A Coastal Pub Tour on Bicycles with notes of Topography and Local History on West Thurrock to Southend
Following our largely urban but highly enjoyable ride from Greenwich yesterday, it was time to head towards the seaside at Southend-on-Sea. We were in no great rush - the Thames estuary was getting wider as we pedalled eastwards and we were having a most interesting journey along the river.
Being as we had spent the night at West Thurrock, we made the best of our situtation to take a look at some of the old taverns that once thrived on the old London Road. Bear with us as the initial ride is rather industrial. This vintage postcard gives the appearance of a picturesque Essex village but even when this was published the landscape was already scarred from chalk-quarrying and cement-making. The modern industrial landscape is even more of an eyesore. However, the large coal-burning power station closed in 1993. Mind you, it was replaced by a plant manufacturing industrial chemicals and detergents. West Thurrock also boasts the tallest electricity pylons in the UK, though the eye is drawn to the Dartford Crossing with the accompanying noise. The settlement's name is derived from a Saxon term meaning "the bottom of a ship" though it feels more like being in the middle of a skip.
The safest route from the Premier Inn down to the London Road is along the footpath of Stonehouse Lane, a busy road that follows the line of an old narrow lane that once led south to a building called the Stone House. This was demolished in the 1920s when the road was re-aligned. The route heads eastwards along the London Road, a route that was enhanced in the 18th century to provide access to the Gunpowder Magazines at Purfleet.
Riding through the sprawl of industrial units and past the Dartford crossing it is hard to imagine that there were hardly any houses in the area in the mid-19th century. The development of the large cement works to the north of the London Road led to the construction of terraced cottages for the people who toiled in the chalk quarry. One such row, later named Goodyear Terrace, was built almost opposite a more modern road called First Avenue. The cluster of houses had their very own tavern called the Rabbits, a name that I would like to think referenced the large numbers of Leporidae hopping around the West Thurrock marshland between the London Road and River Thames. However, it may be a corruption of Rabbets which, itself derived from the Old French Rabat, the "rectangular groove or channel cut out of the edge of a board so that it will join by overlapping with the next piece, similarly cut." This is a term familiar to carpenters or boat-builders so it could have been a reference to these local trades.
As we rolled up to The Rabbits we were saddened to see the place boarded-up. I am not sure if the tavern has any future. A local resident told me that it had been closed for some time so its outlook as a public-house is very bleak. In the early 20th century the house was operated by Seabrooke & Sons Ltd. of Grays. However, the company was acquired by Charrington's in 1929 so the livery of the premises had changed by the time of this photograph taken in the following year. By the end of the 1930s the brewery had covered the building in render but I rather like the appearance of the brickwork, which was probably locally-sourced. I am curious about the small outbuilding to the left - perhaps beers were produced here in the Victorian era. As a beer house, the Rabbits opened in the mid-19th century. It was certainly trading by the mid-1840s when John Morgan was recorded as licensee and shopkeeper. Maybe the outbuilding was the old shop?
Born at Shenfield at the end of the 18th century, John Morgan had moved to West Thurrock by 1840 and, like many of the local inhabitants, worked as an agricultural labourer. This was at a time when the Rising Sun was the local tavern and labourers would traipse to Sun Point for refreshment. John Morgan later worked as a gardener and lived near the beer house when it was kept by William and Elizabeth Button. This couple also sold groceries from the premises, though William Button was hauled before the magistrates in 1860 on a charge of possessing weights that were both light and unjust.
The name that became synonymous with the Rabbits was that of the Idle family. They took over the tavern in the mid-1860s and their name would remain above the door until 1955, almost a century of running this roadside hostelry. Their association with the Rabbits started when George Idle became the publican. Born in Twickenham in 1816, he had moved to the area many years before. He and his wife Eliza kept the George Inn at Corbets Tey near Upminster for some years. Eliza died in 1868 but George remained at the Rabbits, helped by his sons and daughters. For whatever reason, the licensee made what was reported as "a determined attempt on his life" on December 28th, 1876. It was said that he had been "ailing in mind" for some considerable time. On that Thursday night he went into the back yard of the pub and threw himself into a tub of water before inflicting a frightful wound in his throat with a razor. He subsequently staggered back into the Rabbits but collapsed in the passage due to the loss of blood caused by the wound. His sons and daughter came to his assistance and a surgeon from Aveley came quickly. The local newspaper reported that, despite the medical help, only "slight hopes were held of his recovery." Indeed, the publican died soon afterwards and was buried a few days later on January 4th, 1877.
Following the death of George Idle, the licence of The Rabbits passed to his son William and then to his brother Charles. He was still running the place when the above photograph was taken. When he passed away in 1934 the licence passed jointly to his son Harry and daughter Kate. Although she was the licensee during the Second World War, she had appointed Harvey and Jessie Paquette as managers. She never married and died at Tilbury Hospital in 1955 when the family name above the door was changed to Lloyd.
Continuing along the London Road, it is only a short distance to the site of the Fox and Goose, the headquarters of the West Thurrock Cycling Club in the late Victorian era. Like us, the ghosts of the old wheelers would be saddened to see that the pub was demolished a few years before our cycle journey. The premises was on the north side, just past Hilltop Road. A large development of apartments now occupies the site.
Continuing straight on at Stoneness roundabout, the journey comes to The Ship on the north side of London Road. This old inn is certainly of some antiquity. In the modern age the business model of The Ship is that of a family-run sports pub/restaurant with weekend entertainment. Still, at least it is still trading, though there is no decent cask beer.
R. M. Smith in his 1978 pub guide wrote : "A detached building originally built in the mid-17th century, the Ship Inn was once connected by a tunnel to nearby Saint Clement's Church ... almost certainly used for smuggling illicit goods. Records show that a publican in the 19th century was shot in the back yard of the pub, and his ghost is said to haunt the pub to this day." I only type this as it is nice and juicy but I have not ascertained the construction date for myself, or indeed, if there is an entrance to a tunnel from the cellar. Graham Smith, in his authoritative book on smuggling, wrote that "there is a total absence of any smuggling allusions, either official or indeed apocryphal, on this stretch of the Thames." As for the origins of the Ship Inn, I have read elsewhere that it was first mentioned in 1761, and that it was used, alternately with the aforementioned Fox and Goose, for vestry meetings, until 1821. To be honest, it does look like an 18th century building to me.
Similar to the situation at the Rabbits, there was another cluster of housing across the road in which quarry workers were accommodated. A small grid was created with Peaceful Row and West Street and around sixty houses were erected in the 19th century. They have all gone. A whole micro-locale, home to a working-class community, has been wiped from the map.
Thomas Baldwin was the landlord of the Ship Inn during much of the late Victorian period. The house was then known as the Old Ship. For some reason the elderly publican moved to the White Horse Inn at North Ockendon where he died in December 1899, aged 81.
This photograph was taken in 1930, probably on the same day as the image of the Rabbits further west along London Road. Both pubs had been operated by Seabrooke & Sons Ltd. of Grays. The Whitbread family may have taken up residence at Purfleet but it was Seabrooke's that had a monopoly of beer sales in the Thurrock Grays area. The outbuilding on the left looks interesting. I wonder if this was an outdoor toilet, or perhaps a coal shed?
In the aforementioned guide published in 1978, R. M. Smith provided a description of the Ship Inn during this period. He wrote that "the saloon bar, called the Captain's Cabin, is decorated as one might suspect to look like smart ship's quarters. The public is called the Crew's Quarters. The whole pub has recently been decorated and is small and friendly. Darts is very strong here - the pub sports four teams, including a ladies' team." At the bar one could order Crown Bitter and IPA on draught.
Directly opposite The Ship is a footpath with which we thought we could check out St. Clement's Church, a lovely-looking building, so lovely that they used it for the film "Four Weddings and a Funeral." An earlier design from the 12th century featured a round tower nave associated with the Knights Templar, the foundations of which are visible today. We rolled down the public footpath to cross the railway line but much to our dismay the crossing was closed for work by Network Rail. So, all I can do is feature a photograph by Kenneth Yarham showing the exterior and adjacent Procter & Gamble works. Encyclopaedias could use Kenneth's image to illustrate the meaning of juxtaposition. What a hideous contrast. The only redeeming fact being that the company financed restoration work of the church which had fallen into some decay.
Back to the London Road and heading east it is not too many wheel revolutions until the Old Shant comes into view. This is another former Seabrooke's house in which the beer choice was better back in the old days. The old beer house was then known as the Club House. It was still early in the morning so I was unable to venture inside this pub to quiz the landlord about the name of the place. In the early 1890s the premises, which traded as an off-licence and shop, was listed as the Club House. However, in June 1894 the Southend Standard and Essex Weekly Advertiser featured an article detailing a theft from the premises with a headline of "The Burglary at The Shant." In the report Albert Parry, grocer and beer retailer, was detailed as running the Club House. So, the two names were prevalent in the late Victorian period. The journalist stated that a window pane of the shop had been removed and a large box of biscuits taken from the window display. The thief emptied the contents of the box into his pockets but was seen by a watchman called Horton who reported him to the police. Constable Davey apprehended Daniel Greig, a man of no fixed address, after he found biscuit crumbs in his pockets. Instead of asking why the vagrant was so hungry that he stole biscuits to survive, the magistates committed him for trial at the Assizes.
