Meeting Reports: 2018 - 2019

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Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 21 Sep 2018: My time on the beat – when policeman had feet by Peter Layzell

For our first lecture of the season we invited ex policeman Peter Layzell to give a talk on what it was like to be on the beat in the Essex Police. He had started as a cadet, training in Oxfordshire in 1960, aged 19. He joined the regulars at Colchester, was promoted to sergeant and served at Billericay, Basildon, Corringham and finally Southminster on the Dengie peninsular where he was the longest serving sergeant in the county, declining promotion.

There were 120 police at Billericay and he was one of three men working on C shift. He walked long distances or cycled everywhere, with no radios and only one police car. There was only a whistle for help and a truncheon (known as a stick); this was kept in a special trouser pocket, which was not good on a cycle! When a constable arrested someone they had to get them to the station. Officers were given a pair of handcuffs which were difficult to use, although the ratchet type are now provided. The prisoner had to be compliant or physically subdued and it was a disciplinary measure to lose a prisoner. Sometimes miscreants went to the police station of their own accord.

As there were no radios or police boxes like those in London, he had to report to a telephone box at pre-arranged times, to obtain new information. Sometimes a fight was over before he got there.
Most constables were ex seaman and wore similar uniforms. The tunic was worn in all weathers and used to have a high collar; one pair of trousers and two shirts with 8 separate collars were provided, together with a tie, which was later changed to a clip-on one. They were also issued with a gabardine raincoat, the lining of which used to crack and let in rain. PCs also had a greatcoat which was warm as toast in winter, but absorbed water in the rain, and a cape. The cape was nice to wear but had to be removed when making an arrest and could be stolen. The helmet showed authority and Peter said he lost his in the road on his first day on his own when it got knocked off by a low shop blind.

A humane killer was provided at each police station for badly injured animals. He had to help at road accidents to stabilise casualties, although they were given no training for this – the last one being just as bad as the first – but now there is help. He also had to deal with ‘domestics’, the attitude to which has changed over the years. He felt he was lucky to have had a life in the Force, although it was difficult dealing with suicides, accidents and death. They were told to ‘pull themselves together and get on with it’.

This was a very interesting lecture, an eye opener as to how the police force operated in the past and Peter Layzell told of many incidents in his career like arresting celebrities and chasing a lad in a stolen car who went round a roundabout four times, just to get chased!

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting:  Friday 19th October           Coalhouse Fort WW2 - the story of the Wrens and Naval Detachment by Kevin Diver

At our October meeting Kevin Diver, a local historian, treated us to many photographs of the Sea Scouts, Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens), other naval personnel and civilians who carried out the serious and important job to defend London’s river at Coalhouse Fort during WW2. The fort was known as HMS St Clements and had two 5 ½” guns from HMS Hood, with a brick observation post on the roof. It was surrounded by trees and camouflaged from the air with netting. Their main task was monitoring the degaussing or de-magnetising of our ships which passed along the Thames. This was a process whereby the magnetism that had built up on the ships, which could be detected by the enemy, was neutralised by magnetic coils. They used Aldis lamps and semaphore to communicate with ships and even gave a degaussing demonstration to Russian delegations.

The radar tower, disguised as a water tower and built in 1940, detected submarines; next to it was searchlight equipment. This helped vessels to navigate the mine field in the Thames. The sea scouts and Wrens enjoyed their work and some marriages occurred between Wrens and the naval staff. They lived near Tilbury Hotel at first, later moving to the vicarage opposite St Catherine’s church. The vicarage was cold, with poor quality food; staff picked mushrooms and foraged for berries etc. to supplement rations. They were plagued with mice and rats but it was cosy and hospitable, almost like a holiday camp. The naval ratings had pets such as goats and rabbits. It was a relaxed atmosphere and not strict on uniforms.

