Document of the Month, November 2017: Minna Bradhurst’s First World War scrapbook

Our Document of the Month for November 2017 is a scrapbook created during the First World War, which was recently purchased for the ERO by the Friends of Historic Essex. Caroline Wallace, a History MA student from the University of Essex, is currently undertaking a project to investigate its contents, and what it can tell us about life in Essex during the First World War.

Throughout the years which mark the centenary of the First World War, the Friends of Historic Essex, the charity which supports the Essex Record Office, are running the Essex Great War Archive Project. The project aims to collect First World War documents relating to Essex to add to the ERO archive so they can be preserved for current and future generations, and to conserve and highlight documents already within the collection.

The project has included purchasing relevant documents which have come up for sale, which otherwise would have remained within private collections. One such document is a scrapbook dating from 1915-1918 which was kept by Minna Evangeline Bradhurst of Rivenhall Place (now catalogued as Acc. A14491).

The book contains material from 1820 onwards, but primarily covers the First World War period from 1915 to 1918. This scrapbook is part of a set of four , the other three  all being in private hands, although the Essex Record Office does hold microfilm copies of them.

Minna was born in 1865 to an old Essex society family, the Woods. She married Augustus Maunsell Bradhurst, an American, in 1893, and the following year the couple had their only child, a daughter, Christine (sometimes known as Heaven). In later life, one of Minna’s contemporaries described her as ‘a most amusing and delightful lady, of great character, and always dressed as through for a Buckingham Palace garden party’.

The scrapbook includes much of Minna’s life which was not war-related; for example, several pages are dedicated to press cuttings about her own wedding, detailing the outfits of the bridal party, the gifts given, and the names of those who attended.

The majority of the book, however, dates from the war years. During the time that she was compiling this scrapbook, Minna witnessed the impact of the First World War on her family, society and the country. As a lady of independent means, and with time on her hands, Minna’s scrapbooks cover every aspect of her life. They hold a detailed, and personal, account of what she held to be important; the society people she took an interest in, any mention of her family in the local and national newspapers (numerous pages are dedicated to such press cuttings), photographs of loved ones and of interesting places, invitations, tickets, concert programmes, and letters that delivered both good and bad news.

Minna was the niece of Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood, one of the highest  ranking, most experienced and well-known military men of the age. Minna took a great interest in her uncle’s career and achievements, and included a huge number of press cuttings about him in her scrapbook. Another cutting describes Minna winning a silver cup at a fete in Ilford for being the Essex resident with the largest number of relatives involved in the war – 64 uncles, cousins and nephews were with the armed forces in one way or another, and several female relatives were engaged in various kinds of war work.

Large amounts of the volume are dedicated to the war work of Minna’s daughter, Christine, who was in her early 20s during the war years. Christine volunteered as a general service Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) worker at Earls Colne Auxiliary Hospital and put her considerable artistic talents to use putting together fundraising concerts and events to raise money for the Essex branch of the Red Cross Society. Not only did she organise these, but she also wrote many of the plays and songs, and performed them on stage. Included in the scrapbook are many of the concert programmes from these events.

Minna’s husband, Augustus Bradhurst, volunteered as a Special Constable, and later in the war became a naturalised Briton and joined the Essex Volunteer Regiment. The scrapbook includes several pictures of him in uniform and on maneuvers in the county, along with letters about his appointments.

The material in the scrapbook has suggested several avenues for further research, some of which will be published on this blog in the coming months.

The scrapbook will be on display in the Searchroom throughout November 2017.

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If you would like to find out more about life in Essex during the First World War, join us on Saturday 25 November 2017 for the Friends of Historic Essex Autumn Lecture, which will include two talks on the Essex coast during the First World War; find out more here.

If you have a First World War project of your own that you would like to get up and running, join us for a First World War project Discovery Day on Friday 8 November 2017; full details here.

 

Changing Perceptions, Changing Essex?

Recently our You Are Hear Project Officer, Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, has been cataloguing a collection of oral history interviews received from Epping Forest District Museum. The interviews were collected in 2004-2005 as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, called Changing Perceptions, which aimed to collect everyday accounts to illustrate how life in the district has changed over the twentieth century. Here Sarah-Joy shares some impressions from the recordings.

What do a farmer, a dentist, a magistrate, and a blacksmith have in common? No, this is not the start of a joke. The answer is that these were all people interviewed for Epping Forest District Museum’s Heritage Lottery Funded project, Changing Perceptions. The Museum kindly deposited copies of a selection of their interviews with us at the Essex Sound and Video Archive, and I have had the joy of cataloguing them (Series Reference SA 61/1/1).

The collection shares all of the wonderful features of any oral history interview: providing an intimate insight into the lives of everyday people, told in their own voices, ranging from amusing anecdotes to heartfelt memories. It also achieves its primary purpose of demonstrating exactly how much life has changed in the last century, even in the last fifty to sixty years. Even taking rose-tinted spectacles into account, a common impression running through the collection is of small towns and villages with a true community spirit, self-sufficient places with a range of shops and services and a real local character.

