Establishing the beach

It was over a hundred years ago that the idea of a Grays Beach was first envisaged. In 1902 when the Grays Coronation Committee were making arrangements in connection with the coronation of Edward VII, Councillor A.W. Boatman suggested �150 should go towards a permanent memorial on the river front, possibly with the remainder of the money coming from the rates, used to procure a portion of the saltings for the purpose of public baths.

In July 1902 a picture entitled Down by the River Wall by Christopher M. Shiner was exhibited in Boatman’s window. This showed land between the sandstone syndicate jetty and The Shaftesbury, with laid out gardens, bandstand etc. Previously, in October 1898 Mr Boatman had written to Mr William Williams of Swansea, landowner, re securing a portion of the river front, but Mr Williams declined at that time. Mr Boatman wrote again in 1902 after several landowners had given land elsewhere as a Coronation gift. This time Mr Williams agreed to provide a site on which to erect baths and wash houses as a permanent memorial of Edward VII’s Coronation, although the erection of baths and wash houses was not a condition of the sale. Mr Boatman was unable to get the whole portion of land asked for, but he now had an offer from Mr Williams to give an acre to the town and sell the remaining 3 acres required at �400 per acre, which the Council accepted. Mr Boatman said the land would be worth �1000 an acre in the near future. An extra 2p would be needed on the rates. The Chairman (Mr H.E. Brooks) said there was no doubt the river frontage was being snapped up.

The following October Mr Williams’ solicitors wrote to the Council to confirm that he was giving one acre free and would sell about 3� acres at �400 per acre – the land to be used as a public recreation ground or park and no other purpose. The councillors agreed the money would not be provided from the rates, but to be borrowed and repayment made over several years, say 21, amounting to �d rate. The following month the Council agreed on four bonds each for seven years to repay the loan. The land was measured and it was discovered that there were 5� acres in total. The price would be �1880 for 4� acres and it was agreed that the whole plot would be acquired.

By January 1903 the contract for the purchase of land adjoining the river wall was sealed and a letter from Mr Williams’ solicitors read to the effect that if at any time the Council wanted to use a part of the land for their own purposes, Mr Williams would, no doubt, agree. There was further correspondence and meetings between Mr Williams’ solicitors and the Council, resulting in a letter saying that steps would be taken for the deed to be executed. It took a further year before the Council agreed the terms set out by Mr Williams’ solicitors. Legal documents were to be prepared, �1880 being provided by four bonds.

The purchase was accomplished in March 1904. Mr William Williams of Maesygwernen Hall, Morriston, Wales died in April 1904. He was a large property owner in Grays and an article in the Gazette gave his history. A letter of condolence was sent to his widow by the chairman of Grays UDC.

All did not go well with the land purchase. In May 1904 the Councillors were surcharged �70 for interest and the first payment on the Bond. Mr Williams’ executors were to be approached with the possibility of setting up a terminable annuity. Mr Williams’ solicitors asked for the deeds to be returned but the Council refused. A letter dated 16 July 1904 from the Local Government Board, acknowledging the application for sanction to borrow �1880 for the purchase of land near the river wall for the purpose of public walks or pleasure grounds, stated that before deciding upon it a Local Government Board inquiry would be held. This was done in August 1904. The Bond had been agreed between Mr Williams and Thurrock Council for 7 years at 4%. When the council came to pay the interest the Bond was declared illegal and invalid. The council did not want the rates to be increased.

Several Grays residents opposed the scheme, saying the general public had not been asked what they wanted. Mr Golden supported the application as he said the river front was fast disappearing. Repayment of loan and interest per year over 21 years would be �120, a rate of less than �d. Those against said extra money would be needed to bring the land up to requirements including infill of 6-10ft and keeping the water out. After the Inquiry the Inspector proceeded to the river wall to view the land. It was suggested that �10-�20,000 would be needed to lay out the land.

In September 1904 the Local Government Board agreed to lend �1880, the period of repayment to be over 58 years. Mr A.C. James, surveyor, was instructed in the meantime to take the levels and prepare a plan for the committee, maybe including an open air swimming pool. Grays Trades and Labour Council asked for the work to be given to local firms. After a motion the Parks Committee were asked to consider the question of a scheme. Mr Golden remarked upon the popularity of Purfleet during the summer and believed that if they could show the Railway Company they had a similar resort in Grays they would probably issue cheap tickets to Grays that would help the town. The committee for the lay-out scheme met and the open air swimming bath at East Ham and model yacht pond at Barking were to be inspected.

The beach opens