The Wrens came from different backgrounds and some signed up just for the uniform, especially the tricorn hat which was worn by officers. Leading Wren Eileen Grimley was good fun and full of life – she had 30 ditties, for singing at parties. One of the Royal Marines, Black Jake (or Jack) was a colour sergeant and put the fear of God into his marines with strong discipline. However he had party piece when he sang ‘this old shirt of mine’ and stripped naked. One of the RNVR reserve was ‘Peter’ Potter, deputy editor of the Daily Express.

This illustrated lecture gave us an insight to the work carried out Coalhouse Fort in WW2, Kevin providing photographs from an archive he was able to access. The photo was taken in 1942.


Thurrock Local History Society Meeting:  Friday, 16th November Essex Nurse on the Front Line by Tim Luard

At our November meeting the society was pleased to invite Tim Luard (ex BBC correspondent in China) to give us a talk on his great-aunt, Kate Evelyn Luard, known as Evie by her family and recently awarded a green plaque. He said now we have come to the end of WW1 commemorations, we mustn’t forget what it was to serve.

He remembered being taken to tea in Colchester to visit his great-aunt. Tim told of her life through the copious letters she wrote to her family. Kate was born in 1872, tenth of 13 children of the vicar of Aveley. It was a happy and active family, entertaining each other, giving concerts in the church. The girls helped in the village, visiting alms houses etc. and were educated at home, the boys being sent to boarding school. However, Kate attended Croydon High School for Girls and wanted to be a nurse by the time she left, working to support her studies at King’s College Hospital in London.

Kate served in the Boer War, returning home after two years. She said it was a great experience despite the flies, dust, bad weather and shortage of nurses. She sent amusing letters to her sisters, describing her work and leisure. On returning she worked in London hospitals and enlisted in the Queen Alexander Imperial Military Nursing Reserve Service at the beginning of WW1, one of fewer than 300 nurses serving at home and abroad. The voluntary nurses (VADs) were at first awkward with trained nurses; she said they were charming, but hopelessly inefficient.

She was 42 when WW1 started and was immediately allocated to Dublin, travelling on the City of Benares, a packed ship. She travelled to France and was assigned to transport across the Channel, casualties lying on straw. She later worked in a field hospital, the nearest to the front line a woman could get. She got to know her patients who were plucky despite appalling wounds, helping them to recover and sent many letters for them, also distributing cigarettes and sweets etc., including ‘Birch butties’ and biscuits. It was cold and dirty with no hot water with make-shift units and basic equipment. Body lice and fleas were a problem as was backache. She was In charge of 40 nurses and 100 orderlies and promoted to Sister in October 1915; Kate also spoke French, German and studied Hindustani, attending top brass meetings. She walked in the countryside on her days off and attended concerts.

Kate always wanted to be at the sharp end and was described as a fire eater and a bit of a dragon. She sometimes broke down in tears, but her faith gave her much comfort. Her many letters brought black and white into full colour and was constantly inspired by the courage of the injured. Miss Luard was awarded the Royal Red Cross medal 1st class, and was decorated at Buckingham palace in May 1919.

She never married and spent the last years of her life at West Birch but continued to travel to Talbot House, a rest home for soldiers, and was involved in Toc H. She also looked after her ailing father and died aged 90 in 1962. This was an excellent lecture, a tale of courage with wit and humour. The new edition of her second book Unknown Warriors will serve as a fitting tribute to her service.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 18th January 2019, The Great War – a review by Brett Goodyear

History Society member Brett Goodyear gave us a personal review of The Great War, the last of our series of talks on World War 1, in memory of those by the late Jonathan Catton.

Brett told us he first got involved in family history after researching his mother’s family tree. His grandfather was stationed on the T.S. Exmouth before and after the war, retiring as a shipwright. However, his interest in WW1 started with a relative who died during the Battle of the Somme.

