Meeting Reports: 2012 - 2013

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Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 21st September 2012

The winter season began with a talk by Ann Hardy on the daily life of a 17th century housewife. First Ann gave a description of the living conditions including the various diseases culminating in the plague of 1665 followed by the great fire of London in 1666. The houses were usually built on four floors and the streets were narrow. Servants slept on straw pallets on the floor. There was no piped water or sewage system, water was delivered to the houses and excrement went into cess pits or was thrown into the streets and collected by the night soil men.

Married women had no wealth of their own, all their assets belonged to the husband. Women’s clothes consisted of a long shift or chemise, then a corset stiffened with whale bone. Over this she wore a bodice and long skirt, sometimes two skirts but no under garments. For going out, she wore a mantle, a hat and sometimes a mask. It was fashionable to wear black patches of various shapes on the face, possibly to hide small-pox scars. They set their hair with sugar water and if necessary, wore false teeth – a plentiful supply after the plague. Girls wore a corset from a young age to develop the right posture and figure for marriage. To obtain cash for make-up, ribbons, patches etc wives often pawned items of clothing.

Housework was done with brooms and mops. The silver and pewter had to be kept highly polished. Women could cook, sew, knit, grow vegetables and herbs, wash the clothes and bedding and treat the family’s ailments. Washing household linen and linen garments was done twice a year and could take a week to complete. The washing was soaked in tubs containing urine and lye, then rinsed in water and hung out to dry over rosemary bushes.

This was a detailed and lively talk, well illustrated particularly with a 17th century corset which was passed round the audience.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 19th October 2012

Jennifer Ward, the October guest speaker, gave a detailed account of the parish church and its influence on life in the Middle Ages. The Pope was the head of the church and the bishops and priests ensured that the parishioners followed the tenets of the Christian faith. There were seven sacraments which included baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist at mass, marriage and extreme unction, the last being the anointing of oil, by a priest, at the time of death. Children knew the doctrines of the church by learning the Catechism before their confirmation.

Most of the parishioners were illiterate so the churches were very colourful with wall paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. Stained glass windows and screens portrayed the saints. People would pray to a saint who, they believed, would intercede with the Almighty, on their behalf to answer their prayers. A common wall painting was the Doom which depicted the people being weighed in scales at their death and if found wanting they were shovelled into the fiery mouth of Purgatory while those who had led a virtuous life rose up to Heaven. The well-off, educated members of the parish might own a Book of Hours, an illustrated book of prayers, for private devotions. Wealthy members established Chantries for priests to sing masses for the founder’s soul.

The church services were in Latin. At Mass the communicants received the bread, believed to be the body of Christ, and the priest received the wine, the blood of Christ.

Religion imposed rules relating to food: Wednesday and Friday were non-meat days and Saturday was sometimes a fast day. Fish was eaten throughout Lent and dairy products were prohibited. Feast days were celebrated with fairs, also groups put on plays depicting scenes from the Bible and pilgrimages were made to Canterbury, Rome, Jerusalem and other holy sites.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 16th November, 2012

John Matthews, local historian, opened the November meeting by declaring that there is a lot of history attached to the Mardyke but also a lot of brambles and nettles! The name means “boundary ditch” and part of the Mardyke forms the boundary between Barstable and Chafford hundreds. The main source of the Mardyke flows south from Holden’s Wood in Warley, down to Bulphan, across the fens to North Stifford and on to Purfleet where it flows into the Thames near the QEII Bridge. For most of its course, it forms the boundaries of parishes through which it flows. Various tributaries were described - two flow from Thorndon Park, another flows west from the Plotlands in the Langdon Hills and another flows east from Upminster.

Up to the 19th century the Mardyke was navigable to Bulphan. A riverside seven mile walk, the Mardyke Way, runs from Bulphan to Ship Lane, Aveley passing the fens to Stifford. Stifford road bridge is the most recent of several replacements, the earliest stone bridge was built in the 15th century. The walk continues on through Davy Down riverside park, where one can see the Victorian viaduct and the pumping station, then to the Thames Chase Community Forest and on to Aveley. The Mardyke continues on to Purfleet where a bridge from Purfleet crosses to the Rainham Nature Reserve which offers free entrance to Thurrock residents.

The Mardyke finally flows into the Thames where, on the bank at low tide, tree stumps can be seen, the remains of an ancient forest, which have been dated to Neolithic times, probably the oldest things in Thurrock.The talk was well illustrated with maps and photographs and certainly inspired some members to explore this less well-known, rural aspect of Thurrock.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting:  14th December  2012

Susan Yates celebrated the 60th Anniversary by telling the history of the society

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 18th January, 2013 - meeting cancelled due to bad weather.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 15th February, 2013

The February meeting saw 76 members and visitors welcoming Brian D’Arcy for his illustrated talk on the Crown Jewels. After his service in the army, Brian became a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London and was subsequently promoted to the Curator of the Crown Jewels. He lived for just over 23 years within the walls of the Tower.

