Oysters have been on the British menu since prehistory, but over time, the fishing for uncultured oysters was replaced with highly developed forms of cultivation on managed grounds. Burnham and the Crouch were among a number of East Coast fisheries at the forefront of these developments. Essex Gold: The fortunes of the Essex Oysterman by the late Hervey Benham provides a detailed history.
The entry for Burnham in Kelly’s Directory of Essex 1882 describes,
The river [Crouch] is famous for its oyster beds, the produce of which is exported to Ostend, Belgium and Dunkirk and the oyster companies on the coast of Kent being supplied with the surplus oysters. The Burnham [Oyster] Company consists of five partners viz. John James Hawkins, Mrs. Sainsbury, Spencer Addison, John Rogers and Mrs. William Auger. There are several other oyster merchants in the town and many men are employed in the trade, as well as in catching herrings and other fish; there is also good business carried on in boat, barge and shipbuilding, sail making and in corn and coal.
At present it is not clear whether Thomas Stebbings (1819-1890), who was a bargeman, was involved in the oyster fishery, but his son, William (1843-1910) worked as a shipwright for oyster merchant Spencer Addison during the 1870’s and 80’s, principally building and repairing the vessels used within the oyster fishery. The relationship with the Addison’s business may have lasted longer but this needs further research. Spencer Addison died aged only 36 in October 1884. His widow continued as owner of his business and her interests were managed by Mr. Alexander Richmond.
A document exists that lists all the various boats that William Stebbings built (mostly) for S. Addison. Some of the larger boats on the list are,
1871 January 2nd. Burnham Comp [Company?] Hornet
Length of keel 22’ 6”. From stem to stern post 26’. Width beam 10′. Width across taffil rail 6′. Depth aft 7′ [ditto] forward 6′. Shear 6″. Depth bulwark 1’2″. Length mast 31′. Size of mast 7. Length of boom 24′ [ditto] gaff 16′. Length of bowsprite 21′.
From THE CHELMSFORD CHRONICLE Friday March 3rd 1871.
LAUNCH – On Wednesday week a smart vessel, built by Mr. W. Stebbings, for Mr. L. Sweeting, was successfully launched in the presence of a large number of spectators. The vessel will hereafter be known as the “Hornet”, and the ceremony of naming the craft was performed in the usual manner by Mrs. John Sweeting.
1871 March. Dimensions of yacht Dryad built for S. Addison esq.
Length in keel 27’ [ditto] from stem to stern post 32’. Beam 10′. Depth aft 7’6″. Depth forward 6′. Shear 5″. Length mast 34′. Size mast 8. Length boom 29′ [ditto] gaff 17′. Topmast 22′ [ditto] bowsprite 20′. Topsail yard 24′.
From THE CHELMSFORD CHRONICLE Friday May 26th 1871
YACHT LAUNCH – On Tuesday afternoon last a yacht which has just been built for Mr. Spencer Addison, grandson of Mr. Laban Sweeting, was successfully launched on the river here, in the presence of a large number of spectators. The ceremony of naming the vessel was duly and gracefully performed by Mrs. Richardson, of Burnham Wycke. The Dryad, for such is the name given to the yacht, does much credit to the builder, Mr. W. Stebbings. She has a very smart and “racy” appearance, and will doubtless, under the able management of Captain James Auger, be able to give a good account of herself. In the evening the event was celebrated by a most liberal entertainment given by Mr. L. Sweeting at the Anchor Inn. Mr. A. Rome presided, and the vice chair was occupied by Captain Auger. The usual loyal and patriotic toasts having been duly honored, the chairman, in suitable terms, proposed the health of Mr. Addison, and trusted that he might be spared to enjoy the pleasures of his new and handsome yacht, and that happiness and prosperity might attend him through life. [Applause]-Several other toasts were given, and were most cordially received. Some excellent songs were sung, especially by Mr. Joseph Richmond, whose quaint and humorous renderings were a source of merriment to those present.
1872 December 5th. Double handed punt. Length 24’. Width 3’9″. Depth middle 1’1″ [ditto] aft 11″ [ditto] forward 9″. Shear 4″. Cambour to bottom 4″.