Photograph of Epping High Street, in what looks like the late nineteenth century

But one of the distinctive assets of this collection is its diversity. The interviewers spoke to a range of people: people from different parts of the UK, in different professions, with different backgrounds and experiences. Listening to these together forms a broader picture of the range of life within Epping Forest.

For instance, Bob Willis is a lively, frank character who was born in Suffolk in 1928 but moved to the Gaynes Park Estate, Coopersale when he was nine. He spent most of his working life at Cottis Ironworks. His interview (SA 61/1/1/5/1) gives interesting technical details about his work as a carpenter at the brickworks. It also reveals social information about the relationship between employer and employee.Then he unexpectedly casts light onto significant local events, such as the fire at Copped Hall (though he was not speaking from personal experience).

Print of Copped Hall, near Epping, which suffered a serious fire in 1917

 

The interview with retired dentists Alain Quaife and Graham Bond (SA 61/1/1/8/1) is very different. It also contains technical information about their occupation, but in the process gives a greater insight into social history. For starters, their accents are more polished: perhaps to be expected from their higher class, more educated backgrounds. They remark on changing trends in dental hygiene, exploring possible reasons for this, beyond better public awareness. While both interviewees have now been retired for over ten years, their comments about how the NHS operates, and the difference between private and public treatment, still provide an interesting insight today. A word of warning, though: some details of treatment, particularly in the early years, are so graphic they may give you virtual toothache.

 

Maureen Chalk (SA 61/1/1/4/1) and Jill Atlee (SA 61/1/1/7/1) both describe working at the Bank of England printing works in Debden, and about the experience of raising children in the area. As Jill’s interview reveals, as recently as the late 1970s, it was the norm that women left work to raise children, perhaps returning to work part-time when their children went to school. But this phase of motherhood provided some opportunities to socialise with other women in the same situation, as Maureen describes.

 

Some of the interviews might stir a response that prompts you to take action. After listening to Joyce Woods talk about her experience of serving as a magistrate (SA 61/1/1/9/1), might you consider volunteering for this valuable work? Do you have the qualities she lists as essential to being a good magistrate?

 

Or listen to the interview with retired farmer John Graham (SA 61/1/1/1/1), recorded in 2004. How does that make you feel about the state of the farming industry in Britain now?

 

The authentic stories of real people can be more persuasive than thousands of words of polemic in a newspaper feature or a commissioned report.

Do these interviews change your perceptions? Of Epping Forest, of certain professions, of life in the mid-twentieth century? And does that in turn make you reflect differently on your own neighbourhood, career, life? What will your children and grandchildren think of your Essex?

Thanks to our Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project, the full-length interviews can all be heard through our Essex Archives Online catalogue. Contact the Museum for access to recordings not deposited with us.

You can get further impressions of how life in Epping has changed by visiting the town’s own listening bench, located in the churchyard of St John the Baptist (St Johns Road off the High Street). Join us for the official unveiling of the bench on Saturday, 4 November 2017, at 3pm – which will still leave you time to get to the firework display of your choice!

Taking a walk into sound

Our You Are Hear project Sound and Video Digitiser, Catherine Norris, reflects on sound and why it matters ahead of our ‘Sounds in the City’ event on Friday 27 October 2017.

I’ve always been slightly obsessed with sound since I was very young. My very first bedroom growing up was positioned at the back of the house and the view from my window looked out onto a street lamp. One night I heard a buzzing sound and I thought it was in my room. I would have only been four or five years old but I distinctly remember checking under the bed and in the wardrobe as I was convinced there was a giant buzzing monster in there.

I then saw the light of the lamp and walked towards the window and realised that it was the lamp making the noise; it was hypnotising. Years later when training to be a sound engineer and learning about acoustics, I realised why I heard what I did and why it appeared to be such a strong sound.

The sound that I heard was affected by the environment it was being captured in. The fact that it was night time, that there was no traffic and no one walking around, the open casing around the lamp and the location would have all had an impact on the sound and amplified it.

There are many factors in play as to why we hear what we hear, and how and why the sounds around us change depending on what the environment is like and what else is happening within it.

I love how the outside of buildings can affect what we hear because of their shape and size, what they are made out of and how they can be a sound barrier. I also really like the contrast between man-made and natural sounds and how they can mix together.

Weather, traffic, wildlife and people all add to the soundscape we hear on a daily basis. But with many of us just rushing to get from A to B it is as if we tune out of what we could be listening to. This is a shame because there is so much out there to hear and discover.

Just over a year ago, as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project at the Essex Record Office, we launched the Essex Sounds map, made up of old and new sounds captured in Essex. This got me thinking about what else we could do to create sounds, which then led on to the idea of doing a sound walk somewhere in Essex. The sound walk would be a way of encouraging people to collect sounds and create their very own soundscapes.

