The Mere Brook Bees
Last week Lorna and Donald were invited to St John Plessington School to talk to 120 pupils about beekeeping. This was part of a week long project learning about the environment. We were so pleased to have been involved and hopefully to have highlighted the importance of bees to our planet
Mere Brook House have also pledged to take park in #NoMowMay. Although we have to mow the lawns to prepare for weddings, we won't be mowing the paddocks until after the end of May. This will encourage wild flower growth and provide essential nectar stores for pollinators like the Mere Brook Bees. did you know that a three acre meadow can be home to 9 million flowers producing enough nectar to support ½ million bees every day?
If you would like more information or are looking to take part in #NoMowMay please visit the No Mow May website
. Check back soon to see our progress!
The History of Ann Davison
Ann Davison was, at the age of 39, the first woman to single-handedly sail the Atlantic Ocean. She departed Plymouth, England on 18 May 1952 in a little 23 foot, wooden-hulled sloop, built in Cornwall and named Felicity Ann.
Margaret Ann Longstaff was born on the 5th of June 1914; Ann had a passion for horses and a desire for travel. In 1934 Ann got her first taste of flying and she was hooked, from then on horses took second place to her love of aeroplanes. Ann gained her aviation certificate on 5th February 1935 at Hanworth, she was one of only a handful of women in the UK to hold a commercial pilot’s licence at that time. Over the next few years Ann made a living as a professional pilot delivering mail around the UK, however her life was to change when in 1937 she answered an advert for a joy-ride pilot at Hooton airfield. There she met Frank Davison, whom she married in 1939.
Ann and Frank lived happily in a house on Rivacre Road in Eastham, until the start of World War II when the airfield had to be closed and their home was requisitioned to the RAF. The house still exists today on the perimeter of the old Hooton Aerodrome now mostly covered by Vauxhall Car Plant.
Ann and Frank moved to a five-acre smallholding named Mere Brook House on Thornton Common Road, which Ann described as “an uninspired stucco villa, the outside belying an interior of pleasantly proportioned rooms, with an adequate range of outbuildings and a stable-yard”
MERE BROOK HOUSE
In 1939, not long after they were married, Frank and Ann Davison moved into Mere Brook House. Frank was Running his late father’s merchanting business and had become the proud owner of two quarries in Flintshire. Very soon Ann’s energies became absorbed in the “agricultural reform” of the land surrounding the house
“There were two orchards, two minute paddocks, several small gardens for kitchen produce, soft fruit and flowers, leading off one another and enclosed by hedges. There were lawns and rose beds, a sunken garden, and a lily pool. And all in the most appalling tangle. And the land appealed to me because it was in such an awful mess” Ann said of Mere Brook House in her book “Last Voyage”
Ann stated that the years that she spent with Frank at Mere Brook House were the happiest of their lives. The couple lived off the land and the two became passionate farmers, filling the land with livestock and crops. It was during this time that Ann discovered a particular fondness for goats, starting with one goat, and ending up with a herd of 10.
The couple embraced the rhythm of country life and worked hard to produce their own butter, cheese, preserves and pickles. In 2017 a blue plaque recognising Davison was unveiled at Mere Brook House by the Mayor, some of Anns descendants were in attendance along with members of the local community.
Unfortunately, after an unprecedentedly frosty winter which rendered the quarry inoperable, mortgage payments fell overdue and the quarry was foreclosed. The couple stayed at Mere Brook for a year, supporting themselves on the resources of the farm. This, sadly, was unsustainable for Ann and Frank and they made the tough decision to leave Mere Brook.
Upon their departure from Mere Brook House in 1944, The Davisons purchased an island farm named Inchfad off the coast of Loch Lomond in Scotland. Ann and Frank quickly set about restoring the farm to working condition. Everything was brought up by train from the Wirral, including livestock. After they succeeded, they sold the island, and set off in a converted fishing vessel, named Reliance. Ann wrote about their time on Inchfad in her autobiography, “Home is an Island”
RELIANCE AND DEATH OF FRANK DAVISON
In 1947 Ann and Frank Davison had just purchased a 70ft ketch moored at Fleetwood Quay, named ‘Reliance’. They paid £1450 for the boat which was a wreck. The couple laboured for two years to restore it to a “seaworthy” state. In early 1949 the ship was finished. Frank had always been a keen sailor, it was him who had given Ann her first sailing lesson on Lake Windermere, and he was eager to get Reliance out to sea. Due to financial issues the boat was threatened with repossession, so the couple set sail even though the boat was not ready to go.
