Sign 15 - Fiddle Fish Bay

Fiddle Fish Bay

Turning back the clock nearly 100 years, the cliffs and foreshore at, the then called, Little Holland, were in the private ownership of the Lord of the Manor – C. W. Hayne of Frinton on Sea.  Areas were leased-out and from the Clacton/Holland boundary, at Sea Lane, to the east of Star Point it was to the Callow family, whilst the substantial stretch eastward to Cliff Road was with Walter Johnston, who featured so prominently in the development of Holland on Sea.  The Holland Cliff Development Company leased the land up to Bournemouth Road, and from here to the west boundary of “Penny Plain” - the fourth property along The Esplanade, it was leased by Dr. Thurston.  The final stretch, up to the parish boundary beyond the Holland Sluice Gates at Sandy Point, remained with Mr. Hayne.  At that time there were no real sea defences although the owner, and the tenants, did build some sea walls in places, but of varying standards as the cost was not insignificant.  Each Lessee saw an opportunity to develop various chargeable amenities for the public and so earn a living.  Refreshment huts provided a useful service, beach huts allowed longer stays in modest comfort, and swimming lessons, along with trips in clinker rowing boats, all supplemented earnings.  Modest fees were charged for changing facilities, and even entering the beach area and swimming would be charged for.  Children’s games were organised on the sands, along with sandcastle competitions and beach cricket, and displays of physical fitness would be put on by such groups as the Holland on Sea Health and Strength Club.

It was on the beach below The Chase that Walter Humphries built Fiddle Fish Cafe in 1925 and erected beach huts for hire on either side; Fiddle Fish being the nickname for Skate.  It was understood that the 35 year old Mr. Humphries was a bachelor and lived with his sister, Annie, at “Floriana” in York Road.  The small complex included the added attraction of electricity supplied to the huts, plus floodlights so that during the summer months bathing could be offered late into the evening; both adding a novel slant to the seafront offer and being able to maximise earnings by extending his operating day.  In a 1935 local newspaper advert Mr Humphries promoted the fact that he had a swimming instructor in attendance.  Such was the popularity of Holland that despite the considerable investment in building the pavilion and huts, along with the appropriate staging and crude, but not unsubstantial, sea defences, plus employing people to help run the operation, a reasonable living could be made.  But however good a season might be it could never prepare anyone for what the elements might throw at the area.  In February 1938 there was a storm surge which severely damaged the Fiddle-Fish Cafe.  The local newspaper reported that: 'Machines for the making of ice-creams valued at £300, stock and other articles were swept away.  Two rowing boats were wrenched from their moorings and some of the beach huts were also wrecked by the heavy seas.'

Just prior to the Second World War the ownership of the foreshore and cliffs was transferred to Clacton Urban District Council, which recognised the need to build more permanent sea defences to protect Holland on Sea.  Regrettably the hostilities completely disrupted the holiday industry, and once peace returned, such was the state of many pavilions and huts that they could only be demolished.  Mr Humphries was never to witness the war or the deterioration of his site as he died in 1938 at the age of 48.

Last updated on: 03/09/2021 - 11:39