Our latest Searchroom Curiosity Cabinet features a selection of wax seals and seal matrixes from our collection. For those of you who can’t visit to see the display in person, we thought we’d share a bit more information here.
Wax seals were first used in the Middle Ages, although the Roman’s practiced a similar method with bitumen and the Ancient Mesopotamians made seal-indents in clay tablets. One of the first English examples of a wax seal being used in an official capacity was by Edward the Confessor c.1042-1066.
People used their coat of arms, family crest, or any other iconography that was important to them. Mythological symbols were particularly common.
An ‘applied seal’ is when the wax is applied directly to the page. However, the seal can also be arranged to hang on a tag or cord which is known as a pendant seal. Larger pendant seals are sometimes encased in cases, called skippet’s, which protect them from damage.
The size of the seal often correlated with the importance and status of the person whom it belonged to. This Great Seal for Queen Victoria, enclosed in its own metal skippet, is the perfect example!
As well as being used to authenticate the document, applied seals were useful in making sure that letters were not tampered with – a broken seal was a sure sign that the contents of your letter were no longer private! Today they are mostly used for decoration on posh stationary, such as invitations.
The wax impression is created using a ‘seal matrix’, which
features a negative image; this is pressed into the wax to produce the positive
image. The most popular type of seal matrix is the signet ring, evidence for
which dates back as far as Ancient Egypt. Signet rings have also been used as
symbols of wealth and power throughout history and were often destroyed when
their owner died to prevent forgeries.
This seal matrix, dated to the early 14th century seal matrix, was dug up near the Little Dunmow Priory almost 100 years ago. It probably belonged to one of the priors.
If you want to see the full display, including a soap box full of seals and a 17th century seal matrix, it will feature in the Curiosity Cabinet until November. The Great seal of Queen Victoria is really something impressive to see in person – our photo does not do justice to its size!
just clicked on a bit of history from right here in the City of Chelmsford.
Many people know Chelmsford is the birthplace of radio, it’s where Marconi chose to build his first factory and where ideas and experiments
unfolded across the years, but it’s so much more than that, it’s where our
future world of communication began.
a hundred years before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Marconi was laying down the
foundations of the communication explosion of the 21st century. One of the
first truly global figures in modern
he was the first inventor to not only communicate globally but think globally
telegraph to telephone and radio to the world wide web, mobile phones and
satelitte navigation, the link between then, now and the future is the
development of wireless communication.
Record Office continues to capture and preserve our local histories with
written material, historical documents, recordings and interviews. The Essex
Record Office is also home to a collection of over 150,000 images that
catalogue the places, people, objects and machinery of the Marconi Company.
Elaine Tribley, was given access to this collection as part of an Essex 2020
Artist in Residence project with the ERO. Focusing on the photographed objects
she produced a series of artworks enlarging and placing them into the
landscapes around the Records Office
reflective texts. Elaine says “I not only wanted to bring these objects to our
attention, challenging their place, Marconi’s place in our future, but I also
wanted to celebrate the fact that this incredible collection of photographic
history is right here in our own City”.
Two of these works were chosen to be displayed at Chelmsford’s rail station
to coincide with the British Science Festival being held in the City.
For the last few months ERO has hosted two student placements jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex. They have both written for us about their experiences and what they have discovered here at ERO. In his blog post below Aaron Archer explores the huge wealth of information held within parish Poor Law documents. If you enjoy this article, Aaron has also written a separate article for the Friends of Historic Essex –News – Friends of Historic Essex
During my placement at the Essex Record Office, I have been cataloguing the parish records of north-east Essex. Dating broadly from the late seventeenth century through until the mid-nineteenth century, many of the documents contained within this collection relate to the Poor Law and the daily administration of the various parishes.
The ‘old Poor Law’ which
concerns these documents began with the acts of Elizabeth I between 1598 and
1601, and effectively outlined those who were considered ‘the deserving poor’
and those that ‘refused to work’.
The responsibility of this poor relief system lay with the parishes, particularly
the churchwardens and overseers of the poor, who enacted the day-to-day
workings of the system.
Whilst my time has largely
involved cataloguing these various documents, such as settlement certificates,
apprenticeship indentures and removal orders… I must confess – I have been
unable to resist taking some notes on some of the more colourful or exceptional
stories uncovered within these records!
Also, I should preface this by stating that all of what I record here has been uncovered with minimal research – and that alone should demonstrate the wealth of information and the variety of stories that one could find if you are actively seeking to research a similar topic (or looking for a research starter!).
Let us begin the examples of
William Allen and Deborah Brooks. These names occur more than once each within
the bastardy bonds of the parish of St Peter’s in Colchester.
On 10 June 1823, Deborah Brooks
underwent a voluntary examination (D/P 178/15/2/4) relating to the illegitimate
child she had recently given birth to. Such an examination was necessary to
determine whether the child would be chargeable to the parish in which the
examination was taking place. During this, Brooks reputed that William Allen, a
blacksmith from Brightlingsea, was the father of the child. As such, Allen
would be liable to pay a bastardy bond of £2 immediately to the churchwardens
of St Peters for any costs incurred by parish, then a further two shillings per
week in support of the child, and a further sixpence per week to support
Brooks. Clearly, illegitimate births like these were costly. According to the
National Archives’ currency converter, £2 was the equivalent of 13 days wages of
a skilled worker.