This idea has now grown into a fully-fledged event taking place in the city of Chelmsford on Friday the 27th of October 2017, as part of the Ideas Festival and the Art of the Possible Festival. Chelmsford is a city that is forever changing and in soundscape terms is very interesting. It’s mixture of historic and modern buildings, nature and busy streets makes it the ideal place for a walk of this kind.

The morning session will include a talk on recording soundscapes, then the sound walk around parts of Chelmsford. During the sound walk we will be recording sounds at specific locations, with myself leading the walk and providing advice on recording techniques and acoustics and how to create the best recordings.

The afternoon session will include learning the basics of editing sound recordings with specialist software at the Essex Record Office.

You don’t need to have any previous experience with recording to come on the walk as training will be given throughout the event. We will also provide recording equipment to those not bringing their own. All you need to have is a passion or interest in sound (and suitable footwear!).

It’s going to be a very interesting event, and I’m looking forward to listening to all the sounds that get recorded on the day.

Date and time: Friday 27 October, 10.00am-4:30pm
Price: £20
Location: Meet at the Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT

Advance booking to our ‘Sounds in the City’ event is essential. Please book through our website, or contact us for further information.

Essex Country Houses

This guest blog post from Ben Cowell, Director General of the Historic Houses Association, is based on his talk on Essex country houses which he gave at the Essex History Group in September 2017. You can read more from Ben on his blog.

Essex is not particularly well known for its country houses. Yet there are far more of them than you might think.

The most famous is Audley End, an English Heritage property and arguably one of the country’s most important mansions. Audley End was principally built in 1605-1614, although the property that is seen today is around a third of its former size (the courtyard wings were pulled down in the 18th century). With rooms by Robert Adam and grounds by Capability Brown, Audley End certainly meets the criteria of a house of national importance.

Print of the principal front of Audley End in its original state (I/Mb 381/1/55)

Audley End today – the large principal court between the remaining building and the river was demolished in the eighteenth century

But what of Essex’s other houses? The National Trust doesn’t have a single mansion property in Essex – somewhere like Paycocke’s House at Coggeshall, charming as it is, is a sizeable merchant’s house rather than a country seat. However, the presence of a fair few Historic Houses Association (HHA) member properties alerts us to the fact that there were mansions all over the county, of which many still survive.

Map showing locations of country houses across Essex

HHA member houses in Essex include Layer Marney Tower, Ingatestone Hall, Hedingham Castle and Braxted Park. All of these houses are open to visits, or run for weddings and other events. Each is of genuine historical significance, and lived in by families who have an extended connection with their house stretching back many generations.

Hedingham Castle

The presence of so many HHA members in Essex is a sign of the attractiveness of the county as a place to site a country residence. Proximity to London, and to the major trading routes via the Thames, led to the decision of many landowners to construct substantial houses. Layer Marney was a remarkable gatehouse of the early 1520s, built from brick in an attempt to transpose Hampton Court to the Blackwater Estuary. Only Lord Marney’s death in 1523 put a brake on the ambitions behind the property. Henry VIII visited in August 1522, when on a royal progress that took in New Hall at Boreham too.

Layer Marney tower

There were plenty of houses built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Audley End may be the most famous, but in all I found 182 houses in total, many of them built between 1600 and 1800. They included huge palaces, such as Wanstead Park, built in 1715 only to be demolished (for its building materials) 110 years later. North and south of my home village of Newport are two substantial houses from the late 17th century, Shortgrove and Quendon, although the Shortgrove of today is a modern rebuilding of the house that was lost to fire in the 1960s.

Number of country houses in Essex demolished in each century, 1900-1989

The truth was that many houses were demolished – I counted 37 in total. The peak of these losses was in the 1950s, when an astonishing number of Essex mansions were either being pulled down because families were unable to keep them going (such as at Marks Hall and Easton Lodge), or were lost beneath the suburbs of east and north-east London.

Wanstead House, one of the largest houses ever built in Essex, which stood for just 110 years (I/Mp 388/1/20)

Nevertheless, many houses survived, and continue to survive, leaving their mark on Essex’s gentle rolling landscapes. Today, Essex country houses either survive through tourism (for which see the Essex houses and gardens website), or as wedding venues. Indeed, it might be said that the Essex wedding has been the saviour of many an Essex country house.

Document of the Month, October 2017: Ghost sighting at Castle Hedingham

Our Document of the Month for October tells of a dark happening. It is a letter written in 1713 that tells the tale of a ghost sighting.

The letter was written by Nicholas Jekyll of Castle Hedingham to Rev. William Holman of Halstead (D/Y 1/1/111/19). It is one of about 200 letters from Jekyll to Holman which are today at ERO, the earliest dating from 1711 and the latest to 1730.

Holman was collecting materials to write a history of Essex, and Jekyll was helping him by supplying information and commenting on his manuscripts. They did, however, sometimes correspond about other topics. In some letters Jekyll thanks Holman for gifts such as bottles of brandy and homemade elderberry wine, and in others discusses current affairs, or gives updates on members of his families who have emigrated to America.

This letter begins with mention of a book Jekyll was returning to Holman, and a request by Holman for Jekyll to do some research for him.

