Where there’s a will: major update to Essex Ancestors

We love wills here at ERO. These fascinating and incredibly useful documents can tell us all sorts of things about the lives of people in the past, and are a brilliant resource for genealogists and social and economic historians alike.

The majority of the population did not leave a will, but where these documents exist, they can be of great help in establishing family connections (particularly before census returns begin in 1841) and for researching the amount of personal property people owned.

It can be surprising to see what testators valued; in 1641 Elizabeth Fuller of Chigwell left her eldest son Henry my longe carte and dunge carte, my ponderinge crose my furnace, my mault quarne. We think the crose must be for religious contemplation and the quarne for grinding grain but it seems an odd mix of bequests. Her second son Robert received my best chest and my best brace [brass] pot which to modern eyes would seem to be the better bequest (D/AEW 21/71).

It can be surprising to see what testators valued; in 1641 Elizabeth Fuller of Chigwell left her eldest son Henry ‘my longe carte and dunge carte, my ponderinge crose my furnace, my mault quarne’. We think the crose must be for religious contemplation and the quarne for grinding grain but it seems an odd mix of bequests. Her second son Robert received ‘my best chest and my best brace [brass] pot’ which to modern eyes might seem to be the better bequest (D/AEW 21/71).

Our collections include about 70,000 wills which date from the 1400s to 1858. Digital images of about 20,000 of these wills have been available on our online subscription service Essex Ancestors for some time, and we have just uploaded a further 22,500.

This is a project we have been working on for many months, with our digitisers spending about 375 hours photographing the wills, our conservators spending about 44 hours conserving them, and our archivists spending about 752 hours checking all the images against their catalogue entries to get ready for the upload.

It can be surprising to see what testators valued; in 1641 Elizabeth Fuller of Chigwell left her eldest son Henry my longe carte and dunge carte, my ponderinge crose my furnace, my mault quarne.  We think the crose must be for religious contemplation and the quarne for grinding grain but it seems an odd mix of bequests.  Her second son Robert received my best chest and my best brace [brass] pot which to modern eyes would seem to be the better bequest (D/AEW 21/71).

A portion of our wills collection in storage

This upload will mean that digital images of all of our wills dating to c.1720 will be available on Essex Ancestors. We will now press on with working on the rest of the wills, which date from c.1720-1858, for upload in the next few months.

To celebrate the upload, our archivists will be choosing some of their favourite wills to share on the blog over the next few days and weeks.

You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the Searchroom at the ERO in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you need exist and have been digitised at http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/

You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.

Great Totham in 1821 (or thereabouts)

In this guest blog post, Dr James Bettley tells us about fascinating discoveries in Great Totham.

In January 2013, the parishioners of Great Totham were clearing out the vestry at St Peter’s Church following a major reroofing project.  From behind a large wardrobe emerged a painting of the church, not seen for as long as anyone could remember, although the view of the building was familiar from an engraving that had been used as the frontispiece to The History of Great Totham, published in 1831. The painting was dirty, torn, and stained, but it is now being cleaned and repaired (thanks to grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Essex Heritage Trust, and the Church Buildings Council), and on Saturday 1 November it will take centre stage at a symposium being organised to celebrate the cultural life of Great Totham in the 1820s, ’30s and ’40s.

P1080788

Roger Allen (churchwarden) and Sally Woodcock (conservator) discussing the next stage in a delicate process

The church, hall and vicarage were the heart of the village in those days.  The vicar himself, G. S. Townley, spent most of his time in London (he was also rector of St Stephen Walbrook), so from 1810 the parish was looked after by a curate, Thomas Foote Gower; in 1829 Townley was declared of unsound mind, but did not die until 1835, when Gower succeeded him as vicar (and remained until his death in 1849).

Gower was well connected. His father, also a clergyman as well as being a physician and antiquary, lived in Chelmsford and had married the sister of John Strutt M.P., the builder of Terling Place.  Gower moved in good circles, and it is not surprising that when the famous painter of portrait miniatures, Charles Hayter, was living for a few months in Witham in 1821, Hayter and Gower got together.  The painting of Great Totham church is known to be by ‘Miss Hayter’, and there can be little doubt that this was Ann, Charles’s daughter, herself an accomplished and well-known miniature painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1814 and 1830.

