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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

The Three Essex Girls (Day 271 - 273)

The Three Essex Girls go and explore our roots, seeing the beautiful side of this much aligned county.

Sadly, many people’s impression of Essex is girls tottering about in white stilettos with fake tans. Even the Oxford Dictionary now has “Essex girl” (derogatory, informal) ‘A brash, materialistic young woman of a type supposedly found in Essex…’ I do not class myself, or my sisters as brash or materialistic. Mind you, we are hardly young anymore!

Essex has lots to offer. Many historical towns and villages that the Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans all made their mark on and lots of beautiful countryside. Don’t think of Essex all being like Dagenham, in fact over 70% of Essex is rural, with patchworks of fields with pretty pastel -washed villages of thatch and timber often with quaint ancient churches that in other countries would be deemed as tourist attractions, whereby we just take them for granted. And in these three days, spent with my lovely two sisters, we visited three of these churches, all dating over 700 years old and in beautiful condition. Coincidentally they are all named St. Mary’s.

The first church we visited was at the end of a long single track lane in Lambourne End. Nearly 900 years old, this beautiful church is situated in such a peaceful location, with cornfields neighbouring the churchyard. I often would drive here in my late teens for some peace and quiet. As we walked amongst the graves, many of our distant relatives are named on the stones. My sisters and I had come to see our grandparents’ grave: Walter and Sarah Greenaway, and pay our respects. After planting some flowers and enjoying a picnic in this wonderful location, we drove on to the next St Mary’s church, this time on the edge of Shenfield town.

The oldest part of this small rural church dates back to the 13th century with its tall steeple added around 300 years later. I had never been here and was surprised to see such a lovely place, hidden in a winding lane off the main A-road. The footpath leading to the church was lined with standard rose trees with little plaques, naming the loved ones whose ashes have been buried here. And the second on the right was where our other grandparents are remembered: Sydney and Elsie Godwin. What a beautiful spot. Dawn had bought some flowers which we popped into a jam jar. I think Dawn will come back and plant some primroses here, our wonderful Nanna’s favourite flowers. Whenever I see primroses, I think of my Nanna’s gorgeous warm, smiling face.

Jac then drove us all to Frinton-on-Sea for us to stay with our Auntie Dawn for a couple of days. I am very fond of Auntie Dawn, she and my Uncle Frank, my Dad’s brother, looked after me when I was a fraught and anxious teenager. Frinton is quite a unique town, very prim and proper. Its 19th-century charter explicitly banned pubs and this continued until 2000 when the Lock and Barrel Pub was opened amongst a lot of controversies. I can imagine it is a nice place to live with its neat local shops and cafes, a mix of houses in wide clean streets, a thriving theatre, trains into London and its colourful beach huts lining the long sandy beach, part of the longest shoreline of any county in England.

During our time there, we walked to the beach a few times, adding steps to my pedometer, met our cousin Carl, who, despite being a bit of a recluse, has the most wonderful sense of humour which has me in stitches. We also visited our Mum’s cousin Brian, who happens to live on the same street as our Aunt. What an interesting man, he left Banking in 1990 and since then has completed an Arts degree, with some of his paintings adorning his house, and in his garden are a few arrangements of terracotta pots he has decorated with mosaic tiles and broken pieces of China. They are beautiful. We also visited our third St Mary’s church here which dates back to the 11th century and is the smallest complete church in Essex. It’s incredible that it has survived in this town which sprang up in the early 20th century. Another peaceful place of worship and reflection, well it would have been if it wasn’t for the building work of a nearby block of flats. Whilst we were there, I discovered that the dress I had ordered to wear on Saturday at our niece’s wedding was not going to be delivered on time. What to do? We trawled around a few charity shops (I love a bargain and like recycling clothes). No success. And then we spied a Vintage shop, No 24 of Frinton. I waited patiently whilst we stopped off for coffees and teas and then Jac and I whisked in there. What a fabulous place. Stocked with a huge array of paraphernalia, it was a delight to wander around. We found the rail of vintage dresses and then I spied the perfect outfit. We discovered that the changing room was, in fact, an original old telephone box, added with a black blind for decency. I squeezed in the box and into the outfit. Mmm… snug fit. Four days to lose a bit of weight? I can do it – or magic knickers will help! The two Dawns and Carl joined us and all gave me approving thumbs up and I paid my money to Chris Pereira, the owner of this wonderful establishment. On a whim, we decided to go to watch Deathtrap, a comedy thriller at Frinton Summer Theatre – ‘the UK’s oldest weekly rep’; a registered charity with a mission to give jobs to actors and technicians straight out of drama school. What an entertaining evening! We had to run from Brian’s for our pre-theatre dinner causing us much hysterics. We all nearly wet ourselves we were laughing so much by the time we reached the restaurant, a usual occurrence when the three of us get together. A quick bite to eat and then a very enjoyable evening. The Ira Levin’s play had the usual twists and turns with one scene having us nearly jump out of our seats. The accents kept drifting across the Atlantic, from twangy American to dulcet English tones. Perhaps just stick with the English accents my dears!

What a wonderful time back in our home county. I often avoid admitting where I come from, yet seeing the other side of this county, perhaps I need to educate people about the beauty, diversity and history of this great county. And I end with the words of John Betjeman in his poem Essex:

"The deepest Essex few explore Where steepest thatch is sunk in flowers And out of elm and sycamore Rise flinty fifteenth-century towers."

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