The strange case of Sarah Moore

As the nights draw in it’s the perfect time to gather to hear tales of dark happenings in the past. Here, bestselling novelist Syd Moore tells us about how she first became interested in researching Essex witches, ahead of her talk at our screening of Witchfinder General on Friday 26 October 2018 – find all the details here.

Best-selling novelist Syd Moore who will be speaking about her research into Essex witches at ERO

I first encountered Sarah Moore, when I visited the pub in Leigh on Sea named after her. It was shortly after it had opened and the name piqued my curiosity. This was mainly because a) we share the same surname and b)  in my experience it’s unusual to come across a pub named after someone who isn’t famous or a king, queen, lord, lady, duke, admiral, marquis etc. When I asked about it at the bar the staff told me the brewery chain that owned the place often ran competitions to name their pubs. Regularly they would chose winners with a local flavour. Sarah Moore, I was informed, was the subject of a Leigh legend – an evil sea-witch who raised the Great Storm of the Estuary, caused great havoc about the town and sank a plethora of boats.  When I probed further I learned the story of Sarah Moore. Which, if any of you don’t know, goes like this:

Sarah Moore was a bent and bitter old witch, who made her living sitting by the estuary down in Old Leigh, telling fortunes and selling sailors ‘a good wind’ for a penny. The latter was a common practice along various coasts. The ‘witch’ would take a length of string or ribbon and ‘tie’ the wind into it.  The sailor would buy it. Then when out at sea, if they desired wind, they would untie the string. A single knot would loosen a breeze, two would summon a strong wind, and three would unleash a storm. Allegedly one day, a foreign captain rocked up in Leigh. He was a zealous man and, when he heard about Moore and her spells, he forbade his crew to consult her, give her any money or buy any wind. As the legend goes, when Moore heard about this she flew into a rage and, in revenge, summoned up The Great Storm of the Estuary. This, she threw at the vessel as it sailed out into the open sea. The poor boat rocked from side to side, with all aboard much afeared. The crew tried with all their might to get the sails down but, alas, the rigging kept snaring.  One of them cried out in a moment of awful horror, ‘This is the work of the witch. It’s the witch!’ Whereupon, the story goes, the captain picked up an axe, ran to the mast and felled it with three hefty strokes. As soon as the mast hit the deck the storm instantly subsided. When the beleaguered crew got the wounded ship back to Belle Wharf, they saw, there on the floor the dead body of Sarah Moore, three axe wounds across her corpse.

This was a splendid tale, I thought at the time, full of intrigue, horror, suspense and supernatural murder. And as soon as I heard it my interest was immediately fired up. But I was left full of questions: was the story really a myth or a legend? Had Sarah Moore been a real person? Was there some truth in parts of it? Any of it?

In a strange synchronicity, at about the same time, I was asked to present a pilot for a TV series about legend and lore of the land. Cunningly I suggested we look at Sarah Moore and, microphone in hand, ventured out with the team to quiz a whole host of strangers about the legendary sea-witch.  I heard variations of the tale many times, but nobody really knew whether Sarah had ever existed. A couple of Leigh locals suggested it was possible that the myth had been stitched together from various Essex witch stories and that Sarah was a conflation of sorts. It wasn’t what I had been expecting to hear, to be honest. And although I was disappointed I determined to keep on going with my own private research. Which I did. And over the next few years I delved deeper into the myths and legends of Leigh and its surrounding areas, and read up on local history. Yet I did not find much else about the witch.

Until one day when my friend, the writer Rachel Lichtenstein, invited me to go with her to the Essex Record Office. Believe it or not it hadn’t dawned on me that I might be able to find out more about Sarah outside of history books.  Neither was I aware that anyone could pop along to the offices. Somehow I had it in my head that it was something you could do only if you were a professional researcher or a historian or historic writer or had some other kind of credentials. So the whole trip really was a bit of a revelation.

That afternoon spent at the Record Office I discovered the numerous resources: books, reports, various antique volumes, microfiche.  With great excitement I dived straight in to see what I could find. It took me several visits but one dark and stormy afternoon, almost as I was about to give I up, I hit upon a record!

Burial record for Sarah Moore at St Clements church, Leigh-on-Sea, 14 December 1867 (D/P 284/1/38 image 87)

This was the burial entry in the St Clement’s church register for one Sarah Moore. It was dated the 9th of December, 1867 and was my ‘light bulb’ moment. I remember sitting in the record office as the rain pelted against the windows and feeling flooded with light. For not only did the record confirm my hunch that Sarah had been a living breathing woman, it also gave me a solid date around which to research. Another thought that immediately struck me was the fact she had died in 1867. The Great Storm of the Estuary had occurred in 1870. Sarah couldn’t possibly have been responsible for raising it, even if you did believe poor dispossessed old women had control over meteorology.  She had been dead for three years. This realisation prompted me to conclude that Sarah had been scapegoated for the event posthumously. During my further research I was to learn that this was not the only natural disaster that had been attributed to her. All of this evoked a tremendous amount of pity for the woman, and despite the centuries that separated us, I felt outrage on her behalf. The feeling spurred me on to explore the real woman behind the myth and to tell her untold side of the story.

