‘I Remember Them With Affection’: the USAAF in the Essex Sound and Video Archive

Feeling inspired by our recent conference on the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in Essex?

In the Essex Sound and Video Archive, we preserve dozens of interviews with American servicemen and those who worked and lived alongside them during the Second World War. Take a listen below.

You can also browse the conference programme with links to further resources here.

Photograph of silver tape reel with black magnetic audio tape. Two handwritten labels read 'I remember them with affection'.

Radio programmes

The BBC Essex documentary ‘Essex Airfields at War – I Remember Them With Affection’ (SA 1/643/1), broadcast in 1990, is a substantial account of the history and role played by airfields in Essex during the Second World War. The BBC Essex archive also includes the original, unedited interviews recorded for the documentary, including interviews with an American soldier who helped build Willingale Airfield in 1942 and British RAF and WAAF operators who recall the Americans well.

“We just worked constantly in mud, mostly up to our knees… Concrete flying all over the place, and lorries running up and down runways which are partly built.”

Excerpt from interview with Ken Arnold, a US Engineering Battalion soldier who built Willingale airfield in 1942 (SA 1/635/1). Ken met his English wife in the Forces canteen in Epping. Read a transcript here

In 1992, BBC Essex celebrated the 50th anniversary visit of USAAF veterans with another documentary, ‘Overpaid, Oversexed, and Over Here’ (SA 1/1927/1). The anniversary also saw reports on a reception for the veterans at Silver End (SA 1/888/1) and a tea and dance at Cressing Barns (SA 1/889/1).

“We don’t have enough words in the English language we use over in America to tell you how we feel about your welcome… It’s wonderful, and we sure appreciate it.”

Excerpt from a BBC Essex report on the 50th reunion event in Silver End (SA 1/888/1). Read a transcript here

Other relevant BBC Essex programmes include the 1989 documentary ‘Wartime in Essex’ (SA 1/463/1) and interviews with American pilots Clifford Pontbriand and Julian Woods, who were both stationed at Stansted (SA 1/1183/1 and SA 1/1740/1).

On Essex Radio, the 1989 documentary ‘World War Two in Essex’ (SA 11/503/1) also features interviews with people about the American air bases in the county.

Oral histories

The Colchester Recalled oral history group also recorded many returning American airmen at the 50th anniversary visit in 1992, alongside BBC Essex. The archive (SA 8/8) includes 59 recordings at reunion events in Essex and beyond – at Black Notley, Chelmsford, Stansted, Wormingford, Debden, Great Saling, Earls Colne, Rivenhall, Boreham, Braintree, and Boxted as well as Madingley and Duxford.

Excerpt from an interview with David E. Hubler about his memories of Boxted Airfield at the reunion of the 394 Bomber Group and Eagle Squadron, Black Notley, 1992 (SA 8/8/4/1). Read a transcript here

Saffron Walden-born, Pennsylvania-based Mona Johnston talks about meeting her American husband during the war (SA 8/8/25/1). Read a transcript here

We also preserve a number of interviews about specific airfields: in 1994, Wethersfield Local History Group recorded their discussion of the airfield there that had closed the previous year (SA 24/866/1); and in 2003, the Essex Record Office interviewed four members of the 394th Bomb Group Association about their memories of Boreham Airfield during the war (SA268).

“So I haven’t liked orange marmalade since…”

One member of the 394th recalls the things he was most surprised by at Boreham Airfield (SA268). Read a transcript here

There are other references to the Americans scattered across the oral history collections – people who lived near the airfields during the war often recall the novelty of the newcomers, and the dances, candy and nylons that came with them. Many of those interviewed in the Silver End oral history project (SA733) talk about their childhood memories of the American soldiers at the nearby Rivenhall Airfield.

“This American serviceman came along and he talked to me, you know, and he more or less said, ‘Are you watching the planes?’ … and he said, ‘Would you like to go in one?'”

Silver End resident Derek Gilder talks about playing in one of the bombers on Rivenhall Airfield when he was 8 or 9 years old. Read a transcript here.