The off-licence eventually became a tavern. I imagine that acts of benevolence by the local brewers such as providing land for a new library resulted in favourable decisions by the magistrates. Once again, we are fortunate that Charrington's sent a photographer to record the property acquired as part of their takeover of Seabrooke & Sons Ltd. in 1929. This is how the Club House looked during the following year. Though more substantial than the neighbouring row of terraced houses, it would appear that the old shop following the same building line and that the premises was extended to the road in the early 20th century. Note the tramway and derelict building to the rear of the property, a legacy of the old Thames Works that produced Portland cement. The tramway divided the old off-licence from the land of Home Farm. In the 21st century two tracks still follow the lines of the tramway up to a messy site filled with shipping containers.
It was a relief to escape from London Road and head back to the river. However, in addition to seeing some old pubs, the journey along the main road meant that we could avoid the awful path around the Proctor & Gamble site. The route back to the Thames is along Wouldham Road and over the railway line. The path here is good tarmac and in no time at all we rolled up to a pub we had cycled past the previous evening in our journey to beer excellence at Grays. We saw a decent crowd sat outside this pub on the previous evening, patrons that are less fussy about decent cask beer and happy to sup on Doom Bar or lager. I get the impression that the fortunes of this nice old building could be transformed with a bit of TLC. UPDATE: This pub has been refurbished and improved since our cycle journey.
Cyclists look down on The Wharf as it nestles below the wall designed to harness the rising tide in this section of the River Thames. On the other side of the wall there is a stub of land encased in iron and steel. This is the remains of a short pier that was connected to Grays Chalk Quarries and brick works via a tramway. Just to the east of the tavern, where an apartment block now stands, there was a large malthouse. To the west of the pub, from where we had just cycled in front of rows of apartment blocks, there was the extensive Grays Portland Cement Works. As a result the old building sat amid a noisy industrial environment. Even after the closure of the cement works the landscape to the west of the pub was a terrible eyesore. Indeed, the derelict buildings and general state of desolation resulted in the site being used as a set for "The Guns of Loos," war film.
The creation of the piers for the tramway, along with a dedicated wharf for the cement works, resulted in the name of the tavern changing to the Wharf Hotel. Up until large scale industry of the 19th century, the old tavern was known as the Sailors' Return Inn. But even this was a change from the Jolly Sailor, the inn sign under which the pub traded in the 18th century.
The large malthouse was probably an expansion of a business operated by John Crib in the late 18th century. He was documented as a corn porter and victualler of the Jolly Sailor. It is thought that he also operated a hop kiln so no doubt the tavern was retailing ales produced from the output of the maltings and kiln. Oh, to be able to journey back in time when there was little development on the Thames and to be able to sit alongside a tranquil riverside drinking a beer made by the Crib family.
By the 1820s William Tolhurst was the landlord of the riverside tavern. His name would become known throughout the county following a violent disturbance in the pub. It was one evening in December 1824 that the publican, after nipping out on business, returned to the pub to find a man named Davis quarrelling with his wife. William Tolhurst attempted to turf him out of the pub but was struck by the drunken imbiber. The publican sent for the constable but before the officer could get to the tavern Davis continued his attack on William Tolhurst. The affray brought the pair towards the fireplace and the publican picked up a poker and struck Davis on the head. A newspaper report stated that Davis, "instead of treating the consequences with due caution, continued to riot and get drunk insomuch that inflammation is supposed to have ensued, and he died." At the inquest the coroner committed the publican for trial on a charge of killing and slaying Davis. This was not a period in which one would relish a day in court. In 1825 other local men were receiving seven year sentences for poaching. Two men were sentenced to death for burglary, a fate with the hangman that awaited John Croaker who had been arrested for horse stealing. However, the jury found William Tolhurst not guilty and he was acquitted. I imagine that patrons of the Sailor's Return, as the pub was then known, were a little wary of the poker-wielding landlord, or at least opted not to sit next to the fireplace before hurling any abuse in his direction.
The presence of a dead body in the Sailor's Return was a fairly regular occurrence as many a poor soul that had drowned in the river was brought into the pub before an inquest was held by the coroner. Most deaths were accidents or misadventure, some were suicides. One inquest in December 1838, on the body of 17 year-old John Sills of Maidstone, was held in the Sailor's Return after he was picked out of the water by William Wyles of Queenhithe. The inquest had to be adjourned four times before the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against Captain Parker, of the brig Jarrow, "by whom the barge Maria, skippered by Captain Harmer Wood, was run down in Long Reach. John Sills was onboard the barge and was drowned. It appeared that the brig came improperly down mid-channel against the tide, with the anchor hanging to the chain instead of being catted or fished or hung awash, a fact proved by James Hodsell, of Yalding, the mate, and several witnesses."
As we rolled away from The Wharf I wondered how many boats were sunk in the River Thames and just how many fragments of the vessels are embedded in the mud.
From The Wharf it is only 280 metres to West Wharf, though there is little of interest. As the cycle path weaves around the old wharf, one can try to imagine that there was once a long pier here that extended beyond the blackshelf and mud, connected via a tramway to the quarries. A ferry service also operated from the pier from the 1840s. After another 300 metres we came to the main wharf, known as Town Wharf. Like most people, I am referring to the town simply as Grays though, historically, it was known as Grays Thurrock. The name is thought to commemorate Henry de Grey, Lord of the Manor of Thurrock in the late 12th century, following its seizure by the King from Josce, grandson of Josce the Rabbi. Grays Thurrock became a small port and only grew in importance with industrialisation during the 19th century. It subsequently became a hive of activity with all manner of goods being brought in and sent to other parts of the UK and mainland Europe. It is sad that there are no relics of the Victorian age which would provide the visitor with some tangible evidence of the commerce that made Grays such a busy hub. Sad too, that much of the medieval High Street has vanished. I covered our previous evening's visits to the excellent White Hart and neighbouring Theobald Arms.
There is no way around Tilbury Port along the river bank so do not waste time attempting to follow a path. There is a fence with police notices warning the public not to attempt gaining entry.
Our route out of town took us along Bridge Road where, on the corner of William Street, we came across the forlorn-looking Bricklayers' Arms. I was rather surprised to see it had the livery of Brakspear's. Having closed down, the pub looks a bit of a mess but there was still a lovely inn sign hanging from the corner of the building. It was therefore essential that I almost got myself run over in order to take a photograph of the signboard. Featuring a bricklayer hard at it with his trowel, the signboard bears the motto Castello Fortier Concordia, meaning "Peace is stronger than a fortress," hence the illustrations in the background. This motto is used within the Coat-of-Arms of Northampton and was first recorded in 1617. I expected to see the motto of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers' which is "In God is all our trust, let us never be confounded." The earliest reference to this Company is in 1416, though records show that a Guild representing the crafts was in already in existence. A Charter was granted to the Company in 1568. I wondered if there was a Northampton connection with Grays but I see that William Peverel, Lord of the Manor after the Norman invasion, is associated with Nottingham. The Manor later passed to the Ferrers family, earls of Derby. Henry de Grey, the man who the settlement is named after, seems to have no connection either. I am puzzled.
I generally have a pang of sadness whenever I see a pub in this state, a sight that has become far too familiar in the 21st century. The Thurrock Gazette reported on a fire in the former Bricklayers' Arms during 2017. The fire brigade were quickly on the scene and extinguished the flames. It was only when the smoke had dissipated that the fire crew found a homeless man on the first floor. It was thought that the fire had started from a discarded cigarette.
Thanks to the Charrington archive, we can see the Bricklayers' Arms in happier times and looking rather resplendent. Notice the faux-marble pilasters, probably made of Vitrolite, a popular material used during the inter-war years. The name of the licensee, E. C. Golden, can be seen above the Bridge Road entrance. This was Edith Clara Golden who was landlady after the death of her husband John. Indeed, the Golden family kept this house for generations. They were originally tenants of Seabrooke & Sons Ltd., the brewery being a very short distance away. So, as one can see, most of the public-houses passed on this journey through the Thurrock area were operated by this firm, the exception being The Wharf which was an Ind Coope pub.
It was the Norfolk-born bricklayer Francis Golden who was responsible for the tavern's name. He moved to Grays by the early 1860s and worked as a bricklayer. He built a family business as a builder helped by his sons. In 1881 he employed nine men and three boys, by which time he was also operating a beer shop and off-licence that he had named in celebration of his trade. It was quite common for different trades to be clustered in particular areas of a town and many public-houses were named to celebrate this. This not only helped to foster a local identity but encouraged customer loyalty from the local residents - a sound economic decision for many a publican.
Francis Golden died in 1887 and was succeeded by his son John. Unlike his brother James who, like their father, had become a bricklayer, John Golden was a joiner by trade. He married Edith Tye in March 1898. He became a councillor for Grays. He also improved the simple boozer and in 1900 was advertising "the most comfortable club-room in Grays," along with a committee room for meetings. He served on the council for three decades and for three years was a member of the County Council. He was largely responsible for the creation of a beach at Grays and the provision of a public park. Successful in business he left a fair amount in his will to Edith when he died in 1921. She subsequently became the licensee of the Bricklayers' Arms until the Second World War. In 1941 she handed over the reins to her son John who remained as licensee for over two decades. It is very rare to stumble upon a boozer that was kept by the same family for a century.
