Harwich and Dovercourt
Harwich with its sister port of Parkeston is eastern England’s ‘Gateway to the Continent’. From Harwich Quay the great continental ferries can be seen from close quarters as they set out for Holland and Denmark. A stroll along the Esplanade reveals a busy harbour scene, with huge container vessels heading for Felixtowe, Ipswich and Parkeston and the endless traffic of sailing barges, yachts, tugs and launches. The casual Visitor will enjoy exploring narrow streets of old Harwich, all full of character. Its most fascinating and historic features are often tucked discreetly away and provide a rich reward for those who search them out.
Dovercourt is the residential and holiday suburb of Harwich and, although more modern in appearance, it is actually older and larger than Harwich and is indeed mentioned in the Domesday Book. Fine promenade areas, an attractive and safe beach – seafront recently awarded the prestigious Blue Flag – parks and entertainments, including choral and band concerts, as well as the fortunate low rainfall, make it a most welcoming town with good hotels and restaurants for those wishing to stay a while. Excellent waters also make sailing, wind surfing and angling pleasurable pastimes.
The expanding port at Parkeston handles large modern passenger ferries with roll-on roll-off facilities and deep sea container vessels. It is also a port of call for many impressive cruise liners during the summer months. It has an excellent electrified rail service to London, Ipswich and Cambridge, with direct connections to inner-city services.
HARWICH FOR HERITAGE
Old Harwich stands on a narrow peninsula, its streets following the grid system laid down in the Middle Ages. Its three main streets lie north to south and are joined by quaint little alleyways designed, it is said to provide shelter from the press gangs. Plaques have been erected on buildings of historic interest by the Harwich Society, which also publishes an entertaining leaflet “A Walk Around Old Harwich”. There are antique shops, numerous inns and a number of excellent restaurants, which have made the town a popular venue for dining out.
At the entrance to the town the visitor notices first the High Lighthouse, erected in 1818, now home to the National Vintage Wireless and Television Museum. Across the town green lies the Low Lighthouse, now the Maritime Museum. The two lighthouses acted as leading marks guiding vessels around the difficult shoals off Landguard Point until they were superseded in 1863 by the Dovercourt Lights.
Nearby stands the unique Treadwheel Crane, built at the ship builders yard in 1667. It was operated by two men walking inside twin wooden treadwheels and was in use until the early years of the 20th Century. It was re-erected on the Harwich Green when the old shipyard was dismantled in 1928. Further along the promenade is the Lifeboat Museum and a board listing vessels built at Harwich is displayed near the navyard entrance.
St. Nicholas' Church
ST. NICHOLAS' CHURCH
The spire of St. Nicholas’ Church has been for many years a landmark for seafarers. There has been a church here since the Middle Ages and the font and some mural tablets survive from the original building, which was demolished in 1822. The present church has slender pillars of cast iron, a new form of construction in the 1820's. There are many interesting memorial tablets on the walls, recording the names of Harwich worthies of the past who died at sea or in distant parts of the world. At the west end of the church is n unusual display of blue and white Dutch tiles from the 17th Century depicting biblical scenes. St. Nicholas’ is the scene of civic services and has a special pew for the Mayor, with a bracket for the town mace.
The Churchwarden’s Account Book from St. Nicholas’ parish is preserved at the Guildhall and dates back to the middle of the 16th Century. One entry records a payment of wood “when the man was burned here” during the reign of Mary Tudor. The church registers record the marriage in 1593 of Christopher Jones, Captain of the ‘Mayflower’, which in 1620 carried the Pilgrim Fathers to America. Captain Jones’ house still stands in King’s Head Street. Christopher Newport, also of Harwich, was on of the founders of the colony in Virginia, 13 years before the Mayflower left England.
Mayor Making Day
Harwich was first granted borough status by a charter of 1318 and its long proud municipal traditions, confirmed by the charter of 1604, are still maintained by Harwich Town Council which meets in the Guildhall, a superb Grade 1 listed building in Church Street. From 1673 – 1953 it was used for meetings of the Harwich Borough Council and the old charters and records of the town are carefully preserved there. The building was restored by the Town Council in1975/76. Before 1836 the corperations was unelected and spent much of its income on food and drink. Its members chose the two MPs for the town, including the famous diarist Samuel Pepys and Sir Anthony Deane, a noted ship designer.
On the first floor of the Guildhall, is a handsome oak-panelled Council Chamber and a small ground floor room, once used as a jail, has fascinating pictures of ships and buildings carved on the walls by prisoners over two hundred years ago.
On the third Tuesday in May every year the Guildhall is the scene of the Mayor-making ceremony. After the formal proceedings the new Mayor and Mayoress maintain the ancient and happy tradition of throwing “kitchels” – small spicey buns – to the crowd of children in the street below. A colourful ceremony, well worth witnessing.
The Guildhall may be visited by arrangement during office hours (9.30 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. Monday – Friday) and on certain occasions the mayoral chain and mace (1669) and the town’s historic documents are on display.
There are close and friendly links with its sister town of Harwich in Massachusetts and with the council of the Hook of Holland – the Dutch port to which the super ferries sail.
The Electric Palace
THE ELECTRIC PALACE
The Electric Palace is a rare example of one of the earliest cinemas in Britain which has survived virtually unchanged since 1911. After standing derelict for some years The Electric Palace was lovingly restored by volunteers in the 1970s and early 1980s. Customers can enjoy recently released films and occasional live performances, surrounded by gilt and plaster splendours of Edwardian days. Film Festivals are occasionally held at The Electric Palace.
Situated in Wellington Road, behind the cinema, is the Harwich Mural which depicts the areas landmarks. Originally painted by school pupils in 1982 it was redesigned 13 years later.
The most popular spot for visitors is Harwich Quay where the great ferries and splendid cruise liners can be seen at close quarters. Piloot launches, fishing trawlers, tugs and yachts bustle by in an ever-changing scene. The Trainferry Terminal and the buoys and vessels of Trinity House stand at the western end, the refurbished Halfpenny Pier in the centre and the Navyard Wharf to the east. Across the river are attractive views of the Suffolk countryside. Halfpenny Pier was once the departure point for steamships to the continent and the quiant ticket office survives, now used as a Visitor Information Centre housing an exhibition on the historic "Mayflower" and its captain. A new pontoon provides daytime moorings for visiting yachts.
The Redoubt Fort
THE REDOUBT FORT
No tour of Harwich is complete without a visit to the Redoubt. Circular fortification was built in 1808 to protect the harbour againts a threatened French invasion. It was heavily armed and was manned up by up to 300 soldiers. After a period of dereliction it has been restored by the efforts of the Harwich Society and now houses a museum and a collection of artillery and wartime memorabilia. Napoleonic military re-enactments are staged on occasion. From the highest point of the Redoubt there is a superb panoramic view across the whole peninsula, over the adjoining roofs to Parkeston, the River Stour, Shotley, Felixtowe docks and the harbour entrance.
The Tower Hotel has close links with the Harwich & Dovercourt Golf Club. We have an arrangement that guests can play the course for a small Green Fee with 24 hours notice. So why not enjoy this wonderful 9 hole course.