Soon I found her on the census of 1851, by which time she had been twice widowed and left with a great number of children to provide for. In fact, Moore had a terrible life.  Perversely over the years, her association with witchcraft and tragedy, metamorphosed her reputation into a ‘wicked’ one. Through careful consideration I was able to track the route that had facilitated the switch from tragic victim to sinister oppressor and highlight this in the novel, that was published in 2011, The Drowning Pool. It was the start of a career investigating the other miscarriages of justice that occurred in our county: the Essex Witch Hunts.

If you would like to hear more about them I will be speaking on the 26th of October at the Record Office, before a screening of the very relevant classic horror film The Witchfinder General.

Syd Moore’s new book Strange Casebook is out on Halloween.

‘Never look backward, always look ahead’: The First World War drawings of Gerald Rickword

As the centenary of the end of the First World War approaches, we are delving into our collection looking at some of the fascinating wartime documents we look after. Join us on Saturday 10th November 2018 to mark 100 years since the Armistice at ‘Is this really the last night?’ Remembering the end of the First World War.

Gerald Rickword’s advice to ‘Never look backward, always look ahead’ appears on his sketch of a First World War soldier whose gaze is set firmly on the drinks at the bar in front of him. While never looking back is not advice that we could advocate at the archive, it must have been one way of coping with life on the Western Front, where Rickword was based when he made the sketch.

‘Never look backward, always look ahead’; more than one of Gerald’s sketches feature the theme of alcohol and bars

Gerald Rickword was born in Colchester in 1886, the second of four children. His brother John Edgell Rickword also served in the war, and is the better known of the two. John Edgell was a poet, critic and journalist, and in the 1930s became a leading communist intellectual.

Both were the sons of George Rickword, who was Colchester Borough Librarian, and attended Colchester Royal Grammar School. In later life Gerald maintained a lifelong interest in Colchester’s history.

Before the beginning of the First World War, Gerald was an insurance clerk. During the war, he served first with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and then with the Labour Corps as a transport officer. It was during this period that Gerald drew the sketches shown here.

A collection of about 30 sketches made by Gerald during the war survive today at the Essex Record Office, each full of evocative little details that provide windows into scenes that Gerald witnessed. The sketches are all in pencil, and most are monotone, with just a few in colour. The sketches are all loose, and on scraps of various paper stocks.

‘A Sentry, not one of the Lifeboat crew’ – a soldier is shown on sentry duty in driving rain

Some of the sketches show men of different nationalities and regiments observed by Gerald. One of these is dated 8 January 1917, and shows different soldiers Gerald had seen on the Boulevard Jacquard (he doesn’t give a town, but this could perhaps be the Boulevard Jacquard in Calais). One head and shoulders sketch is of a French Algerian soldier, while a full length portrait is of a French cavalry officer. The sketch is in black and white, but for the cavalry officer Gerald has noted the colours of his uniform – a red hat, a light blue tunic, red breeches, and red cloak lined with white.

Soldiers seen by Gerald on the Boulevard Jacquard on 8 January 1917

Several of the sketches are humorous, such as ‘A portion of the rear of the British line’, showing a rear view of a rather wide British soldier, his uniform straining around him. In another sketch, two mice help themselves to cheese and crackers. In another, a sentry stands in driving rain, his jacket buttoned up over his face, a large wide-brimmed hat hopefully ensuring he didn’t get rain water pouring down the back of his neck. The caption informs us that despite appearances, this man is ‘A Sentry, not one of the Lifeboat crew’. Other sketches are more haunting, such as the one of a soldier in a gas mask.

After the war Gerald returned to Essex, and in 1923 married Florence Webb in Colchester. He lived until 1969, when he died aged 82.


More of Gerald’s sketches will be on display at our Armistice event on Saturday 10th November 2018, ‘Is this really the last night’? Remembering the end of the First World War. Find full details and booking information here.

Also on 10th November, we will be at Chelmsford Library in the morning running a drawing activity for children based on Gerald’s sketches – find the details here.

First World War stories from ERO’s collections will also be featuring in a remembrance concert at Chelmsford Cathedral in the evening of 10th November – find the details here.


 

History and horror: do you dare to meet the Witchfinder General?

This Hallowe’en, experience history and horror with a screening of 1968 cult horror classic Witchfinder General at the Essex Record Office on Friday 26th October, 6.30pm-9.00pm. The screening will be accompanied by a talk about the real history of witchcraft in Essex by bestselling novelist Syd Moore (tickets available here).

The film is set in East Anglia in 1645, and stars Vincent Price as the notorious self-appointed ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins, who claimed to have been given the right by parliament to interrogate and execute witches. The plot is a fictionalised account of Hopkins’s bloody exploits, and follows him and his assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell) as they visit village after village, torturing and executing suspected witches.

Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General. Price was 56 when he played Hopkins, even though Hopkins was only in his 20s when he sparked a major witch panic in the 1640s. Image: British Film Institute

Interior scenes were filmed in converted aircraft hangars near Bury St Edmunds, and exterior scenes were filmed on locations including the Dunwich coast, Lavenham, Kentwell Hall, and Orford Castle.