Yet, this is not the last we
hear of William Allen. On 2 December 1823, Alice Cook of St Peter’s, Colchester
undertook a voluntary examination relating to her illegitimate pregnancy (D/P
178/15/2/5). Once again, the name William Allen was stated when it was
questioned who the father may be. This time, William Allen was said to be a
drover from Ardleigh. In this instance, Allen was ordered to pay a bastardy
bond of £1, 16 shillings to St Peter’s, then a further two shillings and
sixpence per week to Alice Cook and the child once it was born.
Of course, this very well could
have been a separate individual, however it is also a stretch that two women
from the same parish became pregnant to two different men sharing the same name,
and only six months apart… If these cases do indeed involve the same individual,
then William Allen certainly was an unfortunate soul to fall into the same
situation twice – and with only 6 months in between cases!
But we must not forget Deborah
Brooks either. Her name also appears again on the 10 September 1824. Again, she
underwent an examination regarding her illegitimate pregnancy, and on this
occasion, Charles Wenlock, a mariner from Brightlingsea, was the reputed father
(D/P 178/15/2/8). The parish of St Peter’s wrote up a bastardy bond for £4 and
one shilling, plus the further weekly one shilling and sixpence for the child,
and sixpence per week for Brooks, however it appears that things were not so
simple for Wenlock. An attached note states that Wenlock had changed addresses
during this period and thus was unaware of
the money he now owed. When he was eventually found on 29 June 1827, he owed a
total of 146 weeks of unpaid maintenance amounting to £10 and 19 shillings! For
reference, this was about two months wages for a skilled tradesman.
These stories present some
interesting implications. Firstly, and most apparently, these instances offer
an insight into relationships and people’s perceptions towards sex. Clearly
people were frequently engaged in physical relationships outside of wedlock
despite religious doctrine and expectations still being a considerable part of
society. Moreover, these relationships were not just between people from
neighbouring parishes, but sometimes parishes miles apart – suggesting how
mobile people were on a regular basis.
Secondly, there is the suggestion
that bastard births were a broader social problem for early modern parishes,
and one that exacerbated an already stretched and flawed relief system. A small
note amongst St Peter’s records states that in 1819 a total of £1368, 11
shillings and 4 pence was levied in local rates. Of this, £1247, 7 shillings
and 1 pence was expended in poor relief alone, highlighting that there was
little flexibility for further strain on the existing system. This made it
imperative for parishes to ensure illegitimate births were chargeable to the
correct parishes to avoid footing the bill.
Unfortunately, this did lead to
more tragic examples, too. For instance, the case of Ann Bugg, whose issues
with the poor relief system and an illegitimate birth proved harrowing.
On 20 April 1816, Ann Bugg, a
single woman living in St Peters, was removed from the parish with her child
George (D/P 178/13/2/21), and was returned to her last legal settlement, St
Mary in Whitechapel. This was not unusual, as parishes were likely to remove
single men and women, probably to avoid instances of illegitimate births. Yet
two months later, on 10 June 1816, the churchwardens of St Mary sent a copy of
Ann Bugg’s bastardy examination to St Peter’s. In it, the churchwardens of St
Mary suggest that the child was chargeable to St Peter’s rather than them, as
the child was born there. The emergent argument here being one of an individual
removed to their legal settlement, yet her child being born in another parish,
with two overseeing parties unwilling to deal with the situation by placing the
responsibility on each other.
As we have already seen,
however, St Peters was particularly stringent in its budgeting and chose to
argue the case rather than foot the bill. The situation escalated, and the Justices
of the Peace were employed to address the situation. They officially recognised
the complaint of St Peters on 8 July 1816 (D/P 178/15/5/1), and two days later
issued an official summons (D/P 178/15/5/2) to the churchwardens of St Mary, on
the grounds of their refusal to reimburse St Peters for the costs incurred for
Ann Bugg’s bastard child. The matter was to be addressed at the next Quarter
This was not to be the last of
the story, however. In 1820, the issue arose again when the parish of St Mary
once again wrote to St Peters (D/P 178/15/5/3), stating they had no knowledge
of Ann Bugg’s child and the birth, and therefore refused any steps towards
reimbursing St Peters for all the of the costs incurred. Meanwhile, during this
four-year quarrel between the two parishes, it is unknown whether Ann Bugg
received any support for herself or her child from either parish.
The last mention of this case
comes from a small note dated 28 June 1821 (D/P 178/15/5/4). In it, an
individual named John Bugg, agreed to reimburse St Peters for the costs
incurred during the entire ordeal. This amounted to £4, 14 shillings, though
the note states that at this point Ann Bugg’s child had passed away since.
