Meeting Reports 2009 - 2010

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Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 18th September, 09

The new season started well with more than 80 members and friends who came to hear Ron Cook tell us about the curiosities of London. Ron first became interested when, as a small boy, his father took him for walks all over London pointing out the various places of interest and telling the stories to explain the curiosities they saw along the way. Now retired, he is an official tour guide. He told us of the Rev. Chad Varah of St Stephen’s Walbrook who founded the Samaritans in 1953 and the original black telephone that is housed in the church; the clock tower with six faces above the railway viaduct in Brixton; the Glassy Junction pub, Southall, the first to accept payment in Indian rupees; the memorial to the soldiers of the Camel Corp who died in the desert during the 1st World War, which stands in the gardens near the Embankment station, and many other curiosities too numerous to mention. The talk was well illustrated and enjoyed by the audience.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 16th October, 09

John Matthews, speaking on the Anglo-Saxon landscape of Thurrock during the 5th and 6th centuries, began by describing the terrain from the tidal salt marshes alongside the Thames, the gravel terrace rising up and the chalk area above, where people lived and planted their cereal crops. The creeks and channels crossing the salt marshes allowed narrow drought boats to navigate from the river.

The decline of the Roman Empire left Britain open to the invaders from the Continent although there is still some evidence, in Thurrock, of the Roman occupation. Dry Street near Fobbing is a Roman road and the layout of roads in Orsett indicates that they were made up and used in Roman times. There is evidence of a high status building excavated at Mucking and pottery, coins and tiles have been found all over Thurrock.

Gildas, a Welsh monk writing in the mid 6th century, portrayed the Anglo-Saxons as vicious invaders who pushed the indigenous Christian Celts to the west. The historian Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were less damning and 20th century archaeologists did not find evidence of murder and mayhem.

Many place names in Thurrock are derived from Saxon words, such as Fobbing and Mucking and some churches have Saxon remains such as the long narrow windows in Fobbing church. From their grave goods it could be seen that the invaders were pagan and Christianity was slow to take hold.

In the790s AD the Vikings invaded and settled in Eastern England. By the 10th century Thurrock was divided up into estates. The Norman invasion in 1066 marked the end of the Saxon period although the landscape in the 18th century was broadly the same as the Anglo-Saxon, except for the reclaimed marshes. Now Thurrock is permanently changed by chalk and gravel excavations, industrial sites, houses and roads.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting: 20th November, 09

At the November meeting, Joan James, of the Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre, gave a detailed account of life on the Bata estate at East Tilbury. A short film was shown as an introduction to Tomas Bata and his shoe manufacturing empire which started at Zlin in Czechoslovakia, in 1894, and spread to many countries in the world.

The land at East Tilbury was purchased from Mr W Wilson and the first factory was opened in 1933. Tragically Tomas Bata died in a flying accident in 1932. The layout of the housing estate and factory, all with flat roofs, is based on the original buildings in Zlin. During the thirties the Community House was built, also the swimming pool and cinema. Tomas Bata believed in caring for the health and welfare of his workers who were housed on the estate at a reasonable rent and provided with the means to keep fit and occupied after working hours. There were football, netball and tennis teams, a thriving Sunday school and many social activities. The Bata farm bottled its own milk and won many prizes at the Orsett Show. Bata Primary School opened in 1943.

In 1955 a War Memorial and a statue of Tomas Bata were unveiled. The factory was still very productive and made shoes, sandals, boots, hosiery and polish. Although the cinema closed in 1965, the school in 1972 and in the eighties the houses were sold to tenants at discounted prices, the estate and factory were designated a conservation area. In 2003 Bata celebrated 70 years in East Tilbury. British Bata closed down in 2006.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting :11th December, 09

The Christmas meeting was a convivial occasion with a variety of buffet items provided by the members and wine and soft drinks supplied by the Society. The entertainment was varied, including a reminiscence of being evacuated during WW2 by Eileen Webb, the story of her father’s eventful life by Kathy Ostler and a hilarious version of the poem “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God” declaimed by Brian Burton, wearing various hats depending on whether he was Mad Carew or the Colonel’s daughter, plus amusing interruptions from Ken Levy and Derek Austin to complicate the story.
There followed a Power Point presentation of a quiz “ How Well Do You Know Thurrock?” on the new lap top and projector purchased with a Grass Roots grant. The quiz was won by Dorothy Harvey. The evening was rounded off with the raffle, with generous donations of prizes from members and the persuasive powers of Dennis Parker selling the tickets, raised over £100 for the Society funds.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting :22nd January, '10

The subject of the January meeting, Your Town at War, attracted over ninety members and visitors. David Young’s informative talk began with Neville Chamberlain’s futile attempt to appease Hitler in 1938, the subsequent declaration of war against Germany in September 1939, followed by the preparations that were made for the protection of the people such as issuing gas masks, evacuation of children and building Anderson shelters. Wardens patrolled the streets to ensure the blackout was strictly enforced and names were removed from signposts and railway stations to confound the enemy should an invasion occur. Church bells were silent; only to ring to signal an invasion or when victory was declared.

There were first aid courses and lessons in how to use a stirrup pump. The Home Guard was set up and the WVS was prominent in helping with rescues following incendiary and bombing attacks. Boats from Tilbury joined in with the fleet of small boats that sailed to rescue soldiers stranded at Dunkirk. Bombing raids killed and maimed local people and Tilbury Hotel was destroyed by fire. Tilbury docks played their part in preparations for the D-Day landings making part of the pipeline under the ocean, code-named PLUTO, and the Mulberry harbours used for landing on the Normandy beaches.

