The Memoirs of Miss Henderson - Part 1

Part 1 of 3

A tea party at The Vicarage 1907
R.F. Postcards collection
The Vicarage
R.F. Postcards collection
The Vicarage
R.F. Postcards collection

We have been asked by John and Muriel Brand, who provided the archive with Parts 1, 2 and 3 of The Memoirs of Miss Henderson, to enquire whether anyone knows of any descendants of Capt. William Henry Brand still living in the area or knows of the existence of any photographs of the family.

If anyone can help in this regard please contact us by email on or alternatively, use the ‘add a comment’ link at the bottom of this page.

Link to Part 2 of The Memoirs of Miss Henderson

Link to Part 3 of The Memoirs of Miss Henderson


Miss Henderson lived at the Vicarage in South Benfleet with her father, who was the Vicar from 1859 to 1872.

In her old age Miss Henderson retired to Wiltshire and died in 1957 at the age of 100 (Please read the comment from Stephen Parsons, which can be found at the end of this post).  At 90 she wrote a series of articles for the Parish Magazine in which she described life in Benfleet and the surrounding districts during her childhood days. They give a remarkable insight into the life of the inhabitants and it is felt that you will enjoy reading it.


My grandfather, Captain Brand, R.N., to whom there is a tablet in Leigh Parish Church, began his sea-faring life during the Napoleonic Wars and fought at Trafalgar, but, forced to retire through ill health in 1846, he was appointed Inspecting Commander of the Shetland Coastguard. (Sept 1828). There he met Miss Christina Cecilia Grieg (1812-1855), they married, and my mother, their second child, lived in Lerwick until she was eleven or twelve years old.  They were related to the chief families of the Island, all very proud of their Scotch Clans and their right to wear the Gordon tartan. One old Duke of Gordon, after his whisky and three bottles of port, would always come into the drawing room fit for the company of ladies.

The housewife used to provide her own light; it was before the day even of oil lamps! They used to render down fat themselves. On one occasion a Norwegian Captain asked if he might bring to dinner an Eskimo who was touring with him. He duly arrived, but would eat none of the dishes offered to him and only looked very sulky.  My grandmother, quite distressed, asked the Captain if there was nothing he liked, then the Eskimo nodded, seized one of the candles, blew it out and ate it up!

They had to depend entirely on home produce for food, laying in salted meat for winter. The one thing my mother could not endure was Shetland Pork, for the pigs were free to wander and ate seaweed and fish offal on the shore, so that the pork had a fishy flavour.


A great delight was when a Dutch vessel came into port, for the Officers never failed to bring them Dutch cookies and gilded ginger bread, dolls and delightful round red Dutch cheeses. They thought it tremendous fun to watch the sailors catching the wild horses and riding them bareback, facing the tail. Then there were the Northern Lights, the flight of the wild geese, and, occasionally a flock of wild swans.


The time came when my grandfather moved south, and Mother remembered how difficult it was to say goodbye while wearing the then popular poke bonnet, also of the miseries of crossing to Aberdeen, lashed in their bunks – so rough it was. Then next day she saw for the first time a holly bush all red with berries. Afterwards the long sail to London and being called up on deck to see Leigh Church Tower. Driving in the coach to Tollington Park they were held up by a roadway conjurer who swallowed fire and a sword, and my Mother thought it must be the ordinary diet of the people! Next day they moved on to Leigh where my grandfather had been appointed in charge of the Coast Guard. (1844).


At Leigh they had a charming rambling house with peaches in the garden. My mother with the six younger members of the family (the eldest sister had died), had to make her own toys. My grandmother had brought with her two Shetland maids, but one had to return having developed rheumatism through leaving off her red flannel petticoat.

At Leigh there was one character – an old visiting Cobbler, rather a reprobate given to too frequenting of Village Inns. He travelled the countryside with a light handcart. Once the twins, Ferdinand and William Eden Brand,found him – drunk and snoring – lying in his own handcart at the top of Leigh hill; the temptation was too much and soon the cart was careering downwards, but the Cobbler remained asleep!

