Category Archives: Marshland

Daniel Defoe of Tilbury

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?

Pathways to the Marshes

The Thurrock Local History Society is participating in a Heritage Lottery Fund Landscape Partnership bid coordinated by Essex County Council. This project will provide ‘pathways’ to the marshes, telling the story of the medieval reclaimed pastures, the creeks and trading ports, the forts, world war remains and post-industrial architecture and highlighting the internationally important biodiversity of the wetlands. Building on the work already undertaken to deliver the Thames Estuary Path, this project will deliver access and interactive heritage interpretation projects that re-connect local communities with the marshes.

The “Pathways to the Marshes” project will benefit everyone interested in the local history of the marshland areas of Thurrock.  Examples of how Thurrock heritage will benefit from this project include:

  • An expanded website for the Thames Estuary Path that will encourage more interest in and visitors to two of the important military heritage sites on the Thurrock marshland – Tilbury Fort and Coalhouse Fort.
  • A Pictorial Survey that will make a large number of historic images of the marshland areas of Thurrock available to a wider audience.
  • “Mapping the marshes” will significantly spotlight the history of the marshes and the Thurrock Local History Society is hopeful that it will be able to contribute a case study in the Thurrock area.
  • Archaeological and landscape investigations that will increase our knowledge of Thurrock history. We are hopeful that the project will enable us to discover more about Oozedam, an interesting marshland site in Corringham.