Part 3: 1920 - 1939

 

According to my mother Lou, Eric, fed up with being away at sea all the time now his family was growing, was prone to fall for various schemes to make his fortune, usually as a result of meeting someone who had an idea but no money. The best remembered of such schemes involved a floating crayfish canning factory in Luderitz, SW Africa (Formerly German SW Africa and now Namibia). Luderitz was, and still is, an incredibly isolated town. Almost inaccessible by land because of the dry wastes of the Namib Desert, it owed its existence to being a natural harbour on one of the most inhospitable coastlines in Africa. It had a bit of boom era after the discovery of diamonds nearby in 1909 and in fact still remains surrounded by prohibited areas of diamond fields. The harbour itself is shallow with a rocky bottom and thus unsuitable for modern day shipping tonnage, but it had been an important haven in the sailing ship era. More importantly from Eric's point of view, the shallow bay was reputedly crawling with crayfish or rock lobsters. The plan was to fit out a hulk in Cape Town with canning machinery and have it towed round to Luderitz where it could be anchored in the bay to serve as both a fishing base and processing facility. In 1921 Eric moved his family, now including Eric jnr., to Luderitz as the project developed. Life must have been hard there in those days before air-conditioning. Hot and dusty, Lou (then six years old) could remember queuing at a padlocked tap with pans and kettles to fetch the family's daily water supply, awaiting the one hour per day when the tap was unlocked. They lived there for a year while the enterprise slowly foundered - apparently everything went well apart from the fact that the supply of the cans themselves from the Cape was slow and unreliable (one can only imagine the stench of rotting crayfish on the hulk!). The story goes that the enterprise eventually folded after an essential consignment of cans was finally delivered - without lids. I guess that the money just ran out. The family moved back to Camps Bay at the Cape and presumably Eric went back to sea. Phyll was born at Camps Bay in 1924.


Lou. Doris, Betty, Eric jnr, and Phyll
Camps Bay c. 1924/5

 

At some stage the family moved to Johannesburg but the reason for this is unclear - whether it was to facilitate another of Eric's schemes one can only conjecture, but Lou could remember living there when she was a bit older, but Phyll has no recolllection of being there. However, in September 1926 the next major upheaval happened - the family moved to England.

 

Again the reasons for this move are now unknown - perhaps Eric could get better and more lucrative seagoing appointments from there or perhaps he just preferred to raise his family in his homeland. In any event, after spending a freezing cold winter in Sussex (perhaps with or near Geater relatives?) when the children, used to milder climes all suffered chilblains and colds, he moved the family, including his mother Emma Jane, to a rented farm cottage at Carne, Veryan, on the Roseland peninsular in Cornwall.

 

The farm at Carne, Veryan c. 1927 (Click to enlarge)

Eric went back to sea and the older kids walked across the fields to school provided with lunch by the farmer's wife in the form of a large pasty to share. The next son, Arthur, was born there in 1927. They must have lived there for some considerable time (though Phyll says only one year) for the story goes that on one occasion, when he returned on leave, Eric was appalled that he could hardly understand his son, Eric jnr., because of the broad Cornish accent he had acquired. Without undue delay, (and fairly typically it seems!), he uprooted the family once more, now including another son Arthur, and moved them to the other extreme of the south coast, Broadstairs, in Kent. Broadstairs was a genteel seaside resort town that counted itself somewhat superior to its larger and more boisterous neighbours of Ramsgate and Margate. Its main claim to fame was that it had been home to Charles Dickens (as the many plaques around the town still attest) and every year held, and still holds, a Dickens Festival during which a lot of the townsfolk dress up in period attire and promenade around the town.

It was Broadstairs that was to become the final family seat for Eric and Louie. They lived in various rented houses, firstly in St Mildred's Avenue and then three years in Stone Road, before settling at 3, The Vale, a short walk from the beach at Main Bay (now Viking Bay) and the High Street shops, and this became the hub of family life for the next 20 or so years. George, the last of the offspring, was born after the move to Broadstairs. I'm sure my mother told me that Eric became one of the Elder Brethren of Trinity House (The organisation responsible for the establishment and maintenance of navigation lights, buoys, marks, lightships and lighthouses, and, at that time, also responsible for much of the pilotage in the British Isles) but I can find no record of this. He also worked locally as a shipwright on wooden ships of various descriptions with his son Eric (and Arthur in school holidays) and it seems this also led to interesting and adventurous sort of work.

 

Meanwhile the children were growing up.

Betty, Dossie, Lou, Eric, Phyll, Arthur (c. 1933?) (Click to enlarge)

 Lou went to Broadstairs High School where she was a contemporary of comedian, writer and broadcasting personality, Frank Muir (although she reckoned his brother was the real wag at that time). She went on to work as a secretary at Cobb's Brewery - an unlikely employer for someone who could get "squiffy" on "two sniffs of the barmaid's apron" as my father later put it... She and the other older children also attended the youth club attached to Holy Trinity Church in Broadstairs, and it was there that she met my father, Eddie Stafford, who was in his first teaching post at Holy Trinity Junior School where he taught her little brother Arthur. Harry Dent, a young RAF aircraft fitter from Wolverhampton who was posted locally, had begun to visit Broadstairs to indulge his interest in boats. He met the three oldest Pearson girls one summer's day in 1936, and Betty was apparently impressed by his opening line: "Do you know somewhere I can leave my bike?".

Eric jnr., Harry Dent, Eric
Phyll, Lou, Betty Dossie, Arthur
George


Betty, Lou, Dossie, George and Jack Ratcliffe


It seems likely however that the two young men did not get easy access into the tight-knit family group that was the Pearsons. Family was everything. Eric's mother, Emma Jane, was still the ruling matriarch at 3, The Vale and Harry remembers her fondly as an easy-to-know person with a great sense of humour and fun. Eric though, by some accounts, was a different kettle of fish by then; stern and somewhat distant, to this day Harry, now in his 90's, still refers to him as Captain Pearson, never Eric, despite their mutual interest and discussions of boats.

 

In about 1938 Eric, Eric jnr, and Arthur worked on a yacht "Mermerus" in Ramsgate to put her back into good order. Murmerus (does anyone  know the correct spelling?) was formerly owned by Kaiser Wilhelm and was the second largest two-masted vessel at that time. The work included holystoning the deck, cleaning the brass-work with brick-dust and linseed oil, and treating the rigging with Stockholm tar and black varnish. In 1939 he was commissioned to take her to Ostend in Belgium. With the new owner on board, and Doris and Eric jnr among the crew (Arthur had mumps), they sailed from Ramsgate and the rest of the family waited with bated breath as a terrible storm raged for about 36 hours until he brought it safely into port. Eric snr and jnr stayed there working by on the ship for some months, even after the declaration of the Second World War, returning only when things started looking a little more serious around May 1940.

 

Murmurus lying in
Ramsgate inner harbour

Arthur, Eric jnr. Eric, George &
Emma Jane on the deck of Murmurus

Lou on Murmurus bowsprit

 

 

 

Next

 

Powered by GoGlobal CMS
Admin     Terms Contact