Over the centuries science has had a massive impact on the lives of the residents of Essex. Join us on the 7th March for a day of talks celebrating some of the everyday developments in technology that have transformed lives in the past and how we live today.
This one day conference is positively brimming with no less
than 6 speakers talking on 7 different subjects.
Peter Wynn will be talking about gas manufacture and water purification;
Zoe Outram will discuss the science of archaeology;
David Crease will talk about the science of brewing;
Ian Vance will look at the development of fibre optics at STL in Harlow;
John Miners will explore the science of cloth manufacture, and;
Tony Crosby will wrap up with a whistle-stop tour of the industrial archaeology of Chelmsford
Over the next few weeks we will be introducing some of our
speakers and their topics in a little more detail right here on our blog.
Our first introduction is for Dr David Crease. David is,
amongst other things, one of the founding fathers of Woodforde’s brewery in
Norfolk where he was for many years the head brewer. David and his Friend Ray
Ashworth pioneered the new wave of handcrafted beers in the 1960’s. Having
produced thousands of barrels in his career, who better to talk to us about the
science of producing the perfect pint? David may have even hinted that he might
bring some samples of medieval brews, so we have made sure to schedule him to
talk just before lunch!
Brewing of some kind has a history almost as long as
humanity and it will forever be intertwined with the human story. Essex was no
exception, when a medieval agricultural labourer in the Dengie reached for a
drink it was undoubtedly an ale he grasped and when the workers at STL went out
for a drink after work, there were more than likely a few beers consumed.
Brewing has had a huge impact on our landscape and our society, but how many of us know how our beer and ale is made now and how it was produced by our forebears.
Make sure to come along on the 7th March to learn about the whole brewing process from field to glass.
Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex. Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project
This time we are looking at the most exotic leg of John
Farmer’s first American journey when he toured the islands of the Caribbean.
In the course of nearly two years Farmer had travelled
through Pennsylvania, the Jerseys, to New York, Nantucket Island, Long Island,
Boston, Rhode Island, and Virginia, holding meetings wherever and whenever he
could, bringing his Quaker Testimony and gathering Certificates of Unity from
the various Friends’ Meetings he visited along the way.
Certificates were important documents as Quakers travelled
only with the agreement of their fellow Friends, and their home meeting would
issue a Certificate confirming their unity with the testimony that individual
gave, and in return meetings who received that testimony would give a
certificate confirming their satisfaction.
An example here is from Thaxted, held here at the Essex
Record Office, confirming their approval for John Farmer to travel in 1707, and
their unity with him and his testimony. Note it is signed by his wife Mary
Farmer as well as a number of other Quakers.[i]
Arriving in Philadelphia at the end of October 1713 John Farmer
reviewed his progress so far:
cast up my account of the miles I had traveled in North America & found it
to bee 5607 miles. Friends of Phyladelpha & Samuel Harrison merchant a
friend of London beeing there & having there a ship bound to Barbados were
very kinde to mee & John Oxly (a minister of Phyladelpha) who went with
mee: som in laying in Provishon for us & Samuel Harrison in giving us our
passage to Barbados. Wee went on board the latter end of the 9th month 1713 [November
had a pritty good voyage & had som meetings on board in our passage to
Barbados where wee arrived the 5th of the 11th month 1713’ [5th January
Quakers had been appearing in the Caribbean since
the early 1650s, some coming as transported slaves from Britain, punished for
being Quakers but others seeking the religious and career freedoms denied in
their home countries. In Britain
religious dissenters were denied the option of going to university or taking up
the professions, so many became businessmen, and the Caribbean colonies offered
opportunities for trade, running large plantations and owning ships, as well as
a greater freedom of religious expression than in Britain in the second half of
the 17th Century.[iv]
The trade in
cotton, sugar, coffee and tobacco required huge numbers of slave workers, many
owned by Quaker families. There was a divided spirit within Quakers about the trade
in human beings, and the owning of slaves.
As early as 1671 the founder of Quakerism George Fox had suggested
slaves should be considered indentured servants and liberated after a given
period of time, perhaps 30 years, and that they should be educated in Quaker
religious beliefs[v]. The difficulty this caused was that Quakers
believed all men to be born equal, and therefore by bringing their slaves into
the Quaker brotherhood it meant they should be considered of one blood with
their white masters. This dilemma meant that there was disquiet for the next
100 years in Quaker communities as they wrestled with the issue of whether or
not they should keep and trade in slaves.
Despite travelling through the slave owning states
in America and the Caribbean Islands John Farmer passed no comment on the
slavery situation in his 1711-14 Journal.
For now he was silent on the matter.
Almost inevitably, John Farmer eventually waded into this highly
controversial dispute, with catastrophic results, but that is a story for
John Farmer made a four-month tour of the Caribbean islands of Nevis, St Kitts (which he called Christopher’s Island as Quakers did not recognise saints), Anguilla and Antigua holding several meetings.
In Barbados he held a large meeting in ‘Brigtoun’ (Bridgetown) where he remarked that the public were very
civil. In Anguilla he wrote
disapprovingly that the Quaker congregation had “fell away into drunkenness and other sins which so discouraged the rest
that of late they kept no meeting.” [vii]
Antigua was more successful, and he held 26 meetings and
stayed five weeks bearing “Testimony for
God against the Divell and his rending, dividing works on this island.’ But on one occasion in Parham, Antigua, Farmer
again fell afoul of the local priest who “Preached
against Friends [and] some of his
hearers threatened to do me a mischief if I came there away and had another
In Charlestown on
Nevis, Farmer again endured the tradition of protest by charivari (protest by rough
music) something which had also happened in Ireland on a previous journey[ix],
but this time with fiddles rather than Irish bagpipes and with somewhat darker
consequences. John Farmer encountered a troublesome Bristol sea captain who decided
to have fun at the intrepid Quaker’s expense, and paired up with an innkeeper
to disrupt Farmer’s meetings by arranging for loud and continuous fiddle
playing to drown out his preaching.
