Legends of Felixstowe Ferry

 

 

 

John as Harbour Master

John as Harbour Master

One of our oral historians interviewed the harbour master at Felixstowe Ferry, John White, and he shared his wealth of knowledge about the coastline and river Deben where it opens out to sea, meeting the North Sea.    A resident of Felixstowe Ferry virtually all his life, John’s work has covered fishing, boat building, running the Felixstowe Ferry to Bawdsey and operating a boat trip business along the Deben and coastline.

 

 

John’s ferry connections go back to his father’s generation when ohn’s John’s Ferry connections go back to his father’s generation when his  father was a fisherman.   He used to fish for lobsters, crabs and whelks.  The lobsters were sold mainly to local fishmongers in Felixstowe but also to the Newmarket races for the clientele there.  His father’s first fishing boat was called Girl Pam named after his daughter and it’s still on the water along the East Anglian coast.  His parent went on to run the Ferry Boat Inn for several years with his mother continuing the role of publican for a further fourteen years after his father passed away.

John reflects, ‘I think fishing was the main industry here just after the war, but there was always a boatyard here. 

Fishermen at the Ferry

Fishermen at the Ferry

 

I think the boatyard was started in about 1928 by the son of the then proprietor of the Ferry Boat Inn.  During the war they used to build quite a lot of boats for the Royal Navy, like motor boats that were in use all the time during the war.  After the war it was then taken over by a company in Ipswich called CH Fox.  I started my apprenticeship… with C H Fox in 1955 I think.  I am a boat builder myself and spent 42 years building boats down at Felixstowe Ferry.  In fact I’ve spent the whole of my working life at Felixstowe Ferry.’

 

 

 

 

John’s ferry connections go back to his father’s generation when ohn’s John’s Ferry connections go back to his father’s generation when his  father was a fisherman.   He used to fish for lobsters, crabs and whelks.  The lobsters were sold mainly to local fishmongers in Felixstowe but also to the Newmarket races for the clientele there.  His father’s first fishing boat was called Girl Pam named after his daughter and it’s still on the water along the East Anglian coast.  His parent went on to run the Ferry Boat Inn for several years with his mother continuing the role of publican for a further fourteen years after his father passed away.

 

      ‘Down at the ferry here I think there were more people fishing.  There were five or six full time fisherman at the time, when I started in the boatyard there were three people working – two apprentices and one shipwright who was the manager for CH Fox.   It’s always been quite a close community.  There are 29 houses here, not all occupied nowadays, but in those days they were all full time occupiers.

 

 

      ‘There were also some old retired boys that used to live on one or two houseboats.  Some of those houseboats were actually Flying-boat hulls.  Flying boat hulls came from Felixstowe Air Station, the sea planes that were probably no longer in production, because they were all individually built in those days, most of them built of wood, built by shipwrights, by the way, and the wings were cut off and I remember at least three hulls down here laying in the mud creeks which people used to use as houseboats.’

 

      ‘For the last ten years I’ve been harbour master here and for some of that time I also ran the ferry across the river.  But every year the river entrance changes because of the shifting shingle banks.  And that’s caused by what we call the coastal drift with the shingle from north to south.  And when the shingle coming from the North hits the river entrance here you’ll get certain different tides that shift the shingle around causing what we call a bar on the river entrance.  That bar moves every year and the channel that goes through those shingle banks, the banks we call the knolls, basically the channel moves a little further south every year.   Occasionally it extends itself too far to the south and breaks through to the north east again, starting the cycle again.’

John in the 1980s as ferryman

John in the 1980s as ferryman on 'Girl Pam'

 

 

 

 

Nowadays as well as the main job of harbour master, John gives talks about the legendary characters of yesteryear at Felixstowe Ferry to groups who request it.  He has some funny stories about local characters that were well known at Felixstowe Ferry throughout his life there.  If you ever meet John ask him about Albert Aldis who ran the local bus between the Ferry and Felixstowe town.  John’s chats about the ‘Legends of Felixstowe’ are popular and he regularly talks to groups of a hundred or more.  It’s fair to say that over all the decades John has become a true legend himself.

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses to “Legends of Felixstowe Ferry”


  1. 1 Chris Ford November 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    John referred to the boat building during the II World War at the Felixstowe Ferry Boat Yard. The yard during those years was run by Phil Pearce, producing, as John said, mainly small wooden craft for the war effort. Phil sold out to CH Fox before John started work there.
    Phils’ second surviving son Fred worked as a fisherman from the ferry for several years, catching fish and doing some lobstering. Phil fished with 2 others in single handed vessels. The only contact btween the vessels was by ship to ship radios. One of the other fisherman was from the Brinkley family.
    Fred built his own house at the ferry and it is still standing – a bungalow built high off the ground. Next door is a bigger house that was owned by a fisherman and is now a B&B.

    Charlie Brinkley lived in a small boat up on the shingle bank at the ferry, next to the public toilet. He had a hook for a hand which did not deter him from regularly rowing a dinghy in the estuary.

  2. 2 Chris Ford February 9, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Notable figures of Felixstowe Ferry should include the following people, even if I cannot remember all the names:
    The Brinkley family who fished and operated the ferry for many years, including the elder Brinkley who lived in a tarred boat near the ferry. He had one hooked artificial hand and even when very elderly he could be seen rowing his dinghy in the estuary.
    Phil Pearce ran the boatyard during the war untill about 1950. His son Fred fished from the ferry for many years.
    The ladies who ran the cafe for many years were a necessary part of local life.
    A coast guard official and his wife lived in one of the wooden house that were supported on oil drums to raise them above flood levels. His job eventually took them to the Isle of Lewis, where it was fround upon for a wife to talk to the local (fisher) men as had been quite acceptable at Felixstowe.
    These are brief recollections of my summer visits to Felixstowe while staying with my grandparents, Margaret and Phil Pearce.

  3. 3 ivor casperd February 28, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Hello John,
    This is a longshot and please excuse me for bothering you. However, after reading the Legends of Felixstowe article, which I thoroughly enjoed, noted that you had been employed with CH Fox, the boat builders.
    My son has a beautifully restored, clinker built dinghy (approx. 12 to 14 ft long), built circa 1925, by CH Fox. He is very keen to replace the 3 hp engine with the original. He thinks this could have been a 3 hp, 2 stroke Watermota unit, but it may have been another type available at that time.
    I realise that this is going back a very long way, but wondered if you knew of any other CH Fox person who could advise on this, as I would be most grateful. My phone number is 01428 723711.
    Again, having visited your part of the world often, thank you for Legends of Felixstowe which I did enjoy.
    Ivor Casperd.


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