Welcome to Beyond the Point

Posted: June 20, 2012 by BTP Liam in Website Update

Beyond the Point is an award winning organisation based on Canvey Island, dedicated to BTP Joe and Liam exploring and researching historical remains in South-East Essex. Ranging from everything from Medieval castles to nuclear bunkers, we follow our goal to enlighten you on the usually skimmed-over parts of local history.  In strong co-operation with local archives and museums, Beyond the Point compliments the work from archivists within the area. We produce documentaries on these sites, found via our YouTube Channel found in the video below, as well as the odd movie just for fun.

We also have a Facebook Page containing over a thousand photographs from all our ventures, many of which do not make this final site. Photo Albums Here

Please visit our community forum where you can share and interact with BTP and the history it explores. http://www.beyondessex.co.uk/

You can also purchase a 60-minute documentary DVD on the complete history of Canvey Island here http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/dvd/

The two BTP boys, and occasional accomplice Jack Swestun, set off at McDonalds in Southend Airport, to investigate pillboxes once defending Rochford airfield, established in August 1914. Although it became an airport in 1935, it wasn’t designated for civilian use until late 1946, after the war. Using sources such as the Defence of Britain Project, coupled with Google Earth, we were able to mark out the locations of 8 pillboxes on a map we printed out of the area.

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The first pillbox we saw was bare concrete and of Type 24 design (guide to pillbox variants here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_hardened_field_defences_of_World_War_II#Type_24). It was hidden behind the McDonalds car park, facing out onto Rochford Road. It was accessible but featured a fair degree of graffiti inside.

After this we crossed the railway line via the bridge that the road continued onto. There was some old signage to be seen. We passed the current airfield control tower, the Avro Vulcan bomber (an impressive model of plane used by the RAF from 1956 up to 1984) that the airport holds there, and another Type 24 pillbox similar to the one we saw first.

Still heading along the Rochford Road-side, we made an impressive discovery. Jack spotted what appeared to be an Anderson shelter from the Second World War. it looked old enough, and has been confirmed to likely have been one, although possibly lifted (originally sunk into the ground for extra strength against bombing). It appeared to have been used as a general shed, as various tools and a couple of chairs were hidden in it, although even these appeared to be rather old. Being in such a hard to reach, overgrown location, it is probable it had been left to ruin.

 

After a few directions from the locals, and a walk through a public park, we ended up at another type of pillbox – this time, of ‘Cantilever’ design, which we would see two more of later on. Cantilever pillboxes were designed and built by F C Construction for airfield defence, and ’53 examples are still extant’. The roof was disconnected from the sides of the pillbox, supported only by a large central pillar, meaning a 360 degree firing slit was possible. They featured a rail around the sides of the slit for the mounting of weapons. The slit was only slightly higher than ground level, as the main pillbox body was sunken, enabling what appeared to be an effective defense. This one was against the railway fence, although a way from the actual track. Its door and firing slit was bricked up.

 

We next passed a hut which looked as if it was likely to have been from the days of the Rochford airfield, underground some kind of conversion or restoration work which seemed to be fairly vacant. The three of us then joined up with Rochford Hundred Golf Course, finding a pillbox on the outskirts with a fresh puddle inside. We looked out at the golfers, all over 50, wondering which bad-boy could’ve been responsible. It was rendered in brick from the casting process, although much of this had crumbled away to reveal the concrete underneath.

Next we passed a few derelict planes within the airport site, and a small stream. This lead us out onto a field where we would see the last four pillboxes together. One of the bunkers was infact a possible ammo store (‘magazine’) and not used for firing upon enemies. It was basically a covered brick pit sunken far into the ground, with steps going down into it. Although beyond the airport fence, these fields would originally have been part of the site of the airfield. Finally, we checked out two more cantilever pillboxes in that field, along with another Type 24. One of the cantilevers had an aircraft tyre in, which looked rather old too!

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Hip-hip horay!

3 years on today, tens of thousands of website views later and many more explores on, from when we set up the website in 2011! July 17th 2011 was when we set up this blog, and when we were biking around Two Tree Island, we never would have thought how iconic that day would be. A nationally recognised community archive was founded, a friendship was strengthened further more and my spelling and grammar was corrected for the next 3 years by Liam! ;)

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Above are a few photos from the first few albums on our Facebook page. As today marks 3 years, we have looked back at our journey and have answered some questions to give you even more of an insight into Beyond the Point, including answering the question that we’re asked the most – How did BTP start? Below is a feature length documentary that we have produced for our third birthday special. With 7 hours editing, 6 hours rending and even longer uploading to Beyond the Point TV, we hope you enjoy it. We show some old clips to remind you of us three years ago (something we don’t mind forgetting) as well as ourselves talking about how we set up the site, what the ‘BTP room is’ and also answering the questions that you’ve asked us on Facebook/Twitter. It’s been strange looking back at some of the visits that we don’t remember quite as well and even more strange to see them in videos!

