An Essex Quaker in Ireland 1710 – 11


Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex.  Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project.

At the end of the last post we left John Farmer living in Colchester.  He was a 43-year-old family man, a wool comber by trade and his wife Mary was working as a nurse.  They had two children, Mary Fulbig, Mary’s 20-year-old from her first marriage, and Ann, now about 8 years old. But John Farmer was also an itinerant Quaker minister who was regularly moved by Christ to travel, giving his testimony at inns and on the streets and he had already travelled widely in England, Scotland and in some of Ireland.

His journal says that in the 11th month of 1710 (January 1710/11) John Farmer received the  instruction of the Lord to travel to the West of Ireland where there were currently no Quaker meetings. Farmer went to Liverpool, taking ship and arriving in Dublin on 18th March 1710/11.  He travelled to the West of Ireland intending to hold meetings wherever he stopped.  But he was imprisoned twice at Castlebar, County Mayo by Justice George Bingham for holding meetings.

In Headford in County Galway, Farmer endured his first episode of charivari (protest by rough music) when he encountered a priest and some townspeople determined to stop his meeting at a local hall.  He reported glumly that the priest engaged a bagpipe player to interrupt proceedings:

‘ye priest instructed ye man to thrust his bagpipes in at ye window there he sounded to hinder ye people from hearing me speak. But ye people within thrust out ye pipe & shut ye window whereupon hee thrust it in at another but ye people thrust it out there also.  But he had a drunken souldier that assisted him in it by opening ye window again & again for him to thrust his bagpipe.’

Anonymous sketch of an 18th Century piper.

To the modern mind this episode is highly amusing. However the sober and godly John Farmer found the situation difficult, particularly as the priest then arranged a warrant for his arrest.  Farmer was much relieved when friendly townspeople advised his guide to take him out of town by another road and he ‘escaped ye snare which ye priest laid for me after hee saw his musicians were ineffectual’.

In Galway John Farmer was arrested again, having fallen out with the local priest Reverend Shaw, and all his notes, permission papers and certificates were confiscated before he was thrown into prison again.  He was forcibly removed from town by being placed on a boat which later came ashore in County Clare, where he held rather more successful meetings at Ennis, Quin and Sixmilebridge before moving on to Limerick where he preached at Bruff, Kilmallock, Tralee and Killarney and elsewhere.  Farmer finally returned to England via Wales, the West Country and the home counties where he had various meetings with Quaker friends and visited his family in Somerset to advise them of his plan to go to America.  He arrived home in Colchester on 9th July 1711.

So we leave John and Mary Farmer, and their girls Mary and Ann living quietly in Colchester, but not for much longer.  In my next post we will look at John Farmer’s exploits in pre-revolutionary America.

ERO’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Travel Journal from 18th-Century Summer Holiday


Abboristwith is a poor wretched Old Town, a Sea Port which makes it very well supply’d with fish … they might have a very great trade here but they are a very indolent Lazy kind of People here

These scathing comments about the town of Aberystwyth are taken from a journal of a tour through England and Wales in the 18th century (D/DMy 15M50/1325).  Although unimpressed by the town, the author did at least enjoy the view from nearby Rhugo (?) Hill from whence you have the finest prospect in the World … so that you have the View of St. George’s Channel almost all the way.

Digital image of page from handwritten travel journal
Travel journal opened to page showing description of Aberystwyth, 1741
(D/DMy 15M50/1325)

The diary begins in Oxford and the journey continues through Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Shropshire before entering into Wales via Hay on Wye.  The writer then visits most of the Welsh counties (except for what was then Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire), returning to England via ‘West Chester’ (Chester) and continuing through Lancashire and Yorkshire and then south to Hertfordshire and London.  On the way, he inspects castles, cathedrals and great houses ranging from the well-known (Powis Castle and Erddig, both now owned by the National Trust) to ‘Choffden Court’ (Shobdon Court, Herefordshire, now demolished). 

The journal makes no reference to Essex, but the author is presumably one of the Mildmay family of Chelmsford, since it came to us with a collection of their family papers.  We do not know with whom he travelled or the cost of any of his lodgings or meals – sadly this sort of information simply isn’t recorded. 

Only the day and month are recorded; we knew that it took place in late July and ended in late September, but could not be certain of the year.  Internet searches (not possible when the document was first deposited) enabled us to narrow down the period when the diary was written.

