Meeting Reports 2011 - 2012

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Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 16th September 2011

“I died in Hell” – with this quote from a poem by Siegfried Sassoon, John Matthews, the September speaker, introduced his talk on his research into tracing documentary evidence of his grandfather’s war record in WW1.

He described the patriotism at the start of the war in 1914, reflected in the poems and songs of the time, and how gradually the horrors of the trenches were depicted in the poems by such as Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling whose son, John, died at Loos.

At the outbreak of the war Aubrey McCooey, the speaker’s grandfather, worked as a coachman for the Mann family who lived near Tunbridge Wells. The male servants were told by their employer that if they joined up they would get their jobs back after the war. Grandfather was 38 years old, married and had a baby daughter, He enlisted in October 1915 but in view of his age he was not called up until June 1916. He joined the Irish Guards and after training he went with his regiment to Passchendaele. The conditions were atrocious – it was possible for a man or a horse to disappear in the sea of mud. Grandfather was wounded in October 1917. He suffered from gas inhalation, gun shot wounds to his face and his helmet was jammed onto his head. He was invalided out but when he had recovered was sent back to the trenches to rejoin his battalion seven days after the Armistice was signed. He received the War Medal and the Victory Medal and could be seen cycling around Tunbridge Wells at the age of ninety.

The talk was well illustrated with photographs, plans and supporting documents.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 21st October 2011

Our October Lecture was by Ann Hardy, who gave us a very interesting talk on the Secrets of the Royal Jewels. These were not the crown jewels, but those owned personally by the royal family. Queen Victoria didn’t inherit any jewels and spent an enormous amount of money buying new pieces, also being given vast amounts of jewellery, forming the basis of today’s collection. Albert bought her a sapphire and diamond brooch for their wedding, which was a favourite of subsequent queens and was presented with the Koh-i-Noor diamond after she was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877. After Albert died she only wore sombre mourning jewellery.

Queen Alexandra loved her jewellery and wore dog collar necklaces and rows of pearls, like an Indian Maharajah. She was presented with more jewellery from India, especially after her tour there in 1875. Her crown gemstones were fakes and she often wore fake jewellery. What she wore was not to everyone’s taste and on her death gems were removed and saved.

Queen Mary was passionate about jewellery and received presents from the UK and various Royal families. The Kensington bow brooch was her favourite, also the Cambridge emeralds. She finally got the jewellery from Alexandra when Edward VII died. She was a kleptomaniac and would ask for anything she took a fancy to when visiting, sometimes just putting it in her bag – later returned by her aide. In 1929 the Russian Romanov family sent a box from Denmark containing jewels which had belonged to Alexandra’s Aunt Minnie, including a Faberge pansy brooch – Mary kept a few for herself.

Elizabeth the Queen mother was given diamonds by her husband but had very little jewellery. In 1936 Queen Mary didn’t want to part with any royal jewellery and made a new law designating all jewellery personal property, which later passed to our present Queen, including the Halo tiara which was bought by George V, recently worn by Kate Middleton at her marriage to Prince William.

The Queen has 9 crowns, 11 tiaras, several necklaces and endless brooches, part of our National Heritage. Her first piece of jewellery was a coral necklace at 9 months, secondly a pearl necklace, after being given two pearls each year until there was enough for the necklace. She considers herself the lifelong custodian of the jewellery, now worth millions.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 18th November 2011

The November speaker, Mark Watson, Outreach Officer from Valence House Museum, gave an interesting talk on the famous people of Barking and Dagenham. These included Bobby Moore, who captained the team when England won the World Cup in 1966, singers Vera Lynn and Anne Shelton, popular with the troops in WW2. Colonel E. Loftus, was Headteacher of Barking Abbey Grammar School from its opening in1922 until 1949, and for most of his life he wrote a diary, now housed in Thurrock Museum.

The Dagenham Girl Pipers were founded by the Rev. Graves in the 1920s who started a club for girls from the Becontree Estate. By the thirties they were world famous, even Adolf Hitler asked for a private performance.

Other famous people from the Becontree Estate included, George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, Dudley Moore, comedian and actor, various pop stars, and a soldier who won a VC in WW1and Elizabeth Fry, Quaker, prison visitor and reformer who is buried at the Friends cemetery in Barking. This well-illustrated talk also included the founding of Barking Abbey in 666AD and its history.

