Meeting Reports 2010 - 2011

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Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 17th September 2010

The audience at the September meeting may have expected tales of gruesome activities by witches and their imps such as Grizzell Greedigutt, Pywackett, Vinegar Tom etc but this was a rational talk by Christopher Thompson demonstrating how fear and suspicion can escalate into irrational accusations against neighbours particularly those, mainly women, who were old or had visible deformities.

In the 15th and 16th centuries people in Essex lived in small rural communities in poor draughty houses emitting all sorts of sounds and creepy noises. Attendance at church and living a good life were deemed to be protection against misfortune so if adversity occurred the forces of evil were believed to be the cause. Attitudes towards witchcraft and the ability to cast spells or curses became strong. The sudden onset of an illness or death in the family could be blamed on a curse from someone who had felt offended or had been refused help by that family. Those who felt that harm had been done to them might consult a ‘cunning man,’ who was deemed to have knowledge of the occult, to see if he would support the charge of witchcraft. The accused would be tried at the Assizes, the Quarter Sessions or in Church courts.

In order to get a confession, Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, would deprive suspects of sleep by making them walk for hours, even days, until they were exhausted.

During the 1640s and 1650s so many were locked up or hanged that Justices of the Peace and the upper echelons of society became sceptical that so many could really harm others by cursing or pin-sticking. This disbelief caused a tremendous uproar; members of the Church of England and Non-Conformists, in their Articles of Faith, were required to believe that there was evil in the world. They protested loudly and long that witchcraft existed and it survived as a popular belief until the later half of the 17th century when the witch craze gradually came to an end.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 15th October 2010

At the October meeting, Jeffrey Page, from the National Gallery, gave a talk on the many artists who have painted views of the Thames from the 17th to the 20th century. As each artist was introduced the speaker showed the relevant slides and pointed out items of interest. Samuel Scott, a famous artist in his day and a friend of Hogarth, painted many views of the Thames in the 1740s. He was compared to Canaletto who moved to London in 1746 to be near his market. Many English noble men had bought his paintings when visiting Venice on the Grand Tour. Among his famous paintings of the Thames is the New Westminster Bridge. It is striking to note that these early paintings of the Thames show St Paul’s Cathedral towering over the other buildings. In those days no building was allowed to be built that dwarfed the Dome of St Paul’s.

Among the other paintings shown were “The Thames by Night” an early work of J M W Turner and “The Burning of the Houses of Parliament” on 16th October, 1834 which Turner witnessed from a boat on the Thames. The speaker told us that Turner never received a knighthood because Queen Victoria thought he was mad.

“Hadleigh Castle” by John Constable was painted in sombre colours which reflected his mood after his young wife died. Constable would have seen the castle from the Thames when sailing up to London on his father’s ships taking corn up to London.

The views on the Thames changed as steam ships gradually superseded sail and there was more industry. In 1874 the new embankment opened on the north bank.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 19th November 2010

At the November meeting, Susan Yates, Chairman of the Society, gave an illustrated talk on the windmills of Thurrock. Firstly there was an explanation of the different types of windmill such as the post mill, smock mill and tower mill and also how the sails could be manoeuvred to get the best of the wind. Some mills had a fantail which turned the mill into the wind. The internal workings were explained and the various stones described which were used to grind the corn into flour.

The history of the Thurrock mills was well researched where records exist. Aveley post mill, which was built pre 1651, was owned by the Barrett-Lennards of Belhus. It was leased to various millers through the centuries and was demolished by the estate bailiff in 1916/17. Aveley football club play on Miller’s field and feature “The Millers” on their badge.

South Ockendon smock mill was built in the 1820s although there had been a mill on the site since 1295. The location was on the south side of the moat at Hall Farm. The structure also incorporated a watermill. The mill was octagonal with a traditional Essex boat-shaped cap. It ceased working in 1923 and blew down in a gale in November 1977.

Baker Street smock mill was built circa 1796. It was unusual to have a female miller but here in 1890 a Mrs Emma Woollings was listed as miller and baker. The mill’s working life was ended by gale damage in 1926 but from 1982 to 2000 the windmill was restored by John Smith and Tony Mudd. Thanks to their dedication Baker Street mill still stands as a reminder of the time when theses tall structures stood out against the skyline in nearly every parish in Thurrock.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 21st January 2011

Roger Pickett, former member of Grays Fire Brigade, stepped into the breach when the original speaker for the January meeting was unable to fulfil the booking. He began with a description of early fire-fighters who, with their horse-drawn equipment could arrive to quench the flames as much as two hours after the fire had started. Eventually fire-fighting equipment was motorised and brigades were funded partly by the public and partly by the council. It was even thought by some that fire brigades were a complete waste of money – people just need to be more careful.

Before WWII there were numerous municipal fire brigades but in 1938 the Auxiliary Fire Service was formed which later became the National Fire Service. This ensured uniformity of equipment during a period of intense activity and dedicated service by the firemen. After the war the County Councils ran the fire brigades which eventually became the Fire and Rescue Service.

Apart from his service to the public, Roger has devoted his adult life to the collection of all aspects of fire-fighting including purchasing historic fire-engines, uniforms, badges photographs and other memorabilia which has resulted in the formation of the Essex Fire Museum in Grays. Without his vision, and the support of his volunteers, much of this history would have been lost. The museum provides an exciting experience for schools as well as members of the public. Information on visiting the museum can be found at

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 18th February, 2011

At the February meeting over 100 members and visitors came to hear Jonathon Catton, Thurrock’s Heritage and Museum Officer, give an illustrated talk on a history of Grays. He began with the town’s name which originated from Sir Henry de Grai who was granted the manor of Thurrock by King Richard in 1195. Henry and his descendants held the manor for over 300 years.

