Ghostly tale of pub’s Swift Nick

Swift Nick

I ATTENDED a heritage meeting last week where I met Nick Page, Historic Buildings Consultant for Essex and Thurrock.
Nick has an MA in Conservation Studies from the University of York. Prior to this he studied Architecture at the University of Liverpool and spent a brief period working within the conservation and design departments at Leeds City Council.
During this time he worked on the Historic England Grade II Heritage at Risk pilot study, the Leeds Architecture Awards and Kirkstall Valley Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan. This is good news for Thurrock’s listed buildings and heritage.
Among Thurrock’s listed buildings are a number of interesting old inns The Royal Oak, South Ockendon, The Bull, Corringham, The Lennard Arms, Aveley and of course the World’s End Inn at West Tilbury adjacent to Tilbury Fort.
The name seems somewhat out of character now but when the inn was built there was no Tilbury, no railway and so it must have seemed like the World’s End. On the Ordnance Survey map of 1801 the only building shown on the marshes is a Milk House and the Ferry House later known as World’s End Inn.

The World’s End Inn is a listed building:-
Grade II. Late 17th century or early 18th century house, altered in the 19th century. Timber framed and weather boarded, with a grey slate roof. It has two storeys. Three window range double hung vertical sliding sashes with glazing bars. Extensions on north side, and late 19th century lean-to on south front.
Prior to 1540 there was a hermitage on the Tilbury shore where shelter, rest and possibly refreshment were provided for ferry passengers. The hermitage was demolished but the ferry still continued to land passengers there and so a ferry house was provided. The inn was originally known as the Ferry House and is mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diaries. Whether Pepys ever set foot in this building isn’t clear, but there is absolutely no doubt that he was well acquainted with this stretch of the river.
It often figures in his diary, particularly in the summer of 1667 when the Dutch blockaded the Thames, captured Sheerness, and raided the Medway
Tilbury Fort was replaced between1670 and 1683 with the fort we know and recognise today. At this time the ferry was relocated to a position outside the fort and a new ferry house was built there. This is where the World’s End is situated today.
The publican in 1841 and 1851 was one William Creed and it was he who introduced the agricultural market in the 1840s that was held behind the Inn.
The Inn was modernised in 1983. It was subsequently severely damaged by fire and vandals but eventually re-opened in 1998,
Founder of the Tilbury?Riverside Project Peter Hewitt MBE recalled when The World’s End Pub gave its name to the waterfront and surrounding area in the Fifties and Sixties. It was always let’s go down the Worlds End. On reaching freedom of movement and trust youngsters grew up with this being a small resort for the community. The moat was a boating lake and swimming pool and the Fort, a play area. There was a small cafe and Dalton peanuts had a stand.
The little putting green gave loads of fun. Fishing overnight in the moat for eels gave us fun and taught us how to be street wise. A great childhood was to be had.
Like any self-respecting Inn it is said that it has a ghost. The ghost haunts the rooms of children. It is claimed that it is the ghost of “Swift Nick” also known as William John Nevison, the Glamorous Highwayman. He was born in 1639 in Yorkshire probably in Wortley.
Although he was from a good family he took to highway robbery and became famous after riding his horse from Gadds Hill in Kent to York. This is a feat often attributed, mistakenly, to Dick Turpin.
At 4am one summer morning in 1676, a traveller at Gads Hill in Kent, England was robbed by John Nevison. The highwayman then made his escape on a bay mare, crossed the River Thames by ferry and galloped towards Chelmsford.
After resting his horse for half an hour, he rode on to Cambridge and Huntingdon, resting regularly for short periods during the journey. Eventually, he found his way to the Great North Road where he turned north for York.
He arrived in York at sunset after a journey of more than 200 miles, a stunning achievement for both man and horse. He stabled his weary horse at a York inn, washed and changed his travel-stained clothes, then strolled to a bowling green where he knew the Lord Mayor was playing bowls. He engaged the Lord Mayor in a conversation and then laid a bet on the outcome of the match – and Nevison made sure the Lord Mayor remembered the time the bet was laid – 8pm that evening.
Later, Nevison was arrested for the robbery in Gads Hill and in his defence, produced the Lord Mayor of York as his alibi witness.
The Lord Mayor could prove Nevison was in York at 8pm on the day of the robbery and the court refused to believe that a man would have committed that time in Kent and ridden to York by 8pm the same day. He was found not guilty of that crime and emerged as a folk hero,
He was arrested several times – in 1674, when he escaped from Wakefield goal before charges could be brought, and again in 1676 on charges of robbery and horse-stealing.
Nevison was sentenced to transportation to Tangiers, but returned to England (or escaped before the ship disembarked from Tilbury) and once more took to highway robbery. He was arrested yet again in 1681 and escaped with the ingenious rouse of ‘playing dead’ – getting an accomplice to masquerade as a doctor and pronounce him dead of the plague.
The net was closing in around him however, especially after he killed a man called Fletcher, a constable who died while trying to arrest him. He was targeted by bounty hunters, and after a tip-off from the landlady was captured while drinking at the Magpie (or Plough) Inn at Sandal, near Wakefield. His execution was never in doubt and he was hanged at York Castle on May 4, 1684. The body was buried at St. Mary Church, York, in an unmarked grave.

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