The 7th century saw the conversion of Essex (including Thurrock) from Paganism to Christianity, but it took three attempts. At the beginning of the 7th century, London was part of the Kingdom of the East Saxons – the people, not the geographic area. King Saebert converted to Christianity at the behest of his overlord, King Æthelberht of Kent. Saint Mellitus became Bishop of London and his see included Essex. Essex reverted to Paganism on the death of King Saebert and Mellitus was forced to leave.
Around AD 655, St Cedd undertook a successful mission to re-convert the East Saxons and built churches at Bradwell and Tilbury. The building of the Tilbury church (on the banks of the Thames) was described in Bede’s History of the English Church and is the earliest written reference to a location in Thurrock. St Cedd became Bishop of the East Saxons, in effect, Bishop of London. He died on 26th October, AD 664. However, on the death of King Sigeberht II (the Good), Essex again reverted to Paganism.
West Tilbury church, possibly on the site of St Cedd’s church.
The final (and lasting) conversion of the East Saxons to Christianity took place following a mission by Bishop Jaruman of Lichfield sent by King Wulfhere of Mercia, who was overlord of the East Saxons.
Participants in the Friends of Essex Churches study day on 7th October enjoyed a programme of interesting talks by Dr Christopher Starr and visited a variety of local churches. The second of the four churches was St Mary the Virgin, Corringham which has Anglo-Saxon stonework, but currently, a distinctly Anglo-Catholic appearance. The third church was St Peter and St Paul, Horndon on the Hill which was renovated at the end of the 19th century. As a result, it is a delight for enthusiasts of the arts and craft movement. The final visit was to St Mary Magdalene, North Ockendon. The church is rich in heraldry and our own Christopher Harold gave a short presentation about two of the hatchments. The church also illustrates one of the pitfalls for the local historian. Until 50 years ago, North Ockendon was in Essex, but it is now in Greater London. Consequently you will look in vain in the current Essex volume of Pevsner to learn about the church.
Medieval font at St Michael’s, Fobbing
However, perhaps the most interesting from the point of view of Essex heritage was the first stopping place – St Michael’s, Fobbing. This too has some Anglo-Saxon architectural features on the north wall, including a now blocked window. The font is from the 13th century (although the stem and cover are modern). It would have been used to baptise Thomas Baker – one of the leaders of the Peasant’s revolt who was hanged for his participation. He is one of the candidates for a new Thurrock heritage plaque. In the 17th century, the incumbent was John Pell. The Fobbing living was a sinecure intended to finance his mathematical research and he probably spent little time in Thurrock. None the less, he invented the division sign and is undoubtedly the most prominent mathematician to have lived here. He is another worthy candidate for a new heritage plaque.
After St Cedd converted the people of Thurrock and the rest of Essex to Christianity, there was one further relapse into Paganism, but eventually the church secured a dominant place in Anglo-Saxon society. By the eve of the Norman invasion – on the day on which King Edward was alive and dead in the evocative Domesday phrase – large amounts of Thurrock were owned by the church. In some cases ownership was by monasteries, particularly Barking Abbey and in other cases it was by senior churchmen such as the Bishop of London.
However, although the church dominated society, there were no parishes. Churches were widespread, but most local churches in Thurrock were the private property of landowners. A document known as Geþyncðo recorded that owning a church was one of the characteristics that distinguished the social standing of a thegn. These estate churches were originally used by the landowner and his family but gradually extended to others that lived and worked on the estate. It is these estates that in due course evolved into parishes.
In 1066, there were probably churches in at least ten of the 17 parishes wholly within the present Thurrock Unitary Authority (see Panorama 48). These churches would have been close to the thegn’s home – the manor house. The evidence for these pre-Domesday churches can be documentary, archaeological or architectural. One clear example of Anglo-Saxon architecture is found in Corringham church.
St Mary’s church is on Church Lane, a short distance from Corringham Hall, which was the manor house for the main Corringham manor. There is architectural evidence that Corringham church was originally built by the Saxons. On the south side of the chancel, there are a number of courses of stonework laid in a herringbone pattern which is characteristic of Saxon masonry. The tower is 11th century, and was previously regarded as probably early Norman rather than Saxon. However, recent work has suggested that it is indeed Saxon. St Mary’s Corringham is one of the churches that will feature in an autumn study day organised by the Friends of Essex Churches on 7th October. Dr Christopher Starr will be talking about the churches at Fobbing, Horndon and North Ockendon as well as St Mary’s.
