Monday, April 22, 2024

Thurrock News: March 1914: Five men drown off Purfleet

By Peter Perrin

FOR THE NEXT four years, once a month, we will be bringing you the news from one hundred years ago.

We are doing this to reflect what was going on in Thurrock in the days, months, years surrounding the first world war.

As any mass observation study will show, we do not aim to show how the people of Thurrock reacted to the war but rather how life went on. At the same time, we hope we might find some interesting stories.

So, from the archive of the “The Grays and Tilbury Gazette, Hornchurch, Rainham and Upminster Telegraph”


On Monday afternoon [16th March] a disaster occurred in the river Thames off Purfleet which resulted in five lives being lost. The weather on Monday was of the worst in the recollection of any of the Thames Watermen, a gale of wind of great force blew down the river and the water was unusually rough.

The tug “Coburn” had been engaged in towing lighters up the river. All went well until the tug passed Purfleet, where the tide sweeps down from Long Reach at a terrible speed. Just as the tug was passing that part of the river opposite the training ships “Arethusa” and [?], she was struck broadside on by a mighty wave and before she could recover herself she was struck by a second wave, which caused her to founder. She settled down- from the stern-and though sirens were sounded all round she sank before any help could reach her. The river is about a mile wide at this point, and after being struck a second time “The Coburn” went hist14to the bottom in less than two minutes.

The boys of the training ship “Arethusa” launched three of their boats to try to reach the sinking tug or pick up her crew, but they were too late, as were other boats which put off from both sides of the river. The water was icy cold at the time and the men, who were clinging to the rigging, went down with the tug and never rose again, no doubt the suction of the foundering tug dragging them down.

The captain [Captain Roff and the youth John Swaith] were picked up by a tug- this vessel, seeing the danger that the “Coburn” was in, steamed after her and threw off her own bow rope, but she was too late to get to the ill-fated craft before she went down stern foremost.

The tug, however, managed to pick up Captain Roff and Swaith and the latter would probably have perished with the remainder on board had it not been for the bravery of the captain, who supported him in the water until assistance arrived.


The meeting of the Grays Council School Managers was held on Tuesday [3rd.] Mr Shield desired to enter a strong protest against the way the County Education Committee had stepped in as to the bathing of children in the district. The Managers were fully decided that the children should be bathed where the parents agreed, and not that only those children who were ordered to be bathed on account of uncleanliness should receive a bath. The Managers scheme had been sanctioned by the Board of Education, who had thoroughly gone into the matter. It was preposterous for the County Committee to now say the baths should be used for unclean children only.


Wanted a man to take charge of the Council’s horse and to go with the Sewage Van, Dust Cart, and to assist at the Sewage Disposal Works in the Parish of Stanford-le-Hope. Wages £1.6s.6d per week; 5s.6d per week will be charged for a house at the Pumping Station. Applications in writing, with one reference, to be sent to the undersigned on or before five o’clock on Thursday next, the 12th inst, endorsed “Horseman”. James Beck, Clerk to the Council. 2, Orsett Road, Grays.

GRAYS TOWN PLANNING SCHEME – Statutory Meeting of Landowners – Looking Ahead Fifty Years

Grays Urban District Council having given notice that they intended to apply to the Local Government Board for authority to prepare a town planning scheme in relation to certain lands comprising parts of the parishes of Aveley, West Thurrock, Stifford, Grays Thurrock and Little Thurrock under the Town Planning Act 1900, the statutory meeting of owners of land, etc, in those parishes was held at the Victoria Hall on Thursday [5th inst].

Mr T,N, Hanks, vice-chairman of the Grays Urban District presided. The Chairman, on behalf of the Grays Council, extended a hearty welcome to all present that evening. The Council desired the co-operation of all in the preparation of a scheme. The Chairman said he would first of all tell them what had really lead up to this. There was a cessation of building in Grays and the Council thought it had been their experience in days gone by that when they wished to acquire anything it had proved a very costly and cumbersome proceeding.

They were not there to criticise what their predecessors had done 40 or 50 years ago -probably had they had to do the same they would have done no better or worse. What they were there now for was to try and avoid the errors into which they had fallen in the past. The trend of the times was for better houses, better air space, wider roads and better accommodation all round in their towns and villages. It might be said “What are your motives in preparing a town plan?” He might tell them candidly that/the Council were actuated by the best of motives.

It might be asked also, “Why did the Council take the initiative?” Well someone must take the initiative and though the Grays Council was not the oldest public authority in the district, they were a central authority, and they were much better able to endeavour to develop the remaining portion of the town, than a body with many scattered parishes to deal with and all the prejudice to beat down.

If you thought text speak was a recent trend how about this advert in 1914 by a Birmingham Company called WHYNOTYOU for whom the sole agent in Essex was J. Thompson, Hampden Road, Grays.
Y not U

Tilbury Hospital Cup – Grays Athletic ‘A’ 2 Beaconstone 0
South Essex League – Barking 2 Grays Athletic 1
Grays League – Little Thurrock 3 Chadwell 2
Athenian League – Tufnell Park 2 Grays Athletic 1



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