Eccentric, entrepreneur, rumour, fact or fiction
William Hart Gregson was born in 1879 in Colton, Lancashire the son of Rev Jesse Gregson and his wife Sarah. In the 1881 and 1891 census he can be found living in the vicarage in Colton with his family. By the 1901 census William has moved to Essex, he is boarding at a house in Colchester and his occupation is stated as Architect.
From the records in the Essex record office we know Gregson was living on the Island from 1902 where he lived in the bungalow at Oysterfleet that became the original Oysterfleet Pub. He was responsible for many buildings on Canvey during the next 25 years both as an architect and builder. There are nearly 70 building plans deposited at the record office. The most famous of his buildings was the old Oysterfleet Lighthouse which it is rumoured he built to house his mother-in-law especially to keep her out of his home. (Records show his wifes family were only briefly on the Island before they emigrated in 1923 to New Zealand, all except her sister Amy, so perhaps it was his sister in law he wanted to keep out of the house!) The building was very distinctive but was unfortunately pulled down in the late 80’s before a preservation order could be placed on it.
According to Richard Powell – ‘Captain Gregson had been in Africa for many years and his bungalow was full of Lion and Tiger heads, African spears and other memorabilia’. Richard used to play there when he was a boy. But we have found no evidence of him being in Africa at this point in time.
He was in the military during WW1 and this is most noticeable at the record office where there are no building plans with his name on them for the years 1913-1920. He was in the Royal Engineers where he was made Temporary Lieutenant in 1915. He was awarded the Victory and British medals and it was noted he first served in France. No other information is available. He was known as Captain after the war and this appears in records from about 1923.
His name is on the (Illuminated manuscript) in St Paul’s Church Rusland:-
“1914-1918 To hold in Honourable Remembrance The names of the men of Rusland Who took service with his Majesty’s Forces for the Defence of the Realm and the Defeat of the King’s Enemies in the Great War”
There is also a plaque
“In Memory of The Rev Jesse Gregson M.A. For seventeen years Vicar of this Parish Born 19th December 1849 Died 11th April 1897 Erected by Parishioners and Friends”.
He married Rita Pattard in 1920 and their two sons Alan William b 1921 and Anthony Hart b 1925 were both born on the Island and baptised in St Katherine’s. I have been told but do not know if this is true that the couple divorced in 1932.
Reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle in October of 1923 Gregson found himself in the dock where he was charged with “attempting to fraudulently procure an entry in the Land Registry”. The case was sent to the Jury and Gregson was let out on bail. When the case was heard in November the jury found the defendant “guilty of uttering but without intent to defraud”. The judge remark he was “pretty lucky”. (see clippings on the left)
Sometime between 1929 and 1938 Gregson had moved to Maldon where he lived at 53 Church Street. It was in 1938 according to records in the Essex Record Office, that Gregson found himself in court again, this time as a landlord he was told to make dwelling houses numbers 51, 53, 55 and 57 North Street, fit for human habitation.
Not being far from controversy Gregson appears in the Chelmsford Chronicle again this time to do with Borely Rectory. In 1937 Gregson had bought the Rectory which was known as the ‘most haunted house in England’ and was planning to make it into a tourist attraction. There are several sites on the internet that give full details of the Rectory and its ghosts. However Gregson’s plans did not turn out as he expected and on the night of 27 February 1939 a fire broke out and the building was completely destroyed. It was reported in the paper (see Chronicle in gallery below) that “a pile of books which were being dusted and sorted, falling upon a lamp and upsetting it”.
One of the websites states:-
- Captain W. H. Gregson bought Borley Rectory in 1937, knowing full well its haunted reputation. He enlisted Price to investigate the house further. Gregson even wrote a few articles about the place on his own. Then, one night in 1939, Borley Rectory was consumed by fire. By the time the flames had run their course, only the study brick walls remained.
- The fire itself remains a mystery. Alan William Gregson claims that his father was shelving books in the library when an oil lamp accidentally tipped over. Another son, Anthony, had a different explanation for the fire. In a letter to Richard Lee-Van den Daele he wrote “My father, Capt. W.H. Gregson bought Borely Rectory as a real estate venture around 1937, at which time it was classified by a prominent spiritualist, Harry Price, as the most haunted house in England. When this didn’t pan out he torched it for insurance.”
Whatever actually happened on that night in 1939 we may never know.
The next time Captain Gregson appears in any records is in Tasmania. Sometime before 1949 Gregson emigrated to Australia and settled in Tasmania, living around the area of Penguin and Sulpher Creek. It was at Sulpher Creek that he died on the 27th July 1957.
If anyone can add, confirm or dispute anything please comment below.
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Hello I don’t know if it is a coincidence but there was a Gregson family living along the side of the lake about two doors along from the Cherry Stores and within spitting distance of “The Lighthouse” They were still there until at least the 60s. I went to school with one of the boys who would be 68 now . I still see him around the Knightswyck area. Regards Sparrow
Thanks Sparrow but I doubt if there is a connection the family went to Australia. The eldest son had at least two children a boy and a girl they were born in the 50s probably in Tasmania. I also have details of the youngest son in Tasmania and Canada.
