a public house called The Woolpack which
stood on The Quay at the foot of what is now Bath Street. It survived until
about 1800. Dr. Tunmer also started to inoculate for smallpox which considerably
However, the real social
centres were now the public houses, in particular The Rose and Crown. The Black
Boy, The Falcon and The Anchor, where auctions were held, business transacted
and activities such as cricket, bowling and cockfighting were promoted. At one
time, there were twenty one of them, including two up at The Cross. The name
Malting Yard reminds us that once we brewed our own beer. An annual fair was
established early in the century and at the end of it the first regattas were
held. We cared for the poor and elderly in the workhouse at The Cross, and until
1797 anyone might graze a cow on the open land beyond The Cross known as
The following century
brought a radical change in Wivenhoe's fortunes, for the Marquis of Anglesey
commissioned a cunning and durable Wivenhovian, Philip John Sainty, to build him
a racing cutter, Pearl. Her launch in 1819 was followed by other commissions and
for sixty years the town's economy largely depended upon the rich men who owned
the big yachts, for we not only built them, but crewed them and laid them up for
the winter, in the mud beside the river wall downstream of the quay.
In 1832 Sainty retired,
bankrupt, from the upstream shipyard and was succeeded by the Harveys, first
Thomas and later his son, John. Both were outstanding boat builders and thanks
to them the name of Wivenhoe stood high in yachting circles. Their spectacular
commissions included the 148 ton yawl Rose of Devon (1869), and two boats for
the Prince of Wales, a 33 ton cutter Dagmar (1865), and a steamship, Alexandra
(1869). They also built commercial vessels, including schooners for the fruit
trade, and the occasional naval commission, such as four mortar vessels for the
Crimean. In the 1840s the Husk family was established down river of The Quay and
built boats there for the best part of a century.
By 1850 the town badly
needed to expand but was unable to because of the manor hall on the west side of
the High Street and Wivenhoe House on the east. However, in 1853, the owner of
Wivenhoe House, William Brummell, died and his estate was divided up into
building plots. Park Road, Queens Road, Anglesea Road, Alma Street and Belle Vue
Road all date from the late nineteenth century. Meanwhile, the population
doubled, from one to two thousand, between 1801 and 1881.
In 1863 a railway line from
Colchester to Wivenhoe was opened and three years later a branch line to
Brightlingsea. Fish, particularly oysters, could now be despatched quickly to
London, a boon to our economy, while materials, such as wood for boat building
and slates for the roofs of the houses in, say, Station Road, could be easily
brought to the town.
The nineteenth century saw
the rise of formal education, as the Congregationalist British School, founded
in 1805, vied with the Church of England National School, founded in 1814. The
former built itself new premises in West Street (1847); the latter did so in the
High Street (1848). In 1887 the two schools were amalgamated and by about that
time most Wivenhovians were literate.
In 1881, John Harvey built a
60 ton steam yacht for the librettist, W.S. Gilbert, and retired from the
upstream shipyard. He was soon succeeded by a firm from London, Forrestt's,
which built a dry dock, the only one between Lowestoft and London. Commercial
craft made from metal plates riveted together were now the order of the day,
especially paddle steamers. Often, Forrestt's would bolt a vessel together but
then dismantle her and send her, in small parcels, to her destination where she
would be reassembled and riveted up. One of the first boats to be despatched as
a 'do-it-yourself kit' was the passenger steamer Tern (1891). She plies Lake
Windermere to this day. In 1899 the steamship Cecil Rhodes was sent to Lake
At 9.18am on Tuesday, 22nd
April 1884, there occurred the worst earthquake ever recorded in England. Within
seven seconds it damaged over a thousand buildings. The greatest destruction
took place at Wivenhoe where the chimney of the gasworks collapsed and masonry
fell from the church tower. Nobody was killed directly, though one Wivenhovian
died later from shock. In a few months most of the damage was repaired.
The last decade of the
nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were busy ones for the
upstream shipyard. In 1905 it produced one of the earliest submarines, a
three-man vessel called the Volta weighing 17 tons. Downstream, the reigning
Husk was joined by a firm called Cox & King.
