Author Archives: rjm

Libraries and Museums

Photo: Glyn Baker (Wikipedia)

The first public library in Thurrock was opened in 1893 and was located in No 1 Bank Buildings, Grays High Street. By 1902 these premises were too small and in 1903 a purpose built library partially funded by Andrew Carnegie was opened on Orsett Road. This included a local history museum. There was also a museum in Civic Square, Tilbury. With the opening of the Thameside Complex in January 1971, the library and Museum moved to their current location.

The council is proposing another move for the library and museum to the Civic Offices. There is a public consultation on the proposed move which can be see here.

Fifty Fabulous Features

In 2019, the Land of the Fanns financed a project that was led by the Essex Gardens Trust to document significant features in parks and gardens in the Land of the Fanns area. This area includes parts of Thurrock, but extends beyond it and some parts of Thurrock are not included. Nonetheless, several TLHS members volunteered.

We were given training by Twigs Way, including visits to the Essex Record Office and to various gardens such as Belhus and the walled garden at Stubbers. Unfortunately, the first Covid lock down interrupted our site visits and we had to conduct a lot of virtual research and meetings.

The results were published in November 2020 and included quite a few features from Thurrock. A copy of the published report can be downloaded from the Land of the Fanns blog. There is also an interactive map with links to more information about the features.

A Map of Chadwell

Thanks to Thurrock Museum for permission to use this image.

This charming hand painted sketch map of Chadwell c. 1960 is in the Chadwell map drawer at Thurrock Museum. It shows Sleeper’s Farm, St Mary’s church, Chadwell House, Chadwell Hall (now demolished), Chadwell Place and the World’s End public house. The representation of these buildings appears to be very accurate, although their positions on the map have been adjusted to suit the fit.

The position of the Cross Keys public house is marked, but the building is not illustrated. The amphora pitcher may indicate the approximate location of an archaeological find. The figure at the bottom is probably Daniel Defoe. The outline around the map appears to be a reasonably accurate representation of the Chadwell parish boundary.

There is no indication as to who drew the map, when it was drawn or why. The way in which the buildings have been drawn does not match a much larger map of historical places in Thurrock and also does not match the illustrations in the book Forgotten Thameside. Identification of the coats of arms at the top and bottom might give some clues as to its origin.

The Grays Library

The Thurrock Council has plans to dispose of the Thameside complex which houses the library and museum. Here is a brief history of the library based on the museum’s heritage file.

The history of Grays Library dates back to November 1893 when the Local Government Board appointed a committee to consider establishing a Public Library Service. The first Library was situated in Grays High Street. By 1902 the Library was becoming short of space and the library committee decided to write to Andrew Carnegie, appealing for a donation towards the cost of building a new library building.

Carnegie was born in Scotland in 1835. In 1848 his family moved to the United States, and settled in Pennsylvania. When he was 65 he sold his steelworks to J.P Morgan for $480 Million and devoted the rest of his life to Philanthropic activities. One of Carnegie’s life long interests was the establishment of Free Libraries available to anyone as a means of self-education. The project was started in 1881 and he eventually spent over $56 Million and established 2,509 libraries throughout the world.

A reply on 23rd June 1902 said that Carnegie was willing to donate £3,000 provided a site could be found. Charles Seabrooke and his business partner Mr Astley of Seabrooke’s Brewery donated a piece of land in Orsett Road where the present Thameside Complex is now located. A local architect, Christopher Shiner, designed the new Library. The Countess of Warwick opened the Library on 11th November 1903. The cost of the building was £2,591.15.0. The turret clock had been presented by the school children of Grays; this clock was salvaged during demolition and is in the care of the local museum service.

Thurrock Council and Thurrock Heritage

Ahead of the local elections in May 2021, we asked the Labour and Conservative parties about their policy on heritage. Here is the response from Labour Councillor, John Kent:

In my view, the council needs to genuinely work in partnership with community groups (this goes beyond heritage) to deliver services, facilities and attractions that we would all like to see.

A really good example of this is Hardie Park.

As I am sure you know, the park had been almost entirely abandoned before the local community got involved and turned it around. It is now a terrific park that is well maintained, well used and is home to many groups and activities.

To me, it demonstrates what can be achieved if people are allowed the space to get on deliver things they are passionate about.

Council support needs to be refocused to concentrate on helping to facilitate community groups delivering their projects – this support might be some professional advice or expertise or cash, a relatively small amount of funding can make a big difference to many groups.

We asked about the level of support from the council for Thurrock Heritage (including the museum); the future of Coalhouse Fort and continuing concerns about Keepmoat and the Treetops quarry gardens.

On the three specific examples you have raised I would really want to explore what the heritage community sees as the way forward and try to work with them to deliver their vision – I know that is easy to say but I genuinely believe the “council knows best,” centralised approach has held us back.

We need to see a step change in the status we afford the heritage, culture and the arts in Thurrock.

