Meeting Reports: 2018 - 2019

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 21 September: My time on the beat – when policeman had feet by Peter Layzell

For our first lecture of the season we invited ex policeman Peter Layzell to give a talk on what it was like to be on the beat in the Essex Police. He had started as a cadet, training in Oxfordshire in 1960, aged 19. He joined the regulars at Colchester, was promoted to sergeant and served at Billericay, Basildon, Corringham and finally Southminster on the Dengie peninsular where he was the longest serving sergeant in the county, declining promotion.

There were 120 police at Billericay and he was one of three men working on C shift. He walked long distances or cycled everywhere, with no radios and only one police car. There was only a whistle for help and a truncheon (known as a stick); this was kept in a special trouser pocket, which was not good on a cycle! When a constable arrested someone they had to get them to the station. Officers were given a pair of handcuffs which were difficult to use, although the ratchet type are now provided. The prisoner had to be compliant or physically subdued and it was a disciplinary measure to lose a prisoner. Sometimes miscreants went to the police station of their own accord.

As there were no radios or police boxes like those in London, he had to report to a telephone box at pre-arranged times, to obtain new information. Sometimes a fight was over before he got there.
Most constables were ex seaman and wore similar uniforms. The tunic was worn in all weathers and used to have a high collar; one pair of trousers and two shirts with 8 separate collars were provided, together with a tie, which was later changed to a clip-on one. They were also issued with a gabardine raincoat, the lining of which used to crack and let in rain. PCs also had a greatcoat which was warm as toast in winter, but absorbed water in the rain, and a cape. The cape was nice to wear but had to be removed when making an arrest and could be stolen. The helmet showed authority and Peter said he lost his in the road on his first day on his own when it got knocked off by a low shop blind.

A humane killer was provided at each police station for badly injured animals. He had to help at road accidents to stabilise casualties, although they were given no training for this – the last one being just as bad as the first – but now there is help. He also had to deal with ‘domestics’, the attitude to which has changed over the years. He felt he was lucky to have had a life in the Force, although it was difficult dealing with suicides, accidents and death. They were told to ‘pull themselves together and get on with it’.

This was a very interesting lecture, an eye opener as to how the police force operated in the past and Peter Layzell told of many incidents in his career like arresting celebrities and chasing a lad in a stolen car who went round a roundabout four times, just to get chased!

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting:  19th October     Coalhouse Fort WW2 - the story of the Wrens and Naval Detachment by Kevin Diver

At our October meeting Kevin Diver, a local historian, treated us to many photographs of the Sea Scouts, Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens), other naval personnel and civilians who carried out the serious and important job to defend London’s river at Coalhouse Fort during WW2. The fort was known as HMS St Clements and had two 5 �” guns from HMS Hood, with a brick observation post on the roof. It was surrounded by trees and camouflaged from the air with netting. Their main task was monitoring the degaussing or de-magnetising of our ships which passed along the Thames. This was a process whereby the magnetism that had built up on the ships, which could be detected by the enemy, was neutralised by magnetic coils. They used Aldis lamps and semaphore to communicate with ships and even gave a degaussing demonstration to Russian delegations.

The radar tower, disguised as a water tower and built in 1940, detected submarines; next to it was searchlight equipment. This helped vessels to navigate the mine field in the Thames. The sea scouts and Wrens enjoyed their work and some marriages occurred between Wrens and the naval staff. They lived near Tilbury Hotel at first, later moving to the vicarage opposite St Catherine’s church. The vicarage was cold, with poor quality food; staff picked mushrooms and foraged for berries etc. to supplement rations. They were plagued with mice and rats but it was cosy and hospitable, almost like a holiday camp. The naval ratings had pets such as goats and rabbits. It was a relaxed atmosphere and not strict on uniforms.

