THIS year marks 100 years since the death of legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton.

Earlier this year the wreck of Shackleton’s doomed ship Endurance was also discovered off the coast of Antarctica.

Endurance had not been seen since it was crushed by ice and sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915 during an expedition led by the Anglo-Irish adventurer.

He and his crew had drifted on sheets of ice for months until they reached Elephant Island, and Shackleton eventually rescued his crew, all of whom survived the ordeal.

Shackleton later died while setting out on another expedition in 1921- this time his goal was to circumnavigate the Antarctic.

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On January 5, 1922, however, Shackleton suffered a heart attack onboard his ship and died. He was buried in South Georgia.

Historian Ken Porter, a leading enthusiast for the Basildon Borough Heritage Group and Laindon and District Community Archive, has written many local history books.

He and the heritage team work to keep alive past memories of Basildon and surrounding districts.

Echo: Ken PorterKen Porter

But lately Ken has been conducting extensive research into the connections that Ernest Shackleton had with Billericay.

Here Ken shares his fantastic research with Memories....

Ernest Shackleton the polar explorer, what has he to-do with Billericay?

Well! As far as we have been able to establish, he never came to Billericay but members of his family did.

According to records in 1939 William Shackleton, his first cousin, was living at Barnsley House at 98 High Street, Billericay. Today the building is owned by a firm of solicitors.

William’s occupation was recorded as a retired medicine practitioner. He has been born on October 3,1872, in Kildare, Ireland. His parents were Richard and Elizabeth Anne Shackleton.

Richard, who was the brother of Henry who was Ernests’ father. William graduated from Dublin University with an M.A. and M.D.

By 1897 William was living in Liverpool but he soon moved to Kent. The 1901 census has him living at 16 Albemarle Road in Beckenham, Bromley and his occupation being ‘Medical Man’.

In 1905 he married Sarah Alice Knight and soon afterwards they travelled to China to carry out missionary work.

Their first child - Dorothy Elizabeth - was born in 1907. She was followed by Maria Alice in 1908. Their daughter Agnes May was born in 1910 and son William arrived in 1912.

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J. Sidlow Baxter in his book Does God Still Guide, has this to say about William: “Although not so famous as his explorer cousin, it could be truly said of him that like John the Baptist he was ‘Great in the sight of the Lord’. He and his wife had a long and outstanding record of missionary service in China.

“On one occasion he told me about his call to the overseas Mission Field. If I remember rightly, he was the youngest student ever to graduate M.A. from Dublin University and one of the youngest ever to qualify as M.D.

“Not only was he a brilliant student, he came from a well-to-do family. Fond hopes were centred in him and he was expected to ‘make a name’ for himself. However, ‘God converted’ young William and that changed his whole outlook.

“Later, to the dismay or anger of his family and other relatives, he had the ‘call’ to be a missionary in China.

“To his worldly-wise kith and kin this was wasting wonderful talents and throwing his life away. Every argument was used to dissuade him.

“However, heartbreaking though it was to young William, even the alienation of his nearest and dearest could not shake his conviction of a divine call to the Mission Field.

“Eventually the day of sailing came. Young William stood aboard the vessel in Dublin docks. All the other departing passengers had relatives or friends bidding them goodbye and waving from the quayside.

“William was utterly alone. Not one of his angered relatives would even see him off. Amid the drizzling rain and beneath a cold, grey sky, Williams’ feelings were such as those know who have gone through that kind of experience.

“A loud blast from the ship’s horn indicated that in another minute or two the vessel would loose her moorings and be away.

"Then just one minute before the gang-way was lifted, Williams’ Sunday School teacher came hurrying aboard. Almost breathless to speak, he explained that he had been strangely hindered from getting to the dock.

“He had asked God to give him a message for William – and there it was, quickly scribbled on a leaf from his notebook. The brief, affectionate farewell was like a lovely sun shaft. William thanked him and quickly put the scribbled note inside his pocket New Testament.

“After some week at sea, William eventually reached China. When the vessel had anchored, the passengers were taken ashore in sampans and soon now young William got a close-up at the men working the docks.

"Suddenly he found himself plunged into one of those deep, inward ordeals which knocked one sick with a feeling of indescribable desolation. It was a sight of these Chinese dock-workers!