In April 2024, we were fortunate to find the real Geraldine who the 322nd Bomb Group at Andrewsfield had named a B-26 Marauder after. Last week our very own Neil Wiffen visited Geraldine to talk to her about the experience.

“Once they’d got the name on, and that, I said to them, I don’t want you making any holes in my plane, okay?”

Geraldine talking about the Marauder being named after her (SA966). Read a transcript here

To see what Marauder squadrons looked like at the time, see ‘Pioneers, Wolfpacks, and Widow-makers: The Story of Boxted Airfield’ (SA811). You can also watch the East Anglian Film Archive’s documentary ‘GI Airmen in East Anglia’ (VA 1/47/1) in our Searchroom.

To explore more recordings, search Essex Archives Online, or take a look at the Essex Sound and Video research guide on the Second World War.

Mystery motorcycle riders

Among a recent deposit of postcards is this one showing a man and woman on a motorcycle with sidecar. But who are they?

A postcard showing a man and woman on a motorcycle with sidecar from the Dowsett Collection (catalogue ref: A15840)

The licence plate is clearly visible which means that we can look it up in our Vehicle Licensing Registers (C/DF 11). An Enfield with the licence HK3016 was registered to Frederick Jay, High Street, Mountnessing on 8 June 1917. Is this an image of Frederick Jay on his new Enfield motorcycle? Or is it another person with aspirations of one day owning such a machine?

Register of motor vehicles ‘M2’: motor cycles showing entry for Frederick Jay (catalogue ref: C/DF 11/17)

 

The photograph was taken by Geo. Francis Quilter, a photographer in Ingatestone, who’s listed in the Kelly’s Directory for 1917. In the same Directory is Harry Raven, dairyman, whose shop can be seen in the background of the postcard, and Mark Wells, cycle agent, who operated from Ingatestone High Street. At this time motorcycles were often called “cycles”, so it is likely that this cycle agent sold motorcycles, perhaps even the one shown?

Mountnessing is about 2 miles south-east of Ingatestone and was home to two people named Frederick Jay – a father and son. The 1911 Census tells us that the younger Frederick, then aged 21, was a boarder at 3 Redcliffe Road, Moulsham Street, Chelmsford while working as an “Engineer Journeyman [ball bearing works]”. By 1921, he was back at his parents’ house in Mountnessing and working at the Hoffmann Manufacturing Company.

Marriage Register from St Giles Church, Mountnessing showing the marriage of Frederick Jay and Kate Everett on 3 Jun 1922 (catalogue ref: D/P 73/1/10)

On 3 June 1922, Frederick Jay married Kate Everett at St Giles’ Church, Mountnessing. Is the woman in the sidecar Kate or one of Frederick’s sisters? Sadly, we will probably never know for sure, but it’s nice to imagine that this is an image of Frederick Jay, the proud new owner of a motorcycle which he used to commute from his home in Mountnessing to work at the Hoffmann’s premises in Chelmsford.

Geraldine and Martin – Can you help?

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In this blog post Archive Assistant and B-26 Marauder fan, Neil Wiffen, seeks assistance with some research.

For years I have known a story about Geraldine and Martin who lived in the vicinity of Great Sailing. ‘And who were they?’ I hear you ask. Well, in Roger Freeman’s B-26 Marauder at War (Shepperton, 1978 – copy in ERO Library) there’s a picture (p. 109)Cover of publication called B-26 Marauder at war by Roger Freeman of a crashed B-26 Marauder named Geraldine, with some of the crew that flew it, and the following caption: ‘Wake over Geraldine … Parents of the real Geraldine returned the naming gesture by having their baby son christened Martin!’ This marauder was part of the 322nd bomb Group based at Andrewsfield near Braintree.

‘Interesting’ I thought, and I stored that piece of information away. Fast forward almost 40 years (really!) and in preparing for the forthcoming Welcome to Essex: remembering the USAAF mini-conference, I was looking through the picture resources at the National Archives of America (National Archives NextGen Catalog) and I came across the photo mentioned above, along with another of the actual Geraldine which, with information from it, enlarges on the story of the naming.

