We Will Remember Them: North Primary School Roll of Honour

This guest post is written by Laura Davison, project officer for We Will Remember Them. This HLF-funded school project has used documents stored at ERO and included a visit to ERO for the pupils involved.

Year 5 pupils at North Primary School in Colchester are working on the year-long project We Will Remember Them, researching the lives of the 50 former pupils who volunteered or were conscripted for action in the First World War. This innovative project explores how the discovery of locally relevant histories can engage and inspire pupils in responding to moments in the history of the First Word War.

The project was initially inspired by entries in the school’s log book written by the Head Master John Harper on 9 July 1915 and 11 November 1919:

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Entry into the North Primary School log book by Head Master John Harper, describing a Roll of Honour which was to be hung permanently in the school hall, recording the names of former pupils who were serving with the armed forces in the First World War (EML 86/2)

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Another entry by Harper, describing the observance of two minutes of silence on 11 November, and a display of photographs of the 50 men from the school who lost their lives in the way (E/ML 86/2)

The whereabouts of the Roll of Honour, installed in the school hall in 1915, is unknown.  The funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for We Will Remember Them will enable the school re-instate the Roll of Honour, restoring this object of heritage to its original setting within the school’s Grade II listed building. This will be supported by a showcase exhibition, publication and teachers’ pack narrating the untold stories of the former pupils’ lives and how they were affected by the First World War.

Headteacher Alan Garnett discusses the impact of the project for the school:

This history project captures all our past, present and future. The children are often told that our school is more than just a magnificent building – it is the stories of all its former pupils and staff. To work with a local historian to uncover the stories of those who lost their lives in that terrible war will bring national and local history alive to our pupils. And to have our Roll Of Honour re-made and restored to its rightful place in our school hall, well that will be a proud moment indeed.

The Year 5 pupils have worked with Historian Claire Driver to research and record the former pupils. All the hard work has paid off, as they have identified sixty-two pupils who served and died in the First World War. Each pupil is paired with a former pupil to develop individual case study. Claire has shown them how to use archive records from the School Log Book, the 1901 and 1911 census and military records. Using the 1897 map of Colchester, they have plotted where all the former pupils lived and identified what shops were in Colchester High Street in 1914.  Gradually a picture is being formed of what it was like to live in Colchester 100 years ago.

Some of the fascinating facts the census records revealed were:

  • People’s jobs – fishmongers, bakers, railway porters, tailors, police constables and printing apprentices
  • How many people lived in a house – in some cases  up to 11 people lived in a 2 bedroom Victorian terrace house
  •  Some of the pupils even came from the workhouse at St Mary’s

The children have been on an amazing journey building up an understanding of the social context of the school to promote awareness of their lives in the context of the First World War and the impact it had on the school and its locality.

school trip 9 Pupils visit Colchester's War Memorial and discuss the symboliic meaning of the sculptures. They used 1897 maps to make comparisons of what the site looked like 100 years ago

Visiting Colchester’s War Memorial

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Identifying 4 former pupils on the Roll of Honour in St Peter’s Church, Colchester

An Open Day was held at the school, inviting local residents and families to get involved with the project and share their family stories and memories from the First World War passed down through generations.

open day 1Visitors looking at ERO WW1 exhibition

Visitors enjoy the EROs WW1 exhibition loaned for the Open Day

open day 4 Year 5 Teacher Maria Gray discusses the project with Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell

The children are so proud to be working on this project because it really happened in our school. Year 5 Teacher Maria Gray discusses the project with Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell

Recently, the pupils visited Essex Record Office to view the collections and discover how historians use archives to support their research. Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer at ERO and project Historian Claire Driver introduced the pupils to the wealth of material available from the collections and explained how to use a range of historical sources to find out what life was like during WWI. The children were able to ask questions about their former pupil and in some cases looked on Ancestry too.

They focused on the two fascinating stories of the nurse Kate Luard and soldier Alf Webb using sound archives, letters and an interesting range of hands-on activities which even included bandaging at a WWI dressing station.