The film is best known for its violence, despite being extensively cut by the British Board of Film Censors. It has divided audiences and critics alike, with some deploring its violent scenes, while others have championed it as an important part of British film history.

While Hopkins did exist and did indeed hunt suspected witches, the film departs from real history in several ways. Hopkins was the son of a Suffolk minister. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but by the winter of 1644-5 he was living in Manningtree in Essex. He came to believe that there were 7 or 8 witches living in the town; these and others were arrested and questioned, with Hopkins giving evidence against them. This sparked a trail of accusations, and eventualy 36 Essex women were tried for witchcraft at the Essex assizes in July 1645. Nineteen of them were executed. 9 died in prison, and 6 were still locked up in 1648. What Hopkins had started in Essex spread to Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, with at least 250 people tried as witches, and at least 100 executed.

Hopkins did not meet the violent end that he does in the film, but according to a contemporary account died slowly of consumption (tuberculosis) at his home in Essex in 1647. Price was 56 at the time that he played Hopkins, but in reality Hopkins was only in his 20s when he instigated the East Anglian witch hunts. The film’s biggest departure from reality, however, is its omission of court cases; in the film, Hopkins and Stearne subject their victims to summary executions, but in reality suspected witches were arrested and tried.

Burial record of Matthew Hopkins in the Manningtree and Mistley parish register, recording his death in August 1647, two years after he began pursuing witches (Essex Record Office). The text reads:
Mathew Hopkins sone of Mr James Hopkins Minister of Wenha[m] was buryed at Mistley August 12th 1647


Here are all the details if you want to join us for horror and history this Hallowe’en:

Date and time: Friday 26 October, 6.30pm-9.00pm

Location: Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT

Film length: 86m

Rating: The film is rated 18 as it contains strong violence and execution scenes. If you are lucky enough to look under 18 we will ask to see proof of your age on the door

Tickets: £10

Booking: Please book online at www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events  

Document of the Month, October 2018: Marriage of Captain James Cook and Elizabeth Batts, 1762

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

250 years ago, on 25 August 1768, Captain James Cook of the Endeavour embarked from Plymouth on his first voyage of discovery to the South Pacific to observe the transit of Venus. In so doing, he left behind Elizabeth his wife of nearly 6 years and their first 3 children. It has been calculated that the couple spent a total of just four years together out of 17 years of marriage.

Record of the marriage of Captain James Cook to Elizabeth Batts in 1762 in the Barking parish register (D/P 81/1/10). Both have signed their names; the fact that Elizabeth was literate enough to do so is an interesting detail.

This month’s document, a marriage register (D/P 81/1/10), records their marriage at St Margaret’s church, Barking on 21 December 1762. James Cook lived further up river at Shadwell and Elizabeth (née Batts) was the daughter of the inn-keeper of The Bell at Wapping. Cook was fourteen years older than Elizabeth who was aged just twenty. As neither of them belonged to the parish of Barking, they were married by licence of the Archbishop of Canterbury by George Downing, the vicar of Little Wakering in Essex (it is thought that Elizabeth Batts knew Downing who was also chaplain of Ilford Hospital).

The front cover of the register

Altogether, they had 6 children, three of whom died in infancy. Of the others, two went to sea like their father. Nathaniel was lost aged sixteen in 1780 in the Thunderer, which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies, and their eldest James (a commander and the longest lived) was drowned in 1794 whilst trying to board his sloop in a storm. Meanwhile, their youngest, Hugh, died of scarlet fever in 1793 aged seventeen whilst he was a student at Cambridge. James Cook, of course, was murdered by enraged natives in Hawaii whilst on his third and last voyage in 1779.  Consequently, there are no direct descendants of James Cook.

So, Elizabeth Cook was not only a widow but had lost her whole family by 1794. And she was to outlive them by another 40 years as she died aged ninety three in 1835 and was buried alongside her sons, James and Hugh, in the church of St Andrew the Great in Cambridge which contains a monument to the whole family.

The register will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout October 2018.

If you are interested in finding out more about Captain Cook and Elizabeth Batts, you might want to take a look at another document in our collection – an essay by Derek Simmans entitled ‘The mystery of the marriage of Captain James Cook to Elizabeth Betts [Batts] on 21st December, 1762’ which is catalogued as T/G 437/3, and which you can search for on Essex Archives Online.

Back to (Industrial) School: images of Essex Industrial School admission registers now online

Digital images of the admission registers of the Essex Industrial School and Home for Destitute Boys for 1872-1914 are now available on our online subscription service, Essex Ancestors.

The Essex Industrial School and Home for Destitute Boys gave boys a basic education, and training in practical skills such as shoemaking and carpentry

The school’s admission registers sometimes include incredible detail about the boys who were admitted to the school

We have written before about the fascinating history of the Essex Industrial School, which opened in 1872 in two converted houses in Great Baddow. It was a charitable institution founded by local business man Joseph Brittain Pash, and provided accommodation, a basic education, and practical training for destitute boys, especially orphans or those considered to be at risk of falling into crime. By 1876 the school had grown to fill three houses and four cottages, and in 1879 it moved to a new purpose-built building in Rainsford End, Chelmsford, with space for 150 pupils.

