In this guest blog historian Richard Till explains how the discovery of a small document in the Thaxted community archive and recently deposited at the ERO, has provided the missing piece of the puzzle relating to chantry land in Thaxted.
on for a hundred years ago, its origins lost in the mists of time, an archive
was established in Thaxted. It was thought to be important, but no-one quite
knew why. A committee was established, but little ensued other than a decision
to lodge it in the roof of the chantry, its boxes unread and unopened.
1980s proved to be a turning point. Thaxted’s charities, Yardleys and Hunts
handed over their material to the Essex Record Office. Some of the archive may
have been handed over at the same time, but no-one knows for sure.
the spring of 2023 and everything changed. The archive was removed to Thaxted’s
Guildhall and a very competent local historian asked to index its contents.
Shortly afterwards he contacted me. In a foolscap envelope initialled by
Thaxted’s “Red Vicar”, Conrad Noel, there was a parchment document replete with
seal. I had it transcribed and handed a copy to the archive.
document was an indenture from 1551 and it solved a minor mystery. In 1548
commissioners had visited Thaxted to implement the reformation. They had
dismissed the chantry priest and sold the chantry with its 20 acres of land to
two freemen of the City of London. (ERO, D/DHT T534).
the early 17th Century, Yardleys Charity’s accounts (ERO, T/P 99/2)
showed that at some stage, the chantry, with its land, had been repatriated and
bought for the town by the then vicar, Thomas Crosby. It had been used
thereafter as an alms house and by 1615 had been handed over to a charity
headed by the mayor.
newly found indenture solved the problem. In 1551, the chantry had been sold
back to a local landowner, William Gace, thence, after a further sale, to
indenture along with its transcript is now in the possession of the Essex Record
Office and they have kindly provided a photo of the original for the archive.
I’m not holding my breath, but more may follow!
As mentioned above, a transcription translated from the original Latin was kindly deposited with the document and can be read below:
May all men now and in the future know that we Thomas Moore of the City of London, mercer, and Elizabeth, my wife, have demised and enfeoffed, and by this our present charter, have confirmed to William Gace of Thaxted in the county of Essex, yeoman, one messuage, two gardens and other lands and pastures called Buckynghams, and all the lands and pastures with their appurtenances, containing by estimation twenty acres of land, more or less, whereby they shall be now or in the future in farm or in the occupation of William Gace, situate and lying in Thaxted aforesaid, formerly belonging to the chantry called Thaxted Chantry, not long ago part or belonging or parcel of the possessions of the said late chantry, formerly being reputed or known as such. To have and to hold the aforesaid messuage, lands, pastures and the rest of the premises with their appurtenances to the aforesaid William Gace, his heirs and assigns, to the proper use of the said Gace, his heirs and assigns forever. To be held of our now king, his heirs and successors, as of his manor of East Greenwich in the county of Kent by fealty as in free socage and not in chief, for all other rents and services and demands whatsoever. And assuredly we the aforesaid Thomas Moore and Elizabeth and our heirs will guarantee and defend forever by these presents the aforesaid messuage, lands, pastures and the rest of the premises with their appurtenances to the aforesaid William Gace, his heirs and assigns, to the use aforesaid, against us the said Thomas Moore and Elizabeth and our heirs and against a certain Thomas Hayelbarne and a certain Thomas Grande and their heirs. And may those above know that we the said Thomas More and Elizabeth have assigned, appointed and established in our place our well beloved in Christ William Spyman and John Gace the elder as our true and faithful attorneys, together and separately for the entering on our behalf and in our names into the aforesaid messuage, lands, pastures and the rest of the premises with their appurtenances, and full and peaceful possession and seisin to be taken therein. And after this possession and seisin therein so taken and had, to deliver full and peaceful possession of and in the aforesaid messuage, lands and the rest of the premises with their appurtenances to the aforesaid William Gace on our behalf in our names, according to the force, form and effect of this our present charter. All whichever of our attorneys or any one of them will do, in our name, in the premises or any part of them, is approved and will be approved. In witness of which we have attached our seals to this present charter, given on the eighth day of May in the fifth year of the reign of Edward the sixth , by the grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, and supreme head of the Church of England and Ireland
Below: by me Thomas More
(Back) (presumably endorsed on the above) Seisin and possession of this charter has been well, publicly and peacefully taken on the day and in the year within written and was delivered by the within named William Spilman and John Gace the elder in the presence of Richard Fanne, John Gawber, Thomas Savedge, William Fanne, the elder and John Pledger with others.
Tho. More his deede to Gace of Buckinghams and 20 Acares of Land to it belonginge More & wife to Gace: Feoffment of Buckinghams
We would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all our wonderful volunteers who regularly donate their time and expertise to help with our archives and sound collections and assist in the conservation studio.