Using different historical sources, such as photographs, sound recordings, letters and even the original admissions register and log book from our school from over 100 years ago, the pupils were able to uncover more information about life during World War One. Maria Gray, Year 5 Teacher

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Following on from the research, the pupils are now working with Creative Writer Baden Prince to creatively narrate in their own words each soldier’s individual story.  They will then work with Photographer Georgia Metaxas to document their homes, making comparisons with then and now.

Do you have any information to help our research?

If you have any information or images in relation to North Primary School during the First World War please contact Laura Davison, Project Manager at northwewillrememberthem@outlook.com

We Will Remember Them project has been made possible by the funding award from Heritage Lotter Fund’s First World War: then and now programme.

If you are planning your own First World War schools project and would like to use ERO resources or need advice, please get in touch with heritage.education@essex.gov.uk

Logos

Threatened Collections

Project logoYou Are Hear: sound and a sense of place is the Essex Sound and Video Archive project which aims to digitise, catalogue, and share our collections, helping people connect with the county’s rich heritage through listening to the sounds of the past.

Cataloguing our recordings raises awareness of the wonderful stories and variety of musical traditions we have waiting to be discovered. Sharing our collections is in itself a worthwhile aim. However, the digitisation process is an equally significant part of the project. Without this step, our unique, irreplaceable audio collections could be lost forever.

Written records on paper or parchment are subject to threats like acidic inks eating away at paper, rusty staples wearing holes in documents, or mould forming where items have been stored in damp conditions. But if we assess the condition, rectify any problems, and keep the records stored in a stable environment, we can at least slow any further deterioration, if not stop it.

Sound and video recordings are another matter. The extreme flammability of nitrate film (used from 1895 to 1951) is well-known. Acetate film is also unstable, though less dangerous. Even with more stable polyester-based film and magnetic tape, there is a risk of deterioration as the chemicals used in the manufacturing process break down. Another danger with magnetic tape is that the base layer can become separated from the binder layer. Every playback of a tape recording puts it at risk. As for CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs, no one really knows about the long-term preservation of these, because they have not been around for long enough for us to find out (though we fear the worst).

A deteriorating reel of tape showing signs of 'spoking' (the tape shrinking and becoming tighter, pulling it taut around the centre of the reel, causing lines of tension to radiate out from the centre) and 'cupping' (the tape on the outer edges rolling in on itself)

A deteriorating reel of tape showing signs of ‘spoking’ (the tape shrinking and becoming tighter, pulling it taut around the centre of the reel, causing lines of tension to radiate out from the centre) and ‘cupping’ (the tape on the outer edges rolling in on itself)

As well as the risk of deterioration, obsolescence is another problem. Even if you have never before seen a book, you could work out how to access the information relatively quickly. But how do you access the information on a CD without a CD player? Do you have stacks of cassette tapes or cine-film reels hiding in your loft, with no way of playing them? We are carefully nursing our playback facilities so we can keep accessing these different formats, but the risk of equipment failure is high. Parts will inevitably wear out, but replacements are no longer being manufactured, and machines are no longer being supported by the suppliers. At the same time, the technical expertise to maintain the equipment is dying out as the commercial audio-visual industry moves on to digital formats.

The answer is digitisation. Unlike with written records, where the original record is easier to maintain in the long-term than electronic bits and bytes of scanned copies, with sound and video records, those electronic bits and bytes are our best hope. We can at least capture the information from obsolete formats before losing it, and then work on managing the digital versions to ensure continued access.

You Are Hear is not alone in addressing the need to digitise sound and video collections. Recently Rebekah Polding from Film London delivered a talk to the Essex History Group on the London’s Screen Archives project. This project brings together partners from local archive services, specialist institutions, private owners, and businesses that are based in London, to pool resources and ensure the city’s films are identified, saved through digitisation, and shared. They are even making some of them freely available on-line. You can find out more here.

The project is calling for anyone with films of London (including Greater London), or taken by Londoners, to donate it to the project. Get in touch with them (and us!) if you have something sitting in storage that is crying out to be saved, perhaps like this film of the annual Brandon Estate (Southwark) outing to Canvey Island in 1970:

As if trying to capture all the film about the capital city was not ambitious enough, the British Library has recently announced its new project, Save our Sounds, to try to preserve the sound heritage of the whole nation. A national audit will give a clearer picture of the extent and condition of sound archives across the country. The British Library will then be able to offer advice and discuss potential ways forward with partner institutions. You can find out more about the project here.

