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Ten quirky things you might not know about Felixstowe Ferry

PUBLISHED: 10:53 17 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:53 17 August 2018

The Right Honourable AJ Balfour – Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905 and on the right – playing at Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club. The links course was within easy reach of the capital and attracted an illustrious membership   Picture: COURTESY Ferry Words and Pictures

The Right Honourable AJ Balfour – Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905 and on the right – playing at Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club. The links course was within easy reach of the capital and attracted an illustrious membership Picture: COURTESY Ferry Words and Pictures

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From giant latex balloons launched towards Europe, to the Prime Minister who played regularly at the local golf course, it’s all in a new book

The cover of Felixstowe Ferry – Yesterday, Today and TomorrowThe cover of Felixstowe Ferry – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Imagine Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron or Theresa May not only joining your local golf club but becoming captain to boot. Fanciful? Well, something like it has happened in Suffolk.

Not with one of those four current or ex-Prime Ministers but with The Right Honourable AJ Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour.

Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club was the first links course developed within easy reach of London – built on sandy soil and buffeted by the wind. The club was founded in 1880 and its 18-hole Martello course is the fifth-oldest in England.

Early membership included not just the Prime Minister of the day (Arthur James Balfour was in office from 1902 to 1905) but – deep breath – 27 members of the House of Commons, nine from the House of Lords, a Home Secretary, a First Lord of the Admiralty, two Lord Mayors of London, four High Sheriffs of Suffolk, three admirals and four generals.

It’s but one of many “I didn’t know that” facts in a new book about Felixstowe Ferry. Today, “the Ferry” is a popular destination for day-trippers who enjoy eating in the pubs and cafes and crossing the river by ferry to Bawdsey. In holiday season, the jetty is invariably crowded with youngsters clutching buckets and nets.

But behind today’s “ramshackle charm of this small and much-loved hamlet on the mouth of the River Deben” is a colourful and rich history. The quirky story about nearly 100,000 giant latex rubber balloons filled with hydrogen, dispatched towards Nazi Germany during the Second World War, is still not widely known, for instance.

A wedding ring belonging to the wife of Felixstowe Ferry fisherman Jockey Hunt was found in the wreckage of his houseboat after the terrible 1953 flood. He’s on the right of this group of four fishermen   Picture: COURTESY Ferry Words and PicturesA wedding ring belonging to the wife of Felixstowe Ferry fisherman Jockey Hunt was found in the wreckage of his houseboat after the terrible 1953 flood. He’s on the right of this group of four fishermen Picture: COURTESY Ferry Words and Pictures

Historical facts and information from documentary records are woven with memories from residents and complemented by pictures from photograph albums and scrapbooks.

“Felixstowe Ferry – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” is the work of Elizabeth Setchim and Graham Henderson – two people who have fallen for its charms.

Liz, who has written the text, has been splitting her time between London and Felixstowe Ferry for more than 15 years. She arrived with her husband, looking for tranquillity and respite from working life, and quickly fell in love with the crisp dawns, huge skies and haunting beauty of the Ferry. Not knowing the East Coast, and neither sailors nor golfers, they didn’t realise straightaway what a special corner it was.

“How lucky we were to land by chance in such a quirky, beautiful and welcoming place, with its long maritime heritage and rich sense of community,” she says.

“A real mix of people live and work here and I consider myself fortunate indeed to have worked with Graham and everyone else involved with the book to collect memories and give the unusual history of this magical place some shape.”

Graham Henderson, who sourced and curated the photographs and other images, has lived in the Ferry since 1968 and is chairman of Suffolk Coast Against Retreat (SCAR). Graham has also served twice as commodore of Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club.

Ferryman Charlie Brinkley (note his missing right hand) who in 1896 saved a boy from icy water… and met him again years later, after the young man had lost an arm in combat   Picture: COURTESY Ferry Words and PicturesFerryman Charlie Brinkley (note his missing right hand) who in 1896 saved a boy from icy water… and met him again years later, after the young man had lost an arm in combat Picture: COURTESY Ferry Words and Pictures

Liz mentions the hamlet’s togetherness. The authors cite the Ferry’s active residents’ association, while there’s also much commercial activity and marine services.

A surprising number of folk have lived there most of their lives, with some residents in houseboats. Some holiday homes have been owned and used by five or six generations of the same family.

Nine more quirky things about Felixstowe Ferry

Felixstowe Ferry today – still a place of activity and echoing age-old skills     Picture: COURTESY Ferry Words and PicturesFelixstowe Ferry today – still a place of activity and echoing age-old skills Picture: COURTESY Ferry Words and Pictures

Odd coincidence: In 1896 Charlie Brinkley saved a boy who fell into icy water. Years later a young man who had lost an arm in combat told Charlie he was that boy, and thanked him. The strange thing was that Charlie, the ferryman, had lost his right hand following a shooting accident

Living in hull: The hulls of several decommissioned seaplanes from Royal Naval Air Service Felixstowe were towed to mudflats at the Ferry in the 1930s and used for many years as houseboats.

Up-cycling, the Ferry way: Some of the wooden huts still used as holiday homes were built to accommodate troops during the First World War.

A wedding ring lost and found: Amidst the devastation caused by the 1953 flood, a wedding ring belonging to fisherman Jockey Hunt’s wife was recovered from the wreckage of his houseboat.

Favourite haunt for a famous literary figure: Bassie Newson, who skippered Edward FitzGerald’s yacht ‘Scandal’, lived in Felixstowe Ferry. FitzGerald mentions the Ferry, Newson and his family many times in letters he wrote.

Sea air: In the 1920s, Dr Harvey Foote, one of the first osteopaths working in the UK, chose the Ferry as the place to develop the seaside therapeutic arm of his Harley Street practice.

Cartoon character: Giles, the famous cartoonist and a keen sailor, was associated with Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club for many years and was president from 1984 to 1995.

Proud heritage: The first records of a ferry service across the river-mouth date from 1181. The thriving medieval port of Goseford was nearby.

They travelled on the breeze: More than 90,000 giant latex rubber balloons were filled with hydrogen and launched near the golf club for Operation Outward, during the Second World War. The book explains why. (Hint: Think of high-tension power cables in Germany.)

* Summaries from Felixstowe Ferry – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Get a signed copy

Felixstowe Ferry – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is a hardback and costs £10. It will be available from Stillwater Books and Richard’s Books in Felixstowe, and from local museums and cafes, from August 27.

The authors will be signing and selling copies as part of FerryFest on Saturday, August 25 and Sunday 26 – in the marquee on Millennium Green at Felixstowe Ferry.

Published by Ferry Words and Pictures, the book has been three years in the making. It has 13 chapters, supported by 100 illustrations and interviews with residents.

It started out as an update to a publication from 1990 – ‘The Hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry’ in the Pictures from the Past series. The new book is dedicated to the memory of Phil Hadwen, one of the authors of that work.

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