Jekyll’s handwriting is on the challenging side; if you see the letter while it is on display in our Searchroom you will find a transcript alongside it

The majority of the letter, however, describes the sighting of ‘an apparition of that wretched poor fellow who lately drowned himself’ near Jekyll’s house. Initially Jekyll was scornful of the report of ghost sighting, but believed he now had ‘unquestionable proof’ that it was true. The apparition had been seen ‘acting like a fellow in deep melancholly [sic]’ in the place where the man had drowned himself, before throwing itself into the water.

The letter will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout October 2017.


Harwich Society’s Memories Exchange Interviews

Recently, we have been uploading a collection of oral history interviews conducted by The Harwich Society between 2009 and 2014 (Catalogue Reference SA 49/1/2).

These twenty-four interviews are just the first instalment of an ongoing project to record the experiences of current and former residents of Harwich and Dovercourt. As with most collections of oral history interviews, they reveal shared experiences but also how life varied even in one town depending on personal circumstances.

Harwich Junior School (T/Z 241/1)

The playground of Harwich Junior School was flooded to a depth of 1½ metres (T/Z 241/1).

Most of the recordings touch on the 1953 flood. On the night of Saturday, 31 January, a storm surge caused the sea to overwhelm flood defences along the eastern coast of Britain. Harwich was one of the places affected, and the traumatic experience is unsurprisingly etched on the town’s corporate memory.

Even here, experiences varied. Some residents in Dovercourt only knew about it from news bulletins on the television. But in the Bathside area, the water rose to the first floor of people’s houses. Tom Bell and Danny Goswell, then young lads who belonged to the sailing club, were kept busy ‘fishing people out of houses’ in boats, ‘rowing around doing what we could’ (SA 49/1/2/12/1).

Evacuees sought refuge in the drill hall, where the Salvation Army was handing out blankets and cups of tea, before being billeted with family members or kind-hearted strangers with rooms to spare. The water took a week to recede, and the houses were permanently damaged. Ruby Cooper-Keeble recalls how they lost all their possessions. By the time the family moved back to the house, it had been cleaned out and redecorated, but the smell ‘stayed with it for years and years’, and ‘you could actually scrape the salt off the [wall]paper’ as it seeped out of the walls, residue from the sea salt water that flooded the home (SA 49/1/2/9/1). But as a child, she still saw the ordeal as something of an ‘adventure’.

Some people, such as Mr and Mrs Moore, never moved back (SA 49/1/2/14/1).

The interviews are full of memorable details that bring the event to life: tables laid for breakfast that neatly settled back into place once the water receded; the vigour of local hero Leonard ‘Pummie’ Rose in organising the rescue operations. The stories take different tones. Tom and Danny chuckle over how, after working all day in rescue boats, they still had the energy to go out in the evening. ‘Commandeering’ a dinghy tied up outside the police station, they rowed down the main road to the Spread Eagle pub that remained defiantly open, to enjoy a couple of Vimtos before rowing home.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, recalling the childhood trauma of that long, cold, dark night spent trapped in the bedroom waiting for rescue affected one interviewee so much that it sounds as if he had to pause during the interview to compose himself.

Whether they were only onlookers or whether they lost everything, when listened to together the interviews reveal how the town rallied together to overcome this ordeal – as they had done just ten years earlier during the Second World War. From the family who tirelessly worked to restore their grandparents’ house to normal in time for Christmas (interview with Diane Butler, SA 49/1/2/11/1), to the boy who joined with his friends to build a sea wall in the sand when they moved back, ‘in our own simple way to try and stop the waves coming again’ (interview with Ray Chippington, SA 49/1/2/22/1), the town was determined to recover. And what better way to cheer flagging spirits than travelling in a ‘cavalcade of coaches’ to a football match at Wembley to support your local team in the FA Amateur Cup final? Harwich and Parkeston Football Club’s finest hour was among the happier events of 1953, as recalled by Malcolm Carter (SA 49/1/2/16/1).

The collection covers other topics as well, including experiences during the Second World War; growing up and working in Harwich; and how the town has changed. We are grateful to The Harwich Society for taking the time to capture these memories, and for allowing us to make them publicly available. We are also grateful to the participants who, as June Cummings describes, had to relive the events in the act of sharing them (SA 49/1/2/20/1).

 

You can listen to these oral history interviews in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford, or, thanks to our Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project, in the comfort of your own home through Essex Archives Online.

It is not surprising that such a momentous event crops up in several of our other collections. You can search the subject index term ‘Floods’ to find related material, such as this film footage of the floods on Canvey Island. Or look up Hilda Grieve’s authoritative work on the 1953 floods in Essex, referred to in some of these clips: The Great Tide: The story of the 1953 flood disaster in Essex (copies available in the Searchroom Library or in branch libraries across Essex).

Further afield, the East Anglian Film Archive holds a compilation of film footage of the floods which reveal the devastation caused. You can watch it for free on their website here.

