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A “Miscellaneous” Page
A “Miscellaneous” Page
Rayleigh Through Time - A Review
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Mike and Sharon Davies have been married for over 30 years with 2 children and 5 grandchildren. After a career in banking and finance Mike now spends most of his time researching local history. He is chairman of a local history group called Rayleigh through the Looking Glass as well as Chairman of the Historical Society of Rayleigh and a member of the Friends of Historic Essex, the Southend Pier Museum Trust, the British Titanic Society, the Milestone Society of Great Britain and the RNLI. He is also a shareholder and season ticket holder with Southend United Football Club. In his spare time he loves nothing more than seeing the grandchildren or listening to the Pasadena Roof Orchestra playing the dance band music of the 1920's and 1930's. Both Mike and Sharon have a great interest in Antiques and Collectables and regularly attend Antique fairs and local auctions.
The BOOK: Rayleigh Through Time, published February 2013 by Amberley Publishing

This is a book for people who know Rayleigh well, I would venture, and for those who don’t know it so well, it is hard work. By the time you slowly work your way through, you begin to catch it and it feels good, but it is hard work.  A number of maps would have clarified to the wider audience just where each set of photos was coming from. It would have been a lot easier to grasp if the dates of photos had not been included in the text but had stood out under each one and then the text divided more clearly to highlight the points being made for each one.

Put those negative comments aside and it is an enjoyable little book and it certainly shows how the town has changed over the past hundred years. And therein is a lack of clarity. The title suggests a longer period of time but such a book completely has to rely upon the pictures still in existence that have been stored away and only brought to the public gaze, in all likelihood, in more recent years.

The ‘Introduction’ neatly lays out elements of the last thousand years of history and, bearing in the mind the title of the book, I would have preferred this rather to have been titled ‘The Early Years’ instead of ‘Introduction’ and enlarged a little with more space given to it, possibly running to three or even four pages. It is difficult to know initially exactly the period covered by the book if you did not read the back cover comment that included, “ways in which Rayleigh has changed and developed over the last century. One further comment on approach or layout:   the reader is left to meander their way through the book without any sense of order or direction which doesn’t help grasping the onward march of history. Chapter headings and grouping subjects, themes of types of building etc., would have really given a helpful structure to this potentially excellent little book.

Old photos always tend to be sepia which psychologically tells you they are old! And there are a good number of them in this book!  It starts us off from the coming of the A127 in 1925, jumps to the days of the pre-war dual carriageway, then with a pedestrian crossing by the mid 1980’s, and finally the underpass and flyover in 1991 – and all this on the edge of Rayleigh. If each of the other areas of the town had been covered in such an order it would have been good but, as we have observed, it does rather depend on the photos you manage to obtain.

With the old and new pictures of the public house at the weir, there is mention of the heritage plaques erected around the town on appropriate buildings by the Town Council. A few pages of those plaques would have conveyed something more of that history but we have to satisfy ourselves with just the one at the Weir Public House. For those who would like to follow the 21 plaques around the town the book points us to a good resource by clicking on the following link:  
The book takes us on to the glory days of the Rayleigh Stadium, still on the southern edge, and then takes us from the age of steams trains to the present railway provision at the bottom of the hill on the west side of the town. We are then brought up into the town via Crown Hill and the Dutch Cottage as well as the long-extinct Gas Works.

To catch a sense of the High Street and the changes that have taken place we are treated to views, ancient and modern, from the church tower at the top of the High Street. As was often quite common in such old towns, the high street was remarkably wide and it is difficult to envisage the local hunt, pictured meeting outside the Crown, meeting there today. The changes over the years in the top of the High Street are well conveyed. Looking south down the High Street there are distinct similarities between old and new but the elegant transformation is mostly to do with road quality, traffic, and modern street furniture, which becomes even clearer in ongoing pictures which portray the change from the rather ramshackle town (sorry, that is what is conveyed quaintly in the old pictures) to a modern, bustling small town that has been carefully and well brought into the twenty first century. The coverage of the central area of the town is good but even the writers could not help a burst of honesty in the restrained, “new developments, some more pleasing to the eye than others”! Varied sizes and shapes of new buildings have not always fitted the ambience of this little town and shop signs have often done even more to demean it. Yet even these fail to quench the sense of a pleasant little country town that is conveyed in many of the pictures.

The history of the Martyrs Memorial feels it would have been more comfortable alongside the history of the various churches included later on – which in turn would have lent themselves to a separate chapter. It was a shame that references to the Parish Church, Holy Trinity, were scattered in the Introduction and in the pictures at the top of the High Street, and not given the respect due to the ‘oldest inhabitant’ in a section with the other churches.

Well there is plenty more and despite the criticisms at the beginning perhaps as a resident of Rochford, as the writer is, it might be wise to ask the question, do you feel you know Rayleigh better having read this book and studied the large number of pictures? The answer has got to be a clear yes, and it feels good. Rochford, by comparison, is flat and uninteresting when put alongside Rayleigh, of that there is little doubt. Rayleigh has much going for it with its size, location and topography. Does this little book do justice to it? I don’t think so, but if that is so it is simply because it lacked someone to advise on structure and layout from the outset. It will appeal to the locals but it could appeal to a much wider market. An often delightful town, and a book with over 170 delightful pictures that convey a lot of changes. We feel it could have been just that bit better.

Worth the £9.99 (call it £10 for goodness sake!) cover price? If you are a local and like nostalgia – no doubt!  If you are an outsider and want to get a comprehensive picture of an often charming town, sit on your money and wait. You never know, somebody might remedy the points we’ve raised here and then it will be worth every penny for whoever!  Whatever, it was an enjoyable browse.  

For other books by Amberley Publishing:

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