New Accession: a little book of surveys

We have recently acquired a little leather-bound book incorporating coloured plans on parchment dating from 1767 of three estates in north west Essex (now catalogued as D/DU 2963/1). Each plan is accompanied by a reference table on paper listing all the fields and their acreages. The surveys seem to have been commissioned by a Mr Collins and carried out by a Mr Hollingworth.  They are of Scot’s Farm in Debden, Bishop’s Farm in Widdington and Sibleys in Chickney.

The book is of diminutive size but exquisitely executed and detailed. The map of Bishop’s Farm in Widdington struck is in particular, as it shows a farm made up of strips of land.

We are very pleased to have acquired this little book for our collection as it can now be made available to researchers for the first time.










Document of the Month, December: Christmas giving

We’ve cheated slightly in December and chosen two documents: a valuation of gifts to Sir John Bramston, 1636 (D/DEb 8) and ‘Bread and Meat given to the Poor’ at Terling, 1843 (D/P 299/28/6). Both will be on display in the Searchroom throughout December.

The custom of giving presents at Christmas has a long history.  These two documents detail gifts received by those at the extremes of the social scale – the rich and powerful and the poor and needy.

Sir John Bramston was Lord Chief Justice of England and at Christmas 1636 he received many gifts, mainly of meat and poultry, from family, friends and associates.  The list begins with a gift of 20 turkeys from his sister-in-law Mrs Aylmer and her son.  Presents included cattle, pigs, game, oysters, wine, eringoes (candied sea holly roots, a Colchester speciality) and even a silver dish.  Those giving presents included his tenants but also Lord Petre, ‘Mr Dacye the lawyer’ and the town of Chelmsford which presented him with a hogshead of claret.  The gifts were delivered to his manor of Skreens in Roxwell and the list includes sums of money given to each servant or messenger making the deliveries.

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In contrast the list of poor at Terling who were to receive money, bread and meat on Christmas Eve 1843 records the number in each family, with the number of loaves and pounds of meat given in proportion to the size of the family.  Charles Coal who had 10 in his family received 5 shillings, two loaves and 10lbs. of beef.  Notes on the list indicate that some of the poor were not deserving of money or meat.  James Church who had seven in his family was considered ‘Not deserving money or Meat’ and received only two loaves.  There were 142 recipients listed, with a total of 607 family members, who between them shared 183 loaves, 566 pounds of beef and £10 7s. 6d.

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The documents together, though separated by 200 years, provide an interesting insight into social inequalities. We can only hope that Sir John Bramston shared out his gifts and didn’t try to consume all of them himself!


Recording of the Month, December 2014: Roger Smith and his Talking Guitar

Our Sound Archivist Martin Astell brings us another highlight from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

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For our December recording I have resisted the temptation to select one of our many recordings which relate to Christmas. However, I feel we should end the year with a bit of fun so I have chosen a remarkable performance of musical skill and ingenuity.

Roger Smith spent his retirement living quietly in Heybridge. Previous to that he had travelled the world as a musician playing the steel guitar. As well as being able to play the pedal steel (or Hawaiian) guitar, he also built his own version of the instrument designed to imitate the human voice. We know that Roger Smith performed with Felix Mendelsohn’s Hawaiian Serenaders in the late 1940s but, unfortunately, he died before we were able to talk to him in detail about his career. If you have more information, please let us know.

This recording is taken from an instantaneous disc recorded in 1948 with the title of Nit Wit Serenade.

Eric Clapton may have been compared to God in the 1960s for his abilities as a guitarist, but could he perform the feats achieved by Roger Smith?