Monday, December 4, 2023

Thurrock History Society: A celebration of Grays library

AT our October meeting Grays librarian Joseph Cooper gave us a comprehensive view of all the collections available in the Local Studies section of Grays library, including maps, documents, pamphlets, souvenirs and booklets etc. stored in the archive. 

The first Grays library opened in the High Street in 1893 and soon proved to be too small. Funds were obtained from Andrew Carnegie to build a new library on land donated by Charles Seabrooke and Harry Astley in Orsett Road in 1903. This too became too small, so a new building, now known as Thameside, was erected and opened on the site in 1972, incorporating the library.

Every library has to have a research facility. If all libraries closed the National Archives and British Library would take collections, preserving our heritage. Our old, cross-referenced card index on the first floor is still available, although not up to date.

Joseph said some of the open access documents are being re-located into closed access; this is a treasure trove. The archives show books acquired from the 1970s, together with the annual reports from the chief librarians showing how they helped to expand the collections.  The Local Studies also have Yellow Pages, Palmer’s School journals, Kelly’s trade directories, a complete set of Essex Countryside magazines, together with in-house magazines from local employers, including the Port of London Authority and Unilever. Various old newspapers are in the archive and Joseph read out some of the funny items.

There are handwritten books, including articles by the Rev. Hayes, complete with church drawings. Poetry books are also there, including some poems by Randal Bingley – one of which was read out at the meeting. The local studies library also has novels by local residents and many photographs, including those of the erection of the first Dartford Tunnel, now 60 years on. There is a large collection of maps, including Ordnance Survey, some of which are not on the National Library of Scotland website. There are also reports of Local events, and Essex ballads, some of which were hilarious, Books include those on the Peasants’ Revolt and even one on Essex Privies, providing a nostalgic trip down the garden path. New acquisitions include Essex Rock, and the DP World project.

Over the years, despite the invention of television etc. reading has continued, which the library still promotes. It plays a vital role in fostering awareness and local identity., seeking to collect history as it happens, for future generations, welcoming contributions on historical research and still needing volunteers. This was a very informative talk, showing how varied the local studies archives are – well worth a visit.

Our next meeting is at 8pm on Friday 17th November at St John’s Church Hall, Victoria Avenue, Grays, when Mark Rowland’s talk will be on Gordon Steele VC – Life on the Thames and at sea. Visitors are welcome.


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