Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 17th September 2021: History of Aveley
At our first meeting since the Covid-19 lockdown we welcomed our Chairman Susan Yates who gave a well-illustrated talk on the History of Aveley. The village has a long history, dating back from the stone and bronze ages. In July 1964 at the Tunnel Cement pit in Sandy Lane the remains of a woolly mammoth and an elephant were found, both from different periods of history. Such was the interest in the finds that a viewing platform was erected, which Susan took advantage of. Later, in 1994 the remains of a lion were also found whilst work was carried out on the A13.

Romans and Anglo-Saxons lived in the area. Essex had several windmills, including the one at Aveley. The cottage in Mill Lane is still there, but the post mill was demolished in WW1 with the remains removed in 1923. We saw slides of the old vicarage where Rev Bixby Luard was a vicar from 1871 to 1895, father of Kate Evelyn, known as Evie, who served as a nurse in the Boer War and WW1. Kate had enlisted in the Queen Alexander Imperial Military Nursing Reserve Service, working on the front lines. She was awarded the rare Royal Red Cross medal 1st class and bar for her services; her letters home have since been the basis of two books. A plaque commemorating her life is now in the memorial gardens of St Michael’s church.

St Michael’s was built about 1120, when there were fewer than 30 Anglican churches in Essex and now there are over 300. In 1703 a big storm took off the spire, which was replaced with a smaller one. By 1830 it was in poor condition and unsafe, marked for demolition. However, the Aveley people paid £1000 for its repair. The War Memorial was originally erected at the Maltings but is now in the memorial gardens.

Several slides showed outings for the Aveley residents, mainly gathering at The Ship, maybe awaiting their Harris’s coach. In 1921 the windows of The Ship were broken, and further damage done by the soldiers of the Irish Regiment who went on a rampage in the village.

There were five manors in Aveley including Kennington, Courts and Bretts. The village boasted many pubs – The Harrow, (opposite the church and demolished by 1850), The Ship dating from 1754, The Crown and Anchor dating from the 15th century, The Lennard Arms dating from 1779 and the Prince Albert (now a Chinese restaurant) originally built about the 16th Century. A map of 1593 of the High Street showed a wider road where the market took place, still in evidence today.

A 1777 map showed the site of Belhus Manor, home of the Barrett-Lennards. It was this house that sparked Susan’s love of history when she first saw it after moving to the area as a child and was shown round. The parkland had been restyled by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1755. Thomas Barrett-Lennard would today be considered a ‘green’, setting out the grounds, including the Long Pond. In 1919 the Barrett-Lennards moved out and it was sold in 1923. Damage was done to the house by soldiers billeted there in WW2. Repairs were considered too costly and it was demolished in 1957. The walled garden has been built over but the ice house and the stench pole are still there. As part of a parks and gardens survey a recent a geophys by Historic England was carried out and a drone survey found the Tudor garden was still there under the golf course. The local Council are interested and are keen on discovering more.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 15 October 2021 - Anglo-Saxon Landscapes by John Matthews

At our October meeting John Matthews gave a very detailed talk on the Anglo-Saxon landscapes covering place names, topography, buildings, archaeology and documents in the Barstable Hundred. In Saxon times men regularly met at Basildon Hall (now an earthwork). He showed a charter boundary of Vange. The A-S charters can take the form of a will, diploma or writ, but some are forgeries. Landowners built churches which became parishes and their boundaries, which came into being in the 13th century.

An 1841 Vange Tithe Map showed boundaries. It is still possible to find something mentioned in the charter, even when modern Basildon was built, using major roads. There were various boundary changes to Vange, Ralph FitzTurrold holding from the Bishop of Vange added parts of Fobbing.

Using the Geographical Information System John pointed out various boundary points, superimposing maps. We were taken on a journey round the boundaries, comparing the tithe map with a modern one as far as possible. On Bells Hill Road, an ancient ditch and hill or bank still existing today. Various modern scenes of points mentioned in the charter were shown – landscapes, wood, roads, a deer park, creeks and rivers – names of boundaries shared by others being described as ‘used to be by the tree stump’ etc. The word street was the Roman name for road and a highway was suitable for an army.