Impressed with Canvey’s link to Borley Rectory!
Interesting article, Janet, but I’m sure the Oysterfleet Lighthouse still existed in the 1980s as I remember it growing up. I don’t think it was pulled down until the early ’90s (I remember writing a letter to my nan – an ex-Canvey resident – telling of its demolition, I may still have her reply somewhere) when the current Oysterfleet hotel began to be built.
Thanks Nick I did mean to put the 80s. I feel sure it was not the 90s. It was gone long before the hotel was built.
If it was pulled down at the same time as the pub it was the nineties as I built a shed in my garden with timbers taken from the pub when it was pulled down and I never moved here till ninety three.
Another reason I think it may have been the early nineties was that my mother had started working at Newman & Maxwell solicitors (now Beecroft & Maxwell, just down the road) at that time and remembers the lighthouse still being there (and its demise).
hello, and thankyou so much for this page. I have snippets of everything you have published in my research of my ex husbands family. William Hart Gregson did indeed marry a Rita, but her name was spelt Reta Patard, and her surname was actually Hervieu. She was born on Guernsey, along with 9 other children, 3 of whom died, one male stillborn, one female at 12 hrs old, and one male at 2 months.Her parents were Jacques Andre Hervieu, born France, and Amy Flora/Florence May Quentin, born Guernsey. The other children were: Amy, Eva (dont know what happened to her, she didnt go to New Zealand), Adele, Marie, Jacques and Eugene. Reta and William were married in 1920, he was 40, she just 18. She remarried to John Leslie Woodall in 1940, he was 35, and so was she. Her sister Amy married in 1928 to Joseph Wyatt, and Reta and Amy died one month apart in 1989. The rest of the family did emigrate to New Zealand, on 6 Sept 1923, leaving from Southampton, aboard the Dorset, bound for Auckland. cheers, Julie.
Many thanks Julie. I had most of the info regarding the Pattard/Hervieu family but it is nice to see it confirmed.
hello again Janet. how do i go about researching more info on this family during their time on Canvey – is there a specific website i can access, or somewhere I can write to? if there is an answer, can you send it direct to my email address. cheers, Julie.
There is here and the Essex record office Julie. It was only Reta and Amy of the Pattard family who were on the Island as far as we know.
Hi Julie, Re the Pattard sisters Amy and Reta; Amy was very well known to the residents of the Newlands area in the 50s,60s &70s as the proprietoress of Greenfields Stores in Hindles Rd which backed onto the original Small Gains Creek sea-wall.
The shop (Amy’s as it was usually known) was really just a wooden hut like so many other original Canvey corner shops. I remember delivering bread there in the mid 60s and recall Amy as a very gentle-mannered if slightly eccentric elderly lady who spoke with a soft Channel Islands French sounding accent. The interior of the shop was app 12 sq with an L-shaped counter facing the the single door with just enough standing room for three customers. The stock arrangment would at politest be described as higgeldy-piggeldy, I believe there was a room at the back but this could not be seen on account of Amy’s unique merchandising technique i.e she piled an assortment of grocery stock on top of and around the counter. With the increasing height of the the serving area Amy compensated on her side of the counter by piling more stock for her to stand on. On entering the shop you would appear to find Amy hovering above you and serving at about head-height.
I’m sure there are many people around on the Island who still have fond memories of Amy and Greenfields Stores. Amazingly, after standing derelict for more than 30yrs, though hidden by a high fence and covered in undergrowth the building is still there and recognisable.
I didn’t know Reta but my sister Jenny Stacey became good friends with her whilst looking after both Reta and her husband in their later years, she was practice nurse at a local doctor’s.
Very interesting article, Janet. I was in contact with both sons in connection with the Borley Rectory case many years ago and will have to dig out the correspondence and reacquaint myself with it. Thanks for bringing the Gregsons back to mind! Best wishes Richard
What an interesting site ! I am Alan Gregson’s daughter formerly of Tasmania, now living in Virginia USA. Of course a lot of this info on Grandpa Gregson and my father Alan I knew already, but this certainly fills in a few gaps esp. with respect to my Grandmother Rita (which is how we always knew of her). I did meet her in 1959 during a stay in the UK, when we were actually living in the house at 53 Church St . Thank You
Could Stephanie Gregson Tanner please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to be able to fill in, or have filled in, more gaps in this family.
Hi – I’m the youngest daughter of Alan William Gregson, Stephanie’s sister (see above post). This was fascinating. I have lots of memorabilia from my grandfather and other stuff – wartime diaries and letters from my father and uncle. I have been thinking of donating some of it to Canvey historical association or anyone who is interested in our slightly colourful family past. I’m based in the UK and would love to come and chat to anyone who has any interesting memories about the family.
William Hart Gregson served as 2Lieut in the 10th (County of London) Bn The London Regt TF (Paddington Rifles) from29.10.1908 to 29.10.1910 when he resigned his commission.
Rita and William Gregson did divorce in 1932, it is stated on my original house deeds. It also states he got everything, all the lands that originally wre hers, and nobody knows wat happened to her.
We do know what happened to her Val she remarried and lived on Canvey for many years. She died aged 87 in 1989.
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