Edison ‘Concert’ wax cylinders in the collections of the British Library – find out more at here. Image courtesy of the British Library.

If you would like to sample just a few of the BL recordings and get a sense of their vast range, have a listen to these clips on their SoundCloud:

We are just about to submit our second-round application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to proceed with the You Are Hear project. You can subscribe to receive updates about the project here.

In the meantime, please do let us know if you have any sound or video recordings relating to Essex – we are always on the look-out for material to add to our collections. We also offer a commercial digitisation service if you have recordings at risk which you want preserved. We would be happy to discuss the options with you.

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Document of the Month, February 2015: Grant of rights in the Forest of Essex, c.1135-1138

The earliest document we look after at ERO is over 1,000 years old – but it is nothing to do with Essex. February’s Document of the Month is our oldest Essex document, a deed dating to c.1135-1138 (D/DBa T2/4).

D-DBa T2-4 - 1

The deed is a grant of rights in the forest of Essex given by William de Monfichet and his wife Margaret to Humphrey, son of Eustace de Barentun.  His father had previously held the rights in this deed.  The grant is one of a series of this approximate date made to Eustace and Humphrey de Barentun by the Earl of Essex and William de Monfichet, which followed similar grants by the King.

The de Barentuns, later the Barrington family of Barrington Hall in Hatfield Broad Oak, were the hereditary woodwards or keepers of Hatfield Forest.  At this date the Barringtons were a minor family compared to the great barons who were descended from William the Conqueror’s most loyal supporters.

William de Monfichet and his wife Margaret were the grandchildren of two of the Conqueror’s supporters – Robert Gernon and Richard (de Clare) son of Gilbert, both of whom were well rewarded with extensive landholdings recorded in Domesday Book.  The Monfichets held lands in Essex, including at Stansted Mountfitchet and claimed the hereditary right to be Keeper or Forester of the Royal Forest of Essex.  William’s great-grandson Richard de Montfichet was one of the 25 Magna Carta barons chosen to ensure that King John abided by the terms of the charter.

Even if you do not read Latin, see how many recognisable words you can make out. Look out for ‘Will’ (short for William), Umfredo (Humphrey), filio (son), Estach (Eustace), forestie (forest), Exsexie (Essex), and Margarite…

The deed will be on display in the Searchroom throughout February 2015.

Tiny books

Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer

Recently I was looking for examples of early printed works in our collections, and came across D/DDc F10 – two boxes full of bibles and prayer books that belonged to the Du Cane family of Braxted Park. Most date from the eighteenth century, but some are earlier and many contain written inscriptions telling us who they were owned by.

IMG_5403I happen to like things in miniature, so my eyes were quickly drawn to this prayer book, which is one of the smallest in the collection, and contains correspondingly tiny type. It has now had a special folder made for it to give it some extra protection when stored back in its box.

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I had already enjoyed my first find, so imagine how much more excited I got on discovering this next book – even tinier at just 2.5 inches high.

IMG_5407It is a book of psalms written in a kind of shorthand developed by a man named Jeremiah Rich.

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Our Conservator has also made a special folder for this extra tiny book, again to give it some extra protection when it is stored with its larger neighbours.

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The book was originally stored in this scruffy envelope inside the box, so the new folder is a considerable improvement!

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Both books are now neatly and safely wrapped up in their new folders ready to go back into their box and back into store.

IMG_5429If you are a fan of books, why not join one of our bookbinding workshops to make your own book using traditional techniques? The next course begins on 2 March 2015 – details can be found on our events page.

The experience of death and burial in Hatfield Broad Oak, 1827-1832

By archivist Lawrence Barker

Whenever we give talks to people about parish records and their use in family history research, we make the point that some burial registers can give extra information about the deceased in addition to the bare details of name, date and age, and sometimes record background historical information.