Geraldine examining “her” B-26
(US National Archives reference 342-FH-3A45703-52864AC)

Text that accompanies the photograph:

Little Miss Geraldine, pretty British youngster who lives next door to a 9th Air Force base in rural England, watches a ground crew Sgt. [Sergeant] paint the 80th bomb on the fuselage of “her” B-26 Marauder. Geraldine almost daily inspects the bomber bearing her name, watches from her bedroom window each time it takes off on missions. Geraldine’s baby brother carries out the bombing motif – he was christened “Martin”, for the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, M[arylan]d., builders of B-26 Marauder medium bombers.

Now, a couple of us at the Record Office have had a look to see if we can find a relevant birth for a Geraldine (not at all a common name in the 1940s) with a brother Martin, who lived in the vicinity of Andrewfield, and failed! Not having a surname doesn’t help but, knowing how many of you are out there working away on family trees and research across the county, can you help? We’d love to hear from you if you have any further information.

And not only on this, if you would like to share any memories you may have of when the Americans were over ‘ere then please do get in contact. And, perhaps we’ll see you on the 27th April as well – tickets are selling fast.

Over to you!

Neil

Welcome to Essex: remembering the USAAF

 

Tickets are selling fast for our forthcoming event, ‘Welcome to Essex’: remembering the USAAF.

Saracens Head in Chelmsford (Now 'The Garrison') was used as the American Red Cross.

The Saracens Head in Chelmsford (Now ‘The Garrison’) was used as the American Red Cross Service Club.

In the spring of 1944, the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) reached peak strength in Essex during the run-up to the hotly anticipated invasion of Europe — D-Day. Week after week new units of the USAAF flew into recently constructed airfields across the county, to start participating in the air campaign against the Luftwaffe and German coastal defenses. Small, rural villages across Essex became the center for many hundreds of American servicemen to descend on, to look at the ancient architecture as well as go in search of a pint of warm English beer! For the locals their quiet roads were filled with unsurpassed numbers of trucks and Jeeps buzzing around, ferrying men and material about the countryside. Overhead the air was filled with aircraft, Mustangs Thunderbolts, Flying Fortresses, Liberators, Havocs and Marauders, and many a morning was interrupted by the thunderous sound of hundreds of thousands of horsepower engines warming up.

Join us 80 years on from these momentous times for this mini-conference to remember the impact the Americans had on the county, both in how they shaped the physical landscape as well as making memories with the locals. Remembrance will be a theme running through the event, the date on which it is being held being of particular significance to one of the speakers in relation to one of those Americans who flew out of Essex.

This mini conference will see a series of short talks given on various aspects of,
predominantly, the Ninth Air Force, although mention will be made of the Eighth as well

– there’s just so much to discuss!

 

 

For further details and bookings please visit: www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events.

Reduced price ‘early-bird’ tickets are available If you book before mid-day on March 14th – don’t dilly-dally as tickets are selling fast. We look forward to seeing you there.

Where there’s a will, there’s often an archaic word!

Chris Lambert, ERO Archivist

The ERO’s collection of wills, stretching from 1400 up to 1858, is widely used by family historians, but also by those trying to get closer to our ancestors’ material lives and their mental worlds. In particular, wills can tell us about the language that they used. A query from our friends at the Oxford English Dictionary recently brought this example to our attention.

One page of Black ink on paper, secretary hand, sentence concerning temes loaf outlined in black

Will of Thomas Leffyngwell of Pebmarsh (catalogue ref: D/ABW 23/83)

It comes from the will of a man from Pebmarsh called Thomas Leffyngwell, made in January 1553 when he was sick and probably close to death (will reference D/ABW 23/83). Having made over his landed property to his two sons, his main concern was to provide for his wife Isabel. The two were to pay her, in quarterly instalments, a pension of £1 6s.8d. (half each), and to provide her with food, drink, clothing, a room called ‘the nether chamber’ with a bed, and a cow that they were to keep fed, winter and summer. And then, as if thinking that perhaps more detail was needed:

‘… Item I wyll that myne executores shall / delyuer unto Osbell my wyffe wekely one pote wythe ale off too galons & a [word struck through] / Temes loffe wythe a chese as often as nede shall requyre …’