A reference to the then Bishop of Banger, Dr Herring, meant that we knew the author must have visited sometime between 1737 and 1743.  Checking against a perpetual calendar suggested the diary was written in 1741, but further cross-checking in Cheney’s Handbook of Dates indicates it was actually 1738.

The later 18th century saw a growing interest in tourism within Britain, made easier in part by improvements to roads through turnpike trusts and encouraged by an increase in guidebooks.  The volume is therefore early evidence of this enthusiasm for travel.

Colour engraving of Chelmsford Road, 1806
Chelmsford Road, 1806, published by M. Jones (I/Mb 74/1/144)

The document is on display in the Curiosity Cabinet in the Searchoom until September.

You can view the Curiosity Cabinet and more on our next public Searchroom tour, on 5 September at 10:30 a.m. This 45-minute tour will show you how to get the very best from the Record Office’s Searchroom and is ideal if you are just starting your research. Find out more and book online.

An Essex Quaker Goes Into the World -The Scottish Journey 1707-08

Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex.  Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project.

Before looking at the next phase of John Farmer’s life I wanted to look first at the complexities associated with the diaries or journals of people living before the 1750s.

The Wool Comber. Image from The Book of English Trades 1827.

In 1751 England and her empire, including the American colonies, still adhered to the old Julian calendar, which was now eleven days ahead of the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and in use in most of Catholic Europe. Years were counted from New Year’s Day being on March 25th, so for example 24th of March was in 1710 and March 25th was in 1711. In addition Quaker’s provided an extra difficulty as they refused to recognise the common names for days of the weeks, or months as they were associated with pagan deities or Roman emperors. So a Quaker would write a date as 1:2mo 1710 which was actually the 1st April 1710 as March was counted as the first month.

In 1751 this all changed when the British government decreed the Gregorian form of calendar was to be adopted and the year would be counted from 1st January 1752. At the 1751 London Meeting for Sufferings the Quakers issued a document advising Friends how to adjust to the new way of counting years but refused to acknowledge the naming of days and months as being based on ‘Popish Superstition’.i

London Meeting of the Sufferings Advice on Regulation Commencement of the Year, 1751, Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 53.

John Farmer’s Journal, stored at the Essex Record Office, is a handwritten account of one man’s travels in the eighteenth century taking the Quaker message to communities in Ireland, Scotland, America and even the Caribbean Islands. Because he was writing in the first quarter of the 18th Century he used old style dating , and the Quaker method for numbering days and months as described above. A first day is a Sunday, a first month is March, so I have calculated all dates into Common Era notation, and dual dated years for dates shown between January and March.

Farmer wrote the journal after he returned in 1714 from his first American journey. He was born in Somerset in 1667, brought up a Baptist, and almost immediately following his Baptism in 1684 he sought fellowship with the Quakers of Stogumber in Somerset and Cullompton in Devon and began work as an itinerant wool comber. He travelled throughout England with his trade before settling in Saffron Walden where he married a fellow Quaker, widow and nurse Mary Fulbigg in 1698 and started family life with his wife, her daughter Mary from her earlier marriage, and they were joined in 1701 by another daughter, Ann. However both John and his wife were also drawn to preaching the Quaker testimony and were prepared to travel many miles in the ministry.

John Farmer quotes numerous biblical tracts within his journal, but one resonates in particular as being his inspiration: “And he said unto ym go ye into all ye world & preach ye gospel to every creature.”ii Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 16, verse 15. And John Farmer certainly travelled far and wide to preach the gospel wherever he could.

The first section of his journal details his intention to have the book published, “for ye good of soules now and in future ages”. The second part details his religious testimony, his early life in Somerset before his conversion to Quakerism, and his struggles with keeping true to his faith. He goes on to describe his travels, alone or occasionally with his wife. He travelled throughout Britain and Ireland holding public meetings to preach his testimony, sometimes with disastrous and occasionally unwittingly humorous results.  The third section of the journal is an account of his journey through the eastern states of America, visiting Native American communities and travelling to the islands of the Caribbean, in an extraordinary expedition that lasted nearly 3 years. We will be looking at the various places he visited and the adventures he had in later posts.

In 1705 Farmer obtained a certificate giving the Thaxted Quaker Monthly Meeting’s blessing on his idea of travelling to ‘severall parts of England.”iii

Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry, dated 24th of 2nd mo 1705 (24th April 1705) Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 47 Bundle F5.

