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Southend-on-Sea Pier

Used for pleasure and as the RNLI lifeboat station, Southend Pier is the longest in the world. Designed by James Brunlees, this 2,2158m construction consists of hardwood decking upon iron piles and was opened in 1830. The original construction, however, was first opened in 1830 after receiving Royal Assent the previous year and was of complete wooden structure. Southend was the first pier to operate a railway in Britain, which opened in the early 1890’s.


West Beach and Pier Pavilion, Southend on Sea (1900s)

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Southend Pier played a part in both World Wars. During WWI three ships were moored off the pierhead, one held German soldiers captured in France and the other two held civilians. Remarkedly, the pier remained open for recreation.

During WWII the pier was taken over by the Navy, renamed HMS Leigh and was closed to the public. In November 1939 a ninety-minute air raid was deferred by the pier’s defenders. 84,000 ships passed Southend in total, with only one casualty—SS Richard Montgomery and we have blogged about this ship already [here].

Post war, the pier flourished for several years but in 1959 a fire destroyed the pavilion which was located at the shore end. Five-hundred people were trapped and in need of rescue, which happened by boat. The pavilion was replaced by a ten-pin bowling alley and holidaying to Southend reached was reaching its heyday.

As holidaymakers turned to package holidays abroad, Southend like many other British seaside towns begun to decline and the pier run into disrepair. Several fires later and by 1980, the council announced its plans to close the pier. Protesters battled to keep it open.

Fire has destroyed parts of the pier several times, and in October 2005 it caused significant damage to the old pierhead and surrounding structures. By 1st December of the same year, it had reopened to the public once again and by 2007 had won pier of the year.

Southend seafront has seen considerable investment and regeneration over the past few years, and in our opinion is worthy of a visit!


by Donna Siggers and David Last
Postcard image credit, Elizabeth Ponder

Coalhouse Jetty, Fort & A Queen's Speech

One of the places we like to take a walk is Tilbury as it en-route between our two homes. The history of the place is truly  and every time we visit, there are new discoveries to be made and we thought you’d like a taster of what we found out from our last visit.

Interestingly, the first defences in Tilbury were built during the late Middle Ages to defend against a French attack and there has been a timber jetty at this location since this time, often being destroyed and then rebuilt. The defences consisted of towers and earthworks. Under the reign of Henry VIII, a blockhouse was built which formed part of our costal defence scheme. This stood near the site of a radar tower that served our coast during WWII—incidentally, the radar tower still stands and was marked on maps of the time as a ‘water tower’ to distract the purpose of its use. Built in 1540, the blockhouse would have held fifteen cannons, which were updated to twenty-seven guns just seven years and had guns a range of one mile.

During the Victorian Era, a jetty was built on the same site, allowing barges to unload supplies and armaments. As you can see from the images we took, some of the wooden structures still stand from what was the railway link.


Remains of the jetty at Coalhouse

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Tilbury has an interesting history—once an important gateway to the capital for temporary visitors on liners it also received one of its most important ones back on 9th August 1588. Queen Elizabeth I sailed from London to review her forces who were in preparation to repel the Spanish Armada. Stepping ashore at Tilbury Fort, a short distance from this site, the original building of which her father—Henry VIII—had built as a defence against the French and Spanish, and that had been extended during her reign, our monarch (due to the marshy terrain) travelled up the hill to what is now the modern village of West Tilbury. Local historians have identified the location of Queen Elizabeth’s speech as having taken place in a field next door to the parish church of Chadwell St Mary.

Famously, the speech she made at this location included these words, “…I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king…”

Tilbury Fort bears little resemblance now to the structure Elizabeth I would have seen. Aware of the threat of a Dutch invasion of the capital, Charles II ordered a review of the coastal defences, and the fort was remodeled into its present pentagonal shape, with a double moat. Ironically, given the threat from the Netherlands, the architect was a Dutchman. Other forts were constructed on this vital stretch of the Thames, where the river makes two 90-degree turns. If the artillery from one failed to deter an invader, there were other opportunities to repel the attack.

