22/07/2008

Bulphan and the Fancy

Posted in Local History at 10:41 pm by henrysgauntlet

Bulphan has always seemed slightly isolated from the rest of Thurrock.   It lies only just south of the A127 on the old flood plain of the Mardyke and has traditionally been more closely associated with Brentwood than with Grays.

But its location had its advantages too, especially to boxing promoters in the early nineteenth century.   Bulphan was the site for the match between Harry Jones, the Sailor Boy, and Bob Simmonds, the Sweep, in April, 1827.   The contest involved not just the purse but a side bet of £25 between the two men.

Sadly, it does not appear to have been much of a fight.   After seventeen rounds in thirty five minutes, Harry Jones “did not shew a scratch” and his opponent gave up admitting he was outclassed.   Fortunately, there was no report of any trouble afterwards.   The ‘fancy’ were satisfied and Bulphan had its niche in early nineteenth-century sporting history.

Author  –  Christopher Thompson

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19/07/2008

Unsung heroes

Posted in Armed Services, Heritage, Life, Volunteers, Young people at 11:47 pm by henrysgauntlet

Actually I very much dislike the way the term “hero” is applied these days to any semi-famous sportsman or television personality, but I find myself needing to use it today.   And to use it to flag up those small groups of people in Grays, and all round Thurrock, who contribute so much to the preservation of our heritage, to the life of our neighbourhood, and to keeping all the voluntary organizations going.

Coalhouse Fort East Tilbury

Coalhouse Fort East Tilbury

A story this week about Coalhouse Fort at East Tilbury mentions the Coalhouse Fort Project, a conservation group which has been granted the lease of the Fort.   This small group of enthusiasts has worked hard to repair and refurbish some parts of the buildings, to set up museums about aviation, about the history of the fort, about the home front during the war, and recently a new naval museum.   They slave away in conditions of discomfort and cold, to make an attraction which is then opened to the public during certain holiday weekends.

Very similar is The Garrison Museum at Purfleet.    There an unprepossessing building, once an armament store, houses an amazing collection.    Before I first went there I thought it was just a small effort, but the building assumes Tardis proportions inside, and there you will find a fantastic collection of military artefacts from all three services, together with a special section on Purfleet, a collection of civilian antiquities, and it is the museum of the former Hornchurch RAF station.    There’s even an example of the Barnes Wallis “bouncing bomb” made famous by the 617 Squadron Dam Busters Raid.   And they put on frequent exhibitions and events.   All of this is done by a small group of volunteers, who repair, maintain and re-arrange the building, stage the exhibitions, catalogue the vast collection not on display which has to be housed in people’s garages and sheds, run the tea bar, and provide a wonderful facility for students, local residents and those from further afield.

I come into contact quite regularly with those marvellous people who run the cadet forces of the three services.   Probably the public thinks they are paid members of the military, but almost all of them are volunteers giving up their time and money to help provide exciting experiences for the cadets, and to turn them into the courteous and well-behaved young people we see when they are on parade.   Even more good and willing people give up their time after a day’s work to act as leaders for scouts and cubs, guides and brownies, girls’ and boys’ brigades, and the other groups working with children and teenagers.

Finally, I have had the privilege in recent weeks of speaking at a number of clubs around Thurrock for the elderly.   These splendid people are still greatly interested in what is going on around them, and the leaders provide them with a programme, in some cases for weekly meetings.   What a wonderful job they are doing.   It’s hard work finding speakers, arranging quizzes and outings, etc, for every week of the year.   And then making sure that everyone has a good time, is provided with a cup of tea, and has someone to talk to.

So these individuals and groups of volunteers mentioned above, and others similar far too many to mention here, are my local heroes.   Good luck to them all.    At the moment there don’t seem to be too many younger people coming along to follow them when they have to stand down, but let’s hope that “cometh the hour, cometh the means”.

An explosive suggestion about the State

Posted in Heritage, The State Cinema, Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation at 10:46 pm by henrysgauntlet

State Cinema Grays
State Cinema Grays

The Thurrock Gazette leads this week on the news that Independent Councillor Barry Palmer, from East Tilbury, has said the State Cinema should be blown up.

In fact it was rather more a throw-away remark made when the Planning Committee was discussing an application to site temporary vocational college buildings at the junction of Argent Street and High Street.   Concern was expressed about whether there would be sufficient parking spaces at the suggested site, and Cllr Palmer apparently said “I know where it should be built.   In place of that monstrosity in George Street.   They should blow it up and put the college there”.

This little outburst served to highlight an announcement last week from English Heritage that Thurrock has the dubious distinction of being the location of two of the most at risk listed buildings in the country:  the State cinema and Coalhouse Fort.   In fact, there has recently been another campaign calling for the restoration of the State, and a petition has attracted 5,000 signatures.

One has to concede that, from the outside, the State doesn’t look much, a plain red brick block of a building with a tower, and the uncared for look coming from a lack of re-painting, boarded up windows, and a certain amount of vandalism.

Auditorium of State Cinema Grays

Auditorium of State Cinema Grays

But inside is a different story  –  at least we hope it is, as it too has been left untended for so long.   The huge building is an art deco masterpiece, one of the few remaining cinemas of the period.   Those of us who went there as teenagers in the post war days well remember the excitement of climbing the curving staircase, to the quiet and red carpet of the foyer to the dress circle.   And once inside, the vast auditorium, with panelling, mouldings and lights so typical of the period.   Although, it has to be said that even in those days the loos left much to be desired.

Compton cinema organ at The State Grays

Compton cinema organ at The State Grays

But the crowning glory was the great Compton cinema organ, rising out of the floor, ablaze with colouredlights.   It is a tremendously important piece of cinema history, and of the history of the first half of the twentieth century.   So important, and so rare, that it has frequently been used in film and television work even in these days.

It would be a sin to let the State moulder away.   Until just after the second world war, Grays boasted four cinemas, the Empire in the High Street, the Regal in New Road, the Ritz in Quarry Hill and the queen of them all, the State in George Street.   Two have completely disappeared.   The State must not go the same way.

English Heritage quickly rejected Cllr Palmer’s idea, saying the State is “a major listed building, among the most important of its kind in the country, and should be at the centre of the regeneration of Grays.   It is in a state of disrepair but is still far from in such a position that it cannot be saved.”

Meanwhile, the Council’s Planning Committee raised no objection to the application for Argent Street, and referred it to the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, “who make all major planning decisions in the borough”.

How sick I am of hearing that.   Nobody ever asked me if I wanted a Development Corporation to take over Thurrock, and I have never had the chance to vote for its members as it is an unelected government quango.   Just for the record, I don’t want them here.   I want the elected Thurrock Council, of whatever political colour, to make the decisions for this area.

Another new local history post coming shortly

Posted in Local History at 8:53 pm by henrysgauntlet