For our third outing this year we pushed the boat out, hiring a large coach from Felix so that many history lovers could arrive in Harwich for 10.00. We had arranged to be guided around the historic centre, with its more than 200 listed buildings, by David Whittle, a member of the Harwich Society, whose knowledge of the buildings and of historic events in Harwich was simply incredible. The tour then returned us to the Ha’penny pier for lunch, followed by afternoon visits to Beacon Hill Fort and the Harwich Redoubt. The tour was organised by LWHS member Ian Davidson, to whom we are very grateful, whilst our driver, who it turned out was son in law of village resident Mick Pease, did a superb job ferrying us around.
There is an incredible amount to see in the historic centre, as the map of the heritage trail clearly indicates, see below, whilst next year Harwich celebrates 400 years since the sailing of the Mayflower, the ship that transported the first English Puritans (now known as Pilgrims) to the new world. In truth we really just scratched the surface, so another visit next year, which is the 400th anniversary year of the sailing, could well be on the cards, particularly as the Harwich home of the ship’s Captain, Christopher Jones, will by then be open to the public as a museum.
Greeted by the Town Crier
An expectant audience
The Ha’penny Pier was opened on the 2nd of July 1853, getting its name from the ½d toll charged. Originally the pier was twice as long as the present one but sadly one half burnt down in 1927. It was a popular departure point for paddle steamers until after the First World War. The ticket office now houses the Ha’penny Pier Visitor Centre (run by the Harwich Society) and open daily from May 1st until the 2nd weekend in September. We also had an ‘official welcome’ by the Harwich Town Crier, James Cole, which set things off very nicely.
A small museum on the pier houses an exhibition on Harwich and The New World, featuring Christopher Jones and the Mayflower in 1620. Models of the ship, which was around 100 foot long with a maximum beam of 25 feet, showed just how small she was, particularly as she set sail with around 130 people on board, 102 passengers and between 25 and 30 officers and crew.
Conditions on board were extremely cramped and uncomfortable during the more than two month long passage (from 6th September to 9th November); huge waves constantly crashed against the ship's topside deck, fracturing a key structural support timber. Passengers had already suffered agonizing delays, shortages of food, and other shortages, and were now called upon to provide assistance to the ship's carpenter to repair a fractured main support beam. Repairs were made using a jackscrew, essentially a very big car screw jack, which was on board to help with construction of settler homes.
A view from the Ha'penny Pier
The tour began in earnest when we left the pier, with our first stop at the ‘Navyard Wharf’, now operated by the Harwich Dock Company with Roll on/Roll off ships sailing to ports in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Belgium. Previously this was the site of a naval shipyard and before that of a small 12th Century castle.
A large number of warships were built in Harwich between 1660 and 1827, see photo below, with perhaps the most famous being HMS Conqueror which was built in 1801, the fourth ship to bear this illustrious name. She was a 74 gun 3rd rate ship of the line with two gun decks, which from experience were found to embody the best compromise of sailing ability, firepower and cost - possibly the optimal configuration. She fought at Trafalgar under the command of Captain Israel Pellew, whose captain of marines took the surrender of the overall commander of the combined French and Spanish fleet, Admiral Villeneuve, aboard the French ship Bucentaure (80 guns). The old shipyard bell was cast by John Darby, bell founder of Ipswich in 1666; this was originally housed in a tower in the middle of the Old Yard, being rung daily to summon people to work.
The tour of Harwich begins
The old shipyard bell
Next we came to the site of the first Harwich School, founded in 1724 by Sir Humphrey Parsons, Alderman of London and MP for Harwich, for 32 boys aged 8 to 14, with its inscription above the door - for those that read Latin, the inscription reads as follows:
Boni moribus & litters
Et Religions Sanctiffimae rudimentis
Secunduni instituta ECCLESIAE ANGLICANAE
Has AEdes Sacrari voluit
Sumptibusq; fuis extrui curavit
HUMPHRIDVS PARSONS ARMR.
Civic & Aldermannus Londinensis
Ad Comitia Palrliamentaria ab hoc Burgo delegatus
Te DEUS OPTIME MAXIME
Patrons vult Fundator
Tu largitoris eximij munifi entiae
Felices des eventus
Te Favente Honori Succedant Tuo
Et Juventus & AEdes
Nullo peritura die.’
