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The Wivenhoe Encyclopedia

 Marking the Millennium in Wivenhoe

Members of the Wivenhoe Town Council agreed they wanted to mark the Millennium Year with more than just a party or two.  We decided we wanted to encourage residents and visitors to think about what made Wivenhoe the place it is today; the people who worked and lived here over many centuries and created the heritage we value today. We hope you will enjoy this Heritage Trail, created for us largely by the efforts of Doreen Brimm to whom we are especially grateful. We hope too you will see more than just buildings and pretty streets but imagine what life was like here for people in the past.  

The river may be a tranquil thing now, but the Quay could have been a bustle of activity; fishing boats bringing their catch ashore, cargoes being loaded onto other vessels. A general clank and banging from the upstream and downstream shipbuilding yards; people going about their business, sometimes stopping to exchange a few words of conversation, and in the evening stories being swapped in Wivenhoe’s original 21 pubs!    

My colleagues on the Town Council, Cllrs David Craze, Mary Hignell and Jan Richardson and I all hope you enjoy this Heritage Trail.

Cllr Peter Hill, Chairman, Wivenhoe Town Council Millennium Working Party.

Text Box: THE WIVENHOE HERITAGE TRAIL

The Wivenhoe Heritage Trail is a brief guided tour of the historic waterside area of Wivenhoe.  The route is on fairly level ground, with about 100m over a gravel path.  The walk takes about an hour or so, allowing time to stand and stare.  Wivenhoe is accessible by train and bus, and there is a car park just off the High Street.  Please make your way to the War Memorial inside the churchyard at the bottom of the High Street, and we’ll begin the tour.

Welcome to Wivenhoe.  The name comes from a Saxon farmer named Wiffa, who settled here sometime after the Romans left Britain in 410AD.  A Hoe is a ridge, so this is Wiffa’s hoe.  Wivenhoe is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086.

You are in the churchyard of St Mary-the-Virgin parish church.  A church has been on this site since Saxon times and there was a Norman church building here in the 12th century.  St Mary’s was largely restored and enlarged after a serious fire in 1850.  The tower dates from 1500, and the unusual Georgian cupola was added in 1734.  Some modernisation took place in the nineteen eighties to install a kitchen and toilets, so now the church can be used for social occasions as well as services.  Every year on the first Saturday in June we have a very popular event known as ‘Art on the Railings’, when local artists hang their pictures for sale all round the churchyard railings.   The churchyard is always packed on the afternoon of Remembrance Sunday for an outdoors Civic Service of Remembrance.

Next to the churchyard is Falcon House.  The Falcon was possibly the oldest inn in Wivenhoe until it was converted to private homes in the 1970’s.  On the opposite side of the road was another public house called the Bunch of Grapes, and you can still see the pub sign in the pargetting on the eaves.  The house is around 400 years old.  The red brick building on the corner with the gothic arches was once the Red Lion.

Go on the path to the side of the tower and you will see near the base a small amount of flushwork.   Flushwork is an expensive method of building because the stone has to be brought in and cut to fit each flint.  As the de Vere family, the Earls of Oxford, owned Wivenhoe at that time, the money to build the tower probably came from them.  The red bricks are Roman and either came from a building already here or brought from Colchester.  The Romans had a city where Colchester stands now for nearly four hundred years, and is reasonable to assume that they were here to protect the river.  A fine lime tree was blown down on this south side of the church in the Great Storm of 1987 and a replacement has been planted.  The plaque on the wall on your right is recording the donation of this paved area by the then owners of Garrison House in 1923.

Opposite is Garrison House, built in the early 17th century.  Here is one of the finest examples of the decorative plasterwork, called pargetting, in the country.  It is now a private house, but may have been built as a meeting hall originally.  It is called Garrison House because it is said to have been occupied by Parliamentarian officers during the English Civil War siege of Colchester, which lasted for nearly three months in the summer of 1648.  During restoration work in the 1980’s wall paintings were found on an upper floor, which are of the same period as the house.

These roads were meant for a horse and carriage but today we have two-way motor traffic, and there is a blind corner, so please always beware of cars.  Please go right to the square known as Anchor Hill.

