Thurrock History Society: November Report

Essex Connections, Heroes and Villains
By Martyn Lockwood

AT our November meeting Martyn Lockwood gave us a whistle-stop tour of Essex, citing many heroes and villains who lived there. He started with Eliab Harvey of Chigwell, a Rear Admiral who fought at Trafalgar and was one of the pallbearers to Nelson, also serving as an MP. There was also a connection with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were brought home from their time in Australia and installed on farms in Greenstead and High Laver before going to Canada.

Julian Hedworth Byng commanded the army at Vimy Ridge in WW1. He was born in Hertfordshire but lived and died in Thorpe le Soken. Six soldiers from Essex were awarded VCs, the first being Sidney Frank Godley who died in Epping and the youngest Jack Cornwall aged only 16 who was born in Leyton and served in the battle of Jutland.
Another hero was Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker who did much for the welfare of prisoners, especially women and is buried in Barking. Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, was a mistress of Edward Prince of Wales, a great socialite who spent her life in Easton Lodge, Great Dunmow.

Top of the villains list was Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General in the English Civil War. About 100 women in Essex were accused of witchcraft. He lived in Manningtree and was buried in Mistley. Edith Thompson lived in Westcliff on Sea and Ilford. She and Frederick Bywater murdered Edith’s husband Percy and were hanged, being buried at Brookwood.

Several writers lived in Essex including Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers and H.G. Wells. Augustus John, who painted Lawrence of Arabia lived with his wife and mistress, sometimes touring in a gypsy caravan. A blue plaque was awarded to Henry Winstanley, born in Saffron Walden who invented the lighthouse; another plaque celebrates George Shillibeer who lived in Chigwell and invented the horse drawn omnibus.

Dick Turpin, who never had a horse called Black Bess, was a highwayman who committed violent murder as part of the Gregory Gang; he was also a smuggler and had a cave in Epping Forest. Other Essex notables included Grayson Perry, an artist who lives in Chelmsford, and Joan Hickson who lived in Wivenhoe, best known for her portrayal of Miss Marple.

Martyn mentioned many more people with Essex connections including William Morris (Arts and Crafts Movement and much more), actresses Maggie Smith and Juliet Stevenson, David Livingstone, Fa Thomas Byles, and doctors William Harvey, Joseph Lister and William Gull. William Moxon Armitage (aka Noel Gay) was the first person to have the most musicals on at the West End at one time. We were also told about William Calcraft, a hangman who was born in Little Baddow and sold meat pies outside the prison.

The Nobel Gold Medal was awarded to John William Strutt of Rayleigh’s Dairies, who discovered argon and Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the wireless.

Essex has for many years been the butt of jokes, but this illustrated talk showed that Essex folk deserve better, showing so many important people with connection with the county.

Our next meeting is at 8pm on Friday 17 December at St John’s church hall, Victoria Avenue, Grays, when we shall be holding our Christmas Party with a raffle, quizzes and refreshments. Visitors are welcome.

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  1. Pingback: NEWS DIGEST 02.12.2021: InYourArea national, London and Essex news

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