A case in point is the burial register for Hatfield Broad Oak, 1813-1859 (D/P 4/1/26), which was deposited with us in November 2011.  Most of the register confines itself to recording the bare minimum details of name, abode, when buried, age and by whom the ceremony was performed, as stipulated under the terms of ‘Rose’s Act’ of 1812, which stated that “amending the Manner and Form of keeping and of preserving Registers of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials of His Majesty’s Subjects in the several Parishes and Places in England, will greatly facilitate the Proof of Pedigrees of Persons claiming to be entitled to Real or Personal Estates, and otherwise of great public Benefit and Advantage”.

Nevertheless, even though the information is basic, we can still build up a picture of the demography of death in Hatfield Broad Oak which tells us something about what life might have been like then.

Chart - deaths in Hatfield Broad Oak

Pie chart showing age at death in Hatfield Broad Oak, 1827-1832, taken from the parish register. A total of 200 deaths are recorded during this period, and over 80 of them were children under 10 years old.

For example, looking at the ages of those buried (above), one forgets just how high the infant mortality rate used to be before improvements were brought about by modern hygiene and medical practice, and how likely it was having survived birth you might not have survived much beyond early childhood.  The register shows that, out of the 200 or so burials which took place between 1827 and 1832 in Hatfield Broad Oak, 80 of them (40%) were of children aged 10 or under.  At the other end of the scale, it shows also that only 20% of those buried reached what we would now consider as old age, i.e. over 60.

A lot depended upon the individual incumbent as to whether he was disposed to record additional information.  From May 1827, the new curate at Hatfield Broad Oak, John Robert Hopper, took it upon himself to start recording in the margin the cause of death of those he was burying and other information besides.  So, we find that a serious epidemic of typhoid carried off 25 children between September 1828 and June 1829, reaching a peak in January and February 1829 (below).

D-P 4-1-26 a

In 1830, it was measles that took 6 children in March and April and in 1831, 4 children died of whooping cough.  Throughout the period, 4 infants died of convulsions.

Typhoid, an indicator of impoverished and unhygienic living conditions, seems to have been a major cause of death during the period, with 37 cases, followed by a condition described rather vaguely as ‘decline’ which accounted for 23 deaths.  A few died of consumption or of ‘inflammation of the bowels’ or of dropsy.  One 52 year old died of cancer in 1832.  Two were simply found dead in their beds and one woman aged 27 was found dead in a field on Sunday 30th March 1831 – the verdict that she died of apoplexy.

Occasionally, a fatal accident is recorded as the cause of death.  In November 1828, a 64 year old Edward Bird ‘fell thro’ 2 floors of Mr P Sullivan’s malting, Heath and died a day or 2 after’.  Another died in July 1832 of ‘old age arrested by a fall down stairs’.  In May 1830, one Patterson Parker ‘accidentally shot himself’.

Later that same year in July, a Royal Naval Lieutenant, George Berkley Love, visiting from Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, was working in the Park of Barrington Hall when he ‘accidentally cut himself thro’ the lower third of the thigh with a scythe’ and bled to death in 5 minutes.  J. R. Hopper records that an oak tree was planted soon afterwards to mark the spot where the accident occurred.

Earlier that year in February, poor little 5 year old Betsy Rogers burnt to death, and two extraordinary marginal notes on that page give a clue as to how (below):

Feb.y 7.  A frost of 7 weeks broke up today.  Temperature 12° below freezing point! Many persons frozen to death. One at Gt Canfield, one at Sawbridgeworth.

The seat of Lord Rendlesham (Rendlesham Hall, Suffolk) burnt to the ground, damage = 100,000£; The seat of Lord Sandwich (Hinchinbroke, Huntingdonshire) also destroyed by fire with title deeds, fine pictures, etc.; The Argyle Rooms, Regent St, London also destroyed by fire. Lyceam also…All in Jan.y in Feb.y arising from the unusual heating of flues etc. in consequence of the uncommon severity of the season.

D-P 4-1-26 b crop

If you would like to find out more about parish registers and how they can help you with your research, come along to our next Discover: Parish Registers workshop on Thursday 12 March 2015, 2.30pm-4.30pmTickets are £10.00, please book in advance on 033301 32500. Full details can be found on our events page.

