Chris Black has an article on the Guardian website today, on this special morning for Rayleigh. Here is the text, with some added links and photos:
” If you want to see the most charming council house in Britain, come and visit the Dutch Cottage in Rayleigh. It’s tiny, octagonal and thatched – and although it has tenants living there, the public can visit on Wednesday afternoons. An Olympic torchbearer will be running past it today.
I can’t help thinking that if this little cottage was in a more fashionable town – Tunbridge Wells or Lewes, or somewhere like that – it would be more famous. But Rayleigh, situated between Chelmsford and Southend, seldom gets into the headlines.
Our most spectacular death was the Rayleigh Bathchair Murder of 1943, when a downtrodden teenage son killed his father by concealing an anti-tank mine under his cushion. (I was told that the jury thought the father such a tyrant that they would have let the son off, had he not also put his father’s nurse in danger). Our most celebrated birth was in 1969, when the Hanson quintuplets were born to a Rayleigh family – the first surviving quins in the UK.
Oddly enough, a quirk of aristocratic history makes Rayleigh a familiar name to physicists. Back in the 1800s, a certain Lady Charlotte Strutt married into an Essex family, was raised to the peerage and – though she didn’t live here – chose our town’s name to acquire the pleasant-sounding title of Baroness Rayleigh. Her grandson, Lord Rayleigh, went on to become one of Britain’s greatest physicists, and thus Rayleigh must lend its name to more scientific terms than any other town or city in the world – a minor planet, a lunar crater and a Martian crater all bear our town’s name. Beat that, Tunbridge Wells.
Of all these terms, Rayleigh Scattering is my favourite: the scientific explanation of why the sky is blue – which I think makes our skies extra-interesting, even if there’s not been much evidence of the effect in recent weeks. And yet another scientific link to Rayleigh is the suggestion that the remains of Darwin’s legendary ship, HMS Beagle, lie on the river-bed just a few miles away in Paglesham.
It’s the people who make a town special, though. I remember chatting with one chap at a barbeque, who told me he was in training for his second marathon. How did he happen to do his first? Well, one of his mates in his amateur football team had just lost his wife to breast cancer, and had decided to raise funds by running in the New York marathon. So the widower’s team-mates entered the same race, trained for it, booked themselves on the same flight and into the same hotel – all without telling him. When the team turned up at Heathrow, he was touched, thinking they had come to see him off. Then he saw they all had luggage, and burst into tears.
It’s people like that who make me proud of this town, and I’m sure we’ll give the torchbearer a rousing welcome today. This is a place of quiet pleasures and excellent, bacon-topped pork pies. If Derbyshire has the Peak District, then perhaps the Olympic torch has now reached the picnic district.”