Charles Hayter

Members of the Gower family sketching at Layer Marney, 31 May 1821, drawn by Charles Hayter (courtesy of Cheffins, Cambridge)

Gower’s Totham friends included the two Johnson brothers, George William and Cuthbert William, and Charles Clark.  Both the brothers were barristers, but both also achieved fame as writers, G. W. on gardening and C. W. on agriculture.  G. W. also wrote The History of Great Totham, which was printed by Charles Clark – without doubt the most eccentric of the circle.  Nominally a farmer (his father was the tenant of Great Totham Hall), he spent most of his time writing doggerel poetry, printing, and collecting books (his extraordinary letters to a London bookseller, John Russell Smith, are in the Essex Record Office: D/DU 668/1-20).

The symposium on Saturday 1 November will explore the world of Clark, Gower, the Hayters, and the Johnsons, and will include talks, poetry readings, and a demonstration of printing on something like the press that Clark used.  The event runs from 2.30 to about 6.00.  Admission is free, although there will be a charge for tea.  For further information, please go to http://totham1821.wordpress.com/, or email jamesbettley@btinternet.com.

Black History Month: our earliest Black history record

This week on social media we asked you when you thought our earliest record of a Black individual in Essex would date from.

And the answer is… 1580! How close did you get?

The earliest mention we have found of a Black individual in our collections is the burial record of Thomas Parker, ‘a certayne darke mane’ in Rayleigh in 1579/80 (D/P 332/1/3). Thomas was buried on 12 February in the year that we would call 1580; at the time, however, New Year was marked on 25 March rather than 1 January, so contemporaries would have thought of it as still being 1579.

As with so many records this little snippet raises more questions than answers, as we know nothing else of Thomas Parker. Do let us know if you are able to shed any more light on his life.

Thomas Parker burial D-P 332-1-3 editDo you have a story to tell about the past or present of a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in Essex? If so we want to hear from you.

We are inviting people from BAME communities to tell their stories, either by writing them down or making a sound or video recording, to be kept in the archive for current and future generations to share.

This will be an ongoing project, but in order for potential contributors to see where their stories will be stored, we are holding a launch event with an opportunity to see behind-in-scenes at the archive, and to enjoy food, music, and a display of documents. Come and join in with Essex History Needs You on Saturday 11 October 2014, 11.00am-2.00pm. Free entry, just drop in.

Document of the Month: a letter from India, 1828

As October is Black History Month, we have chosen for our Document of the Month something from our small but significant collection which reflects the history of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and their connections to Essex.

The document is a letter from Bhowaneydass Purshotumdass in Bombay to Captain G. G. H. Munnings (referred to in the letter as ‘Mannings’) dating from 1828 (D/DU 312/7). While the letter raises more questions than it answers, it gives us a tantalising glimpse into the world of trade in India in the nineteenth century.

D_DU_312_7 watermarked

We can glean from the letter that Munnings was employed by Purshotumdass, and that he had just arrived in Calcutta on the Sunbury from Madras, a journey of 800 miles along the Bay of Bengal from the south to the north of the country. Judging by the need to ‘repair and cork the ship’, the writer’s reference to a ‘boisterous passage’ from Madras to Calcutta by Captain Munnings would seem to be an understatement.

It appears that the main purpose of the journey was to transport horses to Calcutta, but Purshotumdass wanted the vessel to return with as full a cargo and as quickly as possible to maximise profits, as is the case with international trade today.

Unfortunately, no other letters between the pair survive; we don’t know for how long he was employed by Bhowaneydass Purshotumdass, or what goods he found for the return journey.

At present, we have been able to find out a little about Captain Munnings but nothing about Bhowaneydass Purshotumdass.

