Mistley, Manningtree & Lawford: Pictures of how life used to be
- Credit: Archant
Bob Horlock has given us several glimpses of the past, but his new book of old photographs and maps is likely to be the last. Probably... Maybe... He tells STEVEN RUSSELL why it’s not always helpful to look back over your shoulder
Most of us enjoy the odd wallow in nostalgia, but the result is not always good for us. Even Bob Horlock, not at all averse to rolling back the years, knows the pitfalls of comparing then and now. It can be painful.
His latest published collection of historic photographs and maps reminds him how things have changed along the banks of his beloved Stour, where his family has lived since 1840. He’s not thrilled by the transition from tight communities with bustling river-related industries towards (as he sees it) more of a commuter dormitory feel, with many more rooftops.
“Aww… I’m disheartened,” he sighs when asked about the changes in the Lawford, Manningtree and Mistley area over the years.
“There was a ‘secret bunker’ here.” It’s the old cold-war anti-aircraft operations room, and land, in Shrubland Road, Mistley. “A company applied to have houses there. It was turned down, went to appeal, and has just been passed. So, another 30 homes here.
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“And there’s the maltings… Industry’s gone, really. Edme, basically” – which produces ingredients for the food business – “and the quay are the only industries left. More and more housing coming in. If I was a younger bloke, I think I’d go…”
Then there’s the prospect of another 150 or so homes off Cox’s Hill – to add to the 600-odd houses that have already been built at Dale Hall over the years.
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“It’s really changed. You don’t know anybody, really, apart from the old brigade.”
But you’ll always stay, won’t you?
“Yeah, yeah. Definitely. I’m too old to move at 67. I’ve been banned from so many places, there’s no point in trying! No, I’m joking…”
Mistley and its environs are in his blood.
“When your family’s been in a village all this time, you feel a contact with it. You think ‘My grandfather had that house built… Uncle so-and-so lived there…’ People say ‘Oh, I’ve got your surname on my deeds…’ Well, there were a lot of us around…”
The past is important to Bob not just for those personal connections. He’s been collecting, and selling, antique maps and prints, and old photographs, for about 40 years. (He’s thrilled about snapping up for a good price six birds of prey prints at the Campsea Ashe sale room this week. They’re by 19th Century ornithologist and bird artist John Gould. “The finest bird prints that were ever done in this country were done by him and they’re really sought after.”)
Bob himself has published historical material. Mistleyman’s Log, the chronicles of a barge-borne life as told by his father, Chubb, was out in 1977.
Four years ago, in conjunction with Ron Weyda, came The Racing Horlocks. This looked at the family’s success in the sailing barge matches of old on the Thames and Medway – enthusiastic diversion from workaday life.
Chubb was a natural. In 57 barge races he notched 33 wins, 11 second places and seven thirds – and always completed the course.
In 2011 – with long-time friend and collaborator Mike Fryer – Bob published Visiting the Past: Images of the Mistley, Manningtree and Lawford Area circa 1900-1925.
It showcased more than 100 old photographs, most of them not widely seen before.
As its title suggests, new book Revisiting the Past: Maps & Images of Mistley, Manningtree & Lawford circa 1769-1926 is a sequel.
Bob admits he was initially lukewarm about another pictorial collection.
“Mike and I get on very well. We’ve got the same sense of humour, which obviously gets us into trouble sometimes, and he said ‘Well, what are we going to do next?’ I thought ‘Do I really want to do another photo book of the area? Enough is enough!’
“But then I thought ‘I’ve still got some good images…’ and then I wondered if this had been done before: a chronological order of maps to show the changes that had taken place in our area.”
So the format’s been tweaked. There are 35 pages of maps and plans, dating from 1769 to 1923 and which show how the three villages’ demographies have changed in nearly 250 years.
Then there are 73 pages of photographs, most of which have not been published before. Some are the work of Alf Musto, a professional photographer from Leytonstone who at the start of the 20th Century stayed with Bob’s relatives in Mistley and took many pictures of local life.
Bob says: “We think that this style is a first for our area. We were able to access many maps; the earliest was a map of part of Lawford in 1769.
“Fortunately, Richard Rigby’s estate in Mistley was expertly surveyed by Bernard Scalé in 1778, one of the finest surveys of its kind in the country, and, courtesy of Essex Record Office, we were able to use several of the plans.
“Other maps come from the Manningtree Museum and Local History Group and other local sources.”
Bob took photographs of most of the maps and his images were “expertly enhanced” by Mike, an artist with a PhD in science who lives south of the Thames, not far from Bluewater shopping centre.
“I said ‘If you’re prepared to put the work in, let’s go for it.’ And he was.”
Bob admits being fascinated by the maps. “They show how small Manningtree was. Looking the other day, I noticed it said ‘22 acres’. You look and see how much bigger Lawford and Mistley were in comparison – and, actually, Lawford didn’t change much for yonks. There was Lawford Hall and Wignall Street – centred on the pubs, really – and there wasn’t much at all.
“Lawford’s now changed out of sight, probably since the second half of the last century. But in Manningtree, there wasn’t room for any change, really. That enlargement didn’t take place until the 1980s or 1990s. You can see on the map where they proposed a change in the parish – it might have been an ecclesiastical change; I’m not sure – but it didn’t take place.” (A boundary alteration to enlarge the parish of Manningtree was proposed in the summer of 1914. A change finally happened in 1981!)
Bob adds: “I think people like to see what life was like, and the photos do that quite nicely, but when you look at the maps you think ‘Blimey, Green Lane wasn’t there then… When did it come?’ and ‘When did the road move away from the church and then back again?’
“It was moved away from Mistley Hall, I think – the new road – because he (it was owned by the Rigbys) didn’t want it near his hall. Then, when he went, it was moved again because (owner Edward) Norman didn’t want it near Mistley Place. Then they straightened it out a bit!
“Lots of the farms and field boundaries are still as they are. And some of the names have fallen into the mists of time, such as Hangman’s Well Field (at Lawford). Now, what’s all that about?”
He says Mike is keen on another project, but Bob’s not champing at the bit. “I’ve got loads of photos, but I think we’ve exhausted this now. Somebody else can do something from the 1920s onwards! My period is the one we’re doing, really – up to 1920. Why? It’s a nostalgia for that era, I suppose.”
The old photographs capture a way of life that’s disappeared, though we shouldn’t view them through rose-tinted glasses, for times were hard and poverty and tragedy never too far away.
“The ones I like in the book are of haymaking and haystacks. It’s all gone. I used to go on my uncle’s farm when I was a child and can just remember them horse-and-carting the sheaves. But now, of course, well…”
There’s a book launch and signing session at The Stour Sailing Club, Quay Street, Manningtree, on Saturday, December 7, from 11am-2pm. Books cost £12. After that, copies should be available from Townsend’s in Manningtree, Mistley Post Office, and Lawford Service Station ? and from Bob Horlock on 01206 393708 or email@example.com for £14.55 (including postage).