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

Welcome To Beyond the Point

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Beyond the Point is an award winning organisation based on Canvey Island, dedicated to BTP Joe and Liam exploring and researching historical remains mainly in South Essex, but spanning as far as London and Kent. 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, receiving views from all over the world. We bring the past into the 21st Century via YouTube documentaries found in our articles.

To start discovering, mouse over ‘Local Heritage’, ‘Interactive Map’, or ‘General History’ along the top menu to navigate our articles, photographs, and documentaries. Scroll down to see our latest additions to the site. Photo Albums Here

How does Cressing Temple reflect what was going on in the wider world?

Cressing Temple is located in North Essex and the two surviving Medieval barns have never been out of use since the 13th Century when they were built under the Knights Templar military Christian order who at the time took part in the Crusades. Because they have been constantly used for farming and have been updated along the way, at least in part, the barns have simply stood where they have always been for only two centuries short of one-thousand years! It began as the ‘Preceptory of Cressing’ – the word used for a headquarters ‘base’ of the Templars.

The Templars began to decline as the 14th century turned due to the financial interests of King Philip IV of France who outlawed them as ‘heretics’, sometimes burning them at the stake. The Hospitallers; another crusading Christian order, took dominance. During the late 14th Century, after the country was broken by the Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt broke out and ransacked the estate for its unpopular wealth, which was now owned by hospitaller Sir Robert Hales.

In the Tudor Era many of the buildings on the site were demolished including the central quarters of the Templars because Henry VIII was anti-Catholic. He dissolved the monasteries to favour protestantism so that he could divorce, meaning Catholic-orientated properties such as Cressing Temple was taken over as a manor. The Smyth family took ownership of the estate; Sir John Smyth was a Baron of the Exchequer. The ‘Great House’ was a mansion built at this time as a result of the English Reformation forming the centre of the Estate. It was demolished in the 18th Century but the Tudor farmhouse, granary, wagon lodge, and stable yard, all still stand. The brick walled garden with ornate fountain was built in the Elizabethan Era.

It passed between owners right up until 1971 when Frank Cullen gave up ownership and passed away around this time. He was the last farmer to own the estate and bought it initially in 1913. His nephew Anothony Cullen kept the estate until 1987 when the estate was split up and purchased by Essex County Council for its historic interest.

Apart from its age, how is Cressing Temple of so much interest?

We were guided around the site by Helen Gibson who was very knowledgeable on the site and the barns, to whom we thank for our understanding of Cressing Temple brought to you in this article. She truly believed the barns were a worldwide relic, and considering they are the oldest timber-framed barns in the world it isn’t difficult to understand why.

Because stone was usually found up north in places like Yorkshire, the barns had to be made from local materials instead due to the difficulties in transporting heavy stone across the country in the 1200s. Essex was dominantly a wooded area back then, with places like Hadleigh being royal hunting grounds full of wolves, boars, and even aurochs – now extinct! Local trees were used to make the barns but this meant they were unlikely to last as long or be as stable as stone barns which were more common of the time. However through painstaking mathematical planning the Medieval craftsman who designed and made the barns were able to produce an impressive duo of structures that have stood up until the present day, withstanding a great gail of 1887. It was her husband Adrian Gibson who researched and uncovered the extent of the planning that would’ve gone into the design of the barns; triangles, circles, and even pythagoras’ theorem were all used to ensure the barns stood up.

The timbers were incredibly large carved from single trees used as ‘passing braces’ running the height of the barn, much larger than the more intricate work of the 1400s Hospitallers who added supports to the upper of the barley barn. When forests were cleared over Henry VIII’s rule, even shorter timbers (seen in the Tudor granary barn) were used as the great Essex forests were now gone. Across these years of woodwork, various joins were developed to hold the timbers. The great variety visible which reflects changing trends at Cressing Temple makes the site of interest to carpenters worldwide and the European Woodworking Show is held annually there. The ‘notched-lap joint’ is a join in which the timbers slot over the side of the other timber meaning it could lie flat, constructed, and then the ribs of the barn could be hoisted up to support the roof. This is an example of how architectural details give us clues about the history of a building. Cecil Hewett did great work on the investigation of the woodwork seen on the barns.

What were the barns used for?

The oldest barn is the barley barn, used for making beer at the time. It was built roughly from 1205-35, and beer was important in the Middle Ages because water couldn’t be sterilised unless collected from a clean flowing source hence why even children drunk beer in the 1200s. It was an important part of daily life – perhaps why Medieval society was a little more barbaric than that of today! As previously mentioned timbers were added in the 1400s by the Hospitallers.

