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The Essex Record Office holds records about the county, its people and buildings and provides a useful resource for individuals interested in family, house and local history.

Document of the Month, January 2017: Sir John Griffin Griffin’s new toys, 1765

Chris Lambert, Archivist

Our theme this month is toys – but of a grown up kind.  This bill is one of thousands in the Audley End estate archive.  General Sir John Griffin Griffin, later to become the 1st Baron Braybrooke, had inherited the estate from his aunt in 1762, and seems to have been spending fairly freely.

These purchases from Francis Watkins, a London instrument maker, put Sir John squarely in tune with the fashionable pleasures of the age – but pleasures that were linked to serious technological innovation.  Founded in the 1740s, the Watkins firm survived to be taken over in the 1850s by its younger rival Elliot Brothers.  In the 1960s Elliot’s, early manufacturers of electrical equipment and then of computers, became in turn one of the component parts of GEC Marconi.  The connection between optics and electrics was evident even at the time of this bill: amongst the ’optical, philosophical, and mathematical instruments’ available from Watkins were ‘electrical machines’.

D/DBy A23/4

So far as Sir John’s own purchases are concerned, a ‘concave to opera glass’ is probably a replacement lens, although it is interesting that Watkins was advertising ‘an opera-glass entirely new’.  For outdoor amusement, perhaps on the private bowling green behind Audley End house, we have 6 pairs of bowls with a jack, apparently bought in from another supplier.  A ‘book camara’ seems an unexpected purchase for the 1760s, but in fact cameras were well-developed by the late 18th century.  How to fix the images that they produced was unknown, but the principles of focusing light on to a screen were well understood, and a wide variety of cameras was available.  Probably Sir John’s purchase was a camera in the form of a book, opening to display an image to the (hopefully) delighted viewer.

Less of a toy was the most expensive item, a 6-guinea mahogany measuring wheel.  Sir John may have led a life of luxury, but he was also interested in the land that supported it.  He spent many years re-assembling the Audley End estate, which had been split three ways on the death of the 10th Earl of Suffolk in 1745.  For a serious landowner, estate management involved estate measurement, and it is likely that the measuring wheel was a means to that end.

Bills like this show vividly how many human activities – serious and frivolous – are united through the making of tools.  But we came across this one only because we were looking for something else in the bundle.  Serendipity is one of the great pleasures of an archive, and not to be had from a search engine.  Why not try it yourself?

Top tips for starting out on your family history

Did conversation at your family get togethers over Christmas turn to your family history? Finding out about the lives of your ancestors can be an absorbing and rewarding hobby, and here at the Essex Record Office we can help you get started on your search, whether you visit us in person or use our records online.

 

Tip no. 1: Talk to your relatives and search family papers

Talk to your relatives – particularly older generations. Find out what they know and remember, and write it all down. You could even make a sound or video recording of your conversations.

Look out for any old photographs, birth, marriage and death certificates, military records, medals, or if you’re very lucky, letters or diaries that you or relatives might have.

Use what you find out to start to build your family tree. Write down everything you know so far about when and where people were born/married/died, and any other key information about them. This will help you work out what else you would like to find out.

family-history-photo

Talking to your relatives and searching family papers and photos can be an excellent way to start building your family tree

Tip no. 2: Record where you find your information

Wherever your research takes you, make a note of your sources. It will make life much easier if you ever need to double-check something, and helps you keep track of where you have already looked.

 

Tip no. 3: Birth, marriage and death indexes

Search the civil registration indexes – these are indexes of birth, marriage and death certificates which begin in 1837. The indexes are available on various websites – if you visit the ERO or your local Essex library, you can use www.ancestry.co.uk for free. The indexes will give you the basic information of when and where someone was born/married/died. You can find out more by ordering the full certificate, which you can do through the General Register Office, or for Essex certificates from us at ERO.

