Tilbury Fort

Tibury Fort is well-known tourist attraction on the bank of the River Thames and now cared for by English Heritage. There has been some kind of defensive structure on the site from the fourteenth century but it was Henry VIII who built the first blockhouse in 1539. The fort as it stands now was finally constructed in 1682 by Dutch engineers. The Fort’s claim to fame is that on the eve of the invasion from Spain culminating in the Spanish Armada of 1588 Elisabeth I rallied an assembly of 5,000 soldiers at the Fort.

It is known that from around 1687-9 Daniel Defoe held a long lease on 70 acres of grazing land abutting the Fort. It has been argued that Defoe did this when England’s main enemy was the Dutch and on the assumption that further development of a naval base at the Fort was possible. However, when France emerged as the principal enemy the Admiralty’s development interest shifted to the Channel ports. Defoe built a brickwork on the land which for some ten years gave him a good return.

What is not known is that through his mother Defoe had family links with Tilbury. His mother Ellen was related to the various families of Edward Lawrence holders of the Manor House of East Gubbions in Tilbury, a short distance from the Fort and  he was educated there at the Manor House in the period 1658-1662 together with his sister Mary and lived there with his brother Thomas for some ten years to 1705.

After the construction of the Fort by Henry VIII a John Lawrence, who died in 1557, became the Captain of the Fort. This family story would have been passed down in the Lawrence family as a proud heritage. It is likely that Defoe listened to these stories of accomplishment when in his teens and in buying the land he was associating himself with family history.

 27 August 2011