However when he asked the Saffron Walden Friends to approve his revised plan which was to now include Scotland and Ireland in 1706 he reported there was some opposition to the scheme. A letter in the Essex Record Office archive gives us a clue to the possible attitude of the Thaxted Friends. Written by John Mascall of Finchingfield and dated 25th 2nd month 1707 (25th April 1707) Mascall tells the monthly meeting that “Reciting the case of the Talents Given; to some more, some lesse, which everyone is fitfull to and not go beyond it” he had advised John Farmer to “weight a while… to exercise his talents nearer to home…”iv which must have been very disappointing to a man so desperate to take his testimony out into the world.

This delay led to John Farmer suffering what he saw as God’s chastisement for the delay with a 4-month long bout of piles, an affliction he described as ‘Himrodicall paine’. Clearly this was not a condition beneficial to long expeditions on horseback.

Eventually a certificate was issued by the Thaxted meeting in May 1707 , interestingly signed by both Mary Farmer and the previously doubtful John Mascall, and so John Farmer began his travels in earnest. He and Mary went to Nottingham, and then John went on alone to Scotland.

Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry, dated 29th of 3rd mo 1707 (29th May 1707) Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 47 Bundle F5.

Whilst in Durham on his way to Scotland John Farmer sent a loving letter to his wife Mary, dated 16th June 1707 where he asks her to send mail care of “Bartie Gibson the Blacksmith of Edinburgh”. He reminds Mary to keep the children reading the bible and “tell ym I would have them remember their creator & love him more than their Idolls”.vi

John made his first visit of six months to Ireland which he briefly covers in saying that he “attended all the meetings there and held several meeting at inns and on the street where people were attentive and civil.” He then headed back to Scotland again where he mentions preaching in Port Patrick, Stranraer, Govern, Ayr, Douglas and elsewhere. He complained some Scottish people were rude and in Penrith, Cumberland (Cumbria) he was assaulted at a Sunday meeting when: “the Divil raged & stired up a man to abuse mee by throwing dirt in my face & striking mee”vii

In Ormskirk John Farmer was imprisoned for a night by the Constable for holding a meeting in the street. From Lancashire where Mary met up again with her husband, the Farmers travelled homeward, stopping in London for the 1708 yearly meeting before going home to Colchester where they had now settled, and where they remained until January 1711 when the urge to travel struck John Farmer yet again.

In the next post we will look at Farmer’s 1711 visit to the West of Ireland, where he was not widely welcomed.


i London Meeting of Sufferings Advice on Regulating Commencement of the Year, 1751, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 52

ii John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p1

iii Thaxted Monthly Meeting Minutes 1705, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

iv Letter from John Mascall 1707, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

v Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry 1705, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

vi Letter from John Farmer to Mary Farmer Durham 1707 Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 51

vii John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p28 [1] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p28

Changing land usage in Essex

Archive Assistant Neil Wiffen reflects on the changing pattern of land usage and the historic value of meadows to the Essex landscape.

There is currently much in the media about climate change and environmental degradation. We hear on almost a daily basis about the threat to different ecosystems and landscapes, as well as about worldwide species loss. We in the UK are not immune, and subjects such as the loss of meadows and the threat to bees are now quite common topics of discussion. Recently the BBC reported that, ‘over 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, that’s a startling 7.5 million acres (3 million hectares). Species-rich grassland now only covers a mere 1% of the UK’s land area’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20150702-why-meadows-are-worth-saving).

What have bees and meadows got to do with the Essex Record Office (ERO), we hear you ask? Well, working among our wonderful archives we are used to seeing lost landscapes of the past as depicted in maps or described in documents – a land before industrial agriculture and large-scale urbanisation.

One important, almost universal feature of any parish’s landscape would have been that ‘species-rich grassland’ mentioned by the BBC. They were generally described as meadows, which the ERO’s trusty copy of the Oxford English Dictionary (1933) defines as, ‘a piece of land covered with grass that is mown for use as hay. In later use often extended to include any piece of grass land’ (pasture, on the other hand, was used for general grazing of livestock). Look at any tithe, enclosure or estate map and there the meadows will be, often listed and somewhere along the way appraised as well.

Part of 1609 map of White Roding showing meadowland
Extract from John Walker junior’s 1609 ‘trewe and perfect’ plan of the ‘landes belonging to the Mannor of Mascalls Bury … within the parish of White Roodinge’ (D/DC 27/1118). It depicts the ‘Longe’ and ‘Shorte’ meadows adjacent to the moated house. Another important aspect of the farm and household economy, the orchard, can also be seen close by the house. Do note the spelling of arable as ‘Eareable’ – one can almost hear the Essex accent across the centuries!