On the Dock Road we came to another Ship Inn, this one being in Little Thurrock as opposed to the building at West Thurrock. It looked as though the building had recently been refurbished and the frontage tidied up somewhat. I believe the pub operated by Punch Taverns had closed for a period so it must have re-opened shortly before we cycled along Dock Road. Of course, this is not the original Ship Inn, the older tavern dated back a couple of hundred years. It was documented in 1818 when Edward Lees was the licensee. He and his wife Susan kept the house for a generation. He was hauled before the Bench at the Billericay Petty Sessions in July 1839 on a charge of short measuring his customers. An officer entered the premises and found that many of the pewter jugs used in the Ship Inn were not stamped and did not hold the correct measure of ale. He was also charged with having several weights in his possession that were lighter than the stated in weight. The publican was fined heavily and his illegitimate wares seized. Abraham Turp, licensee of the nearby Bull, who also traded as a butcher, was no better for he was fined at the same Sessions for light weights and having a piece of lead affixed to his scales. What a pair of scoundrels, robbing their regular patrons and neighbours.
When Edward Lees died in 1847, the licence of the Ship Inn passed to his wife Susan. However, the elderly widow was a prime target for robbers seeking easy prey. Two such reprobates, Thomas Brown and Eliza Ramsey, the latter from Rochford, called into the Ship Inn for a drink in March 1849 and, after scoping the premises and sussing out the landlady's situation, returned in the night and burgled the property. The robbery was one of several they committed in the locality but the law caught up with them and they were committed for trial.
The Ship Inn was used for many coroner's inquests during the 19th century. Some were for tragic accidents but on some occasions there were sinister circumstances surrounding the death of somebody found in the marshes or woodland close to the pub. For example, in November 1906 the body of an unknown man was found in Hangman's Wood by James Goodman, a resident of Grays. He reported the matter to the police and Constable Snowling went to woods and carried the body to the Ship Inn where he was laid out for the inquest. A revolver was found near to the spot where the body was found. On searching his body inside the pub it was found that his pockets contained money and a watch which led to the conclusion that the man, thought to be from Tilbury, had committed suicide. He was one of several who committed such acts in Little Thurrock. The name of Hangman's Wood suggests that at least one execution was undertaken there. The woodland is noted for a number of deneholes which may have attracted those wishing to end their days by throwing themselves into the deep excavations. Today, they afford a priceless habitat for a number of bat species.
From the church it is less than 300 metres to The Bull, an interesting-looking building with a uninteresting beer and food offer. This place had a good old punch-up in 2018, a mass brawl that kick-started a police investigation. It would appear that the operators, Heybar, have given the place a lick of paint and are pitching at patrons less inclined to kick-off. The marketing sloganeers have been at work on the frontage with "Gather, Guzzle, Graze" but I much prefer the paint-job of Seabrooke & Sons Ltd, though I am puzzled by the Thorrock Ales?
The twin-gambrel roof is unusual but has not seemingly earned the building any listed status. It is certainly a tavern of some antiquity. Nathaniel Cramphorne was the landlord in the 1820s. He was succeeded by the aforementioned Abraham Turp, the scoundrel of the scales who cheated his customers with the use of dodgy weights in the butchery side of his business. He was also convicted of assault against Thomas Strickland in February 1840. Richard Ashbee, landlord in the late 1860s, was even more intemperate. In August 1869 he was charged with being drunk and riotous in the village. In the same year he was charged with resisting Police-Constables William Saward and John Front while in the execution of their duty in apprehending two men charged with felony at Little Thurrock. As a consequence the magistrates refused to renew his licence at the following Sessions.
Forced to sell up, Richard Ashbee had already set in motion the detachment of the farming business attached to The Bull. In September 1869 he instructed an auctioneer to sell his interests in the land adjoining. The advertisement shows that The Bull was part of a farming enterprise and probably the reason for the inn sign rather than any religious or sporting link.
It was time to head back towards the river and the safest route was via Marshfoot Road and south on Saint Chad's Road. This follows an older lane that led from the site of Saint Chad's Well. Tilbury is an ancient place where Roman artefacts have been discovered. However, it did not exist as a town until the arrival of the railway and the construction of the docks, the latter attracting thousands of people seeking employment. The early housing was of a very poor standard and was not improved until after the First World War. Any improvements were largely ruined by German bomber planes in World War 2 and large scale unemployment following the mechanisation of the docks. It is now ranked as one of the worst places to live in Essex. I have to admit parts of the place look pretty grim.
We turned into the Civic Square in order to get some cash, water and snacks. The sight of The Anchor seemed to exemplify the downward spiral of the new town pipe dream to that of crushed hope and dilapidation. The insalubrious appearance of the exterior conveys an impression that there is no redemption, despite the fact that the interior has been converted into a church. By the time we rolled up to the building it had been more than a decade since the last pints were poured in The Anchor. Last orders were called and the landlord handed the licence back to the authorities following a series of ugly incidents throughout 2009. Essex Police had been called out on more than twenty occasions during the year. In one incident a customer died after being beaten up when he walked out of the pub. On another occasion two men confronted each other in The Anchor which led to a stabbing in the Civic Square. Inevitably, local residents were afraid to patronise The Anchor and not even the involvement of Wetherspoon's could turn things around.
This photograph of The Anchor was taken in 1927, the year after the pub opened for business. The custodians of the new public-house in the late 1920s and early 1930s were Frank and Eleanor Morant. The couple later kept Ye Olde King's Arms in the City of London. Given the pub's final chapter of violent behaviour, it is interesting to note that it was only months after opening that The Anchor featured in the press due to a fight outside the premises. In the following year an Irish docker was hauled before the magistrates after a 'disagreement' with the publican. When the police came to arrest him it was noted that he was bleeding from the head after having fought with another Irishman in The Anchor. Reginald Hollingsbee was running The Anchor with his wife Rosina in the late 1930s when he ended up in court for allowing unlawful games in the bar. During the court case it was reported that two regular customers were holding raffles for ten bob notes. They would have as many as forty punters trying to win the money, enough in those days to ensure a few nights on the pop.
Before leaving the square we paused at the war memorial which, like the memorial we saw on the previous day at Rainham, this also serves as a clock tower. Unveiled on the day before Remembrance Sunday in 1934, the memorial commemorates 156 local servicemen who died during the First World War, along with the names of those who were killed in the Second World War. One person who died in Malaya in 1950 and another from the Falklands Conflict of 1982 have also been added.
From the Civic Square, it is a short cycle ride along Calcutta Road to the junction of Dock Road and Broadway where the former Ship Hotel stands. Although the building had served as the post-office in recent years, the building looks a bit of mess compared to the neat edifice created by Charrington's. The licensee at the time of this photograph was Edward Nattrass who managed the Ship Hotel with his wife Margaret. They both hailed from County Durham.
In April 1899 a serious affray with armed burglars occurred at the Ship Hotel. It was reported that "about one o'clock a barman named Digby was sitting up, awaiting the return of another barman, the house being closed, when he heard the chink of money in the bar. He went thither, and saw a couple of burglars at work on the till. Edward Digby pluckily rushed forward to seize the men, but in the struggle was quickly overcome, and one of the men, drawing a revolver, fired twice at him, the shots entering the left side. Before an alarm could raised, the burglars got clear away, taking £7 odd in cash." A follow-up report stated that Edward Digby "has been progressing favourably, but no clue has been obtained to the identity of the perpetrators." The Grays & Tilbury Gazette stated that: "We understand that Harry Reed, the manager of the Hotel, has tendered his resignation to the brewers and owners of the house, Seabrooke & Sons Ltd., this having been brought about in great part by the shock to Mrs. Reed of the accumulation of unfortunate occurrences, of which the burglary and shooting have served as the climax." One of these "unfortunate occurrences" was the death of another customer who was put out of the Ship Hotel for playing up, a case which saw the publican facing questions in court over the incident. Before I visited Tilbury I was aware of how it was viewed as a dangerous place but, after reading through old newspapers for stories regarding its public-houses, it would seem that it twas ever thus.
This map extract dated 1897 shows that there was a footbridge from Dock Road that led to the Canteen. There was also the Basin Tavern next to a steam laundry further towards the dry docks. There was another boozer called the Diamond Jubilee in Sydney Road and, for those who had a few extra quid in their pockets, there was the Tilbury Hotel close to the tidal basin. Even that hostelry was not immune from crime as the landlady was robbed of her jewellery in January 1890. In August 1907 a the neck of a man was slashed with a razor during a fight in the bar. Tilbury could have a giant banner next to the river bank with the phrase "Come and have a pint if you think you're hard enough!"
Opposite the Church of Saint John the Baptist on Dock Road there is a cycle path that crosses the railway via a footbridge and connects to Ferry Road where it is a short distance to the old railway station and baggage hall, both of which are discussed above. From Fort Road one can see the landing stage and enjoy a view across the River Thames to Gravesend. It was because of the short distance between the two river banks at this point that a ferry service operated in earlier times, certainly by the late 16th century but probably much earlier.
