The "Benfleet & District Historical Society"
The Society was founded in 1955
The Society was founded in 1955 and held its first Annual General Meeting in March 1956. This meeting heard that there were 74 members and that there was a bank balance of £11.16s.7d – at the time regarded as being “a substantial sum”.
The Society has had two prominent Patrons. Colonel Sir Francis Witmore, KCB, CMG, DSO, Lord Lieutenant of Essex held the office for the first five years. He was succeeded by Colonel Sir John Ruggles-Brise Bt, CB, OBE, TD, JP and HM Custos Rotulorum in 1941.
The President was Mr C P Kean, Manager of Barclay’s Bank in South Benfleet. One Vice-President was Mr Walter Bingham, an old and prominent inhabitant of Benfleet. He wrote the first local guide and was instrumental in securing The Downs as a public open space.
Dr Harold Priestley MA, MEd was Secretary from 1955 to 1963 at which point he became Vice-President. He held this post for seven years and was elected President in 1970.
Harold Priestley was the driving force behind the production of the Society’s Journals in which he wrote instalments about local history. With the help of some members of the Society he gathered much information and documents for these articles. These eventually became published as a combined volume under the title of “Early Days”. This volume was followed by “Modern Times” with help from Mr W T Phillips, MA, LCP, a teacher on Canvey Island, who held classes in local history first at Thundersley Primary School and then at King John School. These two books have become a definitive history of the area of South Benfleet. Now, after being out of print for some 25 years, the Society had both reprinted in 2012. They are available from the Secretary.
After Dr Priestley’s death in 1989 Norman Chisman DPA was elected President in 1991. That year he published “Bygone Benfleet” which is full of nostalgic photographs and descriptions from the Battle of Benfleet onwards. Sadly this book is now out of print but copies are occasionally found in second-hand bookshops.
Another enthusiast for the Society from its inception was the artist Mr W H (Bill) Maile. He designed the cover for the Journals, the original cover for the Guide to the Dutch Cottage Museum on Canvey Island and provided some illustrations for Dr Priestley’s books given above.
Mention of the Dutch Cottage brings in another hard working past-member of the Society, Mr Geoff Johnson. He was Museum Secretary from 1980 until his untimely death in 2009. His passing was a great loss to the Society generally and his knowledge is still missed by the Committee.
During the winter months the Society meets in Richmond Hall (off Richmond Avenue, Benfleet) on the first Monday of each month (October to April) at 8pm when speakers are invited to address us on a varied range of topics but related to history in its widest sense. Members pay an annual fee but we welcome visitors, too, for a modest charge each month. In the summer months outings are arranged to places of historical interest.
The Society is the local reference point for many local history enquiries and is consulted by Castle Point Borough Council on local planning matters within the Conservation Area.
Whilst Castle Point Borough Council maintains the Dutch Cottage and the grounds, the Society provides volunteers to act as stewards over the summer months. The Cottage is open on Sundays from June to September from 2.30 to 5pm and at the same times on Wednesdays in July and August. In addition it is open on Spring and Summer Bank Holidays.
Full details of about the Society can be found on its website www.benfleethistorical.org
President: Mr Norman Chisman DPA
Secretary: Mr John Downer
Chairman: Mrs Jackie Terry