Meeting Reports: 2014 - 2015

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Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 19th September 2014

John Matthews, a local historian, was welcomed to give the first lecture of the society’s winter season on the subject of “Portraits”. During a visit to Penshurst Place, in Kent, he was informed that there was no published information about the paintings - “they are only family portraits”. However a portrait is an historical document and provides information about the sitter. From that aspect, a historian is less concerned than an art critic about the artistic merit, the quality of the artist or whether it is an original or a copy.

On studying a portrait, the research tools are visual examination, inscriptions, symbolism, clothing, provenance (who owned it) and scientific analysis of the materials used. Archives are housed in the National Portrait Gallery, the Courtauld Institute and the Paul Mellon Centre.

John then showed several portraits relating to the Temple family. He was able to demonstrate that clothing could indicate the period although styles of dress in country areas could lag behind the fashionable attire of the London court. A portrait of Sir Alexander Temple, who lived in Chadwell Place and was Governor of Tilbury Fort, can be seen in Hagley Hall. He is wearing the clothing of the 17th century. A red sash from his shoulder to his belt is a symbol of military office or a knighthood. His pointed beard was fashionable circa 1620. A copy of this portrait is in the Yale Center for British Art. There is a portrait of his wife in Leeds Castle in Kent.

Other portraits gave clues such as coats of arms that made connections with branches of the family, symbolism in jewellery or long, loose hair on a young woman indicated the sitter was unmarried. This talk opened our eyes and would add another dimension to a visit to a stately home.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting:17th October 2014

Linda Rhodes, the October speaker, is well-known to the Society for giving talks on notorious events that took place in the Essex police force during the 19th century. On this occasion she reconstructed in great detail the career of Inspector Thomas Simmons from his early life as a rural labourer, joining the Essex Constabulary at the age of 20 in 1865, his rise through the ranks to Inspector and his untimely death in 1885.

Constable Simmons was posted to Romford and soon earned the reputation of being a diligent and brave officer who had been commended for his determination and success in apprehending miscreants. Armed with only a truncheon and a lantern he would have worked a nine-hour shift at night patrolling the streets of Romford and its environs plus a three-hour shift during the day at the police station. He was promoted from constable to sergeant and finally in January 1881 he was appointed as the Inspector for the Romford Sub-Division. He was then earning 90 a year and he and his family could afford to move to a house in South Street at a rent of 27 a year.

On a cold January afternoon in 1885 Inspector Simmons, accompanied by young constable Alfred Marden, set out on a routine patrol in a pony and trap through the lanes towards Rainham. At a narrow, hedge lined lane they passed three men one of whom Thomas recognised as David Dredge a hardened criminal. Marden chased Dredge who had dived through the hedge into a field while Simmons followed the others. The tallest man turned and shot Inspector Simmons causing Marden to abandon Dredge and run to help his Inspector who died of his injuries 4 days later. A reward of 250 pounds was offered to apprehend the perpetrators. Two men were arrested, Dredge was found ‘not guilty’, Adams was hanged although he did not fire the gun (he was not the tallest of the two men who confronted Inspector Simmons). The tall man, Rudge was eventually hanged for murdering another policeman in Cumberland a year later. This was a well-illustrated and meticulously researched talk.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 16th January 2015

Our first meeting of the New Year opened with the sad announcement that Hazel Austin, one of our founder members had passed away. She will be sorely missed.

We welcolmed back Jonathan Catton, Thurrock’s Heritage and Museum Officer to talk to us about WW1 in 1915. This was well illustrated, mainly from the Grays & Tilbury Gazette, giving detailed information on how people coped as the war progressed. There were training camps at Purfleet and Belhus Park where troops prepared for war, enlistment being encouraged. Volunteer training corps started and special constables were recruited. Coalhouse Fort was manned, together with searchlights and Tilbury Fort was a mobilisation centre. A floating military bridge was erected from Tilbury Fort to Gravesend.