The images which have now been added to Essex Ancestors include admission records for about 1,200 boys who were admitted to the school over this period. Individual records include the reasons for the boy’s admission, and sometimes record information about their progress and what happened to them after they left the school. (Sometimes, as in the case of William Swainston, who emigrated to Canada, it can be possible to find out quite a bit about what happened to the boys after they left.)

These records, especially when combined with information from birth, marriage and death records, census records, and newspapers, can provide some incredibly detailed information about the lives of the boys at the school, and their stories often read like Dickensian novels.

Charles Bartlett, for example, was 12 years old when he was admitted to the school on 3rd November 1874.

Photograph of Charles Bartlett on his admission to the Essex Industrial School (D/Q 40/153)

Charles Bartlett’s page in the Essex Industrial School admission registers (D/Q 40/1)

He had been sent by the Waltham Abbey magistrates, where he had twice been brought before the bench for sleeping rough, once in a water closet, and once in a shed. He was sentenced to be detained at the Essex Industrial School for four years.

The details given in Charles’s admission register paint a bleak picture. His father, George Bartlett, was dead. His mother had remarried to Richard Adams. There were three children from the first marriage (including Charles), and five from the second. Richard Adams also died while Charles was at the school. Charles had not received any education and could not read or write. The admission register states that Charles had ‘been systematically illused & neglected, causing him to run away & sleep in sheds’; when admitted he had a deep cut on his hand, apparently caused by his mother throwing a knife at him. (An article found on the British Newspaper Archive from the East London Observer on 7 September 1872 shows that his mother and step-father were hauled before the court after beating Charles so violently that neighbours ran to fetch the police.)

Despite his troubled home life, Charles doesn’t seem to have been pleased to find himself at the school. The register details several occasions where he ran away, only to be returned, sometimes kicking and biting the person who picked him up. On the second occasion he absconded it was thought he had scaled a chimney to escape.

In the end, Charles did remain at the school for his allotted four years. When his time was up in November 1878, he was sent him to his mother at her request. It has been possible to trace him in 1881 in Putney, visiting his mother and her third husband, Charles Munro, and in 1891, living with them in Horley, Surrey. After that the trail has, so far, run cold.

The registers now online are full of stories like Charles’s, and make for fascinating study. The images now available online are from four volumes, with the following catalogue references:

  • D/Q 40/1 – the earliest admission register, recording boys admitted in 1872-1881
  • D/Q 40/2 – 1883-1897
  • D/Q 40/3 – 1897-1911
  • D/Q 40/4 – 1911-1914 (this volume includes admissions up to 1925, but records after 1914 are closed)

How to view the records

You can see the digital images of the records for free at the ERO Searchroom and at the ERO Archive Access Point in Saffron Walden.

Instructions on how to take out a subscription are available on the Subscription Service page on Essex Archives Online.

Once logged in and subscribed, use the document reference search box in the top right of the screen to search for the reference of the volume you are interested in.

Going further

If you find a name in the admission registers that you want to follow up, you can try to further trace the individual through census and birth, marriage and death records. Sometimes it is also possible to find newspaper articles about individual cases – the British Newspaper Archive online (which you can access for free at ERO and in Essex Libraries) is an invaluable resource here.

You can also see if any further details are given in the school’s discharge registers. These are not available online, but you can visit us to view them for yourself, or contact us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk about remote search and reprographics options.

Best of luck with your research!

School Then and Now: Change and Continuity

Our Learning from History Manager, Valina Bowman-Burns, is here to bring the past to life for schools. Here she shows us how one of our local primary schools has changed over the last hundred years – and what has stayed the same.


Click here for information on a free schools resource pack of the images below, as well as other packs on life for Victorian children, and more.


The archive holds a beautiful collection of photographs. The ones of Ford End School were particularly detailed capturing the school inside and out. Inspired by this I wanted to retrace the photographer’s steps and retake the photographs. The kind staff and pupils of Ford End Primary School made me very welcome and showed me around their school.

In taking this photograph of the front of the school I came across an issue the original photographer probably did not have: the fast moving and constant traffic on the road through Ford End – changing the soundscape as well as the look of the area.

This image shows the back of the school. Here we see a hard working group bringing in the harvest with horse and carts.

There are still working farms around the school, but this particular area is now the school playground for games and fun.

However some traditions have been continued. Here we see the former pupils of Ford End working together to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

The school still has an allotment. Unfortunately my photograph from a chilly day in February doesn’t show the area in its full glory, but pupils today are still growing their own.

This is my favourite of all the Ford End photographs. I have shared this image with schools around Essex. The pupils’ sharp eyes still sometimes pick out features that I hadn’t noticed before. There are clues on the walls and around the room that hint at science, art and geography lessons.

Believe it or not – this is the same classroom! It is now divided into three rooms: a class room, a staff room and the head teacher’s office, but the windows and chimney are in the same place. I was not able to stand in exactly the same place as the original photographer due to the addition of a cloak room.

