Mersea Books and Mersea People

BOOKS ABOUT MERSEA

Below are a list of books that are either about Mersea Island or feature Mersea in some way; others concern villages or locations near to the island. Many are out of print but some can be found under "Reference" at Colchester Library. In addition some can be found at the Mersea Museum.

A Boyhood in Mersea by Archie Smith.
(A Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).
A forthright account of a childhood and adolescence in Mersea written by a true Mersea old timer.

A Brief History of Mersea by E.M.Karbacz.
(A Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).
A booklet giving a brief history of the island.

A Mersea Scrapbook by Brian Jay.
Book containing 102 photographs.

A Study of Mersea Island to 1970 by Vivien Mary Edgson.

Anglo-Saxon Island by Sue Howlett.
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).
Mersea in the first Millennium.

As I Recall It edited by Steve Travis.
A comical tale from the past by Jack "The Ferret" Fargo. A humorous tongue in cheek view of life in Mersea during the 1930's.
Website: stevetravis 


Blackerchief Dick: A Tale of Mersea Island by Margery Allingham.
A novel about a local Smuggler, allegedly inspired by a seance held in a house in Seaview Avenue in the 1920's.

Black Swan by John Rowley.
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).
Schoolboy memories of messing about in an old sailing punt.

Buckets, Yokes and Wooden Spokes by Brian Jay.
Mersea Island, the past 100 years.

Business As Usual by Brian Jay.
Businesses on the island.

East Coast Pilot by Colin Jarman, Dick Holness and Garth Cooper.
Website: EastCoastPilot  


Essex Gold: Fortunes of the Essex Oysterman by Hervey Benham.

Estuary - Land and Water in the Lower Thames Basin by A.K.Astbury.
A fascinating account of the history of this part of Essex with many references to the Blackwater estuary and Mersea itself.

Fid Harnack by Sheila Carter and John Leather.
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).

From When I Can Remember by Pixie Farthing.

Further Reminiscences Vol 2 of Sabine Baring Gould's autobiography.
The chapter entitled "Ten Years on the Mud" tells of his life as Vicar of Mersea. 
Website: TenYearsOnTheMud 


Grand Inquisitor by Robin Day.
Auto-biographical book. Reminisences of boyhood, army service and the Bar by the foremost television interviewer of our age. Mersea Island in wartime and joining the local Home Guard. His parents had a holiday home in Seaview Avenue.

Isle of Mersea by Brian Jay.
The Marsh Island, 100 photographs and postcards of life on Mersea Island in days gone by.

Looking Over My Shoulder by Cecil Willett Cunnington.
Biography - his life in East London as a G.P. and his life later in Mersea living in a cottage at the Nothe.

Mehalah - A Story of the Salt Marshes by Sabine Baring-Gould.
A gothic Victorian melodrama, a best seller in its day. Baring-Gould was Rector of East Mersea for ten years and did not care for either the island or its people. The characters in the book are, allegedly, based on real Mersea people and real Mersea places.

Mersea Island by John Marriage.
One of the Britain in Old Photographs series, over 200 of them featuring Mersea from Victorian times to the middle of the 20th century.

Mersea Island by Nolly Urquhart.
Produced for West Mersea Town Council and illustrated by Leafy Dumas.
An introduction to Maritime Mersea, its estuary and eco-system.
Available to purchase from the Town Council office for £2.


Mersea Island 2001 - A Snapshot of a Unique Community
A book all about Mersea compiled to celebrate the Millennium plus a Millennium Map.

Mersea Island Golf Club by Gordon Taylor and Roger Bullen
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).

Mersea Memories by Brian Jay.
Selection of postcards and photographs.


Mersea Mick - A Doggy Tale From a Muddy Island by Veronique Eckstein.
Illustrated by Leafy Dumas and Tom Knight.
Childrens book inspired by local stories.
Website: mersea-island-tales 

More Mersea Memories by Brian Jay.
Selection of postcards and photographs of Mersea Island.


Not Just a Name by Roger Bullen.
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).
An account of Mersea Island's Fallen of the First World War.

Now the Day is Over: Life and Times of Sabine Baring-Gould by Harold Kirk Smith.

"Old Spiery" - Mersea's Fighting Parson by Mary R. Stevens.
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).
A true account of the Reverend Charles Pierrepont Edwards M.C., Vicar of West Mersea 1898 to 1946.

Oysters and Ale by Heather Haward.
A book of Poems by Emma Haward - written from 1859 who was born in East Mersea. Collected and compiled by Heather Haward.

Saltwater Village by Margaret Leather.

Seahorse by Mersea Museum.
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).

The Christmas Seal by Veronique Eckstein.
Illustrated by Leafy Dumas and Tom Knight.
Childrens book inspired by local stories.
Website: mersea-island-tales

The House of Marney by John Goodwin.
An adventure story about a lost inheritance. The setting was the old house in Coast Road (now New Orleans apartments). John Goodwin was the pseudonym of Sydney Floyd Gowing who lived in Victory Road. This book was made into a silent crime film in 1926. 

