Meeting Reports: 2016 - 2017
Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 16th September,
2016 - Everything Stops for Tea by Eve Regelous
In the Japanese tea ceremony, monks and local dignitaries’ swirled the tea around three times, sipped and passed the cup to their neighbour. In 1620 tea was a luxury, but by the end of the century it was traded more and Thomas Garraway sold tea as a side line to coffee. It was taken with milk in 1665, milk being added first to save cracking porcelain cups with the hot tea. The art of reading tea leaves started about this time, using dregs in the tea cup. In 1706 Twinings entered the market. Tea arrived by clipper ships to East India Docks and was first sold in Leadenhall Street and Mincing Lane, smugglers mixing tea with obnoxious substances. At auctions tea was first sold by candle, the procedure over when the candle burnt out. As tea was expensive, special ornate tea caddies with locks were made. Afternoon tea was introduced by the Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s. In 1894 Lyons Corner House started, evolving to be posher than the later ABC.
The 20th century saw a world change with the invention of tea bags.
In the USA Thomas Sullivan started with fine silk bags, then muslin. The
English hated the idea at first but Tetley introduced them in 1953 and
now sell 200 million each day, although loose tea is still preferred by
some. Harrods now sells 170 loose and 37 fruit teas.
Tea used to be a medicinal herb, with green tea gaining popularity.
Caffeine is a stimulant, perking you up; Mormons and 7th Day Adventists
never drink tea. Several countries now have plantations, even in the UK.
Cup cakes have made a triumphant return, with tea shops thriving. The
British now drink 165 million cups of tea a day.
The present fort was built 1860-1874, designed by Captain Charles Sibborn, later supervised by Gen Charles Gordon, as a defence for London against France, although there had been a blockhouse at Coalhouse Point since Tudor times. The original site is now engulfed by the Thames and is now just a ruined jetty. The battery was constructed in 1799 and incorporated into the fort in 1855, when more land was bought. By the time the fort was finished the guns were obsolete and two 12½” guns were moved; they were gone by 1912 and quick firing guns were installed on the roof.
In WW1 the London Electrical Engineers were stationed there, trees were planted to disguise the fort and the Searchlight Magazine provided news and gossip. The troops used the floating bridge to go across to Gravesend and many humorous letters in the magazine were from a Norah and Gladys from the Gravesend cafe. There were also jokes and letters from women looking for suitors. Motor cycling was very popular, together with other sports, including cricket between the fort detachments. The men seemed to have had an easy time, so to relieve boredom they built a garage, and a workshop was opened in June 1916. They also built a war memorial, but this was later blown up as it was not thought a good idea to advertise deaths. However, the headstone still survives.
WW2 saw ditches dug. The Royal Naval detachment was stationed there, also the Home Guard and Wrens who signalled ships going up and down the river. The ships had to be degaussed, making them safe against magnetic mines. The Wrens lived in St Catherine’s vicarage and apparently enjoyed their time there, complete with parties.
In the 1960s the fort was acquired by Thurrock UDC. From
1980 Coalhouse Fort Project has worked to repair the fort with the help
of the Heritage Lottery Fund. New findings were made during restoration
work by Historic England. The tunnels and magazines were extremely wet,
so vegetation was cleared and the ditch excavated to real the old stone
This was a very well researched light-hearted talk, well received by our members.
At our November meeting we welcomed back Linda Rhodes, curator of Valence House Museum. She gave us a very detailed illustrated account of the sad lives of some apprentices of the Barking Fishing Fleet. Thousands of children were sent away to serve on fishing smacks, reminiscent of chimney sweeps, Oliver Twist and the like. Barking’s town quay on the River Roding is two miles from the Thames, originally marshland. In the 1830s Hewett‘s Short Blue Fleet reached its peak, smacks travelling as far as Iceland. They mainly caught cod, but also turbot, sole, haddock and whiting – lobster was particularly profitable and some smuggling took place. Being close to London was an advantage, ice being collected from the Dagenham marshes and stored in ice houses, to keep the fish fresh. In the 1840s a typical fishing boat was a well-smack, fish being kept alive in the well and half salted at sea. This was superseded by the fleeting system when cutters collected frozen boxed fish by rowing boats and fishermen were stuck in the North Sea for months on end. At one time Hewett had 120 vessels manned by 7-8 men, including 4 apprentices. The town quay’s shed and workshops were busy with sail makers, block and tackle makers, fish curers and ships’ biscuit makers. There was a steam mill there, then later a water mill. Many crewmen were lost at sea, as memorials in St Margaret’s church show.