Does your community have a story that should be recorded? Do you want to undertake your own oral history project? Contact us to find out more about the oral history training we provide.

Document of the Month September 2017: Farming and national survival in the First World War

This month’s Document of the Month is a small part of the story of how Britain was saved from starvation during the First World War.

100 years ago our ancestors were facing a food crisis. When Britain entered the war on 4 August 1914, the country had enough wheat in stock to last for just 125 days. In the decades preceding the First World War Britain had increasingly relied on imports of food, and by 1914 60% of its food supply was imported. Between 1914 and 1917 these imports were increasingly under attack by German U-boats; by 1914 the Germans were sinking one in four merchant ships in the Atlantic.[1]

Farmers at home faced the huge challenge of growing enough food to feed the nation. Not only did this mean bringing more land under arable cultivation than ever before, it meant doing so with a shortage of male agricultural workers and a shortage of horses.

In an effort to make sure the nation had enough to eat, in late 1915 the Board of Agriculture called for counties to set up War Agricultural Committees. The records of the Essex War Agricultural Committee, today looked after at ERO, can give us valuable insights into the efforts that went in to producing enough food to keep the nation alive.

The War Agricultural Committees were intended to ensure greater productivity of agricultural land and to increase the amount of land under cultivation. Despite their work, by December 1916, the Board of Agriculture was extremely concerned at the decrease in acreages of particular crops, when compared with the previous decades.  A meeting that month noted that the combined acreage for the production of wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas and carrots in Essex had fallen from 428,904 in 1874 to 324,352 in 1914. Most of this decrease was due to a drop in wheat production, which was increasingly imported from the USA.

In January 1917, a new committee was formed from members of the existing Essex War Agriculture Committee. The Executive Food Production Committee, later renamed the Agricultural Executive Committee, were required to oversee improvements on an almost full time basis. In their meetings, members discussed the loans of equipment and horses; requests for petrol, the housing of prisoners of war (often in workhouses and camps) and the employment of women on the land.  In extreme cases, they could also arrange for the removal of tenants where the land was not being farmed to their approval.

It is clear from an early stage that there were tensions between the agricultural committees and local military tribunals concerning agricultural workers. The minutes often include decisions regarding applications for exemption from call up on the grounds of work of national importance, requesting a transfer to army reserves or release from military service and for temporary leave.

At one such meeting 100 years ago this month, the Agricultural Executive Committee approved a number of applications on these grounds.  An H. J. Willett was granted a voucher to remain in employment as a tractor supervisor in Chelmsford and a Private G. Cole was allowed to join the army reserves in order to continue as a wheelwright at Pitsea. This reminds us that farmers and agricultural labourers relied on other skilled workers to maintain and improve production. It would be interesting to see whether the number of applications for exemptions increased as the war progressed and the need for greater production and for more men in the armed forces intensified.

Extract from the Essex Agricultural Executive Committee in September 1917, where applications for transfer to the army reserve or for leave and for petrol licences were discussed (D/Z 47/17)

It is thanks to the efforts of all of those men and women who worked against enormous odds to keep the nation fed during the First World War that Britain never faced famine.

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[1] Figures from World War One: The Few that Fed the Many, published by the National Farmers’ Union, accessed 5 September 2017 https://www.nfuonline.com/assets/33538

Prizes, pigs and ploughing: A brief history of the Orsett Show

This Saturday, 2 September 2017, we will be at the Orsett Show with a table in the Heritage Zone. This got us thinking about where this long running agricultural show all began.

The Orsett Show can trace its history back to ploughing matches held in the village from 1841, organised by The Orsett Agricultural Association and Labourers’ Friend Society. The competitions were held with the support of Mr Richard Baker Wingfield-Baker, the owner of Orsett Hall and President of the Society.

These events are described in local newspapers of the time. After the ploughing matches, the company would retire to the George Inn in Orsett for a prize giving and meal. The last of these events was held in October 1879, when there were 21 entries in the ploughing competition, and a ‘very good show of market garden produce, bread and needlework’ (Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 10th October 1879). In March 1880, Wingfield-Baker was killed in a hunting accident (aged 78), and the competitions ceased.

In 1895, the new owner of Orsett Hall, Captain T.C. Douglas Whitmore and his son Francis Whitmore revived something along the lines of the previous events when they set up the Orsett and District Cottage Garden and Agricultural Society. They hosted the Orsett Show themselves in the grounds of Orsett Hall.

Orsett Hall (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

The Chelmsford Chronicle tells us that at the first of the new shows ‘The garden produce and exhibits were highly creditable’, but ‘In many instances it was noticeable that lessons in selecting fruit were required… The vegetables were worthy of mention. The pot plants did not call for special praise.’ Entertainment was provided by a roundabout and other amusements, and the band of the training ship Shaftesbury. In the evening, guests enjoyed dancing and fireworks.

