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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.

Essex Archives Online digital images: Parish Registers – what will you find?

While the Essex Record Office might be closed to physical researchers it is still open for remote users via our Essex Archives Online (EAO) service that contains over three-quarters of a million digital images of parish registers, wills and some other records. This service has been up and running since 2011 and in that time researchers from across the globe have made use of the service. And it is a dynamic service as new images are added as and when relevant documents have been deposited and digitized.

In this Blog post EAO user Ian Beckwith has kindly shared some of his research that he has undertaken whilst using our parish register digital images. Ian is a seasoned user of the service and has been using it for several years but if you are new to research and are thinking of possibly taking out a subscription then it is worth considering the wonderful breadth of what is available. So, to begin with Archive Assistant Neil Wiffen discusses how to get started.

During the 20 years that I have worked at ERO I have been advising researchers on how to start making use of the digital images that are on EAO and here are some of my tips.

Firstly, I would strongly recommend that before you take out a subscription you familiarize yourself with the EAO catalogue. It is completely free to search the catalogue as much as you wish. There are several ‘User Guides’ which are located at the bottom of the home page (https://www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk/) so scroll down and have a read of these.

The cover of the Gt Burstead Parish Register – D/P 139/1/0

Secondly, have a go at searching the catalogue by trying out a simple search – try typing in the wide white text box (which contains ‘search the archive’) the name of the parish you are interested in and ‘church register’ and click ‘Search’. This will bring up instances of all sorts of registers, not just church, or parish, registers, for a certain place. Some of these won’t have digitized images associated with them so this is why it is essential to check that what you want to look at has digital images before taking out a subscription. It will, however, give you an idea of the range of documents that the ERO looks after. All the Church of England parish registers deposited in the ERO, except for a few of the most recent ones, have been digitized, so you should find that they all have the a picture frame icon at the end of their entry in the search results.

By clicking on the ‘Reference’ or ‘Description’ you will be taken to the full catalogue entry for a document which might well give you further information. You might find that it isn’t really what you’re looking for. But if it is, remember to check for the photo frame icon to find out whether there is a digital image associated with the document .

A quick way to search for parish registers in particular is to look at the ‘Parish Register’ section of EAO (top right-hand corner). Here you will be able to refine your search to the parish you are interested in. If what you are looking for isn’t there (or if it is there but doesn’t have ‘Digital images’ next to it) then don’t take out a subscription. It is worth remembering that not every parish will have records going back to 1538 so do check the catalogue before subscribing to avoid disappointment.

Every parish has its own unique number assigned to it. Great Burstead, for example, is D/P 139 and registers of baptisms, marriages and burials come under D/P 139/1. The first register, which covers 1559 to 1654, is then catalogued as D/P 139/1/0. Take time to familiarize yourself with the catalogue before taking out a subscription.

And do bear in mind that even if a parish register survives then early registers have baptisms, marriages and burial scattered throughout them so you will probably need to go hunting through the register for the entry that might be there – or might not . In the Tudor, Stuart and Georgian period it was very much down to the individual incumbent, or his deputy, as to how much effort was put into keeping the registers up to date. Not every vicar, rector or church clerk was as assiduous a record keeper as we might have liked him to have been. Fortunately, if you have a subscription to Ancestry, we have worked together with them to create a name index, which can take a lot of the leg work out your research. You can even buy digital images of what you find directly from Ancestry.

Handwriting can also be difficult to read, although some incumbents like Rev Thomas Cox in Broomfield and the famous Essex historian Rev Philip Morant, have beautifully clear handwriting. Sometimes the writing is faint or illegible and the register itself might be damaged. Remember these were working documents that have spent several centuries in damp and cold churches before being deposited at ERO.

One last thing, if you have identified that there are parish registers that you want to look though that have digital images associated with them, and you take out a subscription, then make sure that you take down the reference of what you have looked at and what you have found as you work your way through them. This will save time in the long-term and if you share your research with others you can tell others in what document you found the information.

