Category Archives: Grays

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.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee spoon

We had a fascinating e-mail from Brian Russell. He has in his possession a silver spoon and a commissioned portrait that was presented to his grandmother (Florence Beatrice Peck) on being the first baby girl born in Grays on the day of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The painting (above) of his grandmother holding the spoon also seems to highlight a golden necklace bracelet and finger ring. Although not distinguishable in the photo the necklace is inscribed with the word “jubilee”. There was also a spoon presented to the first male.

On the back of the spoon is her name and birthdate but also that it was presented by A.W. Boatman, Grays. There was a Boatman Jeweller (who also sold clocks and watches) located at 70 and 72 Hugh Street, Grays. At one point his grandmother wrote to the Grays Gazette asking about the spoons. He has a letter from A.W. Boatman who saw the letter in the newspaper. At that time, Boatman couldn’t identify the boy baby who also received a spoon. The letter from Boatman goes on to mentions a plan for similar spoons to mark the coronation (of George VI).

(There was apparently a similar scheme that applied only to babies born in London. Spoons were given to 310 babies born on Jubilee day. However Brian’s grandmother would not have qualified for this.)

It would be extremely satisfying to learn more about these or any other similar schemes.

Lodge Lane

The society received an enquiry about the Lodge Lane area and particularly some house built on Lodge Lane around 1902. The name “Lodge Lane” is puzzling – what “Lodge” ? The route itself seems to be of considerable antiquity along the ridge of chalk and gravel cut off from the North Downs by the changing course of the Thames in pre-history.

From the 1910 Ordnance Survey map

The road was probably resurfaced, widened and slightly repositioned in the 1920s/30s. It is possible that the road gets its name from the lodge to the Grays Hall Estate. This was quite a large estate and probably had a lodge. Lodge Farm was just north of Lodge Lane. A scheme for building houses south of Lodge Lane on the Greys Hall estate was announced in August, 1918 and a more detailed plan was published in 1921. According to Terry Carney’s book, Thurrock in the Twenties, in 1928, two newly built houses on Lodge Lane were on sale for £500. The Oak had its license application granted in April 1929 and a number of shops were built adjoining it at the beginning of the 1930s. The “Nutberry” estate on the north side of Lodge Lane was also built at the beginning of the 1930s. The name “Lodge Estate” was applied to these various developments and it was described in the Thurrock Gazette as being “like a new suburb or Garden City”.

One of the early houses on Lodge Lane was built to the design of and to be lived in by Christopher Shiner the local architect and another was lived in by William Edwards, school master and council chairman after whom the school was named.

(Contributions from Susan Yates, John Webb and Norma Leach.)

Herbert E Brooks

For many residents of Grays, their memory of the town is buildings covered in grey dust from the local cement industry. The cement industry was an important part of the local economy from the middle of 19th century. The Brooks family brought the industry to Grays and their company provided local employment (under a variety of names) for many years. A prominent member of the family was Herbert Edmund Brooks.

He was born in 1860, the son of Edmund Brooks and Ann Marsh. His father, was a Quaker, and philanthropist who was active in Liberal party politics as well as causes such as the anti-slavery movement and famine relief. In 1871 Edmund Brooks founded the family cement company in Grays. This eventually amalgamated with other companies to form the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Ltd.

Herbert Brooks worked in the family business rising to become a director of the Associated Portland Cement company. He was also a director of other major companies such as the P&O shipping line. In 1913, he visited India on behalf of the cement company to investigate the possibility of establishing a cement works there. Brooks selected a suitable site, but the plans for this venture had to be put on hold as a result of the outbreak of the First World War.

He was prominent in local affairs as a JP and as the deputy Lieutenant of Essex. His many other public offices included Chairman of the Grays Urban District Council and Chairman of the Essex County Council. He remained a county alderman until his death.

Brooks was interested in the local history of the area and in 1883, when a denehole was discovered in a company chalk pit, he made a plan of it and invited the Essex Field club to view it. In 1928 he published William Palmer and his School, a history of what is now Palmer’s College. Notes of his research are stored in the Thurrock Library as the Brooks papers, extracts from which have been published in Panorama – the Journal of the Thurrock Local History Society.

Herbert Brooks lived for about 40 years in Stifford Lodge which had been bought by his father Edmund Brooks. There had been a house on this site since the 14th century. Although much altered, the house inhabited by Brooks dated back to the 18th century when it was rebuilt by Jasper Kingsman. Herbert Brooks died at the Lodge in March 1931. After his death, his widow lived there for a short while. It was used as a military hospital during the 2nd world war and was subsequently sold becoming the Stifford Lodge Hotel.

In January 1932, following his death, a memorial to him was unveiled by another local landowner, Champion Branfill Russell, in Stifford church. Later in the year, on the 26th November, Grays Town Council approved the plans for the HE Brooks memorial garden at the top of Orsett Road, which opened in 1933. The garden is still there and now also contains a holocaust memorial. A portrait of Brooks hangs in a committee room at County Hall.

There is more information about the Brooks family (particularly his brothers Alfred and Basil) on the Laindon and District Community Archive.