The wheat barn, built around 50 years later, features only 13th Century original woodwork. Here wheat would’ve been threshed with a flail – hit to remove the useful parts. It was also thrown into the air to separate the grain in this barn. The plaster/brick walls with timber inserts on both barns were added in the Tudor period because the original templar wood walls would have rotted, although the thicker timbers around the walls are original. The roof tiles are probably Victorian but could be earlier and are not dissimilar to the clay originals which were much larger but of similar form. The porches and doors on the barns are so large to allow wagons with heaps of bunches of wheat and barley in.

The granary barn is the largest granary in Essex but was much later, built around 1575 in Elizabethan days. It was built over a demolished structure whose hearth was uncovered in archaeological digs in recent times and is now visible through the brick floor of the granary.

What other treasures remain on the estate?

The walled brick garden dates from the Elizabethan era and features a spectacular foutain. The plants planted in the garden are heavily scented to convey the trend of the time that favoured strongly pungent plants. Herbs and flowers in the garden would’ve generally had practical applications for medicine or food and drink – chamomile for tea, or sweet woodruff used to aid healing. Chamomile was a popular lawn plant in the Tudor days because of its sent and hence it features heavily in the garden.

The estate has a tractor barn possibly from the 1700s or 1800s with a thatched roof. Here the machinery used on the farm would have been stored. the Tudor granary building also had attached workshops for wagons passing the estate or being used on it. The blacksmith workshop would make the metal rims of the wheels for protection – much like a tyre, and the wheel-smith workshop would be used for carpentry of the wooden wheels. Wheels could damage easily and hence were very important at the time.

There is also a more recent well-house used to store the well and pump which still works going into the well shaft built by the Templars in the 13th century.

Can I visit Cressing Temple myself?

Absolutely, it is open 10:30 – 4:30 every day to the public. The visitors centre was built very recently and has a Tiptree tearoom for visitors. You can explore all the areas we did for yourself.

Walking past these bungalows you wouldn’t think anything of them – they’re just someone’s average home, but the buildings are far from average, they were actually built to withstand an atomic explosion.


This photo, taken by the United States Air Force, shows how deadly an atomic bomb can be. This community, Hiroshima, was the victim of an atomic bomb on August 5th 1945.

Following the end of the Second World War, in 1946, plans were submitted to build atomic proof bungalows on Canvey Island.

A plan of the houses - find more at

A plan of the houses – find more at

What was planned?

The plans show that they were to be made of 9” brick or 9” Concrete Hollow Blocks and waterproof cement rendering with bitumen felt flat roofs. The houses were either to have a flat roof or a pitched one. The floor on the first floor states 5” ‘Hyrib’ or 9” Hollow Concrete Blocks.

The single bungalow to the west of Miramar Avenue was originally supposed to be a pair and further west, stretching to Maple Way, there were plans for three sets of four three-bedroomed terraced houses with a balcony over the doorway, built on similar lines to the bungalows.

The Atomic bungalows, at the junction of Long Road/Miramar Avenue were originally going to be the start of a large estate of houses and bungalows spreading all the way to Maple Way to the West and North for A. De Angelis Esq but, for an unknown reason, the estate never materialised.


The bungalows that remain today would not be strong enough to cope with a modern day bomb (and most likely one from the 1940s either) although they are a fascinating historic relic. It is possible that they were merely built in a design similar to that of American ‘ranch’ style houses of the time, hence their association with being ‘atomic proof’. We will never know if they would’ve stood up to a 1940s Russian atom bomb or resulting radiation, but it is unlikely.


Read, watch, and explore the historic building then and now here:

Recently BTP Joe and I were allowed an exclusive glimpse at the hidden cellars of the King Canute pub on Canvey Island. The current owner was keen to let us photograph and explore the building, respecting the history of the building himself. He told us a new sign is in the making which suggests the dormant pub; currently a temporary ‘market’, might see rejuvenation in the future. However the cellar itself was water-logged and very damp – will the mould and structural deterioration bring the unused historic structure down before it sees a new life?

Inside the cellar we could see that much of the walls were painted original brick, probably from when the building was constructed in 1937. A more recent breeze block section had been added at a later date inside what would’ve been a large basement which extends to the span of the building. Various traces of the cellar’s former use were visible, from beer pumps under the bar to fizzy drink labels. It would have been used pretty regularly right up until the pub closed in early 2014, judging by the recent signs and other furnishings scattered around.