In those days Mr. Eden was Rector of Leigh (1837 – 1852). He and my great uncle, who was Vicar of Messing, were friends of Keble and Pusey, and to him Pusey sent Newman’s letter announcing that the was joining the Church of Rome. It may interest some to reproduce it here:-

My dearest Pusey,

This will not go until all is over. This night I am expecting Father Dominic the Passionist who is on his way from Aston in Staffordshire to Belgium to attend a Chapter.  I trust he will receive me, Bowles and Stanton, into what I believe to be the one and only fold of the Redeemer. I do not expect it will take place before Friday. 

Ever yours, my dear Pusey, most affectionately. 

                                                           J. H. N.

My grandmother had been brought up a Presbyterian in Scotland, and under Mr. Eden’s (Rector of Leigh) influence became a devoted member of our Episcopalian Church.  It was just the time of the Oxford Movement (1848)  when the Church of England was awakening to its Catholic inheritance and rejoicing, not only in the sacramental teaching of its Prayer Book, but also the golden thread running through its contents, linking it with the One Holy Catholic Church of earliest times. Its orderliness appealed more to my Grandmother than the long, extempore prayers of the Presbyterian Minister. “So often” she said, “when I was feeling particularly bright and cheerful, his prayers were specially lugubrious, and vice versa, whereas in the Church services I never failed to find something that suited my moods and my special needs”.

When my Grandmother arrived at Leigh it was a Fishing and Agricultural village. There were the sheds where the cockles and periwinkles were boiled before being taken to the London market. Then, the Railway did not exist; if people had to travel from London they came by water.


My Grandfather had fought at Trafalgar (Midshipman on HMS Revenge) and taken part in constant fighting until 1846, boarding enemy vessels and taken prisoner both in France and Spain.  One Uncle had been the first to cross the Andes on foot; he was also stationed off St. Helena during the time of Napoleon’s imprisonment there, and used to help beguile the exile’s time by playing chess with him (Commander Charles Brand RN 1797 – 1872). Another Uncle was at the Peterloo riots when he saw a young Irish woman making for him with a pike; it was contrary to all his upbringings to use violence to a woman, and things looked ugly, but he called out “Isn’t it a thousand pities that a pretty girl like you should kill a handsome man like me?”.She caught his smile, said “Och, Shure!”.  And dropped the pike, but it gashed his leg in falling and always afterwards he went lame (Major James Brand, Beds and Herts Regt 1789 – 1865).

Shortly after my Grandfather took up his duties at Leigh a Mr. Gowland, Petty Officer R.N. was appointed Second-in-Command. He had married the daughter of an Irish clergyman, and like my Grandfather, they had a large family. The day after they arrived the poor lady came to my Grandmother in great distress. It appears their furniture had not arrived and they had had to seek shelter in one of the village Inns where, to her horror, on stripping her bed the first morning, she found a sweep’s stocking between the sheets !  My Grandmother managed to squeeze her and her children into her own house till the furniture turned up. This made for friendship between the two families, although in those days in the Services the lines of social demarcation were very strong. The ladies whose husbands were of higher rank, and the gentry were only just beginning to admit Doctors and Lawyers to their dining tables. But in villages, helped by the Church, such strong social feeling did not exist.

An example to the contrary, however, was when my father coming from the North to take up his Curacy at Leigh, met the Revd. Heygate, Vicar of Southend, and his daughters on the London boat. “Who is the young clergyman you have been talking to”? asked one of the daughters. “Oh” replied Mr. Heygate, “I think it is the new Methodist Minister who is expected at Leigh today”. At that moment it started to rain, but when they saw their father and the young Minister going below decks, the young ladies decided that the wet deck was preferable to close proximity in the small cabin to a Methodist with whom they might be compelled to speak!