Four miles along the riverbank, still on the Essex side and near the village of East Tilbury, the Victorians built Coalhouse Fort. Although by the time it was completed the threat of invasion was over, its construction was overseen by a Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon, a job he found less to his taste than his later role in Khartoum. Coalhouse Fort was extended during the First World War, and again in the Second. Extra layers were added to the structure, and large searchlights were installed upon the roof.


Coalhouse Fort WWII Tower


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After years of economic decline there are signs of regeneration, and a growing pride in the area and its heritage. A path, part historical and part wildlife trail is also being developed. When this is finalised the ‘Two Forts Way’ will provide a four-mile walk between the forts: or for those less interested in history, between the pubs next to each.

Coalhouse Fort holds open days, and if a lottery bid succeeds, there will be major renovations. There are no plans as yet to open the grand old Tilbury cruise terminal to the public, but the restaurant is being refurbished and will soon reopen as Tilbury Riverside, a local arts activity center, so there is a lot happening for the future regeneration of this wonderful place.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

St Cedd: A Look Back into Saxon Essex

Thirteen-hundred years ago the Christian faith was being spread throughout Ireland and Scotland. Patrick, in Ireland, had established many monasteries and from there Columba had come to Iona (a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland) where a monastery and other Christian centres were established. From this first Scottish monastery, a man called Aidan was sent, by invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria to set up a monastery at Lindisfarne on the north-east coast. This monastery would also become a school where Anglo-Saxon boys could be trained to become priests and missionaries. It was here that Cedd and his and his brothers Caelin, Cynebil and Chad learnt to read and write in Latin and learnt to teach the Christian faith.

Cedd, after being ordained as a priest later became a bishop. His first mission was to travel to Mercia (the midlands) by request of his ruler, King Paeda, which was a successful mission. After hearing of this success, King Sigbert of the Essex Saxons asked for a similar mission—for Cedd to travel to Essex and teach the Christian faith.

In 653, Cedd sailed down the east coast of England from Lindisfarne to Bradwell, where he found ruins of an old deserted Roman fort. It’s believed he built a small wooden church which was soon replaced by the plentiful stone from the fort, providing a much more permanent building.

The chapel still stands today.

Greatly influenced by the architecture of the churches in Egypt and Syria, Cedd modelled this church in this style. Build on what was called the River Pant (now the River Blackwater) we know that St Anthony of Egypt had built his church from the ruins of a fort on the banks of a river in the same way as Cedd.

Due to the success of Cedd’s mission to the East Saxons he was recalled to Lindisfarne and made Bishop of the East Saxons the same year. His monastery at Bradwell, although simple, would also have been a church. A community of both men and women, a hospital, a library, a school, an arts centre, a farm, a guest house and a mission base. From this base he established other Christian centres at Mersea, Tilbury, Prittlewell and Upminster.

Cedd often travelled north to visit his childhood home and in 659 was introduced to King Ethelwald, who asked him to establish a monastery in Northumbria. While at this site in 664 he caught the plague as he lay dying thirty of his monks from Bradwell came to be with him. They too caught it, with only one boy surviving who returned to Bradwell.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

The Flying Dutchman

Stepping aboard a large houseboat, as an ex-sailor, my eyebrows are raised as Dave announces, "welcome aboard the Flying Dutchman". Glancing through the windows, there's no glimmering golden mirage emerging in the distance of a ghostly ship unable to reach its harbour, nor is there a brewing storm. Instead, we’ve stepped aboard an impressive German vessel of magnificent proportions and decor. Given the history of this ship's name, we asked the owner and his daughter, Mr Smith and Michelle if we could feature The Flying Dutchman on our blog. With huge gratitude, and our utmost respect, we cannot thank them enough for agreeing.