Situated above the White Cliffs of Dover, this iconic castle has guarded our shores from invasion for 20 centuries and is the largest castle in England. Dover Castle is owned by English Heritage and is a Scheduled Monument meaning that it’s “nationally important” and is protected from any unauthorised change. Known as the ‘Key to England’, we explored the dark, atmospheric Secret Wartime Tunnels that lie in the chalk below as well as the Keep Tower and medieval tunnels.

English Heritage Places

This graph from the English Heritage website shows how many historic sites they own – over 400 – ranging from prehistoric sites to palaces and statues.

Dover Castle is one of the UK’s most famous castle’s and is Grade 1 listed meaning that it is recognised as an internationally important structure. English Heritage has spent millions over the years doing up the site and creating a vibrant experience for tourists and visitors. An estimated 350,000 people visited the site in 2010 however over the winter months, the castle is only open at weekends. Dover Castle has been on our list of places to visit for a while and in December last year, we were fortunate enough to visit the site during the week, getting an exclusive guided tour with the BTP boys being the only visitors in the entire site!

Early History of the Site

Unusual earthworks suggest that the site might have been fortified in the Iron Age, or before the Romans invaded in 43AD however this is not certain although it is unlikely that these earthworks would have been used for a medieval castle. Iron Age evidence has been found at the site however it could be associated with the hillfort. The site still contains one of Dover’s two 80 foot high Roman lighthouses, with the other lighthouse at Western Heights, another place that we are keen to visit. After the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, William the Conqueror and his forces marched to Westminster Abbey for his coronation, traveling via Dover. The English were fearful of his approach and has little confidence in defending the site and hence were preparing to surrender. The Normans set the castle on fire and William paid for the repairs as he had taken control of the site. The castle was first built entirely out of clay however this eventually collapsed (not surprisingly.)

Henry II

Under the reign of Henry II, the site really began to look like a firm fierce castle. An engineer was responsible for building a keep and this still exists today and remains as one of the last rectangular keeps ever built. It is furnished in an authentic manner – surprisingly the vivid almost childish colours used are believed to be accurate to the fashions of the time. Several other defences from the Middle Ages span the site, such as the Avranches crossbow tower we looked inside. (see above gallery) In 1216, a group of rebel barons invited Louis VIII of France to come and take the English crown. He had some success breaching the walls but was unable to take the castle. This act was known as the First Barons’ War. During the English Civil War it was held for the king but then taken by a Parliamentarian trick without a shot being fired (hence it avoided being ravaged and survived far better than most castles) in 1642.


Massive rebuilding took place at the end of the 18th century during the Napoleonic Wars. The Commanding Engineer of the Southern District, William Twissas, had the task of improving the town’s defences and completed the remodelling of the outer defences of Dover Castle adding the huge Horseshoe, Hudson’s, East Arrow and East Demi-Bastions to provide extra gun positions on the eastern side, and constructing the Constable’s Bastion for additional protection on the west.

The protected passageway and caponier – a gun battery that extends the building, was led to via a system of tunnels and traps used for clever defence against attackers. For instance a hole in the wall projected light from the outside onto the floor inside to monitor enemy movement!

With Dover becoming a garrison town, there was a need for barracks and storerooms for the additional troops and their equipment. The effective solution to this was to create a complex of tunnels about 15 meters below the surface of the famous White Cliffs of Dover. This was put into effect and the first troops moved in, in 1803. At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, more than 2,000 men were based in the tunnels and to date, they are the only underground barracks ever built in Britain.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels were partly converted and used by the Coast Blockade Service to combat smuggling. This was a short-term endeavour though, and in 1827 the headquarters were moved closer to shore. The tunnels then remained abandoned for more than a century – imagine exploring these today!

This is just the start of exploring Dover Castle, there’s much more to come in the part two of this article where we explore the Secret Wartime Tunnels and the operations that were carried out there in the war. We will also feature a Beyond the Point documentary.

Coalhouse Point where the Thames suddenly narrows was home to several defences since 1402, and a D-shaped artillery battery fort stood here from 1539. The fort was replaced in 1799 with Coalhouse Fort which was rebuilt in 1847 and 1860. The large moat you can see to prevent invaders reaching the fort is a techonological remnant from Medieval defences around traditional castles – Coalhouse/East Tilbury Battery built down the road around 25 years later used a spiked metal fence instead in a ditch which is a step away from the use of moats. We visited the fort in January 2013 but did not get to look inside. The fort was designed to be used to create a ‘triangle of fire’ with Shornemead Fort and Cliffe Fort in Kent, of similar design, against a French attack which seemed more dangerous with their development of the ‘ironclad’ warship in 1859 which was much stronger against explosive and incediary rounds which would cause wooden ships to set alight.

