Saturday, December 2, 2023

Thurrock Local History Society: The History of Aveley

AT our first meeting since the Covid-19 lockdown we welcomed our Chairman Susan Yates who gave a well-illustrated talk on the History of Aveley. The village has a long history, dating back from the stone and bronze ages. In July 1964 at the Tunnel Cement pit in Sandy Lane the remains of a woolly mammoth and an elephant were found, both from different periods of history. Such was the interest in the finds that a viewing platform was erected, which Susan took advantage of. Later, in 1994 the remains of a lion were also found whilst work was carried out on the A13.

Romans and Anglo-Saxons lived in the area. Essex had several windmills, including the one at Aveley. The cottage in Mill Lane is still there, but the post mill was demolished in WW1 with the remains removed in 1923. We saw slides of the old vicarage where Rev Bixby Luard was a vicar from 1871 to 1895, father of Kate Evelyn, known as Evie, who served as a nurse in the Boer War and WW1. Kate had enlisted in the Queen Alexander Imperial Military Nursing Reserve Service, working on the front lines. She was awarded the rare Royal Red Cross medal 1st class and bar for her services; her letters home have since been the basis of two books. A plaque commemorating her life is now in the memorial gardens of St Michael’s church.

St Michael’s was built about 1120, when there were fewer than 30 Anglican churches in Essex and now there are over 300. In 1703 a big storm took off the spire, which was replaced with a smaller one. By 1830 it was in poor condition and unsafe, marked for demolition. However, the Aveley people paid £1000 for its repair. The War Memorial was originally erected at the Maltings but is now in the memorial gardens.

Several slides showed outings for the Aveley residents, mainly gathering at The Ship, maybe awaiting their Harris’s coach. In 1921 the windows of The Ship were broken, and further damage done by the soldiers of the Irish Regiment who went on a rampage in the village.

There were five manors in Aveley including Kennington, Courts and Bretts. The village boasted many pubs – The Harrow, (opposite the church and demolished by 1850), The Ship dating from 1754, The Crown and Anchor dating from the 15th century, The Lennard Arms dating from 1779 and the Prince Albert (now a Chinese restaurant) originally built about the 16th Century. A map of 1593 of the High Street showed a wider road where the market took place, still in evidence today.

A 1777 map showed the site of Belhus Manor, home of the Barrett-Lennards. It was this house that sparked Susan’s love of history when she first saw it after moving to the area as a child and was shown round. The parkland had been restyled by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1755. Thomas Barrett-Lennard would today be considered a ‘green’, setting out the grounds, including the Long Pond. In 1919 the Barrett-Lennards moved out and it was sold in 1923. Damage was done to the house by soldiers billeted there in WW2. Repairs were considered too costly and it was demolished in 1957. The walled garden has been built over but the ice house and the stench pole are still there. As part of a parks and gardens survey a recent a geophys by Historic England was carried out and a drone survey found the Tudor garden was still there under the golf course. The local Council are interested and are keen on discovering more.

This was a very detailed and interesting illustrated talk, a fine start to our 2021/22 season. Our next meeting is at 8pm on Friday 15 October at our new venue, St John’s Church hall in Victoria Avenue, Grays, when John Matthews will be giving us a talk on Anglo-Saxon landscapes. Visitors are most welcome.


  1. Aveley Crown & Anchor was the Pigeon Station’s clubhouse of the local Aveley Flying Club pigeon club, Club meetings were held every Friday evening in the ‘club house’ that backs up to the main building in the back garden. Although approaching near 50 members would attend for the ‘minutes of the meetings’ on Fridays to Strike their Clocks to a Greenwich Mean Pip type command from the Master Clock time co-ordinator in a precise military style, there was always a shortage of seats due to the size of the building and often many members would have to ‘strike their clocks’ whilst standing on their feet, a phase of the times (50s ) being ‘Jolly well not tickety-boo’. This was a remnant of war time phases as many members were survivors of WW11 and also some of WW1 that would make Dads Army seem like a bunch of teenagers. Pigeon fanciers were very abundant in the Aveley area and although the club would be always packed so would the pub with followers. The wartime side of pigeon racing is an untold story, underestimated and un-thanked by the same people who disbanded the SOE .

  2. The Aveley Flying Club’s pigeon rings were issued at the Crown & Anchor clubhouse. They bore international registration. The rings would have numbers similar to NU-59-AFC-********** , NU stood for National Union (a British Racing federation of affiliations issued from Britain’s Pigeon HQ at Cheltenham. Glos. Yes, not far from the present GCHQ ‘doughnut factory’ and not unconnected as racing & homing pigeons are still used as Winged Tellegrams services that don’t officially exist that are below the radar of electronic communications, one could say – rather difficult to Hack into, being not be too far from the truth, yes stranger than fiction, but that’s another story. Back to the rings, NU followed by the year the bird was born followed by AFC, ( Aveley Flying Club ) followed by it’s individual reg. number. As rings had to be put on birds feet when they’re chicks, unlike modern car number plates, very difficult to clone ! . Racing pigeons are highly protected, some were ‘ lost in action’ in war and others ‘missing in action’ , maybe sucked into Doodle-Bug engines on the same flight path, who knows, not a feather to tell the story.A lost history.