The Wrens came from different backgrounds and some signed up just for the uniform, especially the tricorn hat which was worn by officers. Leading Wren Eileen Grimley was good fun and full of life – she had 30 ditties, for singing at parties. One of the Royal Marines, Black Jake (or Jack) was a colour sergeant and put the fear of God into his marines with strong discipline. However he had party piece when he sang ‘this old shirt of mine’ and stripped naked. One of the RNVR reserve was ‘Peter’ Potter, deputy editor of the Daily Express.

This illustrated lecture gave us an insight to the work carried out Coalhouse Fort in WW2, Kevin providing photographs from an archive he was able to access. The photo was taken in 1942.


Thurrock Local History Society Meeting:  16th November   Essex Nurse on the Front Line by Tim Luard

At our November meeting the society was pleased to invite Tim Luard (ex BBC correspondent in China) to give us a talk on his great-aunt, Kate Evelyn Luard, known as Evie by her family and recently awarded a green plaque. He said now we have come to the end of WW1 commemorations, we mustn’t forget what it was to serve.

He remembered being taken to tea in Colchester to visit his great-aunt. Tim told of her life through the copious letters she wrote to her family. Kate was born in 1872, tenth of 13 children of the vicar of Aveley. It was a happy and active family, entertaining each other, giving concerts in the church. The girls helped in the village, visiting alms houses etc. and were educated at home, the boys being sent to boarding school. However, Kate attended Croydon High School for Girls and wanted to be a nurse by the time she left, working to support her studies at King’s College Hospital in London.

Kate served in the Boer War, returning home after two years. She said it was a great experience despite the flies, dust, bad weather and shortage of nurses. She sent amusing letters to her sisters, describing her work and leisure. On returning she worked in London hospitals and enlisted in the Queen Alexander Imperial Military Nursing Reserve Service at the beginning of WW1, one of fewer than 300 nurses serving at home and abroad. The voluntary nurses (VADs) were at first awkward with trained nurses; she said they were charming, but hopelessly inefficient.

She was 42 when WW1 started and was immediately allocated to Dublin, travelling on the City of Benares, a packed ship. She travelled to France and was assigned to transport across the Channel, casualties lying on straw. She later worked in a field hospital, the nearest to the front line a woman could get. She got to know her patients who were plucky despite appalling wounds, helping them to recover and sent many letters for them, also distributing cigarettes and sweets etc., including ‘Birch butties’ and biscuits. It was cold and dirty with no hot water with make-shift units and basic equipment. Body lice and fleas were a problem as was backache. She was In charge of 40 nurses and 100 orderlies and promoted to Sister in October 1915; Kate also spoke French, German and studied Hindustani, attending top brass meetings. She walked in the countryside on her days off and attended concerts.

Kate always wanted to be at the sharp end and was described as a fire eater and a bit of a dragon. She sometimes broke down in tears, but her faith gave her much comfort. Her many letters brought black and white into full colour and was constantly inspired by the courage of the injured. Miss Luard was awarded the Royal Red Cross medal 1st class, and was decorated at Buckingham palace in May 1919.

She never married and spent the last years of her life at West Birch but continued to travel to Talbot House, a rest home for soldiers, and was involved in Toc H. She also looked after her ailing father and died aged 90 in 1962. This was an excellent lecture, a tale of courage with wit and humour. The new edition of her second book Unknown Warriors will serve as a fitting tribute to her service.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 14th December      Christmas meeting and Social

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 18th January, The Great War – a review by Brett Goodyear

History Society member Brett Goodyear gave us a personal review of The Great War, the last of our series of talks on World War 1, in memory of those by the late Jonathan Catton.

Brett told us he first got involved in family history after researching his mother’s family tree. His grandfather was stationed on the T.S. Exmouth before and after the war, retiring as a shipwright. However, his interest in WW1 started with a relative who died during the Battle of the Somme.

Six million men were mobilised at the start of the war on 4 August 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany. Three days later Essex troops arrived in France, one of the first battalions to arrive; they moved to Belgium and 23 August was the first major battle at Mons. Orsett Hall’s owner Major Whitmore was second-in-command of the Essex Yeomanry and served in France with the Royal Horse Guards, surviving severe wounding.

