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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.

John Farmer: An Essex Quaker in the New World

Julie Miller, a master’s 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 during the 12-week project.

John Farmer was born near Taunton in 1667 to Particular Baptist preacher Isaac Farmer and his wife Jane.  He learned a trade as a wool-comber and by the age of 18 he was travelling with his trade and seeking his faith along the way.  He accidentally found himself in a Quaker meeting house in 1685 and heard Jasper Ball speak and he knew he had found the faith he was looking for.  He married the Saffron Walden widow and Quaker preacher Mary Fulbigg (neé Wyatt) on 27th May 1698 and settled into married life in Essex.  On 1st May 1701 their daughter Ann was born.

So far so normal.

But John Farmer was a man who liked to travel.  His were not the random wanderings of a feckless young man, but the journeys of a dedicated Quaker who lived to share his religious faith wherever he could be heard. As he writes in his own words:

It hath pleased the (ye) Lord to make use of me as an Instrument to
preach his Everlasting Gosple (sic) so much as that I have at several times spent about
6 years & 6 months time & have travelled about 29200 miles by land
& sea in England Wales Scotland Irland (sic) North America & the
West Indies in it.

Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714 p 6. – D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 50

Fortunately, the Society of Friends in Thaxted and Saffron Walden held a comprehensive archive which has now been accessioned to the Essex Record Office and the handwritten testimony of John Farmer’s life and journeying in the Quaker faith along with his journal of his travels in America 1711 – 1714 were bound in a single volume and stored with associated papers for us to enjoy over 300 years later.

The opening pages of the Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 50

The Quaker faith was based on a personal relationship with God, with no intervention from a priest.  They believed their actions were based on instruction received from God which made Himself known by bringing awareness of an Inner Light during silent prayer.   Thus, John Farmer wrote his own testament of faith and shared it at meetings throughout Britain, Holland and America.  He met with Native Americans and survived illness and injury on his first journey before returning to England to write up his experiences. Later he returned to America and became a radical anti-slavery campaigner, was ejected from the Philadelphia Society of Friends and died at the age of about 57 in late 1724 in Germantown Pennsylvania.

Looking back at Essex on the Edge

Jennifer Ward – Essex’s pre-eminent medieval expert – looks back on ‘Essex on the Edge’ our fantastic conference back on the 18th May which examined Essex’s medieval history as a county on the Edge of England, London and rebellion.

The Essex Record Office Study Day this year took place on 18 May, and concentrated on new research being undertaken for Volume XII (on Harwich) of the Victoria County History of Essex, as well as on the Hundred Years War and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  It was organised by the Essex Record Office, the Victoria County History and the Friends of Historic Essex, and proved to be an enjoyable and informative day.  The lectures were excellent and have given us much to think about, and there was plenty of time for everyone there to meet and exchange news of ongoing research and other concerns.

The first lecture was given by Neil Wiffen of the Essex Record Office staff on Supplying the Army: the Contribution of Essex to Provisioning the Forces of Edward III, c. 1337.  Neil has long been interested in the Hundred Years War, and, as he pointed out, the provision of food and equipment for the soldiers has not been studied as much as the campaigns and battles.  Before the king departed on a campaign, orders were sent to the sheriff of each county to collect particular provisions and take them to the port of embarkation.  The list for Essex in 1337 included specific quantities of wheat, malt, bacon pigs and cheese.  The collection of these goods proved difficult as men were unwilling to hand over goods for which they might not be paid, goods might be scarce at a time of poor harvests, and/or the time between the order to the sheriff and the king’s departure might be too short to collect the goods.  Essex did not produce all the goods asked for in 1337, and this often happened in subsequent years as well.  It will be interesting to see if Neil’s work sparks off further research.

Herbert Eiden preparing for his paper about life in Fourteenth and Fifteenth century Harwich.

Neil was followed by Herbert Eiden, the deputy editor of the Victoria County History of Essex, speaking on Life in Fourteenth and Fifteenth-Century Harwich as seen through the Court Rolls.  Harwich was a ‘new town’ of the Middle Ages, first mentioned in the records in the mid-1190s.  A few court rolls survive for the fourteenth century and most of the rolls for the fifteenth century.  They throw light on law and order, the urban economy, and the links with the town’s lords, the dukes of Norfolk; both men and women appear in the rolls, involved in cases of robbery, housebreaking, wounding and the hue and cry.  The assize of bread and ale was enforced, and a licensing system evolved for the brewing of ale and beer.

