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

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.

Napoleonic

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.

Hello Beyond the Point readers! It’s been an exciting month for Beyond the Point and things are starting to warm up for summer! Whilst I’m now settled into my apprenticeship at ITN, BTP Liam has just finished his A-Levels exams – much to his relief! We’re now planning some really exciting and exclusive trips for the upcoming months and we’ve got lots of content to publish to polish off the website.

At the end of last month we published a documentary and article on Beyond the Point investigating the ruins of Castle View school. The response has been incredible! Our website stats shot up within a few hours and many people have contacted us to say how many memories this brought back and how sad it was to see the site like. Former pupils and staff have left comments on our website about how they enjoyed our research and interest into the site with many more people emailing us and commenting on our Facebook Page. We attracted pupils –  now in their adulthood and youth, who were fascinated and also saddened by the decay of the old site. The community Facebook group Canvey Island Then and Now helped to share our documentary, photographs, and article, with the locals. as a result we were featured in the Castle Point Echo. You can read about the production of our documentary on BTP Joe’s website.

A week later on July the 5th, when the Echo photographed us for our CVS project, we rushed down to Concord Beach on Canvey as we were about to broadcast live for the Dave Monk Show for BBC Music Day. Another young man like ourselves who wishes to raise awareness of the past is resident Mitchell Tanner, who composed a classical music piece for broadcast which sought to evoke the emotion of the 1953 North Sea Floods which hit Canvey and claimed a number of lives. It was played alongside audio clips of local personalities sharing their memories of the events. Shortly before this was played the BTP boys were interviewed on how the younger generation can be captured by history, and you can hear our interview in the video below:

During this time BTP Liam was on study leave, and had some time aside from revision to update the Beyond the Point website. Mouse over ‘Historic Locations’ in the top menu to read many of the new or recently updated articles – be them on the history of Shell Haven in Thurrock, Benfleet Station, or the Prittle Brook running through Southend. Many of these new articles will be featured on our front page over the next few months as we continue to expand the range of places covered on our site. BTP Joe has also been adding these places onto our interactive map, allowing you to explore what is near you.

More recently we attended the unveiling of an information board at Canvey Point after being invited by the Canvey Community Archive who did this project. The board is to educate passers by on the crash of the American Bomber B17 flight and to remember those who were fighting for our country. The local sea scouts stood at the plaque alongside Ray Howard, the Canvey Community Archive and the Reverend David Tudor who all gave a speech. Messages from the families of the crew were read out by Geoff Burke. We believe this is an excellent display and would love to see more of them around the area, particularly at more lesser-publicised sites of historic and cultural significance.

P1010132Sticking with the Canvey Archive, we also visited Rio Bingo on Canvey Island with Janet Penn. We had an exciting tour around the former cinema, looking at where the old projector would have been also looking at all of the ‘off-limit’ areas. A documentary and article will be coming soon.

Last weekend our BTP stall travelled to The Paddocks for armed forces day. We met many people who were very interested in the work that we do at Beyond the Point, particularly because of our age. Our stall will next be hitting the road at the Canvey Archive’s heritage trail on September 27th. Then on October 11th we will be at the Transport Museum, Canvey, for a stall at their open day.

The Crash

The Canvey Archive has a large collection of memoirs, photographs, and information on the crash please see here: http://canveyisland.org/category/world_war_ii_b-17g_aircraft_collision and a booklet detailing the events from ‘See History’ they shared is here: http://canveyisland.org/documents/DHB_v2_Med_Res.pdf

On the 19th of June 1944 a formation of B17 Flying Fortress American bomber planes were heading back to their base in Kimbolton, and it was pilot Lt. Lloyd Burn’s 29th mission. The Heavenly Body II was the new plane he was meant to be flying that day, although co-pilot Lt. Fred Kauffman asked to have a go at flying and Burns let him do so for practice. Another of the B17s began to lose control as one of its engines failed after being shot at on the mission they were returning from over Zudausques where they had to take out a V1 Doodlebug launch site. It began to fall and crashed ontop of the Heavenly Body II, killing Lt. Kauffman in the pilot’s seat instantly. When Burns tried to take over the found the controls had no bearing on the behaviour of the plane, and they had to bale. Many of the crew ejected, but Edward Sadler was killed and Louis Schulte drowned upon hitting the water. There were many more casualties in the other craft that crashed in the Thames near All Hallows, because the escape exit had become damaged and wouldn’t open.