During the First World War, a pontoon bridge was built across the river, creating vehicular access from Tilbury to Gravesend. It was quite an undertaking but facilitated the transportation of military equipment to Kent and onwards to the south coast. Tugs were used to remove the centre sections to allow shipping to pass, an operation that could take several hours - or more during choppy waters. Indeed, the bridge may have had limited hours in which it was practical to use given the rising tides of the Thames. The German military no doubt learned of the bridge but if they were unaware of the undertaking it was certainly reported by Gunther Plüschow, the only German prisoner-of-war in World War I to escape from Britain back to his homeland. The aviator, whose escapades make him comparable to Indiana Jones, snuck on board a boat leaving Tilbury docks bound for the Netherlands.
I took this photograph of the landing stage from the site of World's End Wharf, now the pub car park. There was once a causeway here at the wharf. By the way there is no charge for bicycles should one want to make the river crossing on the ferry which runs every 30 minutes. We had no time for such folly as we were already falling behind our loose schedule. We had lots to see and do before cycling to Southend in time for bed. Besides our immediate concern was the tavern with the enigmatic inn sign.
A road south from West Tilbury across the marshes led to an ancient ferry to Gravesend that, in the 16th century, was under the ownership of the Lord of the Manor of Parrock in Milton-next-Gravesend. Inhabitants of the mashes were few and far between in those times, the land given over to sheep grazing. A larger ferry boat may have transported livestock as there was a market that endured until Victorian times. In the 19th century the market was held just to the north of the World's End pub. The remoteness of the area in the 16th and 17th centuries is the possible reason for such an inn sign. However, as a place offering refreshment to the weary traveller, the original building next to the ferry was called the Suttling House, due to its proximity to Tilbury Fort. In 1631 the Commissioner for Ordnance reported: "No man lodgeth within the Fort but the Master-Gunner, who keepeth a victualling house for fisherfolks near adjoining, a disparagement of His Majesty's Services."
Some, indeed many, claim that the tavern, thought to have been known as The Lamb and also The Ferry House, changed the sign after a visit by Samuel Pepys who it is claimed said: "this place is like the end of the world." Compared to the bustle of the City of London, no doubt Tilbury was rather desolate but I am not buying it, largely because there has been, I believe, a misinterpretation of his last diary entry of Monday 31st May, 1669 ... "And thence had another meeting with the Duke of York, at White Hall, on yesterday's work, and made a good advance: and so, being called by my wife, we to the Park, Mary Batelier, and a Dutch gentleman, a friend of hers, being with us. Thence to "The World's End," a drinking-house by the Park; and there merry, and so home late." And so, all across the Internet and in print people have made the connection to this remote tavern on the Thames. However, the clue is in the word Park, a reference probably to Hyde Park near to which was an old tavern and noted house of entertainment called the World's End in the time of the diarist. However, it is true that the old soak and party animal visited Grays Thurrock four years earlier in September 1665 and took a boat from there to Gravesend. But who am I trying to let the truth get in the way of a good story!
I am not sure of the exact age of the present World's End. When the building was listed in 1974 it was stated that the weather-boarded house was late 17th or early 18th century, with 19th century additions and alterations. In stark contrast with the immediate surroundings that includes a scaffolding yard, the building looks very neat. This is probably a legacy of a fire in the 1990s which caused considerable damage to the property. Unfortunately for us, the place was not open so we could not venture inside. Mind you, having seen photographs of the interior on other websites I do not think we missed out on a pub jewel. Several refurbishments have done for the old ambience, compounded by a pool table and games machines. Worst of all, the pub does not sell any draught beer. Photographs of the servery do not show any handpulls. For such a tavern this is very poor, verging on disgraceful.
This photograph was taken for Charrington's in 1930. You will not be surprised to learn that, like many of the public-houses in the Grays Thurrock area we have visited, this tavern also formed part of the tied-estate of Seabrooke & Sons Ltd.
The aforementioned livestock and agricultural market was taken up by William Creed, landlord of the World's End from the late 1820s until his death in 1847. He was seemingly a larger-than-life character who made a determined bid to create a popular destination pub next to Tilbury Fort.
It would be interesting to know what William Creed thought about the plan to open a floating bridge from the World's End to Gravesend, particularly as, in 1844, he was recorded as the owner of the existing ferry service. It was in March of that year that a fatal accident took place on the river. The Essex Standard reported that the ferry-boat belonging to the publican left the jetty next to the tavern in the charge of two men, named Bailey and Howard, who were carrying two passengers. The sail was made fast, and a sudden squall upset the boat which was some distance from the jetty from where the accident was observed. The boatmen of Gravesend, it was reported, "vied with each other in their efforts to reach the spot, but before any assistance could be afforded Bailey and Howard, who were dressed in fishermens' heavy boots and linen petticoat trousers, were seen to relax their hold of the boat and sink. The passengers were, however, taken up, but in an exhausted state, and conveyed to the Three Daws public-house, at Gravesend." The two men who drowned were inhabitants of Gravesend and married. Bailey's wife was pregnant at the time, and had three children wholly unprovided for."
The ferry may not have been operational had another plan come to anything. In his Romance of Essex Inns, Glyn H. Morgan wrote: "in 1798 it was proposed to connect the two banks of the Thames by tunnel. To advance this project a public meeting was held in Gravesend with Earl Darnley in the chair. A resolution was passed that a tunnel be built to connect Gravesend with the Tilbury shore. Money was actually subscribed, but, like many a beautiful bubble, the good resolution burst."
Assisting his father in the business, John Creed organised a race meeting on the marshes next to the World's End in April 1845, including one event in which a man competed against a horse in a hurdles race. The prospect of such a spectacle drew a very large audience. It was reported that "crowds of persons continually embarked from the Kentish ferry for the opposite shore, and so judiciously were the arrangements made on water and land that Mr. J. Creed, proprietor of the World's End Tavern and Ferry, received the deserved approbation of all present." By the way, the horse only just about won by half a yard!
At this time trade at the World's End was so busy that the family employed four servants. Another event to draw a crowd was held in April 1843. An information board close to the sea wall mentions the events after a pigeon shoot held outside, followed by a meal and drinks inside the tavern. I was intrigued to learn more about the violent clash inside the World's End so found the article in the Essex Standard that reported on the events. It was stated that "a quarrel took place at the World's End between some countrymen and a party of soldiers. At one time between 70 and 80 of the latter were in the affray, armed with bayonets, pokers, and other weapons, but the countrymen kept "them at bay until the arrival of a strong picquet from the Fort. Several of the countrymen were much hurt, and 11 soldiers were so much injured that it was necessary to send them to the Hospital. During the affray the soldiers procured ladders, and entered the window of an upper room, in which a party were dining who had been shooting in a pigeon match, and one or two of the party were very roughly handled."
The remoteness of the marshes meant that it could be a dangerous place to traverse, particularly as one was likely to run into drunken soldiers from the fort. In March 1846 three soldiers from the 95th Regiment of Foot, James Harding, John Conolly and Felix McKeone, were charged with raping Elizabeth Aldred, wife of James Aldred the village blacksmith in nearby West Tilbury. They had spent the Sunday at the riverside and called into the World's End for refreshments. On their way home when they encountered the soldiers on the marshes. The men had been drinking at the King's Head in West Tilbury and had an air of malevolence. They assaulted the blacksmith with a stick, knocking him senseless. Harding and McKeone then assaulted Elizabeth Aldred. Her husband rallied and attempted to come to her aid but the men brutally attacked him again. Elizabeth Aldred made her way back to West Tilbury in the belief that her husband had been killed. The police went in search of the men who had gone to the World's End trying to board the ferry. They had missed the 9pm tattoo at the Fort and were subsequently arrested. At their trial the judge, Lord Denman, stated that they had been convicted of "an offence of a diabolical character, attended by circumstances most atrocious, and almost unparalleled." He wished that he could sentence them to death but, as the blacksmith survived the assault, he could only sentence them to transportation for life. The soldiers were taken to the gaol at Springfield where they twice attempted to escape. They were amongst the 200 men who were transported to Norfolk Island in May 1846, the place reserved for the worst description of convicts.
It would be easy to create a whole website devoted to the World's End as the number of incidents at the pub are so numerous. However, we must move on otherwise we won't get to Southend before last orders. I will just mention the storm of January 1881 in which only one of seven yachts moored outside the pub remained afloat. The back part of the pub was destroyed, an upper storey of two rooms being blown down completely to the ground. So, whatever date the tavern was constructed, some of the building is Victorian.
In our bid to stay close to the water, and after cycling along some of the grotty industrial areas, we were looking forward to riding along a greener route towards Coalhouse Fort, a couple of kilometres to the east. But hang on, it is only 300 metres from the pub to the Water Gate of the more famous Tilbury Fort. As part of his Device programme, the construction of an earlier fort was ordered by King Henry VIII to assist in the protection of London against attack from France. The authorities nerves were on edge again during the conflict with the Spanish Armada so the fort was improved in the late 16th century. To appreciate the fort it is probably best viewed from the air and thanks to Mervyn Rands a fine view has been made available to all ...