— An image of the same location from Google Satellite, 2019.

The importance of meadows to people in the past was immense, particularly before the introduction of fodder crops, such as turnips, through the 17th and 18th centuries. Meadows were mown for hay in summer which was then used to feed overwintering livestock. Therefore the amount of hay harvested determined the number of cattle that could be kept over-winter. So a good hay crop was an essential product of the agricultural year, with the whole community coming together to ensure it was harvested and stored successfully.

The high regard that meadows were held in can be seen by how they were valued. When the Escheator compiled the Inquisition Post Mortem (TNA, C 134/74/19) on the death of Nicholas Dengayne in 1322/3, his manors of Colne Engaine and Prested Hall (Feering) were valued. The 240 acres of arable land in the former was valued at 4 pence per acre, while 140 acres in the latter was 3 pence per acre. By comparison the 6 acres of mowing meadow at Colne Engaine and 5 acres at Prested Hall were all valued at 2 shillings per acre –  the equivalent of 24 pence per acre, or six to eight times the value of the arable land.

Quite what types of grasses and flowers these ‘traditional’ meadows were made up of is unknown, but we have to assume in an age before widespread use of agricultural chemicals they were very species rich with lots of insects as well. Not all ‘grassland’ was equal to a well-established meadow. By the 1930s 302,803 acres of ‘permanent grass’ was recorded in Essex (The Land of Britain: the Report of The Land Utilisation Survey of Britain part 82 Essex, copy  in ERO Library, Box 95), of which 92,300 was for hay – possibly this was mainly ancient meadows. The remaining 210,503 acres might not have been of the highest quality but rather a result of the agricultural depressions of pre and post First World War. This would have been the case with the 38,977 acres of ‘rough grazing’ – not all grassland was equal!

A local meadow in glorious technicolour! Along with various grasses there is knapweed, scabious and lady’s bedstraw. The honeyed aroma of the latter is intoxicating on a sunny day!

Now, we are beginning to appreciate our meadows once more and recognise their value as habitats to vital wildlife. While there has been a great loss of meadows, more are being planted, for example by conservation charity Plantlife. Perhaps our maps and documents will guide where new meadows could be sown?

What can you find out about your local landscape history? Check our introduction to the main sources for starting a place history, then come and explore what we have in our Searchroom.

Time for an Index: Essex Record Office in partnership with Ancestry.com

After a lot of work we are finally able to announce that the Essex Record Office, working alongside Ancestry.com have launched a new searchable index of the Essex parish registers. Searching for your Essex ancestors is now easier than ever!

In celebration of our new partnership with Ancestry.com, Edward Harris, Customer Service Team Lead, takes a look at some of the stories found in the pages of our parish registers. Read on for more information about what we have been working on with Ancestry.com.

D/P 94/1/1 – Parish register for St Mary the Virgin, Chelmsford.

The Parish Registers of England, containing as they do the records of baptisms, marriages and burials made by the Church of England are frequently the start and the backbone of a genealogist’s journey into family history. Prior to 1837 and the start of civil registration, they are essential for family history. Unfortunately they are all too often the end of that journey. When the next link cannot be made or one elusive great, great, great, great grandparent fails to materialise, it is usually normally the pages of a parish register that we are gazing at.

Despite the frustrations so many of us hardy researchers are well aware of, it cannot have escaped our notice that within this great national collection there are a countless stories. These stories provide snippets of the joys and sorrows of everyone, whether normal or extraordinary. They can be better than any soap opera but always tantalising because of what they often don’t tell us and the questions they can’t answer for us. We decided to take a retrospective look at some of the stories we have unearthed over the years at the Essex Record Office where a helpful curate or vicar has decided to provide us with a few extra snippits of information.

The parish burial register for St Mary the Virgin in Hatfield Broad Oak includes in its pages the sad and untimely death of 5 year old Betsy Rogers burnt to death, and two extraordinary marginal notes on that page give a clue as to how:

D/P 4/1/26 – The burial register for St Mary the Virgin, Hatfield Broad Oak showing the burial of Betsey Rogers.

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.

The register for Little Clacton contains a very sad and somewhat mysterious story dating from 1592, when a bride, Prudence Lambert, hanged herself the morning after her wedding to Clement Fenn.