Harwich Corporation School
We then passed the headquarters of The Harwich Society at 5 Church Street - a house known as Foresters, and perhaps the oldest house in Harwich; previously it was the Foresters Arms, though known locally as the Drum and Monkey until the Luftwaffe effectively closed the pub in 1941
The reasons behind the nickname are uncertain, but definitely involved both a monkey and a drum. One story says a monkey was trained to bang a drum to warn the licensee when a customer came in, and another has the monkey taking the drum around to collect fines for bad language; as our guide David said, both stories could easily be true.
Foresters was subsequently purchased by Winifred Cooper, who lovingly restored it and lived in it for 46 years, bequeathing the building to The Harwich Society, of which she had been President.
A little further on we came to St Nicholas, a large brick church dedicated on 20th July 1822, built on the site of an earlier church occupying the site since 1177. For centuries Harwich has been a port and ship building town, with St Nicholas the Patron Saint of sailors. Christopher Jones was married in the former church.
The gallery is surmounted by the organ designed for it and built in 1822 by Flight & Robson of London; at either side are additional galleries against the south and north walls, and at very high level, two additional galleries known locally as ‘the cages’, which were originally used by schoolchildren. It is not known whether these were Charity Children, but it is recorded that they sat under the eagle eye of the Beadle, who kept order.
St Nicholas Church
We then passed the Hanover Inn, which has incorporated into its rear wall, viewable from the churchyard, part of the ancient Harwich town wall, of which very little now remains.
Back entrance to the Hanover Inn
On the way to view Government House, we were shown one of the narrowest houses ever, built on the entrance to the stables of the house next door. A series of lovely looking houses then continue the delightful street, with its views over a small green to the water beyond, to the dwelling of the Harwich Recorder, in Government House, which is now converted into flats.
A very narrow house
We were now off to see the famous Harwich Treadwheel crane, built in 1667 on the site of the Naval Yard and moved to Harwich Green around 1932. It was operated by men walking inside the two tread-wheels, which together produced a balanced action. Each wheel is 16ft diameter, 3ft 10 ins wide, made of oak and spaced 4ft apart on a common axle 13½ ins diameter; the jib has a projection of 17ft 10ins. Described as a House Crane in official records, to distinguish it from the unenclosed type, it originally had a boarded roof, with pantiles.
A conspicuous omission was any form of brake, making this type of crane somewhat dangerous, so a spar was kept handy for levering against the outer edge of the wheel in case of accident; that said, were the load to take command, the men in the wheels would be revolved backwards with disastrous results.
The earliest known reference to this type of crane was by the Romans in 25 B.C. and by the Middle Ages they were common in Britain; by the end of the C17th / beginning of the C18th such cranes had just one drum, with power supplied by a donkey. As far as is known, Harwich has the only British example of a two-wheel man operated tread-wheel crane.
We were now on Harwich Green, with good views of both the High and the Low lighthouses, to hear their story. The two lighthouses are 150 yards apart and worked as a pair - they were leading lights, so when one light was positioned directly above the other, as seen from the sea, the vessel was on the correct course to enter the harbor through the navigable deep-water channel.
They were built in 1818 under the supervision of John Rennie Senior, to replace earlier wooden ones, and belonged to General Rebow, who became very rich by charging 1d per ton light duties on all cargoes coming into the port. In 1836 Trinity House acquired the Lights from General Rebow, for £31,730 (about £3.5 million today), there being 12 years and 5 days remaining of his lease. It is suspected that Rebow was aware of the changing course of the channel, and the lighthouses became redundant in 1863 for just that reason; two new cast iron lighthouses were erected at Dovercourt, operating in the same way to guide vessels through the new channel into Harwich.
The High Lighthouse was sold for £75, without restriction, and was used as a private residence; it is now managed by The Harwich Society, as a museum of local interest.
On our way to the Guildhall, we saw a private residence that used to be the Three Cups public house. Occupying a prominent position next to the church, the Three Cups was an ancient hostelry with a rich history opened in the C16th. The building was frequently called an Elizabethan mansion in the C17th, and was regularly used as an interim council chamber during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
It is a late medieval house of some quality, with C17th and C18th improvements, including a Georgian facade and an archway at the rear, and was remodeled again in 1949 when the top story and archway were removed. There has long been a claim that Lord Nelson came to the pub, to meet his lover Lady Hamilton, though there is no documentary evidence. After his famous visit to Harwich by sea in 1801, the room where he allegedly stayed with Emma was turned into a museum, and the postcard, see image below, is one of five different known to feature The Nelson Room, distributed for sale throughout England.