The British retreated to Paris; the Battle of Marne followed, the Germans retreating. Then there was the ‘race to the sea’, trying to outflank the enemy, with various battlefields concentrating on the Western Front. Casualties were enormous, nearly 20,000 British soldiers being killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme; however, the French lost twice as many men as we did in the war. More than 70 Generals died in WW1, despite the common story that they never left the chateaux, a long way behind the British lines. We had few aeroplanes, only 113 at the start of the war.

The Defence of the Realm Act came into force at the beginning of the war, restricting public house opening hours and banning the buying of a round of drinks. Further restrictions came into force including blackouts and post and press censorship. British summertime was introduced in 1916. Apparently there was a shortage of of shells in 1915 and we had to pay royalties to Germany for the fuses! Brett told us about prime ministers who served: Harold MacMillan was wounded three times, Clement Atlee survived Gallipoli and served on the Western Front. Churchill was blamed for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and resigned in November 1915.

There were also some heartening stories. When the RN Live Bait squadron was torpedoed a 15 year-old dived overboard, was picked up and torpedoed twice more; however he lived to the ripe old age of 90. Another survivor was Violet Jessop. She came through the sinking of the Titanic and worked on the hospital ship Britannia; it was mined but again she was one of the 1000 survivors.
Medical advances in WW1 included person to person blood transfusions and mobile X-Ray units, with over a million men being helped. Also the first skin and bone grafts were carried out in the army’s surgery unit. War poet Wilfred Owen died 4 November 1918 and the plaque at Sambre-Oise includes his name.

The armistice was signed at 5am on 11 November 1918. About 11,000 soldiers died on that day – killed in combat, through wounds and the Spanish flu. The first British soldier died on 21 August 1914, the last one two minutes before the armistice was signed. The Paris peace conference was held on 18 January 1919, culminating in the Treaty of Versailles which was signed on 28 June 1919, Germany being forced to accept responsibility for the war.

This was a poignant reminder of what our forebears had to endure and the terrible loss of life.

Thurrock Local History Society, 15 February, Ghosts and Graveyards in Barking and Dagenham by Linda Rhodes

Linda worked for many years at Valence House and still continues to work there as a volunteer since her retirement. Many of the old houses and public houses are reported to have ghosts, including the ghost of Alice de Valence who is said to wander around the grounds of Valence House.

Public houses seem to be favourite haunts of ghosts and other beings. Strange things have happened in the pubs. The Spotted Dog public house which was originally on an old site and rebuilt in 1870 was the favourite haunt of a gentleman called Pat Carey; he had drunk there for 75 years. When he died the pub clock stopped and never worked again. It is also said to be haunted by a young girl in a black dress with a white pinafore who hides keys and who guided an engineer out of the basement when he got lost down there.

At the Farmhouse Tavern jin Dagenham built in 1840 various ghosts dressed in Victorian clothes have been sighted. The screams of little chimney sweeps can be heard at The Bell House, which although it has a Georgian fa�ade was originally built in 1435. At Parsloes Manor House, now demolished, the home of the Fanshawe family, ghosts have been heard rattling chains and moaning. Eastbury Manor House renown as the house where the Gunpowder Plot may have been hatched is said to be haunted by a young girl who fell down the spiral stairs in the turret. Guy Fawkes himself is supposed to haunt the Civic Centre which is now part of Coventry University.

Thurrock Local History Society 15 March, Belhus and the Barrett-Lennards by Susan Yates

At our March meeting society chairman Susan Yates gave a detailed and interesting lecture on the history of Belhus and the Barrett-Lennards. When she moved to the area in 1956 she was fascinated by the ‘castle’ and determined to find out more about it. Said to have come over at the time of William the Conqueror the family owned a vast area in Thurrock and were not just Lords of the Manor, but well known in the nation. It was lawyer John Barrett who built the brick house in 1523-25 that we remember today, maybe to house his 13 children.