 

Tip no. 4: Search the census

Search the census records – census records are available for every ten years between 1841 and 1911. These fascinating records list all the people living in each household in the country, along with their ages and occupations and where they were born. Again, these are available on various websites, but you can search them for free at the ERO or your local Essex library on www.ancestry.co.uk

 

Tip no. 5: Move on to parish registers

Parish registers are church records which record baptisms, marriages and burials. In some cases these can date back to 1538, and so can be used to go back much further in time than censuses and birth/marriage/death records. Parish registers for the historic county of Essex (including parts of greater London which used to be in Essex such as West Ham and Stratford) are all kept at the Essex Record Office. We have digitised all of our parish registers and they are all available to view online at www.essexancestors.co.uk (with the exception of marriages after 1957). You can take out a subscription to view the images from home, or use the service for free in the ERO Searchroom. You can also view images of all 70,000 of our original wills, dating from the 1400s-1858. Double-check that the documents you want to view are available before taking out a subscription.

Parish registers record baptisms, marriages and burials and can date back to 1538. Essex parish registers are kept at ERO - digital images are available on Essex Archives Online

Parish registers record baptisms, marriages and burials and can date back to 1538. Essex parish registers are kept at ERO – digital images are available on Essex Archives Online

Tip no. 6: Ask for advice

If you want further advice or have specific questions about the kinds of records available, talk to our experts either in the Searchroom (find out how to visit us), e-mail us or give us a ring on 033301 32500.

Good luck and happy searching!

Harwich Inspired Youth Action collaborates on listening bench

As part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, we have been installing listening benches across the county. These solar-powered park benches have in-built speakers, so at the touch of a button they play back clips of recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive. The clips give an insight into the heritage of the surrounding area, mostly from memories of long-standing residents first recorded as oral history interviews.

We have been working with volunteers from each community where we are installing these benches. With training, the volunteers have listened to relevant material from the Archive; chosen interesting snippets; and edited the audio recordings to create a series of short clips for the bench. They have also decided on the location of the bench and arranged for its installation and unveiling.

Photograph of Harwich listening bench on St Helen's Green

One of these benches is in Harwich, in a picturesque spot on St Helen’s Green looking towards the Treadwheel Crane and the sea beyond. The memories shared on the bench include experiences during the Second World War, visiting the Electric Palace Cinema, and of course the harrowing 1953 floods, such as Bett Calver’s experiences on that dreadful night:

 

The audio for the bench was selected and edited by members of Harwich Inspired Youth Action (HIYA). This group of teens takes on campaigns to improve the town and provide information and activities for other young people. They are supported by Teen Talk Harwich, a valuable information and support centre for the town. Here, two of the volunteers involved with the listening bench project share their thoughts on the experience. First, Brandon says:

We have both given up our own time to help create the sound bench part of the You Are Hear project, which is now located in old Harwich. The You Are Hear project was very interesting, learning about Harwich history with specific fascinating points like the floods, the building of the promenade and so much more. We spent some time picking out and editing the clips we thought would be good to use for the project and had to create 11 minutes of historic memories of the local area. Creating this project we felt not only inspired but also educated, learning about our town’s history. Once the audio was completed we went to the grand revealing of the bench by the mayor and mayoress. I felt proud to have taken my great-nan, who is 95 years old, to be part of the unveiling of the bench and felt I had shared some of her memories growing up in Harwich.

Photograph of Brandon with his family

Brandon with his family on the listening bench. Courtesy of Maria Fowler.

Stephen says:

Although this project took a long time to go through the different clips available, we had the difficult task of choosing the ones that seemed the most informative about Harwich and creating a short 11-minute audio clip with a number of people sharing their memories. I enjoyed meeting the mayor [at the unveiling ceremony], and I feel proud of what we have accomplished. We would hope you all can take the time to go along to sit and listen to the You Are Hear project in Harwich and to feel the same humble connection we did, listening to all the memories people shared over the years about Harwich.

Photograph of Brandon and Stephen holding HLF sign behind listening bench

Brandon and Stephen at the listening bench launch. Courtesy of Maria Fowler.

Read more about Harwich’s listening bench on the You Are Hear website. We are grateful to the HIYA teens for working so hard on the project.

Do you want to be involved with the next round of listening bench installations? We are looking for volunteers from Burnham-on-Crouch, Chelmsford, Clacton-on-Sea, Clavering, Coggeshall, Epping, Galleywood, Harlow, Southend-on-Sea, and Witham. Please get in touch if you can help.

HLF Logo

How to choose a wife, Victorian style

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Archives are wonderful places for surprise discoveries. When searching for one thing, you will often come across something completely different that you would never have thought to go looking for. In this sense working in an archive is challenging for the easily distracted, as there is always something intriguing to pursue.

