THE CHANGING NATURE OF THE TOWN
William Aldrich was born in Southwold in 1781. He became a pilot aboard a Trinity House cutter – this was probably the most respected job that a seaman could attain. He married Rachael Dean at the age of twenty and nine years later in 1810 his only surviving son, also called William, was born. The couple also had a daughter. The younger William also became a seaman by trade, and by the middle years of the century he too was a North Sea pilot, navigating sailing vessels in and out of the Suffolk ports of Lowestoft and Southwold. He lived to be 86 which was a good age in the 19th century. The open air life of a sailor must have suited his constitution.
William junior had married Lydia Wright of the adjoining coastal village of Walberswick, and among their children was Edward Jarrod Aldrich, born in 1846. Edward also became a seaman; at the time of the 1861 census he was the ship’s boy aboard the Woodland Lass as a sixteen-year-old. On the day the census was taken the ship was in Lowestoft Roads, and at the same time his father was piloting the William and Mary, also off Lowestoft. The Woodland Lass was owned by Henry Wright of Walberswick (1815-1876). This vessel did a coasting trade from the river Blyth, and in 1871 when the next census was taken he was aboard this vessel at Shoreham harbour in Sussex, and he had risen to be mate of the Woodland Lass. Three years earlier had married Agnes Clara Wright, the daughter of the ship’s owner, Henry Wright. Henry and Lydia Wright were undoubted related, but how closely it is impossible to tell from the records we have. By 1875 Edward Aldrich was Master Mariner of his own ship, a topsail schooner which sailed from Reydon quay on the river Blyth. By unloading his cargo at Reydon quay he avoided paying the tolls charged by Southwold Town Council at Blackshore. According to the trade directory he was living at South Cliff in Southwold and Henry Wright was living at South Green. South Green I know, but I cannot find a street named South Cliff. However South Cliff Cottage was where his son Stanley lived when I knew him, and undoubtedly this was Edward’s residence at this time.
In his forties Edward became a lodging house keeper at 27 Station Road. He did not entirely give up the sea as he is recorded as a boat owner too. But Southwold was changing; even the name of the street reflects the altering fortunes of the town. It would no longer be predominately a seafaring community but a holiday resort. The Southwold Railway had arrived in 1879 and this brought increasing numbers of trippers to the coast. They needed somewhere to stay, and Edward Jarrod Aldrich was one entrepreneur who provided it.
Stanley Aldrich (1884-1960) was one of Agnes and Edward’s children. He did not follow his family tradition as a seaman although, as we shall see, the sea was in his blood. By the 20th century the opportunities were getting fewer for the young men of Southwold to go to sea. Steamers did not enter the difficult harbour mouth of the river Blyth, calling instead at the pier after it was built in 1900; and, despite the best efforts of the town, sailing drifters never took to the port. Instead of going to sea Stanley became an apprentice woodcarver. By 1911 he was living with his new wife (a Londoner) in Newmarket Street Norwich, where he was working as a carpenter and woodcarver.
By the 1930s he had returned to Southwold and was running a boat building business in Ferry Road. As I understand it, these were small rowing boats and sailing dinghies, not larger vessels. The substantial brick-built workshop was completely destroyed in the 1953 floods. In the 1930s, during the summer months, he left his boat building temporarily behind, instead running a tea stall. By the time I remember Stanley Aldrich he was a widower and pensioner and no longer served cups of tea or built boats. He had however a fine collection of model yachts that he had made over the years, and these he would sometimes bring down to the model yacht pond in Ferry Road.
We young boys regarded him with a certain degree of awe; we would stand mute and watch the old man trimming the sails before pushing his yacht off from the bank. Our model yachts were mere toys, with a single mast and a jib and mainsail. His were much larger, virtually scale models, with two or three masts, topsails, multiple foresails and in one or two instances, with square sails too. They all had bowsprits as a matter of course. As I intimated earlier, he lived in South Cliff Cottage which still has the painting of a sailing ship by the front door, which greets the rising sun. This picture was there in Stanley’s day; I wonder if the vessel represents Edward Aldrich’s Woodland Lass?
For those who wish to read more on the history of Southwold I recommend the website southwoldandson.co.uk which has a wealth of information on the businesses in the town. There you can see pictures of Edward Aldrich’s lodging house in Station Road, and Stanley Aldrich’s business premises in Ferry Road.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA