Meeting Reports: 2017 - 2018

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Thurrock Local History Society Meeting 15th September, 2017: Rural Essex in Victorian and Edwardian times as seen in the press
by Peter Layzell

For our first meeting of the 2017/18 season, Peter Layzell entertained us with images of newspapers of an earlier time, reflecting views of the past. They covered health, crime, education and more. He emphasised that attitudes were different over 100 years ago and so we cannot judge the behaviour of people by today’s standards. Temperance and political meetings were advertised, also concerts and songs from the music hall.

In April 1895 a headline in the Chelmsford Chronicle read The Bradwell Horror. James Instance and his family lived at Mill End and it was discovered that his daughter Harriet, aged only 15, had given birth to a child. The police had been alerted by suspicious neighbours and confronted the family. At first Harriet denied the accusation, but later admitted giving birth in the closet. This was searched, but on finding nothing they examined the house. Blood-stained sheets in the bedroom were found and Harriet admitted that she had hidden the child up the chimney. It was duly found, wrapped in a sheet. She made a statement to the police that her brother George (known as Bob, aged 25) was the father of her child and he was duly arrested. In May the Chelmsford Chronicle reported the Inquest, a lawful requirement from 1887 for an unnatural death. This was held at the Queens Head, the local pub being the usual place for such an event, the host laying on food for everyone, with customers probably in another room.

As Doctor Edward Pettifer was of the opinion that the child had lived, the case was now murder, which Harriet denied. However, she was not charged with murder, but for manslaughter and concealing a birth. The jury consisted of middle class men and found her guilty of concealment but not guilty of manslaughter, death being through lack of proper care. Crowded housing was blamed, the family having had 13 children and only two bedrooms. Harriet was sentenced to three months imprisonment. She later married and had at least seven more children, dying aged 77. Her brother George pleaded guilty of criminal assault and was sent to prison for 18 months.

Newspapers around 1900, as today, printed a variety of subjects. In 1896 the Tilbury Cottage Hospital opened, built by Passmore Edwards; before that patients had to go to Southend or Gravesend. There were various reports of accidents and in 1893 a small boy died falling into the fire – many children died from burns from open fires and accidents with candles. Crime was duly reported, the Petty Sessions holding two courts each Friday. Such crimes included keeping a dog without a licence, driving without lights, drunk and refusing to leave a pub, bad language, etc. The Quarter Sessions dealt with more serious crimes – theft, indecent assault, house breaking and even refusing to work in a workhouse. Papers reported on education, the Grays National School being found unsatisfactory in 1905. Parents were fined 4 shillings for non attendance of their children, further absenteeism resulting in them being sent to Industrial Schools. The weather, sport and leisure were covered, including the model yacht club, swimming at the bathing pond, outings to Southend and advertisements for agricultural shows. Fox hunting and even otter hunting fixtures were shown. Jobs, medications, such as Beechams pills, were advertised and of course pubs and their beer.

In 1900 1 was worth 112 in today’s money, an agricultural labourer earning 15 shillings per week. It is difficult to imagine how hard life was at the beginning of the 20th century, and the two musical renderings played by Peter Layzell gave us a taste of life then.

Thurrock Local History Society 21 October 2017: The Poor Law – how we treated our poor, by Martyn Lockwood

At our October meeting ex policeman Martyn Lockwood enlightened us on how we have treated the poor in the past. The Reformation in 1534 meant that the poor could no longer receive help from the monasteries and they turned to the parish. The old system had saved many from starvation and there was social unrest, with an increase in crime and begging. Various legislation came about in 1601 by Queen Elizabeth I. Beggars had been ill-treated, branded, whipped and sent out of villages to roam the countryside.

In the 16th century parish registers started to keep records; funds were collected for the poor, aged and ‘decayed’, known as the Vagabonds Act. Overseers were appointed to collect the poor rate, but it was not popular. The 1601 Poor Relief Act covered the appointment by the vestry of two overseers, a parish constable for law and order and people to maintain the highways. Relief was dispensed - indoors in the workhouse and outdoors with food or clothing. Workhouses were at first a cottage in a parish. The able bodied were set to work on jobs such as picking oakum, used for caulking on ships. Children became apprentices for payment and some were sent to sea.