My mother used to speak of a curious happening at Leigh. She and the daughters of the Rector had walked down the hill to make some purchases in the village when there came the sound of galloping, like a run-away horse. The shopkeeper rushed out to see his own horse and cart, the animal trembling all in a lather. He was furious with the driver for over trying the horse, but the man replied, “Don’t be angry, sir, for as we delivered our last loaf, we – me and the boy – saw a black coffin floating in the air. The horse shied and bolted, and we couldn’t hold him”.  My mother naturally retold the story at tea, my father (Curate of Leigh) was late returning home, he arrived looking very shaken to tell them there had been a horrible accident. The driver of the cart whom my Mother had heard reprimanded, had been crossing the railway line on his way home, and had been knocked down by a train and killed. My father had been delayed with the poor parents.

When the time came for my Grandfather to retire from the Coastguard he retired with his family of seven children to a small modern house on the top of the hill near Leigh Old Rectory.

By this time the railway had reached Southend.  Until 1804 Southend was just a hamlet in the Parish of Prittlewell, and even in 1860 memories of it are of quite a small town, with fields between it and Leigh.  Once, my family, with a number of friends, had gone on a blackberrying expedition in the Hadleigh direction. On their return journey, ladened with spoils, the distant sound of an approaching train fell on their ears, and they thought, what a bit of luck it would be if they could stop it and get a lift home. So the whole party scrambled on to the line, joined hands and formed a chain across it. The driver pulled up and took them on board, but warned them not to do it again.

It was quite usual in those days for girls to marry early, and round about “sweet seventeen” they felt themselves quite neglected if no beaux put in an appearance. My mother and the new Curate, The Revd. T.J. Henderson, had become bosom friends. He was intimate with my Grandfather, Captain Brand, and was an interested listener to his yarns. In those days you could always tell if a man had been in the Navy by the way at dinner time he treated his biscuit, invariable tapping it before eating – a necessary precaution when on board to knock out the weevils.

There is a tale told that one of the Men of War was home from a voyage at Portsmouth, the Officers determined to celebrate by having a dinner together and each agreed to order secretly with the landlord his favourite dish, without letting the others know his choice; in this way they expected to get a good variety. But when the covers were removed each man was found to have ordered a boiled leg of mutton and caper sauce!

My Grandparents would not sanction Mr. Henderson and my Mother’s engagement while he remained a curate, however.


Another staunch church family at Leigh were the Jocelyns who kept one of the Inns. Their boy was training to be a Teacher, and entered a Church College for his training. This college was the first of its kind and owed its inception to the High Church party.  The ‘sixties was a great advance in education, the Church leading in the van with such Societies as S.P.C.K. and by the ‘seventies it must have been difficult to find a Parish without a substantially built school, with a certificated teacher.

Wonderful men and women were those teachers, looking upon their work as a real vocation. When a boy or girl showed particular ability it was to the Parson that they turned. Young Jocelyn was eventually able to take both an Oxford degree and Holy Orders. I was at a school run by the Clewer sisters.

When Mr. Eden, Rector of Leigh, was appointed Bishop of Moray and Ross great was the grief of Leigh folk. He was followed by the son of the Bishop of Rochester, Mr. Murray, a bachelor whose widow sister, with her five children came to look after him at the Old Rectory. The Leigh people enshrined them in their hearts and kept them there. He was later succeeded by a Mr. Harrison who was one of the band who compiled Hymns Ancient and Modern.


During my father’s Curacy at Leigh Church there was a burglary. But finding the Church doors too securely fastened, they found an easier entrance through the stained glass window above the High Altar, considered one of the chief treasures of the Church. You can see today where they broke through. This made my father resolve to have an open Church door day and night.


Another Leigh character was an old lady commonly known as “Old Mummers Cotgrove”, why ‘Mummers’ I cannot tell. When my parents came to Benfleet she would always trudge over from Leigh on the anniversary of their wedding to drink their health in the following words:-

Long may you live,
Happy may you be,
Blessed with contentment,
From misfortune free.