I hope I haven’t put you off after all that but I do have one last warning: historical research can be addictive. You might start out looking for one thing but get distracted by something else. After 20 years of working at ERO I know there’s always another new topic of interest just lurking over the page!

Neil Wiffen – Archive Assistant.

If you require any assistance, having taken out a subscription, then you can contact the Duty Archivist at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk. While the Record Office is shut, emails are being monitored remotely during the present crisis. Please bear with us though.


Parish Registers – Researching Remotely

I, like many others of my age and with underlying health conditions, am in self-isolation.  But this doesn’t mean that I can’t get on with research.  Thanks to the digital age there’s so much available on-line for the local historian to work on, e.g. Essex parish registers, which, thanks to the wonders of the ERO, are at my finger-tips on my laptop.  There’s a subscription to pay, but once you’re registered., you can log-in, click on ‘Parish Registers’ in the top bar, scroll down the page until you find ‘Choose a letter’, then ‘Choose a parish’ and finally ‘Choose a church’.  Up will come a table, telling you when your chosen registers begin, click on ‘View’ in the right hand column, and the register will appear.  You need to know that in the case of the earliest registers, the baptism, marriage and burial entries were written up in one book, sometimes in different sections of the book, sometimes together as they occurred through the year.  Later registers record baptisms, marriages and burials in dedicated volumes.  When the image of your selected register appears, click on the rubric ‘To enhance this image… ’ and the image will expand to fill the screen.  Away you go!

D/P 139/1/0

In September 1538, King Henry VIII’s Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell, issued an injunction to every parish priest in England requiring him to keep a record of all baptisms, marriages, and burials in his parish.  In Essex at least seventy-five parishes have registers beginning in about 1538.  Most of these survivals are copies made in the reign of Elizabeth I, either by the incumbent or the parish clerk, from the old book, which was then apparently discarded.[i]   Many other registers begin in the reign of Elizabeth I.  Apart from the marriages, baptisms and burials that are the building blocks of family reconstitution, what else can we learn from scrutinising parish registers?

In rural Essex as elsewhere in the sixteenth century it was taken as a given that God existed.  No one’s head was bothered by whether the earth was the centre of the universe (it obviously was) or whether God was in his heaven up above while hell was down below (they undoubtedly were).[ii]  The only issue was whether God was Protestant or Catholic.  The wrong choice could cost you your life in this world and your salvation in the next.   When it came to making this choice, parishioners in England had been on something of a roller-coaster ride since 1538.   Four years before Cromwell issued his injunction introducing parish registers the Pope’s authority over the English Church had been abolished and the King had made himself Supreme Head of the Church in England.  Between 1536 and 1541 the Dissolution of the Monasteries had seen the closure of over 900 monastic foundations, the dispersal of the monks and nuns who occupied them, and the sale of their vast landed estates.  Yet the parish registers that survive from this period show that, while these upheavals were taking place, baptisms, marriages and burials carried on as normal.  The services of the Church continued to be said in Latin, in the form in which they had been since time immemorial.  It was not until 1549, two years after the death of Henry VIII, that the mass was first said in English.  Four years later the Protestant Edward VI was succeeded by his half-sister the Catholic Mary Tudor, Henry’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon, and during the next five years England returned to obedience to Rome, the services in the parish churches reverted to Latin, the traditional rites and ceremonies were restored, and images and treasures that had been hidden were brought out again, only for all this to be reversed in 1558 when Elizabeth I came to the throne: again the Pope’s authority over the English Church was abolished and the Queen was proclaimed Supreme Governor of the Church.[iii]   On May 8th 1559 the Act of Uniformity, authorising the use of the new Book of Common Prayer, received the Royal approval.  The new prayer book, which replaced all other service books, came into use on 24th June 1559.