Competitors in the ring at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

Horse jumping at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

A bull being exhibited at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

An exhibit by the Orsett Basket Works at the Orsett Show. The Orsett Basket Works was set up by Col. Whitmore after the First World War to provide employment for local men who had been wounded during the war and were not able to return to their previous employment (from Whitmore scrapbook D/DWt Z2/7)

The show continued to be held at Orsett Hall, with breaks during the World Wars. Over time new classes were introduced for vegetables, horses, cattle, and more. In 1948, Orsett Hall hosted two agricultural shows in one year, being the venue for the Essex Agricultural Show in June and the Orsett Show in September. The June event must have been a special occasion for many people as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited, spending the entire afternoon meeting competitors and stallholders.

Their majesties visit the pig judging at the 1948 Essex Show held at Orsett Hall (from Whitmore family photo album D/DWt Z3/14)

In 1968, the Whitmore family sold Orsett Hall and Sir John Whitmore, the son of Sir Francis, resigned the presidency of the show, which had been with his family since 1895. A site in Rectory Road in Orsett was acquired by Orsett Show Ground Ltd to provide the show with a permanent home and it has been held there every year ever since.

Childhood: change or continuity?

Ah, the sounds of summer holidays: music blaring through open windows, buzzing bees, the ice cream van, an absence of school bells and cars doing the morning school run… and children playing?

If you believe the common rhetoric, children do not play outside anymore. Children spend all summer indoors glued to electronic screens and no longer have the capacity to invent games, be creative, be free. Is this true? What do Essex soundscapes and personal memories reveal about childhood through the ages?

Children at play on the beach (T/562/1 Image 53)

Sounds of children at play on Dovercourt Beach. Recorded by Stuart Bowditch in 2016 for Essex Sounds.

Childhood memories are a common topic covered in oral history interviews. Interviewers are keen to capture information about the earliest possible period, as the time within ‘living memory’ unceasingly marches forward. We often have the most vivid memories from our childhoods, the time when we are first learning about the world around us. Childhood also tends to be the happiest period, the age we are happiest to talk freely about – or at least the version we are comfortable recalling.

At the Essex Sound and Video Archive, therefore, we have numerous recordings of people talking about their childhoods. For example, this compilation describes the way that people played growing up on Castle Street, Saffron Walden, taken from a selection of interviews recorded for the Castle Street Residents’ Association Oral History Project (Acc. SA496).

Maggie Gyps, Jan Bright, and William Clarke describe playing in and around Castle Street, Saffron Walden in the mid-twentieth century.

The stories are amusing and evoke a golden age when children were free to just have fun. Adults tolerated their exuberance and gave them liberty to range far and wide, making their own games, immersing themselves in nature, packing a jam sandwich and being out all day during summers that were permanently warm and sunny. As the next interviewees remarked, it was a happier time, compared with children today who are mollycoddled, kept on a tight rein due to fears for their safety, and fed on a diet of electronic gadgets to keep them amused – and quiet.

Pearl Scopes and Bill and Daphne Carter ranged free on Marks Hall Estate in the post-war period (SA 51/2/5/1).

Or was it such a golden age? And is it drastically different now?

For our Essex Sounds website, we have two recordings of children at play in north-east Essex: one from 1962, and one made in 2016. Listen to the two and compare: is there a difference in the sounds of play?

Were children better behaved in the past? Many interviewees admit to scrumping, gleaning a bit of fruit from nearby orchards to keep them going on their day-long adventures. We laugh with Bill Carter who ‘borrowed’ his neighbour’s dog to take him rabbiting.

Bill Carter on ‘borrowing’ the neighbour’s dog at Marks Hall Estate (SA 51/2/5/1).

Or Joseph Thomas, who used to sneak into film showings at the Electric Palace in Harwich in the 1920s (SA 49/1/2/15/1).

Joseph Thomas sneaking into the cinema with his friends.

How does this compare with the mischief of those disrespectful youths of today? Will our grandchildren chuckle when they hear stories of what we got up to in our childhood?

Were these children up to no good? Image of Moulsham Street, Chelmsford by Frederick Spalding, 1910 (D/F 269/1/6)

Was childhood really happier in the past? It depends on the individual’s situation, as well as the specific time period. Many oral history interviewees describe working from a young age. Charles Reason, for example, had his first bread round from the age of seven, before he started work full-time after leaving school at 14.

Charles Reason describing his first job delivering bread rolls in Harwich in the 1920s (SA 49/1/2/7/1).

School terms were often set around the harvest seasons, as Gerald Palmer describes, because children stopped attending in order to go pea-picking or fruit-picking anyway (SA 59/1/102/1).

Excerpt from Coggeshall National School log book for 1873 showing low attendance due to pea-picking (E/ML 310/1).

Child labour was vital to the household economy. If children weren’t engaged in paid work, they were often heavily laden with chores around the house, particularly when the mother was absent, as experienced by Rosemary Pitts, whose mother died when she was thirteen years old (SA 55/4/1).

Rosemary Pitts’ memories of childhood in Great Waltham in 1939-1940.

