Meeting Reports 2008 - 2009

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Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 19th September, 08

The new season began with an illustrated talk by Terrence Rockall on the History of Fingerprints. He started with reminiscences of his early experience as a police officer when he pounded the beat with only a whistle, a truncheon, handcuffs and a key as his equipment for fighting crime. The whistle was sufficient to call for backup, in most cases, because there were policemen on the beat close by. The key unlocked the blue police boxes (as seen in Dr Who) where contact could be made to the local police station.

An injury sustained while he was on duty curtailed his career at the age of 21 so he transferred to the National Fingerprint Office at Scotland Yard. There he learnt about the loops and whorls, ridges and furrows on the fingertips that make a pattern unique to each individual. These are found on the fingers of embryos 3 months before birth. It took 7 years to qualify as a fingerprint expert and thereby being able to give evidence in court.

Before 1896 there was no system of identification by fingerprints in this country. It was brought to the UK by Edmund Henry an officer of the Indian Bengal Police. It had been proved that fingerprints of identical twins are different. Also they do not show whether the suspect is male or female, or of which ethnic origin. In 1901 Edward Henry moved into Scotland Yard and his system is still in use today. Originally all records were kept manually and it was very time-consuming to check prints of known criminals against those found at the crime scene.

From 1953, by law, 16 points or characteristics of the suspect’s fingerprints have to coincide with those taken at the crime scene before an arrest can be made. Some criminals tried to avoid detection by removing their fingerprints with acid or by burning but the prints always recover. The speaker described some horrific murders that had been solved by fingerprints. Nowadays the modern national computer enables police officers to lose no time in finding a fingerprint match if it is on record. This system will not be superseded by DNA alone because identical twins, triplets etc have the same DNA but different fingerprints. This was a lively and interesting talk enthusiastically received by over 70 members.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 17th October, 08

At the October meeting Stephen Nunn, a popular speaker, gave a talk on Maldon, the Dengie and Battles in the Skies. This was a very diverse subject bringing in all aspects of life in Maldon and the surrounding area in WWII. During that time Maldon was a much smaller town with only 8,000 inhabitants. Most of those who were not in the forces served their country by joining one of the military or civil defence units such as the Home Guard, Air Raid Precautions (ARP), Observer Corps, Air Training Corps, etc.

The speaker, born long after the war, was fascinated by his father’s tales of his experiences of life in Maldon and the Dengie peninsula, particularly the tragic destruction of allied and enemy aircraft that crashed in the area. (An average of five aircraft crashed every day in the British Isles during the war.) RAF Bradwell Bay was a strategic airfield and home to 23 squadron flying Mosquitos. A memorial depicting a Mosquito aeroplane, nose-dived into the ground, commemorates those who gave their lives defending their country.  Anecdotes of survivors of crashes, both allied and enemy personnel, plus stories of civilian life, including happy times as well as sad times, and ending with a picture of the Victory party, some young widows dressed in black, made this an absorbing insight into the life of one English town in the face of the enemy.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 21st November, 08

Georgina Green gave a lively and interesting talk on the history of ‘taking the waters’, a custom that began in England before the Roman invasion. Bath was known for its hot spring that gave off steam but it was the Romans who enclosed the stream and built the baths that were known as Aquae Sulis.

The decline of the Roman Empire saw the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons who built a nunnery at Bath which later became a Benedictine monastery. The Normans built an Abbey on the site and Bath continued as a holy place but also a place of enjoyment until the Reformation when the baths became neglected and other venues became fashionable such as Tunbridge Wells. A spring, which was believed to have health giving properties, was discovered there in 1606 and it soon became fashionable to drink the waters. Its first royal visitor was Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of James I.

Spas were popular in many places throughout England but in the 1700s Bath became the most popular venue for all members of society. Beau Nash was the prime mover in the decision to rebuild the city in the Palladian style which included assembly rooms, pump room and the Royal Crescent.

The seaside became fashionable in the 18th & 19th centuries with George III visiting Weymouth and the Prince Regent, later George IV, visiting Brighton and later building the famous Brighton Pavilion. Sea bathing was very popular. Bathing machines that were like small huts on wheels were drawn into the sea by horses. To preserve their modesty bathers changed their clothes in the hut and stepped into the sea for their healthy dip in the salt water.

Today, the supermarket shelves are full of a great variety of spa waters which are believed, by some, to be more beneficial than the water from the kitchen tap.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 12th December, 08

The December meeting saw the customary Christmas gathering when members enjoyed a convivial evening with music, a short film on Dover and a quiz in which all the questions related to the festive season. This was won by Margaret Dixon who received a prize of the newly published book, “Exploring Thurrock” a guide to the history and places of interest to visit in the area obtainable from the society and from Thurrock libraries and soon to be in local bookshops.

