Chelmsford Then and Now: layers of history

In the twelfth and final post from our Chelmsford Then and Now project, student researcher Ashleigh Hudson explains how during her research project we used maps to establish areas of continuity and change in the High Street of our county town.

A key objective of the Chelmsford Then and Now project was to establish what has changed and what has stayed the same over time in the centre of our county town. We are lucky that Chelmsford has been mapped and re-mapped several times over the centuries, enabling us to make comparisons over time, and to find traces of the medieval town in today’s High Street, even though no buildings from that period survive. In this post we will show how we have used maps in this project to look at the detailed history of specific properties.

The earliest known map of Chelmsford was drawn up by John Walker in 1591. The shape of Chelmsford High Street, as depicted on the Walker map, is remarkably similar to the shape of the high street today; in fact the basic make-up of the town has not changed in nearly five hundred years. Internally, the shape and size of individual properties has varied significantly over time, reflecting changing economic, demographic and technological trends. The 20th century in particular saw sweeping changes to areas of the high street. As the town’s population increased, the demand for more retail spaces grew, and the arrival of department stores facilitated the absorption of many of the smaller businesses.

southend saturday

Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591.

Observing the sites of 61-66 High Street on several Ordnance Survey maps, it was immediately obvious that a number of properties had been consolidated, demolished or rebuilt over time. Using the first edition OS map of 1876 as a starting point, it is clear that large, department sized stores were not yet a standard feature of the high street. Based on this map, we can see that properties in this section of the high street were small and packed closely together, perhaps the result of centuries of uncoordinated and sporadic development.

(2) OS Map 1876

Extract from the 1876 first edition OS map, from the west side of the high street. 61 High Street is occupied by the Queen’s Head inn. Adjacent to the Queen’s Head sits a narrow passageway, which leads from the high street into the yard. To the north of the passageway is the site of 62 High Street and adjacent to that, a number of small, individual properties, all of which would ultimately form part of the Marks and Spencer’s site in the 1970s.

For a more direct comparison, we took photographs of the OS maps from 1963 and 1974 and uploaded them into Photoshop.

(3) 1963

Extract from the OS Maps of 1963 and 1974 showing the sites of 61-66 High Street. The 1963 extract has been highlighted in red, while the 1974 extract has been highlighted in blue.

(4) 1974

Extract from the OS Maps of 1963 and 1974 showing the sites of 61-66 High Street. The 1963 extract has been highlighted in red, while the 1974 extract has been highlighted in blue.

From there we layered the maps, drawing around the border of each property using different colours to make it easy to differentiate between them. Areas where the borders had shifted were then clearly visible, indicating where and when development had occurred.

(5) 1963 and 1974 layered

Extract from the 1963 map highlighted in red, layered with the extract from the 1974 map highlighted in blue.

At first glance, the OS map of 1963 appears remarkably similar to the OS map of 1876. There are still plenty of small properties, packed closely together. The Queen’s Head is still present, identifiable by the ‘PH’ for public house. The property retains its distinctive shape and the narrow passageway, sandwiched between 61 and 62, is still visible.

The biggest and most obvious changes have occurred by the OS map of 1974. The 1974 map presents a significantly changed section of the high street. The former Queen’s Head building has been demolished, and in its place a uniform, rectangular building has been erected. The narrow passageway has been built over and now features as part of the sites of 61 and 62. The sites of 62-66 now form one large property, occupied by Marks and Spencer’s.

(6) SCN 4595

Photograph of the west side of the high street including the Queen’s Head in the centre and several properties to the right that would eventually form part of the Marks and Spencer’s site. Photo by Fred Spalding.

(7) Current Image

A current image of the west side of the high street.

This map comparison perfectly illustrates how the town was transforming in the 20th century to accommodate modern development. In many cases the new buildings replaced small, dated properties which were considered no longer fit for purpose. The imperfect, quirky buildings visible in the Spalding photograph above were replaced by larger modern buildings built over several of the historic plots. Whether these new, spacious retail establishments improved the overall appearance of the high street is open to debate.

