22/03/2009

Losing the past: Marshall’s Cottages, West Tilbury

Posted in Local History at 9:25 pm by henrysgauntlet

One of the great advantages of being an early modern historian living in a long-civilised country lies in the survival of the art and architecture, the buildings and sometimes the landscapes of the distant past.   But this has its dangers too because these legacies may disappear too.   

Recently, I had to go to my dentist in the south of Essex for some minor work and, after visiting my parents’ grave in Orsett, I decided that I would go to West Tilbury to photograph an early fifteenth-century building I had often walked past in Blue Anchor Lane when I lived a few miles away.  

Marshall’s Cottages (as they are now known) had a well-preserved central range with attics above and two-storey jettied wings.   The house had been studied by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments and was known to have a fifteenth-century mantel beam with elaborate roll mouldings and crown posts supporting the roof.    The last time I had seen it in 1985 it was recognisably an old dwelling house.

I am sorry to report that my hopes were dashed.    The first time I drove past where I thought it had been I failed to spot it at all.    When I had circled West Tilbury’s green, I came back and saw a thoroughly modernised house:  the front and wings had clearly been not just repaired but also given new facings.   The house I had hoped to photograph was no longer there.  

I did regret this because motorists and pedestrians who will pass it in the future will not be able to recognise it for what it is, a part of this small village’s history.

Author  –  Christopher Thompson

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