TLHS recently announced that as part of its HLF funded project, it will be working with Blatella Films. Blatella will produce a number of short videos that promote Thurrock’s heritage. The subject of one of these videos will be Margaret Jones who directed the Mucking excavation between 1965 and 1968. At the time, this excavation was the largest ever undertaken in Europe and uncovered an Anglo-Saxon settlement and two associated cemeteries. The graves dated from the 5th to the 7th century, but appeared to stop around AD 650.
One possible reason that these pagan cemeteries went out of use at this time may be the missionary activities of St Cedd. Bede’s History of the English Church records that Cedd built two churches in Essex – one at Bradwell (which survives) and one just down the road from Mucking, at Tilbury on the banks of the Thames.
The newly Christianised Anglo-Saxons may have decided to abandon their pagan cemetery and establish a Christian cemetery close to Cedd’s newly built church. We don’t know the location of Cedd’s Tilbury church, but it may have been on the site of the present East Tilbury parish church.
Although separated by thirteen hundred years, both Margaret Jones and St Cedd made important contributions to Thurrock’s heritage. Neither currently has a Thurrock heritage plaque; perhaps they should have.
The experiences of women during the Great War are less well known than those of the men who volunteered for the army and served at the front. In June, 2017, a new book was published that went a little way to redressing this imbalance. Kate Luard was born in Aveley. She served as a nurse in the Boer War and the 1st World War. Like Florence Nightingale, she was twice awarded the Royal Red Cross medal, 1st class.
This book of her letters was originally published in the 1930s and has become rather rare. This new edition will bring it to a wider audience. As a Thurrock born Great War heroine, perhaps her achievements deserve to be recognised with a Thurrock Heritage plaque.
Unknown Warriors, The History Press – available on Amazon for £14.99.
Daniel Defoe is one of the major literary figures who have lived in Thurrock. In 2014, James Canton spoke to a society meeting about his book, OUT OF ESSEX Re-Imagining a Literary Landscape (Signal Books, 2013). In chapter 7 of the book he describes his search for Daniel Defoe.
He met Jonathan Catton and Randal Bingley (who are both greatly missed) in the World’s End pub. Randal had identified the site of the house built by Defoe (Panorama 27). Although not named, this can be seen on the Chapman & Andre map of Essex in the Tilbury marshes in the parish of Chadwell. Randal took Canton to a site where he could see the remnants of the drainage sewer that had served the house and tile works.
In his search for Defoe, Canton also contacted John Martin, a Defoe biographer (The Man That Never Was, APF Ltd, 2013). Martin had also been shown the drainage sewer by Randal. Martin believes that Defoe was born in 1644 and that his mother Ellen was related to Edward Lawrence who owned the Gobions Manor in East Tilbury. According to Martin, Defoe was educated there in the period 1658-1662 and lived there with his brother Thomas for some ten years to 1705. Randal took us to East Tilbury where we were able to inspect the former site of the manor house. Martin’s biography has not been well received by some reviewers. According to Sheldon Rogers of the University of Portsmouth, Martin’s biography “is … tainted by fiction, inaccuracies, and an unreliable chain-forging of evidence”.
Whatever the details, there is no doubt that Defoe lived in Tilbury and built a house there. However, there is no Thurrock Heritage Plaque to mark this association. Does Defoe deserve a plaque, and if so where should it be placed?
In March, 2014, the Essex Record Office played host to a conference “The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century”. The conference theme was inspired by Neil Wiffen’s reading of Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War by Curry and Hughes. On the 6th May 2017, the same venue hosted a launch for the book of the conference. This has now metamorphosed into The Fighting Essex Soldier Recruitment, war and society in the fourteenth century (published by the University of Hertfordshire Press with sponsorship from the Essex Journal and the Friends of Historic Essex; priced £18.99). The afternoon began with a seemingly endless supply of cream and chocolate cakes together with copious cups of coffee. There was also the opportunity to buy not just the book itself but many other Essex history publications from the Essex Society for Archaeology and History. We then went in to the lecture hall for the main event which was a talk from Dr Adam Chapman of the Victoria County History project on “Soldiers of the English Realm: Essex and beyond c.1300-c.1450” which drew on both the new book and also on his own publication – Welsh Soldiers in the Later Middle Ages, 1282-1422 (Boydell & Brewer, 2015, price £60).
He gave us a fascinating account of the “English” army at the beginning of the Hundred Years War (at that time mainly composed of Welsh archers, who were depicted by an anonymous clerk as wearing shoes on only one foot). By the middle of the fifteenth century this army had become a more professional and locally recruited force with participants expected to supply their own arms and armour. We were introduced to the longbows and the arrows; to the procurement of the arms and the pay of the soldiers and to ships from Essex and Monmouthshire. Especially interesting to the Thurrock historian, was an account of the small village of Fobbing.