Current scholarship studying Western societies generally traces the start of ‘childhood’ as a distinct phase of life back to the seventeenth century. The nineteenth century saw growing concern about the wellbeing of children, with increasing legislation regulating the employment of young people. In Britain, a series of Education Acts from 1870 onwards gradually made education compulsory and, eventually, free. The 1908 Children’s Act consolidated much previous legislation to protect children from exploitation and abuse (including abuse at the hands of the law). This represents a significant cultural shift: children were seen as vulnerable people to be protected rather than extra hands contributing to the household economy – or enabling cheaper manufacturing. However, many oral history interviews reveal that real change was much slower to take effect. Most people also have at least one memory of a particularly violent punishment suffered by themselves or a peer while at school, in the days of the dreaded cane.

Oral history interviews do tend towards rose-tinted depictions of the past,

(A12416 Box 1)

particularly childhood memories. However, by comparing many different stories from the same period, we can start to query the common narrative and draw conclusions from specific events rather than vague generalisations. Then we can take a fresh look at children today and reassess if things really have changed that much after all.

The United Nations’ 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child includes the right to play, recognising that it is an essential and characteristic part of childhood. In general, young people in Britain are today free to have fun in their leisure time. It will be interesting to hear how our children recall their formative years if giving oral history interviews later in life. For now, we can use Essex soundscapes to gauge whether or not children still play. What do your ears tell you about childhood in twenty-first-century Essex?

 

Hugh Cunningham’s book The Invention of Childhood (London: BBC Books, 2006) is an excellent starting place to research the history of childhood in Western societies. For further details of the oral history interviews mentioned above, or other memories of childhood, search Essex Archives Online.

Queen Elizabeth I and some Essex churchwardens’ accounts

This guest blog post is by Marion E. Colthorpe, who has been investigating the people and places visited by Queen Elizabeth I since the 1970s. Her work expanded until she had discovered the whereabouts of the Queen on every day of her reign, along with what she was doing and who she was with. This research has included many different kinds of document, including a good number of records from the Essex Record Office. The results of Marion’s research, totalling 3,324 pages, have recently been published online by the Folger Shakespeare Library as The Elizabethan Court Day by Day. Here she shares with us how churchwardens’ accounts help to trace the Queen’s travels.

When I began to trace Elizabeth I’s whereabouts throughout her reign I made sure to read every churchwardens’ account I could find, because whenever the Queen passed through or even near a parish it was obligatory for the church bells to be rung; if they were not the Queen’s Almoner levied a fine, and the church door was sealed up until the fine was paid. There are a number of payments for ringing, and a fine for not ringing, in the accounts held by the Essex Record Office. (In Essex, as in other counties, considerably more parish registers have survived than churchwardens’ accounts, so there are a limited number to select from).

On her first ‘progress’ through Essex and Suffolk in 1561, on her way from Sir William Petre at Ingatestone, whose lavish expenditure is described in F.G. Emmison’ s  Tudor Secretary: Sir William Petre  (London, 1961), Chelmsford St Mary (now Chelmsford Cathedral)  paid [July 22]  ‘To the ringers when the Queen came through the town, 6s8d; paid for drink for them, 12d’.

The accounts of the churchwarden’s of St Mary’s in Chelmsford (D/P 94/5/1) include money paid to the bell ringers for their services in ringing the bells when the queen passed through the town, and for drink for them:
‘It[e]m paid to the rynggares when the queen cam thorowe the towne – vis viiid’
‘It[e]m paid for drynk for them – xiid’

The Queen was on her way to stay at Harwich, at an inn, August 2-5.  There the churchwardens had been preparing for several days, making payments from July 25 onwards to masons and labourers from neighbouring villages for working on the town gates, and to an Ipswich ‘stainer’ for ‘setting of the Queen’s Majesty’s great Arms of England upon the town gates, 15s’, and to ‘four poor folks in carrying of sand and water to the workfolks’ hands, 20d’. Also to three women and the Sexton ‘for washing and making clean of the church and chancel, 20d’. Whilst the Queen was at Harwich, the wardens on August 3 paid 6s8d ‘to the trumpeters’ and the same ‘to them that did bear the bottles’.

The Queen sailed up the Orwell to Ipswich on August 5. On August 25, back in Essex, Great Dunmow wardens ‘Paid to the good wife Barker for ale for them that did ring when the Queen’s Grace came through the parish, 8d’. The Queen was on her way from Lord Rich, at Little Leighs (he founded Felsted School in 1564; his monument is in Felsted Church), to Lord Morley at Great Hallingbury.

The Great Dunmow churchwardens’ accounts (D/P 11/5/1) include this payment in 1561: ‘It[em] payd to the good wife barker for ale for the[m] yt dyd rynge when ye Quenes grace ca[me] thorow ye p[ari]she – viii d’

The Queen next passed through Great Dunmow in September 1571 on her way from Horham Hall, Thaxted, to Little Leighs again;  in September 1578 it was Great Easton which  paid  ‘To the ringers when the Queen lay at Horham, 3d’.