This aerial view shows the star-shaped bastioned works with double moats that gave superior fire in defence and maximum difficulty for an enemy to penetrate in the centre of the fortress. In the 1870s earth was mounded up outside some of the bastions to protect the fort against the heavier guns then being deployed. An information board informs the visitor of a mock attack carried out in 1798 when four divisions of men, guns and ammunition wagons landed on the Essex shore under heavy cannon fire to launch an assault on the defence network. Grenadier Guard redcoats stormed the fort and redoubts to the delight of the thousands of spectators. The crowd then probably stormed the World's End which no doubt enjoyed bumper trade.
The route to Coalhouse Fort forms part of the Two Forts Way trail, itself a section of the Thames Estuary Path. Leaving Tilbury Fort, the path is smooth-ish tarmac on top of the sea wall. However, although I knew it would be pleasant along the East Tilbury Marshes, I could see the impending power station and sewage works was going to present something of a problem. By the way, I used a Google image for this section and it is dated 2015. When we cycled along here some years later the power station was being slowly dismantled and undergoing demolition. The towers of the B station were demolished a couple of years before our trip.
The path meanders in a little at the mouth of Bill Meroy Creek. Formerly known as Pincock's Creek, the name was changed in the 18th century to that of a local cattle farmer who, I assume, worked the land of Marsh Farm. The creek marked the point where tax was payable on coal being transported to London from the northern minefields. There used to be a building on the riverside known as the coal factor lookout and signal post. It was positioned close to the sea wall on top of a concrete searchlight emplacement from around 1904. The look out collected data of coal loads arriving by shop for delivery to the London wharves. Inevitably, this led to the development of a coal wharf further along the river in order to avoid the tax - hence the name of Coalhouse Point.
Here are the steps over the sea defences near the power station. Although the path is primarily for walkers, the steps do have a ramp or channel for cyclists to wheel their bikes over the obstacle. In theory that is - try pushing a fully-laden touring bike up one of those steep channels. Moreover the channel for bike wheels is too close to the railings of the steps so pannier bags will just not fit in such a tight space. There was nothing for it, I carried our bikes over the obstacle. The sea defences here are vital. It was a breach in the sea wall here through which flood waters inundated Tilbury in 1953. I will discuss the terrible floods later on in this journey.
Once over the steps there is a concrete surface just about wide enough to cycle along and underneath the pier on which coal was fed into the power station. Plans for the site to be converted into Tilbury2 Port were advanced by the time of our trip so I imagine some form of pier will still be necessary. Perhaps this old pier will go and, if so, I can add it to our list of 'lost' sightings on the route.
After the pier and sea wall the route deteriorates to a dirt track but it is perfectly cyclable on road tyres. This continues until the heavy lorry crossing where huge dumper trucks transport landfill from barges arriving at the pontoon and jetty pier. And here was me thinking we would be in greener territory. In fact, the East Tilbury Marshes have been used as London's dumping ground for decades. In places coastal erosion has resulted in rubbish and other dangerous forms of waste leaking into the River Thames. Anybody dipping their toes into the water along this part of the Essex shore needs their head examining. I felt a little contaminated just by riding past the pontoon and jetty where an endless supply of household waste arrives on barges. London residents have their own Omertà code over the issue in that they see the barges heading downstream but close their eyes to it and dare not mention it to their neighbours. It looked to my untrained eye that the lorries were transporting ash from the demoliton work being done at the power station. Nice.
After the lorry crossing point things get nice and smooth again with tarmac under the wheels. As we were approaching the East Tilbury Radar Tower we saw a woman with two children rummaging on the water's edge. They can be seen in this photograph scouring the mud and rock on the foreshore. I suspected that they were mudlarking but I stopped just to confirm. They seemed to be having fun but I wondered about their sanity considering the nearby landfill site. Ironically, not long before our cycle trip Lara Maiklem had just published "Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames" and we were fresh from listening to the audio version on Radio 4, a lovely account of discovering treasure or 'old stuff.' We wished them well and pedalled on.
The radar tower was built in the Second World War. This was top secret stuff at the time so the structure was marked as a water tower on maps. Octagonal in shape, the tower was operated by the Royal Navy. Some form of accommodation was in the lower part of the structure, alongside the power plant and electrical equipment. The upper part of the tower contained the aerial array which I believe was used to detect minefield activity, hence it being staffed by the Royal Navy rather than the Royal Air Force.
Close to the radar tower there is a fork in the track and we turned left and headed to the Engine Room Café of Coalhouse Fort. To be honest we were dying for a cuppa, the bonus being that they also sell huge wodges of cake. I suppose being as he is in the photograph, I ought to introduce you to our duck who is like a blinkin' limpet and demands that we take him everywhere. His name is Lance, is a total git and disparaging towards everyone and everything. When we took him to Pisa he said that the tower was a pile of shit and demanded to see the idiot who put in the foundations. He demands cake and beer wherever we go and we have been stuck with him for a couple of decades. Feel our pain fellow travellers.
Piling into the café before looking at the fort is not such a bad tactic. There is a wealth of information dotted around the room so it is a good introduction to the site whilst enjoying a mug of tea. Courtesy of the local government site, I have also included an aerial photograph of the fortification as it provides an excellent visual tour d'horizon of Coalhouse Fort. Built between 1861 and 1874 due to tensions with the French, the fort replaced older defences to the south-east of the parish church. The final phases of construction were supervised by Colonel Charles George Gordon of Gravesend, the old soldier who later died in the siege Khartoum. No sooner had the fort been completed the guns were obsolete. In subseqent years the fort was adapted to support smaller quick-firing guns that were more effective against fast-moving surface and aerial targets.
With further development of ship design and weapon technology in the late 19th century, a battery of four quick-fire guns were installed to the south of the fort closer to the river. A battery of six long-range breech-loading 'disappearing' guns were also built to the north of the parish church. This battery was concealed behind a defensive bank which made it almost invisible to enemy ships.
During the First World War Coalhouse Fort operated as an Examination Service Battery. The wooden Victorian warship, HMS Champion, was moored in the river to help check incoming ships. Gunners from the Royal Garrison Artillery were instructed to fire across the bow of any ship that failed to stop for inspection. London Electrical Engineers operated the searchlights and maintained the engines.
During the Second World War two 5.5 inch naval guns from HMS Hood and Bofors anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the roof, new searchlights were installed and the radar tower constructed. During this conflict the fort's role was to protect the ports and docks of London from raids by cruisers and torpedo boats. It also operated a degaussing station, known as HMS St. Clement. Sensors submerged in the river checked that the magnetic fields of outbound ships were sufficiently neutralised for them to be undetectable by German magnetic mines.
A centrepiece display inside the café is the base on which three Hornsby-Akroyd oil engines were installed, powering dynamos which generated electricity for the fort's searchlights during the First World War. In the 1930s these were replaced by a single Crossley engine which powered the searchlights throughout the Second World War.
Coalhouse Fort was decommissioned in 1949, the buildings later being used as a store for the local shoe factory [more on this enterprise later]. The fort and surrounding land was acquired and developed into a public park by the council, though the fort became derelict. In 1985 the fort was leased to a voluntary preservation group, the Coalhouse Fort Project, and with the help of a grant from the National Lottery, restored the complex. Further funding was secured from Warner Bros. when the film studio used Coalhouse Fort as a location for the opening scenes of "Batman Begins."
We finished off our visit to Coalhouse Fort by circumnavigating the site alongside the ditch. This brought us around to Saint Catherine's Church, historically recorded with a 'K,' but formerly dedicated to Saint Margaret. The above photograph shows the stump of the church tower, a part of the building with an interesting story, though some of it may be folklore rather than fact. Somebody somewhere must have stated that the original tower was destroyed during the second Anglo-Dutch war when ships, under the command of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, raided the shores of England in 1667. This account has been compounded through its inclusion in many articles and books. However, in more recent times some doubt has been raised on the matter largely because ecclesiastical records suggest that the church was rather dilapidated by the 17th century and, as a result, the tower may have simply collapsed. The Dutch fable may be more fanciful but it is preferable to the Walter Mitty within me.
The base of a new tower seen above was the work of the No.2 Company, London Electrical Engineers from the neighbouring Coalhouse Fort. With work commencing in 1917, their plan was to completely rebuild the tower as a memorial to those who had been killed in the First World War. Unfortunately, the work was halted by a combination of the military top brass, local authorities and church administrators, possibly because the proper forms had not been submitted and approved. Whatever the reason, this must have been dented the morale of those engaged in the work. The surviving stump of the tower new houses the vestry.
East Tilbury is an ancient settlement and, despite parts of the parish church dating back to the 12th century, there was an even older place of worship dedicated to Saint Cidd that stood on ground now under the present water level of the river. Of greater antiquity were the English-Romano hut circles discovered in the mud during 1920 when there was an extrordinary drop in the water level. These were dated to the first or second century. Don-t go looking for them as they are apparently lost under a landfill site.
St. Catherine's Church is constructed in flint and rubble, along with some Roman and medieval brickwork and Reigate dressings. The Nave and North Aisle of the church were constructed in the 12th century. The Chancel dates from the following century but was possibly a rebuild. The church was re-dedicated in the early-mid 1880s. There are some interesting 20th century additions to the interior, including a Catherine Wheel and a tile fish in the floor by the lecturn.
Just along the road from the church stands The Ship. I think it took me until East Tilbury to realise just how many times we would encounter this inn sign on the journey. We had already visited several on the way to East Tilbury. The pub served two real ales and is popular for its food offer. There are two bars and restaurant or you can sit outside in the beer garden.
