10 things you didn’t know about Essex: Part XII

PUBLISHED: 10:16 21 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:38 21 January 2020

Audley End House Credit Ron Porter

Audley End House Credit Ron Porter

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In the final edition of 2019 for our series looking at unusual Essex facts, Mica Bale discovers the local legend of the Henham Dragon, the origins of Slamseys Gin, why the Canvey Wick reserve is so important and more

1) Interestingly, the last World War I soldier to see active service on the Western Front was a local Essex boy. Born in Elmstead Market, Albert Elliot Marshall's early years were spent raising his younger siblings following his mother's death.

Despite not being of age, Marshall would take part at the Battle of Loos, which is known to be one of the heaviest fights of 1915, and the Battle of the Somme.

2) Southend has long been lauded for its entertainment and certainly one of the town's greatest attractions must surely be the Kursaal, now recognised with Grade II listed status. Opened just before the turn of the 20th century, the Kursaal was unlike anything else.

Combining all forms of entertainment, it is hailed today as one of the first purpose-built entertainment venues in the world and would offer all sorts of enjoyment throughout its history, from dance halls to zoos, fairground rides and shows.

3) Throughout history, Essex has bred many famous sons and daughters, including those who have achieved many great heights in their careers. One such famous son was John Hilton who is considered today to be among the very best surgeons of his age.

As testament to that accolade, he became Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria herself and even entered Guy's Hospital before he had turned 20. He also added greatly to Guy's Hospital's collection of wax models, some of which still survive and are on display.

4) While it is true that most counties have local legends, arguably one of the most interesting is Henham's Dragon legend which is thought to be traceable to a single tract entitled, The Flying Serpent or Strange News Out of Essex, which describes the dragon as having 'piercing' eyes and also 'two rows of teeth'.

Although such legends are not uncommon and certainly spark colourful tales of sightings, the Henham Dragon appears to have a greater following than many and has even inspired a popular beer.

5) Essex has always been renowned for producing some of the finest food and drink products and one of the very finest is Slamseys Gin, whose farm has its very own mention in the Domesday Book.

With new flavours of gin being introduced to the market all the time, Slamseys produces some classically favorite flavours, all grown in the heart of Essex, including raspberry, sloe and even marmalade.

6) Among one of the most interesting place names in Essex must surely be the area of Brandy Hole. With early origins in sea salt and also shellfish, Brandy Hole would later put its easy access to saltmarshes to perhaps more unlawful practices when it undertook another purpose as one of the primary areas for smuggling.

Rich and rare products from wine to tea − and brandy, of course − all secretly passed through Brandy Hole before being smuggled to London for a tidy profit.

7) Another interesting character with Essex connections is a certain Everard Calthrop who had a great fondness for the county and purchased a home at Loughton.

Calthrop has been described as a 'railway genius' and was responsible for much work on the railway in India as well as aiding many advances in Britain. His interests even stretched to aviation and he began work on some of the earliest parachutes. A particular passion of Calthrop's was horses and at his Essex home, he had stables and suitable land to enjoy breeding and training his horses.

8) It is thought that the village of Liston was first recorded as early as the latter 900s after Æthelflæd of Damerham made mention of the English parish in her will.

During her life, she was married three times, perhaps most notably to King Edmund II whose death contributed greatly to her fortunes.

9) Canvey Wick is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to many different species, including the shrill carder bee, several different invertebrates and some that had previously been regarded as extinct throughout all of Britain.

The reserve has been acclaimed as Britain's rainforest and also as the country's first bug reserve.

10) Audley End House saw two of its owners imprisoned in the Tower of London for embezzlement, hosted special royal visitors and later enjoyed ownership under King Charles II before it was used in World War II for training.

The Jacobean style house also has extensive grounds designed by Capability Brown.

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