If you would like to use historic maps for a project of your own, do come and visit our Searchroom where staff will be happy to help you get started.

And that’s all from the Chelmsford Then and Now project! We will shortly be publishing the results of a similar project undertaken in Colchester so if you like old maps and historic photos there are more treasures to come.

A taste of the past

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Historic recipes are windows into everyday life in the past, helping us to imagine what life was like for our ancestors. Recipes tell us what people ate and drank, and how food was prepared and flavoured in a world before supermarkets, mass imports, convenience food or refrigeration, and during times of rationing. There can also be surprisingly exotic ingredients and styles of cooking, telling us something about the interconnectedness of the world in the past.

Not only do they tell us about food and drink, many historic recipe books also include instructions for making medicines, for both humans and animals. In a time with no paracetamol or antibiotics or any other modern medicines, these recipes can tell us about the health issues that our ancestors battled and how treated illnesses at home.

Speaking to the good people at the Recipes Project has inspired us to dig a little deeper into the recipes to be found amongst our collections. The project is a blog devoted to the study of recipes from all time periods and places, run by an international group of academics. Over the last few years both scholarly and popular interest in historic recipes has been growing, and the project is celebrating its fifth year by hosting a virtual conversation on the theme ‘What is a recipe?’ (2 June-5 July 2017).

The online conversation will take place on social media, so if you are interested in what might come up you can follow and join in by following the project on Twitter, and the hashtag #recipesconf.

Searching our catalogue Essex Archives Online for ‘recipe’ finds 214 results. The oldest date from the late 16th century, and the most recent from 1998. There are whole volumes of recipes, handwritten and typed, and individual sheets amongst larger bundles of papers. Some recipes are still entirely recognisable today, hundreds of years after they were written, others seem totally outlandish to modern eyes. Authors include housewives, doctors, and a cartman concerned with caring for his horses.

In terms of the question ‘what is a recipe’ posed by the Recipe Project, there is much that a dive into the ERO recipe books might be able to contribute.

With so many potential interesting avenues to pursue within these records, it is difficult to pick just one thing to write about, but I shall try to be disciplined and stick to just one of our recipe books, before highlighting a few others that are ripe for further investigation.

Mrs Elizabeth Slany’s Book of Receipts &co 1715

Elizabeth Slany’s recipe book (D/DR Z1) is one of the most substantial recipe books in our collection, and has already received some attention from authors and scholars. It has also been digitised, and images of the book can be viewed free of charge on Essex Archives Online. The first part of the book is, we believe, in Elizabeth’s own writing, and then another hand takes over later, perhaps her daughter.

Elizabeth was born near Worcester, and in 1723 married Benjamin LeHook, a factor (or agent) in the City of London. Elizabeth lived to the age of 93, dying in 1786. Her eldest daughter Elizabeth LeHook married Samuel Wegg who was the son of George Wegg of Colchester, a merchant tailor and town councillor. It was through the Wegg family that the book ultimately made its way to ERO.

Her recipe book provides fascinating insights into her life in charge of a well-to-do eighteenth-century household. Some of her recipes are for very rich food, and there is a focus on preservation of food. There are also several medicinal recipes throughout the book, none of them especially appealing. Some of the recipes are surprisingly exotic – I certainly didn’t expect to find recipes for fresh pasta or a ‘Chinese method’ for boiling rice.

Here is Elizabeth’s recipe for preserving raspberries by making a jelly (interestingly called a jelly rather than a jam):

Raspberry Jelly 1080 watermarked

To make Jelly of Rasberries

Take to a pint of the juice of Rasberries a pound of Loaf Sugar put them on the fire & as they boyl scum them it may boyl ¼ of an hour you may put 2 or 3 spoonfulls of the juice of Currans in the pint it will make the jelly the firmer if you woud have whole Rasberries in you must gather them without bruising them in the least & when your jelly is almost boyl’d enough then put them in & let them boyl a little & scum them & put them in your pots or glasses

Scattered throughout the recipes for food are methods for making medicinal concoctions. Here is Elizabeth’s almost semi-magical recipe for a cure for the bite of a mad dog:

