Boatbuilders of Great Wakering

Charles Wiggins / Sutton & Wiggins

Article submitted by Robin Nicholls, with detail provided by Laurie Sutton, Joss Wiggins and Carol (Wiggins) Cass

31 March 2013








Cee Jay

Vae Victis



Glen Maid


Chasseur of Hamble





Elizabethan (photos)



Scorpion of Wyke




Toi et Moi


Bonnet Rouge

Cavalier of Kent





Surian Too

Calliope VIII

Capella of Kent

Four Graces




Believed to be the “Elizabethan”

in the barn at Long Reach. 1953

The “Elizabethan” arrives to be launched at Westcliff-on-Sea. 1953

Bill Sutton with steadying hand at bow.

The location is opposite the present day “Toulouse” restaurant.

Great Wakering was the location of a busy boat building business established by Messers EW Sutton & RJ Wiggins in the late 1950’s. The company was well regarded in the yachting fraternity for the craftsmanship and quality of the many yachts they built.

The story really begins with Charles Wiggins (1884 – 1970). Demobilised at the end of the First World War, he rode his bicycle each day some 4 miles from his home near the Kursaal, Southend-on-Sea to work at Leigh on Sea. Two of his brothers were in business there, with Harry Cole, building boats at Victoria Wharf near the old Leigh railway station. Later, the yard was operated by Johnson & Jago (J&J).

A Cole & Wiggins boat from 1924 may usually be seen at Leigh-on-Sea. “LO41 Endeavour”, became a “Little Ship” at Dunkirk in WWII. She has been restored with great care by the Endeavour Trust at Leigh. (Click here to visit the Endeavour Trust web-site)

With a growing family, Charles was keen to relocate from Southend to the quiet, sought after village of Great Wakering and, after work, he rode another 4 miles from Southend to build a house opposite ‘The Exhibition Inn’. Two years later, in 1924 Charles moved his family to their new home, ‘Homeville’, (250 High Street).

There were six children Gladys, Donald, Lillian (Poppy), Irene, Doris and Roy (Joe). His two sons Don and Joe trained as shipwrights with J&J and his daughter Gladys worked in ‘accounts’. Charles continued with his boatbuilding in Wakering at Homeville and from the “Red Shed” at Mill Head, a former brickworks building down by Potton Creek.

In 1938 another Wakering resident, Bill Sutton, married Gladys. He also was a J&J trained shipwright, and by the 1950’s he was establishing himself as an independent boatbuilder in a large barn at Long Reach on the Southend Road near ‘Winters’. Since demolished, the barn was behind the former Hinks & Hepburn nursery (now Morley’s). Bill forged his reputation as a high quality boat builder and his skilled team was augmented by Don and Joe during this period.

The location of the barn was not ideal and it presented constricted egress for the newly built boats. To improve matters it was agreed, in the late 1950’s, to relocate to a more convenient site on Potton Creek and to form a new business there - EW Sutton & RJ Wiggins. The business moved to Bullman’s Wharf adjacent to the Great Wakering brickfields and it was there that a new boatyard and slipway were built. For Don, the journey to Wakering from his home in Leigh was taxing and he decided to return to J&J.

In the Table below, we recall 25 of the yachts built over almost two decades. The information shown is from details furnished by Janet Harber, author of the 19th edition of ‘East Coast Cruising Rivers Companion’ published by Wiley Nautical. This beautifully produced reference manual for local rivers and creeks was originated in 1956 by Janet’s father, Jack Coote, who owned a centreboard yacht, “Blue Shoal”, which was occasionally serviced by Sutton & Wiggins at Great Wakering.

The manual is often referred to as the “East Coast Yachtsman's Bible” and has come quite a way since the first edition by Jack Coote and has many improvements while losing none of the original authority and essence. The manual in hardback form is still available and can be ordered here through Amazon.

Gradually, in the 1970’s, the nature of the boatyard changed whilst the original team approached retirement age. Hardwood timber yachts were becoming expensive and new materials such as glass reinforced plastic (GRP), ferro-cement and steel were gaining favour.  

Joe fitted out his own boat and taught his son Joss the rigors of fishing. Then, after a period running a bed and breakfast in Gt Wakering, Joe and his wife Mary retired to Norfolk.

Bill eventually retired to Devon where he found himself busier than ever - his expertise was in demand around the local boatyards. Back at Wakering, the boatyard continues under new ownership at Bullman’s Wharf.

The original team that produced those beautiful timber yachts fell silent. Amongst the distant echoes of saws, drills, mallets and clamps is a feint memory of a muffled cry from Bernie Sutton : “Shut that door, we’re painting”.

The “Elizabethan” under sail in sea trials. 1953

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