Quite clearly, this unfortunate
story highlights the problems associated with the patchwork-quilt like system
of parishes and poor relief seen during the Poor Law. It both demonstrates the
loss of a young life due to the financial worries and bickering of inter-parish
relations, along with the neglect of individuals based on the grounds of “not
our problem”. Thus, it is no surprise that the system was unsustainable and saw
‘reform’ in the 1830s – though, this had its own whole series of problems!
It should be clear by now that
these parish records can contain some fascinating insights into the lives of
early modern individuals. As a historian, I previously would not have
considered the depth seen these documents, nor the kinds of stories I have
uncovered with relatively little research. After all, these stories I have
covered here have literally only come together whilst passing through the
various stacks of documents that have slid across my desk.
With this piece I hope I have
been able to shine a light on the stories that one can find within parish
records, such as bastardy bonds and removal orders, and demonstrated the
potential that they have. With them family historians can uncover a much deeper
understanding of the movements of their ancestors and the struggles they faced.
Meanwhile, there is plenty of room for historians to explore microhistories of
individual lives of people like Deborah Brooks, William Allen, and Ann Bugg.
These parish records are
fascinating, and I would strongly encourage people to expand their scope beyond
the singular documents they seek. Rather than focus solely on a specific
document, explore other documents within the same box number – you will be
surprised at some of the stories you can uncover!
 Samantha Williams, Poverty, Gender and
Life-Cycle Under the English Poor Law 1760-1834, (Croydon: Boydell Pres,
 W.E. Tate, The Parish Chest: A Study of
the Records of Parochial Administration in England, Third Ed. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 30.
In a recent internet deep-dive in search of social media inspiration, we came across a recurring statement declaring Agnes Waterhouse, a local Essex woman, as the first person executed for witchcraft in England in 1566. Marion Gibson, currently a professor at Exeter University, has kindly written this blog post for us, to tell us a little bit more about Agnes and why these claims about her are actually fake news.
Agnes Waterhouse was a widow from the village of Hatfield Peverel who was tried in Chelmsford for witchcraft in the summer of 1566. It’s as a witchcraft suspect that her name appears on a list of accused felons held by the Essex Record Office, among the Quarter Sessions rolls.
A “felony” was a serious crime, punishable by death, and the group of suspected felons who included Agnes passed through the lower court of Quarter Sessions in 1566 on their way to the higher court of the Assizes. There they would be tried and sentenced.
Agnes was going to the Midsummer Assizes, held in the hot
months when England’s top judges got out of London and had time to sit in
judgement over suspected provincial criminals. In Chelmsford the Assizes were
held in the Market Cross House, which stood just in front of the present-day
Shire Hall. The Essex historian Hilda Grieve describes it as:
‘an open-sided building, with eight oak columns supporting upper galleries and a tiled roof. The galleries, which overlooked the open “piazza” below, were lit by three dormer windows in the roof… the magistrates and justices sat in open court, which measured only 26 feet by 24 feet, with the officers of the law, counsel and clerks, plaintiffs and defendants, jurors, sureties, witnesses and prisoners, before and around them, while spectators, hangers-on, and those awaiting their turn, crowded into the galleries above or thronged the street outside.’
Market Cross House was an unsatisfactory courtroom – packed, noisy and horribly
public – but it was Agnes’ destination in summer 1566 after she had been
accused as a witch.
Witchcraft was a crime that came to Assize courts regularly, but only after a new Witchcraft Act had been passed by Parliament in 1563. The new Act stated that witches who were convicted of lesser offences – like making farm animals sick – would be punished with one year in prison. Witches who were convicted of killing a person, however, were to be hanged.
Agnes was accused of murder by witchcraft, for which she would be executed if she was found guilty. She was said to have killed her neighbour William Fynee. When questioned, she also admitted harming pigs, cows and geese in her village. Eventually she said she had murdered her own husband in 1557 because they lived “somewhat unquietly” together; it is possible that this confession was drawn out, in part, by some guilt she may have felt over relief at his death and the relative freedom that widowhood granted her.
Agnes also confessed to owning a demonic spirit in the form of a pet cat called Sathan, given to her by her sister Elizabeth Fraunces, and this cat had killed her husband and done all the harm of which Agnes stood accused.
Elizabeth Fraunces and also Agnes’ daughter Joan were accused of witchcraft alongside her. Joan was just eighteen years old. She was accused of bewitching another teenager, the Waterhouse’s neighbour Agnes Browne. Joan and her mother, twelve year old Agnes Browne told the court, had sent a black dog to torment her. It brought her the key to the Browne family’s dairy and stole or damaged some of their butter. More seriously, the dog tempted Agnes Browne to suicide by bringing her a knife. He told her this was “his sweet dame’s knife” and when he was asked who this was, Agnes Browne said “he wagged his head to your house, mother Waterhouse”. As well as being a talking dog, this demonic tempter had a monkey’s face and a whistle hung around his neck: a strange beast to see trotting around Hatfield Peverel!
