Meeting reports 2006 -2007

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Society meeting 15th September, 2006

Discoveries of the Saxon Period in S. E. Essex by Rosemary Arscott

Rosemary Arscott spoke on the discoveries of the Saxon period in S. E. Essex.  She covered a wide area from Canvey Island, Hadleigh Castle, Belfairs woods to Prittlewell, Temple farm and Marshall’s farm at Southend.  There was evidence of  Saxon habitation at all of these sites such as remains of earth works, sunken huts and shards of pottery, loom-weights, coins and part of  an early Saxon glass vessel C650-750 originally from Scandinavia.  Also found was a crucible for working with glass.

The site at Temple farm, near Prittlewell was a moderately sizes settlement.  Artifacts such as counters and needles made of bone were found.  Also excavated were the remains of a Roman road structured from several layers of sand, clay, sand, clay and on the surface larger stones and gravel. Unfortunately some finds in S. E. Essex had been discovered with metal-detectors therefore the detailed information normally recorded by the archaeologist was missing.  Also, the Dutch, when draining the marshes had probably disturbed much evidence of the Saxon settlements.

Slides accompanied the talk, illustrating the earthworks and finds that proved the rich heritage of the Saxon occupation.

Society meeting 20th October, 2006

19th Century Silk Industry in Suffolk and Essex by David Possee

David Possee gave a detailed, illustrated talk on the history of the silk industry from its discovery in China as far back as 2640 BC to the prosperous manufacture of silk in England from the 16th to the 19th century.  The fact that a silk cloth could be woven from the thread unwound from the silkworm cocoon, about 1,000 metres of silk fibre from one cocoon, was a closely guarded secret in China for many years.  The process involved in making silk cloth, known as sericulture, did not reach Europe until 550 AD.

During the 16th century many London weavers, in the Spitalfields area, turned from producing linen and woollen fabrics to producing silk.  This region became the centre of English silk weaving.  In 1685, on the Continent, the rights of Protestants to practise their religion were revoked. If they did not follow the rituals of the Roman Catholic Church they were persecuted.  Many thousands, known as Huguenots, fled from France to England and many settled in London. The silk weavers among them continued their trade in Spitalfields.  A certain Huguenot, Samuel Courtauld a goldsmith, settled his family in the area and his son, George was apprenticed to the silk trade. Thereby began the story of the internationally famous Courtauld name.  The industry flourished until the early 19th century when the silk merchants became less competitive; wages had increased and tariffs were removed from imported silk.  The industry moved out to East Anglia where silk could be produced for a much lower cost. George Courtauld and his descendants built several silk factories in Suffolk and Essex and flourished throughout the 19th century.  In 1833 over 1000 children of 16 years of age and under worked 12 hour days, from Monday to Saturday, in the silk factories.  A third of these were under 11 years old. Although working conditions were harsh, the Courtaulds were known for their provision of welfare and other facilities for their employees and the wider community.

Society meeting 17th November, 2006 

The History of Rochester Bridge by Dr James Gibson

Dr Gibson gave a very informative account of the various bridges crossing the Medway at Rochester from Roman times to the present day.  The Roman bridge, made from masonry, timber and ragstone, lasted until the late 14th century when the mediaeval stone bridge was built including a drawbridge on the Strood side. Responsibility for maintaining the bridge had been shared by the parishes, manors and estates surrounding Rochester.  In 1399 Richard II incorporated the parishes as a commonalty who elected two wardens to oversee the maintenance and repair of the bridge.  In 1576 the system was changed by an Act of Parliament which required householders from the commonalty of Rochester Bridge to meet each year at Rochester Castle to elect two wardens, twelve assistants and four auditors.  This procedure continued until 1908 when the annual election was abolished and replaced by the local authorities nominating the seventeen members.

The mediaeval bridge was replaced in the mid 19th century by the Victorian cast iron bridge which had three arches and incorporated a swing bridge that would allow ships with tall masts to sail upriver.  In August 1856 the new bridge was declared officially open accompanied by all the local dignitaries, the Royal Marine band and a firework display.  The mediaeval bridge which had crossed the Medway for 465 years was demolished by the Royal Engineers.

The Victorian bridge showed signs of defects after 50 years and had to be repaired and restructured.  It was re-opened in 1914.  Now known as the Old Bridge, it was replaced in 1970 by a modern highway across the Medway. The Wardens and Assistants of Rochester Bridge are registered as a charitable trust and as well as maintaining the bridges they make charitable and educational grants having founded grammar schools and the Bridge Wardens College at the University of Kent.

Society Meeting: 15th December, 2006

The Christmas meeting and party featured reminiscences by members on topics ranging from her experiences as a RAF nurse in Singapore by Kathy Ostler, contrasting impressions of life as an Irish immigrant by Derry Nash and the history of St John Ambulance in Thurrock by Dennis Parker. These were interspersed by children’s amusing sayings about their Dads, read by John Broadhead. A generous number of prizes were donated for the raffle and the quiz on local history was won by Jean Matthews. An appetizing buffet, wine and soft drinks added to the enjoyment of a very convivial evening.

Society Meeting: 19th January, 2007

Chadwell Parish Boundary by John Matthews

More than 70 members and friends crowded into the hall to hear John Matthew’s lecture on Chadwell Parish Boundary. He began with a general introduction to the vital role that parish boundaries have played over hundreds of years. Parishes were only required to pay poor relief to people who could prove that they were settled in the parish, also for most of the time parishes have existed, farmers and others have had to pay tithes to their parish priest. Therefore it was very important for the priest to know which land was within his parish.