Upon researching it became apparent there have been several boats blessed with the same name, one an international sailing champion, no less. Even a champion race and stud horse, back in the eighteen-hundreds was blessed with this name. The Flying Dutchman has featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and even in the children’s TV series, SpongeBob SquarePants. Notoriously, it’s also an opera by Wagner (1843) adapted from an episode in Heinrich Heine's satirical novel The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski (Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski) (1833), in which a character attends a theatrical performance of The Flying Dutchman in Amsterdam.

This particular boat however was built back in 1957 at the German Naval shipyard, in Suellberg, along the Elbe River in Hamberg. A steel motor yacht, the Flying Dutchman was used by German customs as a patrol vessel during the Cold War, a time that nuclear threats dominated international affairs and that tension remained between East and West Germany after WWII.

The East German border was guarded by the Border Troops, (Pogranichnyie Voiska) of the Soviet NKVD (later the KGB). In 1946, the Soviets established a locally recruited paramilitary force, the German Border Police (Deutsche Grenzpolizei or DGP), under the administration of the Interior Ministry for Security of the State Frontier (Innenministerium zum Schutz der Staatsgrenze). Both the Soviet troops and the DGP shared responsibility for patrolling the border and crossing points. By 1956, the Soviets had handed border control over to the East Germans.

West German state organisations were responsible for policing the western side of the border, they included the Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS, Federal Border Protection), the Bayerische Grenzpolizei (Bavarian Border Police) and the Bundeszollverwaltung (Federal Customs Administration). Additionally, the British Army, the British Frontier Service, the United States Constabulary, and the United States Army carried out patrols and provided backup in their respective sectors of the border. The vessel we’d stepped upon was a German customs patrol boat and given the time she had been built would have been a part of this, securing West German coast. 

At some point, possibly after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, she became a house boat and no cost was spared when she was converted. Still splendid today, it has been our great pleasure to have been aboard The Flying Dutchman and to have discovered her history. Thank you.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Viking Invasion

Hythe Quay in Maldon, Essex has already been mentioned within our blog, but it deserves a feature of its own. Home of the sailing barge that has become part of Maldon’s living heritage, many of the lovingly restored barges are still used commercially as charter vessels today. The Hythe—as the port is known—was once a separate hamlet, its skyline dominated by the town of Maldon and the prominent tower of St Mary’s Church, which was first built by Saxon settlers and then rebuilt in the twelfth century.

Maldon is special for many more reasons and is often referred to by TV chefs because if its famous salt but its also famed for much more. It hosts the infamous mud race each year, attracting many entrants, including celebrities and raises charitable funds for varying causes.

On 11th August 991, Anglo-Saxon Men of Maldon once stood their ground. Led by Eldorman Britnorth, they formed a militia force at the causeway end of Northey Island. Vikings had settled on the island, where they’d established a temporary base having already pillaged Folkestone, Sandwich and Ipswich. They were ready to attack Maldon.

Britnorth, refusing to pay the Viking invaders to turn their ships and men around to leave instead challenged them to a battle—he even allowed them to cross the causeway between Northey Island and the mainland to do so, while they formed a human shield wall. Awaiting Viking advance, Britnorth and his militia force were pounded with arrows and, when closer, spears into their masses. Close, hand to hand bloody battle combat followed where loss on both sides was heavy. It wasn’t until the death of Britnorth himself that the battle turned in the Viking’s favour.

Why, then, has the Battle of Maldon been etched into our history when the Vikings raided England so many times? The battle itself seems insignificant in that it wasn’t the first time the Anglo-Saxons fought and lost against the Vikings. This battle, however, is referred to within medieval sources countless times, which includes an epic poem with a clear message for the Anglo-Saxon leadership. Thus, it became part of collective memory, and was the first full-scale battle during King Æthelred’s reign. It was also a signal of a troubled and complex time period.