Thinking back that today was actually the day we set up this site 3 years ago (if that makes sense!) is quite surreal, I can remember setting up the site with our first page/post being the about us one. We’ve met many great people and have also had the chance to experience many things that we wouldn’t have normally so we would like to thank everyone for supporting us, and we look forward to the years to come.

   

We set off on an about an hour’s car journey across the Dartford crossing and out into the wonders of the garden of England. The BTP boys were well equipped with equipment for photographic and video footage of the fascinating place we were about to discover. We met with Richard Kemp who we thank for having invited us, and former Canvey-Islander David Jackson, both from the Essex Underground group we are too part of. The crew met in a car-park not far from the site before driving to the field not far from Rochester Castle,  which Richard used to demonstrate the distance the tunnels covered using  both above-ground landmarks, and the faint shading in the grass caused by the underground construction. Many local residents and Councillors also attended, of all ages, who met near the site of the tunnel entrance.

The Essex Underground crew

The Essex Underground crew

   On September 23rd 1941 the Short’s Brothers, an aeroplane company making seaplanes in the Second World War, decided to build a factory in the safety of the underground for use through the wartime, adjacent to their above-ground factory which had stood therefor sometime, now demolished.

The factory was used to create seaplanes, and to store 75 new machine tools which needed urgent space as the original factory was full. At the time it costed £20,000, and consisted of 12,000 square feet of workshop space. At the eastern end of the tunnels, three-hundred yards of public air-raid shelter were made, carved into the chalk and lined with corrugated iron and brick. Much of the original signage still remains. In places, the tunnels had not been lined and were simply bare chalk, which was quite an impressive spectacle.   After the war, up to the 1990s, Blaw Knox Ltd. paving contractors took over the tunnels, and much of their belongings still litter the site.

June the 6th 1944, shortly after midnight, 24,000 British, US, and Canadian, airborne troops landed in the region of France that the amphibious assault would capture around 6:30 in the morning that day. Allied troops began landed on the 50-mile stretch of perilous beaches of Nazi-occupied Normandy in order to push back the short-lived Nazi German empire Hitler was rapidly loosing. This happened today exactly 70 years ago. Whilst times and technology have since far surpassed that of wartime Britain, the Second World War is still well within living memory of the members of our community and immediate environment today. It is far too easy to dismiss it as history.

What local connections do we have to D-Day then?

There are two remains locally which hark back to the Allied assault on Normandy. Off the Southend/Shoebury shores lies a wrecked Mulberry Harbour – a floating concrete platform used in great numbers by the allies as supply points in the English channel. One of the floats off of the Mulberry Harbours, ‘ferro-concrete barges’, was moored up near Canvey point for many decades, and became a legendary playground for kids, until it was sneakily demolished in the 2003.

The D-Day Beaches Today

Many of the D-Day beaches are littered with remnants from Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ (his coastal defense line against invasion via France) which defended German territory from the Allies in D-Day. Only part of this came to use, as Hitler did not know what part of his European coastline would be invaded.

In August 2012 I visited Le Touquet, on holiday in Northern France, a coastal town, which happened to still hold bunkers remaining from the Atlantic Wall on the beach, much to my delight. Below ares some images of such bunkers whose designs would probably have been common across the sections of coastline invaded in D-Day. It’s good to cover some historic remains abroad for a change!

I also visited, in 2011, Sword Beach, a more heavily defended British beach (with the American Omaha beach being far heavier). This was an actual D-day beach, although many remains of the Atlantic Wall here had been since removed. It was on the town of Ouistreham, the name ‘Sword’ merely being a code-name given by the Allies. There was however a very large bunker – ‘The Grand Bunker’, open as a restored museum, which was in fact very good. I will try and find some of the other structural photographs I got of the building at a later date, but for now here is a few:

The current building c.1960 courtesy of Norman Chisman

The current building c.1960 courtesy of Norman Chisman

The King Canute pub is situated in Canvey village, and has been there in some form since roughly 1867, around the era when Canvey village was being constructed. It’s name was changed from the Red Cow after the 1953 North Sea Floods, hence the new sign in the photograph. Beyond the Point recently interviewed Mr. Ray White, who was on National Service in the summer of 1952, and was told about a possible emergency Operation King Canute which would be enacted if there was a major flooding disaster. One of the depots where the Amy would be stationed for reparation was what is now known as the now King Canute pub. The Operation took it’s name from the King Canute, or ‘Cnut the Great’, an old Saxon King was said to be able to hold back the tide with his power. At this time, the pub was still called the Red Cow, but after the floods it was named after the national operation, in 1953, because the pub within Canvey village was built on a high-point on the Island which escaped the flooding (due to the old St. Katherine’s church that the village was built around, built on the highest point in the days when the Island was still subject to frequent flooding).