Occasionally, however, in the midst of the routine recording of rites of passage, the registers provide glimpses of the impact of these changes at parish level.  In July 1599 the Great Burstead register recorded that

Elizabeth Wattes Widdow sume tyme the wife of Thomas Wattes the blessed
marter of god who for his treuth suffered his merterdom in the fyre at
Chelmesford the xxij day of may in A[nn]o D[o]m[ini] 1555 in the Reigne of
queen mary was buryed the 10 day 1599 so she liued a widow after his death
xlviij yeres & fro[m] the 22 of may to the 10 july & made a good end like a
good Christian woman in gods name.[iv]

D/P 139/1/0

Thomas Watts was one of almost eighty Essex men and women who were burned at the stake in the reign of Mary Tudor for refusing to recant their Protestant beliefs.[v]  A full account of Thomas Watts’ martyrdom is provided in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, more correctly titled Acts and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, first published in 1563 and greatly expanded in 1570.[vi]    Described as a linen draper of Billericay, then part of the parish of Great Burstead, Thomas Watts had, according to Foxe ‘daily expected to be taken by God’s adversaries’.  Accordingly he had assigned his property to his wife and children and donated his stock of cloth to the poor.  He was arrested on April 26th 1555 and brought before Lord Rich at Chelmsford, accused of not attending church, i.e. hearing mass.   Interrogated by Sir Anthony Browne, who, with Rich, had been appointed to purge Essex of heretics, as to why he had embraced his heretical views, Watts replied that

You taught me and no one more than you.  For, in King Edward’s days
in open sessions you said the mass was abominable trumpery, earnestly
exhorting that none should believe therein, but that our belief should be
only in Christ.[vii]

It seems that Watts had also spoken treasonable words against the Queen’s husband, King Philip.[viii]  Unable to persuade Thomas Watts to recant, he was sent to Bishop Bonner, ‘the bloody bishop,  …’.[ix] Essex was then within the diocese of London and Edmund Bonner was its bishop, first under Henry VIII and again under Mary.  He remained staunchly Catholic during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth.  Although usually depicted as sadistic and merciless, it is worth noting that even Foxe acknowledges that Bonner made several attempts to persuade Watts (and others) to recant, ‘gave him several hearings, and, as usual, many arguments with much entreaty, … but his preaching availed not, and he resorted to his last revenge – that of condemnation’.  ‘I am weary to live in such idolatry as you would have me live in’, Watts is alleged to have said, and signed the confession of heresy.  Faced by his refusal, Bishop Bonner had little choice but to consign Thomas Watts to the secular arm, the Church not being allowed to take life, to suffer the penalty prescribed by the Statute De Heretico Comburando (Concerning the Burning of Heretics) of 1401, originally intended to deal with Lollards.[x]

Returned from the Bishop of London’s prison to Chelmsford, Thomas Watts was lodged at ‘Mr Scott’s, an inn in Chelmsford where were Mr Haukes and the rest that came down to their burning, who all prayed together’.  Watts then withdrew to pray by himself, after which he met his wife and children for the last time, exhorting them to have no regrets but to glory in the sacrifice he was making for the sake of Jesus.  So powerful were his words that, it is said, two of his children offered to go to the stake with him.  At the stake, after he had kissed it, he called out to Lord Rich, who was supervising the execution: “beware, for you do against your own conscience herein, and without you repent, the Lord will revenge it”. ‘Thus did this good martyr offer his body to the fire, in defence of the true gospel of the Saviour’.[xi]