After lunch, the editor of the Essex Victoria County History, Chris Thornton, spoke on Overseas Immigrants in Harwich in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries.  Interest in immigrants of the Middle Ages has grown since the universities of York and Sheffield published their national survey of English immigrants online, and a book has also been published.  These men and women were more numerous and settled in a greater number of places than used to be thought.  Immigrants from the Low Countries and Germany are found in Harwich, many working as servants, and also involved in crafts such as shoe-making.  The richest immigrants were often beer-brewers, often brewing beer with hops which lasted longer than English ale.  Although there was some resentment among the English, these men prospered and many settled for life in the town and brought up their children to whom they bequeathed their goods.

Speakers; Chris Thornton and Ken Crowe examining a map of Harwich ahead of their papers at Essex on the Edge.

Ken Crowe, the fourth speaker, is leading a group in Southend researching its history in the nineteenth and twentieth century for the Victoria County History.  For his lecture, Ken chose a topic from his own research, The Abbeys of Barking and Stratford Langthorne: Dissolution, Dismantling and Recycling.  Henry VIII claimed for himself all the material and goods from the monasteries dissolved in 1536-40, and the stone from these two houses was re-used in royal palaces.  Certain buildings remained on site untouched; we can still see the Curfew Tower at Barking, and at Stratford Langthorne  a chapel and the main gatehouse were not demolished until the nineteenth century.  At the present day, much of the site is covered by the railway.  The dismantling and later history of the monasteries has not been much studied, and the lecture gave us yet another insight into the possibilities of new research.

The Essex Record Office, Victoria County History and the Friends of Historic Essex are to be congratulated on the organisation and lectures of the study day. The audience was shown how new research is opening up familiar topics, and how local historians can build on these foundations and extend our knowledge of Essex history through their use of the documents at the Essex Record Office.   We look forward to learning more at future study days and wish the Record Office and the Victoria County History every success in their work.

Angels in the Barn at Stratford Langthorne Abbey

In todays post Ken Crowe gives us a tease of just some of the huge wealth of information he has gleaned during his investigations into the history of Stratford Langthorne Abbey ahead of his paper at our conference ‘Essex on the Edge’. Otherwise known as the Abbey of St. Mary’s or West Ham Abbey, this Cistercian foundation would survive from 1135 to the dissolution.

This is just one of the many stories Ken has unearthed.

I/MP 164/1/25 – Part of the Abbey of Stratford Langthorne can seen in this late 19th Century pamphlet. By this time only this small chapel and the gatehouse survived.

James Huddleston was a tenant of Stratford Langthorne Abbey, and lived in a tenement within the precincts. It is not know if he was a relation of the last Abbot, William Huddleston, but it seems very likely. In the mid-1530s he decided to travel north, to visit friends in Cumbria, taking his son (it seems by his first marriage) with him. Unfortunately he was taken ill while in Cumbria, and on his death-bed he told his son (it is alleged) that he had hidden a quantity of gold coins (angels or, as described by many contemporaries, angel-nobles) in a post in his barn within the abbey precincts.

Chris Thornton (left) and Ken Crowe (right) examining a 19th Century Ordinance Survey map of Harwich.

In the Bill of Complaint before Chancery, it is claimed that James told his son, on his return home to tell his mother where the coins were, so that she could convert them to land and property.

This case before Chancery, like so many, lacks an ending, so we will never know whether Miles (as he claimed) knew nothing of any gold coins, or, as his mother claimed, “he spoke nothing of the said gold but secretly went into the said barne where the said gold was hid and toke and bare awaye” the gold coins.

Although a story without an ending, it gives us a glimpse into one aspect of life among the tenants within the precincts –particularly in the days before banks!

Ken Crowe will be talking more about Stratford Langthorne Abbey at
‘Essex on the Edge-the experience of a county from the Hundred Years’ War to the Dissolution’ on the 18th May at the Essex Record Office. Click on the link to book your ticket!

At ‘Essex on the Edge’ there will also be an opportunity to a copy of ‘The Fighting Essex Soldier’ “an authoritative and often very entertaining account of Essex in the Hundred Years’ War” at a price of £15.00 reduced from £18.99 while stocks last.

From Chelmsford to Jamestown: the story of a bartered Essex bride

Can you help trace the family of a young Essex woman sent to Virginia 400 years ago and traded for tobacco as a planter’s bride? Historian Jennifer Potter, author of The Jamestown Brides, would like to hear from you.

In 1621, 27-year-old Ann Tanner from Chelmsford in Essex sailed to Virginia on the Marmaduke to find a husband in the New World. She joined a shipment of 56 brides dispatched to the colony by the near-bankrupt Virginia Company of London. This trade in ‘maids for wives’ was among several new ventures designed to attract investors. Husbands would be charged 150lbs of best-leaf tobacco, then valued at £25 – more than double the estimated cost of clothing and transporting each bride. But three months after the women arrived at Jamestown, an orchestrated attack by Virginian tribes wiped out between a quarter and a third of the entire English colony.