Mr. Henry Noakes with the new pub sign, the Licensee of the pub at the time

Mr. Henry Noakes with the new pub sign, the Licensee of the pub at the time (Courtesy of Canvey Island Community Archive)

The earliest known public house named the Red Cow, that lasted up until the construction of the current building in 1937, may or may not have been its first venue, and possibly could or could not have been constructed around 1867 when the beer house was first recorded. It was served for a long period by Charrington’s, the widespread London-based brewery (first established around 1757 shown in the sign above), up until 2014, although possibly not since the public house was first founded.

Below are some photographs of the early Red Cow, courtesy of  Canvey Island Community Archive:

The current building was built in 1937 and features contemporary Art Deco architecture. It was announced it would be closed down as a public house, and did so on the 18th of May 2014. We managed to get some photographs of the building whilst being shuttered over a few days later, several show rare viewpoints. All the photographs can be seen here:

http://www.canveyisland.org/page/the_king_canute_latest_pictures?path=0p4p

We have begun a video documentary which will appear in this page in the near future, investigating the pub and its recent demise. It was recently revealed that it would fortunately not be demolished and instead would be turned into a convenience store with exterior intact.

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Stow Maries is a village and civil parish in west Essex. In September 1916, during the first World War, an airfield was established at Stow Maries for the Royal Flying Corps. By 1919 the need for airfields lessened and Stow Maries was closed. The site was then considered for development as an airfield during the Second World War but it was considered unsuitable due to the clay soil and even though not opened it played a role nevertheless, being bombed by the Luftwaffe and used as an emergency landing site by a damaged Hurricane fighter plane.

11The first aircraft to arrive at the new aerodrome in September 1916 belonged to “Flight, 37 (Home Defence) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. The Squadron was charged with the eastern aerial defence of the capital. In the earliest part of its existence the accommodation consisted of wooden hutting and tents. The buildings now present on the airfield are later additions when the possibility still existed of the aerodrome being made permanent. The first commanding officer of Stow Maries Aerodrome was Lieutenant Claude Ridley. Educated at St Pauls School, London, he was barely 20 years of age but had already seen service with the Royal Flying Corps on the Western Front.

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Following a period of organisation and training at Stow Maries the first recorded operational flight took place from the aerodrome on the night of 23rd/24th May 1917 when Ridley (now promoted to Captain) and Lieutenant G Keddie were ordered aloft in response to a large Zeppelin raid targeting London. They scored no success on that occasion but as time went on the amount of operational flights grew as did the aircraft establishment of the station. Both day and night patrols are recorded but it was to be “Flight at Goldhanger that claimed the Squadrons first confirmed destruction of an enemy machine, when during the early hours of 17th June 1917, 2nd Lieutenant L. P Watkins was credited with the downing of Zeppelin L48 at Theberton in Suffolk. This was to be the last Zeppelin brought down in Great Britain during the war.

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One of the stations busiest days was 7th July 1917 when aircraft were ordered after a formation of twenty two Gotha bombers heading for London. Stow Maries pilots engaged the enemy aircraft in a running fight and scored several hits. Fire was returned however and the ground crews found a number of bullet holes in the returning aircraft. Day and night patrols continued but it was the fragility of the aircraft of the period and the inexperience of the young pilots that caused the loss of aircrew from the station. June 1917 saw the loss of 2nd Lieutenant Roy Mouritzen from Western Australia in a flying accident and July of the same year serious injury to Captain E Cotterill through engine failure. Captain B Quinan crashed at Woodham Walter on a training flight and was severely injured. He died in July 1918 in which that year saw continued losses at the aerodrome.

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Flight moved to Stow Maries from Goldhanger in February 1919 bringing the total staffing levels to around 300 personnel and 24 aircraft, the first time the whole Squadron had been located at one Station. It signalled the end for the Essex aerodrome however and the following month the Squadron moved to Biggin Hill in Kent, leaving the site empty. An interesting fact now…the floor tiles below are from the old, now derelict, Castle View School site on Canvey Island.

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The airfield buildings are still mostly intact, with some evening having the original windows still in place! The buildings were used to store grain and farm vehicles until 2008 and has since been purchased by Steve Wilson and Russell Savory and is being restored to a state that it would have been found in 1919. Liam and I visited the site last year and we are hoping to return soon.

 

Starting in 2014, to commemorate the Centenary of World War I, and in partnership with other companies, 5–8 different WW1 aircraft will be brought to the UK to tell the story of the technical and tactical aerial combat that occurred between allied and German aviators throughout the Great War. Subject to funding, WAHT (WW1 Aviation Heritage Trust) will acquire a WW1 aircraft each year on behalf of the nation to tell the story of each year of the War at airshows and commemorative events in the form of air displays, flypasts and static diorama. It is planned that ultimately these aircraft will be based at the Stow Maries site supported by an apprenticeship scheme to foster the preservation and restoration of WW1 aircraft.

See the rest of the Stow Maries photographs we took here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.559850337370501.1073741836.238743826147822&type=3

In other news, we’ve been busy recently in the press so hop over to our Facebook Page (there is a link on the left) where you can see scans of the articles. Also, the Explore Your Archive campaign is still going on, so why not visit their website by clicking on their logo on the left?