Just over a hundred years ago the Cage, an overnight lockup for drunkards and petty criminals was located at the rear of number 1 High Street.  They say a Mrs Street used to smuggle food and drink to the prisoners.  A whipping post and the stocks were also in this square.  A public house called The Albion was behind the Anchor Hotel, and these are Victorian brick terraced houses.  There are several attractive and well preserved timber framed buildings around Anchor Hill.  The shops on the corner of the churchyard are dated 1566.  The old apothecary shop, on the corner with a dovecote, still has the original chemist’s shelves and drawers inside.

Walk a little way up the High Street and turn left at the recently restored restaurant, The Bakehouse, into West Street.  Here you can see more 16th century timber framed properties.

Bath Street is where the seawater baths were sited in the second half of the 18th century.  People came from miles around, by coach or packet boat, to use them.  The river Colne is very silted up so they had three baths: one freshly filled and still muddy, one allowing the mud to settle, and one in use.  Unfortunately all the slurry and muck from the abattoir just up the hill in Blyth Lane ran into the river here and turned the water red, so not surprisingly, by about 1800 they lost their popularity.  The next street is Quay Street, with a Victorian neo-classical style chapel on the corner.  Thomas Sandford was an oyster merchant and ship owner.  This chapel was used as a reading and writing room by troops billeted in the town during the First World War.  It was converted into apartments about forty years ago when a larger chapel was built at the top of the High Street.  Keep walking until you come to Old Ferry Lane, by the roundabout.

The railway came to Wivenhoe in 1863 and across the road are the railway station and the Station Hotel public house.  Those trees you can see the other side of the tracks are in the Wivenhoe Woods, once part of the grounds of the Manor House, which burnt down nearly a hundred years ago.  The woods are at the side of the King George V playing field and have several nature trails to follow.  By the river is a cycle path to Colchester.  It is part of the National Number One cycle route from Hull to Greenwich.  A few minutes along the path, past the new housing development, is Ferry Marsh, a nature reserve with mown grass paths leading through reed beds to the waterside, giving pleasant views across the river to Rowhedge.  In the station car park is a disused goods shed, and there are plans to convert it for use as a community heritage and arts centre.

Now walk down Old Ferry Road and then bear left to come onto the new riverside walk.  From this attractive walkway we get a good view down river towards Brightlingsea church.  Across the Colne are the warehouses still remaining from the old Rowhedge Port.  If the tide is in you can see the Roman River as it winds its way up to the Whalebone Inn.  Walk along until you reach the large water feature between the houses.

The estate is built on the site of a former major shipbuilding and port area.  This is the wharf where in the old days the fishing boats would unload their catch to be taken to London on the railway.  In the 19th century Wivenhoe was a famous yachting centre.  Edward, Prince of Wales had two boats built here and crewed by local men.  King George Vth also had yachts crewed by Wivenhoe men, Captain Albert Turner captained the Royal yacht Britannia.  Lord Kitchener’s sternwheel gunboat, used on the Nile in 1896, was built here.  Also launches for both Stanley and Livingstone, those famous explorers.  In 1904 an experimental three-man submarine was designed and built in this yard and was tested in the deep dock here.  Several minesweepers, various small craft and part of the Mulberry Harbour, used in the Normandy Landings, were built in Wivenhoe shipyards during World War 11.  This water feature was the dry dock constructed for Forrests and Son shipyard about a hundred years ago.  In the late 1930’s a sailing ship called the Cap Pilar completed a circumnavigation in two years with an amateur crew.  She was eventually laid up in dry dock, burnt, and her keel buried in the dock when it was filled in 1962.  After the closure of the shipyard it became a port, importing mainly timber and coal.  In October, 2002, the Mayor of Wivenhoe unveiled a plaque which commemorates the history of the shipyard, and you will be able to read it if you walk to the end of the dock site.

At the end of the riverside walkway there are good views down towards the Colne Barrier.  Walking onto the quay you can see the rear of a row of white painted houses.  This was once warehousing and offices for the shipyard, and later for Wivenhoe Port.  On the quay is the Tiptree Company warehouse, they are famous for their jams, of course.  It was formerly a cannery for local sprats and pilchards and vegetables, and was also once used by the yachting industry.  

This row of charming cottages on the quayside was built around 1725, with the Regency style bow windows added much later.  This area of Wivenhoe was very badly damaged in the earthquake which struck at 9.18 am on the 22nd April, 1884.  It was the worst earthquake ever recorded in this country and caused extensive damage in Wivenhoe, Colchester and the surrounding area.  No lives were lost during the earthquake, but it took several months to repair the structural damage.  Further along, Anchor House was previously a fine 18th century hotel called the Anchor Inn.  Now you are back at Anchor Hill.  Please walk straight on along the quay.