In 1900 the girls are sewing and the boys are writing. Present day we have a vibrant classroom with computers and smart boards. The layout and position of the desks are different and the children’s best work is displayed on the wall. The number of children in a class has decreased. I counted around 70 in the Victorian classroom, the school today has around 70 children in total, divided into different classrooms. The gaslights have been replaced by electric lights and the fireplace has been boarded up and replaced by radiators.

Do you remember the three arched windows nearest to us in the photograph of the front of the school? We could also see it at the back of the Victorian classroom from the inside. That distinctive window is still there, but a dividing wall now makes this the head teacher’s office. There is no false ceiling here and the full height of the Victorian classroom can be seen.

The small staff room shows the two internal walls that have been added. Notice through the window the wall and entrance gate, still in the same location.

One mystery remains. This photograph shows a cookery lesson. Searching the school for original features like the high ceiling, fireplace and what appears to be a very large door at the end of the room. I looked around hoping to rediscover the beautiful murals around the room – the black and white photograph hinting at the possibility of vibrant colour and a perhaps a moral story unfolding for the improvement of the children’s minds.

Yet it could not be found. It is certainly not in the current school building, but could be in Ford End or perhaps further afield.  We know that pupils used to be bundled onto a carriage –perhaps to reach this classroom?

Do you know where this is? Do you have any school memories that you would like to share?

Document of the Month, September 2018: survey of Rivenhall

New fragments which tell us about Essex’s past come in to us all the time, in all shapes and sizes. Here, Archivist Ruth Costello tells us about one of our new additions – a beautiful survey of the Rivenhall estate. The volume bears no date, so Ruth has been sleuthing to see if she could find out when it was made.

This month’s document is one of two volumes of maps which we received earlier this year as part of accession A14956. This, the smaller of the two, shows Rivenhall Place and its lands, which were owned by the Western family.

The index at the beginning of the volume lists the parts of the Rivenhall estate which are included in the survey

For each part of the estate, there is a carefully drawn map, and a list of how each parcel of land was being used. This map shows Rivenhall Place and the lands immediately around the grand house.

Despite its undoubted beauty, it seems to have been treated as a working document, with annotations in pencil, some of which seem to have been rubbed out at a later date.

Unfortunately, the survey does not include a title page, where we might expect to find the name of the surveyor.  Nor does it include a date.

We knew the volume must predate 1839 as the Rivenhall tithe map produced in that year clearly shows the newly built Eastern Counties Railway running through the parish.  In the volume, it has been pencilled in at a later date (it’s the line crossing through the meadow land numbered ‘23’, north of Rivenhall End in the page on display).

The two lines marked in pencil through field no. 23 on this map show where a railway line was later built, helping us to date the volume

We already held two maps of Rivenhall Place among the Western family estate records drawn in 1828 and 1839 (this latter one didn’t show the railway, so must have been produced earlier that year).  It’s unlikely that the land would have been surveyed and mapped on another occasion, so we thought that the volume must tie in with the date of one of these maps.

On display in the ERO Searchroom, the volume is opened to display the map of Pond Farm, which at the time was leased (somewhat appropriately) by Joseph Lake.  Both the volume and the 1828 map (D/DWe P12) show a property described as ‘workhouse land’ (it’s surrounded on two sides by the field numbered ‘26’).  The later map of 1839 (D/DWe P16) has the name ‘Bilney’ against this property.  It would seem that Mr Bilney bought the property after the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 led to the sale of former, smaller parish workhouses and the creation in this case of the new Witham Poor Law Union workhouse.

Map of lands that made up Pond Farm

List of lands making up Pond Farm

Some of the surrounding area is described as ‘William Blackborne’s land’.  We found a burial for a William Blackborne in the Rivenhall parish register in 1825.  Initially this made us think that the volume must predate his death and must be earlier than 1825.  However, both the 1828 and 1839 estate maps also included his name, which showed that out of date information was being copied forwards.

We think, therefore, that the volume and the 1828 map we already held were drawn at the same time.  Sadly, we still don’t know who drew them; the map also has no author.  The map shows the whole of the estate and its individual farms together, but it has only a very little colouring, by comparison with the volume.  This volume and its companion (a series of maps of the Felix Hall estate) are thus a welcome addition to our holdings.

The volume will be in display in the Searchroom throughout September 2018.

A reminder of Britain’s slave-owning past: administration of the estate of Stella Frances Allen

23 August is Slavery Remembrance Day, which seemed an appropriate moment to highlight this document, which is one of the darker things in our collection.

The document dates from 1822 and is part of a series of papers which relate to the administration of the estate of Stella Frances Allen, née Freeman, who had died in 1821 (D/Dc F9/8). Stella had inherited estates owned by her family in Jamaica, which relied on slave labour, and this document lists the slaves who were at work on the family’s Belvidere plantation in the parish of St. Thomas-in-the-East in Jamaica. The lists give the name, colour, and age of the slaves, and whether they had been born in Africa or the West Indies.

