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’.
Bride and groom leaving Widford Church with a scout guard of honour, 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.
Wedding party with a biplane in front of Hylands House, May 1912
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.
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.
Mr Claude Grahame-White and Miss Dorothy Taylor on a biplane, 1912
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.
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
Written by Hilda Grieve in 1954, “Examples of English Handwriting” is an illuminating 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.
One of our most popular titles is: “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.
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:
Gules, 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.
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.
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.
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 (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!
The home-grown tomato season is coming to an end and to mark this, ERO Archive Assistant and vegetable patch correspondent Neil Wiffen, delves into the history of the tomato.
Tomatoes in season are one of the joys of summer, especially
if you can grow your own which, warm from the greenhouse, are a delight to eat.
In our modern world they are available all year round, but this is a rather
recent phenomenon, as with so many of our salad and soft fruit crops. It’s
really only in the last 40 or so years that they have become such staple fare
for before that, the cost of heating greenhouses was such that they were really
just another seasonal crop which came on during the summer. It has a
The tomato, which is really a fruit, originates in South
America, back to at least the eight century, and its name derives from two
Nahuatl words for ‘swelling fruit’ – xitomatl and centtomati. It
arrived in Europe sometime in the mid-sixteenth century where it was known in
Italy as pomi d’oro (golden apple), with the first English reference
being recorded in 1578. Several names were recorded by this stage including Poma
Amoris and pommes d’amour – the love apple. It is likely that this
was a corruption of an earlier name, possible the Spanish pome dei Moro,
the ‘apple of the Moors’ (T. Musgrave, Heritage Fruits & Vegetables
(London, 2012), p.120). Philip Miller, writing in the early eighteenth century (P.
Miller, The Gardeners Dictionary (London, 1731): ERO, D/DU 588/1) called
them Love-Apples, a name which was still in use, although now subordinate to
‘tomato’, when Mrs Beeton was writing in the mid-nineteenth century (I.M.
Beeton, The Book of Household Management (London, 1861, p.252). At the
end of that century, it was still listed thus by Cramphorns in their catalogue
of 1898 (ERO, A10506 Box 7).
The tomato didn’t get off to a flying start as it was treated with suspicion, it being related, along with the potato and aubergine, to the poisonous deadly nightshade.
It took until the later nineteenth century to become more acceptable, which might have had something to do with the spread of greenhouses from the big country houses to more general growers. Tomatoes will grow outside in our climate but growing them in greenhouse will give a much better chance of successful harvest and fuller flavoured fruits.
It might also have had something to do with the Victorian mania for growing and propagating all sorts of fruits and vegetables, along with the proliferation of magazines and newspapers related to gardening which helped to spread information about new ideas and new plants, while the postal and railway systems allowed seedsmen and nursery gardeners to easily send catalogues and packets of seeds throughout the country.
It was not only private gardeners who were growing all sorts of fruit and vegetables. Urban populations were growing and needed feeding and there was a proliferation of market gardens on the outskirts of larger towns, from the later years of the nineteenth century to the 1980s. And it was here that market-gardeners and growers were producing tomatoes, earlier on grown as an outdoor crop but over time growing under glass, for local sale via a network of green grocers. However, for larger growers with access to a railway station, or later via road haulage, the massive London market was accessible. Tomatoes were not listed in 1850 among the ‘Principal kinds of vegetables sold at the London Markets’, although 260 tons of asparagus, 300 tons of marrows and a staggering 4,150 tons of turnip tops were (G. Dodd, The Food of London; a sketch (London, 1856), p.387).
The hey-day of Essex grown tomatoes was probably from the 1920s to the 1980s, although more research could really be undertaken on this subject. The rise of foreign imports, from large Dutch growers and Spanish producers, along with the decline of local retail outlets, due to the growth of supermarket chains, very much put an end small market-gardeners and growers.