Æthelred, although proving himself to be pro-active in foreign policy with great success after the Maldon battle, his own retainers undermined his every action to keep the Vikings out of England. They betrayed him to the Vikings or began fighting among themselves. On two occasions Æthelred lost a newly built navy due to his own men (992 and 1009) which caused his Viking enemies, especially Sweyn to persecute him, even sending him into exile until Sweyn’s death in 1014. It wasn’t until Æthelred’s own death, in 1016 that Anglo-Saxon England finally comes under the rule of a Scandinavian (Vi)king, Cnut the Great.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Cut Throat Lane

Given our enjoyment of walking and in uncovering the unusual, last weekend’s walk just had to begin an investigation into the past. Coming across a road sign, Cut-A-Thwart-Lane, had the cogs in our minds working. The obvious thought was that this might mean ‘Cut Throat Lane’ and indeed there are references to this.

Donna had heard the word thwart before and it wasn’t until she had looked it up that her canoeing days bought forward a boating link to the word. Indeed, its used to describe the wooden seat that reaches from one side of a boat to another.  A thwart cut is a fencing maneuver with swords too but deeper research revealed that an old English meaning of the phrase had been used on the River Blackwater, which is just a short distance away from this lane. When crossing the line of a ship’s path—cut-a-thwart in 15th century England meant to cross from side to side. Cut-throat, similarly, meant a short cut or to cut across, and in this case the lane was an alternative to the milestone-lined London Road that was the main route into Maldon.

Maldon had been granted a Royal Charter by Henry II in 1171 and is an ancient Anglo-Saxon burgh. From the Iron Age it has been settled in by Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans--and a blog for another day is that it’s the famous site of the famous Battle of Maldon fought between Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons in 991AD. It was, then, a high-profile town back in the day.

Interestingly, Cut-A-Thwart Lane shows geographic evidence suggesting it was once a hola-weg. The road, in places is much lower than the banks that flank its side, an indication of years of pounding by humans and animals long before modern road surfaces existed. Suggestive that this lane formed the boundary of the estates of Beeleigh Abbey and Fitzwalter’s Park the sunken result still floods to this day. Oliver Rackham (1939-2015) cited thirty-eight mentions of such hola-wegs in Anglo-Saxon charters, and this lane is one of those. Beeleigh (the meaning of which is a clearing in the trees where bee hives are kept) still has a magnificent dwelling very close to the entrance of the lane.

Fascinatingly, during the summer of 1550 Princess Mary (Mary Tudor, later Queen Mary I) was under house arrest at nearby Woodham Walter Hall. Her agents hatched a plan to smuggle her onto an imperial war ship that was moored at Maldon’s Hythe in order that she could escape to the Netherlands—it was believed she would have been somewhat safer there due to her religious beliefs. Sophisticated plans were made that would have avoided the main road into Maldon. Some kind of ‘secret passage’ was planned. Mary developed cold feet, possibly realising that if she gave up and fled, as a true daughter of Henry VIII, she would find her abdications of her royal prerogative hard to accept. Jehan Dubois, Secretary to the Ambassador met with Mary and liaised with her trusted officer Robert Rochester, who begged the imperial secretary for more time. Firm in his message to her, Dubois conveyed that now was the time to escape and that they had to leave immediately. She attempted to stall for more time but Dubois slipped away and the rowing boats left without her as he feared their plot was close to being discovered.

Three years later Mary ruled England, but was Cut-A-Thwart Lane their possible route?

We’d like to think so!


Donna Siggers and David Last

Pigs At Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle stands proudly, overlooking the River Medway, above the bridge that became an important factor in a six week siege that not only resulted in the collapse of an entire corner of the castle but one that still effects our lives today.

A castle has stood at Rochester since the Norman Conquest of 1066. However, the great tower that stands there today dates from 1127 and was built for the Archbishop of Canterbury—William of Corbeil—who shared ownership with the crown. Standing at 125 feet (30 metres) it’s the tallest keep in the British Isles, boasting two floors above the main level and basement, which is an unusual feature. Given the latrines and comfortable chambers it was a place to entertain royalty or an Archbishop but given the situation of 1215, décor was unimportant!

