Shortly after the Great War there came to reside in Tollesbury a gentleman, named Major Kenrick J. McMullen, who hailed from Rugby but had family connections in the village. Major McMullen had been serving as a staff officer in the Army. He and his family settled down in the village , and eventually required land north of the railway line at Station Road where the Major designed and built the farming complex now known as Great Downs. The Major as he was generally known in the village, and his family wife and several husky young sons were devoted to sailing in their leisure, and for a great part of the year resided on their Fife built ketch “Nan” 29 tons. Major McMullen possessed a great driving force and was quick to realise the potentialities of Tollesbury as a centre for yachting for the person possessed of moderate means.
Hitherto the amateur yachtsman was regarded with some suspicion and scepticism by the fisherman and villager in general, but Major McMullen gained the respect of the professional yachtsman and fisherman alike, and to some extent their admiration and support. In 1920 he mooted a scheme whereby a road could be driven across the “Little Marsh” just went of the existing old coal shed and store in Woodrolfe Road, across the saltings by “Chatterson’s Creek” out to the “Whale” where water at all states of tide could be found to facilitate the work of fisherman and yachtsman alike. Public meetings were held, and plans drawn up by Major McMullen, who was also a civil engineer, were displayed for the benefit of all. Although the scheme received the approval of the populace and interested authorities, the lack of funds prevented the scheme reaching fruition. However, this setback did not deter Major McMullen, and he persevered with his interests in sailing, designing and building some very controversial craft. These boats were lightly constructed of somewhat unorthodox material, laths and hardboard in particular. Some critical villagers called them “paper” boats” but their performance defeated the critics. Equipped with large standing lug-type “lateen” mainsails, these craft could leave traditionally equipped sailing dinghies virtually standing, and made many a yachtsman sit up and take notice.
Jack Wombwell on the right, his father on the left wearing his three piece suit complete with handkerchief in the top pocket and trilby hat!
In these projects Major McMullen was assisted by his sons, but when they were away at college he had the ready and willing help of a number of local youths, in particular Peter and Hubert Heard, their cousin Frank Heard, also Frank Pettican, Jack Lewis and others. possibly the most controversial or freakish craft was the “Carton”, so naked as its principal component was hard board. This boat somewhat similar to the old flatfish type of sailing boat, had twin keels and twin rudders, and its shape was very much akin to the present “Fireball” class of craft. It was exceedingly fast and won a number of trophies on the Blackwater and Crouch for its owner. Races were held at suitable states of tide in the evenings and at week-ends at Woodrolfe Creek and in the Fleets, and so was instilled a keen interest in small boat sailing amongst young and old alike in the village.
Front of sailing club
In 1924, Major McMullen had acquired an interest in the newly formed Tollesbury Yacht and Boat building Company on the dissolution of partnership of some members of the old established firm of Drake Brothers which still continued operations at the lower boatyard by the Hard. Major McMullen designed small cruiser yachts and was ably assisted in their building by Alfred Drake, Senior, and his sons, Tom Frost, senior, and his sons, Tom, Albert and Sid, which was first of all carried out at what was formerly known as “Gowen’s sailmakers shop and loft” at Woodrolfe Road (no known as “CB Boats”). It was quite a gala day when one of these 2-3 ton craft were transported on bogies to the Hard for launching. Eventually a boatyard was established on the saltings near the yacht stores and adjoining Bontings Creek and is known today as Frost and Drake’s boatyard. Albert Frost, son of Tom, designed and built an 18( sailing cutter which he named “Barbara”, she was tender but exceptionally fast. With the introduction of larger and a polygot collection of craft including “Tern” owned by Francis Drake, several fishermen’s re-rigged row boats, including “Imp” owned by Lennox Leavett, it was necessary to formulate handicap classes, and thus was born the “Tollesbury Sailing Club.”
In 1936 a meeting of interested parties was called at Mr. Jim Chaney’s electrical shop at 8 High Street, Major McMullen was appointed President, Capt. Sam Heard father of Frank Heard was elected Commodore and Walter Bibby, owner of “Firefly” one of the first 18 footers, was nominated Secretary, but owing to his absence at college, Norman Brand acted in that capacity for the interim period. The list of founder members was most impressive including among many others, the names of the Countess de la Chapelle, Edgar Heard brother of Sam, also Capt. Ned Heard of “Endeavour” fame. The newly formed Club was unique in as much as the greater part of it members were professional yachtsmen or fishermen. The annual subscription was agreed at 2s/6d per annum and the emblem of a “Stag’s head” was adopted as the Club’s badge, thus ensured the continuity of the crest previously used by the old-time Tollesbury Regatta of pre World War 1 days. Permission was obtained for the erection of a “starter’s hut” on the saltings near the Gridiron at Rickett’s Hard, and was readily granted by the Tollesbury Yacht Berthing Company. Races became regular week-end activity. From the start the Club was recognised by the old established Clubs of the Colne and Blackwater, also the Y.R.A., now R.Y.A. Mr. T.O.M. Sopwith (later Sir Thomas) donated a handsome silver trophy, local firms and member followed suit, and the Club today possesses a valuable and handsome array of trophies for all races. The Club prospered and under the able and strict guidance of its Commodore, and the valuable and meticulous care of the Secretary, Walter Bibby, became an institution to be reckoned with in sailing on local waters. It is stated that some of the fishermen members were so keen, that after spending a week or so on the “Cant” off Sheppey, they would return to Woodrolfe but before proceeding home would launch their craft for a trial spin. Alas by the end of autumn 1939 there was a curtailment of activities. Peter and Hubert Heard were recalled to the Royal Naval Reserve as was also Frank Pettican. Frank lost his life with two other Tollesbury men in the armed merchant merchant cruiser “Rawalpindi”, Hubert was lost in the “Jervis Bay” and Peter suffered a similar fate in a R.N. trawler. Hubert and Peter had been two of the keenest members of the Club.