D/P 80/1/1 – Marriage register for Little Clacton showing the marriage of Clement Fenn and Prudence Lambert.

Clement Fenn singleman, and Prudence the late wife of Nycholas Lambert, wch dwelt in Little Clacton Lodge; were maryed uppon Teusdaye [six], the xvth day of August; but the (most accursed creature), did the verye next morning, desperatelie hang her selfe, to the intolerable grieffe of her new maryed husband, and the dreadfull horror and astonishment of all the countrye.

Prudence’s burial is recorded two days later in the same register.

D/P 80/1/1 – Burial register for Little Clacton showing the burial of Prudence Fenn.

Prudence Fen, now the wife of Clem[e]nt Fen, and late the wife of the above named Nicholas Lambert; was buried out of the compas of Christian burial; in ye furthest syde of the churchyard northward; uppon the xviith daye of August; for that shee most accursedlie hanged her selfe.

A slightly happier story is found in the parish register from Ugley (one of Essex’s more esoteric place names) in 1759 which records the baptism of:

Anne daughter of John Grimshaw, a Sailor in the Dreadnought Man of War, & Jane his wife found in Labour in the Road, & taken care of by the Parish, was born June 27th & baptized July 7th

D/P 373/1/2 – baptism register for Ugley including Anne’s birth.

From these stories of life and death, to the sort of story that leaves family historians pulling out their hair in frustration.

In 1862 the baptism register for St Mary Magdalene in Harlow recorded the reason for its early closure. The registers had been removed from the church by the curate Revd William Raymond Scott who took them to Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands). The curate had travelled to accompany the new Bishop of Honolulu to the island, but also to chaperone 70 young women destined for a life in Australia.

The registers would survive a mutiny, make a brief stop at the Falkland islands and Australia before reaching Hawaii. Fortunately the registers did return to the church 2 years after leaving these shores and so are still available to researchers.

D/P 533/1/1 – parish register for Harlow with note explaining closure of registers.

Fortunately, provided the register in question isn’t on a voyage around the world, searching the Essex parish registers is now easier than ever!

Since 2011, the Record Office’s service Essex Archives Online (www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk) has been making Church of England parish registers – and some other documents – available as digital images. Off-site, this works as a subscription scheme, offering various lengths of subscription between 1 day and 1 year. Some documents on the system, such as wills, come with their own name indexes, but the parish registers do not. Subscribers looking for a particular baptism, marriage or burial have often had to work through a whole parish year by year.

The ERO has now teamed up with Ancestry, the world’s largest online commercial family history website, to offer a new way to access the data. Ancestry have created a name index to the parish register images, and Ancestry users can click straight through from the index to Essex Archives Online in order to buy a copy of the indexed image. Images are emailed out automatically on payment; each one costs £2.99 including VAT.

Essex Archives Online expands as new registers are deposited, but currently it holds about 600,000 images of Anglican parish registers deposited either in the ERO itself or in Waltham Forest Archives. The registers cover the whole of the present county of Essex, including Southend and Thurrock – and also including parts of north-east London that used to be in Essex. Depending on the parish and the event in question, they cover the whole period from 1538 almost up to the present day. Ancestry’s new index covers all the baptisms up to 100 years ago; all the marriages up to 84 years ago; and all deposited burial registers, whatever their date.

For those with large family trees to discover the subscription option is still available, but for anyone who needs an image now and again the new system is easier, quicker and cheaper!

John Farmer: An Essex Quaker in the New World

Julie Miller, a master’s student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex.  Julie will be publishing a series of updates during the 12-week project.

John Farmer was born near Taunton in 1667 to Particular Baptist preacher Isaac Farmer and his wife Jane.  He learned a trade as a wool-comber and by the age of 18 he was travelling with his trade and seeking his faith along the way.  He accidentally found himself in a Quaker meeting house in 1685 and heard Jasper Ball speak and he knew he had found the faith he was looking for.  He married the Saffron Walden widow and Quaker preacher Mary Fulbigg (neé Wyatt) on 27th May 1698 and settled into married life in Essex.  On 1st May 1701 their daughter Ann was born.

So far so normal.

But John Farmer was a man who liked to travel.  His were not the random wanderings of a feckless young man, but the journeys of a dedicated Quaker who lived to share his religious faith wherever he could be heard. As he writes in his own words:

It hath pleased the (ye) Lord to make use of me as an Instrument to
preach his Everlasting Gosple (sic) so much as that I have at several times spent about
6 years & 6 months time & have travelled about 29200 miles by land
& sea in England Wales Scotland Irland (sic) North America & the
West Indies in it.

Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714 p 6. – D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 50

Fortunately, the Society of Friends in Thaxted and Saffron Walden held a comprehensive archive which has now been accessioned to the Essex Record Office and the handwritten testimony of John Farmer’s life and journeying in the Quaker faith along with his journal of his travels in America 1711 – 1714 were bound in a single volume and stored with associated papers for us to enjoy over 300 years later.

The opening pages of the Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 51

The Quaker faith was based on a personal relationship with God, with no intervention from a priest.  They believed their actions were based on instruction received from God which made Himself known by bringing awareness of an Inner Light during silent prayer.   Thus, John Farmer wrote his own testament of faith and shared it at meetings throughout Britain, Holland and America.  He met with Native Americans and survived illness and injury on his first journey before returning to England to write up his experiences. Later he returned to America and became a radical anti-slavery campaigner, was ejected from the Philadelphia Society of Friends and died at the age of about 57 in late 1724 in Germantown Pennsylvania.

Looking back at Essex on the Edge

Jennifer Ward – Essex’s pre-eminent medieval expert – looks back on ‘Essex on the Edge’ our fantastic conference back on the 18th May which examined Essex’s medieval history as a county on the Edge of England, London and rebellion.

The Essex Record Office Study Day this year took place on 18 May, and concentrated on new research being undertaken for Volume XII (on Harwich) of the Victoria County History of Essex, as well as on the Hundred Years War and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  It was organised by the Essex Record Office, the Victoria County History and the Friends of Historic Essex, and proved to be an enjoyable and informative day.  The lectures were excellent and have given us much to think about, and there was plenty of time for everyone there to meet and exchange news of ongoing research and other concerns.

The first lecture was given by Neil Wiffen of the Essex Record Office staff on Supplying the Army: the Contribution of Essex to Provisioning the Forces of Edward III, c. 1337.  Neil has long been interested in the Hundred Years War, and, as he pointed out, the provision of food and equipment for the soldiers has not been studied as much as the campaigns and battles.  Before the king departed on a campaign, orders were sent to the sheriff of each county to collect particular provisions and take them to the port of embarkation.  The list for Essex in 1337 included specific quantities of wheat, malt, bacon pigs and cheese.  The collection of these goods proved difficult as men were unwilling to hand over goods for which they might not be paid, goods might be scarce at a time of poor harvests, and/or the time between the order to the sheriff and the king’s departure might be too short to collect the goods.  Essex did not produce all the goods asked for in 1337, and this often happened in subsequent years as well.  It will be interesting to see if Neil’s work sparks off further research.

Herbert Eiden preparing for his paper about life in Fourteenth and Fifteenth century Harwich.

Neil was followed by Herbert Eiden, the deputy editor of the Victoria County History of Essex, speaking on Life in Fourteenth and Fifteenth-Century Harwich as seen through the Court Rolls.  Harwich was a ‘new town’ of the Middle Ages, first mentioned in the records in the mid-1190s.  A few court rolls survive for the fourteenth century and most of the rolls for the fifteenth century.  They throw light on law and order, the urban economy, and the links with the town’s lords, the dukes of Norfolk; both men and women appear in the rolls, involved in cases of robbery, housebreaking, wounding and the hue and cry.  The assize of bread and ale was enforced, and a licensing system evolved for the brewing of ale and beer.

After lunch, the editor of the Essex Victoria County History, Chris Thornton, spoke on Overseas Immigrants in Harwich in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries.  Interest in immigrants of the Middle Ages has grown since the universities of York and Sheffield published their national survey of English immigrants online, and a book has also been published.  These men and women were more numerous and settled in a greater number of places than used to be thought.  Immigrants from the Low Countries and Germany are found in Harwich, many working as servants, and also involved in crafts such as shoe-making.  The richest immigrants were often beer-brewers, often brewing beer with hops which lasted longer than English ale.  Although there was some resentment among the English, these men prospered and many settled for life in the town and brought up their children to whom they bequeathed their goods.

Speakers; Chris Thornton and Ken Crowe examining a map of Harwich ahead of their papers at Essex on the Edge.