When I became leader of the council, over a decade ago, the local business community told me there was no relationship between the council and business.

We hosted a business breakfast conference that over 100 businesses attended and, from that event, we created the Thurrock Business Board which gives a regular opportunity for business and the council to discuss issues.

We should have a big heritage, culture and arts event – designed in partnership and funded by the council – to help create a new approach.

Thurrock Museum: Conservation Project Complete!

Between Lockdowns the Conservation project at Thurrock Museum was completed! It was made possible thanks to support from the Land of the Fanns Community Action Fund. The Museum remains closed, but Susan Yates (volunteer at Thurrock Museum) was able to review the work. Read her report here:

Whilst Covid has undoubtedly been a bad thing some good has come out of it at least. Thurrock Museum were able to obtain the services of professional conservator Hazel Gardiner. It was hoped that at least 12 display cases would be treated by the Conservator. In fact Hazel managed to do 20.

Many of the display cases had become infected with a small bug which has now been removed, as has the cause of attracting the bug. Cleaning alone of the interiors of the display cases brightened and improved vastly the contents and the way in which they are portrayed. The woollen felt material used to line the display cases is now much brighter and the colours much stronger enlivening the displays concerned enormously. In the display case for Stone Age Axes the axes had previously been displayed attached using adhesive to a circular black backing. The adhesive was damaging the backing and making the axes insecure so it was decided to clean and remove the board and design a new display where the axes were not fixed with glue of any kind in fact the axes are displayed freestanding. In other display cases items were used that insects infesting found very tasty and as a result damage was done. This was treated and cleaned and once again conservation improved the exhibit.

Another display case that was treated contained loom weights. Unfortunately the sand they had been seated upon was the same colour as the weights and therefore detracted from the artefacts themselves. Removal of the offending detritus has allowed the weights to stand out more once again improving the display as can be seen in the photo below:

Before conservation

After conservation

In the display case for the Police Force a silver police whistle was discovered hidden at the back by other items this was cleaned and now sits gleaming at the front of the exhibit and is now very hard to miss.


In the display case illustrated above containing Bronze Age and Iron Age artefacts, at the rear can be seen a damaged pot partially reconstructed. Closer examination only possible due to Hazel’s work revealed decoration on the exhibit. It has now been decided to bring this item to the fore making its decorative work more easily visible.

What surprised a lot of people I think was the amount of damaged done by insect infestation. We all expected to see fading of the colours of the woollen backing felt. The photo below shows how the colour had faded.

Fading and insect damage

The above photo also shows the damage done to the woollen backing felt by the insect infestation. Thanks to Hazel’s hard work the infestation has now been treated and items will be displayed more effectively.

The museum has also been fortunate in being supplied with items to help prevent such outbreaks again. The photo below shows Valina Bowman Burns, whose idea it was to bring in Hazel, with some of the new conservation items. She was supported by Museum Officers Michelle Savage and Hazel Sacco.

New conservation equipment for the Museum

Thanks to backing by Valina’s boss, Stephen Taylor, this has been possible and our museum will be better for it.  Thanks also to Land of the Fanns – without whom none of this would have been possible.




Thurrock Museum is benefiting from the attention of archaeological and objects conservator, Hazel Gardiner, thanks to Land of the Fanns support. Read her report here:

Tucked away inside the Thameside complex at Grays, Thurrock Museum is a treasure house of archaeological and social history artefacts from the area. It has a wonderfully informative and comprehensive series of displays, thoughtfully and imaginatively put together in the early 1970s, with only a few alterations since. The museum remains a much-loved local attraction to this day. However, after fifty years, the displays are in urgent need of conservation attention and some sympathetic updating. This has been difficult to schedule until recently as the museum is normally open every day. Museum Officer, Valina Bowman-Burns, decided to make the most of the current closure by taking the opportunity to refresh the displays. With support from the Land of the Fanns Community Action Fund, the first steps in this process have now been made. I was delighted to be asked to work with Valina on this project.

Beginning with the displays that are most in need of cleaning and conservation intervention, I am in the process of assessing the case materials and recording the condition of each object. After such a long time on exhibition, it is likely that at least some objects will be in need of remedial work. Most case interiors have a visible dust layer and there are clear signs that insect pests have been at work in the past. Happily, this insect damage is usually minimal.

The first display case I assessed, which focuses on the Later Bronze Age, holds a group of metal and ceramic objects arranged with props: non-museum objects intended to add atmosphere and a sense of authenticity to displays. In this display case props included chicken bones (not fully cleaned), a taxidermy mouse, dried grasses, grains of wheat, and leaves. (figs. 2, 3 and 4) Not surprisingly, as a number of these additions are nutritious snacks to some insect larvae, there was evidence of pest damage. Most of the museum objects, being inorganic, were not affected.