Uncovering the Wreckage

It is worth noting that respect for archaeology and history hasn’t always been widely-viewed as commonplace in the way it is today, and it is only in more recent times that conservation has been a universal concern hence why very little attention was given to the wreckage immediately after wartime. Until the 1970s and 80s much of the wreckage had remaining sticking out of the mud at Canvey Point simply because much of it was left without any action; with parts claimed as scrap rather than for its importance. At this time Canvey Islander Gary Foulger was one of the first to resurface and raise awareness of this dreadful tragedy that had previously been put to the back of the minds of the locals alive to witness the crash first hand.

Photographs from Ian Hawks, Shirley Gartshore, and Gary Foulger can be seen below of the recovery of the remains:

Remembering the Sacrifice

The crash was commemorated in a plaque at the Paddocks on Canvey down Long Road as a result of Gary’s investigations. It was upgraded recently.

Canvey War Memorial featuring a plaque to remember the crew

Canvey War Memorial featuring a plaque to remember the crew

On June the 19th 2015, exactly 71 years after the crash, an information board was erected on the seawall near Canvey Point educating passers by on the price the crew paid to liberate the future. Personally I believe this is an excellent display which I would like to see more of for more lesser-publicised sites of historic and cultural significance, as now the heroes of the Heavenly Body II and their peers have been immortalized in a physical reminder for the public to see. The local sea scouts stood at the plaque alongside Ray Howard and the Reverend David Tudor who both gave a speech. Messages from the families of the crew were read out by Geoff Burke. See them here: http://www.canveyisland.org/page/messages_from_the_b17_families The MP Rebecca Harris alongside the Mayor, and Alan Foreman and David Thorndike of the Bay Museum were also were present at the unveiling. Afterwards we went to the Yatch Club adjacent and had tea alongside displays from the Bay Museum showcasing some of the remains and the story of the crash.

The Crossing

Prior to the construction of the Colvin opening bridge in 1931, a ferry and stepping stones at low tide were used to get from Benfleet to Canvey and back. The stepping stones were cast into buckets originally and were removed in 1931 and held in the old Canvey Council Offices down Long Road for a long time. In 2012 however, they were moved close to their original site again in the Olympic Park just south east of the current Benfleet bridge. You can still see the worn down centres of them where people would have trodden, and you can now step those same steps for yourself. There was also a gravel causeway across the silt prior to the building of the bridges and the gravel from this too can be seen today.

Below you can watch the causeway and stepping stones being used alongside the 1931 bridge which is being constructed:

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/benfleet

Our videos here show the stepping stones, although they are of a quality worse than our current production standards:

The Station

Benfleet station was first opened in 1855. The Royal Assent was given to extend the line from Pitsea station, rebuilt in 1855 but had existed decades earlier, as far as Leigh and Southend in an 1852 Act of Parliament. The 1855 wooden Benfleet station and platform unfortunately burnt down in 1903 and a new station – the one seen currently, was opened in 1912. The platforms too are very close to their original form and still feature white wooden embellishments (canopies) in good condition similar to that of the other platforms along the current C2C line built at this time, although these are said to be gradually decaying upon close inspection.

Over the Christmas of 2012 major modification came to the Benfleet railway bridge which goes over Ferry Road leading to the bridge to Canvey. Joe and I managed to visit the bridge whilst this was going on over Boxing Day. Here they were removing a large steel curved shape similar to the one (possibly the exact one) seen in the sepia old photograph above of the platform from eye level. You can see this taking place in our video above. Apart from some cosmetic change to the platform and rail-bed, as well as the bridge which now has ugly steel supports bolted into it, the major task caused very little disruption to the form and external structure of the railway. James Hanson, project site engineer, reports:

Since mobilisation in late October; BAM Nuttall (with the help of various subcontractors) have faced a string of setbacks and problems that have kept even our experienced team scratching their heads. Our dedicated team of suppliers and subcontractors from across the country have aided us in coming up with the necessary solutions. The preparation for the main works have required an unplanned intensive piling  scheme – involving installation of sixteen twelve metre long piles, after discovering extremely poor ground conditions, 24 hour working on the station platforms and the installation of support beams weighing up to 12.5 tonnes to the bridge soffit. No easy feat considering the working space available and our aspiration to maintaining traffic flow under the structure during peak times. We have discovered huge culverts, abandoned headwalls and cess tanks, river beds and old oak piles – all remnants from the damming of Church Creek many years ago. We’ve even had the Thames at spring tide to keep at bay, but all in a days work for the dedicated team.

Despite the set-backs  and the weather, the team are confident and eager to get stuck in for a Christmas that is sure to offer up more surprises and enough challenges to test even the most experienced staff. We look forward to the completion of the project before the New Year and will be happy to have contributed just a little bit to the history of Benfleet.