Archive for the ‘Case Study’ Category

If Joe and I were alive a century ago we would find ourselves with a 1/3 chance of being dead by this time today; and if not likely within the last six weeks of our lives. One-hundred years ago marked the 1st of July 1916; the First Day of the Battle of The Somme. You can read about the tragic events that lead to the deaths of well over a million young men in plenty of places, but in short boys occasionally as young as 12, who might never have ventured outside of their own village, found themselves far from home in a place that looked, sounded, and smelt like hell itself. Trench warfare was a war of attrition – no fancy tactics, no clever firefights; just two sides squaring up across the fields of France firing upon one another until one side was entirely wiped out. I always feel that history allows us to gain a sense of distance from the atrocities of the past, but an event that saw people living lifestyles similar to our own being shipped off into the meat-grinder cannot be dressed up. This is why I chose to say 36,500 days rather than 100 years; to shorten the distance.

As harsh and inelegant as the First World War was it is an area of history which has always fascinated me. The diabolical experimentation of the weaponry, completely misguided way of combat, and resultant transformation of the landscape into something very dark and alien fascinates me as I think about what it must have been like to have first arrived at the battlefields of the Somme. The romantic lull of Edwardian Britain had been bombarded, and Europe found itself thrown into a passionless conflict caused by a two-sided complex of alliances splitting Europe. Like a board game of Risk gone wrong, millions of people on both sides had to pay the price. To make matters worse, this was a time when previously only single-shot firearms, coupled with bayonets, had been used to fight battles. Harking back to the age-old pitched battles of the Middle Ages and beyond, the two sides lined themselves up to shoot at one another. It was this war which taught us how to firefight using careful manoeuvres – rather than sheer destructive force, in order to gain ground. This of course came at the cost of a generation.

I have been fortunate enough to visit the battlefields of the Somme and Belgium twice. The first was a school trip in 2011, and the second was organised by the Bay Museum, Canvey Island. Whilst the landscape has now returned close to the idyllic French countryside we all imagine, the scars of the destruction are unmistakable. It is hard to realise how the green rolling fields were transformed into acres of mud, blood, and burnt tree stumps by the fighting, but this shows the scale of the destruction. Not a patch was left unharmed. Great gouges from shelling and trenches alike still litter the enormous lawns; such as the massive Lochnagar Crater which clocked in as one of the largest ever non-nuclear man-made explosions. I remember walking the trenches – looking over the top and picturing how the battles took place from the eyes of an individual. We also visited the numerous memorials – each adorned with an unimaginable number of names. The very quantity of memorials is a tribute to just how many we lost. I have included photographs I took of the battlefields in 2011. Of course these aren’t quite as sharp as the images we take nowadays but at least it gives you an insight into the sites of the First World War today.

To put trench warfare in a first-person perspective I recommend the incredible book Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. One of the few novels that I have ever found moving enough to finish, I have read this on two occasions and each time it put me in the very shoes of a soldier and his emotions in the trenches and how it changed their lives. For something a little more interactive I would praise the shooter game Verdun which allows you experience what it was like to fight as one man against the battles of the First World War, taking historical accuracy into account heavily – something rarely seen in the genre.

This Saturday head down to Hadleigh Old Fire Station at 7:30pm to watch the film of the Somme created in 1916 to document what it was like. Admission is free, courtesy of Hadleigh & Thundersley Community Archive in cooperation with the IWM Centenary Partnership. If you can’t make it, head down to the Bay Museum on Canvey any Sunday and handle some Great War artifacts for yourself!

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 Thundersley Glen is great example of how even the most seemingly natural spaces have a history all of their own; and how this changed the landscape. A section of woodland in Benfleet adjoining with Mount Road Wood and Shipwright’s Wood in Benfleet. It was once part of the greater Jarvis Wood belonging to Jarvis Hall – a manor house which dates back to the 1400s and still exists, in a modified state, just west of where Thunderlsey Park Road becomes Hill Road. By the Victorian era the wood became arable farmland and orchards except for a small patch in the South-West corner surviving today. Then in the early 20th Century the farmland was sold as plot-land eventually becoming abandoned and welcoming the Hawthorn, Birch, and Oak trees which form the woodland today. The area would also have once been used for charcoal burning of local woods; hence the name ‘Kiln Road’ which runs immediately north of the glen. Clay quarried from the woods here was worked at the Kiln Road brick works; the clay beneath the topsoil is clearly visible, dug up as badger sets and bike ramps.