1873 May. Yacht Beryle (raced by Mr. Addison in local regattas). Length of keel 40’. Length from stem to stern post 44’. Beam 11′. Depth aft 9′ [ditto] forward 7’6″. Shear 10″. Depth bulwark 1’4″. Length mast 45′. Size mast 10″. Length boom 36′ [ditto] gaff 24′ [ditto] topmast 28′. Bowsprite 27′.
From THE ESSEX NEWSMAN, May 3rd 1873.
LAUNCH OF A YACHT AT BURNHAM – On Tuesday a handsome yacht of 18 tons berthen, which has been built by Mr. W. Stebbings, for Mr. S. Addison, was successfully launched in the presence of a large number of persons. The ceremony of naming the vessel was duly performed by Mrs. Richardson, of Burnham Wycke. The Berzel [sic], such being her name, is a very smart craft, and reflects great credit on the builder.
1874 February. Smack Wasp. Length of keel 23’. Length from stem to stern post 25’. Beam 10′. Shear 6″. Depth aft 6′. Depth forward 5′. Depth bulwark 1′. Length mast 31′ size 7″. Length boom 24′ [ditto] gaff [ditto] bowsprite.
From THE ESSEX NEWSMAN, February 7th 1874
LAUNCH AT BURNHAM – On Tuesday a smack, of 10 tons, which has just been built by Mr. W. Stebbings, for Mr. Spencer Addison, was successfully launched here. The craft was named the “Wasp” by Miss Ramsy in the usual manner. In the evening an excellent repast was provided for all who had taken part in the construction of the vessel by Mr. and Mrs. Smith, of the Anchor Inn, to which about 20 sat down, including Mr. A. Rome, who presided, Mr. W. Stebbings who officiated as vice-chairman, and Messrs. J. Harris, J. Cook, S. Bruce, J. Harris, junr., J. Rome, A. Richmond, R. Griggs, J. Wright, H. Cable, &c, &c. The health of Mr. Laban Sweeting, and Mr. Addison, were proposed by the Chairman in complimentary and eulogistic terms, and both toasts were most cordially responded to. A number of capital songs were sung and a most agreeable evening was spent by those present.
1875 January 1st. 25’ skiff built. Depth forward 3′ [ditto] aft 3′ [ditto] middle 7′. Shear 9″. Cambour 2.5″ to flat. Plank up in 11 streaks.
1875 March. May Fly built. Length of keel 25’. Length from stem to stern post 28’. Beam 10′. Depth aft 6′ [ditto] forward 5′. Shear 7″. Bulwark 12″. Length 31′ of mast size 7. Length boom 25′ [ditto] gaff 17′. Bowsprite 16′.
From THE ESSEX NEWSMAN, March 20th 1875.
LAUNCH AT BURNHAM – On Wednesday, a smart little vessel, which was named the May Fly, and which had been built by Mr. Wm. Stebbings for Mr. L. Sweeting, was successfully launched, and in the evening all those who had been engaged in the construction of the vessel partook of an excellent supper which had been provided by Mr. J. Smith, of the Anchor Inn. Mr. A. Rowe presided, and the vice-chair was occupied by Mr. W. Stebbings. Several complimentary toasts, including the health of Mr. Laban Sweeting and Mr. Spencer Addison, were proposed by the chairman, and energetically responded to. Some good songs were sung by several of those present, and the evening’s proceedings were ultimately brought to an agreeable termination. The May Fly is much admired and does much credit to Mr. Stebbings, who has on former occasions turned out some first-rate craft.
1878 Grebe built. Length of keel 25’ with beam 9’6″. Length from stem to stern post 28’. Depth forward 5′ [ditto] aft 6′. Shear 8″. Depth bulwark 1′. Length mast 32′ size 7″. Length boom 27′ [ditto] gaff 19′. Length bowsprite 20′ [ditto] topmast 22′.
