In the early years before Thorpe became Thorpeness there were about 30 cottages in the village and 5 coastguard houses, also a chapel, which was used as a school. Percy lived in a cottage in the area where the Kitchen is now and which was where the site of the old Estate Office was situated.
The present houses, The Dunes, are built on what was once the gardens of the old cottages. There were three more cottages known as Beach Cottages, and these were the only houses until the Crown Inn, which was demolished and replaced with what are the bedrooms of the pub now known as The Dolphin.
There was one large field which was from Percy’s cottage to the Crown, bordered by the road where the Haven Houses are now. The West Bar Water Tower and the tennis courts were yet to be built, this field was thought of as being the best field owned by Thorpe Farm. Percy remembered cattle beet having been grown there as large as footballs! The local boys used to cut holes in them for eyes and a mouth, putting lighted candles in them and then carrying them around the village on Guy Fawkes night.
There were only three bungalows between the coastguard cottages and Haven House, so called because it was near to where the River Hundred went out to sea.
In the wintertime north-east gales were known to build up shingle and block the river entrance to the sea. The river would overflow and fill up the flat area between Thorpe and Aldeburgh. He remembers where the boathouse now stands was flooded from there to the caravan site at Aldeburgh. There were no trees around at that time, it was open land and he would get out his gunning punt and collect ducks and swans eggs and return with a pail full. When the water drained off the flats there would be bushels of samphire to collect, and in the main river there would be plenty of flounders, eels, cockles, mussels and clams to be found.
Haven House, the last house on leaving Thorpeness for Aldeburgh, was given its name because the River Hundred flowed into the sea nearby. Initially there was a foot bridge over the river, which was followed by a bridge wide enough for horses and carts to pass in the centre of the bridge, referred to by some as the "Rattlebone Bridge". The river area was aptly named as a Haven, as in the past boats were known to shelter there during rough weather conditions. These included Dutch eel boats on their way to London, and on occasion boats were known to offload some of their catch before they could get to sea again, resulting in an abundance of eels in the river. Locals took advantage of this and it was reported that once a catch of 70 stones of eels were sent to Billingsgate market in London.
The Thorpe Lifeboat
Thorpe had a lifeboat, although this was stationed at Sizewell under the cliff opposite the Dower House. A large iron winch was needed to haul the boat out of the sea. This needed six men on each of the two handles, with another six men on a rope attached to the handles. Nearby was a house called Wreck House and was sited between Thorpe and Sizewell. The man that lived there would ring a bell when a boat was in trouble. The bell was on the house roof and was rung by a rope pulled inside the house.
With its lifeboat, coastguard cottages and rocket shed, Thorpe played its part in helping those in trouble at sea.
In the autumn of 1912 the Thorpeness Company, having purchased an area of low lying land known as the Meare, began to prepare for it to be re-flooded. This entailed the construction of embankments and the provision of intakes, outfalls, sluices etc for controlling the water level obtained by damming the River Hundred and from the surrounding marshes. The wages for building the embankments was 12/6 (62 1/2p) per week, and for digging out the Meare was 3/6 (17 1/2p) per day, the men getting a small allowance for water boots which were made of leather.
The instant appeal of the Meare as records show is that it was opened in the middle of June 1913, 7,500 people enjoyed rowing, sailing and punting up to November 1st when the Meare was drained to permit further structural work.
The theme and attraction of the Meare reflects the adventures of Peter Pan, and the author JM Barrie was often seen in the area, being a friend of the Ogilvie family. The edge of the Meare by Haven Bay was a favourite of his and was referred to as the Barrie Walk.
The creation of the Meare with its trees, rushes and magical islands including wild life, continues to be enjoyed the young and the young at heart despite being 100 years old.
The full text is available to read in the Heritage Hut.