Most parishes originated as the area served by an estate church erected and funded by a Saxon or Norman estate owner. The Chadwell parish was formed by the union of two Chadwell manors one of which was shown in Domesday to have a priest, and presumably a church. There is little doubt that the parish boundary predates the Norman conquest.

There followed a detailed account of the route that parishioners would have taken while carrying out the ceremony of beating the bounds, which took place at Rogationtide, to ensure that everybody was aware of the limits of the parish. John gave much historical detail such as why the boundary ran through Tilbury Fort, resulting in the officers’ quarters being in West Tilbury and the men’s quarters in Chadwell. In the event of a death, the lower ranks were buried at Chadwell and the officers at West Tilbury.

The lecture was illustrated by excellent slides so that the audience was able to follow the route as it abutted West Tilbury, the Thames, Little Thurrock, Orsett and Mucking.

(John Matthews has written a fully detailed article based on this lecture which will appear in Panorama 45, soon to be published.)

Society Meeting: 23rd February, 2007

The Barrett-Lennards by Susan Yates

Susan Yates, the Society’s Chairman, gave a lively and informative lecture on the Barrett-Lennard family who owned the Belhus estate at Aveley.  The Barrett lineage can be traced back to Edward III (1312-1377) when the family lived at Hawkhurst in Kent.  In the 15th century the lease of Belhus Mede was passed to John Barrett by way of a marriage settlement.  It was his great grandson, also John Barrett, a successful lawyer, who built the Belhus mansion c 1520.  Alterations were made in the 17th century by Edward Barrett, Lord Newburgh, who increased the size of the estate and established a deer park.  Having no children the estate was left to a distant cousin, Richard Lennard on condition that he adopted the family name and the Barrett coat of arms. He was known as Richard Lennard Barrett. Through his mother’s family, Richard’s son Thomas inherited the title of Lord Dacre and changed the family name to Barrett-Lennard.  During the 1740s and 50s he employed Capability Brown to landscape the park. 

 Susan continued with the intricate story of the Barrett-Lennards from the 18th century to the present day.  The current and 6th baronet is Father Sir Hugh Dacre Barrett-Lennard, Bart., a Catholic priest, who served at the London Oratory, and was known only as Father Hugh.  He lives in retirement in London. The house and estate were sold in 1923 when the family moved to Horsford Manor in Norfolk. The mansion was demolished in 1957. This was a well illustrated talk which gave an insight into one of the most notable, and on occasion eccentric, families in Thurrock.

Society Meeting: 16th March, 2007

St Roger of Beeleigh by Stephen Nunn

This lecture told the little-known story of Saint Roger Niger de Biliye who was born c1175 at Beeleigh near Maldon.  It is believed that his parents presented their son, at a young age, to the newly founded Abbey at Beeleigh, to be educated for the religious life.  This practise was not uncommon; a notable example being the Venerable Bede who was educated by monks from the age of seven and during his religious life wrote many theological and historical works.

In 1192 it is documented that Roger was in residence at St Paul’s in London, as a Prebendary, or Canon, of Ealdland which means that his allowance was drawn from the tithes at Ealdland near Tillingham.  He was entitled to a seat near the choir and was required to recite the 82nd to the 86th psalms inclusive, on a daily basis.

In 1218 he was Archdeacon of Colchester although he would have carried out his administrative duties from St Paul’s because it is recorded that he lived in a property nearby.  In 1229 he was elevated to the Bishopric of London.  According to the St Alban’s monk, Matthew Paris, he was a perfect choice for he was: “… a very reverend man, religious, learned, painful in preaching, eloquent, a great house-keeper, of very gentle and courteous behaviour…”

As Bishop of London, Roger became deeply involved in affairs of state.  He had disputes with King Henry III, at one point threatening to excommunicate him, and with the Pope, particularly over the collection of income by representatives of the Papacy.

Bishop Roger died on 29th September, 1241.  At the precise moment of his burial, in St Paul’s Cathedral, there occurred an eclipse of the sun.  A strange omen for the superstitious folk of mediaeval times.  A contemporary account says that “many miracles were wrought at the tomb of Roger.”  In 1249 Roger is referred to as “Sanctus"  – “Saint Roger.”  A constant stream of pilgrims came to his tomb and various items connected with Roger became important relics at several locations away from St Paul’s.  There is documentary evidence that the heart of “Saint Roger” was placed in a shrine at Beeleigh Abbey which became a centre for pilgrims including a visit in 1289 of King Edward I and his Queen, Eleanor of Castile.  There were many examples of “heart burials” from the 12th – 17th centuries including Richard Coeur de Lion and King John.

Stephen Nunn spoke with great enthusiasm for his subject which he has researched for many years.

Annual General Meeting

The meeting began with apologies being recorded and the minutes of the AGM 2006 being agreed.  There followed the Chairman’s Report which outlined the activities during the past year such the visit to Hampton Court, the Society’s attendance at Horndon Feast & Fair, Essex History Fair and the Orsett Show plus a summary of the programme of speakers who had informed and entertained during the winter season.

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.  The independent examiner and representatives for Coalhouse Fort agreed to continue their duties for another year.

After a break for refreshments, Brian Burton gave a lively and informative talk on the history of the defence of the River Thames from the time of the Roman invasion to World War II.  It included the building of block houses at Tilbury and East Tilbury by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I’s review of her troops at West Tilbury at the time of the Armada, the building of Tilbury Fort after the scare of the Dutch invasion up the Thames, and eventually the building of the Victorian Coalhouse Fort following the fear of invasion by Napoleon.  Soldiers were stationed at Coalhouse Fort in both the First and Second World Wars.  The talk was illustrated by a fine selection of slides and was much appreciated by the audience.



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