The lists of enslaved people stretch over four substantial parchment sheets

The documents were compiled by George Cuthbert, who seems to have been the Freeman family’s agent on the Belvidere estate

The document lists the names, ‘color’, and ages of the enslaved people forced to work on the estate, and whether there were born in Africa or the West Indies

In the ‘color’ column, people are listed as being either ‘Negro’, ‘Sambo’, ‘Mulatto’, or ‘Quadroon’ – terms which today are considered offensive and have fallen out of use. These terms were used at the time to categorise people based on their skin colour and ancestry; definitions for these terms are given in the Oxford English Dictionary as follows:

  •  ‘Negro’: a person of Black African origin or descent
  • ‘Sambo’: this word seems to have several meanings, and was often used as an offensive nickname for Black people. It could also be used to mean someone who had one ‘Negro’ parent and one ‘Mulatto’ parent.
  • ‘Mulatto’: a person with one white parent and one Black parent
  • ‘Quadroon’: a person with one Black grandparent

The fact that people were categorised in this way based on the colour of their skin, and the skin colour of their ancestors, is deeply uncomfortable to read today, but provides a stark insight into the mindset of the time.

Another column, titled ‘African or Creole’, gives an indication of where each person was born, i.e. whether in Africa, or in the West Indies. One man, John Williams, aged 55, is described in this column as ‘American’.

There are actually two lists, or schedules, in the document; one from 1817 and the other from 1820. In 1817 there were 355 enslaved people engaged in forced labour on the estate – 182 men and 173 women – and in 1820 there were 348. The 1820 schedule notes that since 1817 there had been 21 births and 28 deaths amongst the enslaved people on the plantation. The reasons for deaths are given, including fever, old age, ‘mal d’Estomac’ (literally, a ‘bad stomach’), tetanus, and dropsy. One enslaved man, John Whitfinch, was named but noted to have ‘run away since 1818’.

Part of the 1820 schedule which records reasons of death, and curiously also one case of ‘transportation’

Perhaps especially disturbingly, there are also several children, toddlers and babies listed, including in 1817 Biddy, aged 5 days, daughter of Aneilla Mowatt, and Penny, 1 month, daughter of Jane Williams. Sometimes it is possible to identify three generations amongst the enslaved worker: 9-year-old Clara was the daughter of Henny Richard, aged 30, whose mother was Mary Richards, aged 55.

Some of the very young children listed on the 1817 schedule

Even though the slave trade had been abolished in Britain in 1807, the whole system of slavery in British-held territories was not abolished until 1833. The British government granted £20 million in compensation, to be paid by British taxpayers, not to the slaves themselves, but to the slave owners who were losing their ‘property’. Stella Allen had already died by this point, and the compensation for the slaves she had owned was paid to her executor, Capel Cure of Blake Hall in Bobbingworth (detailed in Stella Freeman’s entry on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project).

Seeing this list of people ‘owned’ by other people is a chilling experience, and reminds us that much of the wealth of Britain at that time was built on the horrendous practices of enslavement.

A search on Essex Archives Online for the word ‘slave’ brings up 76 results; there are plenty of other stories relating to this dark period in our history waiting to be uncovered.

You Are Hear: behind the scenes

During our project You Are Hear: sound and sense of place, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, we aimed to digitise some 1,800 recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA), and made them available for free through Essex Archives Online, and on SoundCloud and YouTube. But how does the digitisation process actually happen? Sound technician Catherine Norris, who has ploughed nobly through hours and hours of ESVA recordings to digitise them for You Are Hear, is here to tell us.

Catherine all smiles at the beginning of the project ensconced in one of our sound studios

It’s hard to believe that almost three years have gone by since I started working on the You Are Hear (YAH) project. It’s been a journey that has involved digitising analogue formats using many different vintage players along with digital interfaces to ensure the best digital version of the original source.

Over the course of the project I have dipped into many of our Sound Archive collections and by doing so I have learnt a lot about Essex’s heritage though oral history, music, radio broadcasts and videos. I have also enhanced my skills as a sound engineer and as a digitiser.

I have enjoyed the many different aspects of working on the project, from being involved in the digitisation process; to giving a speech at the launch of the Essex Sounds audio map; going to see listening bench launches in Galleywood and Chelmsford and chatting to the volunteers involved; and also organising and running a successful sound walk in Chelmsford.

Residents enjoying a cup of tea at the launch of the Saffron Walden listening bench. 20 benches are now in place around the county loaded with recordings that Catherine has digitised

YAH project officer Sarah-Joy Maddeaux has kept me busy and given me a steady workflow throughout and chose the content that was to be used on our audio-video kiosks, listening benches and Essex Sounds map. It has been my job to make sure I digitised the content for when she needed it by, so that it could be used for the part of the project that it was required for.

There have been different parts to my role, not just the digitisation process – but this is of course an incredibly important part. With everything that I have worked on, if I don’t get that part right everything that comes after it would not have panned out the way it should have done.

The digitisation process starts with locating and retrieving the audio and video material from storage, then checking and making sure that it is playable. Once the material has been prepared I check that I have all the equipment that I need to do the job.

For digitisation to take place I use a mixture of old and new equipment depending on what the material is that I am digitising. During the course of the project, for the majority of the content I have digitised I have used Denon cassette players, Revox reel machines and VHS players.

