Sign 12 - Gunfleet Bay

Gunfleet Bay

In the early years of Clacton on Sea there would be Town Regattas when visiting yachts would amass for a race, the start line being from the end of the Pier, and residents and visitors would take part in a variety of water-based sports close to the shore.  However, there was no safe harbour, and with a totally exposed foreshore, there was little opportunity for amateur yachtsmen to keep their craft safely in the Clacton waters.

After the Second World War, the hobby of dinghy sailing began to become popular throughout the land and one or two locals saw the potential to have their own craft, either locally built or home-made, and venture out on the North Sea.  Small as these boats were, they were still quite heavy, and it was decided, in 1950, to moor them just off the shore close to Star Point.  But on 18th August a storm lashed the coast and caused the sinking of some, along with damage to all of them.  The owners realised it was essential to keep the boats ashore when not in use and approached Clacton Urban District Council for a piece of land; a small parcel being offered immediately to the west of Star Point.  Clacton on Sea Sailing Club was then formed and over the next 10 years developed the site into a safe and attractive boat enclosure, building a small clubhouse in 1957.  Such was the popularity of sailing, and so successful was the club that it outgrew the site, despite a number of extensions; this included a separate compound below First Avenue.  Further negotiations were undertaken with the Council and the club was offered a brand new site up at Holland Haven, with unlimited boat space.  In 1961 Clacton Sailing Club moved to its new location but a number of long-term members had heavy clinker dinghies and felt the new site was not suitable.  They therefore formed a new group – the Gunfleet Sailing Club, agreed a lease for the original site and built a new clubhouse, later adding changing facilities. 

The name Gunfleet was the old name of Holland Brook and probably derived from the Count of Guisnes who held the manor of Little Holland, sometimes called Gynes, in 1210; the word fleet meaning creek or inlet.  Prior to the 17th Century the estuary of the Gunfleet formed a small harbour, protected by two tongues of land extending from Frinton on the north and from Little Holland on the south. 

In 1504 there was reference to Gunflethayvn and the chronicler Holinshed wrote that Gunfleete was a port “such as our seafaring men do note for their benefit upon the coasts of England”.  In the reign of Elizabeth 1 a report on the suppression of piracy mentioned the Gonflete as well as a landing place in the grounds of Little Holland Hall.  By the 17th century the harbour appears to have silted up, and the lower reaches of the brook were a morass.  A sea wall was therefore constructed across the estuary, with a manually operated sluice to release land water at low tide, and marshland for grazing was thus provided.  The name Gunfleet was subsequently used to identify the sandbank immediately offshore and in 1850 a lighthouse was built on the sands.  Designed by James Walker it proved to be very different from the conventional style.  Built entirely of iron the superstructure was supported on seven adjustable “legs” which were first screwed some forty feet or more into the seabed.  Two similar structures were placed on the Maplin Sands and just off Canvey Island on the Chapman Sands. Manned by a principal keeper and two assistants, the accommodation within the hexagonal body of the lighthouse would have been somewhat cramped.  It was, however, abandoned in 1939 when the sandbank shifted, being replaced with buoys, but still stands to this day as testament to the engineering skills over 170 years ago.

Last updated on: 03/09/2021 - 11:28