Sadly, however, along with the wool felt case lining and some of the props, a piece of beautiful hand-woven plaid textile had proved irresistible to the pests known as woolly bears (carpet beetle larvae), that had managed to penetrate this display case. (fig. 5) The textile had numerous holes.

Using a conservation-grade vacuum cleaner, accumulated dust, dirt and pest debris was cleaned from the case materials, making an immediate and dramatic visual improvement. (figs. 6 and 7). Loose surface dust was removed from objects using a soft brush and the vacuum cleaner. Smoke Sponge, a conservation material ideal for removing fine particulate dirt, was also used as required.

All extraneous prop material that could potentially harbour pests was removed. (figs. 8 and 9) Although no active pest presence was detected, the plaid was frozen as a safeguard and will be cleaned at a later stage. Freezing organic material at minus 20 degrees for two weeks will kill any residual pests and their eggs.

In this display case the metal objects were generally stable, but the adhesive used in the reconstruction of the ceramic vessels has contracted over time, leading to a gradual weakening of the bonds holding the vessels together. This is particularly noticeable on one large vessel. Before too long this vessel should ideally be dismantled and re-bonded to ensure its ongoing life. (fig. 10)

The display case just described provides a good example of the sort of issues that are likely to be found throughout the museum. In some other display cases, objects have been adhered directly to the wool felt case lining, and there are a number of unusual materials used as supports that would not now be considered suitable. (figs. 11, 12 and 13) These include: plasticine, wax, Blu Tack, Velcro, and in one case a section of what appears to be plumbers’ PVC piping providing, with plasticine reinforcements, an internal support for a fragile Roman ceramic vessel. The use of wool felt as the primary lining material in most display cases may also need to be addressed at some point. When the museum display was put together, there was less access to conservation support than at present, so it is not surprising that unsuitable materials and questionable display methods were used, and no blame should be attached to this. In most cases such materials and methods have not harmed objects, although they would not be considered today.

The role of any conservator is not only to assess and treat objects, but also to consider all aspects of the museum environment, from the building envelope to the display cases and the materials used within them. As progress is made through the museum, information will be gathered with a view to providing advice on best practice in order to prevent or mitigate agents of deterioration and their effects. Therefore, as well as carrying out assessment, case and object cleaning and providing treatment recommendations, I aim to support my museum colleagues in their development of an effective preventive conservation strategy for the collection.


The Manor of Barrowhall

In his classic book, “Forgotten Thameside”, Glyn Morgan states that there were three manors in Little Thurrock – the manor of Little Thurrock itself, the manor of Torrells and the manor of Berewes or Barons “which stood near the road to Chadwell”. Morant’s “History of Essex” gives Barowe as a manor in Little Thurrock, but with appurtenances in Chadwell. It used to appear in the Manorial Documents Register as Barrowhall and Longhouse where it was listed as one of five Chadwell manors. The recent digitisation of the MDR seems to have culled Barrowhall from the register.

Domesday mentions only one manor in Little Thurrock, so presumably Barrowhall was created sometime after 1086. The earliest mention of this manor seems to be in 1466 when one Richard Blyot acquired “the manor of Barrow and one toft and 18 acres of marsh” in Little Thurrock and Chadwell from Nicholas Codorowe and his wife, Elizabeth. It is interesting to note a warranty against the Abbot of Westminster, although his connection is unclear. When Humphrey Tyrell died in 1507, his possessions included the “Manor of Berowe, worth £12., held of the earl of Routeland (Rutland), as of his castle of Rochester, by fealty and a rent of 12s. yearly.” Once again the connection with Rochester castle or the Earl of Rutland is unclear. The rent of 12s is listed as “castleguard” in “Villare Cantianum” by Thomas Phillpott in 1659. Castle-guard was an obligation to provide guards for royal castles or payment in lieu.

The manor appears in three other feet of fine in the 16th century, as well as various 17th century deeds in the Essex Record Office. In 1607, it came into the possession of Sir Alexander Temple along with a number of other local properties. In 1610, he was  hauled over the coals for not providing a cart and workman for the highways of Little Thurrock which he should have done as the owner of Barrow Hall.

The manor passed to James Temple (Sir Alexander’s son) who sold it to James Ravenscroft. He commissioned a magnificent estate map. The map has a cartouche which names the owner as James Ravenscroft and described the estate being mapped as “the manor of Barowhall and of Longhouse”.  The cartouche goes on to say that the survey was made on 26th April 1646. The survey work for this map was undertaken by Richard Colier. It gives an accurate measurement of the size of each field – a key consideration in setting rents. The survey results were then used by Sylvanus Morgan to paint the map. Morgan was a heraldic painter and author of several books on heraldry.

In 1700, James Ravenscroft’s son Thomas sold the Thurrock estate to Sir William Russell of Stubbers in North Ockendon and it remained in the Russell family until the 20th century. The manor largely disappeared from public view after being mention in Phillpott in 1659.