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History has never looked so good...

PUBLISHED: 16:58 24 February 2010 | UPDATED: 10:36 12 August 2010

CELEBRATION: May Day, 1890

CELEBRATION: May Day, 1890

AN historian from St Mary Cray has amassed a wealth of important pictures spanning two hundred years. When he was born in 1927, the population of the village, together with Orpington and surrounding hamlets, was just 9,000.

AN historian from St Mary Cray has amassed a wealth of important pictures spanning two hundred years.

When he was born in 1927, the population of the village, together with Orpington and surrounding hamlets, was just 9,000.

Some 83 years later, historian Jim Howitt has amassed hundreds of photographs, slides and personal stories depicting the village over the last 200 years or more.

Born the son of a village policeman, the retired seaman and docks supervisor publishes his pictures with the Times in this remarkable look at bygone days.

Since retiring from the docks in 1980, Mr Howitt has dedicated his life to researching the area.

Some of the images were taken before his father, George, was born.

Each week he gives talks on the history of Orpington, the Merchant Navy and the Home Guard during the war.

Together with two Bromley filmmakers, he has created movies of his presentations which have raised thousands of pounds for the children's ward at the Princess Royal University Hospital in Farnborough.

Modern day St Mary Cray is almost unrecognisable from the days when he and his mates played in the River Cray, scrumped for apples and sang in the choir.

But even as he approaches his 83rd birthday, Mr Howitt shows no sign of tiring. He is fully booked up to give his talks every week until the middle of 2011.

He said: "We had 11 butchers and 11 pubs, so we never went hungry and we never went thirsty.

"I've seen vast changes since my childhood. Valleys and woods are now, alas, built over. I've seen so many changes I hope I don't see many more.

"I love the history of the area, but you never know everything, I am still learning.

"Every time I go out someone will tell me something new, a story or a new name."

Mr Howitt has been supported in his historic endeavours by his wife, Doris, whom he married in Orpington Baptist Church in 1953. They have two children and four grandchildren.

But he wasn't always a historian and during the war he went from the Sea Cadets in the Thames to the Merchant Navy, taking part in the Atlantic Convoys. It was here that he became one of the youngest ever gunners, aged only 16.

After the war he worked on marine salvage teams on the Thames, before moving on to work first as a supervisor, then as in instructor at the docks.

It is hard not to be impressed by the historian's razor sharp memory of names and dates as he added: "I give 11 different talks and I've never referred to a note.

"When people ask me how I remember all the details, I tell them it is because of the way we were taught at school, by repetition."

l A Look Back at St Mary Cray costs £12 from Derek Allen on 020 8462 1735.

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