  3. The Crown & Anchor besides offering a clubhouse for the Aveley Flying Club pigeon fanciers, the car park resembling a market with wicker baskets, birds being processed for weekend races, it was also a venue for a strange local band of brothers, The Pirates. Up until the 60s the Crown was an Old World type pub, Brown-Bess muskets hung from the wooden ceiling beams, cutlasses, flintlocks and the brick-a-brack of past sailing days adorned what appeared to be not far short of a Galley, in fact it was not far short of walking into a museum . A strange group would meet there ‘on occasions’ , dress code similar to Pirates of the Caribbean, they were an early form of Reenactors , fully fledged in grease paint & soot, flintlocks and cutlasses along with their grappling hooks, ready to board any of the other carnival floats on the Aveley Carnival from their Pirate Ship float, a very colourful group of ‘local Aveley natives’.

  4. The Kenningtons estate began being built in the early 50s by the LCC on the inactive fallow stony wasteland of thistles & weeds that were able to survive on the barren surface, unlike the surrounding tilled farmlands and pastures. Not far under the surface lies a rich source of the famous Rainham Yellow Gold, the primeval yellow sand. The military had left Belhus taking with them their Willis jeeps that competitively raced each other along the Romford Road from Aveley to the Stubbers fuel dump , often crashing with their Buck-shea fuel that without the local wartime black-market supply would have dried up. The crashed & broken ones often ending up at the Thomas Ward yard at Grays after a few years storage at the Titan chalk quarry along with ‘Whitmores’ tanks. Work began with a concrete U shaped road , Usk Road. It was quite a patch work building venture, the first two Blocks to be completed being the first block and the third block on the right as one goes in from the Clay Quarry end, there were no gardens front or back, just a few scattered concrete patches waiting to be built on. The two blocks had concrete paths leading to their front doors from what would later, some years later, be pavements. They were gullies flanked on one side by road kerb stones and the front door concrete paths on the other. After periods of rain they were waterlogged gullies, boards were often laid across until someone came up with the idea to use the waste clinker from the Dagenham Ford foundry some years later that Fords were having difficulty giving away. In the meantime the building of the bland brick boxes with square holes in them for windows progressed, bland brick frontages with ‘windows without eyebrows’ as they were described at the time.

  5. My Grandparents Alfred & Susan Gibbs, Mother Gloria and Uncle Martin moved into 23 Nare Road in 1954 and My grandmother lived there until 2004 when the stairs became too much for her. I was christened in the Methodist church on Shannon Way in 1968, my parents being married there in 1966, I often attended Sunday School there when visiting. Aveley, Belhus, South Ockendon and Kenningtons were a huge part of my childhood and early adulthood. We also lived in Grange Road for a few years in the late 80’s Early 90’s. Which is when I used to frequent the Crown & Anchor. Do many memories too many to write here. My Grandfather Alf Gibbs as he was known worked for Fords in Dagenham after WW2 till his retirement.

  6. The Kennington’s estate was progressively built on the upward slope of the stony covered ‘wasteland’ where it still sits, frozen in time whilst the world around it moves forward in time around it ( and sometimes backward, i think the apt word would be ‘degenerates’ ). It’s seen many changes, some for better – some for worse . The first influx to inhabit the dwellings, built on the pre-war ‘upper range designs’ of the Siberian workcamps and Goulags , the designs lending themselves for quick & basic cheap housing for ‘unfortunate and needy’ & displaced survivors of the London Blitz ( the City being fireballed, not much left of it, a few smoldering cinders ). Amongst the first assortment of rag tag ‘refugees’ from London, arriving like something out of a Quatermass or War of the Worlds film, were what could be called professional & semi professional master craftsmen types, as well as the more unfortunate classes, all of which had gone through Hell before arriving in purgatory on the Kenningtons, often referred to in them early days as ‘the Pea-pickers estate’ . With promises that work for all with well paid jobs and that within the ‘set’ 10 year lifespan of the alternative Jerry built Prefab accommodations, that within this period the unfortunates would be able to get back on their feet and buy back into London, open shops or whatever it was that they had lost, optimism was very high amongst the first Settlers. It was not to last, the exodus of many of the first settlers was to begin, leaving behind them the nickname of the Kenningtons estate – the ‘Pea-pickers’ Estate. For many on the Kenningtons life was going to change as many ‘ left behind unfortunates ‘ went into survival mode.

  7. John McAulifee In reply to your post about pigeons. My uncle Dixie Montgomery from Rainham was married to an Aveley girl Lil Price. I discovered he was well known and respected in Pigeon Fancier circles for breeding and keeping a certain type of bird. Whether they lived in Rainham or Aveley after they married I do not know. He was certainly keeping the birds well before the war. By the outbreak of WW2 they were living in Rainham in a cottage next to Rainham Working Mans Club (His father was one of the founders) After he was called up aunt Lil took over the care of the birds which were quite large and known for their long distance flying and fearlessness flying under flack. She was paid by MOD seed paid for and delivered by Cramphorns Seed Merchant. When the house was bombed by some miracle the pigeon loft and my aunt and cousin were unhurt. The adult trained birds would be collected and taken to Bletchley Park amongst other places. He had quite a few cups for racing and one medal for one very special bird awarded by a special society for Animal bravery. Sadly when I asked his only surviving daughter what happened to it she had no idea. Uncle Dixie continued with pigeons til the late 50’s then he bred Budgies. LOL til I heard about his birds from an elderly fellow Fancier I had no idea there were different breeds of Pigeon as there are with dogs.


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