Agnes Waterhouse told Agnes Browne that she was making this story up: “thou liest” she told the girl stoutly. She added that she didn’t even own a dagger. It sounds as though Agnes Waterhouse was in court facing down Agnes Browne – and this account of the trial may be true. But Agnes Waterhouse didn’t need to confront Agnes Browne. She had in fact already pleaded guilty to witchcraft. Most accused felons fought for their lives by pleading “not guilty” but Agnes Waterhouse didn’t. Why did Agnes plead guilty, and why was she still fighting on in the courtroom after she had confessed? The answer is probably Joan. By pleading guilty and then standing beside her daughter to take the blame perhaps Agnes hoped to save Joan from execution.
The case made what we would now think of as “headlines”.
Someone gave the statements of the accused witches to a London publisher, who
added an eyewitness account of the courtroom scenes, a couple of very bad poems
and a description of Agnes’ execution. Yes, that was her fate, and 29th
July is the anniversary of her death. Agnes Waterhouse was executed with the
other felons convicted at the Assizes, hanged in front of a crowd gathered at
the gallows in Chelmsford. The site of her death lies on the road leading
It was a sad end to Agnes’ life, but it was a golden opportunity for journalists. The publisher rushed out a booklet about the case and even added a portrait of Agnes to his story, a woodcut print labelled in blackletter font and showing a woman looking oddly pious, with her hand upraised in blessing. There’s a good reason for this mismatch between story and woodcut.
The picture isn’t actually of Agnes at all. It was just a woodcut from the publisher’s stockroom, with space in the label to insert metal blocks of type. In this way the publisher could give any name to the woman depicted. Witches were usually women, this was a picture of a woman: that would do.
This bit of fake news isn’t the only myth to get stuck to Agnes over the course of the last four hundred and fifty years, however. She’s routinely described as the first witch to be executed for witchcraft in England. In fact, witches had been being executed in England and the wider British Isles for centuries, often because they were judged under laws concerning treason or heresy. Examples include Petronilla de Meath from County Meath, who was executed in 1324 and Margery Jourdemayne from Eye in Suffolk, who was executed in 1441. Both women were burned at the stake. But it is true that Agnes is the first media superstar of the age when witch-hunting got serious in England. She’s a “first witch” because she’s the first witch we know about from a printed news story. In the sixteenth century, that was extraordinary fame.
We should remember Agnes on the anniversary of her execution. She died surrounded by her enemies, likely jeering and jostling for a better view, but she died knowing that her daughter Joan had been acquitted, just as Agnes had hoped.
All the details of the case are taken from the news pamphlet ‘The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches at Chensforde in the Countie of Essex (1566)’.
You can read more about Agnes, including the whole text of this pamphlet, in Marion Gibson, ‘Early Modern Witches’ (London: Routledge, 2000)
In the meantime, St Andrews Church in Hatfield Peverel is probably the closest glimpse we can get of the Hatfield Peverel that Agnes knew.
Much of the building dates to the 19th century restoration, but the nave and central tower arch from the original 12th century priory still remain and Agnes would have looked on these features much as we do now, as an enduring memento of history. (Photo by Fred Spalding c.1940)
Over the course of the UK lockdowns the music collective, Resonance have been working with the ERO to incorporate recordings preserved by us into their work, culminating in an Album which has been launched today!
Chris Adam, co-founder of Resonance takes us through the journey below together with some details about how you can purchase your own copy.
Strangely enough for a project so grounded in history, this album started from a meeting about the future. Sometime in January (I forget the actual date!), Martin [Martin Astell – the Essex Record Office Manager] and I were included in a meeting to discuss ideas incorporating digital technology into art and heritage projects in Essex. It was in this meeting I discovered the amazing resource that was essexsounds.org.uk and realised there was an opportunity for Resonance to collaborate with the Essex Record Office.
The Record Office has an extensive archive of recorded audio material
from around Essex. Many of these archives are fragile and at-risk – having been
initially captured decades ago on ageing formats such as reel-to-reel tapes,
early records or even wax cylinders. These are continuously in the process of
being digitised, in order to preserve the audio history of Essex.
All of this is probably old news to fans of the Record Office, but it
struck me as a fantastic opportunity to involve the members of Resonance in
an interesting project: using the archives of sound to create music that
embodies the spirit of revival and restoration. Combining the old with the new.
Resonance was created with the aim of embracing an alternative side to electronic
music. Many of our artists embrace the use of analogue and digital equipment,
combining 1970s-inspired synthesizers with modern, digital recording methods
and technology. The process isn’t all that different to the Record Office’s
approach: trying to capture ephemeral one-of-a-kind sounds in a way that
preserves their emotional impact.
We therefore arranged for 12 of our musicians to choose samples from the
Essex Sounds website that they could use for our own compositions. Once we had
cleared the sounds for licensing purposes, we were free to manipulate them
however we chose. This could be cutting the samples into pieces so tiny they
are perceived by the human ear as a single tone, or changing the pitch and
timbre using modular synthesis (think giant electronic switchboards, and you’re
not far off what this looks like!). Some of us used guitar effects pedals to
change everything into unrecognisable sounds. Throughout this, computers and
digital recording processes allow us to capture all these experiments and save
them for arrangement and use later.