My latest find, from the parish records of St Botolph’s in Colchester, is this Victorian poem, which gives advice to a man named Fred in choosing a wife (click the images for larger versions, and see below for a transcript):

Now why my dear Fred don’t you marry?

I had hop’d the late rumour was true

Now take my advice and don’t tarry

But set off instanter* to woo

But first my dear Fred pay attention

And though you should love and admire

If she’s one of these Ifs that I mention

Dear Fred make your bow & retire

If you find that she can’t darn a stocking

If she can’t make a shirt or a pie

If she says “Oh! Law!” “Mercy”! “How shocking”!

If she ever drinks beer on the sly

If soon of the country she’s weary

If politics e’er are her theme

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

If she crosses her legs or her letters

If you’ve seen her drink three cups of tea

If she boasts of those wearing her fetters

If she’s sick when she goes on the sea

If she seems the least bit of a scold

If her manners have any pretence

If her gown does not cover her shoulders

If her bustle is very immense

If she’s nervous, or bilious, or sickly

If she likes to take breakfast in bed

If she can’t take a hint from you quickly

If her nose has the least touch of red

If she screams when she’s told she’s in danger

If she seems a coquette or a flirt

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

If she’s stupid or if she is pert

If she’s one of these Ifs oh! then sever

The chain she around you has bound

And seek for a maid in whom never

These follies and failings were found

* While not a word we’re familiar with today, this word looks like ‘instanter’. The Oxford English Dictionary lists ‘instanter’ as a humorous or archaic word meaning at once, or immediately

If Fred was fortunate enough to find a girl who measured up to these exacting standards one does have to wonder whether he would ever had any fun with her, or indeed a meaningful conversation.

The poem is unsigned and undated, so I hoped that its content might provide some clues that would help to pin it down at least to a decade. Some of this evidence, however, is a bit contradictory:

‘If her bustle is very immense’

Bustles were fashionable from the late 1860s until the early 1890s.

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

This seems most likely to refer to Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), a polymath who published papers and books on a range of scientific subjects between 1821 and 1867.

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

This could refer to a few different publications by Irish scientific writer Dionysius Lardner, who published works about steam engines in 1828, 1832, 1836, 1840, 1844, 1856 and 1857.

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

The polka and galop were lively, energetic dances popular across Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century.

 

This evidence all points to a date in the 1840s or 1850s, apart from the line about the bustle. If bustles did not come in until the late 1860s, the poem must date from after then.

If anyone has any further information or spots any more clues that could tell us more about this poem, do please leave a comment or get in touch with us.

Document of the Month, December 2016: burial of a presidential ancestor

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

Parish Register, All Saints, Maldon (D/P 201/1/1)

Now that the forty-fifth President of United States of America has been elected, one could perhaps reflect back upon that illustrious line to the first holder of that office, George Washington, one of whose direct ancestors lived in Essex and was buried at All Saint’s Maldon in 1653, as recorded in this burial register.  This was George’s great-great-grandfather, Revd. Laurence Washington, who was probably born at Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire in 1602, the son of another Laurence Washington.   It was Revd. Laurence Washington’s own son John, born at Purleigh c. 1633/4, who emigrated to Virginia in 1653.  There he in turn fathered a son also called Laurence Washington who was to be George Washington’s grandfather.

Burial entry for Laurence Washington in the parish register for All Saints, Maldon (D/DP 201/1/1)

Burial entry for Laurence Washington in the parish register for All Saints, Maldon (D/DP 201/1/1)

Ironically, in view of George’s role in the American War of Independence, Revd. Laurence Washington was a staunch royalist and a protégé of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.  Through Laud’s agency he acquired the wealthy living of Purleigh near Maldon in 1632, and it must have been because of his royalist leanings that Laurence was one of those ministers ejected from their livings during the Civil War in 1643, in this case on a trumped up charge of drunkenness.  So, he moved, possibly incognito, to the impoverished parish of Little Braxted.  His family did not join him, however, but were sheltered by the family of Sir Edwin Sandys, who helped Laurence’s son John into the tobacco trade thus initiating his connection with Virginia.  Sadly, Revd. Laurence died without an estate sufficient to need letters of administration and was buried at Maldon.