It seems unlikely that Rich, a man whose name is a byword for cruelty, sadism, dishonesty, ruthlessness and treachery, possessed a conscience.  Born about 1496, Richard Rich was a lawyer who entered the service of Thomas 1st Baron Audley of Walden,, who assisted Rich to become MP for Colchester.[xii]  In 1533 Rich was knighted and became Solicitor General.  In this capacity, he used selective quotations from a private conversation with Thomas More in the Tower in evidence at More’s trial.  In 1536 he was appointed Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, charged with the disposal of former monastic estates, a position that he used to enrich himself.  In 1546 he personally tortured the Lincolnshire Protestant martyr, Ann Askew, in the Tower. During the reign of Edward VI, as Lord Chancellor, however, he presented himself as a reformer, taking part in the trials of Bishops Gardiner and Bonner. Yet in Mary’s reign he helped restore the old religion, actively persecuting those like Thomas Watts of Billericay who refused to conform. Under Elizabeth he sat on a Commission to enquire into grants made during the previous reign and was called upon to advise on the Queen’s marriage. Richard Rich died on 11th of June 1558 at Rochford and was buried at Felsted on the 8th of July.  The entry in the Felsted register gives only the bare facts. For those at Felstead who had dealings with him, Richard Rich, first baron Rich, must have been terrifying.[xiii]

In Elizabeth’s reign, others submitted to the Religious Settlement but made their resistance covertly, like the parson of Great Baddow who recorded the burial of Joan Smythe on May 1st 1572 ‘being the purificacion even of o[ur] lady St Mary’ (i.e. the evening preceding the feastday).

Ian Beckwith


[i] It is not necessarily clear by whom the registers were kept.  Although the entries for the preceding week were supposed to be read to the congregation at the principal service on Sunday, there are indications that some were written up at the year’s end (24th March), possibly from notes on slips of paper.  The penmanship of the entries remains generally of a very high standard until the last decade of the sixteenth century, when it often becomes slapdash and much less legible. 

[ii] The realisation that the world was not flat, as the circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan and Drake demonstrated, did not shake the belief in this three-decker image of the universe.  

[iii] The change from Supreme Head as Henry VIII was designated, to Supreme Governor, it has been claimed, reflects the opinion that a woman could not be ‘Head’ of the Church.  However, when Elizabeth was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the title ‘Governor’ was retained and continued to be used by every subsequent monarch, male and female.     

[iv] ERO, D/P 139/1/0, Image 49. However, the length of her widowhood seems to have been miscalculated.

[v] J E Oxley, The Reformation in Essex to the Death of Mary, Manchester University Press, 1965, pp.210-237.  Coincidentally, my copy was withdrawn from Billericay Public Library in about 2013.

[vi] I have drawn upon an edition of 1860, published in Philadelphia.  The account of Thomas Watts’ martyrdom is on p.367. The Book of Martyrs has been blamed for inciting anti-Catholic sentiment in England.

[vii] Foxe, p.367

[viii] Mary had married Philip on 25th July 1554

[ix] Foxe, p.367

[x] Several Essex Lollards were burned at the stake in Henry VIII’s reign.  The purpose of burning was to act not just as a deterrent but also as a purgative, to rid the realm of disease.  See David Nicholls, The Theatre of Martyrdom in the French Reformation, Past & Present, Vol 121, Issue 1, November 1988, pp 49-73.

[xi] Foxe p.367. 

[xii] Thomas Audley (1488-1544), formerly MP for Colchester, a member of Cardinal Wolsey’s household, Speaker of the Commons during the Reformation Parliament and Lord Chancellor of England from 1533-1544

[xiii] Born about 1496, Richard Rich was a lawyer who entered the service of Thomas Audley, who assisted him to become MP for Colchester.  In 1533 Rich was knighted and became Solicitor General.  In this capacity, he used selective quotations from a private conversation with Thomas More in the Tower in evidence at More’s trial.  In 1536 he was appointed Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, charged with the disposal of former monastic estates, a position that he used to enrich himself.  In 1546 he personally tortured the Lincolnshire Protestant martyr, Ann Askew, in the Tower. During the reign of Edward VI, as Lord Chancellor, however, he appeared as a reformer, taking part in the trials of Bishops Gardiner and Bonner, yet in Mary’s reign he helped restore the old religion, actively persecuting those who refused to conform. Under Elizabeth he sat on a Commission to enquire into grants made during the previous reign and was called upon to advise on the Queen’s marriage.