If you are interested in booking a talk with one of our Archivists, on parish registers or another subject, please get in touch with us on ero.enquiry[@]essex.gov.uk

Essex Book Festival: interview with Jonathan Swan, author of Chelmsford in the Great War

Ahead of his talk at ERO as part of the Essex Book Festival, we caught up with author Jonathan Swan, whose new book Chelmsford in the Great War is just about to be published. Join us for Jonathan’s talk on his book Chelmsford in the Great War on Saturday 14 March, 11.00am-12.30pm. Tickets £6, please book in advance on 033301 32500.

 

How did you come to write Chelmsford in the Great War?

Not quite sure! I have been researching First World War military medicine for a number of years and during negotiations with Pen & Sword Publishing my editor happened to mention a major series they were commissioning, “[Your Town] in the Great War”. This sounded interesting, so I spent a weekend in the library to see if there was enough material and sent in a proposal. And eighteen months later we have a book!

Chelmsford in the Great War

 

What sort of sources did you use to piece together your history of First World War Chelmsford, and where did you find them?

The library was my starting point, but Essex Record Office proved a great resource for maps, photographs and the wartime council minutes and other papers and records. Online resources such as the British Newspaper archive were invaluable.

 

What was the most surprising thing you found during your research?

Great War Chelmsford was so much smaller than it is today, and roads like the Parkway have completely altered the urban landscape. Not a huge surprise, but it made it difficult to understand how people moved around the town; the High Street was central to everything. The railway formed the western and northern boundary of the town and, as Basil Harrison put it in his “Duke Street Childhood”, the corner of Duke Street and Broomfield Road was the start of the countryside!

Ordnance Survey 6":1 mile map of Chelmsford, 1919 with 1938 revisions

Ordnance Survey 6″:1 mile map of Chelmsford, 1919 with 1938 revisions. The approximate outline of the modern city is shown in purple. Click for a larger version.

 

Are there any stories that you found during your research that have particularly stuck with you?

I’ve always been interested in local politics and democracy. In 1914 the council was made up of a number of unelected aldermen and a handful of councillors and they seemed to be incapable of civic leadership in the crisis – they didn’t believe in public air raid shelters, they didn’t want insurance for council property against bomb damage, they didn’t want public food kitchens, and there was a housing crisis because of all the additional munitions workers residing in the town and they did nothing about it. The high profile War Relief Fund did next to nothing because they didn’t think anyone merited assistance. The answer to any problem was to form yet another committee or subcommittee. And the idea of a conflict of interest appeared to have no meaning to them!

 

Chelmsford Brenda, the St Bernard dog who collected money for the Red Cross in Chelmsford during the First World War - one of the stories that Jonathan came across in his research (photo from scrapbook of Sir Richard Colvin, D/DU 787/4)

Chelmsford Brenda, the St Bernard dog who collected money for the Red Cross in Chelmsford during the First World War – one of the stories that Jonathan came across in his research (photo from scrapbook of Sir Richard Colvin, D/DU 787/4)

Do you have any family connections with the First World War?

My grandfather served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer. I followed in his footsteps by serving in the RAMC as a laboratory technician.

 

Is this your first book?

My first book was actually a text book on financial modelling, which is my day job. I’m currently working on the third edition. I’ve also written articles on corporate governance, local history, and military medicine.

 

Are you a full-time author?

I wish!

 

What is your connection with Chelmsford? We moved here from Newham in 2007. Both of my sons attended Boswells School. I spend some of my spare time interfering with the affairs of Essex County Council, Essex Police, Chelmsford College, and Anglia Ruskin University.

 

Where is your favourite place in Essex?

Anywhere I can go fishing!

 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of writing a history book?

A common mistake is to assume history is simply about dates and events. Good history books have a story to tell – it isn’t just what happened, it’s also why. And you must be selective: you will find fascinating little snippets about this or that, which may only amount to a sentence or two. I’ve left out a lot of material that didn’t really add any value – Corporal Rutland was tragically shot dead by his own pistol when showing it to a comrade in the Cherry Tree pub – interesting, but it doesn’t link to anything else. Conversely I’ve left out stories which merit a whole chapter or even a book of their own – Chelmsford teachers at war is a good example. A final point is that there are some very clever people out there, so make sure you can support any statements you make!