   Amongst Thundersley Glen lies a pond with two ‘islands’ extending out into it, now dominated by prehistoric Horsetail plants and other wildlife. This was infact once made to serve another historic household called Thundersley House which lay along Kiln Road; alledgedly by damming a the stream that runs through the glen to this day. A hydraulic ram would’ve pumped water from the pond to the house, and this can be seen marked on many an old map. It could also be the case that the pond was used for leisure activities such as swimming and boating. During the 1950s and 60s the pond was a popular spot with local children, and it was often referred to as Jasper’s Pond. When this froze over in the winter children would skate across it, or would collect frogspawn which was rife in warmer weather. It is presumed that because of a child falling in on one occasion, parents complained the pond was a health and safety concern and it was partly drained. At the bottom of the pond probably lies all manner of treasures and rubbish alike, including two .22 air-rifles which you can read the story of here: http://www.benfleethistory.org.uk/page/crime_and_punishment. The pond is said to have once been less overgrown and larger; back in the 1930s it could be seen from Kiln Road. South of the pond, to the west of the stream and ditch, lies a patch of Hawthorn woodland now intermingled with houses which was farmland until 1925 when plot houses overgrew the surrounding area.

Benfleet woodland

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In the Glen also lies a large meadow atop a ridge/hill in the forest that runs north to south. This would appear to be an area of the old farmland that escaped the foliage’s conquest; following the borders of a field shown on an 1868 map. The maps show the transition of the area from farmland to wood from the mid 19th-mid 20th Century as well as the south-western patch of ancient woodland, and the appearance of the pond, dam, and hydraulic ram.

Sources for information include Benfleet Community Archive, Hadleigh & Thundersley Community Archive, and Castle Point Borough Council’s trail guide to the glen’s flora and fauna (Downloadable Here: https://www.castlepoint.gov.uk/thundersley-glen). All information above is sourced from articles and memoirs.

Below are two views from the path that links Thundersley Glen to Shipwrights Wood, west. This looks out over Hilltop farm. Pictured in early 20thC and 2013.

‘Canvey 2000’ was an attempt to rejuvenate Canvey Island’s seafront in 1997, hoping to restore it to reflect some of the glory as a tourist resort, centered around Thorney bay holiday camp and beach, which it had seen from the 1900s up until the 1980s. It saw some success and definitley revitalised the seafront into the more developed place it is today, although it did encoutner difficulties prior to the folding of the charity in 2010 meaning some of the developments have been left to ruin. However, the spirit of Canvey 2000 has picked up again with the excellent Friends of Concord Beach who have focused on making the sea-side of the wall, and the beach, something to be proud of once again.

Vincent Heatherson was a driving force behind the project, amongst many other individuals, and became chairman during the lifespan of the charity, and being a local gardener he was responsible for the manual labour required in installing the gardens in the field behind the Labworth Cafe, and the brick-paving along the seawall. He passed away at a young age in 2012 and his nephew BTP Liam arranged the installation of a plaque in the gardens to commemorate his efforts, with the help of the Town Council. The photographs of the Canvey 2000 project seen below were found in Vince’s collection. Many of the photographs were actually taken by Alison Love but Vince may have taken some himself as well. James Heatherson designed the Canvey 2000 logo used on the t-shirts at the time, still seen on many plaques in the garden.

Seven Victorian tunnel-like magazines were built on the Benfleet waterfront near Jotmans in the late part of the 19th Century. They would have been used for the storage of explosives by barges possibly on the way to London or nearby explosives factories (where is now Wat Tyler Country Park and Coryton Refinery).

The Benfleet Community Archive first introduced Beyond the Point to ‘the mags’ at a community event on Canvey. We were told it was rumoured they were used as storage from barges carrying explosives down the Thames. There was definitely a heavy explosives industry in South Essex around the turn of the 20th Century, so this was not an unreasonable idea. I looked this up when I got home, and listened to an audio account on this website which mentions them and their location. We visited the area numerous times between 2012 and 2015, finding a wartime pillbox and ruins from the old sewage works, yet were unable to locate the ‘mags’.