Looking for witches in St Osyth

Prof Gibson during her recent visit to ERO

I’ve recently been at the Essex Record Office looking for evidence that will help me tell the story of the “St Osyth” witches of 1582 in a new book. I say “St Osyth” in inverted commas because although the witchcraft accusations that engulfed north-east Essex in 1582 started in St Osyth, in fact there is far more evidence of their impact on surrounding communities than there is on the village itself.

In February 1582, a servant of Lord Darcy at St Osyth Priory complained that her small son was being attacked by witchcraft. Once she had accused a neighbour, Ursley Kemp, and Ursley had confessed to witchcraft then more people came forward to make accusations. More villages in the manors and parishes controlled by the Darcy family – Little Oakley, Beaumont, Moze, Thorpe and Walton le Soken, Little Clacton and others – were drawn in. At least two people were executed and four others died in prison, with multiple other imprisonments too. One woman was released as late as 1588.

This story has fascinated me since I read it as a student over 20 years ago. But there are few surviving records from St Osyth. The Priory was attacked during the Civil War and its estate and parish records were likely lost then – an epic frustration for historians. But the records of the other witch-accusing communities and authorities were more fortunate. Among these is today’s focus: a record of Elizabethan visitations made by the Colchester ecclesiastical authorities to the parishes around St Osyth.

St Osyth itself answered to the Commissary Court of the Bishop of London and, guess what, the Commissary’s early records are lost (you might almost think St Osyth’s documents were cursed…!) but the ecclesiastical team from Colchester visited most of the other witch-rich villages. In each place, they recorded the names of the minister and Churchwardens. And today I found the names of some of the accusers of the 1582 witches and learned that they were Churchwardens too.

Here’s a nice clear link between parish authorities and witch accusations. It’s easy to suppose that religious-reforming folk went after suspected witches but it’s important not to stereotype accusers: they can’t be dismissed as just “fanatical puritans” or “Anglican worthies”. But in this case there’s some documentary evidence that they were the community’s religious leaders. It’s going to need more thinking about as I carry on researching the book.

Essex Record Office is one of the most impressive and friendliest archives in the UK, and it’s come up with the goods once again. Has your village got a hidden history of witchcraft? Were your ancestors accused? Or were they accusers? Are there still stories of witches in your community? So much more to discover.

Professor Marion Gibson – University of Exeter

Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex

Our conference on the 7th March is almost upon us and it is about time that we introduce another one of our speakers.

Ian Vance has worked in Telecommunications technology for over 50 years. He designed the first complete radio on a silicon chip that has since become the standard for all mobile phones. He held may posts in ITT, STC and Nortel and was managing director of the world-famous Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) in Harlow Essex where usable fibre optic cables were invented.

Ian will talk about the world of Telecommunications and how fibre optics research at the world-famous Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) enabled cheap telephone calls around the globe, on-line everything, and mobile phone connections

“Telcoms is all about connecting A to B. For over 140 years the technical problem has been that lots and lots of connections have been needed. Over 50 years ago a practical possibility of using fibre optics was proposed at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in Harlow Essex and this proved to be the only solution that has been found, or indeed, proposed, to the problem.”

“How many Nobel Prize in Physics laureates have resided and done their work in Essex? Well one for starters is Charles Kao – the father of Fibre Optics who worked in Harlow and enabled the modern digitally connected world”

Charles Kao

“If you watch Netflix or Amazon Prime or any online service, it would not happen if usable fibre optics had not been invented in Essex in 1966”

“Mobile phones obviously use radio waves to link up the actual phone in your pocket but the cell towers are ultimately connected using fibre optics. So an invention of a practical type of fibre in Harlow in 1966 is still affecting all our lives every time we pull out our iPhone”

Ian Will be one of 6 fantastic speakers at ‘Back to the Future’ on the 7th March. Don’t miss out on your chance to hear Ian, and don’t forget to have a look at the rest of our speakers introductions on our blog.