On the 17th of May 1949 the Reliance set sail for Havana, Cuba. Unfortunately for the couple, after setting sail with minimal fuss, not long after they left the shore, disaster struck. A storm was brewing, they struggled to keep the Reliance afloat for days while the storm raged on, neither Ann nor Frank was nearly experienced enough to keep the ship afloat. The steering seized and the couple inevitably lost control, The shipwrecking on the rocks of Portland Bill. Ann and Frank struggled against the elements with only life vests and a small life raft to keep them afloat. Hours passed and again and again the waves threw them both off the raft and into the violent waters. Each time they battled the current and fought their way back onto the raft.
Devastatingly, Frank succumbed to exposure and exhaustion. Seemingly through sheer willpower alone, Ann managed to survive the storm, and after it had passed, she scaled a 50ft cliff to safety. She had lost the love of her life and her dreams had been dashed against the rocks.
Following this incredible loss Ann penned the book “Last Voyage”
For any other person, the death of their spouse in a tragic sailing accident would probably be the end of their sailing career. This was not the case for Ann Davison, the enormity of the tragedy somehow never dulled her adventurous spirit. “Three years later I sailed again, alone, but it was not in any spirit of defiance, or revenge, or expiation, or vindication, that I chose to return to a way of life that had barely begun before ending so disastrously. From the start, even as I climbed those cliffs, I knew I would, I had to, though at the time it would have been impossible to explain why.”
Soon after Frank's death, Ann found work in a boatyard.She released her book “Last Voyage” about her ill-fated journey on the Reliance, and her husband Frank's death. In 1952 with the profits from the sales of the book she had written, she purchased a 23-foot wooden sloop named “Felicity Ann”. The vessel had been designed and built in Cornwall at the Cremyll Shipyard by Mashfords Brothers Ltd and had originally been built under the name “Peter Piper”, but delayed by World War II, it was not completed until 1949, when the sloop was purchased by a West Country yachtsman who commissioned her for a cruise to Norway and renamed the boat “Felicity Ann”. This gentleman, however, changed his plans and sold the boat to Ann.
Ann set herself the challenge of a lifetime, she was to embark on a solo transatlantic journey aboard the Felicity Ann. After two years of restoring the boat and teaching herself to sail. She departed from Plymouth. She was still relatively inexperienced but she had learned from the mistakes that had been made on her ill-fated voyage with Frank. She taught herself to navigate with a sextant and learned to accept help from people she crossed on her journey. Fishermen towed her into France, people performed work on the sloop for free, and people opened up their homes to her. In an ironic twist it was a solo voyage that finally taught her that despite being fiercely independent it was ok to rely on others. She was incredibly grateful for “the kindness that did so much to chip away the rock of cynicism.”
She was met with many challenges, but all the while her towering resolve and strength of character helped her overcome the many hurdles she faced. Ann endured storms, difficult situations and long periods of isolation. After a number of stop-overs, she finally set off across the Atlantic on 20 November 1952. Storms pushed her off course, but she eventually made land in Dominica on 23 January 1953. She spent time recuperating before sailing up to Florida and finally arriving in New York on 23 November 1953. Ann and Felicity Ann, or “FA” as Ann fondly referred to her as, were the featured guests at the 1954 New York Boat Show to celebrate her historic achievement. Ann Davison became the first woman to single handedly sail the transatlantic ocean.
FOLLOWING THE VOYAGE
After Anns monumental achievement, between the years of 1970-1980, the Felicity Ann was owned by a lady named Phyliss Gottshall. Not much is known of what happened to the vessel from 1980 onwards - but in 2008 the Felicity Ann came to Haines, Alaska undergoing initial restoration, but has now been donated to the Northwest School of Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock, Washington for further restoration. The original design for the Felicity Ann and three other identical hulls are from 1936. The Felicity Ann has been almost fully restored, and on 6 August 2017 the title was transferred to the Community Boat Project in Port Hadlock, WA by the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding where students and volunteers did most of the planking restoration. The boat was finished by volunteers and on May 1st 2018 made its debut on a 3 week, 8 port, voyage manned by an all female crew. Since then the boat has been on show at various locations, and the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding have been recounting Ann’s incredible story Anacortes Public Library's Maritime Series.
After selling Felicity Ann, Ann was looking for another adventure. She set her sights on single-handedly circumnavigating eastern North America aboard a 17-foot outboard-powered cabin cruiser, unfortunately Ann had been diagnosed with cancer, but as usual she was not about to let this ruin her plans, once again defying the odds she beat cancer and set off on her last solo adventure, which she achieved! In her later years, Ann settled into retirement in Florida and passed away at the age of 78 in 1992, leaving behind the most incredible legacy, and a handful of books she had authored detailing her wondrous journeys.