Magazines

In September 2015 we decided to investigate the rumours, following a 1895 map from http://www.benfleethistory.org.uk showing the location of the magazines layed over modern satellite imagery. The entire area south west of the sewage works was overgrown and it became very difficult to work out exactly which parts of the area the magazines were in. We covered what we believed to be the entire area and only found rectangular mounds/earthworks, perhaps covering something? A brick walled section, broken concrete, and a very old huge iron manhole cover (probably from the sewage works) was also found.

 After explaining about the mounds and brick wall that we found to the http://www.BenfleetHistory.org.uk archive site, we were put in touch with Dave Cowan in early 2016 who has lived in the Jotmans area since he was a child. He gave the initial audio account on the Benfleet Archive of playing near the mags as a child that prompted our investigation.

   We met up with him and he took us to where he saw one of the mags around 2012/13 guided by a picture of the area on his phone, using a tree as a landmark. After some looking in the bushes we finally uncovered the ruins of one of the entrances  (mag 1,2, or 3).  He was unaware of the other mags west of the current sewage works as this area was inaccessible in his childhood days, but when we showed him the earth mounds I found in September 2015 he found it all made sense; we had finally found where the mags are/would have been in relation to the 1895 map!

Magazines 1-3

Above you can see the remaining entrance area of either magazine 1, 2, or 3 and an artistic reconstruction. The other two of the three are somewhere along this stretch although they could either be overgrown or gone without trace. Dave explained how the sides and entrance facing were made of brick, yet the interior was buried in earth and was concrete from what he could remember. We found the two walls that would’ve formed the entrance although the actual doorway was covered in soil; presumably it had collapsed at one point. Dave recalls seeing the magazine turn off left and right inside, going down about 10-12 feet either way. He remembers several along that stretch which corresponds to the old map, although the other two were probably hidden in the undergrowth hence why further investigation could be done. Below are the brick remains of the one we found closer:

Magazines 4 & 5

Below are photographs of reinforced concrete broken roughly on the site of either of mags 4 and 5. This must be part of them as Dave remembers reinforced concrete being used to form the inside of magazines 1-3, presumably of the same design. A section of brick wall was also found near here in good condition, although seemingly isolated from any kind of greater structure. Still it was probably part of the entrance to magazine 4 or 5.

Magazines 6 & 7

These magazines are both further north-west along the bike track in the wood area west of the current sewage works. They remain only as earth mounds at first glance, although it could be likely that the magazines remain underneath and were simply covered over at one point, or demolished and churned. The photos below only feature mag 6, but 7 is a similar mound of smaller size further north along the bike track/footpath.

Many thanks to Dave Cowan for his help and for joining us, but also to Frank Gamble from http://www.BenfleetHistory.org.uk for aiding us on this quest and putting us in touch with Dave. See the coverage of this on there here, which has been lucky enough to be featured for the time being: http://www.benfleethistory.org.uk/page/uncovering_the_lost_explosives_magazines

This post continues from Part 1.

From 1827 the tunnels had remained derelict although from graffiti carved into chalk walls, it is known that soldiers were based there guarding an ammunition store in the 1850’s and 60’s. This is because they were on high alert for invasion although this threat never came to anything. In the First World War, the same tunnels were also mainly used for ammunition storage and perhaps as emergency stationing for soldiers about to make their short trip across the channel to the trenches of Northern France and Belgium. The tunnels were under the control of the Royal Navy during the First World War.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey who died in 1945 from a plane crash. Photo from FanPop.com

Without much action for the next two decades, the tunnels were called back into action when the Second World War commenced. They were first converted into an air-raid shelter in 1939 although later became a secret military command centre and underground hospital. In May 1940 Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey directed the biggest operation ever seen at the site, from deep inside the White Cliffs, – Operation Dynamo, also known as the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The tunnels needed to be upgraded and transformed and this was a big mission itself. Over three miles of new and secret tunnels were dug out (by hand) to accommodate these changes. New levels of tunnels were commissioned from 1941 to provide separate, hidden and secure centres of operations for Army, Air Force and Navy. Many of the older tunnels were fired back into use by being lined with plywood or corrugated iron, of which much remains today. In addition space was needed for kitchens and mess rooms, maintenance and communications centres, barrack accommodation and a hospital for the wounded. The existing casemates were converted into offices, workshops, a telephone exchange, generator and planning rooms.