When the fifth century arrived people settled where they wanted. By the 10th century, with landowners being taxed by the king, estates covered the whole of the landscape. Vange appeared to be a much more important place than it is today, but John made it come alive.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 19 November 2021 - Essex Connections: Heroes and Villains by Martin Lockwood

At our November meeting Martyn Lockwood gave us a whistle-stop tour of Essex, citing many heroes and villains who lived there. He started with Eliab Harvey of Chigwell, a Rear Admiral who fought at Trafalgar and was one of the pallbearers to Nelson, also serving as an MP. There was also a connection with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were brought home from their time in Australia and installed on farms in Greenstead and High Laver before going to Canada.

Julian Hedworth Byng commanded the army at Vimy Ridge in WW1. He was born in Hertfordshire but lived and died in Thorpe le Soken. Six soldiers from Essex were awarded VCs, the first being Sidney Frank Godley who died in Epping and the youngest Jack Cornwall aged only 16 who was born in Leyton and served in the battle of Jutland.

Another hero was Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker who did much for the welfare of prisoners, especially women and is buried in Barking. Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, was a mistress of Edward Prince of Wales, a great socialite who spent her life in Easton Lodge, Great Dunmow.

Top of the villains list was Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General in the English Civil War. About 100 women in Essex were accused of witchcraft. He lived in Manningtree and was buried in Mistley. Edith Thompson lived in Westcliff on Sea and Ilford. She and Frederick Bywater murdered Edith’s husband Percy and were hanged, being buried at Brookwood.

Several writers lived in Essex including Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers and H.G. Wells. Augustus John, who painted Lawrence of Arabia lived with his wife and mistress, sometimes touring in a gypsy caravan. A blue plaque was awarded to Henry Winstanley, born in Saffron Walden who invented the lighthouse; another plaque celebrates George Shillibeer who lived in Chigwell and invented the horse drawn omnibus. Dick Turpin, who never had a horse called Black Bess, was a highwayman who committed violent murder as part of the Gregory Gang; he was also a smuggler and had a cave in Epping Forest. Other Essex notables included Grayson Perry, an artist who lives in Chelmsford, and Joan Hickson who lived in Wivenhoe, best known for her portrayal of Miss Marple.

Martyn mentioned many more people with Essex connections including William Morris (Arts and Crafts Movement and much more), actresses Maggie Smith and Juliet Stevenson, David Livingstone, Fa Thomas Byles, and doctors William Harvey, Joseph Lister and William Gull. William Moxon Armitage (aka Noel Gay) was the first person to have the most musicals on at the West End at one time. We were also told about William Calcraft, a hangman who was born in Little Baddow and sold meat pies outside the prison. The Nobel Gold Medal was awarded to John William Strutt of Rayleigh’s Dairies, who discovered argon and Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the wireless.

Essex has for many years been the butt of jokes, but this illustrated talk showed that Essex folk deserve better, showing so many important people with connection with the county.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 21 January 2022 - Around Thurrock by Phil Edgar

At our first meeting in 2022 we welcomed Phil Edgar, showing many old photographs around Thurrock, too numerous to mention, but here are a few of them:

Purfleet was covered by images of the chalk pits and the garrison, only one of the powder magazines remaining (now a museum). There were several photos of the 1953 floods showing how devasting this was for local industry. The Royal Hotel with its connections with Edward VII was shown, together with the T.S. Cornwall berthed off Purfleet and the dovecote and lighthouse on Beacon Hill. We also saw the Dartford crossings, the bridge being opened in 1991.

Aveley covered the Belhus mansion, its fireplace still in Grays museum. The unusual round tower of South Ockendon church was shown, together with the now demolished windmill. Pictures of West Thurrock depicted St Clements church, where pilgrims visited before crossing to Kent for Canterbury. Views of the chalk pits gave us a glimpse of what was there before Lakeside. We saw Belmont Castle at South Stifford which was bombed in WW2 and several photos showed the many pubs around Thurrock, including the newly opened Wharf.

Grays was covered by the old High Street, the Dutch house, the parish church, behind which stood Palmer's Boys School, Seabrooke's brewery, Grays beach and the Exmouth swimming pool, evoking fond memories. Phil also showed us images of Joyes, Ambrose market, the railway station and the war memorial where a toilet used to stand. Also covered were the cinemas, library (now where Thameside stands), The Dell where Alfred Wallace lived and Piggs corner, now an OAP complex. Little Thurrock gave us the church, a map of the daneholes and hangmans woods.