To see what commercial tomato growing looked like in the early 1980s do take a look at the Essex Educational Video Unit production showing the processes involved in the commercial production of tomatoes as carried out at Spenhawk Nurseries, Hawkwell (ERO, VA 3/8/11/1):
In the last few years ‘heritage’ tomatoes have become quite common in shops and supermarkets, with fruits of different shapes, sizes and colours, very different from the post-war period when they were almost exclusively red. This is not a modern phenomenon, for Miller describes red and yellow fruits, small cherry ‘shap’d’ tomatoes and ‘hard, channell’d fruits’, possibly what we might recognise as lobed, maybe beefsteak tomatoes. Cramphorns advertised 20 varieties in 1898, which included red and yellow varieties along with cherry and currant sized fruits and the ‘irregular’ shaped President Garfield, although it was of ‘good quality’.
Of particular interest is the Dedham Favourite – was this a locally raised variety and does it still exist out there?
By 1962, 12 varieties were listed, including the well-known and comparatively recent Moneymaker but also including the older Golden Sunrise (c.1890) and Harbinger (c.1910). A special tomato,’ Cramphorn’s own Wonder of Essex headed the list. In the catalogue for 1975 eight varieties were listed.
And how to deal with a tomato? Miller states that ‘The Italians
and Spaniards eat these Apples, as we do Cucumbers, with Pepper, Oil and
Salt, and some eat them stew’d in Sauces, &c’. Meanwhile, Mrs Beeton,
says they are:
chiefly used in soups, sauces, and gravies. It is sometimes served to table roasted or boiled [into submission?], and when green, makes a good ketchup or pickle. In its unripe state, it is esteemed as excellent sauce for roast goose or pork, and when quite ripe, a good store sauce may be prepared from it.
An interesting use as an acidic sauce to accompany goose or
pork, perhaps replacing cooking apples before they were in season? The other
curious thing about these recipes is that the tomatoes are all cooked or
processed in some way. Where we regularly eat them as a salad, here they are
cooked – perhaps a hang-over from the suspicious way they were treated when
Writing about tomatoes is one thing, but it’s being able to
taste them that counts! Recently the massed ranks of the ERO staff were treated
to a ‘blind’ tomato tasting of seven different varieties, some modern, some old.
It was very gratifying to see that the old variety Harbinger, first listed over
a century ago, was the outright winner with seven votes (eight if you include
the outdoor grown version):
Golden Sunrise: 0
Artisan Bumble Bee mix:
Indigo Blue Berries: 0
Gardeners Delight: 2
Chocolate Pear: 1
Harbinger (out-door, pot
The eagle-eyed among you will surely have noted though, that
Golden Sunrise, the oldest known variety grown, received no votes, so age isn’t
While Mrs Beeton might not have mentioned bruschetta, it’s
one of my favourite ways of eating tomatoes, so I treated the staff to a taste
to celebrate the flavour of locally grown toms!
So, if you have any stories to share about tomato growing in Essex, or market gardening in the county (an under-researched and known about topic in my mind), then do a leave a message below. There’s still lots to learn about their culture in the county. And, if you fancy growing any of the tomatoes mentioned above (and I really recommend the Harbinger as a very good ‘doer’) in 2024, then a quick search of the internet will find many suppliers from whom you can purchase some seed. Just remember not to over-water and to pick out the side shoots. But hey, this isn’t Gardeners Question Time but a history blog, you’ll work it out!!!
July 2023 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the composer William Byrd, who for over 25 years lived in Stondon Massey.
Byrd was a recusant Catholic who refused to attend the services of the Church of England. While living at Stondon Massey, Byrd composed two books of illegal Latin religious music known as the ‘Gradualia’. The first set of 1605 was dedicated to the Earl of Northampton, and the second set dated 1607 was dedicated to Byrd’s great friend and patron, Lord Petre of Writtle who lived nearby at Ingatestone Hall.
According to a household inventory dated 1608, the Petre family possessed “2 sets of Mr Byrd’s books intituled Gradualia, the first and second set”, as well as other books containing “songs” by the composer (Edwards, A C. John Petre (1975), p.138). All the pieces were probably tried out at Ingatestone Hall before publication.