New Accession: Will of Benjamin Chipperton, 1795

The Friends of Historic Essex (FHE), the charity that supports the work of the ERO, has recently purchased for the ERO the will of Benjamin Chipperton of Little Bromley (to the north east of Colchester). While it is a modest will of a carpenter we are very pleased to receive it because we do not have a copy of his will in among the 70,000 or so wills that we look after. Thanks to their generosity it is now available for all to look at in the Searchroom. Since it arrived Archive Assistant Gail Sanders has been finding out more about Benjamin Chipperton…

After the  purchase of Benjamin Chipperton’s will (Acc. A14021 Box 1) written on the 28th August 1795, I have been able to draw up a family tree and look into a small part of village and family life in the late 18th and early 19th century. As mentioned below this document could be one of a number of documents that have been split up and I have been unable to pinpoint the exactly location of the messuages and cottages owned and mentioned in the will.

Gail - A14021 box 1 watermarked

Since there are so many Benjamin Chippertons involved in the tale below we shall refer to them as follows:

  • Benjamin senior – our main Benjamin’s father
  • Benjamin junior – the Benjamin who wrote the will at hand
  • Benjamin III – Benjamin junior’s son
  • Benjamin IV – Benjamin III’s son

Benjamin Chipperton junior was baptised on the 4th March 1738, the son of Benjamin Chipperton senior and his wife Elizabeth. Benjamin junior’s first wife was Susan Winter; together they had two sons, another Benjamin, and then James. Susan died a year after James’s birth. Benjamin junior remarried on 17 November 1774 to Hannah Cook of Little Bentley.

Benjamin junior’s will highlights his career as a carpenter, as the main items mentioned are his workshop and tools. It also makes clear his hope or expectation that his son Benjamin III would take over the business; he was left the family home, household goods, workshop and tools.

The will mentions only modest amounts of money: Benjamin junior left £1 to his wife for every year she lived but remained unmarried, and £5 to his second son James on the year of his death and the year after. The old money converter from the National Archives suggests that in the 1790s £1 was 6 days of a craftsman wages, and £5 was 33 days.

However, all was not to work out just as Benjamin junior might have planned. From the Little Bromley parish registers (viewable on Essex Ancestors) we learn that three generations of Chipperton men all died within five years: Benjamin Senior was buried on 23 September 1795, Benjamin junior died in 1798, and his son Benjamin III was buried on 15 June 1800.

Benjamin III was, however, survived by his son Benjamin IV (born 1799), with whom the family’s fortunes did revive a little. He survived to adulthood and married Maria Cook (her second husband) and went on to have a family of 7 children. He did, however, die in 1843 aged just 44. (Maria went on to marry her third husband, Robert Porter, and can be found on the 1851 census.)

If you have managed to keep up with all the Benjamins through to the end of this post then well done – and just as a bonus one of the witnesses to the will was also a Benjamin, although at least with a different last name (Carrington).

It appears that Benjamin junior’s will might be part of a bundle of documents that have been split up for sale, including a mortgage for a cottage and land in Little Bromley, 1795, and a lease for a carpenter’s workshop (now divided into two properties) and land in Great Bromley, 1827. Does anyone know of the whereabouts of these to help us add to the story of the Chipperton family? We’d love to hear from you! We can be contacted on ero.enquiry[@]essex.gov.uk

To support the work of the FHE, or if you would like to make a donation to their document purchase fund, please see: http://www.essexinfo.net/friends-of-historic-essex/

PS Remember that digital copies of more than half of our wills are now available to view on Essex Ancestors

The passing of the plotlands

Archivist Lawrence Barker takes a look at the rise and fall of the Basildon plotlands…

Anyone exploring the history of the development of Basildon New Town is quite likely to encounter the curious phenomenon of the ‘plotlands’.  These developed throughout the first half of the 20th century but were to more-or-less disappear with the development of Basildon New Town for which much of the land was purchased, compulsorily if necessary, during the 1970s.  The history of this process has recently generated quite a lot of interest (a talk given at ERO in April 2014 in April by Ken Porter proved to be the best-attended of the year).

In searching for original records for another project on the same subject, we uncovered many more previously hidden in the large collection associated with Basildon Development Corporation which was responsible for the creation of the New Town. The development of the plotlands had is origin in the decline of agriculture in this country during the second half 19th century.  In particular, cheaper grain imported from America in the mid 1870s knocked the bottom out of the grain market resulting in many farms switching to pasture.