Ann Tanner may have been one of the lucky ones to survive. From papers held at Magdalene College Cambridge, we know that her father Clement Tanner was a husbandman living in Chelmsford; she also had a saddler cousin, Thomas Tanner, dwelling in Aldgate, London. As Jennifer explained in her lively talk to the Essex History Group, Ann Tanner may have married one of two recent arrivals to the colony: either Thomas Doughtie or Nicholas Baly; both men married women called Ann who had arrived on the Marmaduke in 1621. The two couples survived the Indian attack and by early 1625 were living at a settlement now called Flowerdew Hundred. Out of three eligible Anns, Tanner would have made the best planter’s wife: ‘She can spin and sew in blackwork, She can brew, and bake, make butter and cheese, and do housewifery.’

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

If you have any information about the Tanner family in Chelmsford, or Ann’s life in Virginia, please contact Jennifer through her website, www.jenniferpotter.co.uk, where you can find out more about the women’s story. The Jamestown Brides is published by Atlantic Books in the UK.

Gertrude, Gertrude, Who on earth is Gertrude?

Karen Dunn, a student at the University of Essex has explored the story of one almost forgotten Suffragette who just happens to have lived in Finchingfield!

The Suffrage Movement was so much more than the Pankhurst’s – Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia – and Millicent Fawcett. These are the names that instantly pop up when the word ‘suffragette’ is typed into Google; their names have been indelibly written in history, but what about the foot soldiers? Who were the thousands of women who stood shoulder to shoulder, many of whose names we shall probably never know?

One such women is Gertrude Mary Ansell (1861-1932), a successful businesswomen, she ran a typing bureau, she was an animal rights activist, secretary or treasurer to more than one animal society, and a member of the Fabian Women’s Group.

Gertrude joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906, she was forty-five years old. Her support of the Suffrage Movement, acts of militancy, arrests, hunger strikes and force-feeding remain relatively unknown, but her and thousands of women like her suffered these indignities for their cause. Gertrude’s own experience of the business world convinced her that women needed political freedom or their economic position would remain inadequate.

In February 1907 Gertrude joined a peaceful march organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, it was normal for women from other societies to march together, and in the same month she took part in WSPU demonstrations in Caxton Hall. By October 1908, Gertrude had become militant; she took part in a ‘raid’ on the House of Commons, and was arrested and sentenced to one month in Holloway Prison. In December 1908, dressed in her prison clothes, Gertrude joined other WSPU members to heckle David Lloyd-George at a Women’s Liberal Association meeting at the Albert Hall.

Gertrude continued to support animal societies. However, she promised at least one animal society that she would not take part in any militant suffrage action while working on the Dogs Exemption Bill and the Plumage Bill. Both of these acts were defeated in the House of Commons in the summer of 1913; Gertrude immediately began militant action.

On the 2 August 1913 Gertrude began a one month’s sentence in Holloway Prison for smashing a window in the Home Office; she immediately began a hunger strike and was released under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’.

Gertrude somehow managed to avoid being arrested again to complete her sentence, but seeing as how she was finally re-arrested on 30 October 1913, outside Holborn Tube Station selling copies of the Suffragette; it can safely be assumed that she was not trying too hard!

Gertrude immediately began another hunger strike, and was released; she was re-arrested on 18 November 1913, and began another hunger strike; she was released again but this time managed to avoid re-arrest until 19 January 1914 and again went on hunger strike; this toing and froing between internment and release for suffragettes was why the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act became known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’.

On 12 May 1914, Gertrude visited the Royal Academy and attacked a picture of the Duke of Wellington with an axe. She was sentenced to six months imprisonment, and again, she immediately began a hunger strike. Despite not being released on this occasion she maintained her hunger strike which led to her being forcibly fed.

Gertrude was released from prison on 10 August 1914 under amnesty at the outbreak of the First World. She had been forcibly fed two hundred and thirty-six times. The WSPU gave women who went on hunger strike medals, silver bars were added for every hunger strike undertaken in prison, and the enamel bars represented periods of force feeding.

During the war, militant campaigning was suspended; the Pankhurst’s and Fawcett all supported the war effort. When the war was over, some women were given the vote, but not all. Gertrude Ansell would have been one of the women who received the vote. It would be another ten years before all women became eligible to vote.