Book here:
https://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – The Science of Archaeology

Our next speaker introduction is Dr Zoe Outram, science advisor for Historic England. She will be giving a talk on the science of archaeology as part of our conference.

Having been inspired by childhood trips to places like Avebury and West Kennet Long Barrow, Zoe has pursued a varied career centred around the archaeological sciences. She studied Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, reassessed the Iron Age chronology of the Northern Isles of Scotland for her PHD and, in 2011, completed a post-doctoral project in archaeomagnetism. Her various job roles have included: providing specialist scientific dating services, studying Viking and Norse settlements in Shetland and the Faroe Islands, lecturing in Archaeological Sciences, working as an excavator, and carrying out specialist work in environmental archaeology, geoarchaeology, and forensic archaeology.

From ‘Illustrations for a History of Colchester’ –
an album of illustrations, sketches and notes compiled by William Wire c.1845-1850 (D/Y 37/1/6)

Archaeology is amazing. It can tell us about our shared past – people and their lives, the landscapes and environments where they lived, the technology available to them, the trade and communication networks, and the issues and challenges that were faced. Archaeological Science allows us to ask new and exciting questions about this resource. Zoe will introduce a number of scientific techniques that can be applied to help us address specific questions: where is the archaeological site? How old is it? What can we learn about the people and their lives?

Hopefully that has whetted your appetite. If you don’t want to miss Zoe speaking at our conference, book now:
https://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

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Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – The Science and History of Cloth Manufacture

We have already introduced you to two of our speakers for jam packed day of talks on the 7th March, our next introduction is for John Miners.

John has many years experience in textiles, starting his career with Samuel Courtauld & Co. Ltd in Essex. He has been involved in the sourcing and supply of historic fabrics for many restoration projects both in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the USA. His background is technical, rather than design based, and he has knowledge of the production techniques used to produce textiles in past centuries, as well as studying the social history aspects involved in the manufacture of fabrics.

In January 2018 he was appointed as Director of the Warner Textile Archive Trading Company Ltd. This archive is a rich design resource documenting the successes and innovation of Warner & Sons from the late 1800s. Owned by the Braintree Museums Trust, this Collection, the second largest archive of publicly owned textiles in the UK, comprises stunning textiles and inspirational paper designs, as well as original printing blocks, photographs and other documentary material.

John will be talking about how the local textile industry moved from the home into factories, changing from wool to silk. He will look at how Samuel Courtauld & Co changed their production methods of silk yarn using various forms of power: from hand to donkey to water to steam, then exploring the move into the production of mourning crape using machinery built to their own designs in their own workshops. In addition the history of the company up until closure in 1982 will be examined, giving information about the changes in technology.

Hopefully you will be able to join us for this fascinating subject on the 7th March. To secure your ticket, visit our website
http://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

We are only half way through our introductions, so keep an eye out here on our blog for more sneaky peeks at what our speakers will be talking about.

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Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – Gas Manufacture and Water Purification

In our last blog post we introduced you to Dr David Crease, one of the speakers for our day long science conference on March 7th. Next up we would like to introduce you to Peter Wynn, who will be giving two talks: one about gas manufacture and one about water purification.

A view from ERO of the Gas Holders, photo courtesy of Walter Roberts

Peter is a retired senior lecturer of civil engineering at Anglia Ruskin University and a fellow of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management. He has long held an interest in gas manufacture in Essex, having discovered papers from 1947 relating to issues with the Chelmsford gas holder’s foundations.

Though the dangers of unsanitary water supply were proved by Dr John Snow in 1854, his findings were not widely believed until after his death when the bacteria causing cholera was isolated in the 1880s.

In 1895, when John Clough Thresh became the Medical Officer of Health for Essex, the purification of water for human consumption was still very much a challenge. Well beyond his retirement, Thresh continued to act as a consultant for Essex County Council until his death in 1932. His work to improve the water supply for his adoptive county was considered pioneering by both his peers and by more recent researchers alike. His influence extended well beyond Essex.