Civil war had broken out between King John (1199-1216)—the one portrayed in the Robin Hood story—and the barons who forced him to seal Magna Carta in June of 1215. Forcing the Pope to decline this null, King John who was based in the South and the barons who were based in London gathered soldiers.

Unwavering to King John’s demands to hand the castle over, Archbishop Stephen Langton allowed rebel Baron William de Albini and sixty to eighty knights, their retinues, archers and crossbowmen to take possession. The aforementioned bridge across the River Medway became important ground, as taking control here gave the upper hand and this became John’s priority.

Using fire-stone throwing siege engines and master miners from the Forest of Dean, King John undermined the wall of the Bailey first, before tunnelling under the great tower. The techniques they used were rather sinister! The grease from forty slaughters pigs ‘of the kind not fit for eating’ was used as an accelerant to burn the props holding the masonry in place that had been exposed by the minors. The inferno created by the fire caused the great tower to come tumbling down and those defending Rochester Castle—the barons—to retreat. Running out of food, they had no choice but to surrender to King John who wanted each of them hung. This act of carnage was dissuaded by his own captain who wished to avoid the same fate should the tables turn.


Rochester Castle
One of our favourite places to visit and photograph

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The Importance of Magna Carta: The Magna Carta Liberation or “Great Charter of Freedoms” that’s commonly known as Magna Carta is a Royal Charter of rights agreed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor on 15th June, 1215 and was first drafted by Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, in order to make peace between the unpopular King John and a group of rebel Barons. It promised the protection of church rights, protection against illegal imprisonment for the barons, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the crown to be implemented through a conduct of twenty-five barons. Although a lot of history has passed since 1215 and now, the Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Lest We Forget

Within a world that appears disjointed, something as simple as the symbol of a poppy can bring us together again. Its concept, born as the result of Col John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, in which he wrote about the barren countryside of the Western Front and of the ‘flanders’ poppy he witnessed growing among the mud that remained amid the turmoil of war.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

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American academic, Mona Michael, inspired by the poem made and sold the original silk poppies to commemorate those who had died in WWI. This concept was taken on by the British Legion after they formed in 1921, when they ordered nine million poppies to sell on 11th November in support of veteran’s causes. Over £106,000 was raised and it was decided a factory should open, employing disabled ex-servicemen in order to produce poppies—which were put into full production.

Remaining our symbol of remembrance, the British Legion’s poppy appeal continues to raise millions each year for current servicemen and women across the UK.

Variations do now exist, however. For example, a purple poppy represents animals that have served during conflict. The charity, Animal Aid created the purple poppy in 2006 with the view that animals lost to war were forgotten victims—an estimated eight million horses and donkeys died during WWI which was portrayed through Michael Morpurgo’s book ‘War Horse’ (now both a movie and stage play).

Similar to our story, the French also wear a flower. The bleuet de France (or cornflower) is the symbol for, and solidarity with veterans, victims of war, widows, and orphans. They are sold both on 11th November and 8th May. Proceeds are used to finance charitable causes.

On the barren fields of the Western Front, much like the poppy, the cornflower also flourished and were often the only visible sign of life among the mud and trenches.

With war arrives propaganda and the ‘Bluets’ as they were known (very young soldiers arriving at the front line for the first time) would do so in uniforms ‘the colour of the sky’ which was symbolised embellished with cornflowers, giving war a glamorous image.

The French Bleuet de France badge itself dates back to 1916 and was created by Suzanne Lenhardt (head nurse) and Charlotte Malleterre (widow of a Col Infantry killed in 1915). Both women had been moved by the suffering endured by the war wounded and provided them with an activity by arranging workshops where cornflower badges were made from tissue paper. The money collected provided the men with a small income and the badges gradually became a symbol of rehabilitation of soldiers through labour.

Lest we forget.

by Donna Siggers and David Last

Pyramid in the Park

Situated in parkland that contains Cobham Woods, Darnley Mausoleum is a striking surprise when you’ve never seen it before. Now owned by the National Trust, this building was designed by James Wyatt for the Forth Earl of Darnley of Cobham Hall in Kent, as detailed in precise instructions of his predecessor, the Third Earl of Darnley. Surprisingly, this structure has never been used for its intended purpose of interments.