Ken Crowe, the fourth speaker, is leading a group in Southend researching its history in the nineteenth and twentieth century for the Victoria County History.  For his lecture, Ken chose a topic from his own research, The Abbeys of Barking and Stratford Langthorne: Dissolution, Dismantling and Recycling.  Henry VIII claimed for himself all the material and goods from the monasteries dissolved in 1536-40, and the stone from these two houses was re-used in royal palaces.  Certain buildings remained on site untouched; we can still see the Curfew Tower at Barking, and at Stratford Langthorne  a chapel and the main gatehouse were not demolished until the nineteenth century.  At the present day, much of the site is covered by the railway.  The dismantling and later history of the monasteries has not been much studied, and the lecture gave us yet another insight into the possibilities of new research.

The Essex Record Office, Victoria County History and the Friends of Historic Essex are to be congratulated on the organisation and lectures of the study day. The audience was shown how new research is opening up familiar topics, and how local historians can build on these foundations and extend our knowledge of Essex history through their use of the documents at the Essex Record Office.   We look forward to learning more at future study days and wish the Record Office and the Victoria County History every success in their work.

Angels in the Barn at Stratford Langthorne Abbey

In todays post Ken Crowe gives us a tease of just some of the huge wealth of information he has gleaned during his investigations into the history of Stratford Langthorne Abbey ahead of his paper at our conference ‘Essex on the Edge’. Otherwise known as the Abbey of St. Mary’s or West Ham Abbey, this Cistercian foundation would survive from 1135 to the dissolution.

This is just one of the many stories Ken has unearthed.

I/MP 164/1/25 – Part of the Abbey of Stratford Langthorne can seen in this late 19th Century pamphlet. By this time only this small chapel and the gatehouse survived.

James Huddleston was a tenant of Stratford Langthorne Abbey, and lived in a tenement within the precincts. It is not know if he was a relation of the last Abbot, William Huddleston, but it seems very likely. In the mid-1530s he decided to travel north, to visit friends in Cumbria, taking his son (it seems by his first marriage) with him. Unfortunately he was taken ill while in Cumbria, and on his death-bed he told his son (it is alleged) that he had hidden a quantity of gold coins (angels or, as described by many contemporaries, angel-nobles) in a post in his barn within the abbey precincts.

Chris Thornton (left) and Ken Crowe (right) examining a 19th Century Ordinance Survey map of Harwich.

In the Bill of Complaint before Chancery, it is claimed that James told his son, on his return home to tell his mother where the coins were, so that she could convert them to land and property.

This case before Chancery, like so many, lacks an ending, so we will never know whether Miles (as he claimed) knew nothing of any gold coins, or, as his mother claimed, “he spoke nothing of the said gold but secretly went into the said barne where the said gold was hid and toke and bare awaye” the gold coins.

Although a story without an ending, it gives us a glimpse into one aspect of life among the tenants within the precincts –particularly in the days before banks!

Ken Crowe will be talking more about Stratford Langthorne Abbey at
‘Essex on the Edge-the experience of a county from the Hundred Years’ War to the Dissolution’ on the 18th May at the Essex Record Office. Click on the link to book your ticket!

At ‘Essex on the Edge’ there will also be an opportunity to a copy of ‘The Fighting Essex Soldier’ “an authoritative and often very entertaining account of Essex in the Hundred Years’ War” at a price of £15.00 reduced from £18.99 while stocks last.

From Chelmsford to Jamestown: the story of a bartered Essex bride

Can you help trace the family of a young Essex woman sent to Virginia 400 years ago and traded for tobacco as a planter’s bride? Historian Jennifer Potter, author of The Jamestown Brides, would like to hear from you.

In 1621, 27-year-old Ann Tanner from Chelmsford in Essex sailed to Virginia on the Marmaduke to find a husband in the New World. She joined a shipment of 56 brides dispatched to the colony by the near-bankrupt Virginia Company of London. This trade in ‘maids for wives’ was among several new ventures designed to attract investors. Husbands would be charged 150lbs of best-leaf tobacco, then valued at £25 – more than double the estimated cost of clothing and transporting each bride. But three months after the women arrived at Jamestown, an orchestrated attack by Virginian tribes wiped out between a quarter and a third of the entire English colony.

Ann Tanner may have been one of the lucky ones to survive. From papers held at Magdalene College Cambridge, we know that her father Clement Tanner was a husbandman living in Chelmsford; she also had a saddler cousin, Thomas Tanner, dwelling in Aldgate, London. As Jennifer explained in her lively talk to the Essex History Group, Ann Tanner may have married one of two recent arrivals to the colony: either Thomas Doughtie or Nicholas Baly; both men married women called Ann who had arrived on the Marmaduke in 1621. The two couples survived the Indian attack and by early 1625 were living at a settlement now called Flowerdew Hundred. Out of three eligible Anns, Tanner would have made the best planter’s wife: ‘She can spin and sew in blackwork, She can brew, and bake, make butter and cheese, and do housewifery.’