What we do know is that Captain Munnings was from a family from Thorpe-le-Soken, and his full name was George Garnett Huske Munnings. Poll books available on Ancestry describe Captain Munnings as a merchant; the burial registers of St. Stephen Coleman Street in the City of London record that he was buried in that parish in 1837.

Other records show that Munnings owned a number of ships involved in both domestic and international trade. Some of his vessels operated up and down the coast of East Anglia, while others plied their trade to India and the West Indies.

Bhowaneydass Purshotumdass has signed the letter twice; in English and possibly in Marathi (a language used in Bombay).  He was clearly an educated and wealthy man; it is difficult to translate the 2,000 rupees he mentions to a modern day equivalent, but by the end of the 19th century, 15 rupees equated to £1.

The letter will be on display in the Searchroom throughout October 2014.

Do you have a story to tell about the past or present of a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in Essex? If so we want to hear from you.

We are inviting people from BAME communities to tell their stories, either by writing them down or making a sound or video recording, to be kept in the archive for current and future generations to share.

This will be an ongoing project, but in order for potential contributors to see where their stories will be stored, we are holding a launch event with an opportunity to see behind-in-scenes at the archive, and to enjoy food, music, and a display of documents. Come and join in with Essex History Needs You on Saturday 11 October 2014, 11.00am-2.00pm. Free entry, just drop in. More information here.

Recording of the Month, October 2014: “Dingie ‘Underd Ghoost o’ ‘Alloween”

Our Sound Archivist Martin Astell brings us another highlight from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

SA 24/221/1

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it is possible that some may knock on your door at the end of October. For that reason, I have chosen this ghostly tale – supposedly recounted in Essex dialect – as our recording for this month.

We know that the poem was written (and presumably spoken) by Mr J. London of Collier Row at some point in the first half of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, we know very little else about this delightful curiosity.

It tells of supernatural goings-on in Essex’s Dengie peninsula, which is still referred to by the historic term of the Dengie Hundred, and why on ‘’Alloween Eve’ you may still hear ghostly cries as you travel through its misty lanes. According to ‘The Witches of Dengie’ by Eric Maple (published in Folklore, Volume 73, Autumn 1962), “the Hundred of Dengie was until comparatively modern times regarded as ‘Witch Country’, to use a local term for any district where the traditions of witchcraft were very strong.” This article goes on to describe reputed encounters with witches said to have the power of flight – “like other witches of the Essex marshlands” – and a number of tales involving horses and carts affected by witchcraft. One wonders whether Mr London had heard some of these tales before he sat down to compose his tale.

Centre disc label

The poem begins: “Should ye ever goo in a pub called Kickin’ Dickey, down Dingie ‘underd way” which is curious as we find no record of a pub with this name in the area. There is a pub called Kicking Dickey in Great Dunmow in Essex, but this is decidedly not in the Dengie Hundred. However, ‘dickey’ is a dialect term for donkey, so could it be that locals used Kickin’ Dickey as a nickname for the White Horse in Southminster, or Mundon, or even the village of Dengie?

If you know, let us know.

Essex at War on film

We were lucky enough to have Chris Church of Wire Frame Media film at Essex at War, 1914-1918 at Hylands House on Sunday 14 September, who has produced this fabulous short film capturing a flavour of the day. Have a watch for a snapshot of what went on, and if you came along see if you can spot yourself!

If you came along and would like to tell us what you thought of the day, do please fill in our short survey here.

Researching First World War servicemen

Has all the talk of the First World War this year got you curious about discovering your wartime ancestors’ stories? Or how about the stories behind the names on your local war memorials?

Tracing the stories of wartime servicemen can be challenging, but also fascinating, rewarding, and sometimes heartbreaking.

We have come up with some new advice sheets to help you trace wartime servicemen, along with case studies for the Army, Navy and Royal Flying Corps. Just click on the links below to download the sheets as PDFs.

Researching First World War servicemen

Army case study - Harry Lawrence Picking

Navy case study - Frank Herbert Mills

RFC case study - Kenneth Mathewson

 

A few other top tips:

You can access military records on Ancestry.co.uk free of charge in the ERO Searchroom or at any Essex Library.