Great Gubbins sale poster watermarkedSouth Essex, with its heavy clay soils which were more difficult and therefore more costly to work, was particularly hard hit.  On top of that, an extended period of bad weather finally finished off arable farming in south Essex.  Many farms collapsed and were sold off as cheap building land; farms such as Great Gubbins near Laindon.  The sales catalogue (left) and map (below) dating from 1885 (D/DS 4/20) shows the extent of the original farm land which was put up for sale.  Towards the bottom, one can see the proposed route for the new extension of the railway to Southend and the location of the new station to be built for Laindon. Great Gubbins sale map watermarked

It is interesting to compare how the same area looked 50 years later on an OS map in 1939 showing the plotlands landscape fully established (below, with Great Gubbins Farm outlined in red).

OS map new series 1939 81-9 watermarked Yet, little seems to have happened at first.  Another sales catalogue with map for the same land dated 1893 (D/DS 15/2) shows the vacant land this time split into 5 lots.

Laindon Station estate sale cat 1 watermarkedIt was the coming of the railway that seems to have boosted sales but not perhaps in the direction the vendors had originally hoped.  Records dating from the 1890s for the development of the neighbouring estate surrounding the new Laindon station (D/DS 4/35), called the Laindon Station Estate, include posters and catalogue (left) advertising cheap building land and show the aspiration held by the vendors Protheroe and Morris that the area would ‘shortly become an important residential neighbourhood’ served by shops and even featuring a new Essex racecourse.  This time the land was parcelled up into hundreds of smaller 20-by-140 foot plots (hence plotlands) which buyers could combine to create larger plots if they wished as shown on the accompanying map (below).

Laindon Station estate 1892 watermarked

Instead, although a new hotel and some shops were built near the station, most of the plots were bought up by hoards of ordinary folk as individuals who erected all kinds of chalets and shacks which they used as weekend retreats.  The pictures below were found among many such photographs in the first box of Basildon Development Corporation records (A9238) and demonstrate the variety of buildings erected by the plotlanders, in this case in Victoria Road on the former Great Gubbins farmland.

Victoria Road Photos watermarked Deanna Walker provides a fine first-hand account of the process in her book Basildon Plotlands published in 2001, where she describes her childhood memories as a resident of Dagenham spending weekends in the plotlands at Langdon Hills. Later still, many people replaced their shacks with more substantial bungalows and came to take up permanent residence. When the time came for the land to be designated for development for Basildon New Town, the Development Corporation commissioned surveys of the land which include maps of the various plots based on copies of large scale OS maps with each plot numbered, linked to a description, name, no. of rooms, condition, life, architectural quality, services (e.g water, sewerage, gas, electricity), rate value, condition of plot, and remarks (see below).  These have been catalogued as A/TB 1/8/10/1-14. Laindon Station estate 1949 watermarked Material uncovered Box no.1 of A9238 includes aerial photographs of the Basildon area prior to development of the New Town showing the plotlands, and later photographs showing the transformation from plotlands to new town.  For example, the photograph below shows how the streets planned for residential estates were created first with building following on after, and one can just detect a few remaining plotlands before they were obliterated. Baslidon Aerial Photo 1 watermarked Typically, people whose properties were affected were encouraged to accept the inevitable and take the initiative in coming to an agreement with the Development Corporation to sell their plot to them and so avoid compulsory purchase. A typical letter is one received by a plotland owner on 30 January 1962 which begins by outlining the Corporation’s intention to develop the area and that their property will be affected.  It then goes on to say that the Corporation has authority from the Minister of Housing and Local Government to:

…buy by agreement the land and property required for this redevelopment and it is hoped that you will be prepared to consider opening negotiations for the sale of your property by agreement to the Corporation.

The Corporation also offered to pay for legal costs, surveyors’ fees and ‘reasonable removal expenses’ if an agreement is reached and, in addition, to offer alternative accommodation. Not everyone was affected though.  Another box (no.33) includes individual case files of plotland properties which were not to be affected by the creation of the New Town and which possibly still exist today.