Wivenhoe Sailing Club was founded in that shed on the Hard in 1925.  Then it moved to the top floor of the three-storey building on the corner.  The local branch of the Royal British Legion hold their meetings and social events on the ground floor.  It was once used for sail making. 

A very popular ferry service is run from here on summer weekends, and there is enough water to run it for about two hours either side of the high tide.  Passengers can go to The Anchor at Rowhedge, or across to Fingringhoe, or take a round trip.  The ferry is managed by a charitable trust and staffed by volunteers.  This shelter was built in 2002, replacing a brick structure, and is no doubt a handy waiting place for ferry customers.

The Nottage Institute contains a maritime museum.  Founded in 1896 by Captain Nottage to teach seamanship to merchant sailors and fishermen, it now runs RYA courses, wooden boat building classes and evening lectures for people who sail for a hobby.  They have a display inside showing the interesting maritime history of Wivenhoe.  Entrance to the museum is free, it is open most summer weekends and Bank holidays.  The Rose and Crown public house was the scene of many auctions of salvage goods and ships, a profitable business in the past.  Now we have events here like the very popular Jazz on the Quay Sunday, and an annual crabbing competition for children.  The quay is always a hub of activity in sunny weather.

Notice the blue plaque on the mid 19th century Quay House on the corner.  It is dedicated to John Martin Harvey, the son of a brilliant Wivenhoe shipyard owner.  John didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps, but wanted to go on the stage.  One of his father’s clients was W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, and he helped John Martin Harvey further his acting career.  The actress Joan Hickson unveiled the plaque; she lived next door in Rose Lane for many years.  We all remember her best as Miss Marple.  From here in Rose Lane you have another view of Garrison House, the grounds originally went down to the river.

Along the quay is Harding’s Yard, now mews type houses with artistic gardens.  Before being converted recently this was the Colne Marine and Yacht Company yard, and over twenty large yachts were launched from here, the longest being a fifty-one footer.  The launching crane was removed from the quay in 1999.  At high tide the water covers this bit of road, so a detour has to be taken through the car park next to Harding’s Yard and down a narrow alley to the Folly.

Ferry House was the home of the ferryman, and a small hut stood on the hard.  Colchester Borough Council closed the original ferry service across from here to Fingringhoe in 1952.  This row of pretty cottages is Victorian; all the properties along the quayside have private moorings on the river.  [The detour comes out here].  The Folly, on the corner, was the old bakehouse and had a shop front.  Before the Colne Barrier was constructed this path was frequently flooded at high tide.  The houses along the Folly still have their metal floodgates in place, but they won’t be needed because we have the barrier.  The gardens along the front all flourish now they aren’t flooded with salt water.

Now we come to the site of what was Wivenhoe’s downstream shipyard.  This is currently being developed by Taylor Woodrow, and the area has been fenced off while building takes place.   When work is complete the fishermen’s dock and the jetty will become part of an attractive public walkway linking the quay to the viewpoint beside the barrier. Meanwhile, please walk on the path through the site to the road near the barrier.  

Ships and boats were built on this site from the 1840’s until 1986.  James Cook and Company Limited was the last company here, they came after the second world war.  They built all kinds of specialised craft, including the largest sailing ship to be built in the UK for seventy-five years.  The 140 ton square rig schooner The Lord Nelson is a sail training ship specially adapted for disabled sailors – wheelchairs get hoisted up to the top of the mast.  The Lord Nelson was commissioned by the Jubilee Trust, whose patron, HRH  Duke of York, came to see the work in progress.  The Lord Nelson paid a return visit to Wivenhoe in 1998, and huge crowds turned out to welcome her.

We are in front of the Colne River Barrier, a unique design, it is a great feat of engineering and cost about thirteen million pounds.  We hear a lot about global warming, and sooner or later the wind, tides, rainfall and moon will be right to produce another great North Sea surge tide, as we had in 1953.  When it happens, this barrier will protect Colchester and Wivenhoe and other small towns along the river.  The National Rivers Authority began operating the barrier in 1993.  It measures 130 metres across with a navigational opening 30 metres wide.  The gates can be closed electronically in seven minutes by using hydraulic rams.  Next to the Environment Agency (previously called NRA) offices is a viewpoint.

