Ferries and fishermen at Felixstowe
Igrew up in Norfolk (sorry!) but often visited Suffolk, mainly to go sailing on the River Deben with my family. So it’s odd to think that, all these years later, I actually live in Felixstowe. I love wandering around the Felixstowe Ferry end which, to me, feels really Bohemian, with artists and houseboats.
My first experiences were from the water and I remember it well because my dad was quite scared of sailing out to sea across the dreaded ‘Deben bar’. The shingle banks at the mouth of the river move around a lot and the tide rushes out at a rate of knots, so it’s easy to go aground. Dad didn’t want the embarrassment of doing that. What I didn’t know at the time though was the long and interesting history of area. Two residents have recently got together to compile a book called Felixstowe Ferry - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and it is fascinating. Elizabeth Setchin, who did most of the writing, and Graham Henderson, who collated the photographs, must be congratulated.
I’ve learnt so much browsing the book. Although the Ferry is a place for holiday makers and artists today, it’s also a working hamlet. As the name suggests, it is where the ferry has run across to Bawdsey for centuries. It was when Sir Cuthbert Quilter started building Bawdsey Manor in 1886 that he started a steam ferry service so he could travel to and from London more easily. There is a wonderful photograph in the book of a horse and carriage disembarking the Lady Beatrice. In more recent times the Brinkley ferrymen have been very well known, firstly Charlie Brinkley senior and then Charlie Brinkley junior. Nowadays it’s John Barber at the helm and the book tells how he has had to go to the aid of several sailors who have got stuck on the Deben bar. My dad was obviously right to be worried.
The book also describes how, in earlier times, the salvage of wrecked ships was an important business. The authors have spoken to residents who have memories of the time in 1968 when three tons of unrefined beef dripping was washed up. Apparently it was worth a lot of money, so they moved it lump by lump. My favourite photo in the book is one of Duncan Read and Charlie Brinkley with the lard in their bike basket.
Although my first visits to Felixstowe Ferry were when I was a youngster, it’s only been in the last 20 or 30 years that I have returned, often with visitors to show them the houses on stilts, the houseboats and to sample the fish and chips at the Ferry café. When we got a dog we would often walk along Felixstowe prom to the ferry, past the Martello tower and the golf course, and the sailing club.
From the book I have learnt that the sailing races began before the First World War, when lobster fishermen would take a day off to race each other. It’s hard to believe that lobster fishing was at once such big business that 300 could be caught in a day and sent to London by train. Another quirky fact is that Carl Giles, the cartoonist, was a great sailor and spent many a happy hour here, so it’s no surprise to learn that the club has a wonderful selection of his cartoons on its walls.
This book is full of memories and historical facts and is a real treasure to anyone who knows the area. I hope this has whetted your appetite to visit. If you do go there, make sure you wander through boat yard to where the houseboats are moored. Don’t miss the one with a hippopotamus on board and a diver sticking out of the mud. According to the book the houseboats have been an important part of the Ferry since the 1920s. It must be wonderful to wake up in the morning to the sounds of birds on the mudflats.N
Felixstowe Ferry – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Elizabeth Setchin and Graham Henderson is published by Ferry Words and Pictures. firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOVE:Four fishermen at Felixstowe Ferry in the 1930s, Joss Newson, Charlie Brinkley, Settler Newson and Jockey Hunt.