Sea-Change:  Wivenhoe Remembered   

Introduction by Paul Thompson

Our book and the material on this website tells the story of how Wivenhoe has changed since the inter-war years, through to the 1980s, and with reflections from present-day perspectives. In the last eighty years a small riverside industrial village of little more than 2,000 people has grown to a town of 10,000, lost most of its industry and many of its shops, but gained a community of artists and the university. This is an oral history of Wivenhoe in this time of profound change, told here through the voices of its own people, the men and women, both locally-born and newcomers, older and younger, who have experienced these transforming times.

Oral history is spoken history, and the rhythms and patterns of speech are not the same as those of written English. In editing from the memories recorded for this project, we have condensed and tightened most extracts, but we have kept the grammar and turns of phrase and lyricism of oral speech, thus keeping our texts closer and truer to the spoken record.

One of the major strengths of oral history is that it can bring in evidence from a much wider social range than is possible from written sources, bringing a variety of perspectives on the same social changes. Thus landowning families are richly documented in the record offices, but here we can have been able to bring in witness from among their domestic servants and their ploughmen. Similarly, we can match the skilled shipyard craftsman with his apprentice, the shopkeeper with the delivery boy, the clergyman with the choirboy, the yachtsman with the yachtswoman. Oral history is equally valuable in giving us an almost unique access to many hidden aspects of the history of everyday life: for example, changing work culture, or leisure activities, or the world of childhood play.

Oral history also raises the question of memory. Certainly everyone’s memory is at least to some extent reshaped over time by personal experience. Fortunately research has shown that memory is strongest and most reliable for experiences which are regularly repeated, and this includes many of the themes we cover here, such as the experiences of work or family relationships. Conversely, memories of once-only events, such as accounts local conflicts, need to be read much more cautiously.

Sometimes, however, factual accuracy is not the main interest of a testimony. Very often stories and anecdotes are carrying a social message: such as the railway engine drivers whose off-duty tales of semi-mythical exploits tell us so eloquently of the drivers’ pride in their work skills. Other memories represent feelings and opinions, and it does not matter at all if these are different from those of other people: on the contrary, our sense of the varying experience of social change comes precisely from these contrasts.

In the chapters which follow, we look at changes in different aspects of Wivenhoe life: the farms, the riverside, factories, shops and so on. But let us begin with some overall views of the changing village, bringing out how there is no single story of Wivenhoe since the 1920s, but rather a series of perspectives, varying by age, position and experience. The first (exceptionally in this book) is from a written autobiography, Destiny Delayed, by Bill Loveless, born in 1921, whose father ran the gravel pit, and the last three from ten-year-olds are from a workshop held by the project at Broomgrove School in May 2006.

Some views of changing Wivenhoe

From the 1920s to the 1980s – Bill Loveless

In the late 1920s it could be called a rather non-descript sort of village: with a stratum of discontent because of decline in the River Colne shipbuilding prosperity of the war years: and a more narrow, rather clique like discontent that the days of fitting out and serving on rich men’s yachts were also drawing to an end… A few of the middle class proper there were in the village: two doctors, the Rector, an occasional person of culture and means, and one or two business men… But most of its inhabitants would now be called lower middle class, working in hum-drum jobbing, or retailing, or clerical capacities. Art-loving, riverside, semi-Bohemian Wivenhoe had yet to come.

Canon Stephen Hardie

I always felt Wivenhoe had four different types of people. First of all there were the people who worked in the Shipyard. When I went to Wivenhoe first of all, the Shipyard was very active… Another part of Wivenhoe was the University which I think when I first went there was still going through slightly trying times. And the third group were the commuters – the people who worked out of Wivenhoe – in Colchester or London, they were tied, totally, to the railway. And then the fourth group, what I would just call the old Wivenhoe people that had always lived there. I always felt that in many ways Wivenhoe was wonderfully classless.

Greasy cafes to delicatessens – Janita Lefevre

Some of the original Wivenhoe families did regret the fact that the town had expanded so enormously. There was a lot of looking back, by them, to the greasy cafes – the Lucy Dee, next to the Black Buoy, used to be a greasy café where you’d be able to find loads of men from the shipyard, having their bacon and eggs, in the morning, in a steamy atmosphere, just like in a city. And all of that started fading away, and becoming delicatessens and antique shops, to accommodate more the incomer.  The incomers, however, like me, were so thrilled to be in this place, we wanted to make it our home, and wanted to be part of it, and I think over the 27 years I’ve been here, what has evolved, is that the people who have come in, have loved Wivenhoe so much that they will sing its praises across the world.

Lost friendliness –Rodney Bowes

I used to love Wivenhoe with a passion, and that’s totally gone now.  It’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and the villageness about it has gone.  There’s no shops, there’s no heart to the place any more. People were more friendly.  When I first moved to where I live now, people just didn’t speak to me up there. It’s still a nice place to live but it’s just not what it used to be. You can walk in a crowded pub and feel very lonely, which is a weird feeling when I always think it’s like `my village’.

Enjoying new people – Don Smith

I like to see new people around. I’ve got some new neighbours moved in from London, which I’m very happy with. Let’s face it, it’s not right, is it, that in my age group, I should be too critical of all these young people coming in. I’m pleased a lot of the new people are getting involved in things, like in the Council, with the Wivenhoe Society, the Sailing Club. They’ve got to find their own levels and settle in, haven’t they?

Three ten-year-olds’ views today

Charlotte Gruender

It has lots of places to play in but it’s very busy and has lots of traffic. The woods are excellent and the field next to where I live is a great place to walk my dog. But some things are not so good like the future skate park on the field. I don’t really like all the houses being built at the Quay. I would love to have lived in the past because children had so much more freedom and no one had to go into town because there were so many more shops. Although I can’t imagine life without a car, TVs, radios and computers.

Aaron Wood

I like Wivenhoe because it has good parks and woods and it has nice people than help you and you can play anywhere in the woods. A game that we play is manhunt and you can play knock down ginger.

Holly Joscelyne

Wivenhoe seems to me as if it’s remote countryside, a village. I love the way the river sparkles as if star dust has been scattered on it by friendly angels. In the summer it’s really nice to go down to the park, and then get some fish and chips by the Quay. It’s amazing to think that great steam train rode past the woods every day! I think it would have been really cool to live when many of our grandparents lived her. It seems so weird that children were allowed to go anywhere they wanted!!! I can’t believe that they got up to much mischief. I’d have loved to see what school was like and meet the dreaded Miss Smith in person!