For much of the 19th century the Ship Inn was kept by the Archbold family. In the late 1820s Richard and Mary Archbold were in charge of the house. There was no competition for trade in East Tilbury, though the George and Dragon was a short distance away at Linford.
In 1846 an inquest was held at the Ship Inn on the body of Josiah Bisby, a former soldier in the 46th Regiment. Serving for some 12 years, including a spell in Belfast, he was discharged from the army after sustaining a leg injury. At the inquest William Hardy, a sergeant in the 46th Regiment, stated that he had known Josiah Bisby since 1834 and regarded him as "uncommonly odd person, a wild, reckless sort of man." He added that Josiah Bisby had once deserted to join the Queen of Spain's service. He encountered Josiah Bisby a few days earlier when he turned up at Tilbury Fort with a revolver looking to shoot another sergeant in the 46th Regiment, a man with whom he held a long-standing grudge. On being told that he was not at the fort, Bisby remained in the area, acting rather oddly. He drank in The Swan at nearby Horndon-on-the-Hill where the publican, Charles Robinson, noted his odd behaviour. He later assaulted and raped Caroline Brooks of the same village and threatened to kill her if she screamed. The police were alerted Constable Joseph Hammond went to Mucking and East Tilbury in search of the former soldier. He and another constable named Cracknell were tipped off that Josiah Bisby was near the saltings. However, when they spotted him and approached the solider held the revolver to his head and shot himself. He did not die until after he was carried to the Ship Inn where a crowd of 30 patrons had a night they never forgot.
In this photograph one can see the older Ship Inn, another house operated by Seabrooke & Sons Ltd., before their acquisition by Charrington's. The old building fronted the lane - I would imagine that the new pub was built behind this tavern whilst it was still trading and then demolished to make room for a car park.
When Coalhouse Fort was being constructed in the 1860s a works was established for the men engaged on the site. Eliza Archbold, publican of the Ship Inn, successfully applied for a licence to sell beer at the works. Perhaps she thought it was better than having a load of construction workers piling into her house.
There were a number of inquests held at the Ship Inn during the Victorian period. These cases dealt with a range of accidents and deaths, some of the unfortunate souls being washed up on the foreshore. Another was held for Sarah Clayton, a local nurse, who fell down the stairs and died from her injuries. There were two separate incidents in which soldiers died after falling from the top of the fort whilst on duty.
This photograph shows The Ship around 1957, not too long after the new building was erected. Check out the model of the sailing ship mounted on the arm of the inn sign. The licensee during this period was a local man, Arthur Gladwell. The licensee of The Ship from the First World War almost until World War 2 was James Henry Purser. He had only just retired when he collapsed whilst enjoying a tipple in a pub at Grays.
Winding the clock back to the Victorian times and, recalling the discussion of Councillor Francis Golden of the Bricklayers' Arms at Grays, I must mention that his elder brother Francis was once the licensee of the Ship Inn during the early 1890s. When he died in 1902 it was reported that "had many friends Grays and the announcement that he had died in the Alfred Bevan Convalescent Home at Sandgate, was received with regret." He had moved to Grays where he became the clerk of the works "in connection with the erection of the Bridge Road Schools, and in his occupation as a foreman bricklayer superintended the erection of many other buildings in Grays and district."
Cycling north-west away from The Ship it was a tadge disappointing to see that many of the old buildings along the main road had disappeared. Opposite Rose Cottage, however, there is an interesting terrace opposite dating from 1837. For those who are so inclined it is possible to trudge through some undergrowth to look at the East Tilbury Battery, otherwise it is around 1.5km to the former Bata shoe factory, now the Bata Heritage Centre. The factory closed in 2005 and fell into some decay but it has been restored as a visitor centre with information on a quite extraordinary story.
The company was founded by the Baťa family in 1894 in what is now the Czech Republic. The firm's rise was meteoric and an innovative business strategy adopted by Tomáš Baťa during the depression after World War One resulted in a massive increase in sales. This led to further factories being opened in other parts of Europe. The clergyman of Tilbury, Reverend William Charles Bown, invited Tomáš Baťa to the village with a view to him opening a factory to alleviate unemployment. Tomáš Baťa went all-in and brought in Czech architects to design a modernist factory and model town. This part of East Tilbury became known as "Bata-ville" where housing was constructed for the workers, along with shopping and leisure amenities.
Of course, I have simplified the story into a couple of paragraphs but it is worth investigating further if you have time on your journey. I have placed a link to the Bata Heritage Centre at the end of these journey notes. Before we headed off we cycled along Bata Avenue and other streets to look at the housing built for those who worked in the shoe factory. We paused at the war memorial erected in honour of the company's employees who died in the Second World War. The large number of people who died was a surprise to us. The Bata Heritage Centre website has details of the individuals who did not return home.
Continuing along Princess Margaret Road, the George and Dragon is on the right-hand side, facing Muckingford Road. It was along this road that, according to Cary's New Itinerary of 1828, the London coach to Southend travelled, having called at Grays Thurrock and Chadwell St. Mary. The licensee of the George and Dragon at that time was William Dorrington who appeared in the Alehouse keepers' recognizances. There was a smithy on the junction which would be handy for travellers needing attention to horse or vehicle. The late 17th century slighty wonky timber-framed house, complete with an original central chimney stack, still stands opposite the pub, though under scaffolding during our visit. Here, we have drifted from East Tilbury into Muckingford and Linford, though the George and Dragon was sometimes listed under East Tilbury. The building seen above is, of course, a 20th century rebuild of the old tavern. The old George and Dragon is thought to have dated from 16th century. Certainly, the building was timber-framed as some of the exposed timbers could be seen by patrons in the 1920s.
The George and Dragon was at the centre of an extraordinary court case in 1892 when the Brown family were running the house. A young woman named Harriet Hindes, 21 years of age, summoned Robert Brown to "show cause why he should not contribute towards the support of an illegitimate child, of whom it was alleged he was the putative father." From the evidence heard in the court it was disclosed that Harriet Hindes was an inmate of the Orsett Workhouse. At the age of 18 she had married but her husband disappeared so she left for Mucking in August 1890 where she took up a live-in servant's position at the George and Dragon. Soon after she moved into the house, she claimed that Robert Brown, son of the licensee William Brown, "was unduly intimate with her on the 16th August, in the kitchen." The court was told that the same thing occurred a great many times. She discovered she was pregnant towards the end of the following February. She she told Robert Brown of her condition, when he did not deny that he was the father of the child who was born on November 10th, 1891. Just before the birth, Robert Brown suddenly left for sea, becoming a trimmer on board the steamship Ormuz, leaving Harriet Hindes in the lurch. She subsequently had to go to the workhouse. This is where things took a greater twist. The Guardians of the Orsett Union Workhouse thought that the father of the child was actually the publican William Brown. They wrote a letter to him stating that if his son came home and denied he was the father then it would be put down to him and that he would lose his licence over the matter. The son, who had returned from sea and placed in the dock denied ever being unduly intimate with Harriet Hindes who also swore she had not been intimate with the publican. Angered that one of them was committing gross purjury, the Chairman made them swear again on oath. He also questioned why Robert Brown had suddenly gone to sea, having no previous experience of the waves. He then called the publican into the dock who deposed that he gave Harriet Hindes notice to leave in consequence of her "unfortunate condition" and there was "not the slightest truth that he had ever been familiar with her." As there was no was no corroborative evidence on behalf of the servant, the Bench were forced to dismiss the case. However, the court hearing caused rumours to spread around the locality. The Brown's left soon afterwards and were succeeded by the Mott family who kept the George and Dragon until the mid-1920s.
Continuing on the East Tilbury Road, the route passes Merryloots Nursing Home, an intrigingly-named former farmhouse. A little further on stands the Methodist Church, erected in 1900 to replace an old mission hall on the opposite side of the road. Soon after, there is a welcome escape from the traffic by turning right on Walton's Hall Lane. This part of the cycle route sees a transition from the modernity of East Tilbury to a landscape punctuated with historic buildings. Moreover it follows in the footsteps of smuggling intrigue. We were heading towards the creeks which, combined with foggy marshland, made the area ideal for avoiding the customs officers and shifting illegal booty, some of which went direct to the taverns. Only the most stoic of publicans possesing high morals and ethics could resist the temptation of cheaper sources of liquor and tobacco.
200 metres along Walton's Hall Lane stands Sutton's Farmhouse, a late 16th century timber-framed house. A little further on is Walton's Hall, built in the 17th century but altered in subsequent years. We turned right onto Mucking Wharf Road and over the railway to the hamlet of Mucking, a microcosm of the UK rural life timeline of the 20th century. We have cycled to some many villages where we see buildings marked The Old Post-Office, The Old Bakery or The Old Police Station, all of which engenders a mourning for the loss of a way of life that will never return. Here in Mucking not only has the shop, school and pub gone, but even the church has gone. Well, strictly speaking, they have not vanished but converted into private residences.