His grandson Edward added considerably to the estate. His grandson, another Edward, next inherited and was the most notable member of the family. He was knighted, became an MP and was a Tax Collector for Thurrock and created a deer park around Belhus. He died in 1644 and was buried at St Michael’s church, Aveley. Childless, Edward left his estate to a distant cousin, Richard Lennard, on condition that he adopted the Barrett family name and became known as Richard Lennard-Barrett.

Richard was succeeded by his son Dacre who left his estate to his grandson Thomas who later became Lord Dacre. He had two illegitimate children, Thomas and Barbara and on his death in 1786 they assumed the Barrett-Lennard name. Thomas inherited the estate in a derelict state and renovated it. He was created a baron in 1801, was an MP and died in 1857 at the ripe old age of 93. The second baronet was his grandson, another Thomas, who was a JP for over 60 years and died in 1919, aged 92. He was quite a character, an animal lover and wore old clothing, once being taken for an inmate of Warley Hospital where he was on the board of governors.

The third baronet was his son Thomas. He was a barrister and left the estates and title to his brother Richard who died in 1934. By this time the 400 year old family link with Belhus was severed with its sale in 1923 and the family home moved to Norwich. Thomas Richard Fiennes Barrett-Lennard was the fifth baronet and on his death in December 1977 the title went to Sir Hugh Dacre Barrett-Lennard, a cousin. He told of a ghost in the Elizabeth Tower, hearing footsteps and a door banging. Sir Hugh was ordained as a catholic priest and died in June 2007. The Barrett-Lennard family is now spread around the world.

Today the house is no more, being demolished in 1957. Only a couple of courses of brickwork remain in places and can be seen on Belhus Golf Course. Little else remains, including the listed stink pipe and the ice house near the Long Pond (now cut in two by the M25). A lottery grant through The Land that Fans Project may provide new information boards. Susan’s many illustrations showed the grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. From Park Lane an avenue of trees still stand, the path showing up during a drought.

After Susan’s talk Phil Lobley showed several maps discovered in Northamptonshire archives which were deposited in the 1940s by an unknown donor. This was a survey of the Manor of Bell House about 1588, a huge estate, including field names. Using image overlays from Google maps he showed that some field boundaries are still there and showed the footprint of the plan of Belhus before demolition.

Many of the local graveyards are said to be haunted, possibly because of the activities of the body snatchers or resurrection men who until the 1832 Act were busy in the area. The Congregational Church in Barking Broadway is said to be haunted by George Clark, a policeman who was murdered in the area. There have been many other reports of “ghostly” sightings and strange noises in the area.

Thurrock Local History Society, 26th April  AGM followed by DNA - what can it tell us? by John Matthews

After the AGM, John Matthews spoke to us about DNA. It is the basis of inheritance, all living things having DNA, a double helix. Surprisingly, humans share 98% of their DNA with chimpanzees, 70% with slugs and 50% with bananas! DNA is in chromosomes, the Y factor being passed from father to son, but not mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which is passed from mother to daughter; some mutations also occur.

DNA is used in various ways including forensic teams matching scenes of crime with the perpetrator and medicine, using it for paternity testing, identifying the cause of some serious diseases and research. Various commercial websites offer DNA testing, a massive revenue stream. These website tests shows different results for origins of ancestors and, like horoscopes, are just a bit of fun. However, they match results with far-flung relatives who have also submitted their DNA. There are genealogical databases of maybe 30 million around the world.

Modern humans originated in Africa where several groups moved around the world and can be tracked by mutations in mtDNA and Y-DNA. There were many close relatives of humans including Neanderthals and homo luzonensis, who interbred. The invasion of Britain took place about 4000 years ago when Neanderthals disappeared, replaced by the Beaker People who brought about a dramatic change in culture. It has also been suggested that the Anglo-Saxons did not slaughter the Romano-British population, they just moved further away.