In the park around the fort there was several defences built in the Second World War – from a spigot mortar mount that the Home Guard would’ve fired a mortar shell from, to an XDO Minefield Control Tower than would be used to watch over and detonate a minefield places out in the Thames incase of German craft trying to invade. Liam and I squeezed into this via one of the firing slits (loopholes) and struggled to get out again. I was boosted by Liam to get out with help of our guests, Sam and Jack, pulling from the other side, but there was now no-one to boost BTP Liam out! He had to stack up wooden pallets lying around in the tower under the loophole and still had to be pulled out so hard I thought I might be stretched in-half!

Just south of the fort lies a quick-fire battery built in the early 20th Century presumably standing ready for use through WW1, equipped with 12pdr guns. The guns would’ve been mounted on a metal rail to allow them to be turned and fired/loaded in quick succession hence its name; the rapid fire battery.

On the river Thames foreshore just south of the fort lies an early radar tower built in the Second World War. because radar was a very secret British technology initally the tower was named ‘water tower’ on maps to avoid attention. Through the Second World War the fort was fitted with a Degaussing Station to ensure friendly ships leaving Tilbury Docks were sufficiently proofed (‘degaussed’) from magnetic mines put out in the river to catch the enemy – the only other example of one of these dates from the Cold War on Canvey Island and is now an excellent military history museum.

The first defences in this area were built druing the late Middle-Ages in 1402 to defend the village from a French attack, consisting of towers and earthworks. A blockhouse and jetty once stood near the site of the radar tower. The blockhouse was built under Henry VIII in 1540 as part of the coastal defence scheme, and would’ve held 15 cannons. This was upgraded to house 27 guns 7 years later, with a range of 1-mile. More recently a jetty was built on this site in the Victorian Era to serve the fort as barges would bring in supplies and armaments and the sleepers from this railway link still stand.

Map of defences/military remains along the Thames from Kent County Council

Map of defences/military remains along the Thames from Kent County Council

To see what other remains we’ve covered in the local area, check out our Interactive Map where you explore the sites we’ve covered.

Known today as Rio Bingo, the building was in fact opened as a cinema in 1937. Just two years before the start of Second World War, it was officially opened by the owner at the time, Francis Bertram.

The cinema was open every day of the week except Wednesday’s and even showed films for children on Saturdays. The building survived the Second World War and even the 1953 floods which ravished Canvey and the south-east. Beyond the Point was able to get a tour of the building, which included taking a look at where many people would have sat to watch films and also the old projector room, which is now used for storage. Looking through the original hole in our photo below, you can see the newer and current ceiling at the bottom which is hiding the old cinema drape curtains at the far end and retro ceiling from the eyes of the bingo players. (Click on the images to view them larger.)

Posting her account on the Canvey Community Archive, Joyce Humphrey posted her memories of working at the cinema, aged 13.

As an usherette, one of my duties was to sell ice-cream in the intervals. During the Saturday afternoon children’s shows it was mayhem! This was due to the shortage of Ice Cream and Sweets during the war. Those dear children used to pull on the straps that hung from my ice cream tray; I was almost strangled at times!  So I resorted to carrying a ruler on my tray and to bring in down on those persistent knuckles! (not very ‘PC’ these days!) When I progressed to a projectionist at the cinema I often had to climb onto the flat roof, to put out incendiary bombs then hurry back in time to change the reel of the film so the show could continue (each reel took 20 minutes to run.) When the air raid warning sounded, I had to put a slide up onto the screen, telling the patrons “An air raid is in progress” and to tell them that if they wished to leave, to do so calmly and quietly, but the film would continue as usual. Not many people decided to leave (no doubt not wishing to face the shrapnel and bombs falling outside!)

Terry Buchanan also posted his memories on the archive and remembers being in there when it was announced that the war was over..

Just along from the Haystack was the cinema, and it was here that most of war news was exchanged. It was in this cinema that I first heard that the war had finished. The Chinese whisper became a shout: ‘It’s over, it’s over’. A jubilant audience flooded out onto the high street to join ecstatic promenade, whilst the celluloid Hollywood lovers were still locked in their black and white embrace, completely detached by the flickering light of the projector bulb from momentous point in history.

In 1976 the last film was shown before the building was converted into a social club, known as the ‘Canvey leisure Centre’. The first game of bingo was played at this time and when the building was sold in 1998 the current owners, Magestic Bingo Clubs, bought the site.