There are legends of smuggling activity at the Crown Inn, a pub also once known as the Crown and Sceptre, though the Excise Board minutes does not mention any landlord up to no good. Then again, the Excise officer was perhaps persuaded with some silver crossing his palm. The above map extract shows just how inviting the terrain was for smugglers, though the wharf may have resulted in the presence of customs officers. However, local legend has it that there was once a tunnel connecting the Crown Inn with Mucking Hall, suggesting that some people were up to mischief.
Unlike bicycles, horses can be an unpredictable mode of transport. I have ridden a horse myself and, due to my height and reach, was allocated a rather large steed. A bit like a bike-fit but on four legs. Well, six if you count mine! Thankfully it turned out that my horse was a placid, even-tempered animal but, whilst I was onboard, I was thinking that he could do almost anything with me sat on him. I had visions of hanging on for dear life as my steed considered himself a contender for the Grand National and aimed at any high hedgerow that took its fancy. J. W. Eagle, resident of Walton's Hall up the lane, had a rather timid creature in 1889 and it took fright of some sheep and threw him off, breaking his leg and causing several other injures. I mention this because in June 1882 the publican of the Crown Inn, William Brown, also had a horse that was a bag of nerves. He had parked up near what was called the subway leading to the river at Tilbury Fort when his pony suddenly took fright. The animal, still attached to a cart, suddenly bolted down the passage, onto a barge, and into the Thames. A report in the Essex Newsman stated that "several people ran after the animal, but too late to stop its mad career. The pony and cart sank in the water." Amazingly, when the pony came to the surface, it managed to extricate itself from tbe cart, which was not recovered. A bad day at the office for William Brown but at least the pony was saved, though exhausted after the ordeal. By the way, this is the aforementioned William Brown who later kept the George and Dragon at Muckingford.
The opening of the Thameside Nature Discovery Park at Mucking Flats and Marshes has resulted in a billiard table surface of tarmac so it was a very nice ride to the visitor centre where we tucked into a pleasant lunch. And what a backdrop in which to enjoy a bit of nosh. The café affords excellent views over Mucking Flats and the Thames Estuary.
The striking visitor centre has a viewing platform on the roof. People can also poke their noses into one of the hides and witness a bit of twitching excitement. The marshes have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Protection Area and is home to a large number of wintering wildfowl and waders. Of technical interest is that the visitor centre was built on hydraulic jacks to prevent it sinking into the underlying rubbish. Yes, it is incredible to think that the Thameside Nature Discovery Park was created on top of half a century's worth of rubbish. Once the gravel was exhausted the large holes were filled in with London's trash. The nature centre was officially opened in May 2013 and they nabbed none other than Sir David Attenborough to cut the ribbon. In his crowd-pleasing tones he stated: "What you have done here ... is a monument to what can be done to restore nature."
The café sells the unusual gifts and tat, along with cuddly toys. We spotted an opportunity to place Lance here so that he could be re-housed with some other saps prepared to put up with his nonsense. However, he intimidated anybody coming to browse the display and then threw a fit. Embarrassed, we had to pick him up and do a runner as though we hadn't paid for our lunch. We went cross-country for our journey back to Mucking. The shale path was a tadge bumpy in places but still fine for road tyres. A thick clay cap was placed on top of the landfill, before the soil was spread and plants established. Apparently, the methane from all the gunk underneath is used to generate electricity.
I knew little of the Mucking Marshes before our cycling journey and whilst it is true that we had an enjoyable experience there is the sceptic within me asking several questions. These include what about all that landfill and any future impact on the environment. Putting a clay lid on top of the gunk is a little bit like putting spent nuclear rods in concrete at the bottom of the sea. One day something very horrible could happen. In the case of this landfill it has been reported that coastal erosion will undermine the clay cap and release toxic waste. I also wonder if some greenwashing has taken place. The visitor centre was apparently funded by Cory Environmental who seem to have come out of the project looking really rosy. However, this is the company that dumped the rubbish in the first place. Nabbing Sir David Attenborough was a coup in terms of PR but did he really know all of the political and environmental issues here? Of course, the whole project could be the best thing since sliced bread. There is no doubt that there has been an increase in plant species - all good news for whitethroat, stonechat and song thrush birds. And, of course, aesthetically speaking, the whole area looks better than it did earlier in the millennium. Something had to be done so why not a nature park? From Mucking Marshes there are excellent views of the London Gateway and oil refineries of Thames Haven. What would the old inhabitants make of the 21st century landscape I wonder?
As the path gets closer to Mucking Creek and heading towards Stanford Warren Nature Reserve the landscape is a little more as it would have been back in the days of the smuggling trade. The saltmarsh, an area of low, flat and poorly drained soil subject to flooding by salt water at high tide, is characterised by a thick mat of grasses or grass-like plants such as sedges and rushes. These days it is not the smuggler one looks out for - the saltmarsh is an important habitat for Marsh Harrier, Bearded Tit, Cetti's Warbler, Bittern, Little Egret and Water Voles. If weight is not an issue with your bike and luggage it is a good idea to pack some small binoculars.
It is possible to cross Mucking Creek and follow a path to Wharf Road but we opted to cycle to Stanford-le-Hope via Butts Lane. There was a temptation to head towards Horndon-on-the-Hill but it is a coastal journey so we have to draw a line somewhere! As part of the once desolate area of Lower Hope, Stanford-le-Hope remained a small village until relatively recent times but, from the evidence of our journey along Butts Lane, the urban area of the town is ever-growing.
The A13 has taken a lot of the traffic from the London Road which we followed to the railway line. In the old days one could turn left after the level crossing and view the buildings of Blyth & Squier, a local brewery that operated next to the railway sidings. The brewery is said to have been established in the late 1840s by John Blyth, a farmer of some 200 acres at Hassenbrooke Hall, a 15th century manor house just to the north of the old village centre. However, I have seen no evidence that he was involved in brewing at this early date. By 1861 he was farming some 600 acres, employing a small army of agricultural labourers.
John Blyth later formed a partnership with Samuel Squier, another farmer in the locality. It would seem that they merged their agricultural interests as a newspaper article dated August 1862 reported that, on the farm of Messrs. Blyth and Squier, a new reaping machine invented by M'Cormick of Chicago, Illinois, was being trialled on their land with considerable success. It was in the same year that the partnership leased a plot of land from the Eastern Counties and London and Blackwall Railway Company, owners of the London Tilbury and Southend Railway, on which they erected premises. Squeezed between the railway sidings and the stream meant that the buildings were long and narrow. Not such a bad thing for maltings which is what I imagine the partnership planned as a forward extension strategy for the crop yields of Mucking Heath Farm. It is possible that the business planned to ship malt on the railways. Certainly, in later years they opened a stores in Southend for retail products. For some years this was managed by James Went who later kept the Lobster Smack Inn at Canvey Island for a quarter of a century.
A Post Office Directory published in 1874 lists Blyth & Squier as contractors for steam trashing and cultivating and draining land, as well as brewers, brick-makers and farmers. The business had clearly diversified considerably by this time. I believe that the brewery was established in 1868. John Blyth died in March 1877 following which the brewery was put on the market [see above advertisement]. The brewery only operated two tied-houses : the Rising Sun on Church Hill and the Red Cow on Canvey Island which was stated to be newly-erected. The Squier family were still involved in the business in later years but I am not sure if they acquired the interests of the Blyth family. The business continued to trade as Blyth & Squier.
The brewery had been run by Thomas, brother of the farmer John Blyth. Some years later in 1902 he was knocked down by a train pulling into the station whilst he was using the level crossing. He had passed through the gate but could not hear the shouts of George Layzell, the station porter, who ran to stop him. However, he failed in his attempt to catch his arm and the elderly Thomas Blyth was knocked down and dragged underneath the train. He managed to emerge from underneath the engine as the wheels did not touch him but his head and face were terribly cut. He was carried to his home and Dr. Corbet was summoned from Orsett. When the doctor got to him he had already died from his head injuries.
Blyth & Squier, may have only operated two tied-houses but the firm had a healthy family trade. The brewery was acquired in 1914 by Seabrooke & Sons Ltd. The brewery at Stanford-le-Hope was closed soon afterwards.
Continuing along the London Road, the Railway Tavern stands on the corner of Church Hill and King Street. It is a hotch-potch building, the core of which is thought to date from the 16th century, with additions over subsequent centuries. The curved frontage on the corner is a late Victorian or early Edwardian extension. I am not exactly sure when the building started to trade as the Railway Tavern. The station on the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway opened in September 1854 so it could not have been too long afterwards that a tavern was opened to offer refreshments to travellers. It may be that it was initially a beer house but gained a full licence in 1860 following the closure of the Cock and Magpie on The Green, the old victualler's licence being transferred to these premises. However, legend has it that spirits entered the building long before the mid-19th century as there was supposedly a tunnel from somewhere near the creek that led to the cellars of the old building. I am not convinced as that would have been some feat of engineering, along with the risks of flooding.
In the early 20th century the Railway Tavern was part of the tied-estate of Ind Coope and had a noted bowling green to the rear. Emma Pipe was the licensee during the reign of three monarchs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was assisted by her brother-in-law Walter Pipe, along with four servants, suggesting trade was good.
We cycled along King Street, a name to celebrate the historic tavern further along the thoroughfare, but were dismayed by the western side which is rather uniform in style. One can see from the above map extract that, historically, there was a triangle formed by King Street, High Street and Church Hill. This street pattern still exists in the 21st century and forms a one-way traffic route.