Thurrock Local History Society Christmas Meeting: 16th December 2011

The main entertainment for the Christmas meeting was a selection of readings by members of the committee on aspects of life in Victorian Thurrock. These included details of Christmas Day in Orsett Workhouse, a poem about the fire on the training ship ‘Goliath’, the drunken behaviour of some during the Orsett Agricultural Show which spoilt the enjoyment of others and verbatim reports of Conservative and Liberal candidates during the local elections particularly dwelling on the perils of drinking alcohol. One dedicated voter even dyed his white dog blue for the election. The readings lasted about an hour and were greatly enjoyed by the audience, one of whom asked for a copy of the script.

After the entertainment, members enjoyed a tasty buffet and a variety of drinks. Raffle prizes, all donated by members, raised £100 for the Society’s funds.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 20th January 2012

Gary Egerton, the January speaker, and London Blue Badge guide, told the history of the Houses of Parliament. It was originally a palace built by Edward the Confessor and was one of the main royal residences. A fire destroyed much of the palace in 1512 but parliament continued to meet there until 1834, when an even greater fire ravaged the Houses of Parliament. The only buildings to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen's, the chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.

It was rebuilt in the gothic style by the architect Charles Barry, with interior décor designed by Augustus Pugin. The décor in red for the Lords and green for the Commons holds to this day. The Commons was bombed during WW2 and reconstructed to the original design. St Stephen’s Tower which houses Big Ben is 320 ft high. Big Ben is the bell, which weighs 13 tons, and chimes the hours ‘live’ to the BBC and around the world. At the bottom of the tower is a police cell which was last used to hold Emmeline Pankhurst, who campaigned for votes for women.

The building is still a royal palace although no monarch has entered the Commons since Charles I. When the Queen arrives to open the new session of Parliament, she is told, “Your Majesty, the cellars have been searched.” This relates back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when barrels of explosives were found in the cellars. The Queen gives her speech in the Lords setting out the Acts that the Government plans to pass in the coming session of Parliament. This was a very detailed talk with many interesting facts and anecdotes and well illustrated.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 24th February 2012

Our February speaker was the Museum and Heritage Officer Jonathan Catton, when we learnt of the 125 year history of Tilbury Docks. The LTS Railway had arrived in 1854, when a landing stage was built, allowing access to the river and passenger vessels. Congestion in the London docks was the deciding factor to open docks at Tilbury and the first sod was cut in 1882. Tilbury Docks was opened in 1886 the first ship being the s.s. Glenfruin, carrying a host of VIPs who toured the area.

Trade was slow at first but increased as road and rail transport progressed rapidly. Imports came from all parts of the world. After unloading, goods were transported by river and road. At first casual labour was employed, the dockers being employed for each half day. The Tilbury Hotel was built in 1886 to cater for liner passengers, the first TUDC civic dinner being held there in 1936, but it was bombed in WW2. There was a failed Nautilus submarine trial in 1886-7, and when a dead whale was found in the Thames the public were charged one shilling to view it, the funds going to Gravesend Hospital.

The docks had its own police force, with Chadwell providing fire brigade services. The Tilbury Laundry started about 1905, employing ladies. The tenement blocks erected for the workers were known as The Dwellings. The Port of London Authority took over in 1909 and the London and Tilbury Docks were nationalised. The docks played its part in both World Wars, with Pathe News being frequent visitors.

A new landing stage was opened by Ramsey MacDonald in 1930 and over the years various new constructions have taken place, particularly regarding container transport in the 1960s. Many immigrants and emigrants passed through the docks, including those from Jamaica on The Empire Windrush in 1948. Several notable people travelled on the increasing number of passenger liners, including Ghandi, Mark Twain and even a young Cliff Richard.
The port continues to thrive, handling a variety of bulk cargo and container traffic. This talk was full of fascinating facts and very well illustrated, Tilbury Docks being described as the ‘Heathrow Airport of the Thames’.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 16th March 2012

At the March meeting, members and visitors enjoyed an interesting and amusing talk by William Tyler on the growth of the popularity of the seaside, entitled “With my Little Stick of Southend Rock”. At first, in the 18th century, sea water was drunk because it was deemed to be good for your health. Later people began to be immersed in the sea from bathing machines. When George III took to the water at Weymouth the band struck up “God Save the King”! To preserve their modesty there were separate times for the gentlemen and ladies to bathe although onlookers with telescopes tried to get a glimpse of the ladies.

