Tollesbury men on the big racing yachts

The small Essex village of Tollesbury has a fascinating maritime heritage. The village sign and Parish Church window illustrate ‘Endeavour’, one of the British entries in the Americas Cup during the 1930s. Apart from the racing, there’s a special tale to tell of the yacht and some of the men of Tollesbury from the early 20th century, caught here in archive film footage.

Many local fishermen spent the winter working their oyster smacks or sailing the special barges, known as ‘stackies’, laden with straw and hay on passage to London. In the 1920s and 1930s, along with men from West Mersea, Rowhedge and Wivenhoe, the experienced sailors and skippers of Tollesbury were sought after as crew on the Edwardian gentlemen’s big yachts such as ‘Britannia’, ‘Shamrock’, ‘Endeavour’, ‘Velsheda’ and ‘Astra’. In the summer months, they raced in the company of kings on the Clyde, the Solent and across the Atlantic in the America’s Cup.

Now housing small businesses, including a delightful teashop, The Loft, the distinctive sail lofts alongside the Hard in Tollesbury, built around 1902,  were used to store the sails of the big yachts during the winter.

The 1930 ‘Shamrock V’ America’s Cup crew all hailed from Tollesbury: Tom Cudmore, Lemman Cranfield, Cyril, Ted (Snr), Ted Heard (Jnr) and Billy Wilkinson.

‘Endeavour I’ was the 1934 challenger for the America’s Cup and in 1937 she crossed the Atlantic in company with her replacement, ‘Endeavour II’, to train together in advance of the race itself. The return passage involves the tale of a severed towline, which forms an exhibit in the Mersea Museum. ‘Endeavour’ was being brought back across the Atlantic by the motor yacht ‘Viva II’ when the towline broke, leaving her to sail back amidst considerable concern over the crew’s safety, since nothing was heard from her during the long Atlantic passage.

View the short Pathe News clip of her return to the UK.