The conservation volunteers have just entered the final stages of the Chancellor Project under the guidance of our Senior Conservator, Diane Taylor.
Frederic Chancellor (1825-1918) was a prolific architect with offices in Chelmsford, Essex and London. He was the first Mayor of Chelmsford and served seven terms in the role between 1888 and 1906 and was on the Town Council from 1854-1917. His home, Bellefield House, New London Road, Chelmsford, has a blue plaque for him. Chancellor is credited with working on at least 700 buildings, over 500 of which are in Essex. He worked on all types of buildings from private houses to public buildings such as the Felsted School and the Corn Exchange on Tindal Square in Chelmsford which was demolished in 1969 to make way for the High Chelmer redevelopment. He was also involved with most of the churches in Essex.
Although there was public demand to see his plans, their condition made them unsuitable for production, highlighting the need to make the entire collection more accessible through cleaning, repair and suitable packaging. Since 2014, 535 bundles totalling over 8500 individual plans have been processed and are now available to consult in the ERO Searchroom – a fantastic achievement made possible with a grant from The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and the support of the amazing volunteers.
Chancellor’s plans are beautifully produced, and many of them are highly coloured. Most are on paper, but there are some on fragile tracing paper, tracing cloth and some are blueprints.
When the plans arrive in the Conservation studio they are carefully removed from their packaging, unrolled, given a unique number, and recorded on a spreadsheet – this enables them to be tracked through the treatment process.
Every plan is surface cleaned by volunteers who are fully trained to identify problems such as pencil inscriptions, and delicate and crumbly paper, which will make cleaning difficult. Once clean, the plans are humidified so that they can be flattened. Flattening the plans is a time-consuming process which takes at least two weeks. Plans with sufficient damage to warrant repair – around 37% – are treated by the conservation staff and assisted by a trained volunteer.
After flattening and any necessary repairs, the plans are stored in folders or plan chests depending on their size. To date, 36 small boxes, 25 large boxes, 4 tubes, and 48 A0 plan chest drawers have been filled with completed Chancellor plans. This project could not have been so productive without the continued dedication of volunteers who have gifted 7996 hours of time so far. A wide range of people have worked on the plans including retired people with an active interest in history; newly qualified archivists; those exploring a potential future career in archives, whether as an archivist or conservator; work experience students and interns.
Our volunteers are committed to completing the sequence of Essex plans which will take us to an estimated total of 10,000 plans being preserved for future generations and made available researchers to consult which will be a fantastic achievement.
The Chancellor plans in this project can be found on our online catalogue here: Chancellor, Architects of Chelmsford, although his plans can be found in other collections throughout the ERO’s holdings.
Following on from his first blog post about the Essex folk movement oral history project and his second about the folk revival in England, MA placement student Callum Newton explores what the folk movement looked – and sounded – like in Essex from the 1960s.
Those interviewed for the Essex folk movement oral history project recall a very active folk club circuit around all areas of Essex, with the more prominent clubs being Blackmore Folk Club, Chelmsford Folk Club, and the Hoy at Anchor in Southend. Blackmore’s influence is felt particularly in the interviews, as Sue Cubbin, the interviewer, and several of the interviewees – including Simon Ritchie, Annie Harding, Jim Garrett and Paul O’Kelly – had performed either within the club or with Blackmore’s associated Morris team. Ritchie, Cubbin and Roger Johnson had also participated in running the club at various stages.
There were dozens of folk clubs across the county, however, from Harwich to Colchester and as far as Brentwood and Havering. Associated with the Essex Folk Association (EFA), or the earlier Essex District Committee of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, all of them were documented in Essex Folk News [LIB/PER 2/22/1-50], so that every club was regularly accessible to anyone involved in the movement.
Essex’s relationship with the larger London folk circuit is also evident due to its geographical relationship. Many practitioners were born in London, discovered folk and later moved to Essex, like Jill-Palmer Swift; or travelled to London specifically for folk, like Dave Vandoorn who ran his first folk club in East Ham in the 1960s despite working in Brentwood.
The close proximity no doubt enabled practitioners to travel between: many already worked in London, like Reg Beecham and Simon Ritchie; or others simply travelled to perform, like Alie Byrne and Jim Garrett. There were considerable differences between the two locations however – while Byrne cites the typically younger audience members in London,Jill Palmer-Swift had always noted the typically wider mix of ethnicities present in London’s folk clubs.
The role of folk clubs was not universal – some existed to have performers, to be watched by those who attended, while others encouraged group singing lead by a particular performer .
This was certainly the case, also, in Essex. Paul Kiff describes how the Old Ship in Heybridge acted as a more informal club, entirely focused on singarounds.