Cover of the first Maldon All Saints parish register

Cover of the first Maldon All Saints parish register

Incidentally, the burial entry in this register dated 21st January 1652 provides a good example of how one must be mindful of the old style calendar when researching one’s ancestors.  Further down the register, one can see that the New Year starts on 25th March, so, the date of burial is actually the 21st January 1653 as reckoned by the modern calendar.

The parish register will be on display in the Searchroom throughout December 2016.

Harlow Housing and Design Interviews Online

Harlow New Town was established in 1947, when the New Town Development Corporation began to purchase land around the old town and erect new housing estates. The houses primarily served to relieve housing pressures on bombed-out, overcrowded London, particularly from the East End. The first residents began moving in from 1949.

So say the textbooks, but what personal stories lie behind these brief facts? At the Essex Sound and Video Archive, we hold a wonderful collection of oral history interviews conducted by Dr Judy Attfield in the 1980s for her research project, Harlow Housing and Design (SA 22). These interviews reveal what it was like to live in the new town. Our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, has enabled us to digitise all of the original cassettes and make them freely available through Essex Archives Online.

Screenshot of SA 22 catalogue

A satisfying sight: the icons show that there is audio material attached to that catalogue entry.

At first, we thought the digitisation would be a straightforward task. Shortly after the collection was first deposited with us in 1996, we created access copies on cassette, to safeguard the original masters (our standard procedure in the Sound Archive). The access copies are all neatly labelled and clearly identified, one cassette per interview.

However, when we looked in the box containing the original cassettes, things were not quite so straightforward. We digitise from the original recording (or as near to the original recording as we can get), to capture the purest sound. On revisiting the masters, we realised that the interviewer had used one cassette for multiple interviews – a common practice when you want to make the most of the cassette tape you have. Piecing each recording together to make one complete interview has caused our digitiser, Catherine Norris, several headaches.

But now they are all digitised. Similar to our procedure with physical analogue recordings, we keep a master, uncompressed .wav file safely in storage. We then create compressed .mp3 copies as our new access copy. You can still come into the Searchroom and listen to the recordings, but you can also now listen from home, through Essex Archives Online.

Each interview is valuable in its own right, but as a collection it is even more fascinating. Dr Attfield spoke to a range of people: developers, architects, and town councillors who shed light on the planning of the new town; shopkeepers; people who moved to Harlow before the new town; and people who moved as part of the new town settlement. Putting these different viewpoints together gives a rich, rounded impression of this time in history. Some interviewees say that women found it more difficult than men to settle in new towns and felt lonely and depressed; some say that women found it easier to form new bonds because they were surrounded by women in a similar position, raising children away from their parents in unfamiliar surroundings. Some were ecstatic to have their own front doors, their own staircases in two-storey homes; some missed the familiarity of London, even if they were living in cramped, shared housing. The multiplicity of memories challenges generalisations about life in a new town. It also demonstrates (by listening to the accents of the interviewees, if nothing else) that not everyone in Harlow in the 1950s was an ex-Eastender.

The collection also serves as a good example of how to conduct an oral history interview. Dr Attfield had a specific interest in the interior design of the new houses. She directed questions to gather information on this topic. However, she also asked wider questions for context. She let her interviewees say what they wanted with minimal interventions, but also guided the interview to cover her set of questions. Occasionally she probed her interviewees for more details, or challenged their viewpoints to get a better understanding, without revealing any judgement of their opinions.

Dr Attfield made a significant research contribution in the fields of material culture, gender studies, and design history, among other overlapping areas. Based for many years at the Winchester School of Art, her book Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life (Oxford: Berg, 2000) has become a key text in her field. She passed away in 2006. We are very grateful that she deposited her recordings about Harlow with us, for future researchers to use and enjoy.

One particularly moving interview from the collection is that with Mrs Summers, who moved to the new town from Walthamstow in 1952 (SA 22/1364/1). At several points in the interview, Mrs Summers describes the long adjustment period when ‘home’ still meant London before completely settling in Harlow. As well as missing her family, in this clip she describes how she ‘couldn’t get used to the newness of things’ after coming from Walthamstow with its ‘houses with big windows… little tiny houses… nice houses… [and] grubby-looking houses’.

