The Watshams in Wivenhoe

Frederick Watsham came to Wivenhoe from the Alresford area in 1902 when he bought Vine Farm from a previous owner who had run into debt.

He became a respected person in Wivenhoe, was elected onto the Wivenhoe Urban District Council and served as Chairman in the Council year 1927/28. 

His son Claude was born in 1898; one of three boys and four girls. At the time of World War One starting, ages of the young Watsham’s would have ranged from 20 down to 10.

Elder brother Harold had joined the Territorials, and so was called to fight early on. he went out to Gallipoli with the 5th Essex, landing at Sulva bay. He won a DCM for some rescue mission, but lost two fingers in the process. After Gallipoli, they were sent to Palestine.    

At the age of sixteen, Claude volunteered to join the Army to fight in the 1914-18 War.  Before leaving he asked Mr Charles Gooch, the owner of Cross Farm, the farm across the road from Vine Farm, if he might take over the tenancy of Cross Farm when or if he returned from the War.

He survived the War, although injured by machine gun bullets at the Somme and his hearing was also impaired from the fighting. 

Soon after the War, Claude and his great pal, Lennie Warner, who lived at the top of Rectory Hill, booked a passage to Australia with the intention of emigrating. At the last minute however, Cross Farm became vacant and Lennie went on his own. 

[Note: Len eventually joined the Australian Army in 1940 as a way of getting to England, free of charge. It took him three and a half years, via North Africa and various prisoner of war camps. Ray Watsham remembers him coming to Cross farm in 1945 to see his father, after the War.]  

Between the Wars, the Watshams were well known in Wivenhoe which had a population then of around 2,500 people. Claude managed to live most of his long life at Cross Farm, and only in his last couple of years was persuaded to move into a bungalow, across the road in Lammas Way, on land once part of Vine Farm.  He died in 1988.

His wife Freda lived on, after 68 years of marriage to Claude, and celebrated her 100th birthday on 6th December, 2000. She died in March 2001 after spending the last few years of her life in a nursing home in Stowmarket, near to where their son Ray took on a farm at Bildeston, between Hadleigh and Wattisham.

Cross Farm was a typical farm with cattle, free-range chickens and arable crops. Before the second World War, milk was collected daily from the farm and taken by cart to the bottom of Wivenhoe where it was sold and also turned into butter.

Old Wivenhovians will remember Claude’s father as having provided land for Wivenhoe Football Club to play on for a while early in the 1900s and Claude later provided land at Cross Farm for this purpose.  The Wivenhoe Allotments and Gardens Society held many shows using marquees at Cross Farm, courtesy of Claude.  In an age before colour television, common ownership of the motor car etc, the Wivenhoe Show was always a big affair and a major event in the Wivenhoe calendar.

Claude was one of the founders the Bowls Club which was started in April 1926 on land behind Fernbank in Wivenhoe High Street. In 1947, Freda was one of the founders of the Ladies Section and remained a prominent member of the Club throughout her life.  She and Claude are still very much remembered by the Bowls Club.

Freda was also well known for her excellence in needlework, making items for sale in the village for various causes.

Their son Ray was an active member of the Wivenhoe Cricket Club and Wivenhoe Rangers Football Club before leaving Wivenhoe in 1952 to take up farming in Suffolk.

People living in Wivenhoe from the 1970s onwards, when Claude gave up active farming  Cross Farm, will remember him as the old boy with the black beret or a cap, who used to hand dig the large piece of ground by the side of the farmhouse.  In this ground he used to grow potatoes and all types of brassicas.  Those who knew him were always treated to a cabbage if they stopped to wave although conversations with him were always a little difficult because of his hearing problem incurred as a result of the first World War. 

For much of the twentieth century, the Watshams made their mark on Wivenhoe.  It is therefore fitting that the road which has now been constructed by Cross Farm be called Watsham Place to recognise their contribution to Wivenhoe’s evolution in the last century.

Cllr Peter Hill

August, 2001   


The unveiling of Watsham Place road sign by Wivenhoe Town Mayor, Cllr Steve Ford, with Ray Watsham and his family – Saturday 11th August, 2001.

From left: Mrs and Mr Ray Watsham, with daughter Rowena and her husband, with Town Mayor Cllr Steve Ford. 

  • See also article about Mrs Freda Watsham who got the Wivenhoe WI Choir a music teacher, who helped them win the Chelmsford Festival in about 1950. Click here.