by Norma Leach
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First Prize of 600 French francs and a Gold Medal, as well as second and third prizes, were obtained for the Sturgeon sheep at the All Nations Exhibition of Farm Stock at Paris in 1856, and an increased demand arose for the rams from Australia and New Zealand, and from the Cape; in fact, at one time the demand was so great that the whole of the ram lambs were sold as soon as they were born.

Thomas Bennett’s son Charles (who married twice and had five children) farmed at South Ockendon Hall and died at the age of 68 in 1890. The family decided to give up Grange and Middle Farms in South Ockendon and an auction was held at Grange Farm on 30th September 1890, when hay, horses, steers, farm implements and household furniture were sold. Thomas Bennett’s son Edwin had been farming Grange Farm until this time, but then went to live in South Africa, only to return to Grays during the Boer War. He died there in 1906, his wife Mina following twenty-four years later at the age of 94 – a good age after bearing eleven children.

Thomas and Alfred shared accommodation at The Elms, Dell Road, but as Alfred’s family was growing (he had three sons and five daughters) he built Grays Hall about 1869 on the north side of Orsett Road. This was later used as a Youth Employment exchange and is now where the NHS Thurrock Community Mental Health Team is based. On 8th September 1967 the Thurrock Gazette showed a photo of Grays Hall as it was in 1876, complete with verandah to the ground floor.

Thomas Bennett’s son Thomas, who never married, died in Silesia in 1892, where he may have settled after being involved with Merino sheep breeding there. In Silesia, with its higher, colder and drier climate, a Merino more suited to the climate evolved, and because its traits included hardiness and often longer and stronger wool, sheep from this region ultimately had a significant influence on Australia.

In 1894 the Sturgeon partnership was dissolved. On 19th September Grays Hall, with gardener’s cottage, pleasure grounds and enclosure of arable land was put up for sale (leasehold). The sale also included 12 leasehold cottages in Orsett Road, the last five of which (known locally as Sturgeons Cottages) were demolished in 1961 to make way for Grays Thurrock Motors showrooms. The sale catalogue gave a full description of the three reception rooms and 12 bedrooms, together with outbuildings. Grays Hall was described as having “well stocked kitchen and orchard gardens, excellent pleasure grounds, with fine views of the River Thames and the Kentish Hills.”

The following day, the Sturgeon’s entire flock of pure Merino sheep were sold by auction at South Ockendon Hall. They also sold a small herd of shorthorn cattle. The catalogue stated that “Mr Charles Sturgeon [Charles’s son], South Ockendon Hall, will show the flock”; also that “luncheon would be provided”. The horses, flock of cross-bred Hampshire downs, farming stock, implements etc. were sold a week later.

The catalogue mentions that the “object of the Sturgeon family had been to combine increased size of the sheep with length and fineness of wool…... The flock has been ……bred free from wrinkles so as to avoid ‘kemp’ or ‘hair’. They are of good size and strong constitution, and the fact of the sheep retaining their form, a deep carcase on short legs, with length of staple and very fine quality of wool, as well as the other characteristics of the breed, for upwards of eighty years, is the best proof of the purity of the blood and careful management of the flock, which is now to be unreservedly offered for sale, in consequent of the death of one of the elder members of the firm, the increasing years of the other members, and dissolution of partnership.”


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