At a time when neighbourhood plans for vast numbers of additional houses are being developed across Essex – across the country – perhaps these experiences of new settlers can help with the process of creating new communities.

Dr Attfield published an article based on these interviews in the book that she co-edited with P Kirkham, A View from the Interior: Women and Design (London: Women’s Press, 1995). The article can be consulted at Colchester Library.

We hope to showcase clips from these recordings on a listening bench in Harlow, in time for the 70th anniversary of the New Town in 2017. If you are interested in helping to work on the bench for Harlow, please get in touch: info@essexsounds.org.uk

Colchester then and now: The Ichnography of Colchester

Regular readers will probably have noticed our Chelmsford Then and Now series of blog posts, written by Ashleigh Hudson, who worked with us on a research placement last year as part of her MA degree with the University of Essex. We have been fortunate this year to have hosted another student placement, and this year Louise Rodwell has been investigating the history of the High Street of Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester. We will be sharing the results of her research here over the coming months. You can also join us at Colchester on the Map on Tuesday 15 November 2016 at Colchester Town Hall to see some of our historic maps and photographs from the town.

In his 1825 History of Colchester, the antiquarian Thomas Cromwell wrote that ‘To every lover of history and antiquarian research, there can exist few more interesting towns than that of Colchester’.

‘Perspective view of Colchester in the County of Essex’, engraved for The Complete English Traveller (I/Mb 90/1/)

‘Perspective view of Colchester in the County of Essex’, engraved for The Complete English Traveller (I/Mb 90/1/)

Colchester is well known as a Roman town, but much less is popularly known about the other phases of its history, despite its involvement with events such as the Dutch Revolt, which resulted in an influx of Dutch and Flemish migrants to the town, the English Civil War, when Colchester was besieged, and the witch trials of East Anglia, led by the notorious Matthew Hopkins.

This project sets out to explore the histories of selected sites on Colchester High Street, and to imagine the lives of some of the people who have lived, worked, shopped and walked along this historic road. Using maps, documents and photographs from the Essex Record Office, this research will investigate continuity and change in the high street, and reflect on how Colchester’s past shapes our experience of the high street today.

To get us started, we thought we would take a look at one of our favourite maps of the town, which provides a fabulous window into the past.

This survey, grandly headed ‘The Ichnography of Colchester’ (MAP/CM/25/1), dates from about 1748. It is unsigned, but is believed to be by a man named James Deane, a local architect from whom we also have other records and drawings. The unusual word ‘ichnography’ is an architectural term with Greek origins, usually used to mean a ground plan of a building, but here used to mean a plan of a whole town. The layout of the town seen here is easily recognisable today, and is based on the streets set out by the Romans.

James Deane’s plan of Colchester, c.1748 (MAP/CM/25/1)

James Deane’s plan of Colchester, c.1748 (MAP/CM/25/1) (Click for a larger version)

No scale is given, but it is approximately 1:2,800. The map is dedicated to the Hon. Philip Yorke and his Consort The Lady Marchioness of Grey; Yorke was Earl of Hardwicke, a local landowner and MP for Reigate and later Cambridgeshire.

Some streets are named on the map, while others are included in a key which lists 41 places indicated on the map by letters and numbers. These include places still familiar to us today, such as the castle, St John’s Abbey Gate, the high street and Head Street, and other names which have fallen out of use, such as Grub Street, Hog Street and Cat Lane. Grub Street, labelled ‘a’, was the short bit of road connecting St Botolph’s Street with Magdalen Street.* Hog Street is in the south east of the map, and possibly is what today is known as Military Road, while Cat Lane has been upgraded to become Lion Walk.

This is a map that rewards detailed study, with a number of charming details to spot. A few of our favourites are middle row, a narrow row of shops and a church in the middle of the High Street, none of which still exist today, ships sailing on the River Colne at the Hythe in the south east corner of the map, and the three windmills shown on the southernmost edge of the map.

