Damning question! Does Thurrock Council care about the borough's heritage?

  Posted: 08.05.21 at 13:37 by Susan Yates

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In the latest of her occasional columns for Nub news, local history expert Susan Yates has delivered a damning indictment of Thurrock Council’s commitment to local heritage.

I asked recently in my capacity as Chair of Thurrock Local History Society if Thurrock Council cares about its heritage. The question arose as a result of being told that Hazel Sacco, the council’s heritage officer, on returning from maternity leave had handed in her notice.

Everyone expected her relief Valina Bowman-Burns would be offered the job on a permanent basis.

Sadly, despite strenuous efforts this was not the case. The only employee of Thurrock Museum Services is part time. I am sure we all appreciate that Covid-19 has had a disastrous effect on most businesses but Thurrock Council’s track record in the area of heritage is not good.

The late Jonathan Catton, who began work for the museum service with Randal Bingley, Terry Carney and various different assistants, ended up in February 2011 as the sole employee as a result items donated to the museum were unable to be accessioned due to lack of staff. That resulted in, when asked by members of the public to see such items it was difficult to locate them.

It was only due to the work of volunteers pioneered by Hazel and continued by Valina that this problem began to be resolved. In order to facilitate this work the museum stopped taking donations temporarily.

Another question I now get asked is will the museum ever take donations again? Then I was asked if there was any truth to the rumour that the museum is to close and, if so, what is going to happen to its collection. I said that as far as I know the museum is staying open and not to worry.

The person concerned then said Thurrock Council have allowed Cholley’s Farm at Horndon to fall into a state of disrepair bordering on dilapidation. This is a Grade II listed 16th century house which is timber framed and plastered with a red tile roof. It has two storey 19th century chimney stacks with some modern extensions in spite of the efforts of the people of Horndon on the Hill nothing has been done to arrest this process.

Belhus Park

For decades the merry band of volunteers known as the Coalhouse Project leased the fort from the council and have maintained, looked after and improved it. They opened it to the public regularly providing guides for tours of these historic premises reckoned to be one of, if not the best forts of this type.

This late 19th century fort was built on the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom in 1860. Its building was supervised by General Gordon of Khartoum and cost £130,000 approximately.

Thurrock Council in their wisdom have not renewed the lease and the Project have been forced to leave the premises removing their collection and museum pieces.

The fort is now no longer open to the public and no longer looked after. It will not be long before nature reclaims the site with weeds all over the parade ground the buildings will begin to crumble as the damp inevitably creeps in.

The gun emplacements will once again become invisible as brambles cover the area and years of good work done by the volunteers of the Coalhouse Fort Project just disappears into the pages of history and yet another part of Thurrock’s Heritage is lost.

In May 1957 Belhus Manor was demolished having been damaged by the ravages of time and various regiments of the British Army. It would have cost approximately £35,000 at the time to restore but money was short.

Fast forward now to 2018/19 Thurrock Council were offered grant money to improve Belhus Park, which is a listed park and on the at risk register, provided they match-funded it. They declined.

I was told they did not have the finances despite having received S106 money for all the houses built opposite the park and Parkside, Aveley FC's football stadium.

Belhus Manor and Park was the home of the Barrett-Lennard family. It takes its name from Nicholas de Belhus who owned the land in the 14th century. His granddaughter Alicia de Belhus daughter of Thomas de Belhus and Elizabeth de Norton married John Barrett from Hawkhurst in Kent between 1398 and 1401. The house was built 1523/5 by another John Barrett to accommodate his expanding family and the estate enlarged predominantly by Edward Barrett on whose demise it passed to the Lennard family on condition that they incorporated the Barrett name into theirs.

I appreciate that after building their brand new offices the council are short of funds but does Thurrock Council care about its heritage?

I leave it to you, the readers, to decide?

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