The 1662 Settlement Act established the parish where each person belonged (repealed in 1834). In 1723 a new act was set up for poor relief on a larger scale, parishes grouping together to build workhouses, ran by the Board of Guardians and funded by a local poor rate. There were serious problems after the Napoleonic wars, ex soldiers being forced to beg and unemployment was widespread. There was rioting and a Vagrancy Act was set up to control beggars.

New regulations in 1834 stipulated that parish workhouses should be worse than a home situation and a workhouse test was devised to test between the deserving and undeserving poor. Our local workhouse was built in Orsett. Staff lived on the premises and there were strict rules and regulations for the inmates. Their food was basic, with silence at mealtimes. Families were split up, although parents saw their children on a Sunday. Many children had no family and were instructed at school for three hours each day; they were taught the three Rs and Christian religion.

By 1881 most workhouse inmates were agricultural labourers and various punishments were inflicted for small misdemeanours. There was no provision for tramps and beggars, although they could stay overnight after doing a day’s work; their clothes were fumigated and they were locked in cells overnight. The inmates celebrated Christmas Day, being served Christmas pudding and roast beef, some being entertained by parish ladies singing.

The OAP act in 1908 gave 5 shillings a week at the age of 70. The workhouse system declined and by the 1930s local councils took over welfare. This was a sobering talk and although the poor will always be with us, at least the workhouses are no more, most of them being turned into infirmaries.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 17 November 2017 – A-Z of Thurrock History by Kevin Diver

At our November meeting we were taken on an A-Z history tour of Thurrock by local historian Kevin Diver. He started at Aveley where a mammoth was discovered in 1964. This was followed by various bridges, including the WW1 pontoon bridge from Tilbury to Gravesend and continued through the cement industries and the docks, where the new DP World and Tilbury are still expanding. E covered evolution as discovered by Alfred R Wallace, with F standing for the fleece which the Sturgeon family sold from their stock of Merino sheep obtained from George III. I was for invasion, forts being strategically placed where the Thames narrows. The Jacobites were held at Tilbury Fort after the battle of Culloden and the Kynoch Works produced explosives, their Lion logo still being used in the USA.
L stood for lost landmarks, including Belmont Castle, Belhus and now Tilbury Power Station. M covered the Mucking dig where Saxon pottery etc was discovered. There were several Naval Training Ships in the Thames where orphans and street urchins were trained. The Orient Line was next, their ships all beginning with the letter O; also used in WW2 for troops and merchant shipping. P was represented by PLUTO (pipeline under the ocean – across the English Channel), which was 70 miles long and assembled at Tilbury Docks. Queen Elizabeth I was ‘Q’, famous for her armada speech at Tilbury in 1588. R covered the riverside where Grays beach opened in 1906 and now has container ports, warehouses and industries. S was the shoes made by Bata at Tilbury from the 1930s until it closed in 2005, the estate providing affordable housing, a cinema and swimming pool.

There were various tunnels (T) in the area; the Tilbury/Gravesend one was never built, but the Dartford Tunnels were operational from 1963 and 1980, with the bridge in 1991. They carry 130,000 vehicles per day, with a new crossing now being discussed. Vincent motorbikes covered V, their 1940 Black Shadow was the fastest motor bike in its time; Philip Vincent is buried at Horndon. W was Water supplies, including Cash’s Well at Vange. Our area is built on chalk which provides a reliable source of fresh drinking water. X stood for Extras, used in the film industry, including The Guns of Loos, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Quatermass 2, Batman Begins and the TV series Taboo. Yachting represented Y, the local club being active since Victorian times. For some time it used the The Gull lightship as its headquarters but all that is left now is the lantern. Finally, Z was for the Zeppelin L15 which the Purfleet gunners played a part in bringing down in WW1.

Kevin gave us an enjoyable illustrated trip through the alphabet, with a plethora of facts.

Thurrock Local History Society Christmas Meeting: 15 December 2017

Our Christmas party meeting this year was a bit special. This is our 65th anniversary year. To celebrate we were joined by Thurrock MP, Jackie Doyle Price and Thurrock Mayor, Councillor Tunde Ojetola. To make the evening go with a swing we were entertained by Sentimental Journey: a duo who specialise in songs from the 40s and 50s. Members joined in the singing and some even danced in the aisles. There was good food and a raffle, rounding off a very enjoyable evening.





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