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“These sweating, emaciated-looking bodies! But most of all, those faces! Those faces! He had come all this way with a heart of compassion (as he believed) toward these people who did not know the Gospel, but now, as he looked at these faces, he felt utter revulsion and a nameless fear.

“He could never stay among those faces? In sudden agony he groaned ‘God, have I misread thy guidance? Please give me some direct world from thyself’. He quickly pulled out his pocket New Testament – which he had not used during the voyage because he had his study Bible with him.

“As he opened his pocket testament, out fell the note hurriedly given him at Dublin by his Sunday School teacher, it simple quoted Jeremiah: 8: “BE NOT AFREAID OF THEIR FACES”!

In 1909 William and his wife returned to Britain and settled in Cambridge. It would appear that his health did not allow him to return to China. Around 1912 the family moved to Billericay, where he continued his general medical practice, taking over Barnsley House in the High Street.

He appears to have teamed up with a Mr Hills who had built the Gospel Hall in Chapel Street, Billericay, in 1906. In 1919 Dr R Bowsman joined him in partnership at Barnsley House.

William, around this time purchased the Hall from Mr Mills and for several years he superintended the work there. He often preached himself and invited preachers of many different denomination. His daughter Marie stated that her father bought the hall because so many of his patients were being converted, he needed somewhere to minister to them spiritually.

The 1921 census has William and family living at Barnsley House.

Echo: The Shackleton homeThe Shackleton home

Sarah Alice, his wife, we established was born Ipswich, Suffolk, in 1873. His children, Angus May, born Cambridge 1910, William Isaac, Cambridge 1912, and Lizzie Ann born in Billericay 1914.

They had two servants - one a cook, and one nurse and house keeper.

William was a much-respected doctor and described as “a man of prayer but somewhat eccentric”. His main eccentricity being that he would always pray with the family before examining a patient he visited.

It was while under William the hall was called ‘The Un-denominational Church’.

Following the war breaking out in August 1914 the Hall was opened up as a reading and writing room for the soldiers and Agnes Rose, William’s aunt who was living with the family, and other ladies in the afternoon would mend their socks.

Agnes Rose - the aunt of both William and Ernest Shackleton - had been born on May 2, 1845 in Kildare, Ireland, and lived with William at Barnsley House. She would die in Westcliff on July 3, 1921, at the age of 76 and would be buried in Great Burstead Churchyard.

The hall was open from 2pm to 4pm, then again from 6pm to 8pm when there was singing, short address. Sundays was obviously reserved for services. There were fresh regiments of soldiers every three weeks. This went on for approximately two years.

In these early days, grass grew between the cart wheel tracks on Billericay High Street, and livestock grazed on a field between the High Street and Chapel Street.

From the house, members of the church bible class would walk through his large garden and across the meadow to the Hall where he would conduct services. It was possible around this time that people called it High Field Gospel Hall.

David Collins was attending the Gospel Hall on the Sunday when war broke out. It was about 11.20am when the congregation heard an air raid siren.

A hymn was being sung at the time and some people thought the noise of the siren was something wrong with the organ!

Soon the preacher, Dr. Shackleton, asked for quiet and then said “Surely not an air raid. Surely, they wouldn’t – not on Sunday”.

It was not long afterwards that William, left Billericay in 1940 for Ireland.

He had reached the age of 70 and was no longer allowed to practice in England but could in Northern Ireland. It was another 20 years before he returned to Billericay in 1962 to be nearer his son and daughters.

He sold his home in Ireland in order to have a smaller place without stairs, and was looking forward to renewing many old acquaintances when the warmer weather came. But after a two-week illness he died on Sunday, March 3, 1963.

Echo: Alma Link - should this road be named Shackleton Link?Alma Link - should this road be named Shackleton Link?

He was living at the time at Mountnessing Road, Billericay. His funeral service was held at the Billericay Evangelical Free Church on March 7, 1963.

Alma Link which connects Billericay High Street with Chapel Street is a curious little road that masquerades as an entrance to Waitrose car park and was probably not intended to be used as a short cut between these roads, albeit one-way.

Its name was derived from Alma Hatt, Basildon’s first town manager. When this link was proposed, at the time Waitrose submitted an application for a new store, many pressed for it to be named after Dr William Shackleton.

Alma worked hard to establish the New Town of Basildon and died young while still in office. But the good, if controversial, doctor, with his Billericay connections, surely had the better claim - at least that was view of the Billericay Society and many others.