Mad dog bite cure 2500 watermarked

To cure Man, Woman or any Living Creature that is bitten with a Mad Dog if they are taken 2 or 3 Days after they are bitten

 

The first morning take of the herb call’d the star of the castle 3 roots & leaves & wash them very clean & if they are for a Christian dry the leaves & roots over a gentle fire or in an oven then beat them to powder in a mortar then give the person that is bitten all the powder in a little white wine & let them fast an hour or 2 after the second morning you must prepare 5 of the same roots as aforesaid and give to the person in the same manner & let them fast an hour or 2 the 3rd morning you must prepare 7 of the same roots as aforesaid & give to the person in the same manner & give him no more but let him be sparing in his dyet for a week & with the blessing of God the person need not fear but he shall do well you must give for any other Creature the same number of roots that you give to a Christian that is 3 the first morning 5 the second & 7 the last if for a horse give him the powder in a little butter or anything you can make him take it in.

Intriguingly, there are two recipes for something called ‘snail water’, apparently a popular treatment for consumption, although here Elizabeth also recommends it for rickets. Lisa Smith of the Recipes Project tells me that this is the smallest number of snails she has seen for this type of recipe, and that they usually call for a horrifying amount of the creatures such as a peck (16 pints). Indeed, an earlier recipe in Elizabeth’s book calls for a peck of snails – perhaps this version which uses just 10 was a revision after an attempt to collect such an enormous quantity.

Snail grewel 1080 watermarked

The Snail Grewel for a Consumption

Take ten garden snails, pick off their shells then boil ’em in a quart of spring water with one spoonful of pear[l] barley and one spoonful of hartshorn shavings, till it is wasted to a pint then strain it, add to it half a pint of milk, sweeten it to your taste with eringo root let the person drink half a pint of this first thing in the morning & last thing at night going to bed, if their stomach can bear as much, every other day is often enough to make it, its very good for the rickets

Amongst the later recipes in the book are these rather exotic ones, which have already attracted the attention of researcher Karen Bowman, who has previously written about the curry recipes in the book. On the pages following the curry recipes, we find others describing how to make fresh pasta, and a ‘Chinese Method of Boiling Rice’:

Maccaroni Paste 1080 watermarked

To make Maccaroni Paste

Take one pd of Flour, the yolke of three Eggs, two oz of Butter, melted in as much water as will mix it, let it stand till cold, then mix it with the flour &c then roll out this paste as thin as possible, & cut it into strips about the width of Ribbon Maccaroni, lay it upon Dishes till quite dry, when it will by fit for use.

Chinese method for boiling rice 1080 watermarked

Chinese Method of Boiling Rice

Take a certain quantity of Rice, & wash it well in cold water, after which drain it off through a sieve then put the Rice into boiling Water & when it is quite soft, take it out with a Ladle & drain it again through a sieve: then put it into a clean vessel & cover it up; let it remain till it is blanched as white as snow, & as hard as a Crust, when the Rice becomes a most excellent substitute for Bread.

There is much more that Elizabeth’s book has to tell us about life in an eighteenth-century household, but I have already written too much for one blog post so should leave it there for now. Do have a rifle through her book on our online catalogue if you want to see more.

If this little nibble at one of our recipe books has left you wanting more, there are plenty of others in our collections, such as:

  • Abigail Abdy’s book of recipes, begun in 1665, including recipes for plague water and consumption water (D/DU 161/623)
  • Veterinary and medical recipe book, containing 40 formulas for medicines for horses and 24 for humans, c.1899 (D/DU 892/1)
  • Recipe book for use in British Restaurants and Canteens, with hints on catering in view of rationing restrictions, including adding carrots or beetroot to jam in puddings. All quantities are based on catering for 100 people (D/UCg 1/7/10)

A search for ‘recipe’ on Essex Archives Online will bring up even more recipes to explore – do let us know what you find.

Document of the Month, June 2017: Poll Book of 1734

We never seem far from an election these days, so it seemed a good opportunity to compare today’s elections with one that took place in Essex over 250 years ago in 1734.