It is perhaps surprising that Stanford-le-Hope did not develop earlier as the settlement was on the London Road, sited on raised ground, had its own wharf accessed by the lane running south-east from the village centre, and the arrival of the railway in 1854. And yet Stanford-le-Hope takes up little space in mid-19th century trade directories and it took the census enumerator minimal time to complete a few pages in which the inhabitants were recorded. Speaking to one local person in the Rising Sun, some folks believe that the Railway Tavern previously traded under a different inn sign. At first, this seems credible as a hostelry normally existed on a main road. However, trade directories of the early Victorian era show only two old licences, the King's Head Inn and the Cock and Magpie. The latter was, according to most sources, located on The Green and the King's Head Inn and the Railway Tavern were trading simultaneously. Moreover, the 1777 map shows a building on the site of the King's Head Inn and another house on the site of the Railway Tavern. This quandary requires some serious digging by a local historian rather that a cyclist simply passing through. My theory, for what it's worth, is that there was a rethink of the facilities in the village. Apparently, the King's Head Inn was rebuilt in 1860, the same year that the Cock and Magpie closed. It was possibly thought that a larger building with better facilities should be sited closer to the railway station. It is likely that the Railway Tavern only opened as a hostelry in 1860 with William Stevens at the helm.
I had plotted the King's Head Inn as a port-of-call but we were disappointed to see that the historic sign had been eschewed for the Old Court House. Whilst this name reflects some of the events that took place on the site, the change of an inn sign can be a madcap strategy and disregards the historic significance of the original signboard. Though local legend has it that a woman was tried for being a witch and hung near the King's Head Inn, an event for which there is no substantive evidence, the most famous hearing at the historic tavern was not a criminal court case but a coroner's inquest. I guess that Enterprise Inns, when rebranding the place, considered that The Old Coroner's Inquest did not have the same ring!
James Osborn was the licensee of the King's Head Inn when an inquest was held following an incident near Hole Haven Creek on land now occupied by the large oil refineries, a development which has forced our slightly inland journey towards Canvey Island. On Michaelmas in 1829 a farm known as Shell Haven was taken on by Captain William Moir, a former soldier. In March 1830 he spotted two men fishing in the creek adjoining the land that he farmed. The men were William Malcolm, a fisherman at Hammersmith, accompanied by a lad named William Dukes, a Wandsworth fisherman. The pair had dropped nets in the creek after leaving their boat at Bawley House in the care of Malcolm's apprentice. Seeing that the men had spread the net across the creek, Captain Moir asked what they were doing. William Malcolm told the farmer that he, and many others had fished in these waters for years, and he therefore claimed a right to do so. There then following an angry exchange during which the ex-soldier threatened to pull up the net and cut it to pieces. As a result, William Malcolm gathered up the net and agreed to leave. Captain Moir quizzed Malcolm as to whether he had come across the marshes, to which the fisherman said yes. Moir told him to go back via the sea walls. He agreed to follow this course and walked with William Dukes to a cottage occupied by Mrs. Baker where he exchanged some fish for potatoes. The pair then walked across the marsh back towards the boat. Captain Moir, already incensed at the men fishing off his farmland took great umbrage at the sight of them taking a route that he had already forbid them to follow. He rode up to them on his horse and attempted to stop William Malcolm but the fisherman said he would continue towards his boat. It was stated that the farmer then drew his pistol and shot William Malcolm in the arm. Exhasperated, he shouted that his arm was broke. After threatening to shoot his young companion, Captain Moir said he would send for a doctor. William Malcom returned to the house of Mrs. Baker where he was later treated by a local surgeon named James Dodd.
The doctor procured a horse and cart from the assailant, Captain Moir, and William Malcolm was conveyed to the Cock and Magpie. He remained there for a few days with continued treatment from three different surgeons. However, blood-poisoning set in, followed by lockjaw. Within a few more days William Malcolm died. An inquest was held at the King's Head Inn, a hearing that took six hours, where Captain Dodd was committed to the Essex Assizes.
The trial took place in July 1830 during which Captain William Moir called several military officers who testified that he was of sound character. However, when giving his evidence Dr. James Dodd told the court that, after the shooting when he saw William Moir, the former soldier had stated "my land is my castle, and no man shall put a foot on my land without my leave." This may have had an impact on the jury who, after deliberating for twenty minutes, returned a verdict of "Guilty." The Scottish-born former solider was taken to Springfield Gaol where several members of his family visited him. 1,200 people signed a petition appealing for clemency but this was turned down and on the morning of August 2nd, 1830 he was hung in front of the Governor's House. The journalist who witnessed the execution commented on the calm and composed nature of the farmer. His last words were "God bless my poor wife and children."
We cycled along the High Street, past the old Methodist Church to the junction of Central Road where a former bank stands on the corner. A couple of doors away is the Inn On The Green, a relatively recent pub housed within the old surgeon's house. It is hard to see the place on the outside as the late 18th century building is covered in ivy. Not that we were intending to patronise the place - we were keeping our powder dry for the town's best beer experience at the Rising Sun. Formerly known as the Village Inn, the pub operated by Greene King was opened in 1978.
The curious-looking development between the Inn On The Green and the former bank was the site of the Cock and Magpie. The tavern closed in 1860 but the premises remained for a considerable number of years, serving a variety of roles. Dating from around 1910, the premises, as seen in the above photograph, were occupied by the ironmonger Samuel Cowell who also served as parish warden. He and his wife Martha had lived here for many years with Samuel operating a blacksmith's shop that adjoined the premises on a site later occupied by the bank. In the 1880s part of the former pub was still occupied by the elderly Mary Beckwith, a retired licensed victualler and member of the family who kept the Cock and Magpie before its closure. David Beckwith was not such a smart cookie as he was done for keeping the house open during the hours of divine service, not such a good idea considering the parishioners leaving the church could see the premises as they walked out of the lych gate across the road.
All this discussion about public-houses is thirsty work so we rolled halfway down Church Hill to enjoy a beer or two in the Rising Sun. Before our journey we had looked at What Pub? and learned that this was a good place for locally-produced real ales. The guide did not mention much about the place other than it is "a much-improved, two-bar, traditional pub in the town." The building would, if not for the mature trees, look across to the parish church.
Before looking at the Rising Sun, we dived into the bar to order some beer, enjoyed a natter with a couple of locals and generally felt that it was a convivial place to spend an evening. A pity that our visit was all too brief but the schedule of a cycling journey has to be quite disciplined if it isn't to fall apart, or leave us cycling at night to reach our pre-booked destination. We opened our account with a rather nice session pale ale by the Bishop Nick brewery at Braintree, a reborn enterprise named after Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of London burned at the stake as one of the Oxford Martyrs. His miserable end may have been a tadge better if his 'last drop' was a glass of this beer made with Fuggles and Goldings hops. A pleasant floral aroma starts the fire burning before a surprisingly decent bitter finish fans the flames. We ramped up the ABV a little by ordering some Urban Myth, a premium ale produced by the Parkway Brewing Co., a recently-launched brewery at Somerton in Somerset. Challenger and Colombus hops create the zing in this excellent beer that celebrates those stories that often circulate around the pub after a few pints. Beatles fans will probably be begging the publican for the pump clip as the Abbey Road zebra crossing is featured. However, as the West Country brewers will claim, only three of the fab four are illustrated!
With good beer and friendly company at the Rising Sun what's not to like? Well, technically nothing. However, there is a tinge of sadness that we were unable to sit inside the older version of the Rising Sun. And wouldn't it be great to be able to travel back in time like Doctor Who to sample a beer made down the road at the Blyth and Squier brewery. This was one of two public-houses the firm operated, the other being the Red Cow on Canvey Island. It is interesting to note that the dray is delivering firkins in an age when larger casks were the order of the day.
The exact date of the photograph is unknown but was taken from around 1908. The two women are most probably Phoebe and Edith Fitch. Shoreditch-born Phoebe was married to the beer retailer and licensee William Fitch. The couple were assisted by his sister Edith. William and Edith had spent their formative years at the Rising Sun as their father, George Fitch, was the licensee from the 1870s. The Suffolk-born publican and former engine driver was possibly the first licensee in the late 1860s - the cut-off date for a new beer house licence being 1869. He would have been a tenant of Blyth and Squier who held the freehold. After an operation in 1908 Phoebe Fitch, a woman respected in the town for her general disposition, had a fatal heart attack at the Rising Sun in 1908.
The pattern here, familiar throughout the cycle ride so far, is that Blyth & Squier were acquired by Seabrooke & Sons Ltd. in 1914 who, in turn, were mopped up by Charrington's fifteen years later. These changes occurred whilst the Macklin family were running the Rising Sun. Succeeding William Fitch, who had re-married and moved to the Marquis of Granby at Colchester, two generations of the Macklin family kept this old beer house until 1959.
The club room of the Rising Sun, which I was told was once used as a boxing gym, was the venue in 1890 for establishing a branch of the London and Southern Counties Labour League, an early trade union that by 1893 had a membership of 8,900. However, the body met with aggressive hostility from employers and was forced to join the National Amalgamated Union of Labour in the mid-1890s.
Route Notes to be continued....