The buffet, supplied by members, was much appreciated also the wine and soft drinks provided by the society. There were numerous very acceptable donations to the raffle which raised more than 100 for society funds.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 23rd January, 09

The January meeting attracted over 85 members and visitors who came to hear the well known genealogist Meryl Catty speak on the subject, “Sidetracked”. She gave a wide-ranging talk on the curious, interesting and amusing information she has discovered during the course of family history research and how easy it was to be sidetracked by stories both funny and tragic whilst delving into the archives, which can include censuses, wills, birth and death certificates and newspaper obituaries.

She gave examples of the change of fashion in forenames over the centuries, e.g. using well known celebrities, (no change there), biblical names and purely made up names. Many names come down through the generations making it difficult sometimes to trace ancestors. She also gave examples of social history i.e. types of occupations to be found in the archives; children farmed out and sent to workhouses, strange deaths, all recorded in parish records. She told how names and occupations could be altered by the recording clerks mishearing or misspelling information. Some of her stories were funny, some sad, but all giving an insight into the strange and unusual things to be found whilst researching your family tree.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 27th February, 09

Jonathan Catton, Thurrock Heritage and Museum Officer, gave a well-received talk at the February meeting on the theme of “Proud to Live in Thurrock”. Over 80 members and visitors heard the story of Thurrock from Palaeolithic times, over 400,000 years ago, when our first ancestors made stone tools from the naturally occurring flint and mammoths roamed the landscape, to the modern thriving community which was granted ‘Unitary’ status in 1998. During the sixties an archaeological excavation at Mucking found evidence of Roman occupation and an extensive site of Saxon buildings and cemeteries. Artefacts from Mucking and other sites in Thurrock can be seen in the museum at the Thameside complex in Grays.

The oldest buildings in Thurrock are the parish churches which are either Grade 1 or Grade 2 listed buildings. Probably the most well-known is St Clements at West Thurrock, the scene of the funeral in the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. Tilbury Fort, Coalhouse Fort and the Gunpowder Magazine at Purfleet are among the many other listed buildings.The talk included the various training ships that were moored off Grays, the famous people who had lived and worked in the area, such as Daniel Defoe, Joseph Conrad and Alfred Russel Wallace, the heavy industry such as excavation of chalk, gravel and the manufacture of bricks and Thurrock’s role in the two world wars. On a lighter side, we heard about the various clubs, societies, choirs, bands and sport that flourished in the community. This was a very wide-ranging subject enhanced by a series of slides which illustrated every aspect of the talk.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: Friday 20th March 2009 

At the March meeting, Gary Egerton, a London tourist guide, gave a talk entitled “Southwark – Bishops and Brothels”. Being an enthusiastic guide, his talk followed the path of one of his tours which started at the Tower of London. He told the history of the Tower, that it had been a royal palace and a prison, it housed the crown jewels, 40 families lived within its walls including the Beefeaters, he spoke of the royal beheadings, the legend of the ravens and ended with the ceremony of the keys.

The talk continued with the story of Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast moving on to Southwark starting with the cathedral which was built in the gothic style in the early 13th century after a fire had destroyed the previous Norman church. The rebuild, which took many years, was overseen by the Bishops of Winchester who had control of the land in Southwark. The area was notorious for the number of brothels and prostitutes. City gentlemen and merchants did not want that trade to be carried on north of the river but were happy to take advantage of what Southwark had to offer which also benefitted the Bishops of Winchester who collected the rents on all the houses of ill-repute.

The speaker also talked of the ‘Clink’ a debtors’ prison, St Thomas’s operating theatre of the 1800s, now a museum, the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre etc, all interesting visitor attractions along the south bank of the Thames. The audience was fascinated by the various anecdotes which added interest and amusement to the history of the buildings.

Thurrock Local History Society Annual General Meeting: 24th April 2009

The meeting began with apologies being recorded and the minutes of the AGM 2008 being agreed. The Chairman’s Report outlined the activities during the past year including the visit to Dover Castle, the Weald and Downland Outdoor Museum and the Museum of Firepower at Woolwich plus the Society’s attendance at Horndon Feast & Fair, the Party in the Park and the Orsett Show. She also gave a summary of the varied programme of winter meetings which were very well attended. The highlight of the year was the December launch of a new edition of Exploring Thurrock. The launch was held in the Thameside Museum in the presence of the Mayor of Thurrock, the Director of Leisure Services and the Heritage and Museum Officer plus all those who had contributed to the new edition.

There followed the Treasurer’s report and the election of Officers and committee members. There being no new nominations for Officers or members, the committee was re-elected en bloc. It was agreed that the subscriptions would not be increased for the coming year. The Chairman thanked the committee and those other members who had supported the society throughout the year including the web site committee. It was unanimously agreed that Mrs Eileen Webb be elected as an Honorary Member for her continuous support for the society over many years.

After a break for refreshments, Ken Levy gave a very interesting talk on the Aviation Museum at Coalhouse Fort which led to the decision to arrange a visit for members during the summer when the fort is not normally open to the public.

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