Close up of manuscript. Black ink on paper, secretary hand, sentence concerning temes loaf outlined in black

Close-up of the section of the Will of Thomas Leffyngwell concerning “Temes loffe”. Right-click the image and open in a new tab to see an enlarged copy

All perfectly clear, except just possibly that bit about ‘a temes loffe’. ‘Loffe’ is easy enough if you give it a long ‘o’, but ‘temes’ may puzzle you as it certainly did us. It turns out that this is the earliest known reference to a ‘temse loaf’, meaning ‘a loaf made of finely sifted flour’. To temse, you see, was to sift, and a temse was a type of sieve, especially as used for bolting meal. A ‘temse loaf’, therefore, was one of several contemporary expressions for a better sort of bread – a class distinction as well as a culinary one, even in the 1500s.

The word temse itself, of Anglo-Saxon origin, survived into the 20th century, although seemingly restricted latterly to the brewing industry. The burial register from Pebmarsh unfortunately did not, and so we do not know whether Isabel lived to enjoy her ration of bread, cheese and ale. One can only hope that Thomas’s careful instructions were useful to her as well as to the makers of dictionaries.

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi in Essex

When you visit the Essex Record Office, you will see a selection of artwork from Essex County Council’s collection displayed on the ground floor and in the Searchroom. One of the pictures to catch my eye during my first week at the Record Office was a signed screenprint called “Untitled” (1965) by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005). The overlapping patterns in this print are reminiscent of his earlier work creating collages made from newspapers and advertisements.

Juxtaposing patterns in yellow, green, red and blue, on a yellow background
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), “Untitled”, 1965. Signed screenprint. 23″x 23 1/2″. Essex County Council art collection 329.

I’m familiar with Paolozzi’s work from my time at the V&A as their Archive of Art and Design looks after the amazing Krazy Kat Arkive of Twentieth Century Popular Culture. Paolozzi was one of the founders of the Independent Group which met in London from 1952-1955. This group is considered the forerunner to the Pop Art movement in Britain. In 1954, Paolozzi established Hammer Prints Limited with fellow artist, and Essex resident, Nigel Henderson and they designed wallpapers, textiles and ceramics in Henderson’s studio at Landermere Wharf, near Thorpe-le-Soken. Paolozzi and his family moved to Landermere the following year and lived in one of the now Grade II listed Gull Cottages. While living in Landermere, Paolozzi was a visiting lecturer at Colchester School of Art.

Landermere was a hot-spot for artists and designers. Other residents included Sir Basil Spence, the architect of Coventry Cathedral and advisor to the Basildon Development Corporation designing Basildon New Town, and John Hutton, a glass artist whose work can be seen in Coventry and Guildford Cathedrals, and the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

This screenprint and the other works of art in the collection can be found on Art UK and on the ERO’s Flickr page. And you may also be interested in a previous blog on Art in the Archives available to read here.

Planes, trains and automobiles (but mostly planes)

Chris Lambert, Archivist

Surprise presents are the best. The Record Office recently welcomed an unexpected gift from the Friends of Hylands House, who had acquired this splendid wedding album.

It belonged originally to Dorothy Cadwell Taylor, heiress to an American leather goods fortune, who ended her life as the widow of an Italian count. In between, while living the life of a wealthy socialite, she had been married briefly to Claude Grahame-White, a pioneering British aviator whom she had met while crossing the Atlantic on the ‘Olympic’.

Black and white photograph of bride and groom leaving the church with scouts as guard of honour

Bride and groom leaving the church, May 1912

The marriage took place in May 1912 at Widford church, seemingly for no better reason than that both parties were friendly with Sir Daniel Gooch, a railway magnate who had bought Hylands House and offered it for the reception. The wedding was one of the social events of the year, receiving a huge build-up in the press – only somewhat dampened by the loss of the ‘Titanic’ in April. The Great Eastern ran a special train from Liverpool Street, although Grahame-White himself and several others – including the representative of the Daily Express – arrived by plane, taxi-ing on to the lawns at the back of the house. Public flying demonstrations were given during the day, and even the wedding cake bore the model of an aeroplane. The whole event was a confection of money, modernity, celebrity and speed, with a country house and its grounds used as an almost theatrical backdrop. of Hylands House