John illustrated various cases involving DNA, including identifying the remains found of the Russian royal family and a woman who wrongly claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. The remains of ‘Ava’ found in Scotland in 1987 have now been re-examined with completely different results. More recently the remains of Richard III were identified in Leicester. This talk gave us food for thought, wondering where our own origins lay.

Thurrock Local History Society, 17th May    The Tilbury on Thames Trust and Restoring Tilbury Riverside Station by Scott Sullivan and Susan Yates

In a change from our advertised programme, at our last meeting of the season, Susan Yates and Scott Sullivan, directors of the Tilbury on Thames Trust, gave us an illustrated talk on the history and future of Tilbury Riverside. Susan began by telling us that it was set up by the Port of Tilbury at a cost of �3.5m. The station opened in 1854 and was originally called Tilbury Fort Station and ran from Ilford to Tilbury Fort via Barking and Purfleet, en route for the popular destination of Gravesend.

In 1882 work commenced on Tilbury Docks, when Mesolithic man was discovered there amidst the marshy ground. The docks opened in 1886, when the line was extended from Fenchurch Street to Tilbury.

The station and landing stage are Grade II* listed, designed by the PLA architect Sir Edwin Cooper. The booking hall and station with several platforms were completed in 1924, eventually closing in November 1992. The Tilbury Marine Station was within the docks and serviced boat trains; it ran from 1927 to 1932.

After WW1 the number of passengers increased, Tilbury becoming the port for passengers to London. In 1920 work began on the floating landing stage which rises and falls with the tide. It was opened in 1930 by PM Ramsay MacDonald and renamed London Cruise Terminal in 1985. However, it closed in 1990, only to open again in 1995 as a cruise facility. Many famous people have passed through its doors, including Mark Twain, Gandi, George Orwell, William Morrison and Baden Powell. 1939 saw evacuees embarking, with the �10 POMs to Australia in 1947. And of course there was the Empire Windrush coming in 1948. In 1956 Winston Churchill and his wife sailed, Donald Campbell with his Bluebird the following year. Several ships now use the terminal, the largest carrying 3500 passengers.

Scott illustrated what the future could bring through the Tilbury on Thames Trust. He said the Thames features in many of our lives. His early memories of it are the Woolwich ferry as a child and the new bridge (which he tried copying using Lego and car tracks). The Trust focuses on heritage prospects and funding, Tilbury influences many people, linking us to the rest of the world. The Trust was formed in 2016 to look into the benefits and commercial usage. It is a partnership between the local area and the docks. �1m has been raised, with Jonathan Catton playing a role in starting it up. It is one of his many legacies to the borough, working with the Port of Tilbury in partnership for its regeneration.

The Heritage Lottery Fund will provide jobs, transport and logistics, Tilbury being a major employer. Its objectives are to restore the site and celebrate heritage, working with Tilbury Riverside Project. The booking hall will form part of the Tilbury carnival in July.

We saw the state of the buildings, Scott outlining what still needs to be done. The cladding and windows of the landing stage are in poor condition, but the decking has now been restored by the Port of Tilbury. The rolling gantry is still used today and some internal original fittings are still in good condition. As to the cruise terminal itself the existing roofs need attention, although the cupola has recently been restored. It is cathedral-like, a huge area which needs damaged windows and brickwork replaced.

The Riverside Station roof has now been replaced and the old cafe restored to house a training simulator, helping ex-servicemen and women back to work through the logistics sector. The internal roof lights and ticket office need attention, there is no heating but the toilets are Art Deco and in good condition.

In conclusion, the building is structurally sound and can tell a story. The terminal needs to generate an income and since 2015 cruise ship visits have doubled. In the future it could stay as a cruise terminal, host events such as markets, introduce a heritage zone or rent out smaller rooms as artisan studios, maybe a small cafe. As a Trust it is committed to heritage but construction costs would cost several �m. To finish, Scott showed a marvellous video, some of it taken from the air, showing the structure of the site and clips of previous events. A very interesting and informative evening.