Commercial supply of gas in the UK began in the early 19th century, originally by way of small gas plants installed in the premises where the gas was to be used. Following the formation of the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company in London in 1812, pioneers of public gas supply, many other companies were founded; including in Chelmsford in 1819.

Photo of coke lorries from the Spalding Collection

If we’ve managed to pique your interest, be sure to book your place at the conference now: http://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

If you still aren’t quite convinced, keep an eye on our blog for more speaker introductions to entice you in!

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Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – The Science of Brewing

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.

To secure your place visit our website
http://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

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An Essex Quaker in the Caribbean 1713-14

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]

Essex Record Office A13685 Box 47 Certificate for J Farmer to travel 29.3rd mo. 1707 (29th May 1707)

Arriving in Philadelphia at the end of October 1713 John Farmer reviewed his progress so far:

“I 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 1713] [ii].

Wee 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 1713/14].” [iii]

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. 

Quakers in the Colonies[vi]

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 another day.

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 meeting.” [viii]

Map of St Kitts 1729

 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 dear. 

And that will be the story to be told in my next post about John Farmer’s extraordinary life.



[i] Essex Record Office A13685 Box 47 Certificate for J Farmer to travel 29.3rd mo. 1707 (29th May 1707)

[ii] A 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.

[iii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[iv][iv] For more information relating Quakers and the Slave trade see

Drake, T.E., Quakers & Slavery in America, Oxford University Press, London 1950

Rediker, M. The Fearless Benjamin Lay, 2017, Verso, London

Soderlund, J.R, Quakers & Slavery, A Divided Spirit, Princeton, 1985

[v] Drake, T.E., Quakers & Slavery in America, Oxford University Press, London 1950 pp. 6-9

[vi] Quakers in the Colonies: www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/268

[vii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[viii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[ix] See previous post An Essex Quaker in Ireland, to understand more about protest by music.

[x] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p58

The Reach of The Marconi Photographic Section

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.


A11449 – 16748 MARCONI CO. TRADE MARK OR LOGO, 1947.

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.


A11449 – 78774, MAP OF NADGE RADAR CHAIN, 1968

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.


A11449 – 15771, TYPE D.F.G.26 RECEIVER WITH OSCILLOSCOPE TYPE O.R.3, 1945

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.


A11449 – 2015, GIRLS WINDING & LACQUERING SHOP AT WORKS, 1919

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.


A11449 – 2464, MARCONI STAND, AERO EXHIBITION, OLYMPIA, 1920

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.


A11449 – 3070, MAHARAJAH USING A MARCONI TELEPHONE IN INDIA, No date.

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.


A11449 – 14559, PAINTING ENTITLED “VOICE OF FREEDOM”, 1943.

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 lcsmit@essex.ac.uk. Whether for research or for a casual perusal, this collection really has a lot to offer!

An Essex Quaker Visits the Native Americans

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.

In May 1713 John Farmer was in Maryland attending the Western Shore Yearly Meeting of Friends..

“Afterwards I staid som time in Maryland & wrought with my hands at wool combing… While I was here I received fresh orders from Christ to have meetings amongst Indians in order to their convershon to Christ & to go to Virginia & Pensilvaina & ye west Indies in his service.” [i]

Farmer then set out to meet the local Native American communities properly and having had a good meeting amongst friends he commented that he had given testimony amongst “Indians and some Chief Indians and they were glad of it and marvelled that no such thing had been before offered to them”[ii]

He went on to say an interpreter spoke Farmer’s testimony and prayer at a meeting “to which the Indians several times gave their approbation in their way by giving a sound” [iii]. We can only wonder what form that sound took.