Black and white photograph of wedding party (mainly men with some women nearly out of shot) posing with a biplane in front of Hylands House. Groom and several men on the biplane wing. Bride standing in front of the biplane in white wedding dress

Wedding party posing with a biplane in front of Hylands House, May 1912

Black and white photograph of the bride and groom leaving by car surrounded by wedding party throwing confetti

Bride and groom leaving Hylands House in their wedding car, May 1912

Fans of motor transport were not entirely left out: the wedding car, a present from groom to bride, was a Métallurgique, made in Belgium. Dorothy herself, however, seems to have had a liking for Rolls Royces. Tucked into the back of the album is a letter of 1951 from a now aging Claude, writing from his flat in London to his very much ex wife in New York. He tries to explain the difficulties he is having in getting her Rolls repaired: the garage is slow, they are blaming a shortage of steel (which he does not believe), and anyway there is no demand for second-hand cars, especially with petrol at 3s.7d. a gallon (about 4 pence a litre) …  Elsewhere he commiserates on their mutual problems with osteopaths, mechanical and human frailty seemingly now going hand in hand. The glitz of Widford must have seemed far away.

Ornate, four tiered cake topped with a model aeroplane

Wedding cake, May 1912

If you are registered on Essex Archives Online, you can see full-size images of the complete album at document reference D/DU 3465/1. The wedding photographer, improbably enough, was our old friend Fred Spalding of Chelmsford, and you will find several photographs of his that seem to exist nowhere else.

Black and white photograph of a man (Mr Grahame-White at the front) and woman, Miss Dorothy Taylor sitting in a biplane. The man is wearing a suit and tie and the woman is wearing a dress or skirt and shawl.

Mr Claude Grahame-White and Miss Dorothy Taylor on a biplane, 1912

Essex Record Office publications now available online!

Just in time for Christmas, Essex Record Office has teamed up with Museumshops.uk to make our publications available to purchase online for the very first time. Many of these publications have been printed in limited numbers and were previously only available from the Essex Record Office Searchroom.

Our shop can be found at https://museumshops.uk/shop/essex-record-office/.

Over this week we will be taking a look at some of our most popular publications, all of which can be bought from our online shop!

The Great Tide

Front cover of "The Great Tide"Written and researched by Hilda Grieve and Published in 1959, “The Great Tide” told the story of the county’s relationship to the sea, the meteorological conditions preceding the flood, the events of 31 January and 1 February 1953, and the subsequent rescue, relief, and restoration efforts in meticulous detail, drawn from six years of careful, patient research. It has since been described by the writer Ken Worpole as “one of the great works of twentieth century English social history”.

This title has been out of print for some time, but was re-printed by Essex Record Office in 2020. This seminal work should be on the shelf of any student of modern history

Examples of English Handwriting 1150-1750

Written by Hilda Grieve in 1954, “Examples of English Handwriting” is an illuminatingFront cover of Examples of English Handwriting 1150-1750 exploration into the chronology of early English penmanship, drawing from six centuries worth of Essex’s parish records, Examples of English Handwriting reads much like a handbook for the aspiring historian. It is a must have for anyone seeking to read the historic documents that are cared for at ERO and countless other archives. Complete with a variety of visual examples, the work diligently elucidates semantic change, typography, abbreviations, letter strokes, and Anglo-Saxon history.

Hilda Grieve’s precious legacy as a didactic county archivist is captured in this classic work of palaeography, with this 1981 edition merging two of the prior volumes published by the Essex Record Office.

Pilgrims and Adventurers

One of our most popular titles is: “Pilgrims and Adventurers”.Front cover "Pilgrims and Adventurers"

“No English county has stronger links with the East Coast states of America than Essex.”

