John Redvers Powell Clubley, or Redfus as he was always known, was a unique character. His father, John Robert Hunton Clubley, had been married once before to a Bertha Prout (the daughter of a coastguard) and had five children by that marriage. After her death John Robert married a second time (1896) to Edith Gower and they went on also to have five children Redvers, Walter Rowland, Edith Alice, Muriel and Ena. Several other children died in infancy.
Redfus was born on 29th April 1900 and lived at a farm called ‘Eddowes’ at Kilnsea, very close to the ever encroaching sea. Redvers’ father, John Robert, built an earth bank around the farm to try and protect it. Unfortunately this proved to have an adverse effect when in 1906 severe flooding of the whole of Kilnsea and parts of Easington inundated the area. The flood water became trapped within the earth bank consequently flooding the house. Not being able to run out, Redfus said he remembered being sat on a table afloat in the living room of the house. He was then aged only six years old.
Redfus attended the school at Easington and often walked the two and a half miles to Easington. The shortest route was along the beach and it was here he picked up his knowledge of the weather, the sea and tides with all its variations. He saw at first hand how erosion can take so much land and buildings. He became quite an authority on sea defences, but always insisted on the ‘old ways’ being better, namely groynes and pitch pine piles driven deep into the beach at right angles to the cliff with planks bolted to them. These planks would be worked by raising the level of the sand on the beach, due to the natural north/south drift of the tide bringing sediment down with it, thereby taking some of the power out of the waves. The higher the beach the less chance of damage to the cliff face. Some planks would then be removed to allow the sand to move down the beach. It was no good just leaving the groynes to work themselves. You had to work with the sea and not against it, as it would always win! The most common problem with groynes was that if they were neglected and the cliff allowed to erode, where the groyne ended at the cliff face, the rush of water through the gap would accelerate the erosion. During the World War II Redfus was in charge of some 200 Italian and German prisoners of war, working to maintain the sea defences of the Spurn peninsula. The piling hammer they used to drive in the piles was raised and dropped by hand!
Redfus’s opinion of any modern day engineer who talked of concrete walls and breakwaters was ‘He is nowt but beeak read’ (i.e. he is nothing but book-educated and has no idea what he is talking about). His opinion was that concrete is too rigid — you must use the sea to your advantage. At times Redfus and his helpers would even drive stakes into the beach, and then pile thorns and hedge cuttings around to encourage the sand to drift against them and build up natural barriers, (a good example of recycling even then!).
Redfus joined the Easington lifeboat crew around 1918, when he was 18 years old, and he served with the boat until the station closed down in 1933. The boat was a rowing and sail lifeboat. I once asked him what area the lifeboat covered, and he replied ‘Up to Withernsea and down to Spurn and as far out as necessary, bearing in mind we often had to row out to a vessel and row back’. He worked primarily as a farmer on land at Kilnsea, but during World War I he worked in Kilnsea at Fort Godwin army camp and on Bull Fort out in the river Humber, and again during World War II he worked at Spurn.
Redfus bought Tower House in Easington around 1942 from Mr Robert Walker for £500. He later married Doris Hick around 1944 and they lived there until their deaths in 1989 and 1991. The Tower House is a quite remarkable and unusual building, built in 1857 and originally called Mount Pleasant, until the tower was built on some 30 years later by a Dr. Henry Bendelack Hewetson, who was a surgeon in Leeds. The story goes that Hewetson’s daughter had T.B. and he thought that by her living at a greater height the air would be cleaner and more beneficial. Mr. Robert Walker bought the property in 1903.
The front door of the Tower is quite intriguing — a heavily carved and quite intricate piece of work, with a string of letters across the area where the letterbox should be, which are believed to be in Rune (a now defunct mystic language from Scandinavia). The hallway had a variety of tiles and mosaics set into the walls along with some rescued pieces of lighthouse glass from Spurn, an altogether unique display.
During both wars the army commandeered the house for military purposes, it being an ideal vantage point, with the actual tower being probably the highest point in the area, and having full views to the sea and to the Humber. Redfus and Doris had to put up with military personnel sharing the house for the duration. After the war had finished and the army had departed, Redfus carried on his life of farming, and fishing. Another great passion in his life was beachcombing. If anything washed up on the beach you could guarantee that Redfus was nearly always there first, and no matter how large a piece of timber might be, he would always succeed in retrieving it, and if it was really large he would recruit the help of brother Wally. All this timber was stored in the large paddock behind the Tower House, and if you ever had the need for a piece of wood for any building project, Redfus was the man to see. He not only knew just where to find the piece you wanted but he could also tell you where it came from and when, and the usual price for most items was as Redfus would say ‘Ay give us a pund’ (give me a £1).
The Health and Safety Executive in this modern world would close their eyes in horror as to the method of working as carried out by Redfus. He would have a saw bench with an 18" blade totally unguarded. The blade was driven by a flapping unprotected drive belt off the power shaft of a tractor. He had no eye or ear protection, no gloves of any kind, and if the timber was particularly hard and tough he would lean into the timber to push it through the blade, with it flashing past his head within a few inches. The odd time the blade did catch him he would simply shake the blood off his hand and wrap an old piece of cloth or rag around his hand or finger and carry on!
One aspect of his beachcombing apart from wood and other flotsam involved him scanning the eroding cliffs for anything that might wash out, and he was in possession of a fine example of a mammoth’s tooth. This was an item that many tried to buy from him, but he always refused and instead often sold them stones from the beach, which he assured them contained other fossils. Redfus was a very astute business man.
Redfus had an extraordinary appetite. This no doubt stemmed from his early days at Kilnsea when the family, like their neighbours around them, lived off the land. It was quite common-place to have rabbit for their meal, but in his family they had a rabbit each for tea. He also said that once they ate a whole bacon pig (about 23 stone) in three weeks! And if they had been out fishing they could eat most of the fish as quick as his mother could cook them. They were a truly different breed in those days and obviously built to last.
During the 1960s and 1970s Redfus again worked at Spurn, but this time he manned the entrance gate to the Spurn Peninsula and was employed by the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Trust to collect the admission fee from any one driving down to the Point, although I suspect that one or two people had absolutely no idea what he was saying, with his broad dialect!
Whilst I was talking to Redfus one day about a recent spate of attempted burglaries to houses, he remarked ‘If evver a fela tried to brek in to my ouse weering a striped jersey and a mask ahd knock him deean with a big stick and if he gor up I’d dee it ageean’. Redfus had clear ideas as to what a burglar looked like — straight out of the pages of Dandy or Beano!
Redfus was also a great darts player in his younger days, and would practice every night on his own dart board, and would not go to bed until he had put a dart in double top, outer bull and the bull’s eye. If he ever lost at a game of darts he would offer to buy the set of darts off the winning player, believing it was the darts and not the man who threw them that had won the game!
Doris Clubley died in March 1989, and Redfus passed on in July 1991. He is buried at the cemetery at Easington. The end of a great character and the end of an era.
Michael A. Welton, January 2007