A unit containing (from top to bottom), a mini disc player, a cassette player, a compact disc player, a sound mixer, and a digital interface

The ReVox reel to reel machine:

A VHS player – who remembers these?

My personal favourite has to be our Sony Stereo Tapecorder (TC-630). It has lots of quirks about it and if a machine could have a personality then this one does, it certainly kept me on my toes whist I was using it!

When setting up the equipment I also have to make sure that it is cleaned before placing the material waiting to be digitised onto or into it. To do this I soak a cotton swab in an electronic cleaning solvent and use it to clean the parts of the machine where the tape will touch. It is important to do this before a digitisation but I also do this afterwards so that the equipment is well looked after and so that dirt is not left to get stuck in the tape heads.

To turn the analogue signal into a digital signal we use a digital interface. We have two, one for each studio at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. We have the Apogee Rosetta and the Prism Sound Orpheus. Both of these take an analogue signal (electromagnetic signals on tape) and convert it to digital (a series of 1s and 0s that can be read by a computer). I also use cables, a sound mixer and speakers to hear what I am doing, and a level mixer (Behringer Ultralink Pro) so I can change the signal if it is too high or low. I use a PC and a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) which allows me to record the digital version of an analogue recording. My main aim is to capture the best version I possibly can of an analogue recording, and the equipment in our studios has made sure that I have been able to do that.

The Rosetta 800 digital interface, which converts analogue signals into digital information

With each piece of work once a Master digital copy has been created, an access copy (MP3 for sound, or MP4 for video)) is next to do. I would have to access the original digital version (WAV for sound, AVI for Video) and see if there was anything I could to enhance it using a DAW. For example if there is a lot of distortion I can use various techniques in audio editing software to reduce the effect it has on the recording. Also if needed there are techniques I can use to change amplitude and compression and noise reduction.

For the project I have also created digital clips of audio and film if the whole version is not required for the benches and kiosks. I also extract picture stills from films and take photographs and scans of items with picture covers.

One of the You Are Hear kiosks at ERO – two others can be found at Saffron Walden Library and Harlow Museum

Throughout all the different processes I collate and write down information about each item. This information is added to a metadata spreadsheet where the information is kept, to help continue monitoring and preserving the digital files.

During the project I have dipped in and out of the collection Acc. SA654 which contains boxes of different BBC Essex recordings. A box which I have digitised a few recordings from during the project is Sound Of Essex. As we have come to the end of the project Sarah-Joy and I discussed what I could finish with and decided that this was good box to complete. It is a box of 31 Zonal 675 Five Inch spool, matt backed, standard play 1/4 inch tape reels that contain interesting recordings of people accents from around the county.

While I was digitising the reels we thought it would be useful to film parts of the process as a guide to show how I digitised the reels in the Sound of Essex box.

Preparing the Reel Machine for Digitisation.

Before using a reel machine it must be prepared for use by cleaning the tape heads and areas where the tape and reels will be touching.

1 Dip a cotton swab in Iso-Propyl alcohol

2 Clean the spindles, tape heads and all areas where the reel and tape may touch.

3 Use as many cotton swabs dipped in Iso-Propyl alcohol as necessary to make sure that the machine is ready to be used.

Setting up the Tape Reel Machine

The tape reel machine is key in providing the analogue signal that needs to be digitised. I place an empty reel on the second spindle.

1 On the first spindle place the reel you wish to digitise.

2 Use the guide table to thread through past the tape heads to and around the empty reel.

3 Make sure both reels are secure and that the centres are locked in place.

Creating a Digital Signal

For preservation purposes I forward and rewind the reel and briefly test the recording levels.

To create a digital signal we use –

1 The Behringer Ultralink Pro (Level Mixer) to adjust the recording levels. This is connected to the reel machine.

2 The Prism Sound Orpheus (Digital Interface) to change the analogue signal to a digital signal.

3 By using cables the digital signal is sent from the digital interface to the computer and is recorded using a digital audio workstation.

4 Once setup is complete press record on your DAW (Wavelab 8.5) and press play on the tape machine.

The Library Wind

Once digitisation is complete I can then save my master wav file and begin the next part of the process.

Part of preservation for tape reels is the library wind. We do not use the rewind button as we want the reel to be rewound in real time.

1 Take the empty reel off the first spindle.

2 Turn over the full reel and place it on the first spindle.

3 Place the empty reel on the second spindle.

4 Carefully thread the tape thread through past the tape heads to and around the empty reel.

5 Make sure both reels are secure and that the centres are locked in place.

6 Press play and continue until you reach the end of the tape.

7 Tape reel is now ready to be repackaged.

I have learnt so much over the course of the project and have enjoyed all the different aspects of digitisation but it was nice to finish with such an interesting box of reels. The digital versions of these recordings, along with hundreds of hours of other recordings, can for found on the ERO’s SoundCloud channel:

We hope that people across Essex, and beyond, will enjoy the results of the You Are Hear project for many years to come!