By the end of the war there were completed tunnels on three levels, one below the other.

A – Annex level, which from 1941 contained the hospital, dormitories, kitchens and mess rooms.

The planned B – Bastion level, behind Casemate level, was to be combined military headquarters and dormitories, but was never completed and never used.

C – Casemate level (the original 1797 tunnels and casemates planned by Twiss), held Admiralty Headquarters’ plotting, telecommunications and planning rooms, workshops and offices.

D – Dumpy level, the lowest level, built in 1942, was intended to be the main operations headquarters for the Army and Air Force.

Wartime life at Dover Castle

Photos Copyright English Heritage Photo Library

Post War

The DUMPY sign still at the Castle.

The Admiralty retained an interest in the tunnels until 1958 when they were handed over to the Home Office for a new defence function – a Regional Seat of Government to be used in the event of a nuclear war. The final phase of the working life of the tunnels came in the 1960s during the Cold War when tensions between East and West were at their height. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962, with its serious threat of nuclear war, particularly concentrated the minds of politicians and military planners in Britain. The government response was to identify a number of sizeable and secure fall-out shelters from which some vestige of local organisation could be continued in the event of a nuclear attack by the USSR. Dumpy level of Dover’s still secret, underground tunnels was chosen as the Regional Seat of Government for South East England, known as R.S.G.12. This Government centre was to be controlled by a cabinet minister with a staff of service personnel and civilian administrators after a nuclear war.

The work of converting the tunnels started again although this time converting them into radiation proof T.V. and radio studios, living accommodation and operations centre. Doomsday rehearsals and civil defence training were carried out regularly in the modified tunnels throughout the 1960s although the tunnels became increasingly difficult to maintain (and keep secret) during the 1970s. It was also realised that the porous chalk would have offered barely any protection against contaminated rainwater percolating down from any nuclear winter at ground level. The tunnels were abandoned as a Regional Seat of Government but were kept secret until 1986 when they were passed into the hands of English Heritage for eventual opening to the public.

Present Day

Scent bottlesToday English Heritage take pride in creating a realistic experience for people to a glimpse into what it would have been like during the war. The tunnels are open to the public with tours available for free (entrance fee to the site applies). While some of the tunnels maintain the wartime look and feel, some are making the most of technology with projections and immersive sound effects. Bottles like these are used to create realistic smells of some unusual things such as the boiler room, beef and a general musty smell.

Medieval Food

Posted: January 11, 2016 by BTP Liam in Case Study, Various
Tags: , , , ,

Cooking something up in the kitchen is always good fun, but even more fun when you try and produce a type of food completely alien to modern day cuisine. This is what I did aided by cousin Merlin one cold day when I fancied exploring history a bit differently this time. It was a great way to get behind the way people actually thought about food between 900 and 500 centuries ago. What I began to realise was that people didn’t just eat different things, but they combined ingredients people wouldn’t dare attempt in any professional restaurant today; yet they still had surprisingly successful results. Who would’ve thought you can make jelly from breadcrumbs?

How exactly did Medieval food vary to what we eat today? In some ways, not much- they still ate soup, stew, roast meat if you had money, and regardless of money lots and lots of bread. Obviously processed food is far more available today – its easier to eat a ready-made meal than it is to grab basic ingredients, causing a backlash of pro-healthy eating interest in raw fruit, veg, and even unprocessed meat. This is arguably the result of technology becoming so advanced that it is effortless to manufacture food, giving people a desire to return to simpler times. However, would you believe that in the Middle Ages people desired to have their food produced as much as possible? Raw stuff was just not popular. Perhaps this was a way to avoid eating nasties and getting sick, or just a result of fashionable refinement that frowned upon having raw foraged plants straight from the outdoors. Either way, foods like pottage were essentially stews slow-cooked to reduce the contents to a homogeneous mass. The thicker and therefore more broken-down the pottage was, the more refined the dish.