D/DM P1
Extract from John Walker’s 1591 map of Chelmsford (D/DM P1)

If you have any information about the Tanner family in Chelmsford, or Ann’s life in Virginia, please contact Jennifer through her website, www.jenniferpotter.co.uk, where you can find out more about the women’s story. The Jamestown Brides is published by Atlantic Books in the UK.

Gertrude, Gertrude, Who on earth is Gertrude?

Karen Dunn, a student at the University of Essex has explored the story of one almost forgotten Suffragette who just happens to have lived in Finchingfield!

The Suffrage Movement was so much more than the Pankhurst’s – Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia – and Millicent Fawcett. These are the names that instantly pop up when the word ‘suffragette’ is typed into Google; their names have been indelibly written in history, but what about the foot soldiers? Who were the thousands of women who stood shoulder to shoulder, many of whose names we shall probably never know?

One such women is Gertrude Mary Ansell (1861-1932), a successful businesswomen, she ran a typing bureau, she was an animal rights activist, secretary or treasurer to more than one animal society, and a member of the Fabian Women’s Group.

Gertrude joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906, she was forty-five years old. Her support of the Suffrage Movement, acts of militancy, arrests, hunger strikes and force-feeding remain relatively unknown, but her and thousands of women like her suffered these indignities for their cause. Gertrude’s own experience of the business world convinced her that women needed political freedom or their economic position would remain inadequate.

In February 1907 Gertrude joined a peaceful march organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, it was normal for women from other societies to march together, and in the same month she took part in WSPU demonstrations in Caxton Hall. By October 1908, Gertrude had become militant; she took part in a ‘raid’ on the House of Commons, and was arrested and sentenced to one month in Holloway Prison. In December 1908, dressed in her prison clothes, Gertrude joined other WSPU members to heckle David Lloyd-George at a Women’s Liberal Association meeting at the Albert Hall.

Gertrude continued to support animal societies. However, she promised at least one animal society that she would not take part in any militant suffrage action while working on the Dogs Exemption Bill and the Plumage Bill. Both of these acts were defeated in the House of Commons in the summer of 1913; Gertrude immediately began militant action.

On the 2 August 1913 Gertrude began a one month’s sentence in Holloway Prison for smashing a window in the Home Office; she immediately began a hunger strike and was released under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’.

Gertrude somehow managed to avoid being arrested again to complete her sentence, but seeing as how she was finally re-arrested on 30 October 1913, outside Holborn Tube Station selling copies of the Suffragette; it can safely be assumed that she was not trying too hard!

Gertrude immediately began another hunger strike, and was released; she was re-arrested on 18 November 1913, and began another hunger strike; she was released again but this time managed to avoid re-arrest until 19 January 1914 and again went on hunger strike; this toing and froing between internment and release for suffragettes was why the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act became known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’.

On 12 May 1914, Gertrude visited the Royal Academy and attacked a picture of the Duke of Wellington with an axe. She was sentenced to six months imprisonment, and again, she immediately began a hunger strike. Despite not being released on this occasion she maintained her hunger strike which led to her being forcibly fed.

Gertrude was released from prison on 10 August 1914 under amnesty at the outbreak of the First World. She had been forcibly fed two hundred and thirty-six times. The WSPU gave women who went on hunger strike medals, silver bars were added for every hunger strike undertaken in prison, and the enamel bars represented periods of force feeding.

During the war, militant campaigning was suspended; the Pankhurst’s and Fawcett all supported the war effort. When the war was over, some women were given the vote, but not all. Gertrude Ansell would have been one of the women who received the vote. It would be another ten years before all women became eligible to vote.

After 1918, there is very little to be found out about Gertrude, she never married, she moved to Finchingfield, Essex and following an operation for gall stones, died in Saffron Walden General Hospital on 7 March 1932. There can be no doubt that women would one day have the vote, but without the likes of Gertrude Mary Ansell, and thousands of women like her, it would have taken a lot longer to achieve.

It is women like Gertrude who are the ‘unsung heroes’ of the Suffragette Movement and who deserve to be remembered for their sacrifices to the emancipation of women.