The Magic of the Swatchways by Maurice Griffiths.
Celebrating the beauty of the creeks and rivers.

The Memories of a Mersea Oysterman by Leslie French.
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).

The Salty Shore by John Leather.
A story of Essex seafaring - a study of the men and craft that have sailed from the small communities along the Blackwater estuary.

The Secrets of the Mound Mersea Barrow 1912-2012 by Sue Howlett.
(Mersea Island Museum Trust publication).

Three Came Unarmed by E. Arnot Robinson.
Fictional adventure stories based on the island.

Toasted Cheese and Cinders by Sybil Brand.
An affectionate portrait of a Mersea childhood in Edwardian times.

When Opo Left by Esther Kinsky.
Childrens book based on a true story of when the pilot whales came into the River Blackwater in November 2014.

People

Famous people who have lived or had connections with Mersea. Mersea has never made the most of its historical connections. Where, for example is the Baring-Gould Bookshop, the Pierrepont Public House, the D'Wit's Diner or even the Mehalah Sharland Tea Rooms? The Island has quite a few famous connections that we can boast about.

Below are some of the more renowned residents of Mersea and some who have had close connections with the place. Please note however that West Mersea Town Council take no responsibility for the accuracy of this section.

Albert Victor Alexander, Earl Alexander of Hillsborough 1885-1965
Politician, First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Defence.
Once lived at Wellhouse Farm, West Mersea.
Minister of Defence in the Post War Labour Government under Prime Minister, Clement Attlee.

Alberto Semprini 1908-1990
Concert Pianist who lived on the houseboat L'Esperance during the 1960's/70's. People would pause by the boat to listen to him play - he also practised on a grand piano in a storeroom at Clifford White's builders shop in Barfield Road.

Archie White 1899-1957
Artist and Yachtsman. A fine Watercolourist whose paintings reflected his love of the East Coast, he was also known as a witty after dinner speaker.

Arthur Briscoe 1873-1943 
Marine Artist and Print Maker (etchings) who worked and lived at Besom House, near the waterfront.

Flight Lieutenant Charles W.A. Scott 1903-1946
Lived for a while in Mersea, his parents had a house in Fairhaven Avenue. In 1934 Scott, with partner Captain Tom Black, flying a De Havilland Comet, won the MacRobertson Air Race to Australia.

Christina Foyle 1911-1999
Founder of the well known eccentric bookshop in Charing Cross Road.
The Foyles family lived at Beeleigh Abbey, Maldon, but they also owned a holiday home "The Thatch" at East Mersea, as well as one of the original Coopers Beach chalets, and would spend the summer here.

Sir Clive Sinclair 1940-
Well known for his spectacular failures, notably the Sinclair C5, an electric tricycle driven by a washing machine motor. He lived in Mersea Avenue and was often seen testing out this machine along Mersea's roads. Knighted by Thatcher's government he continues to produce innovative products from his London HQ.

Cynthia Payne 1932-2015
Often stayed at the White Hart. Mrs Payne was notorious in the 1970-80's as a Madam who kept a House of ill repute in Streatham frequented by Cabinet Ministers and High Court Judges and the like with strange desires. Mrs Payne later became an accomplished after dinner speaker.

Sir Edward Heath 1916-2005
Often sailed his Yacht "Morning Cloud" from Mersea, and no doubt had a drink or two in the Yacht Club.

Ernest A. Harnack (father of Fid)
Pioneer of the x-ray for medical purposes, he also lived in West Mersea for a while.
Website: ErnestHarnack 

Fid Harnack 1897-1984
Eminent Marine Artist lived and worked in West Mersea.

George Ernest Studdy 1878-1948
Cartoonist and Illustrator. During the 1920's his Studdy Dog, named Bonzo, was known as "the most famous puppy dog in the world", appearing in adverts, children's comics and even as a neon sign at Piccadilly Circus. Studdy was a frequent visitor to Mersea before the War often dining at the old Social and Sailing Club (now The Coast Inn).

Lord Greenwood 1911-1982
Baron Greenwood of Rossendale, former Minister of Housing in the Labour Government 1965-70. He had a holiday house which stood on the site of the Old Ship Inn in East Mersea for more than thirty six years.

Princess Hohenzollern
Wife of Leopold Hohenzollern was exiled to Spain during the war. She later escaped and eventually ended up in Mersea. The Hohenzollerns were a German dynastic family of former princes, electors, kings and emperors of Hohenzollerns, Brandenburg, Prussia, the German Empire and Romania.