If you are looking for someone who served in the Essex Regiment then the Essex Regiment Museum is a good place to visit or contact for information.

If you are looking for someone from Chelmsford who was killed in the armed forces during the war then see if they appear on www.chelmsfordwarmemorial.co.uk

You can always get in touch with us if you would like any further advice.

Essex at War, 1914-1918

I can’t believe it has finally come and gone – after 15 months in the planning, today was Essex at War at Hylands House. This was a big collaboration between ERO, Hylands House, Now the Last Poppy has Fallen, the Essex Regiment Museum, and many others. It’s always great to take the ERO out on the road to new locations, and we had a wonderful day meeting so many people. We hope that if you visited you enjoyed your day!

Essex Sounds Like…

For the past six months, we have been surveying people across Essex to ask them what they know about the Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA). The main aim of the exercise was to collect baseline data, so we will have some statistics to compare with similar surveys we plan to run after the You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place project. We hope this will demonstrate the impact of the project to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and that more people will be aware of us and have engaged with our treasure store of recordings.

We surveyed our long-suffering readers in the Searchroom, so frequently asked for feedback; visitors to events that we attended; and innocent passers-by who happened to be walking through High Chelmer Shopping Centre, Chelmsford on Saturday 1 March. We even roped in the aid of libraries and village agents to distribute our surveys. The end result was 185 surveys completed by people from near and far (even some from outside Essex snuck in).

Our main aim was to establish how many people had heard of the Essex Sound and Video Archive. Forty percent of the people who answered this question knew about the ESVA but had never used it, but another 54% had not even heard of us. We obviously have some work to do!

We collected demographic information about our participants, but we also took the opportunity to ask some more interesting questions about people’s perceptions of where they live.  Eighty-six percent of participants felt they belonged to some kind of community: mostly their town or village, but social or religious groups, neighbourhoods, and on-line communities also featured. Despite a few references to the stereotypes associated with Essex (thanks largely to a certain ITV television programme), most people had positive associations with the county. Several referred to it as home or felt rooted to it by family ties. Some mentioned its attractive features, such as the seaside, the countryside, the good travel links – and the fact that it’s not London. We hope to build on this  undercurrent of pride in the county by sharing what former residents have felt about their homeland, what they experienced, and what they felt moved to create in it.

The most interesting question to me was, ‘Which sounds represent where you live?’ Although it initially puzzled a few people, we eventually got some wonderful descriptions of the aural landscape of the county. The overwhelming majority of the responses were precisely what I would have identified in my own town: Essex sounds like traffic and birds.

We created a word cloud from all of the responses received: the bigger the word, the more times it was mentioned. How does the picture compare with your location?

sounds wordcloud aug 2014

Wordcloud of sounds associated with Essex, created with www.wordle.net

In the spirit of You Are Hear, we have a sound clip alternative:

At the moment the clip is just the words spoken aloud: the recording of the actual sounds will come once the project starts, with your help.

Thank you to everyone who completed a survey or helped to distribute them. Get in touch if you want to read more about the results.

Recording of the Month, September 2014: Mrs Cranwell’s Driving Test

Our Sound Archivist Martin Astell brings us another highlight from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

SA 47/1/1/4/1

This month’s recording highlights the principal joy of working with oral history. That is, the fact that it is about people. Everybody has a story to tell, but some tell them better than others. Mrs Irene Cranwell from the village of Chrishall in Essex falls into the category of characters whose personality bursts out of the recorded interview, and in this extract she describes her somewhat unusual driving test in Cambridge.

Irene Cranwell died in 2010 at the age of 99, having become a local celebrity through regular contributions to a BBC Cambridgeshire radio show. She had been a teacher at Chrishall village school and later worked at Barkway First School and Icknield Walk First School in Royston. She also, apparently, had an impressive knowledge of local history and started a museum in Chrishall based on her own collection.

When listening to oral history interviews we should not forget the contribution of the interviewer who, in this case, has created a relaxed and congenial atmosphere, allowing the interviewee to express herself in a free and uninhibited manner.