This month’s document (D/DU 3053/1) is a rare survival. It looks to be the original working draft of the poll of 1734 used by the Sheriff, Champion Bramfill, to record the votes cast by electors. The electors’ names are recorded along with where they lived and where they held property that qualified them to vote in Chelmsford, and the votes that they cast. The list does not appear to be in any order, suggesting that what we see is the order in which electors appeared in Chelmsford to vote. Their actual votes can be seen recorded in columns on the right.

A page from the 1734 poll book. Electors seem to be recorded in the order they turned up to vote. Their name is recorded, along with where they lived, where they held land that qualified them to vote in Chelmsford, and the votes that they cast.

A page from the 1734 poll book (D/DU 3052/1). Electors seem to be recorded in the order they turned up to vote. Their name is recorded, along with where they lived, where they held land that qualified them to vote in Chelmsford, and the votes that they cast.

There is not much about the 1734 election that we would recognise today as a free and democratic election. Only a small proportion of the population was entitled to vote; electors had to be male, and had to own property of a certain value. The Reform Acts of the nineteenth century gradually extended voting rights but it was not until 1928 that all men and women aged over 21 were entitled to vote.

The secret ballot was not introduced until 1872, and the votes cast were published in a printed book (we have a copy catalogued as LIB/POL 1/5).

The published version of the poll book, which showed who each elector voted for (LIB/POL 1/5).

The published version of the poll book, which showed who each elector voted for (LIB/POL 1/5).

At the time, two “Knights of the Shire” as they were termed, represented Essex in Parliament (the Boroughs such as Maldon and Colchester also had their own representatives). Voters were entitled to cast two votes, and had three candidates to choose from; Lord Castlemain was a member of the Whig faction, while Thomas Bramston and Sir Robert Abdy were both Tories.

Both seats were taken by the Tories (Castlemain received 2,146 votes, Abdy 3,378 and Bramston 3,056). This was contrary to the national trend, during the period known as the ‘Whig supremacy’ between 1715 and 1760.

The results of the election at the end of the published version of the poll book (LIB/POL 1/5)

The results of the election at the end of the published version of the poll book (LIB/POL 1/5)

The terms ‘whig’ and ‘tory’ were originally terms of abuse coined during the Exclusion Bill Crisis of 1678-81 (‘whig’ comes from ‘wiggamore’, a Scots term meaning cattle-driver, and ‘tory’ from the Irish ‘torai’, meaning outlaw or robber). As Charles II’s reign drew to a close, the whigs were worried about his Catholic brother James II inheriting the throne. Catholicism was associated with the absolutist style of rule of the French Catholic monarchy, and whigs favoured a constitutional monarchy, with the monarch ruling in conjunction with parliament. Tories, on the other hand, thought that parliament had no business meddling with the line of succession.

James II did inherit the throne on the death of Charles II in 1685, but he did not last long. He was pushed out of power in 1688 in the ‘Glorious Revolution’, and replaced with his daughter Mary II and her husband William of Orange (William was also her first cousin and James’s nephew). For the next few decades rebels known as Jacobites (from the Latin for James, Jacobus) attempted to restore James II and his heirs to the throne.

Both tory candidates in Essex in the 1734 election were Jacobites, and had key roles in an uprising that was planned to take place in February 1744. James II’s grandson Charles (known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie) was to lead an invasion supported by the French army, landing at Maldon. Thomas Bramston was slated to be one of the leaders of the uprising in Essex, and was described to the French government as a ‘gentilhomme d’un grand crédit dans la province d’Essex où les troupes doivent débarquer’ (a gentleman of great standing in the county of Essex where the troops will land). Sir Robert Abdy was one of six tory MPs who knew the military details of the scheme, and was referred to by the Pretender himself as one of his principal advisers in England.

In the end the planned invasion did not materialise; a storm scattered the ships which would have carried the troops across the channel, and the government got wind of the conspiracy. Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland instead in 1745, a campaign that ended in brutal defeat at the Battle of Culloden.

The poll book will be on display in the Searchroom throughout June 2017.