 On a now mythical autumnal day in 1620, an English fluyt, designated the “Mayflower”, dropped its anchor on the shores of what is now Massachusetts: its passengers, puritan separatists and adventurous individuals, would disembark onto the foreign soil following the lead of Capt. Christopher Jones, his skeleton crew, imbued with a belief in manifest destiny. Pilgrims & Adventurers explores the foundation of the United States: how the likes of Columbus & Walter Raleigh laid groundwork for a theologically ruptured England to flee in search of a New World. The book charts the initial voyage of the Essex pilgrims to the raising of the early settlements: Plymouth Colony, Providence; the attempted conversion of Indigenous Americans, and conflicting theses of Philo-Theology that would continue to divide the early colonists.

Written & published in 1992 by archivist John Smith, this work is a concise introduction to the hitherto unexplored study of the Essex people on the colonisation of North America.

What on earth is a Seax – Essex Day 2023

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The 26th October is the feast day of St Cedd, it is also Essex Day. Over on our social media we have taken you on a treasure trail of where you can find Seaxes here at the Essex Record Office. The three Seaxes will be familiar to many Essex residents as part of the logo for Essex County Council and on a red background, as their Coat of Arms. But what is a Seax and why has Essex taken it as their symbol? Customer Service Team Lead, Edward Harris delves deeper.

Essex County Council was first granted it’s Coat of Arms by the College of Arms on the 15th July 1932 comprising:

Essex Coat of ArmsGules, three Seaxes fessewise in pale Argent, pomels and hilts Or, pointed to the sinister and cutting edges upwards.

 

The somewhat archaic terms used by the College of Arms can be translated to:

Red, three Seaxes horizontal in pale silver, pommels and hilts gold, pointed to the viewers right with cutting edges upwards.

So now we know what the official Coat of Arms should look like, but we are still not given any clues as to the origin of the name Seax for the bladed weapons shown on the Coat of Arms.

The seax, (or scramasax as it is more usually called by archaeologists) is a weapon used by the Anglo-Saxon people who had displaced, at least culturally the Romano-British inhabitants of the British Isles in the 5th and 6th Centuries. The earliest evidence for the use of a Seax is from the mid 5th Century, though they would still see use in one form or another into the late 13th Century. The term Seax covers a whole family of germanic blades which varied widely in size and shape. The Anglo-Saxons widely used the distinctive broken back seax which varied in length from 30″ to as short as a few inches and, for most, it was probably a utility or defensive knife rather than a weapon of war.

Iron seax, with a straight cutting edge and sharply angled back, the tang offset from the blade.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

It is from the Saxons that the County of Essex (along with the Ancient County of Middlesex) takes its name. The Boundary of Essex still resembles that of the Saxon Kingdom of Eastseaxe. And it is from this Saxon heritage that Essex adopted the seax as it’s symbol.

The Coat of Arms itself was in regular use well before the grant from the College of Arms in 1932 albeit unofficially. It is likely that the Arms were first assigned to the Saxon Kings of Essex by the more romantic minds of the Late 16th and early 17th Century, as the heraldry in any recognisable sense would not exist until the 12th Century.

One of the earliest mentions of a coat of arms is by Richard Verstegan who writes in 1605 of the East Saxons having two types of weapon, one long and one short. The latter being worn “privately hanging under their long-skirted coats” and “of this kind of hand-seax Erkenwyne King of the East Saxons did bear for his arms, three argent, in a field gules”

Peter Milman’s History of Essex 1771 (LIB/942.67 MUI1-6)

By the 18th Century the use of the Arms seems commonplace, in 1770, Peter Muilman published the first volume of his History of Essex. The frontispiece shows a shield with the three seaxes although with an unfamiliar shape.

The Plans for the building of the Shire Hall in Chelmsford drawn up in 1788 (Q/AS 1/1) clearly show the Seaxes emblazoned on its neo-classical portico. These wouldn’t form a part of the final design though with this space being blank in an engraving from 1795 (I/Mb 74/1/59) shortly after the building’s completion. It now houses a clock.

[You can find about more about the history of Shire Hall on our blog  – ed]

John Johnson plans for Shire Hall 1788 (Q/AS 1/1)

Engraving of Shire Hall shortly after it’s opening 1795 (I/Mb 74/1/59)

The seaxes on a red field would make numerous other appearances, among them: the Essex Equitable Insurance companies fire plate from around 1802; the Essex Local Militia ensign formed in 1809 and the Chelmsford Gazette in 1822. It appears on the cap badge of Essex Police and who remembers the single seax that appeared on the original logo for BBC Essex way back in 1986?