In January there were German planes flying in the Thames and dropped small bombs, the first one landing on the railway between Stanford le Hope and Low Street. There was unrest in Grays, with anti-German riots, aliens being arrested. National Registration cards for civilians were issued.

Passenger ships were seconded for war work and a huge amount of merchant shipping left Tilbury dock, armed and ready for war, including food supplies. The Emergency Committee advised people what to do in case of invasion. There were blackout regulations, salvage sales and fuel restrictions. Guides and scouts learned signalling and first aid. Women took over men’s jobs, including window cleaning. Many worked at the new Kynoch Factory where cordite was produced. Fashion was military in style and clothing was stockpiled. Advertisements in the Gazette suggested suitable gifts for soldiers and there was fund raising for the relief fund, including concerts. A Princess Mary fund was set up that gave Christmas boxes to each soldier and sailor. By the end of 1915 a total of 145 Thurrock men had lost their lives.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting:27 February 2015

The speaker for our February meeting was our chairman Susan Yates. She was only a schoolgirl when bones of a woolly mammoth were found by an amateur geologist, John Hesketh in a field off Sandy Lane, Aveley in July 1964, whilst Tunnel Cement were excavating their clay quarry. It was a unique find, the only one in western Europe, an almost complete skeleton. It would have been about 12ft high, weighing 7 tons and had 1 curly tusks which grow to 15ft long and would have lived in a cold climate. Surprisingly, further investigation uncovered a juvenile straight tusked elephant about a foot lower down, originally from a warm climate and bigger than a mammoth. These animals would have lived thousands of years apart, the mammoth about 200,000 and the elephant about 225,000 years ago.

The Natural History Museum was contacted and a viewing platform was set up. Thousands of visitors came from miles around during the first week, the event being fully reported in the press and on the BBC. Susan was very interested in these finds and wanted to get nearer so stealthily approached the site from behind, eventually being invited to help. The Natural History Museum organised the excavation and the bones were cut in blocks from the clay and covered in a plaster cast before being carefully transported to London by lorry. Miss Yates visited the Natural History Museum in 2010 and was shown the original notes. She made a further visit in 2013 when she was able to view the mammoth bones.

This was a well illustrated, detailed talk showing how Thurrock hit the headlines in 1964.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 20th March 2015

At our March meeting local historian Mike Ostler used his personal collection of maps to show how they have changed in format over the years. He went back in time, firstly showing military maps when he was in the RAF in Borneo and Burma. They were from various sources, being important for navigators, especially in wartime, showing contours. A 1934 Ordnance Survey (OS) map showed lighthouses and their signals.

He illustrated various local maps, including Bartholomew’s 1924 map showing the old A13, also the 1” to 2 miles OS map of Basildon. Other OS maps plotted Zeppelin raids, including Purfleet, also target ranges. The 1906 OS Barnstaple map was issued for mobilisation purposes, also manoeuvres, showing camps and rifle ranges.

The OS Victorian East Anglia map of 1897 was 4” to the mile, showing lighthouses, including Purfleet. The 1895 map for the Thames was blank where Tilbury Fort was, a security precaution. The railways were added to the 1843 map in 1888. In 1837 Mogg printed its Strangers Guide to London showing buildings along the Thames, a forerunner of today’s tourist maps. Maps by Patterson showed roads from London, describing routes. The 1779 Marstow map showed roads of England and Wales, giving miles between towns.

Earlier maps were Chapman and Andree in 1777 and various others in the late 17th century showing routes in strips, with places to visit, even windmills. The 1610 map of London was a panoramic view of the Thames and an earlier Norton map of 1594 also showed some roads in Essex.

This interesting talk showed how important maps are, although our forebears did not have the detailed information we see today.

Our latest Panorama No.53 was on sale at this meeting, price 4.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 17th April 2015

At our April meeting Jennifer Ward gave a very informative talk entitled ‘Religious Houses in Essex’. In the 11th-13th century religious houses were flourishing in Essex and all over Europe, with a spate of monastic foundations in the 12th century. These included Colchester, Walden, Earls Colne, Barking, Prittlewell, Coggeshall and Cressing.