The Crown Jewels consist of the regalia used for the coronation of the Kings and Queens of the United Kingdom and are secure in the Jewel House. They include crowns, sceptres, orbs, rings and other objects connected with the coronation which takes place in Westminster Abbey.
Brian began with the early history of the wearing of crowns and throughout the Middle Ages a collection of crown jewels was built up through the Tudors and through to the Stuart reigns of James and Charles I. Following the Civil War and the beheading of Charles, Oliver Cromwell abolished the monarchy and sold the crown jewels to finance the new republic.

After the death of Cromwell, Charles II was invited back to the throne and a new set of regalia was made for his coronation. The St Edward’s Crown is made of gold and includes 444 precious stones. Several other crowns have been made at later dates for the Queens and Kings which have included famous diamonds such as the Cullinan and the Koh-i-Noor.

Mr D’Arcy gave very detailed information on all the regalia and told some interesting anecdotes of his time in the Tower. He also said that the Crown Jewels are not insured because they are beyond price.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 15th March 2013

Ken Porter gave a brief history of the Langdon area which includes the Country Park and Nature Reserve and also encompasses the Dunton Plotlands. Langdon means ‘Long Hill’ and the panoramic view from the top extends along the Thames and to London in the west.

During the 1880s bad weather and poor harvests made many farmers bankrupt. In 1888, Laindon station opened. Speculators arrived in Dunton buying up plots of land, 20 ft x 100 ft, from £5 to £25 per plot. At the turn of the century people came from the slums of the East End and built sheds or used railway carriages for accommodation on the plots where they stayed for fresh air and a country weekend break. Plotlands grew up in other areas such as Jaywick and Camber Sands but the Basildon area had the greatest density.

The plots developed slowly with unmade-up roads, no water or electricity. The Plotlanders had water buts and dug wells; the toilet was a bucket in a shed at the end of the garden. The Great War 1914-18 and the flu epidemic saw many people moving out from London to live permanently on the Plotlands and they became self-sufficient growing their own vegetables and fruit and building footpaths. In the 1920s the A127 opened up bringing more inhabitants and Plotlands continued to expand with the onset of the Second World War.

Basildon New Town was built in the 1950s and gradually the Plotland bungalows were vacated leaving one remaining called ‘The Haven’. This is now a museum with memorabilia from the 1930s and 40s.

Thurrock Local History Society AGM: 19th April 2013

The AGM was very well attended by 71 members and 1 visitor. The Chairman gave a very positive report on the previous year’s activities which included a coach trip to the Olympic Park, a boat trip along the Thames and the 60th Anniversary Dinner held at Orsett Hall as well as the Society’s usual presence at Horndon Feast & Fayre and the Orsett Show. The monthly speakers were well received and continue to fill the hall with an audience of between 70 – 80.
The officers and committee were re-elected except for Mary Dyne who had decided to retire. There were no nominations at this stage for a replacement. Brian Burton, who served on the committee for many years and on the committee of the Essex Archaeological and Historical Congress, the Coalhouse Fort committee and has contributed articles to our journal Panorama, particularly researching Henry de Grey, who held the Manor of Thurrock and gave his name to Grays Thurrock, was made an Honorary member of the Society. The Chairman, Susan Yates, thanked all those who have supported the Society during the past year.

After a break for refreshments, Christopher Harrold, a patron of the society, gave an illustrated talk on ‘An Heraldic Jigsaw’ explaining the heraldry depicted on the coin of the realm. He began with the designs on the reverse of the coins since decimalisation e.g. on the 5p the crown over the thistle is for Scotland, the lion on the 10p is for England. In 2008 the coins were totally redesigned and parts of the royal shield were depicted on the reverse of the coins from 1p to 50p. The six coins, when placed together, form the royal shield which is seen in full on the £1 coin.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 17th May, 2013

Professor Geoffrey T Martin of Cambridge University and Patron of the Society, addressed an audience of 78 members and friends on the re-excavation of the tomb of King Horemheb, who became Pharaoh of Egypt in 1306 BC (approx) following the death of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun. He was believed to be of lowly birth and therefore not related to the royal family but had risen to Commander in Chief of the Army and was named by Tutankhamun as his successor.

As was the custom, Horemheb’s tomb was built before his death in the Valley of the Kings (burial KV57). It was excavated in 1908 by Theodore Davis with photographs taken by Harry Burton who later worked with Howard Carter, the excavator of Tutankamun’s tomb. Horemheb’s tomb had been plundered but they found magnificent bas relief wall paintings and many items deemed to be necessary to protect and to sustain the king on his journey into the next world,

Professor Martin conducted a re-excavation of the site during 2006 – 2007. The shaft leading down to the tomb was densely packed with debris, also the chamber containing the sarcophagus. Painstaking excavation revealed items of no interest to plunderers such as arrows, bronze nails, fragments of vessels, pottery shards, beads and wine jars. Egyptologists glean much information from these objects and Professor Martin praised the wonderful local men who worked tirelessly on the excavation.

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