Early 20th century Hornchurch historian disappeared as quickly as he arrived
PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 July 2017
In just eight years, Charles Thomas Perfect published three books about Hornchurch. Our Village, in 1912, was a series of amusing sketches about village life. A local history, Ye Olde Village of Hornchurch, followed in 1917. Finally, in 1920, came a solemn chronicle, Hornchurch During the Great War.
And then he vanished.
The books tell us much about Perfect. He lived in Station Lane. He loved literature and enjoyed reciting poetry. Quotations from Shakespeare and Tennyson were sprinkled through his books. He was musical, a bandmaster in two local organisations and a member of a Harold Wood entertainment troupe. (With few buses services, he must have ridden a bicycle.)
Perfect commuted to Fenchurch Street every day, and worked in an office nearby.
He also had connections with Grays. His early skits on Hornchurch appeared in the Thurrock Gazette.
Aged fifty in 1914 and too old for the Army, he became a special constable, replacing regular policemen who’d joined the Army. He patrolled the streets of Grays.
Charles Thomas Perfect was born in 1864, close to the famous Hogs Back in Surrey. Sand and chalk extraction were local industries, which may explain how he became a clerk for a quarrying company.
In his twenties, he was sent to Cornwall, no doubt to learn about the stonemason trade.
In 1900, 24 quarrying companies were merged to form a combine, Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (APCM).
Perfect was living at Weybridge when, soon afterwards, APCM promoted him. The 1911 census called him “managing clerk for cement manufacturing”.
APCM put him in charge of their Grays operations, but he worked from their London headquarters.
In effect, he had to be in two places at once. The solution was to live half way.
In 1892, a railway had opened from Upminster to Grays. Comfortable houses were springing up at Hornchurch, which had a good train service to Fenchurch Street.
Maybe Perfect stuck a pin in the map. But he quickly fell in love with Hornchurch.
“When I first saw our village High Street, it was still unspoiled by modern ‘improvements’,” he reminisced in 1917. Hornchurch was full of cobbles and “ancient gabled houses”. There was a fine church and, behind it, a handsome working windmill. (It burned down in 1920.)
Perfect threw himself into local activities, winning prizes at the local flower show, handing our hymnbooks at St Andrew’s church. He was the type who filed newspaper cuttings and kept programmes, ideal preparation for a local historian.
Home life blissfully centred on his wife and daughter.
“They say a man is known by his pals / Well, pals I have in plenty,” he sang. “But the best of them all are a couple of gals / One forty, and one not twenty.”
Perfect had met Ellen Williams in 1883. She was seventeen, and he was two years older.
It took eight years to coax her to the altar.
Their only child, Dora, was born in 1892. In lists of wartime charity workers, she appears as “Miss Perfect”, a terrible label for a girl to live up to. Dora’s indulgent parents called her “Duckie”.
Ellen was house-proud: Perfect joked that she spring-cleaned every week. And she was a bit beyond forty!
The household was completed by Tim the cat. Perfect chatted to the poor animal, addressing him “old man”. Relations broke down when Tim dug up his master’s seeds.
Mrs Living, their dog-owning neighbour in Stanley Road, called Tim her “enemy”. Hostility was mutual.
Hornchurch ceased to be a village in the 1920s, as new residents flooded in.
APCM closed its West Thurrock quarry in 1923, perhaps changing its administrative structure too.
Charles Thomas Perfect moved back to Surrey. He died near Epsom in November 1939. He gave us vivid glimpses of Hornchurch life, but for too short a time.