Outside the Three Cups
The highlight of the tour had now arrived, with the Mayor of Harwich inviting us into his place of work, the beautiful grade I listed Harwich Guildhall. Originally the site of an inn called The Bear, it was purchased by the council in 1673 and rebuilt in 1769.
In 1974 The Guildhall became the home of Harwich Town Council, who restored it; this revealed a medieval wall painting and boarded walls covered with engravings of C18th ships and houses, carved into the woodwork and subsequently been plastered over. The engravings were most likely created by prisoners from the US war of independence, because this room was part of the lock-up when the Police Station was contained within the Guildhall. We were off to see the three most important rooms in the Guildhall.
The Council Chamber
The Chamber is a beautiful, oak panelled room, with walls adorned with large portraits and a window including a stained glass depiction of the town crest. The chamber also houses the regalia showcase, containing the seventeenth century mace and the mayor’s chain of office.
The Mayor’s Parlour
The parlour remains the personal domain of the mayor of the day, housing gifts to the town and many other items of great local significance. Amongst its treasures are the Imperial brass yard and a portrait of Charles II, painted in 1675.
The Carvings Room
A unique feature of the Guildhall is the Carvings Room, once used to hold prisoners waiting to be tried or sentenced. Etched into the bare wooden walls of the room are elaborate carvings of ships, gallows and symbols to ward off evil spirits, all of which date from the late C18th. One carving is of a ship flying the Stars and Stripes, dating from the time of the American War of Independence, and another shows a hot air balloon dated at the time of the Montgolfier brothers.
Original carving of the Stars and Stripes
On the way out we were shown a number of interesting objects on various walls of the Guildhall, including a copy of their Royal Charter, awarded by King James I, and a ships bell from the TSS (twin screw steamship) Brussels, a Great Eastern passenger ferry on the Harwich to Hook of Holland route. During the First World War, in March 1915 on the high seas, Captain Fryatt evaded a German U-boat, for which he was awarded a gold watch. Later that month he was ordered to stop by U-33, but instead he attempted to ram the submarine, which was forced to crash dive, for which he was awarded another gold watch, as also were the First Officer and Chief Engineer.
Later that year, in June, the Brussels was captured by German torpedo boats G101 and G102 and interned at Zeebrugge, where Captain Fryatt was arrested, after engravings on his watches revealed his previous actions. Unbelievably he was tried and then executed, on 27th July 1916, and the Brussels was taken over by the Kaiserliche Marine and renamed Brugge, serving as a depot ship at Zeebrugge.
In 1919 Fryatt's body was exhumed and returned to the UK for burial, his coffin being landed at Dover and then transported in the South Eastern and Chatham Railway PMV (Parcels and Miscellaneous Van) to London; his funeral was held at St Paul's Cathedral on 8th July that year. He is therefore one of just three bodies returned home from the First World War, the others being the Unknown Warrior and the nurse Edith Cavell, both of whom were also transported in PMV 132.
Just down the road we came to the Stingray public house, which dates to 1921 when it was built as a replacement for the London Tavern public house; this was a pub owned by trustees of John Pattrick in 1870, but later purchased by the Co-operative Society - their first ever pub acquisition.
The Co-op thought the London Tavern was enough of a success to plan a new building, and in 1919 they closed the old London Tavern to convert it into a shop. Their new building was much more than a pub - it also featured a tea and reading room, and accommodation - it was named the Wheatsheaf, though people called it the Co-op Tavern or the New London Tavern.
The pub was built in the mock-Tudor style and was very well-appointed with beer served from beer engines with beautiful Wedgewood pump handles; customers also got their divvy, which many local people saved up to buy their bottles at Christmas. In 1976 the Co-op sold the pub and it was renamed the Stingray.
Our guide David mentioned that Harwich used to have over 50 public houses, and was keen to point out dead pubs as he took us around the historic centre. In its heyday Harwich was an important port, dockyard and garrison town, so was well supplied with Inns and Public Houses.
The number of pubs grew because of the presence of so many varied occupations and visitors to the town. Harwich was a famous and important sea-crossing and rich people would come with a retinue of servants looking for a place to stay, so nearly every public house or the house next door had accommodation. Also present in the town were Coastguards, the Royal Navy, Merchant Seamen, Fishermen and Army Regiments, as well as local folk, all of whom wanted beer.
Many of the old pubs have disappeared, and of those that remain most have been changed beyond recognition, often becoming private houses or shops. To recognise this important passage of their history, Harwich have created a Historic Pub Trail to guide you round the town.
