The 1953 Floods in Essex

On the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 a severe storm coincided with a high spring tide in the North Sea, and the resulting tidal surge caused great devastation all along the east coast. In eastern England 307 people were killed, 120 of them from Essex.  The worst hit communities in the county were Canvey Island, where 58 died, and Jaywick, where 37 people were killed (5% of the population).  A major operation was mounted to rescue as many people from the flooded areas as possible. Along the east coast of the UK, 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Damage was caused to over 1,600 km of coastline, as well as to thousands of homes.  It is estimated that the damage in monetary terms today would be over £5 billion.

It was of course not just England that was affected by the floods; 19 people died in Scotland, 28 in Belgium, and a staggering 1,836 in theNetherlands. Over 230 people also died on ferries, fishing boats and other vessels which were in the North Sea that night.

We have been going through some of the many documents in the ERO which tell some of the stories of the floods in Essex, a small sample of which will be on display in our ‘Document of the Month’ case in the Searchroom throughout February.

To the sea (D/Z 35/15)

To the sea – rescuers at work in Jaywick (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Reuters)

Jaywick completely flooded

Fire Brigade log book reporting phone calls to say that Jaywick was completely flooded (D/Z 35/3/1)

Canvey Island underwater (ref??)

Canvey Island underwater (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard).

Albermarle St & Alexander Road, Harich (T/Z 241/1)

Photograph of the junction of Albermarle Street and Alexandra Road in Harwich. The flood in Harwich was described as a two metre high wall of rolling water. Eight people drowned trapped in their basements in Main Street (T/Z 241/1) (Photo: Harwich and Dovercourt Standard).

Harwich Junior School (T/Z 241/1)

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

Harwich police station telephone log (D/Z 35/6/1)

This note in the Harwich police station telephone log tells us that at the army base on Bramble Island, near Harwich, the magazines had been breached by the flood waters. High explosives had floated away and the police and public were advised to be on the look out for them, and not to touch them (D/Z 35/6/1).

Peter Pan's Playground (D/Z 35/15)

Photograph of Peter Pan’s Playground, Southend (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard). At Southend the effects were not as severe as at Canvey. The Kursaal flooded, along with the Gasworks and Southchurch Park.

Letter from Mr E. Staunton (C/DC 11/Fd43)

Letter written month after the floods by Mr E. Staunton of Benham Road, Canvey to Essex County Council to pass on the ‘thanks and gratitude’ of himself and ‘friends in this area’ to the fireman who sounded the air raid siren ‘thus giving us a chance to dress and find out over the telephone what was the meaning of the warning’ (C/DC 11/Fd43).

 

A selection of these documents will be on display in the Searchroom throughout February. Others can be ordered to view in the Searchroom. Find out how to visit us.

To find out more about the floods, why not go to hear Patricia Rennoldson Smith talk about her new book The 1953 Essex Flood Disaster: The People’s Story as part of the Essex Book Festival.

Stories from the stores: what’s in a wax seal?

One of the joys of working in an archive is the potential every day holds for coming across something beautiful or interesting in our collection. Last week’s star find was a medieval deed, D/DRg 6/5, or more specifically, one of the wax seals attached to it.

The document was in the Conservation Studio with a group of other similar documents all in need of a bit of attention and better storage to protect their fragile wax seals.

The deed dates from 5 April 1462, and is part of the collection of Charles Gray of Colchester, an eighteenth-century lawyer, antiquarian and MP, and major figure in Colchester’s history. Gray assembled a large collection of medieval deeds relating to Colchester, catalogued as D/DRg 6 and D/DRg 7; the earliest dates from 1317 (D/DRg 6/2).

This particular deed grants land to William Gerard, Chaplain of the Chantry of Joseph Elianore in the church of St Mary-at-the-Walls in Colchester. Chantry chapels were endowed by individuals who left money to pay for a priest to pray for their souls to help them on their way to heaven; in this case for the soul of Joseph Elianore, a Bailiff of Colchester, and various members of his family and other associates.