My special memory is my first Christmas tree, so prettily decorated with Japanese lanterns and evergreens, and the coloured lights on the white muslin party frocks of the little girls, with their coloured sashes and long shiny tresses tied with ribbon to match. Then one of the lanterns fell on the lap of one of the girls and in a moment she was in flames. Fortunately, a gentleman was helping, and in a moment he had his coat off and had wrapped her in it, but he burned his hands rather badly.

In 1856 my Father was offered the very small living of Kennington near Oxford, value £80 per year. There was no Parsonage, but the Patron converted three labourers’ cottages into a dwelling, and my parents spent the first four years of their married life there. Most of their friends thought it sheer madness for so delicate a girl as my Mother, with no private means, to make such a venture, by my Father took pupils from the University. They were married at Leigh Church, and it was so cold, although Easter, that my mother wore a bonnet with her veil draped about it, and an ermine wrap.

Finding no school in the village of Kennington my parents decided to run one, my Father taking the morning, my Mother the afternoon session, making a charge of a penny a week to ensure the children’s regular attendance.

I was a very small child when my parents came to Benfleet. In those days there used to be a tombstone near the porch marked where ‘the Prevention’ had sharpened their swords before going into action against smugglers.  The Revd. Walker King had since come to Leigh, and I was friendly with his daughters. I remember how their Uncle, later the famous Bishop of Lincoln, came to say with them, and his nieces made him an apple-pie bed.  At Hadleigh were living Sir Charles and Lady Nicholson.


My father was Vicar of South Benfleet from 1859 to 1872. My fading memories go back to when I was fifteen; to me, Benfleet was a veritable paradise, and when the news came that we were to leave, I felt like a limpet torn from its rock.

It really was a lovely spot. From the Vicarage there was a view of the calm river and the cheerful county of Kent, Canvey golden with corn and fields of mustard. At low tide there were the vivid greens of the marshes.

Every day my father held 8 a.m. Matins at the Church; only two cottages then separated the Vicarage from the Church.  These cottages stood on the Church side of the barn; in one of them lived our one-armed Postman, Jim Danes, and his old father. On our return from Church we called for our letters.  I have no recollection that there was a postal delivery. The Churchyard paths and entrances were the same as today.  Two small cottages abutted on the Churchyard, in one of which lived a Mrs. Mansfield and in the other, Mrs France and her daughter, Elizabeth.  They kept a sweet shop.  It was a pretty custom in those days to speak of those past the age of work as Old Lady France, Old Gentleman Danes, etc. Old Lady Mansfield had a cat to which she was devoted, and when she died nothing would persuade poor pussy to leave her grave in the Churchyard; kind neighbours brought her food. In the end she pined away.

Opposite these cottages was the Anchor were Mr & Mrs Andrews were hosts; they had one son. Nearby, also abutting the Churchyard, were two other cottages, to one of which steps led to the door; here lived Henry Brewitt, Parish Clerk and Sexton, with his wife and four children; next door lived Benjamin Brewitt, Baker. Next came the Hoy, with the Crown opposite. From the Hoy to the Station was clear, offering an uninterrupted view of the Creek. A Mr. Wise was Station Master in our early days. The entrance to the old station was opposite the ferry, and on the other side just the Downs, without road or houses.

Mr. Harridge had the first shop as you went from the Station to the Anchor; in addition to ordinary business of the village stores, he acted as Chemist and tooth drawer. Once, distracted with tooth-ache, I ran down to him. He sat me on the kitchen chair, stood on another chair behind me, made me throw back my head which he grasped firmly between his knees, told me to open my mouth and extracted my tooth with a pair of pincers, for which I paid him one shilling.