The result of these experiments is a journey that moves between dark,
minimal compositions and uplifting passages that highlight the mixed history of
Essex. Nostalgic sounds merge with machinery noises reminiscing of Chelmsford’s
scientific and industrial heritage. Field recordings capture the Essex
countryside and Southend Seafront, combined with introspective electronic
melodies. The ambience of Colchester and its famous Zoo blend with trains and
sampled orchestral TV programmes, inviting memories of days out around Essex
and the journeys these archives capture.
The artwork for the album was created from the location data of around
400 sounds from the Essex Sounds website. It is essentially a top-down map,
where each of the coloured pathways start at a location one of the archived
sounds is recorded. From the initial coordinates, lines (or waves) are traced through
a “flow field” – a simulation of physical field that assigns a force to every
pixel in the image. As the lines move through the space they flow in the
direction of the underlying field. This parallels the way that sounds move from
a location, following the currents of the air outward until they are heard far
away from their original source.
The name of the record was a sticking point for
quite some time within the collective. We knew that we wanted to use the word
“record” due to its double meaning – both in the archival sense and the musical
sense – but the rest of the title eluded us until we finally settled on
“recreating”. This summed up the attitude we had of turning the past into
something new for the future, the iterative process of recording and preserving
the sounds led us into new creative directions.
That’s probably enough of my ramblings for now. Hopefully that’s given you some insight into the thought processes and background to the project, and why it was so interesting for us to work on. Please listen with an open mind and we really hope you enjoy the experience!
The album is available on the 15th July 2021, and released for download on Resonance’s bandcamp page at resonancehq.bandcamp.com.
All proceeds are going to the Friends of Historic Essex charity, who
work closely with many heritage organisations to preserve Essex’s history.
Visiting the Searchroom can be a dangerous business – you can be looking for one thing and find yourself fully distracted by something else. Such as finding a full farm inventory when you were only trying to research crop rotations and the incidence of the growth of turnips…
A Wethersfield farm inventory of 1803
The culprit for this particular distraction was an impressively detailed entry in a 19th century valuer’s notebook for Wethersfield Farm (D/DF 35/1/4). Friend and user of Essex Record Office, Dr Michael Leach, discusses this interesting entry.
Inventories (usually prepared for probate purposes) give a unique room-by-room view of how the interiors of houses in the early modern period were arranged and furnished, as well as clues to the affluence and style of living of their occupants. By the end of the eighteenth century, they are much fewer in number and rarely adopt the useful room-by-room listing which provides so much insight. So it is particularly illuminating to find one which provides the full details, dating from 1803. This particular one was prepared for estate, rather than probate valuation, purposes.
Arrangement of Rooms
standard medieval house comprised a hall, with a parlour at high end and a
buttery at the opposite end, with chambers over the parlour and buttery. Later
additional chambers were provided when a floor was inserted into the double
height hall. The extra rooms so created were used for storage, as well as for
sleeping. At farmhouse level, kitchens were unusual and, though they
increasingly appeared over the seventeenth century, cooking was often still
carried out over the open fire in the hall. However, it is perhaps surprising
to see this pattern continuing into the early nineteenth century in an
obviously affluent household.
Hall: In this Wethersfield
farm, the medieval arrangement persisted as late as 1803, though the hall was
renamed the ‘keeping’ room; a term that I have not met elsewhere. The
Wethersfield farm was still doing all of its cooking in the hall which was the
only room provided with the essential cobirons to support the spits, and the
‘nocked trammel’, an adjustable chain in the chimney for suspending cooking
vessels over the open fire. However most of the cooking utensils (spit,
saucepans, skillets, frying pan, dripping pans, ladles and so on), as well as
the tableware and drinking vessels, were kept in the two butteries. As is usual
with inventories, it is not possible to deduce where the food preparation took
place. The Wethersfield hall, with its square ‘dining table’, pewter mugs and
at least ten chairs, was used for eating meals, as well as cooking them.
Parlour: This room was also used for meals with a large oval dining table and six chairs. It also had a number of smaller tables, and a ‘tea chest’ and was perhaps used for more ‘polite’ entertainment. It was also furnished with two large pictures and seven small prints and included a fireplace with cobirons (but no other cooking equipment). The two linen horses suggest it was also used for drying clothes. The level of sophistication of this household is shown by the ownership of an ‘iron footman’, a device used to keep plates warm before serving food.
Butteries: Provision of separate butteries for strong and small beer was common by the seventeenth century and is still found at Wethersfield. Only the strong beer buttery served its named purpose, albeit on a substantial scale (five hogsheads, four half hogsheads and two 20 gallon barrels – a total capacity of nearly 400 gallons, though some, of course, must have been empty).
This buttery was also storing cutlery, dishes and mugs, and was equipped with a sideboard and shelving. The small beer buttery had a sink, shelving, a few more barrels and most of the cooking equipment – and an ironing board. It also had a meat safe, so may have used for food storage as well. Neither room appears to have been heated, or to have had a table which would have been necessary for food preparation.