Meat was less-commonly eaten by peasants apart from that of pigs, because they could find their own food such as acorns in the woods and could rough out the winter just fine by themselves. Believe it or not, sheep were slender, the size of dogs, and had long tails, so were worth more kept for wool than slaughtered for meat. Hunting game in the lord’s domain was punishable by having your hands cut off as a peasant, so wild animals were a no-go, and birds would’ve been difficult to hunt before shotguns and air rifles existed. Therefore brown rye or barley bread and vegetables were the mainstay for peasants, and in the afternoon whilst working in the fields villagers would eat a ‘ploughman’s lunch’ – bread, cheese, and ale. Those living by the sea might be able to take advantage of seafood. Nobility and those with money could enjoy meat, sugar, imported spiced, fish from ponds, and white wheat bread fairly similar to that of today. People would drink mainly weak ale made from barley, as it was safer and more pleasant than water, although milk too was drunk. Of course fermentation would make water safe to consume, so even children would drink ale.

We decided to make three recipes; peas pottage which was a staple working-class main course, cherry pottage which would’ve been a fine dessert for those who could afford sugar and white bread, and leeks with sops and wine which represented a high-class version of a dish enjoyed by people from all backgrounds in the Middle Ages.

Peas Pottage

Pottage was a staple food for the everyman throughout history was a cross between soup, chowder and stew. Essentially it was a dish ate in a ‘pot’ or bowl and during the Medieval era consisted of foods slow-cooked until the broke down. Legumes, cereals, and if you were lucky, meat, was all used to make pottage. Peas pottage was probably the archetypal evening meal for a Medieval peasant.

To make the pottage for the two of us we took 450g of peas, although other English beans could be used, two onions, a sprinkle of salt and sugar, and a spoon of oil (of course olive oil was not common in England but this isn’t going to affect the recipe dramatically). We put the peas and chopped in a pan heat them and to speed up the process we blended them, before adding them back to the pan with other ingredients. A pint of water was added, and this should all be cooked at lower heat until the pottage is thick and no longer watery. Although the result looks like mushy peas, it tasted much more like a pea and onion soup and was very hearty even by modern standards.

Cherry Pottage

This pottage was very different to the first, and was left to cool and set into a jelly-like pudding rather than a soup. However both are similar in that they are ideally a one-colour, homogenous bowl dish with no particular bits of food left distinguishable – ideal in the mind of someone alive 700 years ago. Cherry pottage contained white sugar and white bread so would’ve been a real delicacy probably only for nobility.

To make one pudding that serves two you will need three slices of bread crumbled into bread crumbs, two punnets of cherries (450g), 80g of sugar, 350ml of red wine, a pinch of salt, and 30g of butter. First remove stones from the cherries before adding them to a blender with the sugar. Then add this to a saucepan with the breadcrumbs and wine, as well as the sugar and butter. Simmer until it becomes very thick and similar to jam. Place in a bowl evenly and leave it to set, either in a fridge or naturally on the side whilst covered. To decorate you can sprinkle sugar over the top and even paint the ends of some cloves gold and balance them around the bowl to add some extra grandeur to this fine dish. It sets firm like jelly and is unrecognisable as the product of any of the whole ingredients. It’s very different to jam; more of a thick paste pudding/jelly, but well recommended. I was impressed how such a jelly-like dessert was made with the help of only sugar and bread.

Leeks and Sops in White Wine

Sops were essentially pieces of bread soaked in a soup-like liquid before being eaten. People of all classes would’ve enjoyed sops perhaps with pottage or any other cooked food and its juices. Even though this recipe is basic, white bread and white wine was reserved for upper classes, so a peasant would probably have eaten sops of brown bread with cooking juices rather than wine. Monks were said to officially have been able to eat stewed leeks cooked in water on white bread, but often deviated and ate them cooked in white wine.

To make two plates of the dish you will need half a bottle of white wine, a teaspoon of oil (your preference although olive oil was not common), a pinch of salt, four slices of white bread, and five leeks. Remove the tougher green parts of the leeks and simmer them in a pan until soft in the wine with the oil and salt added. When done pour the contents over the bread which should be broken into nugget-shaped pieces and scattered across a plate. The end result was pleasant; the white bread wasn’t too bad soaked in the juices, although the entire dish was pretty potent considering the sauce was made of dominantly wine.

That concludes our guide to Medieval food. Why not try changing the dishes? How about adding oats and bacon to the peas pottage, using apples and currants instead of cherries in the dessert pottage, or making a broth to eat with sops of brown bread? Hopefully the first part of the article should give you an idea of who ate what in the Middle Ages. Alternatively, get yourself a copy of the book that inspired our adventure; The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black.