In those days Benfleet boasted three general shops; Mr Harridge’s, Mrs. Birch and Mr. George Potter, afterwards succeeded by Mr. Wagstaff, at the beginning of the Endway.  There was no Methodist Chapel then, nor many dissenters. Mr. Pease had a farm near the present Chapel. Mr. Pease was the People’s Churchwarden. Dear Mrs. Pease sat just in front of us in Church in her lavender silk gown and black lace shawl. The village school was run by Mrs. Freeman and her daughter, Sarah, who played the Church organ.  Mrs. Freeman’s idea of education was to train the children to be good Christians, with elementary arithmetic and plain needlework for the girls.  In those days the clergyman’s wife or daughter was expected to visit the school and take classes. Mrs. Freeman had a beautiful white cockatoo with a yellow crest which said “Scratch a poll”. The Canvey children had to come to school at Benfleet.

I remember the farm to which the picturesque black barn belonged, where the Ellises lived; their eldest son kept the Hoy, and only their two youngest, William and Harriet, both of school age, were living at home. There was, too, Old Lady Scott’s cottage, to reach which one had to pass through the churchyard or the Hoy yard.  A few years before we left a resident Butcher, Mr. Buckingham and his family came and settled in a cottage-shop at the corner of the churchyard opposite the Anchor. Previous to that we depended for our meat supply either on tradesmen from Hadleigh or Rayleigh. A wagonette was run twice a day from those places to catch the morning and evening trains.

The London-Tilbury-Southend Railway had not been opened many years before we came, and of course opened out a new chapter of village history. One thing, it settled the name of the village, which down the years had been Bemfleet or Bamflete, to Benfleet.


Another tragic result of the coming of the railway was the death of my father’s predecessor, Rev. J.A. Cook, for it was while the men were working on the line that there was a terrible outbreak of cholera.  Village legend would have it that they unearthed a plague-pit in their digging which started the epidemic. Mr. Cook worked day and night, often single-handed, among the sick and dying; forty were buried in the churchyard. Coming home one night, he found a man dying in the road, for none would take him for fear of infection. He carried him to the Vicarage and nursed him back to health. He himself, two years later, contracted typhoid and was too weak from overwork to fight it; he was buried by the Church porch. My father followed him as Vicar and remained thirteen years.

Another result of the coming of the railway was the arrival of a young and handsome civil engineer who lodged at Hadleigh. There he met and fell in love with a Miss Wood, whose father owned and farmed an Estate there. They purchased Reed’s Hill and remained there till the end of their lives, eventually leaving it to their only son, Mr. William Browne.  Mr. Browne owned the largest estate in the Parish and was the only owner who farmed his own land. He was a staunch churchman and Vicar’s warden throughout my father’s stay. I never remember him missing a Sunday, nor Mrs. Browne while she had her health. Mr. Browne owned a number of acres of marshland adjoining those belonging to another gentleman. One winter the sea wall cracked and the sea swept in, ruining acres of pasture and drowning cattle and sheep. To Mr. Browne’s consternation his neighbour threw the whole blame on him and demanded compensation.

The result was a court case during which the jury visited Benfleet to inspect the broken wall. The verdict was given in Mr. Browne’s favour to the great delight of the village, and the church bells were rung as soon as it was known.

Link to Part 2 of The Memoirs of Miss Henderson

Link to Part 3 of The Memoirs of Miss Henderson

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  • I knew Miss Henderson of Farley and would be very interested in reading about her life in Farley. I lived in Farley for many years, next door to Mrs Williams, whom Miss Henderson lived with.

    By Mrs Ruth Poynting (02/09/2022)
  • In your introduction to the memoirs, it says that Miss (Frances) Henderson retired to Wiltshire in old age. However, I don’t think this is quite right. In fact she moved to Farley (in Wiltshire, near Salisbury) in 1883, when she was only 27. Her father was vicar of Farley from 1883 to 1905, when he died. My authority for saying this comes from her memoirs of life in Farley at the end of the 19th century, probably written during the latter part of the Second World War. I inherited a copy of this memoir, alongside a biographical account of one of my relatives, when my father died. My understanding is that Miss Henderson lived on in Farley for the rest of her (long) life. I can certainly recall reference being made to her in Farley during my own childhood.

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    By Stephen Parsons (11/04/2022)

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