This year, in October, Thundersley Christian Spiritualist Church celebrates the eighty-fifth year of its founding.
The Church founder, Miss Esther March, lived in ‘Delaware’, a substantial house situated on a large plot on the corner of Manor Road/Eversley Road, where number 147 now stands. Miss March had submitted building plans to the Council in 1913, with her architect and builder, A. T. Castle. (Essex Records Office D/Ube 2/1/4044 refers). She must have been a lady of some means as the 1922 Ordnance Survey map of the area shows a plot of land stretching from Manor Road to Roseberry Avenue, and a large house with an orchard. At that time Manor Road was known as Manor House Road.
By 1939 there were twenty-four households in Manor Road, before the building frenzy of the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1940s it was very rural and extremely muddy in the winter, with many fields of horses and just the odd villa and bungalow dotted along its length. Margaret McKay, the lady who lived in my property ‘Dunromin’ (‘Manor Cottage’ since 1974) in the late 1930s, reminisced that there was ‘no housing to speak of’, and that it was ‘possible to walk from Manor Road, through the unmade roads and the woods to the new arterial road’. Margaret recalled the ‘meeting house for local spiritualists’ as being a large property down near the corner of Eversley Road.
A notice was sent out from Castle Point District Council to householders in the late 1950s/early 1960s, requesting them to use the house number allocated, and not just a name as hitherto. Benfleet Community Archive, together with the Council, compiled an overview of these notices. An entry for ‘new number’ 147, ‘old name’ Delaware, states that the householder was issued with this notice on 28th June 1961. As the house name remains the same, perhaps it is safe to assume that Miss March was still living there at the age of eighty.
The founder of Thundersley Christian Spiritualist Church, Esther March/Marsh was born on the 9th January 1881 according to the 1939 Register which was a census taken on the eve of the Second World War. Both the 1939 Register and the 1937 Register of Electors have her name as “Marsh”. She was referred to as “Hetty” Marsh on the 1937 Electoral Roll. A colleague of mine at the Archive, Eileen Gamble, turned up a registration of death for her, and I duly ordered the death certificate. On this it states that Miss Esther Marsh otherwise known as Esther Riste, died in Severalls Hospital, Colchester from Cerebral Thrombosis on the 22nd May 1969. Her niece, Louisa Jane Adams of Stepney, registered the death. Obtaining her ‘given’ name made it much easier to trace her.
The 1881 Census shows her family living at 56 Skidmore Street, Mile End Old Town. Esther’s mother was Louisa Riste (nee Mitchell) and her father was John Riste, a labourer in a brewery. The Ristes were born in Cuckfield, Sussex, where their first two children were born, but by 1878, they were living in Mile End, where by 1881 they had three more children, the youngest of whom was Esther at 2 months old.
In the 1891 Census, the Riste family were still in Mile End, with John Riste shown as a general labourer and his wife as a tool finisher. By this time they had eight children.
In the 1901 Census, Esther was twenty years old, and shown as a boarder in Mile End. She was a machinist of leather goods, and boarded with William Marsh, leather worker (fancy goods) and his daughter Emily. Here, the paper trail runs out. I found that William Marsh died in 1911. Perhaps that was the catalyst for the move to Benfleet. Interestingly, I found an Edith Rist at ‘Homelea’ Catherine Road on the 1937 Electoral Roll – perhaps some of the family were already down here.
I am indebted to the Church for the following history:
The first meeting held at ‘Delaware’, Manor Road on 25th October 1933 was held ‘for the purpose of establishing a Christian Spiritualist Church in the Thundersley District’. Eleven members were present. The Church was affiliated to the Greater World Christian Spiritualist League. Mr. Bloomfield was elected President, Mr. Brown was elected Treasurer and Mr. Mills was elected Secretary. An open collection was taken to support the work of the Church, and it was agreed that future meetings be held in the small hall at the Tarpots Public House.
An extraordinary meeting held at ‘Delaware’ on the 16th July 1947 when it was agreed to transfer the Church to ‘Silverdale’, Manor Road (now number 26). Search for a permanent Church began. On 31st October 1953 an extraordinary meeting was held at ‘Silverdale’ because a property at Coombe Wood, Bread & Cheese Hill, had been found. It was a wooden structure, 30′ x 15′, on the south side of the road. It was divided into two rooms with no heating or lighting, and possibly had been used by the army in the First World War. The Church acquired the building for £400 Freehold.
In 1976 the Church attempted to find the owner of the land adjoining their building, which had not been claimed for over fifty years. They intended using it as a car park or a garden. They sent a letter to a solicitor stating that they would like to claim the land. In 1982, a Mr. Norman came forward, claiming to be the owner of the plots from the Church building to Jarvis Road. He gave the Church Trustees three months to return the land or purchase it. The Trustees agreed to offer Mr. Norman £4000 for the land, and the matter was put in the hands of a solicitor.
The Trustees applied for Planning Permission to build a new Church, but were told that it would almost certainly be rejected as it was Green Belt land. However, they were granted permission on Appeal, after a campaign of support from friends and neighbours. In 1983, plans for the new Church building were drawn up by an Architect, Mr. Haspinall. The land to the rear of the wooden Church was unsuitable due to drainage problems, so a site was chosen further up the hill above the old Church building.
Clearing the land between the wooden Church and Jarvis Road took a lot of hard work. It was undertaken by Church members and helpers, and help from firemen from Grays Fire Station. Many tons of hardcore were spread to make a car park.
In 1984, the site was roughly pegged out, and serious fundraising began, which would last several years. As well as the extreme generosity of Church members, many members also physically helped in building the new Church.
In 1998, the new Church building was officially opened, and flourishes to this day.