Soon the seaside became a place for fun and entertainment. Princess Caroline, the estranged wife of the Prince of Wales, later George IV, resided at Southend and was reputed to entertain young men and was accused of adultery. She became so notorious that her husband refused to allow her access to Westminster Abbey at his coronation.

Southend was famous for its pier, the longest in the world, and the Kursaal with its sprung dance floor. Holiday makers came by bicycle, rail and steamer to enjoy the seaside on the estuary of the Thames even though there was only mud alongside the water until eventually sand was imported.

Other resorts were described such as “posh” Frinton where Londoners sent their children with their nannies. During the 1920s, Frinton passed a bye-law forbidding amputees of WWI from going onto the beach because the sight of their injuries was putting other holidaymakers off. Seaside boarding houses were not very welcoming. No one was allowed to stay in the house between meals even when it rained. In 1934, after enduring a rainy holiday, Billy Butlin borrowed £3,000 and opened his first holiday camp at Skegness providing entertainment all day whatever the weather.

The first seaside rock was made in1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s 50th Jubilee, and reached its heyday in the 1950s. It is very British and rarely found abroad except in Gibralter and Benidorm.

Thurrock Local History Society AGM: 20th April 2012

The AGM in April was very well attended with 72 members. The Chairman gave a very positive report on the previous year’s activities which included three coach trips to Duxford Airfield, Knole House and Brookfield Motor Museum and attendance at Horndon Feast & Fair and the Orsett show. Also the 50th Anniversary edition of the TLHS Journal, Panorama, was published with articles contributed by eminent authorities on the history, archaeology and geology of Thurrock. Another innovation for 2011 was the publication of pocket guides, at £1 each, on the history of parishes in Thurrock. To date they include Chadwell & Tilbury, Horndon-on-the-Hill, Orsett and Grays Thurrock.

Brian Burton stood down from the Committee and was thanked for his hard work and support of the society over many years. John Matthews, a well-known local historian, was elected to the Committee. There were no other changes. The Chairman, Susan Yates, thanked all those who have supported the society throughout the year and extended a warm welcome to any member who would like to assist at any of the forthcoming summer events.

After a break for refreshments, the Chairman of Thurrock Antiques Society, Brian Billins, gave a talk on the history of Essex smuggling. He began by quoting ‘A Smuggler’s Song’ by Rudyard Kipling and continued with a very detailed account, full of facts and figures, which rounded off the evening in a most interesting and informative way.

Thurrock Local History Society AGM: 18th May, 2012

Susan Yates, Chairman of the Society, gave the final talk of the 2011/2012 season on the history of the Olympic Games. These were first held in 776BC in Greece in the Sacred Grove of Altis in the Kingdom of Elis and took place on one day. Here the Temple of Zeus was located and the Temple of Hera, mother of Zeus, where the winners were presented with a wreath of laurels. The winners also had the honour of a statue at Olympia. The presentation of medals is a recent innovation.
The games, for men only, were held every four years and three months before, heralds were sent all over the known Greek world to invite competitors to the games in honour of the god Zeus. The first Olympic Champion was Coroibos.

There were various events such as chariot racing, pentathlon, running and wrestling. Races ranged from one stade (the length of the stadium) to 24 stades.
In 393AD King Theodosius 1 abolished the games and in 395AD the Goths invaded and destroyed many of the statues and temples. The site was left to fall into decay and was completely obliterated by floods, silt, mud and earthquake damage. Thanks to modern archaeology the site has been excavated and is a popular venue for tourists.

The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens. Susan gave a very detailed account of the highlights of the games and their venues, held every four years from 1900 to the 2008, except for during the first and second world wars. The Olympic Flame was first lit in 1928 at Amsterdam and the first relay from Greece was in 1936 at the Berlin games. The design of the torch used in the relay changes for each Olympics. The torch for the 2012 London games was designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby and has been well accepted in the UK and internationally. The talk was well illustrated especially of the ancient Olympic site which our Chairman has visited on several occasions.

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