The talk was very detailed, following national and local events. It was well illustrated and interspersed with speeches from Churchill, King George VI, Princess Elizabeth and snatches of song from Vera Lynn and the radio programmes that kept up morale. Victory in Europe came on 8th May, 1945 (VE Day) celebrated with street parties and the ringing of church bells.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting :26th February, '10

William Tyler gave a very informative and detailed talk on words and phrases that, in most cases, are no longer part of modern speech. When George, Elector of Hanover was due to arrive at Harwich in 1740 to become George I everyone was in a panic at the arrival of this unknown person who was to be their king. This gave rise to the phrase “all at Harwich” meaning “in a panic” also the phrase “go to Hanover” a Jacobite phrase for “go to hell”.

There were many dialect words relating to the weather such as “rafty” for damp and cold; names for alleyways such as “gant”; a self important person was known as “farting frankincense” and the phrase “Don’t be so Coggeshall” meant “don’t be so stupid”. During a flood at Coggeshall a women removed the first three steps of the stairs “to stop the floodwater going upstairs”!

We heard about the Great Black Dog with his lolling red tongue; witches being hanged at Chelmsford; annual customs such as Harvest Home; gleaning, when poor people could pick up the remains of the harvest, without payment, to help them survive the winter and many other anecdotes from this knowledgeable speaker.
Gradually, as education became widespread, children were discouraged from using dialect words and phrases which gradually died out along with the Essex accent.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting :19th March '10

At the March meeting Peter Lawrence drew a large audience for his illustrated talk on “Postcards, an entertaining source of Local History.” Postcards became popular in the second half of the 19th century when photography made it possible to produce portraits and scenes on a card. The first postcards cost 1/2 d to buy (half a penny) and 1/2d to send. Originally there was no dividing line on the back for the message and the address so the message was written on the front and only five words were allowed. This gave rise to the phrase “Wish you were here.” In those days there were several collections and deliveries a day so it was possible to post a card in the morning and have it delivered the same day.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were the first Heads of State to be photographed; their image was published on postcards and also telegraphed around the empire.

Scenes of towns and cities became popular and for the collector they showed changes in the buildings, transport and fashions through the years. Beautiful cards were sent home by soldiers in France during the First World War.

The widespread use of telephones caused the card industry to collapse after the Second World War except for scenes and humorous cards from the seaside. The picture postcard industry has recovered in recent years; glossy cards are available with wonderful images of popular tourist venues such as London, inaccessible to the photographer, that are bought as souvenirs rather than a means of sending a message.

Thurrock Local History Society Annual General Meeting : 23rd April, '10

The April AGM began with apologies for absence and agreeing the 2009 minutes. The Chairman’s Report outlined the activities during the past year including outings to the Inns of Court in London and Forties’ Day at Chatham Historic Dockyard plus local visits to the Fire Museum at Grays and Coalhouse Fort. In addition, the Society was represented at Horndon Feast & Fair, the Party in the Park and the Orsett Show. These events gave an opportunity to sell local history publications and to attract new members. There followed a summary of the varied programme of winter meetings which were very well attended.

After a break for refreshments, Brian Burton gave a very interesting and amusing talk on the Bayeux tapestry. He began with the lead up to the Battle of Hastings, before the death of Edward the Confessor and how the tapestry tells the history of King Harold, crowned immediately after the death of Edward, William of Normandy, who had originally been named as Edward’s heir, the invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings. The tapestry consists of 8 long strips of linen 18 to 21 inches high and 225 feet long. It was commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William, and was probably made by upper-class Anglo-Saxon ladies who were famous for their skills at embroidery. Wools, coloured with natural dyes, were used and the scenes depicted remain clear and bright to this day. After a chequered history through the centuries the tapestry, which is actually an embroidery, is housed in an exhibition centre at Bayeux.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting : 21st May, '10                   

Randal Bingley spoke to us about Trees, Hedges and Man. He introduced his talk by recalling his early years in Surrey when he learnt to appreciate and enjoy the landscape and woodland surrounding his home. Then, returning to Thurrock, and starting at 12 – 13,000 years ago, as the ice cap was melting, he explained that fir woods began to appear. During the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods there is evidence that wood was used, for example, as shafts for arrowheads and axes. Animals such as moose, red deer, roe deer and wild boar were hunted. The forest also included birch and alder. As man began to clear the land the woods became depleted. By the time of the Domesday survey in the C11 areas of woodland are mentioned where they form part of a manor. In medieval times 70 acres per century were being cleared and later, industrial workings such as chalk extraction encroached on the woodland as can be seen at West Thurrock on Chapman & André’s map of 1777.

Randal told us of the various areas of woodland still surviving in Thurrock such as Watts Wood, Hangman’s Wood and Rainbow Shaw including the varieties of trees, ash, oak, crab apple, hazel, mountain ash (also known as rowan) etc. Ash and oak were useful for handles and cart and wagon wheel spokes and hazel for fences. Charcoal was another product of wood. The mountain ash was said to have magical powers; a rowan rod was often displayed in stables to ward off witches.

Many wild flowers such as red campion, primroses, foxgloves and bluebells (often a sign of an ancient hedgerow or boundary) can still be seen on rambles around Thurrock. Man’s association with woodland survives to this day in surnames such as Groves and Underwood. Randal gave us a very detailed, illustrated account of the history of woodland in Thurrock including the connection with the Abbess of Barking and the Dean of St Paul’s, as well as the changes wrought by man and industry.

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