Using the architectural style of a grand classical temple of Roman Doric Order, most recognisable by the simple circular capitals at the top of the columns, this isn’t what struck me when Dave took me here recently.


Darnley Mausleum (pictured looking out from woodland)

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Symbolism emits from every part of this incredible building that stands in the middle of the countryside, and anyone that's read my novels might know that I understand it . Most notable is the pyramid (a symbol for strength a duration) atop of it which then made me look for other signs: nine steps lead up to the entrance; nine vents in the form of flowers, each with eight petals, that allow air flow through three windows.

Let’s talk numbers—Masonic numbers. The number three was celebrated among ancient sages, the sum three times three (nine) has no less celebrity. Representing each of the elements which constitutes our bodies—water, earth and fire—are thus tripled. The flowers each have eight petals: eight was esteemed by Pythagoreans as the first cube being formed by the multiplication two by two by two. It signifies friendship, prudence, council and justice. Reduplication of the first even number it was made to refer to the primitive law of nature, supposing all men to be equal. Christian numerical symbologists consider the number eight the number for resurrection—here goes—Jesus rose on the seventh day. In Greek numerals, corresponding to its Greek letters this is represented as 10, 8, 200, 70, 400, 200. These numbers added is 888, the Dominical Number. (Number source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry).

Unfortunately, the building was locked so it wasn’t possible to gain entry, but I’m now intrigued as to what symbolism might lay within it.

Returning home with questions as to who might have wanted this important structure built in the first place, I got to researching who the Third Duke of Darnley might have been and the family connections he had were remarkable! Esmè Stewart, 3rd Duke of Lennox (1579-30 July 1624) KG, Lord of the Manor of Cobham, Kent, a Scottish nobleman and second cousin of King James VI of Scotland and I of England was also 3rd Duke of Darnley. Interestingly, his son, the 4th Duke of Darnley, served as Lord Warden of the Clique Ports based in Dover Castle (also in Kent).

Further research has revealed that both King James VI of Scotland (later I of England and Esmè Steward were Freemasons, which explains the elaborate design of Darnley Mausoleum and the rarity of it being placed in vast wooded parkland.

James I will also feature next week as we delve into November, and plots of treason against him.



By Donna Siggers with David Last

Sweet Misery

Looks sweet and innocent enough, doesn’t it, the jelly baby, but this unassuming treat has a dark past. What we want to know is do you have a sinister mastication to the method in which you eat them? Are you the type that goes straight in for the kill by chopping of the head, Henry VIII style? Or do you nibble off the arms and legs to leave a helpless torso? Perhaps you place the whole thing into your mouth and allow it to melt as if it’s in an acid bath! Pseudo-cannibalism may not have crossed you mind until now but allow us to take you through the history of this sweetie and all will be revealed!

Invented by an Austrian immigrant confectioner working at Fryers of Lancashire in 1864, the mold produced for what was supposed to be jelly bears looked more like new-born infants. Subsequently the sweets were given the macabre name, unclaimed babies. Unclaimed babies were part of life in Victorian Britain, with newborn babies being left on church steps regularly—Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: A History of Temptation claims that Victorian people would have found the name “amusing”.

This name was short-lived. In celebration of peace, after WWI, Bassett’s of Sheffield began producing the sweet in 1918 as Peace Babies but production was halted during WWII due to a shortage of raw materials. Once production restarted in 1953, they were relaunched as Jelly Babies and their popularity took off. They even have names as well as their individual flavour! “Brilliant” (red: strawberry); “Bubbles” (yellow: lemon); “Baby Bonny” (pink: raspberry); “Boofuls” (green: lime); “Bigheart” (purple: blackcurrant); and “Bumper” (orange).