After 1918, there is very little to be found out about Gertrude, she never married, she moved to Finchingfield, Essex and following an operation for gall stones, died in Saffron Walden General Hospital on 7 March 1932. There can be no doubt that women would one day have the vote, but without the likes of Gertrude Mary Ansell, and thousands of women like her, it would have taken a lot longer to achieve.

It is women like Gertrude who are the ‘unsung heroes’ of the Suffragette Movement and who deserve to be remembered for their sacrifices to the emancipation of women.

A day in the life of an Essex Sound and Video Archive volunteer

Andy Popperwell shares his experiences volunteering for the Essex Sound and Video Archive

Photograph of volunteer smiling at camera

Nineteen (boxes) times fifty-six (tapes) is a thousand and sixty four.  That’s an awful lot of open reel tapes, even if they’re five-inch ones.  This is the estimated number of remaining tapes to be processed from a collection of 79 boxes, formerly the property of the late Chris Bard, who presented Sunday morning programmes on BBC Essex for many years (Accession Number SA459).

My name is Andy Popperwell and I’ve just become a volunteer in the Sound Archive at the Essex Record Office.  My task is to review these tapes and help to decide which ones should enter the Archive and which ones shouldn’t.  The key criterion is whether they have relevance to Essex.  Some do; some don’t. 

I’ve made a start, and the range of material is fascinating.  Everything from Polish Christian radio stations after the fall of communism to ecumenism in Essex villages.

Photograph of an open reel tape on player

Learning the archive protocols was the first step. I spent many years as a Studio Manager (Sound Engineer) in the BBC World Service, working on high-speed current affairs in 40 languages, where the pressure was to get the interviews edited as quickly as possible and into the live programmes, 24 hours a day.  Here, in the calm atmosphere of the Archive, it’s a question of treating each tape reverently, making sure that temperature and humidity are appropriate and learning how to do a ‘library wind’. This means that, after listening carefully and making notes about the content, each tape is wound back at slow speed so that it’s neatly positioned on the spool and there’s no chance of physical damage.  

Photograph of volunteer working at tape player

It’s great to be learning new skills while at the same time using my previous experience to help with the work of the Archive.  I’m also a volunteer at Copped Hall, on the edge of Epping Forest.  It’s a 1750s mansion which was destroyed in a huge fire in 1917, and we’re restoring it.  Apart from general labouring, I’m setting up Copped Hall’s own sound archive, trying to record the lives and stories of those who have worked over the last 25 years to rebuild the old place.  Do come and visit us on one of our regular Tour Days – third Sunday in the month.

Both these volunteering opportunities are feeding into my other big interest: I’ve returned to being a student, doing a Masters by Research at London South Bank University.  I’m interested in what Essex in general and Copped Hall in particular sounded like in past times.  I hope that, as well as expanding my brain, it will be possible to use my research to recreate the soundscapes of the past, and specifically the 1750s, when the Hall was built.  The Essex Record Office has a huge quantity of fascinating material to help with my research, including, for example, little pieces of paper with rhymes and poems which the Conyers family, owners of Copped Hall, wrote for each other in the middle of the eighteenth century (Catalogue Reference D/DW Z3).  Handling these documents is a real privilege, and a unique connection with the past.

ERO’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Old St Paul’s Cathedral

Archivist Lawrence Barker has added a new item to our Cabinet of Curiosities. Read on to find out more about one of the antiquarian treasures in our Local Studies Library.

At the end of January, we celebrated our Local Studies Library moving into the 21st century when we added the book catalogue to Essex Archives Online.

So, for the next document featured in our Curiosity Cabinet, we thought we would choose one of the antiquarian treasures in the Library, our copy of Monasticon Anglicanum compiled by William Dugdale, originally published in Latin in 1655 but republished in 1718 in an abbreviated English version. 

Image of the front page of text Monasticum Anglicanum

One of the most intriguing features of the book is the inclusion of engravings of cathedrals and collegiate churches as they appeared at the time, including old St Paul’s Cathedral in all its medieval glory ten years before the great fire of London destroyed it.  From 604, when Mellitus was made first Bishop of London, up to 1846 when it transferred to the Diocese of Rochester, Essex was part of the Diocese of London.  So, St Paul’s was the cathedral of Essex for well over a thousand years.

Drawing of the north side of exterior of old St Paul's Cathedral

A view from the book of the north side of the cathedral (above) shows the eastern half still sporting its Decorated Gothic windows, featuring early Geometric plate tracery dating from the second half of the 13th century.  The view of the east end (below left) shows that there was once a fine rose window echoing those of the transepts of Notre Dame in Paris.

