Posts Tagged ‘Benfleet’

 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.

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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

The oldest house in Benfleet as it has been known was formerly a ‘poorhouse’, which we would interpret as a government-funded structure that would support those in poverty and provide them with housing. Whilst ‘poorhouses’ include the trecherous workhouses of the Victorian era, the three houses including the Moorings would appear to be only a place to live for the poor with perhaps work in and on the land around the house to pay for their residence.

Photographs above are from HadleighHistory.org.uk in an article written by local author and Historian Robert Hallman

Dave Blackwell with the building when it was supposedly 'saved' from demolition, months before it was torn down

Dave Blackwell with the building when it was supposedly ‘saved’ from demolition, months before it was torn down

Whilst the building is thought to have been extant since 1621, it is believed only a small part of the house is still contemporary because of the amount of changes it has seen in the years since. A report from the Castle Point Echo in September 2014 explains ‘the oldest house in Benfleet has been saved from demolition… for now… councillors admit it is only a matter of time before someone puts forward another application’. It appears that application has come forward because as of Summer 2015 a building fence has sprung up around the building and it now exists torn in half and semi-demolished. We managed to get some photographs before it went completely.

The Crossing

Prior to the construction of the Colvin opening bridge in 1931, a ferry and stepping stones at low tide were used to get from Benfleet to Canvey and back. The stepping stones were cast into buckets originally and were removed in 1931 and held in the old Canvey Council Offices down Long Road for a long time. In 2012 however, they were moved close to their original site again in the Olympic Park just south east of the current Benfleet bridge. You can still see the worn down centres of them where people would have trodden, and you can now step those same steps for yourself. There was also a gravel causeway across the silt prior to the building of the bridges and the gravel from this too can be seen today.

Below you can watch the causeway and stepping stones being used alongside the 1931 bridge which is being constructed:

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/benfleet

Our videos here show the stepping stones, although they are of a quality worse than our current production standards:

The Station

Benfleet station was first opened in 1855. The Royal Assent was given to extend the line from Pitsea station, rebuilt in 1855 but had existed decades earlier, as far as Leigh and Southend in an 1852 Act of Parliament. The 1855 wooden Benfleet station and platform unfortunately burnt down in 1903 and a new station – the one seen currently, was opened in 1912. The platforms too are very close to their original form and still feature white wooden embellishments (canopies) in good condition similar to that of the other platforms along the current C2C line built at this time, although these are said to be gradually decaying upon close inspection.

Over the Christmas of 2012 major modification came to the Benfleet railway bridge which goes over Ferry Road leading to the bridge to Canvey. Joe and I managed to visit the bridge whilst this was going on over Boxing Day. Here they were removing a large steel curved shape similar to the one (possibly the exact one) seen in the sepia old photograph above of the platform from eye level. You can see this taking place in our video above. Apart from some cosmetic change to the platform and rail-bed, as well as the bridge which now has ugly steel supports bolted into it, the major task caused very little disruption to the form and external structure of the railway. James Hanson, project site engineer, reports:

Since mobilisation in late October; BAM Nuttall (with the help of various subcontractors) have faced a string of setbacks and problems that have kept even our experienced team scratching their heads. Our dedicated team of suppliers and subcontractors from across the country have aided us in coming up with the necessary solutions. The preparation for the main works have required an unplanned intensive piling  scheme – involving installation of sixteen twelve metre long piles, after discovering extremely poor ground conditions, 24 hour working on the station platforms and the installation of support beams weighing up to 12.5 tonnes to the bridge soffit. No easy feat considering the working space available and our aspiration to maintaining traffic flow under the structure during peak times. We have discovered huge culverts, abandoned headwalls and cess tanks, river beds and old oak piles – all remnants from the damming of Church Creek many years ago. We’ve even had the Thames at spring tide to keep at bay, but all in a days work for the dedicated team.

Despite the set-backs  and the weather, the team are confident and eager to get stuck in for a Christmas that is sure to offer up more surprises and enough challenges to test even the most experienced staff. We look forward to the completion of the project before the New Year and will be happy to have contributed just a little bit to the history of Benfleet.

The M.V. Bendigo

Posted: November 16, 2014 by BTP Liam in Case Study, Various
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Less well-remembered than the Concrete Barge, another vessel involved in the Second World War marooned on Canvey Island is the M.V. Bendigo. Historian Robin Howie explains:

The M.V. Bendigo was being towed round the island to a new berth on the western side of the bridge,ironically only about a couple of hundred yards away from its existing one.This was necessary due to the new bridge being impassible.
At Hole Haven she started leaking and it was decided to tie her up to the Occidental construction jetty.
There is a photo of her on Dave Bullock’s walk around west Canvey minus superstructure,but I didn’t make the connection until my last trip to Canvey last weekend.
After much poking around and asking questions over some weeks I was at last put in touch with one
of the rare people who live on the marsh still.Following some sketchy directions over the saltings I began to think that I was on some kind of wind up having spent some minutes balancing along rickety planks and jumping ditches.
At last there was his little cabin cruiser hiding between two big wrecks.
I convinced him that I respected his privacy and that I was not from the “social”.
He told me the whole story and it was confirmrd that his word was good by some local characters.
He also told me that Bendigo was her civvy name and she would only have a number in service.
He knew this as he had owned a identical one many years before.
I’m sorry the ending is not a happy one but one plus point is that it gave me an excuse to be a mudlark again for a few minutes.

An image of an MTB firing off its deadly torpedoes. From www.worldnavalships.com

An image of an MTB firing off its deadly torpedoes. From http://www.worldnavalships.com

The M.V. Bendigo saw life as a Royal Navy Motor Torpedo Boat in the Second World War. Motor torpedo boats were fast petrol engine ship-hunting boats used for stealthy low-profile attacks on larger ships with their torpedoes during the Second World War, such as in the ‘Battle for the Atlantic’. It can be seen nearest the bridge to Benfleet on the left side in the 1956 photograph below in an impressive state. Next is it in 2004 moored at the Occidental ‘construction jetty’. The final image shows it rotting in 2011, taken by us. Quite a shame, but at least we can document the ship today.

These are located in the wooden area west of the current sewage works, just north of the waterline. we came across the mysterious ruins, and they were indeed quite impressive! It was a privilege to be the first to photograph the exquisite construction. I have to say that, for their size, it is highly rare for such remains to be almost unheard of. Little is known about the site’s history, although we do know that there was a sewage works in existence before the current one. This would be the remains of it, which has been identified and confirmed.

See footage of the remains here:

(please note we describe the ruin as Explosives Magasines, which we set out to find. We mistook these remains for them, at the time)