From an idea in 1966

From the age of five I spent many happy hours with my father in the Walton backwaters, walking an wild flowing and I think this is where my love for the area and the sea was born. I remember during one long walk my father said how good it would be to have a cafe in the backwaters! Not long after Father and I started out boar building business the mass production of fibre-glass boats commenced. I could see that hand made wooden boats would be priced out of the market and decided that mass produced boats would require mass produced berths, the idea of a marina was born.

We selected a local site that would afford all year round protection for the boars and Mr David Blyth agreed to grant us a lease on part of his farmland. Then the trials and tribulations started. When the plans were made public there was opposition both locally and from various government bodies, even to the extent of involving a public inquiry. It was obvious that a few people at that time had any real conception of a marina, but eventually permission was granted in 1966 and the bank granted us an overdraft of £500 for six months!

During the days we continued boat building but worked every evening & weekends found me with my black Labrador working on the marina site. Eventually not only did i not know what time it was, i did not know what day it was ! In desperation my wife bought me a watch with the date on it. Two dragline cranes and bull-dozer were used for the excavation work and when the entrance channel was dug the soft mud peeled away like the lifting of a sole of a shoe exposing dry clay below. The floor level of the yacht basin proved to be claystone, the same material as was used in the building of Colchester castle. At that time works on the Frinton Esplanade required roughly a million tons of earth to be removed and we were the happy recipients, using the material to reclaim marsh land and construct sea walls.

With the marina visibly taking shape I became concerned over the isolation of the site and the potential security risks to boats. My application to build a bungalow on site was refused and my suggestion that we live on a house-boat was not greeted with enthusiasm by my wife. However a compromise was reached when temporary permission was granted for a pre-fabricated bungalow to be built on a normandy barge. This was highly successful and we enjoyed a very comfortable home with wonderful views for many years.

1970 provided a day to remember...

1970 provided a day to remember. The sea wall was finally allowed into the basin and our new home was floated into position, providing a cartoon or the local paper! Mr David Blyth then entered into partnership with us but it was not until years later that he admitted that at the time he did not envisage the marina would develop to its present dimensions. Mid summer 1974 welcomed the first two boats into the marina, one of which belonged to Mr Fred Avent, a well known local businessman.

At this time the marina still did not have a name, we were too engrossed with the project to ave given it any consideration. We discovered the local people and berth holders were already calling it Titchmarsh's, so the name took hold. Out of interest i visited the village of Titchmarsh in Northampton and the local historian informed me that in 700 AD a Saxon named Ticcea owned marshland there. The name Ticceas-marsh evolved into Titchmarsh. Since the marina was developed on marshland perhaps on reflection the name is appropriate.

By the summer of 1974 the marina was finally taking shape but we still had a great deal to do before we could live up to the name of a marina. Whilst replacing our foreshore moorings with pile moorings i was found one evening marooned and hanging onto a pile with my dinghy floating away; a sailor not securing his dinghy! Fortunately for me a cold swim was avoided when a customer discovered me in my embarrassing situation. We awoke one morning in the early 1980's to see the marina completely devoid of water with hundreds of flounders flapping on the mud. It was as if someone had pulled the plug.

This phenomenon was caused by a combination of low tide, wind direction and very low pressure, fortunately it has a so far only happened the once. With the marina working to capacity permission was obtained to dig a second basin, this time using large excavating equipment, moving twenty tons with each bucketful and moving around the site at thirty miles per hour. Having two basins resulted in creating a "them and us"situation among the customers so we decided to employ a Dutch firm, Zarnan Dredging, to remove the dividing sea wall; an activity which created a great deal of local interest.

The hurricane of 1987.....

Everything was going well then in 1987 the hurrican struck. I remained in the barge unable to see what was going on through the sea spray and knowing there was nothing i could do to secure the boats. When eventually i was able to venture out and survey the scene i found that fortunately the damage was no-where as serious as I had feared, but after that experience all boats ashore had to be secured in cradles. By 1992 I decided the time had come to fulfil father's dream of a Cafe in the backwaters and permission was granted for the restaurant now known as Harbour Lights.

During one rough winter's night in 1994, a ferry captain alerted the coastguards that a suspicious small boat was heading our way. The 23ft motor boat was met on its arrival at the marina by Mr David Todd of Tower Security, who promptly arrested a dozen illegal immigrants on board whilst the skipper was denying any knowledge of their being on his 23ft boat! Disturbance to wild life was one of the major reasons for the opposition to the marina.

In 1970 we noted the lack of small birds in the area but as the years went by the situation changed. Swallows nested under the eaves of the barge, a hen blackbird built a nest in our working tractor and successfully raised a brood of chicks travelling around the site. A ring plover raised her brood in a nest on the car park and much to the irritation of one yachtsman a blackbird nested in his laid-up mast. Swans with their cygnets are frequent visitors, little terns can be seen fishing in the marina basin and every evening at dusk the wagtails nest on the polystyrene under the pontoons. Grey mullet come into the marina each year to spawn, seals sometimes swim in the marina and bask on the banks and we have watched foxes on the sea wall outwitting the hunt.

Many customers some of whom are third generation, tell us their weekend actually begins in Coles Lane seeing the wild life as they drive to their boats. One of the original planning conditions was to screen the marina with trees, as no-one would want to see the boats. How wrong they were, many people come just "to look at the boats". Hundred of trees have been planted over the years, mostly dying as a result of the salty conditions but we have finally managed to carry out a successful landscaping project, planting over one thousand five hundred trees and making a fresh water lake. We hope the origonal fears for the area have now been allayed and that all will agree that marina allows the wild life to prosper, the yachts men to sail in tranquil waters or venture further a field and local residents to enjoy a beautiful area that previously may not have been known to them.

Words written by John Titchmarsh.