Our 2015 Halloween documentary brings the horror of everyday life in the 17th Century up to present when the boys travel down to Leigh, Essex to take a look at the site of ‘the Doom Pond’. Supposedly used to drown innocent individuals accused of witchcraft, there is no need to make-believe this Halloween when history holds the keys to true terror.

The concept of accusing individuals of being witches working for the Devil began in Europe during the 15th century but hadn’t reached England. By the late 1500s the practice was used by James 6th of Scotland who became paranoid witches were trying to assassinate him. When he became King James 1st of England he brought the practice with him and developed the idea that innocent women could be tortured and killed for practicing in ‘so-called witchcraft’. These victims were often accused for revenge or financial agendas rather than genuine belief.

Through to the mid 1600s possibly thousands of women were murdered in Essex alone under this regime. Colchester and Chelmsford were home to numerous trials in 1645 in the year that the notorious Matthew Hopkins became known as ‘Witch finder General’, responsible for the deaths of around 230 individuals. Three witch trials have been recorded in Leigh-On-Sea; Joan Allen in 1574, Alice Soles in 1622, and Joan Rowle in 1645.

What is known as Old Leigh today was in fact the primary fishing and boat-building town and highstreet of Leigh-On-Sea. Up on the hill where Leigh Cliff Road meets the Broadway used to lie a pond supposedly where accused ‘witches’ were dunked to test if they were truly witches or innocent – ironically drowning them regardless.
If the accused floated, they were deemed guilty as the purity of water itself was said to repel anyone associated with the Devil. If they sunk, they were innocent, but either outcome was a result of death!

The pond stems from an underground spring possibly remaining under a set of mid 2000’s apartments, although the pond itself was filled in as part of their construction. It was known locally as the ‘Doom Pond’ and was used by a nearby pottery business until the early 1900s.

Because of the pond’s grisly history, it has gathered a great deal of superstition over the years. Rumour says the pond was once bottomless, cursed, and home to a number of ghostly apparitions. The curse is said to be responsible for failed attempts to build over the pond, such as a small supermarket built in the 1970s which had to be demolished as a result of the poor foundations. The name ‘Doom Pond’ was said to emerge from the ‘Dome’ kiln of the pottery works that it was used to aid.

BTP Joe and I have been busy over the past few months updating our stall display which we feature at local community events. We decided to create a ‘giant’ MDF pillbox to replace our table, and after applying wood ‘bricks’, a pva and sand mixture, and layers of paint, we managed to create an authentic concrete texture. We even added ivy to create an ‘abandoned look’. To go along with it we decided to upgrade the display board from what was originally just a map showing historic remains across the Thames, to a hand-drawn and painted antique-looking map featuring particular historic structures across the estuary. Photographs and drawing of these places brought them to life, whilst the addition of a iPad-holder made from an old picture frame enables us to play videos at our stall. We put this display to use in September at the Canvey Archive Heritage Trail, and at the Canvey Transport Museum Open day in October. Follow our Facebook and Twitter to check for upcoming events where we will showcase our display!

Canvey Island Transport Museum (October)
Canvey Archive Heritage Trail (September)

As for other site content, we have numerous features lined up covering a variety of places and traditions. In production are documentaries on Dover Castle and it’s tunnels, Westcliff Highschool for Boys, Canvey’s Occidental Oil Refinery with guest Chris Fenwick (manager of Dr. Feelgood), and the history of tea whilst the boys taste their way through the B Tea P Party. Proposed upcoming content includes East Tilbury Bata Shoe Factory, Coalhouse Fort, a Halloween feature, and a rare opportunity to film the renown Edwardian Severall’s Asylum in Colchester. We also plan to give Beyond the Point a facelift over the next few months looking into a more accessible modern site layout with a new homepage video.

Grisly adventures at Severall's Asylum - 105 years old

Grisly adventures at Severall’s Asylum – 105 years old

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 CanveyIsland.org

A plan of the houses – find more at CanveyIsland.org

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: http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/historic-locations/canvey-island/the-red-cowking-canute-pub-1800s-present/

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.