Good and perfect memory: willing investigations

Is there something in our collection that you would love to investigate, but you aren’t able to visit us yourself? Or perhaps a document that contains vital information, but it’s just too tricky to decipher? Whether you are researching the history of your family, your house, or a vintage or classic vehicle, our Search Service might be able to help you.

One of the most frequent search requests we receive is to dig out information from the tens of thousands of wills in our collection. These date from around 1400 up to 1858, and contain all sorts of juicy nuggets of historical information.

One such will that our Search Service was recently asked to transcribe was left in 1615 by John Pease, who was a yeoman and lived in Great Baddow (D/ABW 30/235). Getting to look at a document in this amount of detail and delve into the lives of people long gone is always a treat, despite the trickiness of the handwriting.

The beginning of John Pease’s will, made on 11th January 1615. Just three days later his burial is recorded in the local churchyard.

Wills can be fabulously interesting documents and if you are particularly lucky you will find out the names of family and friends and details of property and this will is no exception. As is usual for a will of this period John Pease ensures that there is no doubt that while he is ‘weak in bodie’ he is ‘yet of good & p[er]fect memorie’. If there was any doubt as to his mental capacity then, just as now, his will would be invalid. He bequeaths his soul to God and his ‘Bodie I bequeath to the earth from where it came to be buryed in the Churchyard of Much [Great] Baddow’.

Interestingly there must have been some doubt in his mind as to if his wife Edee was pregnant or not for he goes on to describe what was to happen if, having three daughters already, his wife ‘be conceaved w[i]th a man child’ or ‘be conceaved with a woman child’. If it were a boy then he was to get certain land and property and if it were a girl then their inheritance was taken in to account along with his daughters Mary, Margaret & Edee. Reading between the lines you get the impression he was hoping for a boy!

John thought he was leaving his wife Edee expecting a child. He made various provisions in the case of the birth of a ‘man child’ and different provisions for a ‘woman child’

And what of John? Well his will is dated 11 January 1615. On examination of the relevant parish register for Great Baddow St Mary there is an entry made on the 14 January 1615 noting his burial (D/P 65/1/1, image 202) – he didn’t last long when he realised he had better make his will. Checking the baptism entries for Great Baddow for the months following his death there does not appear to be a record of a baptism of another Pease child so it seems that after all there was nothing to worry about.

So Edee, John’s wife, was now a widow and a quick check of the marriages for the few years after 1615 doesn’t show her getting re-married. However, there is an entry on August 11 1617 (D/P 65/1/1, image 123) for the marriage of Thomas Turner[?] and Margaret Pease. Could this possibly be John’s second daughter?

All documents tend to answer some questions and ask several more, which is one of the things that can make historical research such an addictive thing to do. If there’s a document you would like to see at ERO but you can’t visit, or you need some help understanding it, our Search Service is here to help – just get in touch on ero.searchroom@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500 for further details and prices.

ERO’s Curiosity Cabinet: First World War albums of Nurse Kathleen Morley

In the first of our new Curiosity Cabinet series, Hannah Salisbury shares some of the fascinating things to be found in some recently accessioned First World War albums.

In a parlour there were three

A maid, a parlour lamp, and he

Two is company without a doubt

That’s why the parlour lamp went out

These rather cheeky lines were written by Gunner J. Frank of the Royal Garrison Artillery as he recuperated at Hylands House Hospital in Chelmsford, after being wounded at Ypres in August 1917.

This little trace of Gunner Frank is preserved in an autograph album which belonged to Kathleen May Morley who volunteered as a nurse and worked in several hospitals, including Hylands.

Three albums which were kept by Kathleen during the war years have recently been accessioned into our collections. Two are autograph albums filled with poems, drawings, and notes from men she nursed. The third is a photograph album, and includes pictures of Kathleen as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), her colleagues, and her patients.

Kathleen was from West Ham, and had grown up in a middle-class household, in a house opposite Ham Park. Her father was the Borough Surveyor for West Ham, and the 1901 and 1911 census returns show that the family had live-in servants. Kathleen was born in 1891, and would have been 23 when the First World War began. She volunteered as a nurse in 1915, and worked in military hospitals in Richmond, Lincoln, Wanstead, Woodford, and at Hylands House in Chelmsford.

Kathleen in her VAD uniform in 1915

The notes and sketches provide fascinating insights into hospital life and interactions between the patients and staff.

This cartoon, by Private George P. Clark of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, shows a conversation between a patient and the Medical Officer:

Patient: And is the operation likely to be fatal, Sir?

M.O.: Dear me, man! – considering the Government is giving you this operation free, I consider your idle curiosity most unseemly!

Other poems escaped from hospital life altogether, such as this one by Signaller James Watt of the 13th Royal Scots:

I’d like to be a hairpin

To bind a lady’s hair

Among the transformations

And the pads I’d nestle there

But if I were a hairpin

In Mabel’s tresses black

You bet if I slipped down her neck

You’d never get me back

Not everyone, however, rated their literary talents; J.E. Watson left Kathleen ‘A few lines by a bashful poet’ when she was at Woodford Military Hospital in May 1915.

Others, however, were only too happy to share their poetic talents. This little verse was written by Private W. Harris of the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards:

Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s wife

His ass thou shalt not slaughter

But thank the Lord ‘tis not a sin

To covet thy neighbour’s daughter

Some of the soldiers who appear in the albums were very far from home. Signaller W. Cowlishaw of the 1st Canadian Artillery Brigade left this message for Kathleen on 15 June 1915 at Wanstead Park Military Hospital:

 I wish that I was able, just by your side to stand

And in the good old English way to shake you by the hand

But, as the sea’ll divide us, well, this I cannot do

So to prove that your [sic] remembered still

I’ll write these lines for you

Perhaps the cheekiest poem in the albums was by an Australian, Private C.V. Jordan from Melbourne, who describes himself as ‘the Chair King’:

Our eyes have met

Our lips not yet

But by jove kid

I’ll get you yet

There do not seem to be any American troops represented in the albums, but their influence is clear in this sketch by R.G. Beynon of the 16th Royal Fusiliers. One wounded soldier asks another “How did you get your packet mate?” “Learnin’ baseball orf the Yanks” replies his companion.

A great deal of affection and respect for Kathleen from her patients is evident throughout all three albums. F.E. Jenkins wrote this glowing review of her healing powers:

A good tip

When you’re feeling down & poorly

And you’re looking pasty white

Try my remedy – Nurse Morley

She’ll fix you up all right

Several of the patients who appear in the photograph album shared in Jenkins’s gratitude to Kathleen; this unusual bedside portrait is signed ‘Yours Gratefully H W Sheald’.

Altogether, the albums provide a fascinating record of life in the hospitals in which Kathleen worked throughout the war.

The two autograph albums and a small selection of pictures from the photo album will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout January and February 2019.