'Building Utopia in Purleigh - the rise and fall of a late-Victorian dream' by Vic Gray, former Essex County Archivist

Wednesday 02 October 2019
20:00 to 22:00

The story of the anarchist colony with links to Tolstoy and Russia that grew up in the late 1890s by Vic Gray former Essex County Archivist


For a brief period in the dying years of the nineteenth century, there appeared at Cock Clarks in Purleigh a small pioneering Tolstoyan anarchist community.  The members of this colony were intent upon living off the land as a community committed to the ideals of what has been described as a 'radical-pacifist Christian philosophy'. It was a sort of Christian-communist anarchism that had but one rule - that there would be no rules. The movement's adherents leaned heavily on principles embodied in Christ's Sermon-on-the-Mount.


The emerging colony attracted families from Russia and unsuprisingly drew considerable attention to itself, not only because of the radical form community living that was being promoted but also because of the workers' reportedly rather eccentric attire.  It was a venture that saw a certain amount preparatory agricultural work completed and the establishment of a small brickworks on the site - which provided the products for the erection of cottages.  Colony House, now very much altered, is a survivor from that period.  The years 1897 and early 1898 probably saw the colony at its most successful but such success was short-lived, disharmony set in and this brave attempt to provide an alternative to capitalistic exploitation soon joined the list of other failed community experiments.  For a while though, because of the Tolstoy connections, it must have seemed that this corner of Essex had been at the centre of the world's attention.



Vic Gray, former County Archivist at Essex County Council, has reserached the growth and demise of this fascinating but short-lived Purleigh venture and will be presenting his findings at the  October meeting of the South Woodham Ferrers Local History Society.  His illustrated talk ' Building Utopia at Purleigh - the rise and fall of a late-Victorian dream' will take place at 8.00pm on Wednesday 2nd October at Champions Manor Hall Community Centre, Hullbridge Road, South Woodham Ferrers CM3 5LJ.  Visitors are welcome to attend and there is no need to book (admission £3).  Any enquiries please telephone the Local History Society's Chairman John Frankland on 01245 321518.





Contact John Frankland
01245 321518
Champions Manor Hall
Hullbridge Road
South Woodham Ferrers
(view map)
Cost Free for Society members; visitors are very welcome to attend (admission £3)