Chambers: None appear to have
been heated by fireplaces. It is assumed that these chambers were either
upstairs (a staircase is mentioned) or over some of the subsidiary offices
outside the main core of the house. There were five in total, one of which (the
cheese chamber) was used exclusively for storing and maturing cheese (10 old
and 24 new cheeses were listed). The other four chambers were furnished as
bedrooms, one of which (the menservants’ chamber) slept two in stump beds.
These were probably for the annually hired farm servants, rather than for
domestic ones. Two other chambers (‘best’ and ‘small’) had four poster beds,
mahogany or walnut furniture, and curtained windows. The ‘spare’ chamber had a
sacking bottom bedstead but was furnished with chairs, a dresser and various
chests and boxes – but no curtains.
Domestic offices: These consisted of brewhouse, dairy, cream house, mealhouse, granary and cornchamber, all appropriately equipped for their named function. Only the brewhouse had evidence of a fireplace, equipped with a nocked trammel.
Wealth and Status of the Occupants
Compared to typical farm inventories of a century earlier, the number and quality of possessions is striking, including a 30 hour clock and barometer (which would have been mercury, as the aneroid was yet to be invented) in the hall, as well as walnut and mahogany furniture elsewhere. Oak is now limited to more utilitarian purposes.
There is a plethora of table ware including ‘Queensware’, a cream-coloured earthenware which had been developed by Josiah Wedgewood in the 1760s. Pewter plates have entirely replaced wooden ones, and there is a surprising amount of tinware, presumably manufactured in the industrial Midlands.
The spare chamber contained ‘a Lot of Books’, so the household was a literate one. Two large pictures hung in the parlour, and some other rooms had prints on the walls.
Two of the bedrooms were curtained but no carpets or rugs were listed, so the floors were probably bare. Most striking, though, is the very large quantity of ‘stuff’ which had been bought or acquired. But, in spite of this level of sophistication, food was still being cooked and eaten in the hall over the open fire; exactly as it would have been several centuries earlier.
methods and its products
It is surprising that no animals are listed, though it is clear that this was principally a dairy farm. Also there is none of the normal farm equipment such as carts, and ploughs with their necessary tackle, though the listing of two scythes and five sickles suggests that a crop, or hay, was harvested. There was only one sack of wheat in the granary at the end of July – this may have been bought in for domestic use.
Cheese making seems to have been the main activity, with 10 old and 24 new cheeses in the cheese chamber. The cheese making indicates the need for quantities of milk, but where were the cows, and where were they being milked? Was the necessary milk being bought in, or were the animals excluded from this inventory for some reason?
Bee-keeping was a subsidiary, but not insubstantial, activity with at least 14 skeps listed. These were made of straw and were destroyed at each harvest, so this total might represent the number of colonies that were being used for honey production.
The other significant activity on this farm was brewing which seems to have been on a much larger scale (and a level of equipment, including an ‘iron furnace’) than normal household consumption would justify.
the historian inventories provide a unique opportunity for a virtual tour of
houses at various periods, as well as offering much information on the level of
wealth and sophistication of the occupants. It is much to be regretted that
most Essex probate inventories were destroyed but fortunately those of Writtle,
a peculiar of New College, Oxford, have survived in the college archives and
were published in full (with an invaluable commentary and glossary of archaic
terms) by F W Steer as Essex Record Office Publications No. 8 in 1950, Farm and Cottage Inventories of
Christopher Parkinson, researcher for the CVMA, project introduces us to project and some of the important resources held at the Essex Record Office.
Essex is fortunate that during the 17th and 18th centuries two antiquaries wrote manuscripts which, amongst other things, described any heraldry then present in parish churches. Richard Symonds (1617-1660), an English Royalist, produced three volumes of genealogical collections which included descriptions of heraldry in different mediums to be seen in some Essex churches. While these three volumes are now with the Royal College of Arms in London, volumes 1 (covering the Hundreds of Witham, Thurstable, Winstree, Lexden and Tendring) and volume 2 (covering the Hundreds of Clavering, Uttlesford, Freshwell, Dunmow and Hinckford) are available on microfilm at the Essex Records Office (T/B 73). William Holman (1669-1730) was a congregational minister at Stepney, Middlesex before being transferred to Halstead. He visited every town and village in Essex in order to compile a history of Essex. His manuscript is now held by the Essex Records Office in just over 500 parts (T/P 195/-/-).
My particular interest in these documents is for research in stained glass heraldry that is now lost from the county. This will be included in an appendix for a forthcoming Catalogue of the Medieval Stained Glass of Essex to be published for the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, CVMA. Although the term Medii Aevi implies the ‘middle ages’, my co-author Dr Penny Hebgin-Barnes and myself will include glass up to 1800 in the catalogue within the old (pre-Greater London) county boundary. Surviving medieval including heraldic stained glass can bee seen on the CVMA website in the picture archive section;
click on the dedication of the church and the stained glass from all periods will be displayed. While there are about 162 pre-1800 stained glass shields of arms currently surviving within the county, the Symonds and Holman manuscripts show that there was a substantially larger number of such shields in churches and secular buildings during the first half of the 18th century. Obviously their loss cannot be due to the actions of iconoclasts, but presumably caused by general decay and later ‘restorations’ where such damaged glass was removed.