Farmer mused in his journal on the fact that the sea captain died a few
days later of a “fevor & disorder”
reflecting that God’s judgement may have come down upon the disturber of his meeting,
reporting with some satisfaction that “at
his buriell the Church of England preacher spake against people making a mock &
game of religion”.[x]
Farmer wrote in his journal that while in Barbados he received
instruction from God to go home to England for a short time before going back
to America. Perhaps this was a clue to
the next phase of his life. He took ship
for England on the Boneta of London, sailing from Antigua 24th May 1714 and he
landed safely back in London where his wife and daughters were waiting for him. They then travelled on to Holland and also visited
friends and family in Somerset and the south west before arriving home in
Saffron Walden on 28th November 1714.
This is where the John Farmer journal finishes, but his
story went on for another 10 years. A
story of passionate anti-slavery campaigning that cost John Farmer very
And that will be the story to be told in my next post about
John Farmer’s extraordinary life.
Record Office A13685 Box 47 Certificate for J Farmer to travel 29.3rd mo. 1707
(29th May 1707)
note on the dating processes used prior to 1751: Years were counted from New
Year’s Day being on March 25th, so for example 24th of
March was in 1710 and March 25th was in 1711. In addition Quakers provided an extra
difficulty as they refused to recognise the common names for days of the week,
or months as they were associated with pagan deities or Roman emperors. So a Quaker would write a date as 1:2mo
1710 which was actually the 1st April 1710 as March was counted as
the first month. In 1751 this all
changed when the British government decreed the Gregorian form of calendar was
to be adopted and the new year would be counted from 1st January
1752. See my previous post An Essex Quaker Goes Out into the World.
Lewis Smith, the Essex Record Office’s Engagement Fellow, takes a look at some of the things in the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive.
Founded by Guigielmo Marconi in 1897, the Marconi Company
(which held various names over its lifetime) were pioneers in wireless
technology. Famously based in Chelmsford (regulars in the area will draw
attention to places like ‘Marconi Road’ and ‘Navigation Road’), his
technologies helped to shape the world we live in today: so much of our lives are
a result of their research, from radio to navigation, from aeronautics to
maritime, from communications continent to continent.
One part of the most interesting parts of the Marconi
Company’s history was the Marconi Photographic Section, whom took hundreds of
pictures over the organisation’s lifetime. These records are now stored at the
Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. Unfortunately, this collection remains
largely underused – so the British Society for the History of Science and Essex
Record Office tasked me to spend some time scoping out the Marconi Photographic
Section’s archive, working out what kind of images are within and, perhaps most
importantly, work out how they can be used. Whilst I have only been in the
archive for a relatively short period of time (since the beginning of October),
there are some very interesting historical angles in desperate need of further
research – from business to imperial history, from labour to marketing history.
One thing to note is that there are a lot of pictures
of non-descript machines and circuitry – fans of the history of electronic
engineering need look no further: historians of oscilloscopes, transmitters and
receivers, power supplies, RADAR arrays, and pretty much all kinds of
specialist electronic engineering will find something of interest here. These
images present an extensive product history of Marconi’s inventions and
patents. Perhaps more generally appealing, there is a lot for those interested
in maritime and aeronautical history: one of the key ideas that came about from
wireless communication was the idea of wireless navigation, and Marconi fitted
many different pieces of equipment to aircraft and ships to aid in their
navigation around the globe.
But the view of higher international politics, engineering
and industry are only one side of the coin: the prevalence of this technical
equipment masks ordinary life. The archive presents us with a rich social
history of the worker and their working practices. Workers, many male and
female, black and white, British and international, are presented in the
factories assembling intricate circuits. To look at the ethnography behind the
people in these pictures reveals the clear shifts, both natural and forcible,
in middle and working class employment. Notice particularly with image 2015 –
everyone is happy and content, giving the viewer the impression that everything
was okay working for Marconi. It wasn’t always this sweet.
As this is evidently the photographic archive of a business,
there is huge scope for a business historian. These photographs are frozen
moments in time, specifically captured because they want to show a particular
angle, person, product or scene – why one moment and not another? Why one
person over another? Why one place over another? More specifically, there are
multiple photographs of how the Marconi Company attempted to market itself in a
world of innovation: some of the most interesting pictures are of the exhibits
set up to advertise wireless communication at various exhibitions.
What is most interesting about the archive is the company’s vast spread throughout the globe: as with any history of the twentieth century, Empire remains front and centre. Imperial conquerors can come and go as they please, but radio technology meant the constant connection between colony and coloniser. Furthermore, the concept of technological Imperialism remained hot in this period: teaching others how to use Marconi equipment orients them towards using that equipment for a long time, forcing the colony to ask for technical help from the coloniser. This relationship is observable in the photographic archives as Marconi equipment was placed in different colonies, greatly expanding the imperial nation’s reach.
Art lovers may also find something worthwhile in the
archives. There are photographs of many different artistic drawings by members
of staff in the collection depicting a variety of different scenes. The
collection features many talented artists, as well as plastic models of Marconi
scenes and vehicles, models of scientific principles, and copious drawings. It
is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that science and art are two separate
unconnected topics, but the collection features some stunning images which
clearly appeal to the art behind science.
This collection is for use in the Essex Record Office under Accession A11449 in over 100 individual boxes. This project hopes to eventually digitise and map these images to show the company’s reach. I have spent time electronically tagging the pictures with keywords: if you would be interested in looking at this spreadsheet or further discussing the project, do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether for research or for a casual perusal, this collection really has a lot to offer!