Thurrock historical figures

Joseph Conrad at Stanford-le-Hope

It may surprise you but Thurrock has a close link with a the world-renowned novelist Joseph Conrad, who came to live at Stanford-le-Hope in 1896.

"A work that ASPIRES, however humbly, to the condition of the art should carry its justification in every line".
(Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the Narcissus, preface 1897)

Introduction

It was in early October 1896 that a newly married couple arrived at their new house built in Stanford-le-Hope. Joseph Conrad was no ordinary person, he was in fact to become one of our most famous adopted authors of the 20th century. Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski was born on 3 December 1857 in the Russian-occupied Polish city of Berdyczów - now Berdychiv in the present-day Ukraine. He had Polish parents, his father being a landowner and literary man who had translated Shakespeare into Polish!.

Known as Joseph Conrad from the date of his naturalisation to a British Subject in 1886, he followed a different career, first joining in 1874 the French mercantile marine, (he spoke fluent French), and then entering the British merchant marine. Having obtained his Master's ticket he spent many years at sea, mostly in the Orient.

He gave up his sea life by 1895, the same year his first novel, which he started while still at sea, "Almayers Folly", was published. He married Jessie George on the 24th March 1996 and stayed in Cotes-du-Nord, France for several months on an extended honeymoon.

Coming to Stanford-le-Hope

Returning to Britain they sought out their first house. Two of their closest friends were Mr and Mrs Hope, who lived close to Stanford-le-Hope. They had stayed there on several occasions and it was the Hopes who suggested they look for a new house nearby. It was in Stanford-le-Hope where they found "a brand new twin villa at the end of the road running from the railway station".

This was probably Victoria Road, although the house has never been positively identified. Arrangements were made for Mrs Conrad to stay locally while she equipped the house with furnishings. When this was completed Joseph Conrad made detailed arrangements for his arrival and reception by his wife.

He travelled down from London on the train probably in the second week of October 1896 to move in but as his wife recalled, the detailed arrangements did not go to plan and Joseph Conrad was greatly displeased. Worse than that, Conrad felt the house was not built to the standards he expected and described the house as " a damned Jerry-built rabbit hutch". His first surviving letter written from Stanford-le-Hope was dated 16 October 1896.

Another house in Stanford-le-Hope

Some five months later they had moved out of the Victoria Road house and on 13 March 1897 were relocated just down the road into an old timber framed medieval farmstead house on the outskirts of Stanford-le-Hope, called 'Ivy walls', in Billet Lane. (The building was demolished in the 1950's and a brick built house now stands on the site).

It was here that his novel "The Nigger of the Narcissus" was completed and the Thames River and foreshore were used as the locality of 'Nellie' in his famous novel, "Heart of Darkness". He also wrote "Lagoon" and "Outpost of Progress" while at Stanford-le-Hope. They moved out of the area on 26 October 1898 to a house in Kent.

("Jerry-built" is thought to originate from a Mr Jerry who was a builder in the Midlands who constructed cheap accommodation, in Victorian times.)

It is hoped to place a permanent plaque on or near the site of either of the two houses that the Conrad's lived at in the Stanford-Le-Hope area.

Bibliography

  • Panorama, Conrad's Letters.