There is a little more to their cute faces than meets the eye too—have you ever looked at them? Their faces illustrate sin and the darkness of the human heart. So here is the list for you to wrap your head around:- Pink: This one is an actual baby—awww! Red: Displaying a large B, representing blood sacrifice; Green: This baby is crying indicating human misery.

Doctor Who ate them, he pretended they were weapons against an enemy too in the popular cult TV show. Rowan Atkinson carried them in Johnny English Strikes Again, as disguised explosives. The Beatles were pelted with jelly babies, but most importantly Basil Brush considered them his favourite sweetie snack—and who could argue with a sitcom puppet fox?

by Donna Siggers and David Last

Abandoned Addictions

Abandoned buildings became a healthy addiction approximately five years ago, seeing me trawl google earth at every given opportunity. A visit to the Isle of Anglesey, gave me the perfect opportunity to visit some relics in the North East but nothing as interesting what I would stumble across.

After an hour’s map search this, find wasn’t an if but a when. Luckily, I found information that assisted me on google regarding a visit from a fellow explorer—he’d been chased from the park by a member of the Bulkeley family who lives nearby. From here I learnt the Baron Hill Estate had been owned by and had been the family seat to the influential Bulkeley family, explained his annoyance as the family lost their fortunes to death duties.

Undeterred, I arrive in Beaumaris and given on-line reports of former angry encounters left a digital footprint of my whereabouts before setting out on my adventure towards the gate house. I have to admit, adrenaline was pumping but there was no alternative but to volt a four foot wall in order for me to be out of view—I’m not sure who was more startled, myself or the pheasant I disturbed!

Making my way I was in awe at the view of the south of the island and the Beaumaris Castle coming into view, an amazing sight, but I was soon bought back into reality as a tractor came towards me. On high alert once more, I quickened my pace and made my way back into the wooded area for coverage. After all, I was trespassing.

After a few more steps through undergrowth I stumbled upon what I was looking for—an incredible sight, decaying among the trees that was difficult to photograph. The true scale of the building impossible to capture due to the density of the plants growing around and withing it. Floors had given way, and stairways were impassable, but it was still possible to gauge the enormity and grandeur existence.


Baron Hill Mansion: Abandoned After Polish Soldiers moved out in WWII

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HISTORY

The Baron Hill Estate was stablished in 1618 with the original mansion being built the same year by Sir Richard Bulkeley. During the English Civil War, Richard Bulkeley’s successor Colonel Thomas Bulkeley was said to invite King Charles I to take possession of the house in order to set up his court there. In the early eighteenth century the house was the seat of Richard Bulkeley 4th Viscount Bulkeley who maintained Jacobite sympathies.


King Edward VII enjoying tea in the garden of Baron Hill Estate
(Seated fourth at table--with the Bulkeley family)

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In 1776 the house was reconstructed by architect Samuel Wyatt to a much similar design that is still evident in its ruined state today. In the nineteenth century the Bulkeleys remained the most dominant land owners on the island and other parts of Wales. During WWI the death duties had wiped the family’s fortunes and they were unable to maintain the estate. During the war Royal Engineers were stationed at the house. In 1939 when WWII broke out the mansion was taken over by the government and used as temporary housing for Polish soldiers, who in protest to the cold conditions, started a fire and destroyed much of the interior so they would be moved to new housing accommodation. The mansion was abandoned and still is to this day.

The park is a designated site of special scientific interest due to the large area that has been undisturbed for many years. I believe the building itself is now listed and there was a planning application in 2008 to restore and convert into flats.

by David Last

Ticking Time Bomb

SS Richard Montgomery, a US Liberty Ship, rests on a sandbank running east from the Isle of Grain approximately 250 metres north of the Medway Approach Channel in the Thames estuary and has done so since it ran aground on 20th August 1944.

 Its an eerie sight, even on the brightest of days.