From THE ESSEX NEWSMAN March 16th 1878
LAUNCH OF A VESSEL AT BURNHAM – On the 6th inst. a vessel of about 11 tons boarden, which has just been built by Mr. W. Stebbings, for Mr. Spencer Addison, was successfully launched, the naming ceremony being duly performed by Mrs. W. Stebbings. The smack will be known as the “Grebe”. On Friday afternoon in celebration of the event a number of men in the employ of Mr. Addison partook of an excellent dinner at the Anchor Inn. The meal was capitally served by Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and a most agreeable evening was afterwards spent.
1878 March 1st. Sea Swallow built. Length of keel 40’ with beam 9’6″. Length from stem to taffil rail 43′. Depth forward 5′ [ditto] aft 5′. Shear 8″, Depth bulwark 8″. Lengthened April 4th 1881 7’ by the head. Length of keel 47’, overall 50’. [Sea Swallow was steam powered]
From THE ESSEX NEWSMAN May 25 1878
LAUNCH OF A STEAM YACHT AT BURNHAM – On Saturday last a small steam yacht, which has just been built for Mr. Wm. Stebbings for Mr. Spencer Addison of Southend, was successfully launched from the quay, in the presence of a large number of spectators. The ceremony of naming the vessel, which will be known as the Sea Swallow, was performed by Miss Minnie Stebbings. The yacht is considered very smart. It is propelled by a screw worked by one of Plenty’s double-cylinder engines. The Sea Swallow is the first steamer ever launched at Burnham, and she will will form an important additional to the numerous craft belonging to this place.
1879 October. Spitfire built. Length of keel 32’. Length overall 37′ with beam 9′. Width across sterm 9′. Depth forward 5′ [ditto] aft 5′. Shear 8″. [Spitfire was steam powered, or possibly converted to steam]
From THE CHELMSFORD CHRONICLE, October 24th 1879.
LAUNCH OF A STEAM VESSEL – On Thursday, a steam vessel of 13 tons, built by Mr. W. Stebbings, for Mr. S. Addison, was successfully launched, in the presence of a large number of persons. The vessel, which was named the “Spitfire”, is a smart little craft and reflects much credit on Mr. Stebbings’s skill. An excellent dinner was afterwards provided at the Anchor Inn by direction of Mr. Addison, for a number of tradesmen and others.
1880 January 29th Square stern skiff built, Length 22’. Depth forward 2’9″ [ditto] aft 2’7″. Depth middle 2’4″. Width middle 6’2″. Width of transom 3’6″ seated up 1′. Cambour to flat 4″. Head sheats 5′ stern sheats 5′. Plank up 9 streaks.
1881 [Smack] Plover built. Length of keel 32’. Beam 10’6″. Depth aft 7’6″ [ditto] forward 7′.
1882 July, dimensions of new steam boat Firefly. commenced Jan 5th 1882. Launch July 1st 1882 had steam trial August 1st 1882. Length on keel 29’6″. Length overall 33′. Depth aft 4’4″. Depth forward 4′. Draft master aft 3′. Draft forward 1’8″ with beam 9′.
From the CHELMSFORD CHRONICLE, Friday 7th July 1882.
LAUNCHES – Never before has such an event taken place at Burnham as that of Saturday last, viz., the launching of two steam dredging vessels on the same day. Both launches were successfully carried out. From the ship-building loft belonging to Mr. Spencer Addison there glided into the river a smart-looking craft built for Mr. Addison by Mr. Wm. Stebbings, and from the workshop in the occupation of Mr. William Read was launched an equally smart looking, though smaller, vessel, that had been converted into a steamer by Mr. Read by direction of Mr. John Auger. Both vessels will be employed in the oyster fishery, and will form important additions to the steam dredging fleet connected with this place, which is all of recent construction. The launches, which took place between twelve and one o’clock, excited considerable interest and were witnessed by a large number of persons. The vessels in question were respectively names Firefly and Zeta, the former being named by Miss Rosa Wright in the usual manner, while in the latter case the ceremony was not observed. On Monday evening, in celebration of the launch of the Firefly, the men employed by Mr. Addison partook of an excellent supper provided by Mr. and Mrs. J. Smith at the Anchor Inn.