The talk took the form of a walk round Grays starting with the parish church and moving on to New Road, down to Argent Street, up Bridge Road then on to Orsett Road and the High Street. Along the way we heard about the buildings, shops and cinemas and events such as the fraudulent transactions at Grays Building Society leading to its closure and the suicide of the manager, the training ships moored on the Thames and the devastating fire in 1875 on the TS Goliath when one officer and 18 boys were lost. The various industries were covered such as Goldsmiths who owned a large fleet of sailing barges, Seabrooke’s Brewery which traded as far afield as Southend, Chelmsford and Kent and the farm, now Grays Park, which belonged to the Sturgeon family owners of the famous merino sheep. Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution with Charles Darwin, built the Dell which is now a convent and displays a commemorative plaque to this famous naturalist.

A short summary cannot cover the detail in this fascinating talk, enhanced by the photographs on the screen, which confirmed the importance of Thurrock museum in preserving the heritage of Thurrock.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 18th March, 2011

At the March meeting, Jennifer Ward, author of several books on the medieval period, gave an absorbing illustrated talk on women and the family in the Middle Ages. In the main, women were regarded as liable to be tempted, irrational and weak based on the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible. Most women lived out their lives in their own village or town. After the drop in population following the scourge of the Black Death in 1350, women began to get greater freedom and opportunities. Girls were educated at home usually by the mother who was also responsible for the boys up to the age of seven. Girls of quality were trained in etiquette, music, dancing and embroidery. They learnt to read but in some cases did not learn to write. Less well off girls learnt practical skills such as running a household, spinning, weaving, sewing and farm work such as dairy maid. Some went into service to save for their dowry.

Marriage took place in the late teens or early twenties. Parents vetted the suitors and arranged the marriage sometimes as early as 7 years of age. Parents of daughters of noble families paid a dowry of between 500 and 1,000; the gentry paid about 20. The girl was expected to provide the household goods and the husband must be able to support a wife and family. Marriage was for life and couples were expected to get on together. Parents did not like their children to form romantic relationships. A widow could make her own choice of husband and could become rich by the joining of two or more estates. The wife was often the executor of her husband’s will, she also arranged the funeral and distributed legacies. Women who did not marry often joined a religious order.

Women gave birth to children throughout their twenties and thirties usually attended by neighbours. Well off families could afford a midwife or doctor. Infant mortality was high but records of births, marriages and deaths were not recorded until registers were kept in churches from 1538. Religion played a significant role in women’s lives and the church provided a moral framework for living and a centre for socializing.

Thurrock Local History Society Annual General Meeting: 8th April 2011

The AGM began with apologies being recorded and the minutes of the AGM 2010 being agreed. The Chairman’s Report outlined the activities during the past year including the visit to the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, Southwark Cathedral, Cambridge and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard plus the Society’s attendance at Horndon Feast & Fair, the Party in the Park and the Orsett Show. She also gave a summary of the varied programme of winter meetings which were very well attended. The audited accounts were not available due to the AGM being brought forward to the beginning of April because the Royal Wedding was scheduled for the meeting’s original date of 29th April. The Officers were re-elected except for the Treasurer who was standing down. The Secretary agreed to take on the duties of Treasurer. There being no other nominations, the rest of the Committee agreed to continue in post. The Chairman thanked the committee and those other members who had supported the society throughout the year including the web site committee, the Panorama editorial committee and the members who served the refreshments.

After the break, Audrey Gillett and Meryl Catty of the Thameside Family History Group gave a fascinating talk entitled ‘The Name Game’. They began with the Saxons when one name, the baptismal name, was usually sufficient – names such as Egbert meaning ‘sword bright’ or Godiva ‘God’s gift’. The Norman Conquest brought new names to England such as William and Eleanor. As communities grew it was necessary to differentiate between people who had the same Christian name e.g. William son of Robert might become Robertson or Robson. There were topographical names such as Rivers, Marsh, Meadows, Underhill and the professions such as Archer, Baker, Miller, and Thatcher. Also names from character or appearance such as Jolly, Short, Whitehead, and Young. Christian or First names were often passed down through families from grandparents or aunts and uncles. Biblical names were popular and the Puritans gave their offspring aspirational names such as Patience, Prudence, and Clement. In recent times children are named after film and pop stars such as Wayne and Scarlett.

Some are not always compatible with the surname. Our speakers had discovered some bizarre names in their researches such as Annette Curtain, Pearl Button, Russell Sprout, and Christian Church. This was a lively and entertaining talk enjoyed by all.

Thurrock Local History Society: 20th May 2011 
History through Essex Adverts of Yesteryear

Before launching into history through Essex advertisements of yesteryear, Keith Lovell, speaker at the May meeting, first explained that adverts are all around us even from birth when babies advertise their hunger or need for changing by crying or a person wearing a logo on a sweatshirt advertises their membership of a club.
The advertisements shown on screen, mainly from the Chelmsford or Maldon area, covered a period from early 1900s to the thirties. At first only addresses were printed but telephone numbers came in gradually. The layout was very crowded using various fonts, packing in as much information as possible and sometimes with a print of the objects for sale.

The advertisements mainly depicted services and goods no longer in use such as charabancs for hire powered by gas, ladies’ stringed corsets, mangles, farm implements, porter (a type of beer), waterproof hay-stack covers and many more. Photographers showed the change in fashions and, before colour photography, offered a tinting service. Brewers were keen to attract the farming community with “Good, Sound Hay & Harvest Beer” and “Farmers’ Brewed Beer” 10 pence a gallon. Chemists advertised “accurately prepared prescriptions”. No mass production in those days.

This talk ended our Winter Programme. Members will receive details of the 2011/12 programme in due course. The venue is still planned for the Adult Community College in Grays.

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