Nine numb men saved from a certain death.

From Essex County Chronicle, 3 December 1897

The Essex County Chronicle carried a news item on 3 December 1897 that tells of floods and rescues by Old Leigh’s reluctant heroes. The mention of ‘Colonists’, although early in its history, must surely mean the reporter got it wrong and he meant up-river rather than ‘down the river’ where the men were stranded on five-barred gates? I hope I have transcribed the text as near to the original as possible:





Nine numb men saved from a certain death.

At Leigh-on-Sea I (writes a representative of the Essex County Chronicle) found that the water had been all over the High-street and into the houses. P.s. Coppin stated that the boats were sailed up the street, and an eight-oared boat was rowed up. The Smack public-house was flooded, so that they could not draw any beer; so also were the Peter Boat and the United Brethren Inns.

The courteous Police-sergeant also directed me to the house of a fisherman named Fredk. Emery, who, he said, had with his brother Tom and others effected a creditable rescue of some men. Mrs. Fredk. Emery, who had a bonny baby in her arms and two other children at her heels, said her husband had gone out, but his brother was about and should be fetched. Tom, a fine, sturdy-looking seaman, came in smiling at the idea of my wanting any particulars about the rescue. “Who wants to know about it?” said he. “They don’t want to know about us rescuing some chaps from a five-barred gate, I should think. You don’t call that much of a gallant rescue, do ye? Our fellers ‘ud laugh at me if they thought I’d been tellin’ a reporter about that!”

Having persuaded the good man that considerable public interest attached to the occurrence, and having got from him an admission that if it hadn’t been for him and his companions some five lives would most certainly have been lost, he consented, though still reluctantly, to tell me the story. The facts are as follows:-

Fredk. and Thomas Emery, two men named Turnage, and two other men named Harvey and Johnson, were rowing in a boat, when they heard cries coming from a distance of about half a mile down the river. They at once proceeded to the low-lying marshes down by the creek and soon they perceived four men in distress on one five-barred gate, and one in distress on another. The poor fellows were waving and shouting. Upon coming up to them the Emerys and friends found them on gates on the north side of the railway line just on the Leigh side of the Colony bridge. Two of the men were railway navvies, one was a Colonist, another was named Theobald, and another was a man in Theobald’s employment. They were standing as high up on the gates as they could, and the water was a foot over the top of the gate. The sufferers were numb with cold, and becoming exhausted. Their relief at seeing the rescue party approach and land them safely in their boat may be more easily imagined than described.

Four other men were rescued from a similar position higher up the line by a second boat from Leigh.

The Bay pump at Leigh, from which the village derives its water supply, was filled with salt water, and nothing but salt water can be got from it. It will be a good thing for Leigh when the water works there are completed.

It is also stated that some horses on the marshes near Leigh were saved by being dragged off by fishermen and tied to the embankment until after the flood had gone.

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  • Colony Bridge… Yes, of course, Robert. (Silly me.) It’s referring to the substantial red brick bridge which the Salvation Army got permission to built over the mainline railway, so that their (standard gauge) industrial railway could access their barge jetty. The remains of both these edifices still exist. 

    By David Hurrell (11/03/2016)
  • That could well explain the ‘up’.

    The Colony Bridge, could that be a railway bridge?

    By Robert Hallmann (03/03/2016)
  • Thanks for that, David. That would explain the reference to ‘down’ the river. As for a Colony bridge, I’ll have to leave the guessing up to you. Interesting moment in time, I thought.

    By Robert Hallmann (26/02/2016)
  • Hi Robert,

    Great find, thanks!

    I believe the barging fraternity (and perhaps the Leigh fishers also) always referred to going “Down” the river to London, rather than “Up”. This was because the journey was best accomplished on the incoming tide.

    I’m intrigued and mystified by the reference to: “north side of the railway line just on the Leigh side of the Colony bridge”. Nowadays (as you know, of course), north of the railway is pretty much “dry” and the only bridge is a plank across a ditch – is this one and the same as the Colony bridge, do you think?

    Theobalds (Billy and Alf) were the owners of Beltons Farm, which stood near the old mulberry tree on Belton Gardens.

    By David Hurrell (19/02/2016)

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