This week I want to the "theory of evolution through natural selection” with a link it has with Grays!

Many in Thurrock are aware of the Victorian explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder – along with Charles Darwin – of the theory. He settled in Grays and built The Dell, now in College Avenue, but originally via a serpentine drive up the steep escarpment from Dell Road.

The house was completed in 1872, one of the earliest concrete-constructed homes in Britain. He used the architect Thomas Wonnacott and laid out the grounds himself, including the slope down the hill, which he described as “a bit of a wilderness that can be made into a splendid imitation of a Welsh valley”.

Wallace settled into what he anticipated to be his home for the rest of his life, writing and publishing many articles, papers and, especially, the two volumes of “The Geographical Distribution of Animals”. He also began to take a more public interest in social reform and spiritualism, which was to lead him into difficulties with the mainstream of the scientific establishment.

Two reasons for leaving Grays were the poor train service to London and damage to his plant collection by the cold north winds.

The family left The Dell in July 1876, moving to Surrey.

The recent formation of a Thurrock group of historians,working with the Thurrock Local History Society and Thurrock Museum, has focused on the house and landscape, trying to ensure their survival in the future as development for housing is planned for this area.

A successful grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund will allow the group to promote the connection of Wallace with Grays through an exhibition to be mounted at the Orsett Show and at Thurrock Museum. The group has also secured a free lecture by Richard Milner, associate at the American Museum of Natural History, on Wallace’s history, his dalliances with spiritualism and a courtroom drama in which he and Darwin were on opposite sides! It is at the Thameside Theatre next Wednesday, starting at 2.30pm.

Booking is not required. It’s first come, first served–natural selection!

DOWN MEMORY LANE is written by JONATHAN CATTON, Thurrock Heritage and Museum Office. Memories, photographs or objects relating to Thurrock’s past will be gratefully received for the Thurrock Museum collections. Contact by letter at Thurrock Museum, Thameside Complex, Orsett Road, Grays, RM17 5DX, call 01375 413965, make a personal visit or e-mail