70 years of Thurrock Local History Society

By Susan Yates - Nub News contributor

3rd Nov 2022 | Local Features

Members Maggie Smith and Norma Leach man the History Society display at the Orsett Show
Members Maggie Smith and Norma Leach man the History Society display at the Orsett Show

Susan Yates continues her occasional series of articles about the borough's history - this time focusing very close to home.


In 1990 a friend invited me to join Thurrock Local History Society. It had been going then for nearly 40 years. Little did I know that 30 years later it would still be going strong and I would be chairman.

It all began when Mr Keith Bannister, Mr A. Bannister, Miss E. Smith, Mr H. Sturla, Mr W. Staggs and Mr Aubrey Saunders met on 7 November 1952 at Baird's Restaurant, Grays.

They agreed to place an advert in the Thurrock Gazette of 28 November 1952 notifying the public of the first meeting of Thurrock Local History Society to be held on 5 December 1952 at Baird's Restaurant. 

Miss Smith was elected as the first society chairman. In 1953 the Society moved their meetings to the Central Library. Aubrey Saunders became chair in 1956 and the Society produced its first journal with Miss G. Goodyear as its editor. 

The first article was by Glynn Morgan entitled Inn Signs of Thurrock. In 1967 the journal changed its name to Panorama. It is still published today. Local Historian F. Z. Claro presented the Society with a gavel made from the oak timbers which had formed part of Oak Farm, Corringham. 

In 1969 the Society became affiliated to the Arts Council and remained a member until 30 July 2018. 

In 1971 Derek Austin joined the committee and served until 1980 when he was replaced by 'Mr Thurrock' Jonathan Catton. Derek returned in 2003 as Vice Chairman. In 1974 John Webb became a committee member being vice chair in 1979 and ultimately chairman in 1986 a position he filled with distinction until April 2003.

The Society was growing and in 1976 moved from the Central Library to the then Adult Education Centre in Richmond Road, Grays.

I joined the Society in 1991 and in 1992 was invited to join the committee by then chairman John Webb. The late Brian Burton came on to the committee in 1994. Committee meetings were held in Stanford-le-Hope at the home of Graham Jenkins or occasionally at John Webb's house in Grays.

The millennium saw me elected as vice-chairman. 

Every June the Society feature at Horndon Feast and Fayre and September at the Orsett Show. Initially in the Arts Council Marquee and then the Heritage Zone marquee organised by our former vice chairman Jonathan Catton.

The Society has arranged sponsors for and organized the Heritage Zone Marquee every year since.

2002 was the 50th anniversary of the Society which had more than 100 members. 

A celebratory lunch was held at The Angel, Lavenham.

2003 saw the launch of our website under the guidance of Derek Austin and John Matthews. We receive enquiries from around the globe from former residents, historians and family historians. 

In April of 2003 John Webb decided to step down as chairman after 17 years sterling service. He still serves the Society today as a consultant as his knowledge of the history of Grays is phenomenal. I succeeded John as chair and this year completed my 20th year of service.

With the aid of grants 2004 saw the first of our celebrity lectures with Fred Dibnah speaking to a full house at the Thameside Theatre. 2005 saw Prof Richard Holmes giving a talk at Bata Hotel.

2012 saw the Society celebrate its 60th anniversary with visits to Olympic Park, a Thames Murder Cruise and dinner at the Orsett Hall. 

The dinner was attended by various guests including then Mayor Cllr Yash Gupta and our Member of Parliament Jackie Doyle-Price with Cllr Mark Coxshall. The evening was rounded off with a speech by the chairman who read out a congratulatory letter from Her Majesty the Queen. The year also saw the Society begin its Parish Guides with John Matthews (Chadwell St Mary) and myself Susan Yates (Horndon on the Hill).

In 2014 a Heritage Lottery Fund grant allowed us to publicise the works of Alfred Russel Wallace who conceived the 'Theory of Evolution' with Charles Darwin and lived at The Dell. The year saw outings to Audley End and Windsor where members had a boat trip - sadly the weather was unkind and it poured down.

2015 saw our re-arranged trip to Stow Maries, together with visits to Chartwell and Ely. John Webb stepped down as editor of Panorama and was succeeded by Alan Leyin. Unfortunately, our membership dropped to 95. 2016 saw the completion of the Heritage Lottery Fund Project raising awareness of Alfred Russel Wallace and his work The Society had visits to Sutton Hoo, Ightham Mote and Bodiam Castle as well as Bletchley Park. 

Due to lack of interest the decision was taken not to organise any more outings. 

The late Jonathan Catton Jonathan (third from right) and others celebrate the launch of the Tilbury and Chandwell Memories web site. Sue Yates is fourth from the left with June Brown, sadly also no longer with us.

In August 2016, shortly after beginning what was a well deserved retirement Jonathan Catton passed away. Here is a link to a tribute to him from the Society.

Former Chairman of the Arts Council and Society Patron Chris Harrold passed away in October 2018. He had also been the first guest editor of the Society's website.

2019 was a quiet year and the rest, as they say, is history because 2020/2021 saw lockdown due to Covid.

Society meetings reconvened in new premises at St John's Church Hall, Grays, on 17 September 2021. The Society currently has approximately 50 members.

The Society still meet every third Friday from September to May. A variety of speakers address the members on local history.

Friday 21 October saw the Society celebrate its 70th anniversary with MP Jackie Doyle-Price, Leader of the Tory Council Mark Coxshall, Mayor James Halden, Cllrs Qasar Abbas, Debbie and Paul Arnold and former Mayor Tunde Ojitola as their guests at a splendid buffet at St John's Church Hall. A good time was had by all and our guests wished us well for the next 70 years.


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