Stifford church and Ardale Homes were shown and at Orsett we saw old views of the workhouse, Piggs bakery and the Foxhound. Chadwell covered Chadwell Place, home of the Temple family, Sleepers Farm and the Cross Keys public house. There were many photos of Tilbury where Daniel Defoe once lived, showing the old brickworks, Tilbury Riverside booking hall, Tilbury Hotel, St Clere's Hall, Coalhouse Fort and Batas, complete with swimming pool.

Views of Horndon showed the woolmarket, windmill base and church. There were cattle markets just off Victoria Avenue in Stanford le Hope, where we also saw the old Doctor's House on The Green. Corringham and Coryton were also represented. Fobbing was where the Rev John Pell who invented the division sign lived, The Five Bells being a prominent pub.

This was an enjoyable trip down memory lane (and before), showing us what a diverse borough Thurrock is. As our Christmas party had been cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions, we also held the delayed raffle.


Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 18 March 2022 - Hidden in Plain Sight by Twigs Way

At our March meeting we welcomed Twigs Way, Research Consultant with the Essex Gardens Trust. Working with the Land of the Fanns she worked on a project to find the lost gardens of Thurrock. The project was in four parts - 50 Fabulous Features, 17 Sites on an inventory and 15 Lost Gardens. Across the projects, there were 12 Volunteer Researchers.

The project focused on the whole area, Thurrock, Havering and Langdon. Ms Way delivered a series of inter-active training sessions for an enthusiastic band of researchers, using photos, historic material etc. They looked at garden history and landscapes, noting the changing history of the area and looking at what remains. They looked at sites with fresh eyes, seeing the wider context of landscape as a whole, visiting the Essex Record Office and other venues. More sites were discovered, focusing on finding the 18th and 19th century period, using maps. One of the sites visited was Belhus, when a Tudor garden was discovered.

For the 50 Fabulous Features each volunteer was asked to study at least one individual feature. They looked at what was valuable in the area, something that had not been done before. Although there are no Chatsworths in the area, a feature could be anything - gardens, WW2 river barriers, spa water bottling industry, ponds, trees, brickworks, stepping stones etc. It was great fun and features such as a paddling pool, rock gardens and Grays park were studied, each different and fascinating. Her many slides showed such things as the stench pipe at Belhus Park. Research brought features together to provide a better understanding of previous parkland etc.

When Covid struck volunteers communicated via Zoom and did online research, using aerial photos, survey maps and satellites, also LiDAR which shows the bare bones of the landscape, including Belhus Park Tudor gardens. After lockdown Historic England were amazed at the findings and sent in specialists using geo-physics and drones showing what is now underneath the golf course. All discoveries were mapped and photographed and now published as '50 Fabulous Features'. Some are the only fragments left of a wider feature, an important heritage aspect. A handbook for Essex Gardens Trust was also published.

The next programme is Unforgettable Gardens. Historic England has a register showing an inventory of national and regional important gardens, but do not include local parks. So, back to basics, researchers listed all parks and gardens in the area looking at past maps etc. The group visited different sites and looked at factory estates, cemeteries, artificial beach and gardens, quarry sites, memorial gardens etc. So much is under threat of redevelopment and we need to know what is important in the area. Now all their findings are recorded and lodged with the planning department of Historic England. Seventeen sites are now documented and mapped and will benefit posterity through knowledge and awareness. The whole project consisted of more varied and thorough work than ever before. Thurrock researchers now feature in the Essex Garden Trust magazine.

The last Project featured lost gardens - sites that no longer exist but have an amazing background including Chadwell park, Belmont Castle, The Dell, The Elms, Moore Place, the Globe Pit allotments, Duvals and The Echoes. These fifteen new lost gardens show so many amazing sites in Thurrock, reflecting the landscape and history of this area. A new book is to be published through Historic England Parks and Gardens.

This was an amazing and enthusiastic journey showing how the past affects the present, Twigs Way and her volunteers giving us a wider picture of the area.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 22 April 2022 - AGM

After our AGM in April we welcomed our webmaster John Matthews, showing us the wealth of information on our website. It was first launched at the Thameside Theatre 20 years' ago when Derek Austin. Hazel Austin, Maggie Smith. Susan Yates and John Matthews formed a sub-committee. Our website was first designed to be viewed from a PC but nowadays was not compatible with a mobile phone. John has since solved this by re-jigging the Home Page, the navigation buttons being changed from the side panel to the top. Carousel images have also been added to the Home Page there are only three at the moment, but more will be added. Also the Site Map needs to be re-introduced. There is a search button on the home page, hosted by Google, allowing easy access to specific queries.