Middle row, including St Runwald's church (MAP/CM/25/1)

Middle row, including St Runwald’s church (MAP/CM/25/1)

Ships on the Hythe (MAP/CM/25/1)

Ships on the Hythe (MAP/CM/25/1)

Three windmills on the southernmost edge of Deane's map (MAP/CM/25/1)

Three windmills on the southernmost edge of Deane’s map (MAP/CM/25/1)

In our future blog posts in this series we will be looking at a series of properties along the high street which reflect different aspects of town life and how it has changed through the centuries, including pubs, inns, churches and shops.

In the meantime, do join us on Tuesday 15 November at Colchester Town Hall to see James Deane’s map alongside several others of the town, along with historic photographs and sound recordings, at Colchester on the Map.

*This part of the blog post was corrected on 17/11/16 after a reader flagged up that we had made an error in our original identification of Grub Street as Balkerne Hill.

Essex Archives Online update – digitising our electoral registers

We have just begun the next big expansion of digitised records available through our subscription service on Essex Archives Online, with the beginning of our project to provide digital images of our electoral registers.

There are some 850 volumes in our collection of Essex electoral registers

There are some 850 volumes in our collection of Essex electoral registers

Ultimately we will be making available images of all the registers we hold from 1833-1974. The first phase of the project has just been completed, with digital images of our electoral registers from 1833-1868 now all available online. We will be releasing the images in batches, with a target completion date for the whole project of January 2018.

(There is a little caveat to this – the registers for 1918 and 1929 have been online for some time, and they will of course remain.)

While our set of Essex electoral registers is not 100% complete, it is the best surviving set of these records, and for some registers ours is the only surviving copy. This collection of some 850 volumes provides vital evidence of Essex people’s lives and locations over almost 150 years.

As with the images of Essex parish registers and wills already available online, the images of the electoral registers can be viewed free of charge in the ERO Searchroom, or as part of our online subscription packages. Information about how to find the records and how to subscribe can be found on our subscription home page.

Electoral register page for Bardfield Saling, 1851 (Q/RPr 1/10)

Electoral register page for Bardfield Saling, 1851 (Q/RPr 1/10)

 

Why digitise electoral registers?

There are two key drivers for digitising these records: 1, to make them more widely available, and 2, to preserve the originals. Electoral registers were not designed to have a long lifespan and can be somewhat fragile. As popular records they are frequently in demand, and digitisation allows us to make the information available while protecting the original documents.

 

How will the records be indexed?

As with the parish registers already available in Essex Archives Online, we are not publishing a name index, but all of the registers in this batch are arranged alphabetically – that is, electors appear in each parish in alphabetical order of surname.  This makes tracing individuals fairly easy.  In addition, each register is indexed by parish or place, and they offer great opportunities not just for family historians but also for studies of local society and urban development.  An annual list of the main property owners and occupiers in each place is a valuable addition to the online record, particularly where the local rate books (the ultimate source of much of this information) fail to survive.

 

Why do the records start in 1833?

Modern electoral registers came into being with the Great Reform Act of 1832.  The Act did not hugely increase the electorate, but for the first time it required the Clerk of the Peace – the head of the county administration – to have the annual parish lists of electors’ names ‘fairly and truly copied … in a book to be by him provided’, and to give to each elector’s name ‘its proper number, beginning the numbers from the first name’.  That book would be the electoral register for the following year. The Clerk was not required to print the registers, or to preserve them once the year was out, and before the mid-1840s only two survive in Essex. After that matters steadily improve, and from the early 1860s until 2001 the Record Office’s collection is fairly complete.

 

Who will be included in these registers?

The 1832 Reform Act expanded the electorate to some extent, but it was still limited to men aged over 21 who owned a certain amount of property. In 1851 just 11,500 county electors spoke for an Essex population of almost 370,000.

By no means all the electors for a particular parish actually lived there, or even close by, and their actual places of residence can be revealing. In 1851 the divided freehold of the King’s Head Inn at Gosfield, in the northern division of Essex, provided the qualification for 6 of the parish’s 13 electors. One lived in Chelmsford, one in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, one in London and three in Surrey.

At Braintree, three brothers from the Buxton brewing family each held a vote in respect of Hyde Farm, the farm’s ownership being split between them. According to the register, however, Sir Edward North Buxton Bt. – who was in fact the MP for South Essex – lived in Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair; Charles Buxton lived near the brewery in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, Middlesex; and Thomas Fowell Buxton lived in Leytonstone (Leyton), which was at least in Essex at the time, although far away in the southern division.

