This article appeared in the South Benfleet Parish Magazine in 1947. In it Walter Bingham describes the launch of the magazine in 1897 and some of the events during its 50 year existence.
The picture above was not featured in the article but has been included as it shows Walter Bingham, who worked in the Planning Department of Benfleet Urban District Council.
The writer feels particularly privileged in being permitted to contribute this article in the special number of our church magazine, the Jubilee number.
“Jubilee,” the ancient festival when the blowing of trumpets heralded the fiftieth year of some glorious effort.
In January, 1897, the then Vicar of St. Mary’s, the Rev. Charles Francis Box, who for some time had contemplated the effort, launched with some misgiving the first Benfleet Church Magazine. It consisted of 100 copies. In his introductory remarks the Vicar hoped that the circulation would permit of a copy for every house in the parish.
Curiously enough, the year of publication, 1897, coincided with the national Jubilee of Queen Victoria. On that occasion the good villagers of South Benfleet – and “villagers” was the correct description of the parishioners in those days – celebrated the holiday with a glorious and joyous day, tea, sports and bonfire in a field behind “Suttons” in the Endway, now Essex Way, adjacent to School Lane.
The present provides an opportunity for awakening memories of old-time Benfleet and sketching for our more recent inhabitants the character and condition of South Benfleet fifty years ago.
In 1897 the officials of St. Mary’s were:-
Vicar: Rev. Charles Francis Box.
Churchwardens: Mr. Joseph A. Brown (Vicar’s); Mr. William Pease (People’s)
Sexton: Mr. Isaiah Brown
Organist: Mr. Robert Hall
Music Librarian: Mr. J Mead
Sunday School Teachers: Mrs. Daines, Miss Pease and Miss Amy Lawrence.
In the same year, not unlike the present position, the Vicar had three major problems: Repairs to the church tower, new organ and bells. Subscription lists were opened. Small weekly sums of pennies, sixpences and shillings, together with aid from good people outside the parish, enabled these projects to fructify.
A new organ at the cost of £175 was purchased and its official opening, to a full church congregation, took place on November 27th, 1897. Repairs to the church tower, under the supervision of Mr., now Sir, Charles Nicholson, were put in hand. The masterpiece, the re-conditioning of the bells, took a little more time, but on November 19th, 1899, after many years of silence a full peal was rung and a campanology team of seven ringers and five probationers formed. The success of this undertaking was all the more praiseworthy when the comparative populations of 1897 and 1947 are indicated. 1897 about 400 souls and now 1947 over ten times that number.
The social aspect of the parish was not ignored. The Rev. Box acquired the use of a small building, called the Institute, which stood where now is erected the main gateway to the church; many will recall the old Institute with real pleasure.
Entertainment was all “home-made”. Concerts and social gatherings, tea fights, etc., took place at the Institute. Charges of admission to most of the Concerts were from the humble penny to sixpence or a shilling, and shortage of the appropriate coin was not always a bar to entrance. At one time the whole choir formed itself into a minstrel troupe and this company enlivened many dull evenings for the people.
There was no street lighting at this period. Benfleet was attracting new residents who had purchased plots of land, and the rising of bungalows here and there on the back land began to indicate development. These good immigrants were referred to by the natives as “foreigners” but not in a derogatory sense. Unlike the home dwelling section and unfamiliar with the night-darkened aspect of the roads they could always be distinguished when attending an evening function or even when proceeding to church service during the fall of the year by the carrying of oil lanterns and often lighted candles in glass jam-jars to illuminate to and fro – a practice which the “natives” scorned.