Along the path is the Wivenhoe Sailing Club.  To allow dinghy sailing to continue after the barrier was constructed, the club moved from the British Legion building to this purpose built premises.  It is a thriving club, with dinghy and cruiser racing events and a lively cadet section.

There are views down river towards Alresford Creek, just around the bend.  The pleasant riverside walk incorporates part of the old Brightlingsea to Wivenhoe railway track.  The track was laid in 1866 to benefit the local fishing industry by allowing oysters and sprats to be taken by rail to the London fish market.  A swing bridge was used to cross the creek, but that was dismantled in 1964, along with the line to Brightlingsea.  We now return on the tarmac road, named after Dr Walter Radcliffe.  He was the designer of the Wivenhoe One Design, a wooden sailing dinghy, known as a WOD.  Of the nineteen boats built in the 1930’s, sixteen are still in this area.  Some can be seen on their moorings opposite the sailing club during the summer months.

Bear right at the 10MPH sign and you will come to Anglesea Road.  Built in the middle of the nineteenth century by Lord Alfred Paget, son of the Marquess of Anglesey.  The elegant terraced houses were known as the Captains’ Row.  Please beware of two-way traffic again as we make our way along Brook Street, passing Spring Cottage, April Cottage and Alice’s Cottage, to arrive at Black Buoy Hill.

Several village shops and more pubs used to be in this area.  The house on the right hand corner of Alma Street was the Live and Let Live public house before it became the Alma Stores, and is now a private house.  On the opposite corner was the former butchers shop and this house is around 200 years old.  The house next door, with a shop front and the iron balcony railings, was the home of the Nottage Institute before it moved to the quay after World War 11.  The Black Buoy has been a public house for over 300 years.  Walk down the hill to another period building, Price’s House.  Price was a master mariner and ship builder.  Notice the unusual boat shaped roof of Black Buoy Hill Cottage, local people used to call this Flat Iron cottage!  Bethany Street used to flood at high tide, and it has been known for customers to row to the Black Buoy. 

Facing the pub is Nonsuch House, once part of a Tudor hall house.  It is named after the ship, Nonsuch, which was built in Wivenhoe by Robert Page.  The ship was sailed to Canada in 1668 by the founders of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  The Corner House, with Doric columns, is late Georgian.  Smuggling was rife in Wivenhoe in times past, and tunnels are reputed to be still underneath this hill.  Smuggling was such big business that the largest and fastest revenue cutter, The Repulse, with a crew of fifty and thirty guns, was based on the Colne.

Look up the narrow street called Alma Street.  These Victorian houses were built for fishermen, and they stored their masts in the long passageways.  Facing you at the top of Alma Street is a former chapel built by a local shipyard owner named James Husk in 1864.  He was a member of the New Jerusalem Church, founded by the followers of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Swedish mystic and philosopher.  They called it the Swedenborg Chapel.

Turn to the left along East Street, and you will arrive back at the churchyard and have completed the Heritage Trail.

There are many other old properties in the town and interesting areas to explore.  At the ‘top end’ of the town, at Wivenhoe Cross, is the old ropery works site.  Wivenhoe Cross was really a separate village from Wivenhoe quay end, until the Avenue was constructed in the 1930’s.  The Ropery Works was a thriving business for over a hundred years in the days of sailing ships.  The

17th century Ropery House and Ropery Cottage are reminders of these works.  The Horse and Groom is on the site of an older public house called the King’s Arms.  A blacksmith’s forge was next door.  Across the road was another pub called The Beehive, it is now a black weather- boarded house.  Just past Heath Road is a private house called Toad Hall; this was built around 1635 and was the local workhouse in the 18th century.  This is where the poor and old people of Wivenhoe lived, provided for by the parish.  The workhouse master lived next door in number 17, but the house has been greatly altered since those days.   Most of the farmland around Wivenhoe Cross belonged to the estate of Wivenhoe House, now the Wivenhoe House Hotel.  The University of Essex was built in the 264 acre grounds of the estate in 1962.

We hope you have enjoyed your tour of Wivenhoe, and will visit the town again.

Doreen Brimm

(Updated October, 2002)

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Last updated:
05 January 2015

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