Hugh Iorys Hughes 1902-1977
A quiet unassuming Welshman who once lived at Besom House, Coast Road. A Civil Engineer, he was a major player in the development of the wartime "Mulberry Harbours" large concrete pontoons which enabled ships to unload tanks, lorries and all the paraphenalia of warfare where there were no harbour facilities.

Jack Buchanan 1891-1957 and Cicely Courtneidge 1893-1980
Mersea between the wars became quite fashionable with the middle classes. A house overlooking the sea called 'Casa Pantis' was owned by a well to do Theatrical Impresario who held regular weekend parties for stars of stage and screen. Among the more famous visitors were Jack Buchanan and Cicely Courtneidge, they would arrive by chauffuer driven limo to partake of pink gins and sparkling conversation on the terrace. The house is still here.

Sir Jesse Herbert
Secretary to Herbert Gladstone (son of Prime Minister Gladstone) and Liberal Chief Whip in 1906. He lived at 'Shameen', a house which once stood at the south end of Seaview Avenue.

Lloyd George 1863-1945
Prime Minister 1916 to 1922 allegedly came to Mersea to stay at 'Shameen', an Edwardian mansion overlooking the sea in Seaview Avenue. He was the guest of the owner Sir Jesse Herbert. The house was pulled down in the fifties.

Margery Allingham 1904-1966
Crime novelist who lived at Tolleshunt D'Arcy. Margery and her family spent the summer holiday of 1921 in a house in Seaview Avenue - to pass the time they held seances where Margery claimed to have made contact with the spirit of a 17th century smuggler. This inspired young Margery to write an historical novel about Mersea called "Blackerchief Dick". She later wrote detective fiction featuring the character Albert Campion. She also wrote The Oaken Heart, the story of an Essex village (Tolleshunt D'Arcy) during the Second World War.

Maurice Griffiths 1902-1997
Author of 'The Magic of the Swatchways' and was Editor of 'Yachting Monthly'. As a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves he was awarded the George Medal for his work trawling for and defusing mines during WW2. Retired to Mersea where he died in 1997.

Prince Nicholas Galitzine
Often visited Mersea for the shooting during the 1930's.

Olive Guthrie Smith 1883-1956
Mrs Guthrie Smith, a Physiotherapist, lived at the mansion Orleans which once stood in Coast Road. She developed a suspension apparatus; a system of slings and pulleys to enable paraplegics to move and exercise.

Oliver Cromwell 1599-1658
Is reputed to have stayed at Bocking Hall during the Civil War.

Rev. C. Pierrepont Edwards
Whilst serving as a Curate in London's East End, Pierrepont was always ready to settle a dispute with his fists if necessary and thus earned the title "Fighting Parson".
He served with the Essex Yeomanry in the Boer War and during the First World War became Chaplain to the 5th Essex Infantry Brigade. The Reverend was awarded the Military Cross for his gallant efforts rescuing the wounded at Gallipoli. After the war he returned to his previous job - that of Clerk to West Mersea Parish Council.

Rayner Goddard 1877-1971
Lord Chief Justice of England, 1946-1958.
He was a frequent visitor to Mersea and came mainly for the shooting. Known as a harsh judge, he was markedly pro capital punishment. He gave a heavily slanted summing up of the case against Derek Bentley who was accused of the murder of a policeman, 19 year old Bentley was hanged despite his questionable guilt.

Sir Robin Day 1923-2000
Robin Day's parents had a house at the north end of Seaview Avenue and Sir Robin recalls happy holidays in Mersea as a child. Whilst waiting to be enlisted he briefly joined the Mersea Home Guard, which he describes in his book "Grand Inquisitor". He was also a temporary teacher at schools in West Bergholt and Wivenhoe and would cycle to work from Mersea.

Tessie O'Shea 1914-1995
Last of the "Big Momma" singers - she often came to Mersea. It was said that she had financial interests in some of the shipping that moored in the river at one time.

The New Seekers 
Popular pop group formed in 1969. Over the years the group had many hits including the famous "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing". Members of the group, including singer Eve Graham, lived at Rewsalls Farm where they had a recording studio.

Sir Thomas Lipton 1848-1931
Tea magnate and grocer, he made five attempts at the Americas Cup with a crew mainly from Tollesbury and Mersea. His yachts, all called 'Shamrock', sailed the Blackwater Estuary.

Walt Disney 1901-1966
Rumour has it that during the 1930's a young Walt Disney paid a visit to England and played a round of golf at East Mersea golf course.

Winston Churchill 1874-1965
Churchill reputedly came to Mersea more than once during WW2 with some of his War Cabinet. 
At this time Mrs W. M. Hone (a wonderful Cook) was mine host at the old Social and Sailing Club in Coast Road (now the Coast Inn). She cooked several sumptuous meals for Winston Churchill at the Club. 
Winston Churchill was also said to have been a regular visitor to Besom House (corner of Victory Road and Coast Road) during the war.