At Leyton, the pattern was repeated and each of the brothers qualified once more, this time through the freehold of the Three Blackbirds inn – although Thomas Fowell Buxton had apparently forgotten that he lived in the parish and gave the Spitalfields address as his place of residence.  For researchers into Victorian society, and especially the connections between land and politics, electoral registers are a mine of information.

For family historians, the names of the electors will naturally be the focus of interest, although the electors themselves are not the only people named.  For example, William Wing of Bloomsbury in London had a vote in 1851 for his house in Braintree on ‘corner of square, Miss Wing, tenant’.  She, of course, had no vote at all – but the naming of such voteless tenants increases the registers’ value to historians.  Miss Wing is known from the 1851 census as Sarah Wing, a silversmith and watchmaker living and working in Great Square, and census users might well have wondered about a possible connection with William Wing, born in Braintree but working as a watchmaker in New Bond Street in London.  Despite the gap between New Bond Street and Braintree, the electoral register evidence makes their connection almost certain, and suggests something of Sarah and William’s family arrangements.  Linking the electoral registers to other sources makes the whole data set much more powerful.

 

How did elections take place in this period?

The process of electing MPs in the 1830s-1860s was quite different to today. There were two different kinds of constituencies – counties and boroughs. The theory was that county MPs would represent landholding interests, and borough MPs the interests of the mercantile and trading classes. Before 1832 Essex sent 8 MPs to Parliament – 2 from the county seat of Chelmsford, and 2 each from the ancient boroughs of Colchester, Maldon and Harwich.

Before 1832 there was enormous variety in the size of constituencies and in voting qualifications. Polling could last up to 40 days, and there was no secret ballot. The whole system was liable to corruption and domination by local elites.

The 1832 Reform Act went some way towards resolving some of these issues. Most rotten boroughs (boroughs with tiny electorates controlled by a wealthy patron) were abolished, and seats were redistributed to growing industrial towns. Polling was limited to two days, and the qualifications for the franchise were standardised.

Essex gained two more MPs as part of the changes as the county constituency was split into two divisions, north and south, each returning two MPs, in addition to the two each still returned from the three ancient boroughs.

Flyer by John Gurdon Rebow of Wivenhoe Park, who stood as an independent candidate for North Essex in the 1847 general election. The policies he outlines here include the protection of agriculture, and of the Church of England and individual liberty. He was not successful on this occasion, but was MP for Colchester between 1857 and 1859, and again from 1865 until his death in 1870. (T/P 68/38/9)

Flyer by John Gurdon Rebow of Wivenhoe Park, who stood as an independent candidate for North Essex in the 1847 general election. The policies he outlines here include the protection of agriculture, and of the Church of England and individual liberty. He was not successful on this occasion, but was MP for Colchester between 1857 and 1859, and again from 1865 until his death in 1870. (T/P 68/38/9)

Looking to the future…

Further reforms were, of course, to come, and successive electoral registers include more and more people, until finally all men and women over 21 were granted the vote in 1928. We will continue to post updates on the blog as the electoral register project progresses, and we hope you enjoy exploring the new images.

Document of the Month, November 2016: Introduction of Daylight Saving Time, May 1916

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As the clocks go back again for the winter, November’s Document of the Month looks at the introduction of Daylight Saving Time in the UK in 1916, when the clocks went forward by one hour at 2 am on 21 May.  This flyer produced by the Borough of Colchester was issued to alert the public to the need to change their clocks and watches before they went to bed on Saturday 20 May.  The clocks went back again on 1 October 1916.

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The idea was suggested by William Willetts, a builder who proposed a change of 80 minutes, changing by 20 minutes each week in April and reversing the change each week in September.  Willetts died in 1915, before Daylight Saving Time was introduced.

There has been much discussion about the merits of going back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) for the winter.  Experiments in the late 1960s on staying on British Summer Time (BST) over the winter did result in an apparent decrease in road accident casualties but as this coincided with the introduction of legislation to limit drinking and driving, the effects were deemed difficult to isolate.

While England and Wales generally seem to prefer to stay on BST for the whole year, Scotland would prefer to return to GMT for the winter as this means that people are travelling to school and work in the daylight in the morning.  However, if this were to happen it would be the first time that the UK had two time zones since Dublin Mean Time was abolished in 1916.  It would also mean that Greenwich would not be using Greenwich Mean Time.