Christopher Jones, who captained the Mayflower when it took the pilgrims to America in 1620, lived with his mother and father at the King’s Head Street home; his first wife, Sara Twitt, lived in the house opposite, which is now the Alma Inn. She and their only child died within ten years of their marriage, and Jones went on to marry Josian Gray, herself a widow, and had eight children, four of which were born while they lived in Harwich.
Christopher Jones' House
That concluded our comprehensive and most interesting morning guided wander around the old centre of Harwich, so it was now back to the Ha’penny Pier for lunch.
After lunch Beacon Hill Fort was our next port of call; sometimes called the Beacon Hill Battery, it is a ruined military fort built to defend Harwich, and now a scheduled ancient monument.
The first fortification built was a blockhouse, constructed in 1534 during the reign of Henry VIII, though abandoned within ten years. After Henry’s death the site was rearmed, but by 1625 it had again fallen into disrepair, with Harwich considered defenceless.
The site accommodated most of the Harwich army and militia during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars era, as well as a naval signal station. In the C19th, prior to the building of the Breakwater, sea erosion had swept away much of the site, so by the 1880s the fort was considered out-dated; in 1889 work began on a totally new fort, completed in 1892.
After World War I the fort was disarmed and sold, but in 1940 it was brought back into service with a twin 6 Pounder gun position and director tower built. It was now known as the Cornwallis Battery and included the two 6 inch guns of Beacon Hill Battery, both being manned by men of the 515th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery.
The hexagonal brick radar tower adjacent to the site dates from 1941; together with the electrical firing stations at the breakwater corner and at Landguard Point, this controlled defensive mines in the harbour entrance. It didn’t control the fire of the gun as new radar at Landguard arrived for this purpose in 1944. The site also housed anti-aircraft guns and torpedo tubes from time to time. It was finally decommissioned in 1956 on the dissolution of coast artillery in the United Kingdom.
The site now belongs to Paul Valentine and Barry Sharp, who with the help of volunteers have dug out huge volumes of earth and debris to uncover what is visible today, though a large amount of further such work remains to be done.
Not originally on our itinerary, we managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Harwich Redoubt, which was built between 1808 and 1810 to protect Harwich against the threat of Napoleonic invasion. It was part of the scheme that included construction of 29 Martello Towers on the East Anglian coast.
It is of circular shape, approximately 200 ft in diameter, with a central parade ground of 85 ft diameter. Hoists lifted shells from the lower level to the gun emplacements above, similar in design to earlier redoubts at Dymchurch and Eastbourne.
When built the Redoubt was on a hilltop with free views in all directions, though it is now surrounded by houses and allotments. Originally armed with ten 24-pounder cannon, the Redoubt was remodelled to accommodate increasingly heavy guns, as technology and perceived threats changed.
In 1861/2, work was carried out to accommodate 68-pounder cannon, and the emplacements were strengthened by adding granite facing, to withstand improved enemy artillery; a decade later three of the emplacements were altered to take the enormous 12 ton rifled muzzle loading (RML) guns. In 1903, three emplacements received 12 pounder quick firing (QF) guns.
The Redoubt never fired a shot in anger, though it was briefly taken back into military service during World War II, when it served as a detention centre for British troops awaiting trial. Following the war it was used by the British Civil Defence organisation, until they were disbanded.
Thus ended a most enjoyable and action packed day we will all remember for a very long time, and the Harwich Society are to be much congratulated. Much was said about a return visit next year, when the Christopher Jones house and museum will be open, as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations, and trustees will consider this over the coming months. Combined with a longer visit to the Redoubt this would make for a great visit.
Postscript: The name Samuel Pepys, Chief Secretary to the Admiralty and one time MP for Harwich, frequently cropped up during our visit but I could not really find a place here to detail what he did for the town; perhaps this could be rectified with another visit.
Our next History Society talks will be at 19.30 in the Parish Room, on Wednesday:
18th September: St Audry’s Workhouse and Mental Hospital - Victorian attitudes Examined
It was believed that people were born to be poor or simply fell onto hard times through their own neglect, so whole families entered the workhouse or faced starvation - this is their story.
16th October: Goldingham Hall Archaeology and Manorial Records
Ashley Cooper will tell us all about Goldingham Hall and the Anglo Saxon community discovered in the grounds In his own inimitable way - not to be missed.
Both events are going to be great, and we very much look forward to welcoming guests both new and old to the Parish Room.
Andy Sheppard 9th July 2019