Communicating Connections, Essex Record Office’s project exploring the history and legacy of the Marconi Company is finally underway after being delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here, Project Co-ordinator and Oral Historian, Laura Owen, talks us through how the project is developing and how the project team have adapted to local and national restrictions.
Anyone who has ever been involved with oral history will
tell you that the beauty of a community based oral history project is the joy
of meeting new people and learning about their lives for the few hours you’re
interviewing someone. They’ll usually offer you a warm invitation into their
home, make you a (sometimes) lovely cup of tea and be willing to talk about
their lives, memories and no doubt, opinions. However, all this came crashing
to a halt when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. For me, I was looking forward to
recruiting volunteers and getting on with collecting the stories of people who
worked at the Marconi Company and who were involved in the company in other
ways. We decided to postpone the start of the project until, we hoped, we could
safely begin interviewing in-person. When a second national lockdown began to
look likely and was eventually announced I conceded to the fact that our
interviews for the project would have to be done remotely.
Our search for volunteers in October brought in so much
interest, and I had amazing conversations with everyone who applied which I
thoroughly enjoyed. In the end, we recruited 10 wonderful volunteers to conduct
our oral history interviews – an increase from our planned 6 – and we underwent
training in oral history interviewing delivered by Rib Davis, an accredited
trainer from the Oral History Society which was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.
The shift to remote, online interviewing brought us new
challenges; we had to look into how we could actually record our interviews and
still keep archive quality, and of course there are now more logistical
challenges relating to the passing of equipment between both volunteer
interviewers and our interviewees. But some positives have come out of these
changes: we are now able to interview people all over the country (and
potentially around the world) which wouldn’t have been possible if we were
conducting all of our interviews in-person.
After numerous changes and Zoom meetings, our interviews are
now underway! As I’m writing this, we’ve currently interviewed 2 ex-Marconi
employees about their time at the Company and their memories of their work and
colleagues. As things stand, we’ll be interviewing into the New Year so please
do get in touch if you or someone you know was involved with Marconi’s.
We are currently looking for:
Women who worked for Marconi or had an involvement in the company in any capacity
People of colour and/or migrants who worked for or had an involvement in the company
People who may not have worked directly for Marconi, but their company dealt with Marconi in some way
People who did not have Management responsibilities or worked in lower ranks of the company
People who may not have had an entirely positive experience with the company and/or were affected by mass redundancies
People who met their husband/wife at the company
You can find out more about the project by following us on social media:
North-East Essex Coastal Parishes. Part 1: St Osyth, Great and Little Clacton, Frinton, Great Holland and Little Holland
The latest volume of the Victoria County History of the County of Essex has been presented to Martin Astell the Essex Record Office Manager. This is the first of two volumes covering the North East Essex coastal parishes, from St Osyth to Walton on the Naze. Boydell and Brewer are also offering a spectacular 35% off for a limited period only. More details on that can be found below. All of the Victoria County History volumes draw heavily on the documents which are held at the Essex Record Office.
The nine Essex parishes lying in a coastal district between St Osyth and the Naze headland at Walton encompass a number of distinct landscapes, from sandy cliffs to saltmarshes, recognised as environmentally significant. The landscape has constantly changed in response to changing sea levels, flooding, draining and investment in sea defences. Inland, there was an agriculturally fertile plateau based on London Clay, but with large areas of Kesgrave sands and gravels, loams and brickearths. Parts were once heavily wooded, especially at St Osyth.
The district was strongly influenced by the pattern of estate ownership, largely held by St Paul’s Cathedral from the mid-10th century. About 1118-19 a bishop of London founded a house of Augustinian canons at St Osyth, which became one of the wealthiest abbeys in Essex. Most other manors and their demesnes in the district were small and their demesne tenants were of little more than local significance.
The area’s economy was strongly affected by the coast and its many valuable natural resources, including the extraction or manufacture of sand, gravel, septaria, copperas and salt, and activities such as fishing, tide milling, wrecking and smuggling. However, it remained a largely rural district and its wealth ultimately depended upon the state of farming. Until the eighteenth century it specialised in dairying from both sheep and cattle, but afterwards production shifted towards grain.
The coastal area has produced significant evidence of early man and was heavily exploited and settled in prehistory. The medieval settlement pattern largely conformed to a typical Essex model, with a complex pattern of small villages, hamlets and dispersed farms, many located around greens or commons.
Introduction: The North East Essex Coast; St Osyth; Great and Little Clacton; Frinton; Great Holland; Little Holland; Glossary; Note on Sources; and, Bibliography.
Frequently over the last several months commentators have compared living through the COVID-19 pandemic to life on the Home Front in the Second World War. Is that a valid comparison? What was it really like to live through that major event? Thankfully, there are still some people who remember those years and can share their stories with us.