The document will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout November 2016.

Five favourite Chelmsford documents

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

We have two great events coming up in late October looking at the history of Chelmsford. On Wednesday 26 October we have a guided walk of the city centre based on John Walker’s fabulous 1591 map (see below if you have never seen this before), and on Saturday 29 October we are hosting Chelmsford Through Time, a pop-up display of historic maps and photographs, with a talk by Dr James Bettley on the post-war development of Chelmsford. You can find details of both of these on our events webpages.

In preparation for these events we have been sifting through some of the masses of material we have on Chelmsford history, and I thought I would share here five of my favourite Chelmsford items from our collections, that provide fascination snapshots into the past of our county town.

  1. John Walker’s map, 1591

Any round-up of significant documents of Chelmsford’s history must surely start with John Walker’s spectacular map, dating from 1591 (long-time readers of this blog will most like have come across this in some of our previous posts). It shows the town in exquisite detail, with each building individually drawn with its own doors, windows and chimneys. What’s more, a written survey that goes with the map tells us who was living in each of these properties at the time. It’s a very special window into the past that I never get tired of looking through.

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Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591, showing the town (D/DM P1)

  1. James Maylett execution

A grimmer choice, but I have always been interested in Tudor history and this snippet from the Chelmsford burial registers serves as a reminder of how brutal life could be. This burial entry dates from December 1542, and reads:

Jamys Maylette clerke Bachelor of Dyvinyti and p[ar]son of moche Lyes was drawen hanged and quarteryd on the market hyll for high treason on fryday the firste daye of December ao 1542.

That is to say, James Mallett, the parson of Great Lees, was hung, drawn and quartered in the market square at Chelmsford for high treason. 1 December that year was a Friday, market day, to ensure maximum witnesses for the gruesome spectacle.

Mallett had been a chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife whom he divorced in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Mallett had also been rector of Great Leighs for 28 years. His treasonous offence was to comment unfavourably on Henry’s policy of dissolving religious houses. His public execution must surely have been intended as a warning to other clergy not to pass comment on the king’s decisions.

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Extract from the Chelmsford parish registers showing the burial of James Mallett, December 1542 (D/P 94/1/4 image 26)

 

  1. Spalding photo of High Street, c.1869

This is one of the earliest surviving photographs of Chelmsford High Street, dating to about 1869. It shows a view looking north up the High Street towards Shire Hall. It was taken by Fred Spalding, Chelmsford’s first commercial photographer. Spalding’s son and grandson both became photographers too, and we have about 7,000 of their photographs at the ERO today. This one, like all of Spalding’s early photographs, was taken on a glass plate coated with chemicals; a challenging process to get right, especially in the open air.

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Photograph of Chelmsford High Street by Fred Spalding, c.1869 (D/F 269/1/3715)

  1. Photograph of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

If I could wave a magic wand over Chelmsford I would love to be able to bring back the Corn Exchange. This neo-Renaissance building was designed by Fred Chancellor in 1857, and sat on Tindal Square (Shire Hall is just out of frame on the right of this photo). It was demolished, along with the whole of the west side of Tindal Street, to make way for the High Chelmer redevelopment in 1969.

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Photograph by Fred Spalding of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

  1. Women at work in Marconi’s

This photograph is one of a series of images taken of Marconi’s Hall Street works, sometime between 1898 and 1912. At the start of the twentieth century, women were mostly expected to marry, have children, and stay at home. As an archetypal `new’ industry, the wireless industry involved complex assembly operations and `high-tech’ components requiring manual dexterity. The Marconi Hall Street works pioneered the early recruitment of a trained female workforce. Women are so often invisible or difficult to find in historical sources, so to find such striking photographs giving an insight into what their lives were like is always exciting. (You can see some more photos from this set on our Historypin page.)

Women at work in Marconi's Hall Street Factory, c.1902 (A11449)

Women at work in Marconi’s Hall Street Factory, c.1902 (A11449)

 Join us for Walking with Walker (Wednesday 26 October 2016) or Chelmsford Through Time (Saturday 29 October 2016) to delve deeper into Chelmsford’s history.