Uncovering the Lost Explosives Magazines

Beyond the Point joins Dave Cowan on the hunt

Seven Victorian tunnel-like magazines were built on the Benfleet waterfront near Jotmans in the late part of the 19th Century where there is now a bike track. They would have been used for the storage of explosives by barges possibly on the way to London or nearby explosives factories (where is now Wat Tyler Country Park and Coryton Refinery).

Dave Cowan grew up near Jotmans Farm and still lives in the area today. As a boy he used to play at ‘the mags’; out the front of these Victorian magazines. He describes his memories in this article.

Joe Mander and I from Beyond The Point (BeyondthePoint.co.uk), which seeks to document many of the hidden historic remains in South Essex, have been searching for the remains of these magazines since 2012 to no avail. An 1895 map surfaced not too long ago marking the positions of each magazine, but upon a visit September 2015 we were unable to clarify whether or not we had found traces of them. With thanks to Frank Gamble we recently have been in contact with Dave and we agreed to meet up to investigate the site of ‘the mags’. He took us to where he saw one of the mags around 2012 guided by a picture of the area he had on his phone, using a tree as a landmark. After some looking in the bushes we finally uncovered the ruins of one of the entrances (mag 1,2, or 3). He was unaware of the other mags west of the current sewage works as this area was inaccessible in his childhood days, but when we showed him the earth mounds found previously he found it all made sense. As a result we can now trace where the mags are/would have been in relation to the 1895 map.

 

Use the numbered map as a key

Magazines 1-3

We found the ruins of one of these three magazines, and the other two must lie somewhere along this stretch of bike track although they could either be overgrown or gone without trace. Dave explained how the sides and entrance facing were made of brick, yet the interior was buried in earth and was concrete from what he could remember. We found the two walls that would’ve formed the entrance although the actual doorway was covered in soil; presumably it had collapsed at one point. Dave recalls seeing the magazine turn off left and right inside, going down about 10-12 feet either way. He remembers several along that stretch which corresponds to the old map, although the other two were probably hidden in the undergrowth hence why further investigation could be done.

Magazines 4-5

We found broken reinforced concrete lying roughly on the site of either magazine 4 or 5. This must be part of them as Dave remembers reinforced concrete being used to form the inside of magazines 1-3, presumably of the same design. A section of brick wall was also found near here in good condition, although seemingly isolated from any kind of greater structure. Regardless it was still probably part of the entrance to magazine 4 or 5.

Magazines 6-7

These magazines are both further north-west along the bike track in the wood area west of the current sewage works. They remain only as earth mounds at first glance, although it could be likely that the magazines remain underneath and were simply covered over at one point, or were demolished and churned. Magazine 7 is a similar mound to mag 6 but of smaller size, and can be found further north along the bike track/footpath.

For more hidden South-East Essex heritage visit BeyondthePoint.co.uk

1895 Map overlayed on modern satellite imagery
Phil Coley
Magazine key
Dave searches for mags 1-3 on the left
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
Dave Cowan and I peering into the former entrance of mag 1,2,or 3
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
Computer mockup of what the magazine might look like had the entrance still stood
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
The earthed-in/collapsed entrance of mag 1,2, or 3, with brick walls either side behind foliage
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
The largest remaining section of mag 1, 2 or 3's brick entrance
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
Myself standing next to the remaining wall of mag 1/2/3
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
A drain or vent in the wall
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
Joe Mander from BTP standing with broken ruins, probably the inside of mag 4 or 5
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
Probable ruins of mag 4 or 5
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
Brick wall probably from the entrance of mag 4 or 5
BeyondthePoint.co.uk
An earthen mound roughly on the site of magazine 6
BeyondthePoint.co.uk

Comments about this page

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  • I am a Benfleet resident and a member of the Kickstart Motor Cross club at this site now.
    This year the Motor Cross track has had extensive work done to it for improvement and safety. This has included clearing huge amounts of overgrown foliage the area has not had such work for more the 40 years. So if any one wants to investigate more now’s the time as the riding season has finished.

    By Gary Prior (07/12/2018)
  • Are you sure of the date of the Map? I would be interested in more information.

    ——————————————-

    Dear Martin,

    The Map series is: Essex LXXVII.NW (includes: Billericay; South Benfleet; Thundersley.) Revised: 1895. Published: 1898.

    Regards

    Phil Coley (BCA Webmaster)

    By Martin Lepley (23/03/2016)
  • I can remember Mag1 from the mid ’60s when it was in very poor state with large cracks in the roof of the brick arched side gallery (I can only recall the rh side). It was destroyed when the council briefly extended the dump behind the pillbox.

    Mag 4 had steps down to it but we were unable to access it due to thick brambles and severe cowardliness. When we tried to find it about a year later, we could find no trace of it. It’s possible that completion of the sewage works landscaping covered the entrance.

    I hadn’t a clue there were others.

    By Chris Austin (21/03/2016)
  • Thanks for your message Chris, it is good to have some confirmation as Dave remembers very similar. Would you say the ‘artist’s impression’ here is reminiscent of the structures?

    By Liam Heatherson (16/03/2016)
  • I remember the three numbered 1, 2, and 3, from about 1957 when they were well known to children in the area. They appeared to be constructed of london stock bricks, of that characteristic light umber or dull yellow colour, very similar to the bricks used in many building and a houses in built in the late 19th and early 20th century in Colchester.

    The floors of the magazine entrances were about level with high water of a neap tide in the creek at that time, with a passage going off to the left and right of the south facing entrances. I don’t know of anyone going very far from the entrance, and the floor was usually waterlogged and with a layer of loose whole and broken bricks. It is very interesting to learn that there was a far more extensive structure beyond the three that were visible when I was a young lad.   

    By Christopher Davis (29/01/2016)

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