29/09/2009

Alfred Russel Wallace and Grays

Posted in Heritage, Local History at 6:55 pm by henrysgauntlet

Alfred Russel WallaceHave you ever walked along a road and wondered how it got its name?   Perhaps you’ve been in the Hathaway Road area of Grays and have noticed Russel Road and Wallace Road.

This week The Times has been rather concentrating on Alfred Russel Wallace, and under the heading “Adjoining shoulders of giants”, has been calling for his name to live on alongside that of Charles Darwin. 

In its leading article on Saturday, here, The Times said that Darwin’s contemporary should be celebrated for his discovery of natural selection.   Marking the 200th anniversary this year of Darwin’s birth, The Times goes on “But Darwin was not a solitary visionary. That his ideas appeared when they did, in the form that they did, was due to the influence of Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist 14 years his junior. Recognition of Wallace’s contribution to science is increasingly being urged. Sir David Attenborough described Wallace this week as one of the greatest naturalists who ever lived.”

And here’s the full story.

Today there are a couple of letters on the subject including one from one of the Verderers of Epping Forest who tells us about Wallace’s application to become Superintendent of the Forest.   His application was rejected  –  short-sighted of someone.

Anyway back to Russel Road and Wallace Road  –  the reason for their names is that Alfred Russel Wallace, who was born in 1823, lived at The Dell in Grays for a number of years.   He came to Essex because it seemed that he might obtain the directorship of a museum in the county.   He bought the lease of four acres of land at Grays, which included a former chalk pit, and set about  building a house there in concrete as there was a cement works in the vicinity and a supply of gravel on the site.   Wallace himself designed and laid out the grounds, including the long winding drive, which still exists, up to the house from what is now Dell Road.   He described the grounds as “a bit of a wilderness that can be made into a splendid imitation of a Welsh valley.”   The house, called The Dell, was completed in 1872.

In the event he was not appointed director of the proposed museum, and that, plus the death of his eldest son, made him decide to leave Grays.   So in 1876 the family moved to Surrey. 

A Thurrock Heritage Plaque has been placed on The Dell, the only house built by Wallace which still survives.

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