In the 19th century boys and girls were apprenticed for a fixed number of years or until they were 21. There were strict rules – they could not marry and were under their master’s control. They were as young as eight and were orphans or had fallen on hard times. Charities and London parish overseers paid the ship owners a premium of between £3 and £14 and some owners obviously took on boys for the fee alone. Many were badly treated and thrown out after their apprenticeship finished.
The boys coiled ropes, made drinks etc and hauled in 14-16lbs weights used to determine depth, also 4-5 miles of line; it was heavy work and there were several accidents at sea. One lad fell into the ropes and was kicked overboard by his master. He was saved by a bucket lowered over the side. In 1827 an apprentice died of neglect and severe punishment, including lashing with a knotted whip in the bitter cold. The verdict at the inquest was ‘death from exposure’. In 1840 a black boy was cruelly flogged and tied to the windlass, but the verdict was ‘natural death’. One boy bringing tea to the crew in the rain was washed overboard. He could not swim, as this only prolonged drowning. In an 1863 storm 60 Barking men drowned and a further six lives were lost when three fishing smacks were struck by a steamer in 1868. Another apprentice was covered in frostbite and sores which was said to be through eating too much. He was found unconscious but died the next morning. He had congestion of the lungs due to long exposure to cold and should have had better clothing. Even the warm clothing given to the boys at the start of their apprenticeship was taken away. An open verdict was recorded at the inquest.
The fishing fleet has long gone, locating to the East Coast in the 1860s with the coming of the railways, but the quay is still there. It is very sad that most employers wanted to get profitable work from the apprentices at little cost, but this system with no wages, high premiums and no-one to stand up for them was appalling. Nowadays they are key members of the crew, a bright ending to such dreadful times.
The Society welcomed back Ann Hardy for our January lecture. Ann had always wanted to be a dressmaker, following her mother, and completed a four year apprenticeship with Marshall & Snelgrove who made bespoke clothing, nowadays only made for top actors and actresses. Debenhams took over the company and customers went elsewhere. Ann then went to work at Nathans, a theatrical costumiers, making costumes to order. Mr Nathan was a tailor and hired costumes to David Garrick. His son carried on and a friend of Charles Dickens described such costumes in his books, George Cruickshank doing the illustrations. Nathans held a Royal warrant from Queen Victoria, designing costumes for a fancy dress ball for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. They also made costumes for Lily Langtree and the play School for Scandal. Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret even wore their fancy dress outfits on the QE2.
Their work continued in cinemas and Ann read out letters of thanks from various film stars, including Ellen Terry who wore a famous beetle wing dress. In the 1950s Nathan’s secured TV work including Robin Hood and Sharpe, when they made various military uniforms. They were made to a very high standard and were put through several processes to make them look war weary, using such things as wire wool and sandpaper. In the 1960s they made clothes for The Prince and the Showgirl, making not just one, but several of the same design. Marilyn Monroe’s famous dress recently sold for $4.8million. Their work continued in the 1970s when they merged with Bermans, making costumes for Moby Dick and the first trilogy of Star Wars, among many others. The label on an old brown cloak which had been hired many times for fancy dress parties was found to be originally made for Obi-Wan Kenobi and was sold for £54,000.
By 2007 they had been taken over by Angels and now have 9 ½ miles of costumes on their premises. They made costumes for Evita, copying the ones worn by Eva Peron and also made the Batman & Robin costumes for Only Fools and Horses. They later moved to Holborn and made armoury, using painted lightweight material, some of which was worn by Oliver Reed in Gladiators. They made several copies of suits for the Bond movies which had been made by Saville Row tailors. The workrooms where Ann worked were on the top floor, where wigs, jewellery and bespoke tailoring were made.
The costumes were always historically accurate, using traditional fabrics, often pure silk furnishing fabrics, even corsetry had to be authentic. Tea and coffee were used to make new lace look old for Edwardian times. Gold and silver jewellery was hand made for Lord of the Rings. Ann listed several films that the company provided clothes for, including Titanic and Oliver, where she made Nancy’s red dress from scratch which was then distressed by tearing, washing in hot water and sprayed with black paint.
This enjoyable talk was illustrated by several
photographs showing her work. The job involves a lot of hand sewing and
nowadays a degree in textile and design is needed in the theatrical
costume business. Ann met the stars when she was young; she still loves
the theatre but the work was long hours for little money.
Return to top