Fobbing’s role in the Peasant’s Revolt is reasonably well known. The late Randal Bingley wrote about Thomas Baker, Hanged on the fourth of July in Panorama 44 (1987) and a photograph of the memorial at Fobbing can be found on the society’s web site. But Dr Chapman also gave us the less well known fact that in the fourteenth century, Fobbing supplied the crown with naval vessels and crew. In 1372, forty eight mariners came from Fobbing, while Stanford le Hope provided forty four more. Even East Tilbury chipped in with a further seven. There is a detailed account of the Essex contribution to the 14th century navy and the possible link to the Peasant’s revolt in chapters 6 and 7 of the book.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day; all involved deserve many congratulations.
Romano-British Settlement and Cemeteries at Mucking by Sam Lucy and Christopher Evans. Published by Oxbow Books; 456 pages; ISBN 978-1785702686.
Despite the fact that the Mucking excavation began more than fifty years ago, until recently, there has not been a full publication of the findings. The site atlas and a report on the Anglo-Saxon settlement were eventually published in 1993; the report on the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries appeared in 2009 and the findings from the Mesolithic, through the Bronze Age into the Iron Age were published at the end of December, 2015. The final report on the Romano-British settlement and cemetery was published in September.
The Mucking excavation has rightly been given a prominent place in the archaeological literature of the last fifty years. However, as the authors point out, Mucking’s findings on the Roman period have been somewhat overlooked. The latest volume will perhaps redress this neglect. It is has greater similarity to a conventional excavation report than its predecessor (Lives in Land, 2015) although it does provide an abridged version of the background given in the earlier volume. This volume contains detailed analysis of finds, photographs, maps, charts and interpretation from the Romano-British period. Although most of the illustrations are of the finds, there are a few photographs that show the excavation in progress and particularly its proximity to the continuing gravel extraction.
This book is not cheap. It is priced at £40 on Amazon. However, it is essential reading for anyone who wishes to read firsthand the evidence that was dug up on that windy hillside half a lifetime ago. It is sad that so many who worked on the dig are no longer around to read the report.
The cover of the latest (and last) volume
Lives in Land – Mucking excavations. Christopher Evans, Grahame Appleby and Sam Lucy. Oxbow Books, 2015, ISBN: 9781785701481.
The main excavation at Mucking began more than 50 years ago and continued for 13 years. Thousands of people took part including many members of the Thurrock Local History Society. However, for various reasons, the full excavation report has not yet been published. Initially, Margaret Jones, the excavation director, felt that it was more urgent to proceed with the dig, ahead of the gravel extraction, rather than spend time preparing the results for publication. Subsequently, the sheer scale of the task, the lack of funds and in due course the death of many of the key figures made publication a slow process.
The site atlas and a report on the Anglo-Saxon settlement were published in 1993 and the report on the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries appeared in 2009. A great deal of information on Roman and earlier periods has been deposited in the Archaeology Data Service web site. In view of the dramatic changes in the approach to archaeological reporting, a deliberate decision was made to draw a line between the previous publications and the final two reports. These are “more scrap-book like” and include interviews with surviving participants. At the end of 2015, Oxbow books published the first of two volumes entitled Lives in Land – Mucking excavations. The Roman period is expected to be published in August 2016.
These two volumes will cover both the detail of many important structures and assemblages and also provide a comprehensive synthesis of landscape development through the ages. This includes settlement histories, changing land-use, death and burial, industry and craft activities. Volume 1 takes us from the Mesolithic, through the Bronze Age into the Iron Age. This volume also discusses the methods, philosophy and archival status of the Mucking project given the organisational and funding background at the time. The authors talk about the fundamental changes in archaeological practice, legislation, finance, research priorities and theoretical paradigms which have taken place since the dig began. This volume is available from Oxbow books, currently at the special price of £30.
One of the bugbears of the late Randal Bingley was metal detecting. He would often add some derogatory remarks about dectorists when talking about something else. (Although there was a rumour that towards the end of his life, he tried it himself.) I wonder how he would have felt about the next meeting of the Local History Society which is Steve Newman talking about Metal Detecting.
Randal’s objection was that important finds could go unreported and even if they were reported, the archaeological context would be unknown or even destroyed. To some extent, these concerns have been addressed by the portable antiquities scheme which was instituted in 1997 to encourage reporting by metal detectorists and others. It is certainly the case that the Staffordshire Hoard was found only as a result of metal detecting.
Nonetheless, it is still the case that local historians are less well aware of the results of metal detecting than they should be. There is a “productive site” in (East?) Tilbury that deserves greater study and investigation, but for which the details are little known. It could be an interesting evening.
The meeting is at 8.00pm at the Adult Community College, Richmond Road, Grays on Friday 20th November.