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Built in 1943 by the St John’s River Shipbuilding Company, Jacksonville, she was one of in excess of 2,700 mass-produced vessels built for the WWII effort. Setting sail containing cargo of 7,000 tonnes of munitions she was directed to anchor in the Great Nore anchorage off Sheerness, to await formation of a convoy before heading to Cherbourg. Running aground in shallow waters just North of the Medway Approach Channel. Efforts to unload her cargo were intensive but a crack appeared in the hull by the next day and unfortunately the forward end begun to flood. Salvage continued until 25th September when she flooded completely and was abandoned. Remaining on the sandbank where she sank, her masts clearly visible above the water, there is something sinister about this ship.

Protected under Section Two of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, there is a no entry exclusion zone around her. Marked on the relevant Admiralty Charts and defined by coordinates—the physical site is marked by buoys in the water that act as a warning other ships in the area. There are also warning signs attached to the masts.


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Why so much protection?

Approximately 1,400 tonnes of explosives remain aboard the forward holds and although water is a good mitigator (allegedly) the issue is the actual wreck around the explosives is decaying. Experts believe the decaying vessel could cause enough energy to detonate the bombs and if this occurred Sheerness could be flattened. The wave and subsequent momentum that would occur from the explosion would, it’s thought, travel the Thames flattening buildings along the way. Of course, there is a lot of speculation of how these explosives may behave after being submerged for such a long time but who needs to be taking such huge chances? 

Another worry is the masts could be struck by a passing vessel and there have been many near misses over the years. Despite the exclusion zone being clearly marked, storms can be difficult to navigate and some of the larger ships, once set on their path are hugely difficult to turn. There are even internet photographs of a paddle boarder entering the exclusion zone and touching a mast. Those images are on google if you’re interested to view them—irresponsibility seems to be high on some people’s agenda. 

Responding to decay and potential danger the plan is to remove the masts from this incredible ghost that sits within our estuary. A silent ticking time-bomb that will be costing £5M in danger money to preserve live and land. Its an incredible story and we are glad we got to view the Montgomery together before her masts disappear. 

We were taken out from Southend-on-Sea by jetstreamtours.com who are based in Rochester, Kent. Their boat, Jacob Marley, has been kitted out in line within Covid-19 guidelines. Each table is divided with plastic divides and numbers are limited on each tour. Hand sanitiser is available and numbers are limited out on deck, with plenty of time for everyone to have their turn taking photographs at each of the sites visited. History of the area is shared by the captain who is very knowledgeable--not just on the sites you have paid to visit but on other hidden gems too. 

by Donna Siggers and David Last

When Romans Invaded Herne Bay

Reculver Towers and Roman Fort is mostly a ruin. Still, this site takes your breath away as you approach it. The dominant towers of the twelfth-century former monastic church stand out against the skyline and act as a navigational marker for shipping. Unfortunately, much of the site has been lost to coastal erosion but you can still gain a sense of how grand it must have been from what remains. 

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Two thousand years ago the geographical layout of the area was hugely different—the Wantsum, a sea channel, cut off the Isle of Thanet from the mainland (this area has since silted up and is now dry land). The Roman Fort once stood on what was a peninsula at the north end of the channel where it joined the Thames estuary.

The Romans conquered England under Claudius in AD 43 thus their armies landed unopposed under Aulus Plautius. There has always been debate as to the location this occurred—Reculver and Richborough (at nearby Sandwich) are locations where fortifications of the Claudian period have been found: given these early findings its plausible the Wantsum channel could be the site where Romans first landed in England.


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It’s believed the Roman settlement was build during the 1st and 2nd centuries around a harbour and that the fort was erected during the 3rd century. Almost square, with rounded corners and measuring 180m x 175m it was built on Saxon Shore against Saxon raids.

The religious aspect of the site wasn’t erected until the 5th century, by which time the Romans had abandoned it. The Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded in 669 which made good use of the existing fortifications. The monastery was in use for five centuries.

Another wonderful visit that has prompted a little research into England’s heritage and flared our imagination as to what life might have been like living in a place like this centuries ago.

by Donna Siggers and David Last