Daws Heath 'village' sign

A place out of sight of the sea

The Hadleigh Olympic biking course seen 8th December 2010
Nick Ardley

Daws Heath is a distinctive part of Thundersley, but it is not part of Hadleigh – though some feel that it should be – and each time I pass the village sign for Daws Heath I am a little perplexed.

Pausing, I gaze adoringly at a scene of my beloved estuary: the sign shows a wonderful view overlooking the lower end of the London River’s sea reach (The River Thames). However, I have found nowhere within the bounds of Daws Heath where the river’s silty waters can be seen. The Thames spritsail barge is a nice touch, but a great deal of artistic latitude is needed because the river is beyond the brow of rising land in neighbouring Hadleigh … or is there some magical spot I’m not aware of?

The Thames, barges and coastal sailing are in my blood. I was brought up on a sailing barge. I went to sea on big ships. The family’s barge was kept in sail for nearly three decades during a different barging era, long before the start of barge chartering – as seen at Maldon – so the sight of the sea is something that causes a flutter.

I’ve attached a view looking from the other direction, from out on the water. Only Hadleigh can be seen and then only its fringe… It is a view probably not seen by many residents. Down there is my magical place within Thundersley, Daws Heath and Hadleigh. The marshes, creeks and rills below Hadleigh’s downs are full of history. Its most recent was the enterprises carried out by the Salvation Army in brick and pottery making. But other things have long disappeared too, such as a mill, wharves and farms. It is a fascinating environment: I love it.

Look for ‘Essex Sailor’ on BBC Essex web pages – there is a little there too.

David Hurrell knows a little of the sign’s inception: perhaps he will relay this to a wider public.

Nick Ardley

{Ed: February 2021:  Those who know Nick, or know of him, might be interested to hear that Nick Ardley has been included in a hall of fame compiled by Yachting Monthly covering the first two decades of this century. Nick has blogged about this here .}

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  • Nobody has mentioned the absurdity of the positioning of the Daws Heath sign. Daws Heath was traditionally centred on the triangle now defined by the Daws Heath Road and Western Road. The area around the Woodman pub is an ancient part of Thundersley parish, although distanced from the village centre, and has been referred to occasionally in documents as Thundersley hamlet. The centre of Daws Heath remained a wild heathland until 1792 when the Lord of the Manor of South Benfleet and Jarvis Hall decided to allow settlement to be developed. There followed a period of 13 years when Daws Heath sprung into being as another Thundersley hamlet. In no document I have researched are the two hamlets linked together. Admittedly, the boundaries of Daws Heath are vague but it has been generally considered that the western edge of Daws Heath is the western boundary of Rag Wood Farm or else Hilltop Cottage just east of the Deanes School entrance. Additionally, “the triangle” has always been the centre of the hamlet. As we travel on the Daws Heath Road towards the Woodman we discover the Daws Heath sign welcoming us to Daws Heath. This is nonsensical ! It would not be unreasonable to have a one-sided sign in its current position facing traffic turning into Daws Heath Road from the Rayleigh Road. This would match the other existing sign. As you walk or drive from the Weir towards the Woodman you see a sign pointing eastwards declaring “Daws Heath”. This invites you to turn into Daws Heath Road in order to discover that fabled hamlet. A two-sided sign should surely be placed at the centre of the settlement it advertises.

    By Bob Delderfield (24/10/2012)
  • As a pure guess I’d say that Thundersley’s ancient pub, the ‘White Hart’ is alluded to as well as its (former?) rustic setting. The flash of lightning would represent the leigh of Thunar, or Thor’s meadow, in Thundersleigh’s name, which very likely points back to a place of worship to that Saxon God of Thunder in pre-Christian times. Day names include Thor in Thursday, Tiw in Tuesday and Woden in Wednesday.

    By Robert Hallmann (23/10/2012)
  • I designed the Thundersley village sign which stands on the corner of Dark Lane and Hart Road. The grey storm cloud represents the Essex coastline. The Sky is the River Thames and Estuary. The green foliage is the Kent coast. The pale (but not albino) red deer stag, is a genuflection towards the locally famous White Hart Pub (although we all know that female red deer – harts – do not have antlers!) and it further reminds us that in this area was once a Royal Hunting Park. The lightning bolt is striking the map on the “ley” (meaning “clearing in the woods”) where Thundersley is and the flash itself takes on the exact shape of our local river system (hence Thunder’s Ley). Two tributaries of Prittle Brook start in Thundersley – the main one rising just behind Dark Lane School in the rough pasture which used to be swarming with little frogs in early summer (and where our Council have just given permission to build a housing estate). If you get out your Ordnance Survey map of the area, all will become clear.

    By David Hurrell (23/10/2012)
  • I understood that the stag probably comes from the fact that historically Thundersley was once a royal hunting park. Re Daws Heath’s sign, no one has yet come up with a location in the ‘village’ where the Thames can be seen.

    By Nick Ardley (23/10/2012)
  • Could anyone tell me please what the Thundersley sign means?!?! The white stag and flash of lightning? My 8 year old daughter is doing a project at school and needs some info about it. Many thanks.

    By Natalie Lewis (22/10/2012)
  • Well explained David, but where in Daws Heath can one see the Thames, let alone a spritsail barge? Perhaps, as you say, the ‘Hadleigh’ sign had something to do with it, plus whoever presided over its creation not being aware that Daws Heath does not have a view of the river, and little connection even, other than with the now closed business of Finesse Yachts…

    By Nick Ardley (12/02/2012)
  • There are currently three similar decorative Village Signs in our Borough - one each for Hadleigh, Thundersley and Daws Heath. The Daws Heath Village Sign I know least about.   I designed the Hadleigh Sign for the Hadleigh Women’s Institute - their gift to the Town to commemorate the Millennium. It was carved and wrought to my specification by Alpha Signs of Saffron Walden. A couple of years later I did the one for Thundersley, commissioned by Thundersley Congregational Church to mark their Centenary. Alpha Signs were again engaged to manufacture.     Now, the Hadleigh sign has a different design to each side (Church to the east, Castle to the west) and the Thundersley one was to follow along similar lines except, somewhere along the way (I think when planning permission was sought) there was a stipulation that it should be the same both sides. You might imagine my disappointment, as both sides had been designed at this stage! (The Thundersley Sign stands on the corner of Hart Road and Dark Lane.)    Several months later, the Daws Heath sign appeared “out of the blue” on the corner of Tollgate. Alpha were again the manufacturers, but this time the design was executed ”in-house”. The basic shape and style, including the custom wrought iron-work, is cribbed to match my two signs and the picture itself contains sufficient of the motifs from the ”lost” Thundersley design to give me an extraordinary sense of déjà-vue.   Who commissioned it and funded it remains a mystery. Perhaps more information might be forthcoming? The reason for its siting outside of Daws Heath is, apparently, down to “Highways” constraints.

    By David Hurrell (06/12/2011)

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