RIDING A PENNY FARTHING ROUND LEIGH AND RECITING POETRY IN A TOP HAT . . . .
Memories of Relatives In Leigh In The 1920s And 1930s
Joyce Caldwell was born in 1922 and, although she did not live in the village, she has memories of visiting her sometimes rather eccentric relatives around Leigh.
The relatives would have been descended from her great grandfather, George Gray, who in 1862 became Manager of the Gunpowder Mills. At this time the mills had been newly acquired by Curtis & Harvey and were being rapidly expanded. The puzzle for Joyce is that her great grandparents ran a pub in Barking which seems an unlikely preparation for running a modern gunpowder works. However, there were a number of gunpowder mills in Essex and perhaps George Gray had run one of them before his pub-keeping days. Whatever the reason he – then aged 44 and a widower – together with his children (Alice, Harry, Frederick, Arthur, Emily and Charles) arrived and lived in the large Manager’s House – still there today. George introduced a large number of innovations during his nearly thirty years at the gunpowder mills – dying in Tonbridge in the mid-1890s.
Joyce’s grandfather, Frederick George, spent his early teenage years in Leigh because he used to tell Joyce how he rode a penny-farthing round the village in his youth. But by 1871 he had left Leigh to work in London. He lived until 98.
Joyce used to come for holidays to visit various relations in Leigh, Hildenborough and the Powder Mills. Her earlier memories from when she was probably four or five was having a picnic on a large lawn which had a full sized water wheel at the bottom – clearly the Powder Mills’ Manager’s house where her great grandfather had lived – and which by 1932/34 was occupied by the then manager, John Evelyn.
The most eccentric relative was Uncle Herbert Crandall who married a Miss Louisa Bone. She kept bees. They lived in Hildenborough in a cul-de-sac off the main road near The Barn Restaurant. Uncle Herbert was always known as the “Black Sheep” of the family. He had emigrated to New Zealand but returned to Kent some time in the late 1920s/early 1930s. He wanted to open a restaurant in the area with a Mr Bowman who had been the steward on the ship from New Zealand. The scheme never seemed to have progressed but Joyce does remember Uncle Herbert driving her in his car – a rarity in those days – to a building where you could see daylight through the thatch. The idea never came to anything. “He was really very eccentric – it was not that he took me fishing on the Medway but I remember him quoting poetry to me at almost any time dressed in a top hat”.
“Eventually Uncle went back to New Zealand; but when he died his Will asked that his ashes were scattered in Leigh churchyard. Somehow the urn got to Tilbury Dock but there wasn’t any money to get them to Leigh so it just stayed there for a long time. Eventually the Crandall Trust in Leigh paid for them to be scattered in the churchyard. I heard all about it from the vicar. It must have been in the 1980s, I guess.”
Parish Magazine Article: Aug 2013: Joyce Caldwell and Chris Rowley
Note: further research has been done into the Gray family at Leigh as well as the history of Leigh Powder Mills. However, to date I have found limited information on a Herbert Crandall. The Crandall family were a long established family in Leigh: but I have thus far been able to find any familial connection between the Gray and the Crandall families. Any help welcome here.