Six million men were mobilised at the start of the war on 4 August 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany. Three days later Essex troops arrived in France, one of the first battalions to arrive; they moved to Belgium and 23 August was the first major battle at Mons. Orsett Hall’s owner Major Whitmore was second-in-command of the Essex Yeomanry and served in France with the Royal Horse Guards, surviving severe wounding.

The British retreated to Paris; the Battle of Marne followed, the Germans retreating. Then there was the ‘race to the sea’, trying to outflank the enemy, with various battlefields concentrating on the Western Front. Casualties were enormous, nearly 20,000 British soldiers being killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme; however, the French lost twice as many men as we did in the war. More than 70 Generals died in WW1, despite the common story that they never left the chateaux, a long way behind the British lines. We had few aeroplanes, only 113 at the start of the war.

The Defence of the Realm Act came into force at the beginning of the war, restricting public house opening hours and banning the buying of a round of drinks. Further restrictions came into force including blackouts and post and press censorship. British summertime was introduced in 1916. Apparently there was a shortage of of shells in 1915 and we had to pay royalties to Germany for the fuses! Brett told us about prime ministers who served: Harold MacMillan was wounded three times, Clement Atlee survived Gallipoli and served on the Western Front. Churchill was blamed for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and resigned in November 1915.

There were also some heartening stories. When the RN Live Bait squadron was torpedoed a 15 year-old dived overboard, was picked up and torpedoed twice more; however he lived to the ripe old age of 90. Another survivor was Violet Jessop. She came through the sinking of the Titanic and worked on the hospital ship Britannia; it was mined but again she was one of the 1000 survivors.
Medical advances in WW1 included person to person blood transfusions and mobile X-Ray units, with over a million men being helped. Also the first skin and bone grafts were carried out in the army’s surgery unit. War poet Wilfred Owen died 4 November 1918 and the plaque at Sambre-Oise includes his name.

The armistice was signed at 5am on 11 November 1918. About 11,000 soldiers died on that day – killed in combat, through wounds and the Spanish flu. The first British soldier died on 21 August 1914, the last one two minutes before the armistice was signed. The Paris peace conference was held on 18 January 1919, culminating in the Treaty of Versailles which was signed on 28 June 1919, Germany being forced to accept responsibility for the war.

This was a poignant reminder of what our forebears had to endure and the terrible loss of life.

Thurrock Local History Society, 15 February 2019, Ghosts and Graveyards in Barking and Dagenham by Linda Rhodes

Linda worked for many years at Valence House and still continues to work there as a volunteer since her retirement. Many of the old houses and public houses are reported to have ghosts, including the ghost of Alice de Valence who is said to wander around the grounds of Valence House.

Public houses seem to be favourite haunts of ghosts and other beings. Strange things have happened in the pubs. The Spotted Dog public house which was originally on an old site and rebuilt in 1870 was the favourite haunt of a gentleman called Pat Carey; he had drunk there for 75 years. When he died the pub clock stopped and never worked again. It is also said to be haunted by a young girl in a black dress with a white pinafore who hides keys and who guided an engineer out of the basement when he got lost down there.

At the Farmhouse Tavern jin Dagenham built in 1840 various ghosts dressed in Victorian clothes have been sighted. The screams of little chimney sweeps can be heard at The Bell House, which although it has a Georgian façade was originally built in 1435. At Parsloes Manor House, now demolished, the home of the Fanshawe family, ghosts have been heard rattling chains and moaning. Eastbury Manor House renown as the house where the Gunpowder Plot may have been hatched is said to be haunted by a young girl who fell down the spiral stairs in the turret. Guy Fawkes himself is supposed to haunt the Civic Centre which is now part of Coventry University.

Many of the local graveyards are said to be haunted, possibly because of the activities of the body snatchers or resurrection men who until the 1832 Act were busy in the area. The Congregational Church in Barking Broadway is said to be haunted by George Clark, a policeman who was murdered in the area. There have been many other reports of “ghostly” sightings and strange noises in the area.


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