Our Patrons need to be updated, as sadly Professor G.T. Martin has recently died. People and Places include churches, with links to other information, e.g. Aveley Belhus English Heritage report. Some individual pages still need the navigation buttons changed to the top of the page. Sports and Leisure cover many activities and even include baseball in Thurrock. Publications & e-prints cover Parish Guides, Panoramas (which can also be ordered from Amazon) and others, but the list also needs to be updated.

John pointed out that that our Blog covers several articles, Fifty Fabulous Features being recently added. It includes latest pages, queries and 'Did you know?'. There are also interactive maps, John citing one showing the whereabouts and information on the seventeen green plaques in the borough, some still to be erected when a suitable location is found. Another map, funded by the Land of the Fanns project, covers sites connected to the cement industry, for which a booklet was recently published.

Our website also includes Twitter where there are mainly re-tweets but we also add information, such as the Orsett Show. We are also represented on Facebook.

During the Covid-19 lockdown John Matthews, together with Phil Lobley, made much use of maps covering Thurrock, particularly Google Earth and Google Street view. Google Earth can also look back at earlier versions, including aerial photos, some going back to the 1940s. The National Library of Scotland have a brilliant collection of English ordnance survey maps, with many dates available. The Genealogist (a pay-per-view site) also has many maps, including tithe maps for Essex, showing the owner and tenant. John used Belmont Castle as an example, showing how it 'disappeared' through various map timelines.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 20 May 2022 - Hidden History of Hospitals by Malcolm Harvey

At our May meeting Malcolm Harvey, who had worked in hospitals for several years, showed us the changes that have taken place in them, depicted in his many photographs. He looked at how the buildings had altered and what clues there were as to their histories.

He covered a wide area, also mentioning our local hospitals: Orsett was opened in 1969 by the Duchess of Kent, the previous site being the old workhouse. There was also the Seamen's Hospital at Tilbury and one at South Ockendon. He showed us old and new buildings in London, including University College Hospital, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and the Royal Free before being moved to Hampstead. There is a wonderful view of the area from the BT Tower, where hospital chimneys abounded.

Hospitals originated with the religious orders, the Poor Laws in the 18th century providing workhouses and infirmaries. Some hospitals were built with subscriptions for philanthropic and social reasons, with some displaying plaques or a list of benefactors. Modern ones include those provided by Bill Gates and Ronald McDonald.

There has been significant change in hospitals over the years. Theatres in the 1920s had poor lighting, chipped paint and were cluttered – they are now light and clean. Sanitoriums are no longer used for fresh air therapies. There are no matrons and gone are the days when nurses wore uniforms with belt and ornate buckle, together with a cape; nowadays they wear scrubs. Today, doctors do not wear ties or white coats with long sleeves. Hospital corners for beds have also long gone, together with polished concrete floors and the smell of disinfectant everywhere. Patients used to be given spirits before an operation and at King's College they even had their own brewery. This heralded the start of the Temperance Hospitals.

The National Health Service began in 1948 but the Lindo Wing at St Mary's where royalty give birth, is for private patients only. There were several private hospitals in London, including The German Hospital at Dalston and the Italian Hospital – this closed in WW2 and is now part of Great Ormond Street. There were specialist hospitals such as the Jewish, Catholic or Seamen's Hospitals. Old hospitals have been demolished or turned into Town Halls, schools, accommodation or hotels.

Ward names were basic at first, such as Men's Square Ward 1 and 2, with Nightingale wards coming later. In the 1990s many were named after historical figures, e.g. John Bridgeman (diabetes) and Frank Ahrens (cardiac). They are now named after Royalty, public figures etc. This year a new national proton beam therapy was introduced at University College Hospital for the treatment of cancer. This was where George Orwell died, soon after his marriage there.

History is being made all the time, including a new building named after Captain Sir Tom Moore, a Covid-19 hero, at Runcorn. Malcolm was an enthusiastic speaker, advising us of various sources of information on hospitals – listed buildings, blogs, short histories, websites, archives, books and museums, and of course the many plaques that tell a story.