Tuesday, 12 February 2013


The Guildhall

I was in Harwich on business and naturally planned to have a town walk after I had finished my meeting. I found a partial tour on the Harwich Society website and putting this together with other information and a sketch map on the same website I was able to develop my own route around this interesting port. I have since found an extraordinarily well-documented walk around Harwich on the Discovering Britain web site. This is rune by the Royal Geographical Society and looks to be an absolute treasure trove.

I started the walk at the railway station and turned away from the town to find the Redoubt. This is a circular fort surrounded by a deep moat which was built in 1808-10 as a defence against invasion by Napoleon. It originally accommodated ten 24 pounder cannon. The guns were later upgraded several times, but it never fired a shot in anger. In World War II it was used as a detention centre for soldiers awaiting court martial. In winter it is only open on Sunday, so I had to content myself with a walk around the outer perimeter.

I then doubled back towards the town and turned right towards the sea to see the Low Lighthouse, now the maritime museum.

Behind it, across the green, is - yes! - the High Lighthouse.  A helpful plaque reveals that they both date from 1818 and were designed to work together as leading lights to guide ships into the harbour. However, as Languard Point silted up and the safest route changed they became known as "misleading lights" and their use was discontinued in 1863. (In case you were wondering where the light is, the picture was taken from the land side, so the fixed glass for the light cannot be seen.)

Nearby is the celebrated Treadwheel Crane. It is believed to be the only remaining example of this type of crane in the country. Inside the hut are two caged wheels in which men walked to lift and lower the crane. There was no braking mechanism so it must have been a very hazardous undertaking. The Crane dates from 1667 and was moved from the naval yard to its present site in about 1932. This of course explains the element of mystery in its present location: what is a crane doing on a promenade behind a beach?

There was a nice group of late Georgian houses on the nearby quayside ...

... and I then turned into Church Street. Immediately on the is left Forresters. Dating from 1450, it is thought to be the oldest house in the town.

I passed the barn-like St Nicholas church of 1822 on the right. It could apparently seat 1500 people. A little further up the street I reached the imposing Guildhall of 1769, looking like a substantial merchant's house, now the home of the Town Council.

Further along Church Street is the modest house of Christopher Jones, master of the Mayflower, no doubt the most famous Harwich ship. I turned left into West St to check out the Old Customs Houses, a pair of undistinguished red brick houses. From here it was a few steps to the Quay. I waited to cross while a convoy of identical Land Rovers without number plates drove by, presumably fresh off a ship.

The view from the quay was dominated by the line of modern cranes which mark the port of Felixstowe.

To the right there is the Halfpenny Pier. It was opened in 1853 as the Corporation Pier and acquired its current name from the original entry fee.

Opposite is the extravagant former Great Eastern Hotel and the jolly Pier Hotel, now a restaurant. I turned right along King's Quay to pass a fine Georgian building which I think is the Old School House.

A little further on is the wonderful Electric Palace cinema - it was built in 1911 and is said to be the oldest unaltered, purpose-built cinema in the country. We did a walk in Notting Hill last December where we saw the Electric Cinema, also of 1911, which our guide book claimed as the oldest purpose-built cinema - but no doubt it has been altered.

It was shut, but looking through the railings it was possible to see this heading above the left hand door. The door on the right offered admission at six pence.

From here it was a short walk back to the station.

Conditions: cloudy, very cold wind.

Distance: about 2 miles

Rating: four stars - full of interest.

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