BBC Essex logo from 1986

The shape of the seax on Coats of Arms has led to confusion and myth. As you can see from the examples here, the shape of the Seax changes with use, the notched back of the weapon may simply be to distinguish it from a scimitar for which it is often mistaken. The notch itself has gained a myth all of its own. To many people the notch exists so that the Saxons could hook their Seax over the cap-rail of an enemy longboat to haul it closer.  This sounds rather difficult to achieve, but also to justify, given that the notch doesn’t appear on any of the real world weapons categorised as Seaxes.

The Coat of Arms of Essex

Either way, the Essex Coat of Arms remains an enigmatic and iconic link to our county’s Saxon past.

I owe much of the information that I have garnered from the excellent pamphlet ‘The Coat of Arms of The County of Essex’ produced by F.W. Steer, an Archivist at Essex Record Office ,in 1949 (LIB/929.6 STE) which is well worth a read on your next visit.

Just who is St Cedd? Essex Day 2023

The 26th October is St Cedd’s day. It is also known as Essex Day as St Cedd is Essex’s very own patron saint. Bur who is St Cedd? And why is he held in such high esteem in Essex? Archive Assistant, Robert Lee takes a look at the life of St Cedd.

St Cedd – A Hagiography

Icon of St Cedd

Cedd’s life began in the Kingdom of Northumbria under the tutelage of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne. The oldest of four brothers (Chad, Cynibil & Caelin), Cedd in particular would be unwavering to the Celtic Rite imbued to him by Aidan. Cedd’s introduction to Christianity was anti-diocesan: not liturgical and parochial, but peripatetic and abstinent. In one of very few sources on Cedd, the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, emphasis is made on both Cedd and Chad’s devotion to Saint Aidan; such that four years after Aidan’s death in 651, Cedd is said to have been consecrated by the hands of his successor, Saint Finan of Lindisfarne.

Cedd’s reputation in Christendom had much to do with his proselytizing. In 653, at the behest of King Oswiu of Northumbria, Cedd journeyed into the Midlands with three other priests in order to evangelise the “Middle Angles”: an ethnic group predominantly living in Mercia. By Bede’s account, Cedd was greatly persuasive, with masses coming forward to listen to his preaching and receive baptism. Cedd’s enthusiasm would even sway the opinion of King Penda of Mercia, a long committed pagan. Later in the same year, Cedd would be recalled from Mercia and sent into Essex to aid King Sigeberht of the East Saxons. Again Cedd’s evangelism was highly successful, and Essex was thoroughly Christianised. For his efforts Cedd was ordained Bishop of the East Saxons.

Cedd attended the Synod of Whitby in 664 as a vigilant mediator between Iona (followers of the Celtic Rite) and those who followed the Roman Rite. Roman missionaries were arguing for their own computation of the calendar day of Easter, to which the predominantly Celtic northern English initially disagreed. Uncharacteristically, Cedd was won over by the catholic system, and converted to the Alexandrian computus of Easter Sunday. Following the Synod, Cedd returned to Northumbria to supervise the foundation of a monastery, but the Kingdom had been overwhelmed by the yellow plague, which would bring about Cedd’s death.

St Peters-on-the-wall in November with clear skies

St Peters-on-the-wall in November (Copyright Edward Harris)

Perhaps appropriately, Cedd is remembered far more for his itinerant sainthood than for government of the East Saxon Church. The chapel of Saint-Peter-on-the-Wall in Bradwell-on-Sea is said to have been built by Saint Cedd after his ordination. Having gone through several phases of disuse and ruination, the chapel still stands as testimony to Cedd; to God’s glory and the humility of man.

His role in converting the East Saxons and role as their bishop is the reason that Essex now claims Cedd as their patron saint.

If you would like to visit the Chapel of St Peter yourself it can be reached by taking East End Road from the brick built church in Bradwell-on-Sea for about one and a half miles, until you can see the carpark ahead of you, from there it is a ten minute walk to the Chapel. It is open all year and is well worth a visit!