In 1914, the nationalism we
had been cultivating ever since the Boer War blew up into a holocaust which
claimed the lives of forty-six Wivenhovians. Troops were billeted all over the
town, several large yachts berthed at the river wall were converted into
warships and the shipyards were naturally active.
The First World War was
succeeded by a frightful depression, for the upstream shipyard closed and 150
able-bodied men were put out of work. However the town shone with a reflected
glory when Captain Albert Turner was appointed skipper of King George V's yacht
Our social life was
developing. In 1927 we lost the manor house and nine years later its sloping
grounds were turned into playing fields. The Cricket Club built itself premises
at the top end of the town and in the thirties our GP, Dr. Walter Radcliffe,
produced a special sailing dinghy for the Colne, the Wivenhoe One Design.
Meanwhile, the water tower, opened in 1902, was linked up to more and more
houses, while the sewerage works arrived twenty years later and the task of
connecting it up kept at least a few Wivenhovians in work.
The Second World War revived
the upstream shipyard for the last time. It built over two dozen minesweepers,
also motor torpedo boats, motor fishing vessels and rafts designed to explode
magnetic mines, whilst on the adjoining saltings sections of Mulberry Harbour
were constructed. Downstream, a firm called Vosper's built fifteen motor torpedo
boats. The young males engaged in boat building joined the Home Guard, the
Auxiliary Fire Service and the Air Raid Precaution Service, while the women
formed a war working party which knitted socks for the troops, and the ambulance
After 1945 Wivenhoe pulled
itself up and out of the inter-war demoralisation and in the sixties started to
expand in earnest. In twenty years the town trebled in size as housing estates
fanned out on either side of the spinal route, most of them badly laid out and
designed. In 1963 our Urban District Council built us a public hall, but it was
soon quite inadequate. In 1961 the upstream shipyard finally closed and the site
became a wharf where timber was unloaded, and then other cargoes, including
The old Wivenhoe, an
indigenous population of mariners and farmers, was now rapidly disappearing.
Most of the adult males were commuters, either to Colchester or London, and
everyone owned a car. Happily, we still have some light industry, mostly
concentrated at an estate in Brook Street, whilst a handful of Wivenhovians fish
for a living. The post-war years also brought a Bohemian element, a colony of
professional artists. From 1966 to 1983 they had their own club at Ballast Quay,
founded for them by the journalist George Gale.
In 1986, the largest
employer in the town, the downstream shipyard now owned by James W Cook &
Co. Ltd closed, and an era ended. One of the last vessels to leave the stocks
was the Jubilee Sailing Trust's training ship, the Lord Nelson, built for
disabled amateur sailors. The Duke of York visited the yard to have a look at
When, in 1964, the
University of Essex was founded at Wivenhoe Park it was feared that it might
dominate the town. In fact, it has saved us from being physically absorbed into
Colchester, whilst its lecturers and undergraduates give us another social
In March, 1992, the wharf at
the upstream shipyard closed. Meantime, at the downstream site of Cook's
shipyard the National Rivers Authority constructed a Flood Surge Barrier to
prevent the sort of flood that the Town experienced in 1953.
April 1995 saw the arrival
of the Town's own Community Minibus. For many years the Mayor's Charity Fund had
been saving all its funds for the purpose of providing a facility such as this,
and at long last the Town Council were able to mark this worthwhile occasion. It
was sometime however before the Town Clerk noted that the suppliers had omitted
the "i" from the spelling of Community on both sides of the bus!
Rather than send it back for alteration, the bus is now affectionately known
throughout the town as The Communty Bus or in some circles as the 'Munty Bus!
There are around ten
thousand Wivenhovians now, whose social needs are catered for by seven public
houses, four churches, four sporting organizations with club facilities and
several others without their own premises, two primary schools, a social and
education centre in Phillip Road and sixty or so other organizations. Yet, for
all that we need to cultivate a sense of community to realize consciously that
we, who live here, are Wivenhovians, to work together for the extension and
enrichment of our social life and to look ahead. So far as material benefits are
concerned the past thirty years have been the pleasantest in our whole history
and the generations that have never known anything else naturally expect this
state of affairs to continue. Let us, by taking thought now, ensure that these
good times remain with us..........