This stands in contrast to a club like Maldon Folk Club, where performers were specifically booked by the host, Rick Christian. It is crucial to consider the individual philosophies of those who ran folk clubs; Christian maintained a professional folk career, and this certainly bled into his organisation of folk festivals, where the performer tends to be the focal point. Paul Kiff, on the other hand, openly rejected festivals and artists as the centre of performance entirely, citing that it was against the tradition, while maintaining a reformist political career within the EFDSS. Ultimately, this is just one of the themes central to finding a definition for the tradition – as in, what is legitimate folk? Sometimes, the vocal, passionate people involved would split bands, or even entire clubs over their position on that question (for more on this topic, see the interviews with Simon Ritchie and Myra and Red Abbott).
Essex had a very pronounced tradition of its own – largely attributed to the song collections of Vaughan Williams but also from particularly Essex dances like ‘Sally’s Taste’, ‘The Tartar’ and ‘A Trip to Dunmow’ as discovered by John Smith and Jim Youngs (as referenced in interviews with Tony Kendall and Jill Palmer-Swift).
The songs themselves were also a point of contention by some who practiced folk music. Don Budds explained that to his band the Folk Five, folk was an orthodoxy of strictly ‘modal’ style songs like “Maids when You’re Young” or “My Bonny Boy” (see also copy of the Folk Five repertoire, SA 30/1/37/3).
Peter Chopping described folk songs as ‘workers songs; sea-shanties, capstan shanties and halyard shanties’ as well as ‘forebitter’ songs – all some form of worker chant or sea-shanty. Others were less strict; Annie Harding, for example, opted to incorporate jazz and other types of non-folk into her folk act repertoire, alongside traditional songs.
Alie Byrne is indicative of this less orthodox approach as the tradition progressed, as a relative newcomer to the folk scene even at the time of the interview. She suggests that there is a fundamental difference between performing folk and listening to folk, and that while some audiences were strict about ‘purist’ songs “they’ve heard before”, others were more appreciative of less orthodox, more experimental songs. She describes folk as a common ownership of songs, and that there is no one way to perform any song, and that every performer “owns” a song at the moment they are performing it. Byrne’s depiction of folk is a more romantic approach, though certainly this was not always generally accepted. It is certain that there was no universally accepted way to perform folk, even by the people actively performing it, and that the philosophy was actively argued inside and outside of clubs, or between clubs.
The EFDSS and the Essex Folk
The politics and philosophy of folk was felt quite heavily within Essex, induced by Essex’s relationship with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), which was seemingly tumultuous at the best of times. In 1995, the Essex Folk Association was founded from the remnants of the Essex District Committee of the EFDSS [EFN Spring 1995, LIB/PER 2/22/23]. Instead of being a regional committee of the EFDSS, the Association instead adopted affiliate status and organised its own affairs. Ivy Romney and Paul Kiff both explore the arguments for this – with Romney claiming that many believed a “non-English” designation would encourage specifically non-English style dancing and music, of which many clubs existed in Essex, such as Scottish country dancing or Irish music, to associate with the Essex movement.
The EFDSS policy, since its founding, of ‘English only’ had prevented some groups, such as Romney’s own Society for International Folk Dancing, from being incorporated properly into the folk scenes despite the universal theme of folk between them. Paul Kiff, additionally, proposed the idea of affiliated clubs within the EFDSS to give each Association its own direction behind some guiding principles, and suggested that some unspecified but consistent names had held back the folk movement within the executive of the EFDSS. This criticism of the EFDSS is explored within the interviews, with some accusing the EFDSS of gatekeeping, and others proposing that dance was always the priority for Cecil Sharp House.
Practically, as a response to the EFDSS monopoly on folk song collecting, the Essex folk movement is of note for its own individual second-revival collectors. Some of those interviewed, like Dennis Rookard and David Occomore, spent countless hours recording in folk clubs.
These collections – alongside those of other collectors, notably John Durrant and Jim Etheridge – are now housed in the Essex Record Office as part of the wider folk music collection, catalogued as SA 30. Additional recordings made by Dennis Rookard are catalogued as SA 19, and David Occomore as SA 21.
Folklore and oral history are inextricably linked because the traditions of folk were themselves an oral tradition. In a modern world, where recording equipment is practically accessible by any person, oral history with a recorder is seemingly the natural successor to this kind of oral tradition . In the spirit of Ewan MacColl’s radio ballads, which combined elements of song and interview into a documentary, folk can and does exist as a wide-ranging, permanent record of the lifestyle people lived .
A folk archive then, like the one idealised by Paul Kiff, is fundamentally an extension of the folk movement itself. The collection housed at the Essex Record Office, and the project Sue Cubbin began in 1998, is fundamentally, itself, the folk tradition in the twenty-first century.