At the ERO we are fortunate to have two books from the household of John, 1st Baron Petre (1549-1614) that feature music written by Byrd. Dating from around 1590, these are known as part books, as they only show one part of the composition – in this case the part for the bass singers.
Byrd’s motet Ne irascaris Domine, dating from 1589, is one of the pieces included in the Petre part books. Dating from 1589, its Latin title means ‘Be not angry O Lord’. Here it is performed by Southend-based chamber choir Gaudeamus:
William Byrd successfully managed to navigate the intrigues of being a Catholic in late Elizabethan and early Stuart England, being about 82 years old when he died. His wonderful music lives on.
With thanks to Andrew Smith. To find out more, read our previous blog post on music in the archives, which delves deeper into the music the Petre family would’ve enjoyed at Thorndon Hall and Ingatestone Hall during this period, and another post by archivist Lawrence Barker on the part book and Byrd’s Ne irascaris Domine motet.
One of the castles that is featuring in our forthcoming
conference, Above and Below: the archaeology and history of Essex castles,
is Pleshey. Set in the rolling Essex countryside, with it’s encompassing town
enclosure, Pleshey is a classic motte and bailey castle. Not only is it a good
looker but it was also at the centre of some extraordinary events, something
which its current peaceful nature might belie.
We asked Nick Wickenden, one of the speakers on Pleshey and
current President of the Essex Society for Archaeology & History, to give
us a taste of Pleshey’s interesting past.
‘Yes, the history of Pleshey is absolutely fascinating and I could go on but I will keep this very brief! Firstly, on Christmas Eve 1215, French mercenaries, acting on behalf of King John, took the Castle. So much for his acceptance of the Magna Carta! And secondly, in 1397, Dick Whittington, in his role as Mayor of London, arrived at Pleshey to escort the Duke of Gloucester away – ultimately to his doom. It is not known whether he was accompanied by his cat, but many animals will feature in the talk.’
“So far as destroying the world was concerned, well, you might just as well try to disturb a charging hippopotamus by throwing a baked bean at it.”
Patrick Moore on Halley’s Comet, Colchester Hospital Radio, 1986
Until the end of the nineteenth century, most astronomical research in Britain was funded and carried out by private individuals of independent means. There were several such individuals based in Essex, including Revd. James Pound, his nephew Revd. James Bradley, and Joseph Gurney Barclay.
The Revd. James Pound (1669-1724) was Rector of Wanstead, then in Essex, between 1707 and 1720. During this time he made various planetary observations, at first with a 15-foot telescope and then with a 123-foot ‘object glass’ telescope, which the Royal Society lent to him in 1717. The telescope was constructed by Christian Huygens and mounted in Wanstead Park on a maypole that had just been removed from the Strand and presented to Pound by Sir Isaac Newton. Pound’s observations of Jupiter, Saturn, and their satellites were used by several eminent scientists, including Edmond Halley – more on him later.
Revd. Pound tutored his nephew, James Bradley (1693-1762), in astronomy, with many of Bradley’s early observations made jointly with his uncle at Wanstead. In 1718 Bradley followed Pound in becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society, and after Pound’s death in 1724 he continued to make observations from Wanstead at the Grove, the house to which his aunt had moved in her widowhood. Here he installed an instrument even the Observatory at Greenwich didn’t possess: a zenith sector of 12 ½ radius and 12 ½ º. When he left Wanstead in 1732 he left the zenith sector in place, frequently returning to carry out his research, which led to him succeeding Halley as Astronomer Royal in 1742. His research culminated in the discovery of two major phenomena: the aberration of light and nutation (wobbling) of the Earth’s axis. In 1749 Bradley moved the zenith sector to Greenwich, where it can still be seen today.