Southend Achievement Through Football (ATF) is an organisation dedicated to changing lives through football, especially the lives of young people at risk of exclusion. By participation in sports and other recreational activities, young people develop skills and capacities to mature into individuals and members of society. But they do not just stop at sport. ATF also helps young people develop their sense of self by finding out about their heritage.
Building on the successful Heroes and Villains project, which allowed young people to explore the stories of individuals from Southend’s past, further funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund has allowed Southend ATF to encourage young people to hear the stories of residents in local sheltered accommodation. After training provided by ERO, Southend ATF interviewed 18 people specifically about their memories of the Second World War.
The participants ranged in age, from those who were still children in the 1940s, to those who were old enough to fight or serve the war effort in some other way. Thus the collection contains multiple perspectives, with different levels of understanding about current events, and different levels of impact experienced. Many of the participants grew up in London and were therefore prey to the Blitz and the stresses and strains that caused. Some were evacuated, some stayed at home. Some had family members who served in the military, some lost loved ones either at home or abroad, and some came through the ordeal relatively unscathed. Therefore there is no one common experience of what living through the War was like: it depended on personal circumstances.
For instance, the extent to which people’s lives were disrupted by air raids depended on where they were living. Robbie spent much of the War as a Land Army girl, posted to a farm outside Witham to help keep the country’s agriculture growing and fill the gaps of men sent overseas to fight.
While all the rural residents had air raid shelters, she found them unnecessary overkill in those quieter areas.
‘We [the Land Army girls] never used it, only the country people used it – they thought they were in the thick of the war, you know, and nothing ever happened.’
The difference between life in London and life outside hit home on a day trip she took to the capital early in the War, when she first saw the scale of the devastation caused by intense enemy bombing.
This heavy fire seriously affected Johnnie, who was living near the docks in East London, with repercussions lasting into his adulthood, anxieties that resurrect during fire alarms. He recalled 68 nights of constant bombing in 1940. The mental and emotional strains could be as grave as physical injuries.
‘Each night… you just wondered, is this gonna be your last night? And you never knew…. You never get over what you went through, even though all those years ago…. In fact I still have, now and again, flashbacks as to, you know, what was going on.’
The experience of evacuation varied widely too. Some people used family connections to send their children to places of safety, and these generally resulted in happier experiences. For example, Norman stayed with his grandmother in South Wales, and found life in that peaceful village so idyllic that he initially refused to return to London when his father came to collect him.
Suddenly being sent to live with strangers was a very different matter. Even for those who stayed with their siblings, it was difficult: getting used to the rural way of life, feeling conscious of imposing on the family’s space and resources, and experiencing animosity from local children. But sometimes even being evacuated with strangers could turn into a happy occasion. Joan enjoyed her experiences living on the edges of the Longleat Estate so much that she frequently returned to the area for holidays in adulthood. As she was only six or seven years old when she was sent away, she came to see her evacuee family as her adopted parents, and didn’t even recognise her mother when she finally returned to her birth family five years later. ‘Home’ was a word of shifting meanings, and it could be difficult to adjust.
However, there are common trends evident among the interviews. While the impact of rationing varied from family to family, largely dependant on how much families could grow for themselves, all participants recalled the need to ‘make do and mend’ to some extent. There was no waste, and parents had to be resourceful to acquire sufficient food and clothing for their families. While treats were limited, this made them more treasured, as some interviewees presented very vivid, detailed memories of eating their weekly sweets ration.
Another common theme is that children still found ways to play. Sometimes their normal play spaces were converted to fields of war, such as the parts of the beaches around Southend, which were fenced off both due to defences against potential invaders and to protect residents from possible mines dropped by enemy aircraft. Instead, children turned scenes of devastation into playgrounds, exploring bomb sites and collecting shrapnel to trade like marbles or Top Trumps cards. The interviewees’ experiences prove that even in the midst of great upheaval, children have a knack for play, a facet of their lives so important that the right to play is one of the rights for all children enshrined in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Finally, most participants commented on the sense of relief when celebrating VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, on 8 May 1945.
Although the War was not yet over, with fighting continuing against Japan until August, VE Day marked the start of the end: no more fear of bombs, no more disrupted nights of dashing into air raid shelters. But life did not return to normality straight away. Rationing continued into the 1950s. Servicemen returned home only gradually – Fred, who served in the Army, describes long periods of time spent in Germany and Italy after VE Day, just waiting to be sent home. He was not demobilised until 1947. And the war changed people irreversibly, meaning life could never again be the same.
Four of the interviews took place after lockdown (recorded outside, observing safe distances). These presented an opportunity to ask for comparisons directly from survivors of the Second World War, seeking reflection on how that ordeal compared to living through the COVID-19 pandemic. We will let their observations stand for themselves, without further comment or interpretation:
Many thanks go to the participants who shared their remarkable stories for future generations to learn from, and to Southend ATF for taking the time to record these precious, unique stories and then share them with ERO for others to listen and enjoy.
You can listen to themed compilations of clips from all the interviews on our SoundCloud channel.