The land which Gerard was being granted was 4 and a half acres, with buildings on, next to the highway leading across New Heath, bordered on the north by ‘Magdleyngreene’, on the south by land formerly owned by Robert Gete and now by John Stede, on the east by land owned by John Auntrous, and on the west by the lane leading towards ‘Bournepond Mill’ or ‘Boornemelle’.

As we mentioned recently, this is one of the advantages of using deeds in your research; they can list who owns not only the piece of land in question, but the land around it, and sometimes even previous owners.

The document has two wax seals attached to it, one very small, one medium sized. Seals were a form of security, often used to hold a letter or envelope closed, so that it could not be opened or tampered with until delivered to the intended recipient. Wax seals were also attached to the bottom of documents, as in this case, when they served as a means of authentication.

The larger of the two seals attracted our attention because the impressions in the wax are so deep and the imagery so detailed. A little investigation showed it to be the second Common Seal of the Borough of Colchester.

The obverse of the seal shows St Helena, the patron saint of Colchester. St Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, was believed to have been born in Colchester, the daughter of King Coel. She reputedly travelled to the Holy Land, and found relics of the True Cross and the burial place of the Magi, which is why Christian iconography depicts here (as here) with the cross.

Below St Helena are the borough arms, which were granted by Henry V in 1413. These again reflect St Helena’s influence, showing the True Cross and the crowns of the Magi. On each side of St Helena are niches containing angels holding shields; on the left bearing a cross, and on the right the fifteenth-century royal arms. In the niche above St Helena is a half-length Christ. The reverse of the seal shows a medieval depiction of a castellated town, with a river in front of it crossed by a bridge.

Both seals attached to the deed have been cleaned by our Conservators with a mild detergent called synpernoic A7 and distilled water, before being stowed in their own custom-made cushioned bags. These little bags are made from Tyvek with a polyester wadding. The materials are cut to size, and then heat sealed around the edge. The whole document is then wrapped in acid-free manilla before being stored in one of our special archival quality boxes.

 

Stored in protective wrappers in our climate-controlled repositories, this 671 year old document – and its wax seals – should survive for many years to come.

The return of Sargant Wilson: deeds in family history

Archives Assistant Edd Harris blogs for us about just a few of the things family historians can learn from property deeds…

Do you remember our friend Sargant Wilson? At the beginning of October we discovered his marriage licence which told us that in 1834 at the age of 60 he married Karenhappuch Morgan, ten years his junior. We have come across the couple again although unfortunately in less happy times.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

This document is an admission onto copy hold land (D/DCf M73). This is a type of land holding used when land is part of a Manor. The people who hold land from the Manor are recorded in the Manor Court Roll along with any payments or rents that they are due to pay as well as a description of the land and its previous owners. The new landholders are then provided with a copy of that entry in the Court Roll, hence the name ‘copy hold’.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

In the recitals of this particular example from Southminster in 1844 (ten years after his marriage) we are told that Sargant Wilson has died. The land that he held has been passed back (surrendered) to the Manor. The admission then goes on to say that Sargant Wilson left the land to his wife by his will which is quoted at length, describing the property and revealing that it was bequeathed to him by his former wife Dorothy and that he had a son who predeceased him.  It goes on to admit his second wife Karenhappuch onto the land in his place and collects a fine or payment for doing this.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

This just goes to show that family history can move far beyond the usual records of births, marriages and deaths. We now know that Sargant Wilson had a previous marriage to a Dorothy with whom he had a son, he had written a will, held land in the Manor of Southminster and we have a rough date for his death, all from one document.

You can search for deeds on Seax by the name of a person or property. Not all deeds are catalogued to this level of detail however, in which case manorial court rolls may be helpful. These records can be challenging, but as we have seen in the case of Sargant Wilson they can also be extremely rewarding, not only for family history but for house history and local history too. If you would like any further advice, then talk to ERO staff in the Searchroom, e-mail us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk, or telephone 01234 244644.