Dovercourt’s historic lighthouses

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The twin lighthouses at Dovercourt have been a fixture on the landscape since the 1860s.  Iron-framed, they sit 200m apart, linked by a stone causeway that extends out into Dovercourt Bay.  As you can see from the photograph above, this is completely covered at high tide.

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The differing heights of the two lighthouses are significant, allowing the lights to be aligned as ships approach.  The inner lighthouse stands 15m high, while the smaller one is about 4m lower.  Commissioned by Trinity House in 1862, they replaced the two redundant lighthouses in Harwich, a short way along the coast, which had become unreliable due to migrating sand bars in the Stour Estuary.  For more on Harwich, see my earlier blog post here:

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/harwich-the-town-that-rocked/

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With the installation of marker buoys indicating the approach to Harwich harbour, the Dovercourt lighthouses became obselete, like the Harwich ones before them.  In 1917, they were decommissioned, falling into a state of disrepair before being renovated in the 1980s.

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The beach today is one of just five in Essex that has been awarded the coveted Blue Flag in recognition of the cleanliness of both the beach and the water.  Off season, the beach is dog friendly, and with Felixstowe’s dock cranes framing the horizon, it’s a pleasant place to let them run.  If you’re planning to take your pooch, make sure you clean up after them to keep the beach in pristine condition.

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Coggeshall

Coggeshall scores high on my list of favourite Essex villages, with two National Trust properties within a short stroll of each other, a clutch of historic buildings and more than it’s fair share of tall tales and legends.

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Make your way first to Grange Barn.  It’s one of Europe’s largest and oldest timber framed buildings housing sheaves of corn from about 1230 onwards.  In those days, the village was run by the Abbots of Coggeshall, who collected tithes and owned the market place near to the Cistercian abbey which today is privately owned.  Incidentally, the abbey can be visited as part of the Invitation to View initiative and opens about five times a year.

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Grange Barn was reworked and rebuilt about 1380 when the large doors you can see in this picture were added.  Small gates were cut out of the doors; this was to allow the through draft of air which was necessary for the process of threshing.  In 1538, Henry VIII dissolved the abbey and the barn came under the ownership of Dairy House Farm next door.  In the 19th century, it was attached to Grange Farm, but by the 1970s, it was disused and in a state of disrepair.  After restoration, it passed into the hands of the National Trust in 1989.

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Inside, you’ll find some information about the barn and its history as well as some interesting agricultural machinery and carts.  If you find this interesting, then I’d recommend a visit to Cressing Temple Barns about 15 minutes up the road.  Read about them in my blog here:

https://essexology.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/cressing-temple-barns/

The second of the two National Trust properties in Coggeshall is Paycocke’s House.  This early 16th century house is renowned for its elaborate wood panelling and owes its splendour to the thriving wool trade in East Anglia at the time of its construction.  You can read more about Paycocke’s here:

https://essexology.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/paycockes/

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The centre of Coggeshall is also worth more than a quick look.  There are said to be over 300 listed buildings in the village, which given its population of under 5000 residents is good going.  Many of them are close to the intersection of Stoneham Street and Church Street.  Look out for the Clocktower, now a dog-friendly eatery, which was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.  The nearby Chapel Inn also has a long history, licensed since 1554.

An interesting facet of Coggeshall’s history is its early reputation for stupidity.  An old Essex proverb goes:

Braintree for the pure and Bocking for the poor; Coggeshall for the jeering town and Kelvedon for the whore.

Let’s gloss over poor Kelvedon and focus on how Coggeshall came to get this epithet.  According to legend, one day Coggeshall’s clock chimed 11 times at noon.  The puzzled villagers didn’t understand why, but they got wind that a clock at Lexden in Colchester had struck 12 times at 11 o’clock.  Thinking they had found their missing chime, the sent a rider to Lexden to collect the missing stroke.

Sadly, that’s not all.  Stories abound as to how the village’s lack of brainpower manifested itself.  One tale recounts how the villagers built a church but forgot to include windows, so they set out some hampers to catch the light, wheelbarrowed them into the church and opened them up to release the light they’d caught.  Other acts allegedly include winching a cow up onto the church roof to graze the grass that was growing there, knocking down one of the village’s two windmills as it was thought there wouldn’t be sufficient wind for them both and chaining up a wheelbarrow when a rabid dog bit it, just in case it went mad too.

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If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “a Coggeshall job” comes from, used to describe a pointless or poor piece of work, now you know.

East Anglian Railway Museum

Time flies by when I’m the driver of a train, and I ride on the footplate, there and back again.”  Chances are, if you’ve just sung this rather than read those words, you grew up on a diet of Chigley and you remember as fondly as I do Lord Belborough and his steam engine Bessie.

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But until yesterday, though I’d been on many a steam train, I’d never experienced what it’s like to ride on the footplate.  Thanks to train driver Michael and his sidekick Kim, whose role is that of fireman, I got to tick it off my bucket list.  Stood between Michael and Kim, I tried to keep my balance and time my barrage of questions to avoid interfering with their safety checks and operational duties.  With a carriage-load of passengers on board, even on such a short demonstration trip, it was important that things were done properly.

Teamwork was key, with both volunteers working together to ensure everything ran smoothly.  It was hot work.  As Kim stoked the firebox with coal, the blast of heat coming from inside was palpable.  Kim wiped a smear of coal dust from his nose and grinned as I wiped the sweat from my own forehead.  I was glad this was the museum’s 1905 vintage engine when Michael mentioned that had I ridden on the footplate of one of the other two working engines I’d have been much hotter, as the furnace would have been level with our faces instead of by our feet.

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While it’s a special treat to ride on the footplate, the museum’s regular exhibits are well worth exploring.  I began at the signal box where a series of colour-coded levers ensured a train couldn’t enter a stretch of track while another was in the way.  The blue one shown in use here is pulled to activate a points lock, making sure the points don’t move as the train’s wheels pass over the top.  Young kids will love pulling the levers so much it will be hard to drag them away.

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Across the footbridge, the restoration shed gives you the chance to see some of the museum’s many engines and carriages being brought back to their former glory.  Many of the volunteers work on these projects on Wednesdays, making this a good day to find out about what’s going on.  There’s plenty of restored rolling stock to have a look at, including some vintage wooden carriages and recreations of station buildings and platforms.

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The exhibitions in the on-site heritage centre explain the impact of Beeching’s cuts on the Gainsborough Line, which once would have continued on to Cambridge.  Sudbury’s population grew sufficiently to save the Marks Tey to Sudbury stretch from the same fate.  But other long-lost lines are covered too, including the Crab and Winkle Line which ran from nearby Kelvedon to the coast at Tollesbury.  Take a walk around Tollesbury Wick and at low tide, you can still see the railway’s wooden sleepers  disappearing into the mud.

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EARM staff say that visitors often remark on how much there is to see at the museum and I’d have to agree.  I made it through the level crossing gates back to the regular platform just in time to catch my train.  You’re sure to have a rewarding and enjoyable day out.  The volunteers were without exception keen to share their knowledge and enthusiasm.