Riverside walk raises the spirits

Posted in Heritage, Local History, River Thames, Tilbury Fort tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 5:45 pm by henrysgauntlet

This week Henry felt in need of some fresh air, so went for a walk along the river bank from the World’s End pub almost to the power station.  It was lovely down there, but hardly anything moving on the river.   In Henry’s other recent forays to Tilbury the river has been very busy indeed, but on this day it was slack water, with the tide just beginning to run in by the time he got back to the World’s End.

As ever, Henry was struck by what a place of contrasts it is.   First the river, its vessels and the people who work them, all of immense interest and attraction to those whose blood contains  a measure of salt. 

Then Tilbury Power Station with its wharf and an attendant ship.  Some of Henry’s friends believe that he is an aficionado of power stations. 

Then the wonderful Tilbury Fort, nearly 500 years old, under the expert care of English Heritage:  the layout of the defensive position which can be only partly appreciated on foot, but which, from above, shows the geometric star-shaped bastion with its double moat;  the second world war guns mounted on the seaward rampart, of several different varieties some of them more likely to have been on a warship, and looming over the seawall footpath;  and the magnificent water gate and gatehouse, a gem of Charles II restoration architecture.   

Then some nondescript fields with a few cows and horses chewing at the meagre grass of the marshes.

And finally, the landscape spoilt by the many modern commercial and industrial sheds and warehouses.   They form part of the regeneration of Tilbury, and are necessary to the economy of the area, but it is a pity that they could not have been more hidden.   As it is they form a quite out of character backdrop to the Fort.

The situation is saved by a couple of features only partly visible from this end, but which complete the sweep of the circuit.   There is the bridge leading down to Tilbury Landing Stage, which that day was packed with cars.   Some had people just enjoying the good weather, and others belonged to passengers who had taken the ferry which buzzes busily back and forth to Gravesend.   And then the 1930s passenger terminal, dating from a time when the great liners used the port, right up to the ‘fifties and ‘sixties when the Orient Line ships took their load as emigrants from the old country to Australia.   The building does not show its age, and now has a second life as a Cruise Terminal.   

A good outing, which raised Henry’s spirits and made him realize yet again how pleased he is that he lives near a river, and not just any river but the mighty Thames.



More of our heritage to be saved – Naze Tower to be protected

Posted in Heritage at 1:09 pm by henrysgauntlet

Excellent news today that a well-known and loved Essex landmark is to be saved. 

 The Naze Tower at Walton-on-the-Naze is in danger of slipping into the sea as the cliff becomes more and more eroded, by 6.5 feet a year.

Now a scheme has been agreed, and full funding confirmed, to shore up the cliff and build a walkway.   The project will cost £1.2 million, with £500,000 being granted by Essex County Council and the remainder from Tendring District Council and local fund-raising.   Great work by the locals!

The Naze Tower was built in 1721 as a landmark for ships approaching the harbour at the nearby port of Harwich.  It is good to know that another piece of our heritage will be preserved.   For many in Essex it brings back childhood memories of day trips to Clacton and Walton.

You can read the story here.


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.


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.


Big turn out needed on 28 February to salute the Royal Anglian Regiment

Posted in Armed Services, Ceremony, Heritage at 10:12 pm by henrysgauntlet

Great news that the Royal Anglian Regiment is to be honoured at a special ceremony in Grays.

The 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglians, did a tour of duty in Afghanistan last year, and, since their return, have been honoured by the people of Norwich and Bury St Edmunds, and other centres having close links with the regiment and providing a recruiting base for them.

Thurrock gave the Freedom of the Borough to the regiment in 1990, and it is greatly to the credit of our town that this ceremony will take place now to honour those who served in Afghanistan and returned safely, and, sadly, the nine soldiers who did not return.

The Roll of Honour of the nine brave Royal Anglians who lost their lives in Afghanistan:-

Captain David Hicks

Corporal Darren Bonner

Lance Corporal George Davey

Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins

Private Robert Foster

Private Chris Gray

Private Aaron McClure

Private Tony Rawson

Private  John Thrumble.

A special church service and parade will take place in Grays on Thursday 28th February, when C Company, the Royal Anglians, will visit the town.   The service will be in St Peter & St Paul Parish Church, Grays, and the Parade will be in New Road, Grays, where the Mayor of Thurrock will take the salute outside the Civic Offices.   The parade will begin at 12 noon.

A special fund has been set up to establish a permanent memorial for the nine who lost their lives, and to help their families and other members of the regiment who are badly injured.   The First Anglian Afghanistan Memorial Fund has so far raised £242,000.   Details of how to contribute can be found at


There has been much comment nationally at how badly Britain’s servicemen and women have been treated.   They were sent to fight with insufficient and inadequate equipment.   They no longer have separate military hospitals, and the one dedicated military ward in a civilian hospital cannot cope with the number of casualties returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.   So injured service personnel must be treated in mixed wards without the companionship of their fellows.   Their pay is not good, and they and their families are living in sub-standard quarters.

Whether or not we agree with British troops being sent to fight in these wars, now that they have been sent they deserve our complete support.   The government does little to recognize their service and their heroism, so it is up to the towns, villages and cities of this country to pay tribute to them.

Make sure that Thurrock does just that, and does it in a big way.   Put the date in your diary now, and give up just a little time to be in New Road, Grays, on 28th February, and show these brave young men and women how much we appreciate what they are doing for Britain.