By 1946 most of the surviving younger members of the Club had been demobilised and activities ere re-started. An old paint shop and boatshed together with a portion of the Little Marsh were purchased and with the able and willing help of members was established as the headquarters of the Tollesbury Sailing Club. The Countess de la Chapelle, who for many years had resided and taken a great interest in the village, donated a magnificent Stag’s head mounted on plaque and other items of club furniture.
Gooseberry pie at the club in 1950
Membership of the Club widened and embraced many in surrounding parishes in all walks of life. The new incumbent, Rev. Legh B. McCarthy recently demobilised from the Forces, took up sailing in his leisure, and several yachtmasters also plied their skills, notably Capt. William Drake Frost in “Agatha” and Capt. George Brand. Under the auspices of the Club the ancient ceremony of “Gooseberry Pie” festivities on St. Peter’s Day, linked with the annual fair, and visits by Brightlingsea and West Mersea sailing club members were revived, and the first Fishermen’s Service was held at Rickett’s Hard, later to be held in the parish church. With the decline of fishing in this locality these services were discontinued, but seafarer’s services are held periodically at the parish church usually supported by a chaplain from the Missions to Seamen.
Greeting view of club and sail lofts
Over the years changes in the hierarchy of the Club inevitable took place, but tribute should be paid to those who played such a great part in the establishment of the Club, principally Major Kenrick McMullen, Sam and Edgar Heard, Walter Bibby, Syd Harrington, Charles Pewter, B.W. Wilkinson, Dr. G. James, Ned Heard, Derek Leavett, Dick Frost, Jack Farthing, Laurie Hardy-King, Capt. Nelson Rice, and many others too numerous to mention.
The club race box in 1951. Today there would be a red Light Ship in the background
Today sees the Club on the threshold of a new era, instead of handicap classes with the exception of the “cruiser” class, there are the three recognised classes of “Flying Dutchmen”, “Fireball” and “Enterprise”, also efforts to construct a new Headquarters more in keeping with similar sailing clubs. In these projects the Club is ably directed by Capt. Lance Hill, Commodore, and an enthusiastic and capable band of helpers on the various committees.
It is regrettable that over the years old records of the Club have been lost, and the writer of the aforegoing narrative apologises for any omissions.
For some more details, you may like to look at some of the club history galleries. These are based on information kindly provided by member Peter Bibby. To have a look at these galleries, follow the links below.
- TSC Club Rules 1938
- Club racing – 1939
- Club racing – 1946
- Club racing – 1947-1950
- Clubhouse purchase – 1949
- Gooseberry Pie Competition – 1950
- Club racing – 1951
- Annual Club Dinner – 1958
- TSC Club Officers – 1959
- Club AGM information and club officers – 1960
Tollesbury Sailing Club (Addendum)
By Geoff Vote
The Sailing Club has developed with the increase in boating and sailing activities in post war years and yet still maintained its close ties with village traditions. The annual Gooseberry Pie competition is a well attended fixture on the Sailing Club calendar and a variety of pies come under the inspection of the President and Vice President for judging purposes. Fortunately the fact that one of these gentlemen is a doctor has not been a requisite to being a judge as the standard is usually very high and all the pies are eaten up after the prize giving !
The Club also likes to promote fund raising events on behalf of the R.N.L.I. and these can take the form of a traditional Cheese and Wine evening or a somewhat more diverse event such as the annual Hookin’ competition. This is generally held in late Autumn and anglers compete for a variety of prizes, traveling from near and far.
Summer Bar-B-Q’s, Fitting Out and Laying Up Suppers complete the Social calendar and supplement the normal weekly Club openings along with the traditional set of Winter talks, given by invited speakers on a wide variety of topics.
The Club likes to offer a good selection of races for the dinghy and cruiser section, and at the Laying Up Supper, over 35 different cups are awarded to Club members.
The dinghies traditionally race in Tollesbury Fleet, in and around “The Cobs”, an interesting stretch of water that although on the main well protected for the cadets, still offers exciting sailing in the right conditions. The many different creeks all offer their own particular wind shifts and peculiarities and keep everyone on their toes.
The cruiser section, although racing and competing with Tollesbury Cruising Club and other clubs around the Blackwater in various events, like to sail up and down the coast to places like Harwich, Burnham and Wolverstone, and socialise over a pint and a Bar-B-Q perhaps. Every year the Club puts on The Tollesbury Smack Race which has now been extended to include Classic Yachts. This is one of the highlights of the sailing calendar and after the Smacks have been put through their paces, the Club throws open its doors and all the visiting crews are invited to a hot meal and a well earned drink.
As previously mentioned, the Club runs a Cadet section (up to 18 years) where they are encouraged to take to the water and develop their skills. There are a small number of races if they wish to take part and normally in the month of August the Club organises a Family Sailing Week, whereby sandwiches are cut, bags packed and a small flotilla of dinghies set off for Joyce’s head or up one of the creeks for a day out.
During the summer, the cruisers and the dinghy fleet join up for a Club rally which has in recent years been well attended and normally ends up on Osea Island for a fun day out.
A cadet takes the strain while the commodore takes it easy