In the autumn of 1854, over a century after James Pound and James Bradley were conducting their research in Wanstead, Joseph Gurney Barclay (1816-1898) set up an observatory at his home in Knotts Green, Leyton. The ERO Library has two volumes of his Astronomical Observations published in 1865 and 1870. These include details about the observatory and its equipment as well as the observations of double-stars, planets and comets. He writes:
My Observatory is erected in the midst of the pleasure-grounds which surround my residence at Leyton, in Essex, about six miles N.E. from the City of London; its position being 51o 34’ 34” N. latitude and oh om oS.87 W. longitude, and about ninety feet above the level of the sea. The building consists of a quadrangular room, sixteen feet square, surmounted by a wooden dome, covered with copper and lined with American cloth, which I found prevented the internal condensation of vapour; it revolves on gun-metal wheels connected by a ring (in mechanical phraseology a “live-ring”).
Barclay employed the services of professional astronomers: first Herman Romberg, who left in 1864 to take up a position in the Berlin Observatory; then Charles Talmage, who wrote up Romberg’s observations for the English press and continued the work of recording “Planetary and Cometic Observations” from Knotts Green. Although comets were recorded from this observatory, none were Halley’s Comet.
Amongst the astronomical phenomena recorded from Barclay’s Leyton observatory were comets. Prior to Edmond Halley’s work, comets were widely thought to be unique objects that passed through the solar system once and then disappeared forever. Using Isaac Newton’s laws of gravitation and planetary motion, Halley calculated the orbits of several comets. He noticed that the orbits of three particularly bright comets observed in 1531, 1607, and 1682 were strikingly similar, and proposed that these three comets were, in fact, the same object making periodic returns to the inner solar system. Based on his calculations, Halley predicted that this comet would return in 1758. The comet did return as he had anticipated, but Halley died in 1742 so did not see his prediction proved accurate. To honour Halley’s ground-breaking work, this comet was later named Halley’s Comet.
Astronomers have now linked Halley’s comet to observations dating back more than 2,000 years. One such observation is its appearance in the Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
As seen by the recordings of Halley’s Comet over the centuries, comets and other celestial events really capture people’s attention. Several of the diaries and personal papers looked after at the ERO have references to Halley’s Comet in 1910. In her memories of her youth in Great Waltham, Mildred Joslin recalls seeing Halley’s Comet with her family (catalogue ref: T/P 306/1 page 9):
I remember seeing Hayley’s [sic] Comet, we stood in the road at the bottom of South St, looking towards the school; it came from the right, where Cherry Garden Estate is now, but in those days it was a field. I also well remember standing in the road with my parents and several other people looking at what seemed to be flames in the sky; someone said they were the Northern Lights.
George H. Rose (1882-1956), a talented artist, working chiefly in water colours, kept diaries which present a vivid picture his youth spent his live sketching, going to art exhibitions and concerts, piano-playing, singing in his lodgings – and seeing Halley’s Comet. His entry for 18 May 1910 reads:
Fine weather. Thunderstorms nearly every night this week, owing, I believe, to Halley’s Comet which approaches nearest to the earth today. Mildred is very much alarmed at it. I, it seems, an unable to keep away from the scenes of National mourning and tonight went to watch the people passing into Westminster Hall, where the mortal remains of King Edward VII now lie in State.
Rose mentions that his companion, Mildred, was “very much alarmed” by the comet. There had been much anticipation for the comet’s arrival in the press and the belief that it was an omen did cause fear in some people, intensified by the death of King Edward VII just days before the comet arrived. It also came especially close to Earth on this occasion: so close that on 19 May 1910, Earth passed through its tail. This was the first time that the Halley’s Comet was photographed and that spectroscopic analysis could be carried out. It was also discovered that the toxic gas cyanogen was present in the tail. This led the astronomer Camille Flammarion to claim that, when Earth passed through it, this gas would lead to an end of life on Earth..
Rose, however, didn’t seem particularly impressed by the comet, writing on 23 May 1910:
The weather was grand all day, and after a visit to Robersons for some more sepia and some REED PENS I drifted to the Heath and there at last learned how to use these pens. Later after moonrise I stood among the crowd on the other side looking at the comet. There was a large crowd for such a little sight.