In August 1713 Farmer was at the Mulberry Grove plantation in Maryland at an evening meeting at George Truit’s house, where they were joined by a Native American priest, an interpreter and a number of other Native Americans.  Later in the evening they were joined by the “Indian King” who “spake very good English” and invited Farmer to visit their settlement.   In September 1713 he had a memorable visit lodging with the “Shuana Indians” at Conestoga on the Susquehanna River, staying in what he described as an “Indian King’s Palace”, where he slept on “bare [bear] skins on scaffolds before a good fire, for it was a cold frosty night”[iv]

Extract of page 8 of Part 2 of the Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 50

In September 1713 Farmer was at the Philadelphia yearly meeting where he told the assembled Friends that he wanted to spend more time with the Native Americans and he received a Certificate of Unity from the Philadelphia Friends and received help and translators to hold meetings in Pennsylvania and share his testimony of the story of Jesus.

Farmer spent six months travelling and preaching with the Native Americans.  On 9th October 1713 there was a

large meeting amongst Indians nere Brandy Wine River in Chester County in Pennsylvania. Where a honest Swede did well Interpret for mee. It was a large & satisfactory meeting to the Indians & to our friends & to mee at the End. Whereof the Indians said that they were pleased with what they heard in the meeting.”[v]

John Farmer was aware that the Native Americans had a belief in God and the Devil and a concept of heaven and hell:

“The Indians have a beliuef of God. & that hee hath a son. & that hee is Good. & that the good people when they dy goe to him: & bee alwais in pleasure. But after ye bad people dy they are alwaise in affliction. The Indians also say yt there is a Divel who is bad & ye Author of badness & they are afraid of him.” [vi]

Virginia and Maryland Map Augustine & Moll Hermann C1700

But he reported that much trouble was being caused in the Native American communities by rum.  One man told him about a dream story he had heard:

The Indian in a trance had one com to him & bid him goe back & live well & then when hee dyed hee should be amongst thouse Indians who were in pleasure. Hee was asked why then did hee live badly by drinking to much Rum. Hee answered that before white people cam amongst them they were good & kind one to another but now they are becom bad & hard to one a nother that they may have wherewithal to buy Rum.”[vii]

At a meeting on 18th October 1713 at Conestoga, Farmer met up with Philadelphia Friends Hugh Lowden and Andrew Job.  At a meeting they convinced the Native Americans there to send one of their sons to Philadelphia to be taught to read and write in order that he could translate and ensure that “the love that hath hitherto been between you and us continuew between our Children and your Children after us, which the Indians assented to” [viii].

Farmer was obviously interested in the Native American’s spiritual understanding of the world around them and he reported the story of one hunter’s unearthly encounter:

“Ye sd Indian had bad luck in hunting. At wch hee was troubled & then see a man in white Raiment stand before him. Who asked him why hee was troubled & further said dost thou not know yt there is a great God who ruleth althings & giveth good luck to whome hee please? Do thou live well & teach ye Indians to do so too & then hee will give thee good things. The Indian asked him his name where upon hee gave himselfe ye name of a bird (wch the Indians say is so holy yt hee never tocheth ye ground) & then vanished out of the Indian’s sight.” [ix]

Within the journal I have not found references to Native American communities resisting or objecting to the conversations with John Farmer in particular and the Quaker’s in general.   He was not the first Quaker visitor, Thomas Chalkley had been at Conestoga in 1706 and had a good relationship with a female tribal leader who he called “an old Empress” who had dreamed that a friend of William Penn’s would be visiting and had advised her people to allow them to preach. Thus the foundations had already been laid for Native Americans to be receptive to the Quaker message.  At least initially.[x]

By November 1713 John Farmer was back in Philadelphia where he tallied up the miles he had travelled since arriving in America and found it to be 5607 miles.   It was then time to start planning for the next part of his journey, to the Caribbean Islands.

And so we leave our intrepid Essex Friend in Philadelphia, waiting for the ship to take him all the way to Barbados.


[i] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[ii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[iii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[iv] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[v] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

[vi] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[vii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[viii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

[ix] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[x] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

For further information see Thomas Chalkey’s Journal for 1706 chap 45: http://www.archive.org/stream/journalofthomasch00chal/journalofthomasch00chal_djvu.txt