The folklore of Purfleet has a rich history of links with the Thames and more than one royal connection

  Posted: 09.07.20 at 12:51 by Susan Yates

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FOLLOWING last week's ceremony to official rename Purfleet as 'on-Thames' Thurock Nub News history writer Susan yates reflects on the town's long past.

FOLKLORE has it that Purfleet got its name when Queen Elizabeth I (1558 to 1603) was standing on the shore watching her ships return from battle and said ‘Oh My Poor Fleet’.

The earliest record 1285 from the Cartulary of the Knights Hospitallers shows the name as Purteflyete and in 1313 the Calendar of Close Rolls recorded it as Purflete. After centuries of being known as Purfleet from 4th July 2020 it is officially known as Purfleet on Thames.

Purfleet in history is known for its Gunpowder Magazines, the Botany, and its connection with Count Dracula.

After public outcry because of its close proximity to the City of London the Royal Gunpowder Mills formerly located on the Greenwich Peninsula were moved to Purfleet. This involved getting an act of Parliament which they did in 1760.

Designed by James Gabriel Montresor Chief Engineer in the Provinces they opened in 1765. The five magazines were each able to hold 10,400 barrels. They were brick built, windowless, with copper doors and sand in the roof voids in order to reduce the effect of any explosion.
Built to store gunpowder before being distributed to both the Army and Navy a garrison of artillery was brought in to protect the site which was finally sold in 1962. No. 5 magazine, the Proof House and Clock Tower still remain and are listed Grade II*. No. 5 Magazine now houses The Purfleet Heritage Centre started in 1992 by Alan Gosling.

Not far from the Heritage Centre is The Royal Hotel which was erected in the early 19th century on the site of an earlird inn called “The Ship” (1769-1828). From 1828 it became “The Bricklayers Arms” until 1845 at about this time it became known as The Purfleet Hotel.

In Victorian times it became well known for its whitebait dinners attracting members of the theatrical profession.

In 1872 it changed its name to the Royal Hotel. In 1876 visitors to the hotel could obtain the key to the neighbouring Botany Garden the property of Samuel Whitbread MP. Brick built and painted white in late Georgian style with extensions with wide balconies overlooking the river it is Grade II listed.

It was owned by the Whitbread family until 1920, when it was acquired by Trust House Forte.

The Royal Hotel’s main claim to fame is that allegedly it was whilst staying here author Bram Stoker got the idea for his fictional character Count Dracula. We couldn’t leave Purfleet without mentioning High House and the Dovecote.

High House is a 17th century timber framed and plastered brick, with a red plain tile hipped roof. It has two storeys plus attics. Five window range double hung vertical sliding sashes with glazing bars. A central door with hood on and shaped brackets, with ornamental fanlight with stone steps up to it and iron rails.Two hipped dormer windows. Panelled end stacks. Extension to left hand end of front, set back. Interior has panelling, and a splendid 17th century staircase with twisted balusters.

To the right of High House stands the Dovecote. This is 17th century octagonal brick and tiled dovecote and is Grade II listed. It is reckoned to be one of the best known examples in the country.

A dovecote was a sheer luxury item and provided eggs and meat throughout the year. There was no waste even the guano was used as fertiliser.

This eight sided dovecote has 66 nesting boxes on each wall except the door wall which has only 55 making a total of 517 nest boxes. There is an internal ladder which moves around the interior wall so that all the boxes can be reached.

The dovecote has a steel door as well as a wooden door in order to keep out thieves and poachers. Having this original ladder and its original doors makes this an authentic and complete example. Because of this security, the dovecote was also used as a village lock-up or local jail for holding those in the area who committed petty theft and other minor crimes.

I also must mention Beacon Hill which was about 100 feet above the high water mark and was close to and overlooked the River Thames. It was part of a large estate owned by W.H.Whitbread; a name famously remembered today for the brewing dynasty.

This was famous for the lighthouse and attached keeper's cottage built to the standard design of the time and was similar to the Pakefield lighthouse and the Freshwater lighthouse on the Isle of Wight. It appears to have been used on an irregular basis at which times the keeper's cottage was also occupied.

During the 1940s the area was home to a World War II Prisoner of War camp and the prisoners here worked in the local quarries.

Purfleet also is home to the R.S.P.B. Reserve just across the River Mardyke so who knows, one day it may be known as Purfleet-on-Thames and Mardyke!

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