I remember studying Halley’s Comet at primary school when it returned in 1986. It was a very exciting topic, even though the view of the comet on this occasion wasn’t as good as in 1910. In the Colchester Hospital Radio archive – one of several hospital radio archives preserved in the Essex Sound and Video Archive – is an interview with the well-known astronomy writer, researcher, radio commentator and television presenter Patrick Moore (1923-2012). In the recording, Moore reassures listeners that a comet striking Earth would cause local damage but “so far as destroying the world was concerned, well, you might just as well try to disturb a charging hippopotamus by throwing a baked bean at it”.
Nowadays, astronomers can now see Halley’s Comet
at any point in its orbit, but the next time it will be visible from Earth with
the naked eye will be in 2061.
In this guest blog historian Richard Till explains how the discovery of a small document in the Thaxted community archive and recently deposited at the ERO, has provided the missing piece of the puzzle relating to chantry land in Thaxted.
on for a hundred years ago, its origins lost in the mists of time, an archive
was established in Thaxted. It was thought to be important, but no-one quite
knew why. A committee was established, but little ensued other than a decision
to lodge it in the roof of the chantry, its boxes unread and unopened.
1980s proved to be a turning point. Thaxted’s charities, Yardleys and Hunts
handed over their material to the Essex Record Office. Some of the archive may
have been handed over at the same time, but no-one knows for sure.
the spring of 2023 and everything changed. The archive was removed to Thaxted’s
Guildhall and a very competent local historian asked to index its contents.
Shortly afterwards he contacted me. In a foolscap envelope initialled by
Thaxted’s “Red Vicar”, Conrad Noel, there was a parchment document replete with
seal. I had it transcribed and handed a copy to the archive.
document was an indenture from 1551 and it solved a minor mystery. In 1548
commissioners had visited Thaxted to implement the reformation. They had
dismissed the chantry priest and sold the chantry with its 20 acres of land to
two freemen of the City of London. (ERO, D/DHT T534).
the early 17th Century, Yardleys Charity’s accounts (ERO, T/P 99/2)
showed that at some stage, the chantry, with its land, had been repatriated and
bought for the town by the then vicar, Thomas Crosby. It had been used
thereafter as an alms house and by 1615 had been handed over to a charity
headed by the mayor.
newly found indenture solved the problem. In 1551, the chantry had been sold
back to a local landowner, William Gace, thence, after a further sale, to
indenture along with its transcript is now in the possession of the Essex Record
Office and they have kindly provided a photo of the original for the archive.
I’m not holding my breath, but more may follow!
As mentioned above, a transcription translated from the original Latin was kindly deposited with the document and can be read below:
May all men now and in the future know that we Thomas Moore of the City of London, mercer, and Elizabeth, my wife, have demised and enfeoffed, and by this our present charter, have confirmed to William Gace of Thaxted in the county of Essex, yeoman, one messuage, two gardens and other lands and pastures called Buckynghams, and all the lands and pastures with their appurtenances, containing by estimation twenty acres of land, more or less, whereby they shall be now or in the future in farm or in the occupation of William Gace, situate and lying in Thaxted aforesaid, formerly belonging to the chantry called Thaxted Chantry, not long ago part or belonging or parcel of the possessions of the said late chantry, formerly being reputed or known as such. To have and to hold the aforesaid messuage, lands, pastures and the rest of the premises with their appurtenances to the aforesaid William Gace, his heirs and assigns, to the proper use of the said Gace, his heirs and assigns forever. To be held of our now king, his heirs and successors, as of his manor of East Greenwich in the county of Kent by fealty as in free socage and not in chief, for all other rents and services and demands whatsoever. And assuredly we the aforesaid Thomas Moore and Elizabeth and our heirs will guarantee and defend forever by these presents the aforesaid messuage, lands, pastures and the rest of the premises with their appurtenances to the aforesaid William Gace, his heirs and assigns, to the use aforesaid, against us the said Thomas Moore and Elizabeth and our heirs and against a certain Thomas Hayelbarne and a certain Thomas Grande and their heirs. And may those above know that we the said Thomas More and Elizabeth have assigned, appointed and established in our place our well beloved in Christ William Spyman and John Gace the elder as our true and faithful attorneys, together and separately for the entering on our behalf and in our names into the aforesaid messuage, lands, pastures and the rest of the premises with their appurtenances, and full and peaceful possession and seisin to be taken therein. And after this possession and seisin therein so taken and had, to deliver full and peaceful possession of and in the aforesaid messuage, lands and the rest of the premises with their appurtenances to the aforesaid William Gace on our behalf in our names, according to the force, form and effect of this our present charter. All whichever of our attorneys or any one of them will do, in our name, in the premises or any part of them, is approved and will be approved. In witness of which we have attached our seals to this present charter, given on the eighth day of May in the fifth year of the reign of Edward the sixth , by the grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, and supreme head of the Church of England and Ireland
Below: by me Thomas More
(Back) (presumably endorsed on the above) Seisin and possession of this charter has been well, publicly and peacefully taken on the day and in the year within written and was delivered by the within named William Spilman and John Gace the elder in the presence of Richard Fanne, John Gawber, Thomas Savedge, William Fanne, the elder and John Pledger with others.