If you would like to find out more about plotlands for yourself, there is plenty of material to explore in the ERO archive and library.

New team member: Rachael Smith

Name: Rachael Smith

Role: Archive Assistant

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Why did you want to work at ERO?

I have always had an interest in history and my previous job with Essex Libraries gave me lots of skills that transfer well to ERO. I was first introduced to archive services whilst I was studying architecture at university; the vast resources available on historical buildings aided my studies immensely which gave me a real appreciation for archives.

 

Describe an average day at ERO for you:

I’m only just starting to experience what an average day is like as I started working at ERO during the annual stocktake, during which I met the rest of the ERO team and was introduced to the various tasks that are required to keep the Searchroom and the repositories in running order. I helped with jobs such as the creation of a photographic catalogue of the ECC art collection, and checking the physical contents of each shelf location against the digital record we have on Seax. My favourite day was when I spent time in conservation helping to clean the Fred Chancellor plans.

 

What do you do when you’re not at ERO?

I am a keen long distance runner, regularly running cross country. My passion is architecture and I love travelling to study buildings. I am from a family of artists so you’ll mostly find me drawing or painting, but I do also enjoy technical 2D and 3D drawing on various CAD programs. What most people don’t know about me is that I am on a darts team!

 

Can you tell us about an interesting document you have come across while at ERO?

This would have to be the Arbitrator’s Award map of Epping Forest (Q/RDe 1) that is due to be included in an outreach event in 2015. This is the largest map that I have ever seen at 30’6” by 12’9”. It was created in 1882 following the Epping Forest Act of 1880. It is fascinating to think about how long it must have taken to draw this map by hand.

 

Document of the month, January: A dark and stormy night in the Mediterranean, January 1815

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Among the anniversaries of 2015, the end of the Napoleonic Wars stands out.  The Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 ended almost a quarter of a century of warfare. On a smaller scale, it opened the delights of the Continent to a new generation of British travellers.

Clarissa Trant in 1829, by David Maclise Frontispiece to C.G. Luard (ed.), The journal of Clarissa Trant 1800-1832 (London 1924), which is available in the ERO Library.

Clarissa Trant in 1829, by David Maclise. Frontispiece to C.G. Luard (ed.), The journal of Clarissa Trant 1800-1832 (London 1924), which is available in the ERO Library.

Clarissa Trant, then aged 14, began this travel diary in January 1815, when Napoleon was still in temporary exile on the island of Elba. Her party embarked at Lisbon in a Danish galliot bound for Marseilles. By the 22nd the ship lay off Cape Palos, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, but that night a ‘dreadful gale’ blew up:

‘… It hailed, snowed, thundered & lightened – the sea washed at every moment into the cabin and a sudden motion of the vessel knocked the lamp with violence against the ceiling and left us in total darkness … We heard a very loud clap of thunder , and immediately after a scream from the sailors … the Captain … threw open the door of the cabin and exclaimed Oh Sir come on deck, the lightning has fallen on my vessel … – everyone on board thought the ship was on fire as the deck was full of smoke …’

Extract from Clarissa Trant's journal, January 1815 (D/DLu 16/1)

Extract from Clarissa Trant’s journal, January 1815 (D/DLu 16/1)

The cover of Clarissa Trant's travel journal (D/DLu 16/1)

The cover of Clarissa Trant’s travel journal (D/DLu 16/1)

In fact, the lightning had merely burned a hole in the mainsail and knocked some of the crew off their feet. The Trants sailed on – only to be approached on the 27th by what seemed to be a pirate ship from Algiers. Clarissa and her governess were hastily squeezed into a secret compartment meant for smuggling contraband. The ‘pirates’ turned out to be ‘a few dirty harmless fishermen’, and on the 29th the Trants safely reached Marseilles. As they entered the harbour, Clarissa ‘felt almost as if I was coming into a new world’. It was at Marseilles that she heard the news of Napoleon’s escape.

After further adventures, Clarissa eventually married the Revd John Bramston, vicar of Great Baddow, but she was not to reach old age, dying at Witham in 1844. Her diary descended through her daughter Clara to the Luard family before being deposited in the ERO in 1970.

Clarissa’s diary will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout January 2015.