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A bad day’s hunting: one of Essex’s ‘ancientist’ families and the death of a king

In August 918 years ago, the king of England died in suspicious circumstances. Here, our medieval specialist Katharine Schofield discusses what may or may not have happened that day, and the Essex connections of the man rumoured to have killed the king.

On 2 August 1100 William II was killed while hunting in the New Forest. William (also known as William Rufus) was the son of William the Conqueror, and had inherited the kingdom of England on the death of his father in 1087.

William II of England.jpg

William II drawn by Matthew Paris

The earliest account of his death in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that he was shot by an arrow by one of his men. Later chroniclers named Walter Tirel as the man who fired the fatal shot. Opinions vary as to whether Rufus met his death by accident or design.

Tirel was a renowned bowman; one account of William’s death records that at the start of the day’s hunting the king was presented with six arrows, two of which he gave to Tirel with the words Bon archer, bonnes fleches [To the good archer, the good arrows].

Other chroniclers record that Tirel let off a wild shot at a stag which he missed, hitting the king instead. Tirel took no chances and fled to France, according to legend having the horseshoes of his horse reversed to throw off any pursuit. In France he always maintained his innocence. Abbot Suger of St. Denis who knew Tirel in France recorded ‘I have often heard him, when he had nothing to fear nor to hope, solemnly swear that on the day in question he was not in the part of the forest where the king was hunting, nor ever saw him in the forest at all.’

What is not in doubt is that Rufus’ younger brother Henry (Henry I) was the main beneficiary. Henry was part of the hunting party on that day and he was able to secure the Treasury (then held at Winchester) the same day and had himself crowned king at Westminster Abbey on 5 August, just three days after his brother’s death.

Illustration of Henry I by Matthew Paris

Walter Tirel (or Tyrell) is thought to have originated from Poix in Picardy and may have been the same Walter Tirel named as holding the manor of Langham, in north east Essex, (Laingeham) in Domesday Book. The Revd. Philip Morant in The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex (1768) was rather dubious as to whether there was a connection, while another historian with Essex connections, J.H. Round writing in 1895 was more certain that they were the same.

The Domesday Book recorded in 1086 that the manor of Langham was 2½ hides in extent (roughly 300 acres), with 17 villeins and 27 bordars. There was wood for 1,000 pigs, 40 acres of meadow, two mills, 22 cattle, 80 pigs, 200 sheep and 80 goats. The resources of the manor were mostly larger than they had been before the Norman Conquest, and its value had increased from £12 to £15, making it quite valuable; by comparison, the manor of Chelmsford was valued at £8 and Maldon at £12.

Tirel held the manor from Richard son of Count Gilbert, also known in Domesday Book as Richard fitzGilbert or Richard of Tonbridge, and is later more familiarly known as Richard de Clare. It is likely that Tirel acquired the manor through his wife Adeliza, Richard’s daughter and this explains why he had such a valuable holding.

The Pipe Roll of 1130 records that Adeliza, by then a widow, was still in possession of Langham and in 1147 their son Hugh Tirel sold it to Gervase de Cornhill, before embarking on the Second Crusade. In 1189 Richard I granted Gervase’s son Henry permission to enclose woods there to create a park. The manor remained part of the Honour of Clare, while passing through the hands of different owners. In the late 14th century it passed to the de la Pole family and remained in their possession until the early 16th century. The oldest surviving court roll from the manor, 1391-1557 (D/DEl M1) begins during their ownership.

Henry VIII’s first wife Katharine of Aragon held the manor, later Langham Hall, until her death, when it passed to his third wife Jane Seymour. In 1540 it passed briefly to Thomas Cromwell and after his execution formed part of the lands granted to Anne of Cleves (Henry VIII’s fourth wife) on her divorce. In the early 17th century it was granted by Charles I to trustees of the City of London in repayment for a loan. In 1662 it was purchased by Humphrey Thayer, who Morant described as a druggist to the King and was inherited by his niece, the wife of Jacob Hinde.

While Morant was doubtful as to the connection of Walter Tirel in Langham with the Tirel who may have killed William Rufus, he was in no doubt that he was the ancestor of the Tyrell family in Essex who he described as ‘early persons of great consequence in this County; and one of the ancientist families’.

While the Tyrells did not keep Langham for more than one generation, they acquired extensive lands in Essex, as well as lands in Hampshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Their lands centred on the manor of Heron in East Horndon, but Tyrells also held land in Broomfield, Springfield, Beeches at Rawreth, Hockley and Ramsden Crays.

The most distinguished of the Essex Tyrells was probably Sir John Tyrell. He served as sheriff of Essex in 1413-1414 and 1437 and was elected to Parliament on a number of occasions between 1411 and 1437, serving as Speaker in 1421, 1429 and 1437. He held many posts in Essex, including acting as steward to the Stafford family and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, as well as for Clare and Thaxted during the minority of Richard, Duke of York. He was appointed a royal commissioner in the county on a number of occasions and was Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster north of the Trent. Morant recorded that he served Henry V in France and in 1431 was appointed treasurer to the household of Henry VI and to his Council in France.

In a curious coincidence his grandson Sir James Tyrell was alleged to have confessed before his execution in 1502 to murdering the Princes in the Tower for Richard III.