The Benedictine community had vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In 910 St Odo carried out the Cluniac Reforms which restored traditional monastic life, encouraging art and caring for the poor, working in hospitals and the community.

Lay people were encouraged to go on pilgrimages, crusades and do good work giving them a good chance to get to heaven. By the 1090s there was a ‘yuppie’ feeling in England and lay people founded new monasteries, monks praying for the souls of them and their families.

At Colchester only the 15C gateway survives of the Benedictine monastery. The priory at Walden was held by the de Mandeville family about 1136 on the site which is now Audley End. Life and work of monks was closed and cloistered, spent in worship, reading and manual work, with prayer being extremely important. Some held office in the community and were allowed to leave the monastery for official business, but debt was a problem.

Later visitations by bishops found fault, including wrestling and dancing in Barking Abbey churchyard. Thereafter monks were to attend more services and mass, observing silence with a yearly report to be made re the state of buildings etc.

In the 12C Waltham was re-founded as an Augustinian priory by Henry II as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. Some parish churches were appropriated by monasteries, benefiting from tithes and shared facilities, although there were clashes regarding worship times.

Monks made their mark on written culture. They gave hospitality to pilgrims, giving alms and food on daily basis, and educated children, Essex monasteries fulfilling economic, social and spiritual needs. This continued until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the mid 16C.

AGM: This talk followed on from our AGM when our chairman Susan Yates reported a busy year with speakers and outings, also being present at several venues, including the commemoration of 100 years since the start of WW1 at Tilbury Fort, when a new photographic display was created. The society has produced 8 parish guides so far, with more to follow. We have also just received a lottery grant to publicise Wallace’s Dell and hope to develop the land for public use. It is hoped that our members will get involved with this project. Thanks were given to various committee and other members for their hard work during the year, also the tea ladies.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 15 May 2015

At our last meeting in May, Eve Regelous a former employee, gave us an interesting and informative talk on the History of Harrods. Charles Harrod started his drapery business at Stepney in 1834. He moved his business to Knightsbridge in 1864, with Richard Burbidge as their first director. A fire in 1883 destroyed everything, including the Christmas orders and all customers received a hand-written letter explaining why their order had been delayed. After the fire Harrods expanded, with shares quoted on the stock exchange. A store card was given to VIP customers, including Charlie Chaplin and members of the Royal family.

Harrods has expanded over the years with 6 storeys and 1m sq.ft of selling space, with its own water and power supply and an underground railway. They had the first moving staircase, like a leather conveyor belt. Winter sales started 1896, opened by celebrities and now take 14m on the first day. By 1901 the store boasted magnificent ornamentation, including the Georgian restaurant, with tea dances. It was a most fashionable store with their commissionaires dressed in a green and gold uniform.

In the 1920s luxury apartments were built on top, but these used up valuable selling space. In WW2 tea dances were swept aside and the store was part taken over by the Royal Navy. By the 1960s they were selling high fashion to upwardly mobile clientele and the store was more modern.

Harrods was sold to Mohamed Al-Fayed in 1986, with House of Fraser at one time a co-owner. They have 25 restaurants throughout the store and their window displays are changed every six weeks. They still have a Harrods bear, now made in China with a new one each year and they start selling Christmas decorations in August. Fayed introduced memorials for Princess Diana and his son Dodi. He held five royal warrants, but Fayed didn’t like them and set fire to them. It was not surprising that he wasn’t granted a British passport.

In the early years dress code and appearance was very strict and ‘unsuitable’ people were refused entry. Their twelve Father Christmases greet 66,000 children in their grottoes each year. Dorothy Marshall played the piano in the perfume department and retired at the age of 100.

In 2010 Harrods was sold to Qatar Holdings for 1.5 billion. 200m was invested by the new owners when the store was modernised. They now have over 12,000 staff worldwide.

There is now no pet department in Knightsbridge, so no more fashion shows for them, but people still come to buy, maybe just to come away with the famous green and gold carrier bags.



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