In September 1579  the Queen stayed several days at New Hall, Boreham, with her close friends the Earl and Countess of Sussex, where entertainment included music,  speeches by Jupiter and goddesses, and a tournament. Chelmsford St Mary ‘Paid for 8 ringers two days when the Queen’s Majesty was at New Hall, 6s8d; paid the same time to the Almoner’s man, for unsealing the church door, 5s’.

Drawing of New Hall Palace by Ian Dunlop, based on a ground plan of the palace, engravings by George Vertue and an engraving after a drawing in the Laurentian Library, Florence. From Palaces and Progresses of Elizabeth I, Ian Dunlop, 1962 (I/Mb 42/1/27)

The Earl of Sussex died on 9 June 1583 at his Bermondsey, Surrey, home.  In his will he described in detail the hangings (tapestries) and furnishings at New Hall at the Queen’s visit.  On July 8 his funeral procession left Bermondsey, was conducted through London by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, and a Chelmsford churchwarden noted  ‘About 6 or 7 afternoon with much royalty was the body of the right honourable Earl the Earl of Sussex  and late Lord Chamberlain to the Queen’s Majesty brought through the town to New Hall to be buried in Boreham Church’.   The funeral was next day at St Andrew’s, where his monument remains. By her own will in 1589 the Countess of Sussex founded Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (with a bequest of £5,000).

From early in the reign it became the custom to celebrate the Queen’s Accession Day (17 November 1558). Thus in 1578 Great Easton paid ‘To the ringers the 17th of November 1578 to ring in token of Queen Elizabeth’s joyful entrance to the Crown of England, 20d’. The day was usually known (incorrectly) as ‘Coronation Day’, or ‘Crownation Day’, and also as the Queen’s day, the Queen’s night, the Queen’s holiday, or St Hugh’s day (being his feast day).

The Great Easton churchwarden’s accounts (D/P 232/8/1) record a payment to the parish bell ringers on 17th November 1578:
‘It[em] payed to the ryngers the xviith of November 1578 to rynge in token of queen Elyzabethes joyfull Entrance to the crowne of England – xxd’

The Great Easton wording in 1579 was ‘Spent on the Coronation day to the ringers, 3s4d; for two books of prayer to be used on the Coronation Day, and Articles of religion, 16d’. Over the years parishes paid for bells, bell-ropes, ‘victuals’ for ringers, and seats in the church.

It may be added that in other Essex records F.G. Emmison found several reports of fights in Essex churches on Coronation Eve and Coronation Day.  (Elizabethan Life: Morals & the Church Courts (Chelmsford, 1973), chapter on ‘Religious Offences’).

The Queen’s birthday (7 September 1533) was also celebrated, but the custom was not widespread, although in Essex Hornchurch churchwardens made payments,  such as in 1592:  ‘Laid out for six ringers of the birthday of our most gracious Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth, 6d’. In contrast, on Accession Day there were 10 ringers, who received 10 shillings. In 1597 Hornchurch ‘Paid to the ringers when the Queen came to Havering and her birthday, 6d’. The Queen was at Havering royal manor-house from August 19-31, where she hunted in Waltham Forest.

Churchwardens also made occasional references to national events. There was a ‘great earthquake’ on 6 April 1580, when considerable damage was caused in London and southern England. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued an ‘Order of Prayer … to avert and turn God’s wrath from us … to be used in all Parish Churches’.   Chelmsford St Mary paid on April 28 ‘For two books of prayers concerning the earthquake to be read in the church Wednesdays and Fridays, 8d’.

When the Queen decided to assist the Low Countries, in rebellion against their Spanish rulers, her principal favourite the Earl of Leicester passed through Essex on his way to Holland in December 1585. Chelmsford St Mary paid  [Dec 4]   ‘To the ringers at the right honourable the Earl of Leicester his coming through Chelmsford, 6d’;  and in the same account  ‘Laid out for two prayer books for the praying for the Queen’s Majesty, 8d’.

The Earl was again in Chelmsford in July 1588 when St Mary paid [July 24]   ‘For ringing when my Lord of Leicester came, 12d’. The Earl wrote on July 25 from Tilbury Camp that he went to Chelmsford ‘ to take order for the bringing of all the soldiers hither this day’. On the most famous visit of her reign the Queen stayed overnight on August 8 at Edward Rich’s Saffron Garden house at Horndon-on-the-Hill; she made not one but several speeches at Tilbury.

A fleet commanded by Lord Howard and the Earl of Essex left for Cadiz in Spain in June 1596. The Queen herself had written a prayer ‘at the departure of the fleet’.  Hornchurch paid 3d ‘For a book which was to pray for the fleet’. According to Francis Bacon, in just 14 hours on June 21 the Spanish Navy was destroyed and Cadiz was taken, one of the most notable exploits of the reign.

The Queen died on 24 March 1603. There would be no more payments such as that at South Weald Church  in 1590: ‘Paid Weaver’s wife and is for the ringers’ dinners and suppers and for the next day ringing for the Crownation of our gracious good Queen whom God long preserve, Amen. 12s6d’.