Mistley, Manningtree and Lawford: the past in pictures

For Bob Horlock, the past lies just outside his door. He’s lived his life by the River Stour and in a new pictorial book honours the history of towns and villages he knows well. Steven Russell takes a look

TIME and tide might wait for no man, but while nothing escapes the passage of years, some things retain their recognisable core beneath an ageing skin. Consigned to history are the heydays for trade and industry along the banks of the River Stour that would see armies of men descend on a vessel to unload stacks of timber or other cargo. On the other hand, many of the buildings of a century ago are immediately recognisable today, though signs and streetlights have altered – as have policemen’s uniforms. And deliveries to the Crown Hotel in Manningtree are no longer made by horse and cart . . .

These sights and more are contained within a new book from Bob Horlock and Mike Fryer, showcasing more than 100 photographs taken in the Mistley, Manningtree and Lawford area during the first quarter of the 20th Century or thereabouts.

There are children on the beach in about 1890 and smoke billowing from the busy EDME malt extract works. Crowds celebrate the coronation of King George V, and the Manningtree Volunteers of the Essex Regiment turn out in uniform. Staff from the new Co-operative store in Lawford pose for a picture on what could be opening day in about 1907, and there’s a photograph of three of the 113 German submarines that surrendered at Harwich in November, 1918.

“I began collecting ephemera many moons ago, especially old photographs and postcards with the hope that I might eventually do something with them, and a photo book had always been in the back of my mind,” Bob explains.


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He estimates that 70-80% of the images in the 112-page softback have never come before the gaze of the general public.

“Hopefully, most of these photos haven’t been seen. Some have – the museum group produced a booklet 10 or 15 years ago, and I tried not to duplicate, but one or two were so good I just had to have them. Really, this is breaking new photographic ground.”

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A couple of years ago Bob worked with Mike Fryer on The Racing Horlocks, a book chronicling the family’s success at racing barges. All in all, Horlocks were involved in 144 races as owners or crew. Bob’s father Chubb was the king: in 57 barge races he notched 33 wins, 11 seconds, seven thirds and only six non-placings.

The Racing Horlocks – which included the diligent research of historian Ron Weyda – recalled the days of the 1800s and the early part of the 20th Century, when the estuaries of the Thames and Medway, and the rivers of Essex and Suffolk, were alive with the red sails of the Thames spritsail barge. These workhorses carried cargoes to and from the capital and elsewhere. At one time there were more than 2,000 plying their trade on the East Coast.

In thinking about giving this new set of old pictures an airing (if you see what I mean), Bob again turned to Mike. “I had the photos and he had the expertise to design the book and enhance the photos; we also had the same sense of humour!”

The photographs are from a variety of sources. Some are old postcards or maps; some are from private collections. But the major debt of thanks goes to a professional photographer from Leytonstone called Alf Musto, who at the start of the 20th Century would stay with Bob’s relatives in Mistley.

“He took lots of photos of village life, made trips on the family barges with his camera and used a pony and trap to visit nearby villages. He used to leave a small photo album of his pictures with friends in the village as a ‘thank you’ present. These albums have been sources for many of the photos we have used.”

A few years ago, he says wryly, three of these Musto “present” albums sold on eBay for �1,500!

The book also contains several map extracts. Bob and Mike felt Mistley Quay was such an important feature of the area that it merited special treatment. “We came up with the idea of using old maps and plans to show how the quay had developed in the years before 1900. After that date the photos take over.”

Bob’s family came to Mistley in 1840 and he’s lived in the area all his life. What goes through his mind when he looks at the pictures and sees how things have changed over the course of a century or so?

“There’s always a sense of nostalgia, isn’t there, for things long gone, but I think it hides a reality that for a lot of people wasn’t very brilliant. It was a hard life, especially in shipping. We haven’t got a winter scene there, I don’t think – the pictures are in summertime – but winter would have been another story.”

He chuckles. “Naturally, an old g** like me thinks the village has been ruined by all the development – but that seems to be what everybody thinks about change.”

One thing he does appreciate about modern times is the greater transparency and a willingness to question the status quo. In the past, he says, most people “knew their station”. They strove not to step out of line and incur the displeasure of influential landowners or major employers.

n Visiting the Past: Images of the Mistley, Manningtree and Lawford Area circa 1900-1925 costs �10. It is being launched at Stour Sailing Club, Quay Street, Manningtree, between 11am and 2pm on Saturday, September 10.

Copies should also be stocked by Townsends shop in Manningtree High Street and Mistley Post Office. It can also be ordered directly from Bob on 01206 393 708 or by email at bobhorlock@onetel.com

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