Tho. More his deede to Gace of Buckinghams and 20 Acares of Land to it belonginge More & wife to Gace: Feoffment of Buckinghams
We would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all our wonderful volunteers who regularly donate their time and expertise to help with our archives and sound collections and assist in the conservation studio.
The conservation volunteers have just entered the final stages of the Chancellor Project under the guidance of our Senior Conservator, Diane Taylor.
Frederic Chancellor (1825-1918) was a prolific architect with offices in Chelmsford, Essex and London. He was the first Mayor of Chelmsford and served seven terms in the role between 1888 and 1906 and was on the Town Council from 1854-1917. His home, Bellefield House, New London Road, Chelmsford, has a blue plaque for him. Chancellor is credited with working on at least 700 buildings, over 500 of which are in Essex. He worked on all types of buildings from private houses to public buildings such as the Felsted School and the Corn Exchange on Tindal Square in Chelmsford which was demolished in 1969 to make way for the High Chelmer redevelopment. He was also involved with most of the churches in Essex.
Although there was public demand to see his plans, their condition made them unsuitable for production, highlighting the need to make the entire collection more accessible through cleaning, repair and suitable packaging. Since 2014, 535 bundles totalling over 8500 individual plans have been processed and are now available to consult in the ERO Searchroom – a fantastic achievement made possible with a grant from The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and the support of the amazing volunteers.
Chancellor’s plans are beautifully produced, and many of them are highly coloured. Most are on paper, but there are some on fragile tracing paper, tracing cloth and some are blueprints.
When the plans arrive in the Conservation studio they are carefully removed from their packaging, unrolled, given a unique number, and recorded on a spreadsheet – this enables them to be tracked through the treatment process.
Every plan is surface cleaned by volunteers who are fully trained to identify problems such as pencil inscriptions, and delicate and crumbly paper, which will make cleaning difficult. Once clean, the plans are humidified so that they can be flattened. Flattening the plans is a time-consuming process which takes at least two weeks. Plans with sufficient damage to warrant repair – around 37% – are treated by the conservation staff and assisted by a trained volunteer.
After flattening and any necessary repairs, the plans are stored in folders or plan chests depending on their size. To date, 36 small boxes, 25 large boxes, 4 tubes, and 48 A0 plan chest drawers have been filled with completed Chancellor plans. This project could not have been so productive without the continued dedication of volunteers who have gifted 7996 hours of time so far. A wide range of people have worked on the plans including retired people with an active interest in history; newly qualified archivists; those exploring a potential future career in archives, whether as an archivist or conservator; work experience students and interns.
Our volunteers are committed to completing the sequence of Essex plans which will take us to an estimated total of 10,000 plans being preserved for future generations and made available researchers to consult which will be a fantastic achievement.
The Chancellor plans in this project can be found on our online catalogue here: Chancellor, Architects of Chelmsford, although his plans can be found in other collections throughout the ERO’s holdings.