In contrast, the western half (above) shows the radical transformation carried out at the hands of Inigo Jones, who was commissioned by James I in the 1630s to carry out a restoration using an early Classical style.  A view of the west front (below right) shows that Jones had even added a classical portico.  Even at the time, the overall effect was thought a little incongruous alongside the Gothic style of the rest of the building!

If you had walked under the portico and through the west door into the cathedral, however, you would have entered into the original Norman nave.  Construction of the cathedral began in 1087, at the end of William I’s reign. The view of the nave from the book (below left) reveals the cathedral’s provenance, as the arrangement of clustered columns in the arcade with the large tribune above resembled the nave of William’s Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen, Normandy (below right).

The Abbaye-aux-Hommes was William’s final resting place – that is, one of his thigh bones remains there; the rest of his bones were scattered during the French Wars of Religion in 1562. But St Paul’s ended up being a good deal larger than the Abbaye-aux-Hommes. By the time it was completed, Old St Paul’s was one of the largest churches in Christendom.  It was nearly 600 feet long, a length only exceeded by the enormous abbey at Cluny in Burgundy, and 100 feet wide.  It also had a spire of 489 feet, about 80 feet taller than that of Salisbury, but this caught fire and crashed through the roof of the nave in 1561.

As the book’s title suggests, the Monasticon is primarily a history of the monasteries in England and Wales, and, as such, provides a useful starting point for a study of the various monastic institutions in Essex.  Of course, at the time it was published, most of those monasteries had been suppressed during the Reformation.  To find out more about Essex’s experience of the dissolution of the monasteries, come to Ken Crowe’s talk on the dissolution in south west Essex (focussing on Barking Abbey and Stratford Langthorne Priory) at our upcoming ‘Essex on the Edge’ conference on Saturday 18th May.

Find out more about our ‘Essex on the Edge’ conference and book tickets.

The Monasticon Anglicanum book – open at the page showing the image of St Paul’s – will be on display in our Searchroom until the end of May.

The great Essex bake off(ice)

The other day a bequest in a will (D/ABW 114/3/59, Joseph Deane of Harwich, 1800) caught our attention, it was to a ‘bake office’. Now, we all understand about offices in our own day, and what ‘office’ means and who works in an office – indeed most of us probably sit behind a desk and work in an office – a room where work is undertaken by white collar workers. We probably don’t even give it a second thought. But what, historically, was or defines a ‘bake office’?

The first point of call, as ever, was to search further on our Essex Archives Online catalogue (www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk) which returned over 100 results of documents catalogued with the phrase ‘bake office’. While there are earlier examples the majority are from the nineteenth century, with the latest from the 1930s.

This plan of 1906 shows the Bake Office for what must be a thriving bakery and tea room on Military Road in Colchester. The owner is applying to have a new bread oven built.
(D/B 6 Pb3/2363)

There is generally an affinity with an attached shop (e.g. SALE/A588) but this is not always the case. Several are attached to cottages (e.g. D/F 35/7/253), possibly as a shared communal resource although they could equally provide bread for sale from one of the properties. Our understanding of what a ‘shop’ is might not necessarily match that of our predecessors – the concept of a shop, or outlet for the sale of goods, might well have been much freer and easier than what we would expect today. Someone’s front room could possibly double as a point of sale for bread during the day while reverting to a living space by night.

Several of the documents list other dedicated rooms, or possibly separate but associated structures: ‘shop with bake office and 4 bushel oven, with living accommodation, flour room and wash house’ (D/DMa/B71/16); ‘Messuage with baking office, brewhouse, cornchambers’ (D/DC 27/10); that traditional pairing of bread and beer production – ‘bake office and brewhouse’ (SALE/B5065). Other documents list a ‘candle office’ (D/DU 751/108) and ‘malting office’ (D/DHw T52/9). So along with just ‘room’ we also have the use of ‘chamber’ and ‘house’ to include with ‘office’ to describe different uses and functions of spaces within a building or structure. However, ‘office’ appears to be overwhelmingly connected with baking.

This sale catalogue lists both a “bake office” and a “Brewhouse” attached to this windmill in Pebmarsh. Beer and bread have always been natural bedfellows. (SALE/B5065)

Seeking further guidance, our venerable 1933 edition of The Oxford English Dictionary was consulted and supplied the following definitions:

Office: ‘A position or place to which certain duties are attached’

‘Office-house’: apartments or outhouses for the work of domestics’

So these are both useful in thinking about ‘bake office’. In this instance they certainly tie in with our documents: it is so called because it is a place where baking happens which could be a separate building or structure. It is probable that our predecessors used these words interchangeably and that there was no specific connection with any of the functions that took place within them – it was the act of something taking place in a room or structure that attached ‘office’ to it, be it baking, malting or candle making, so possibly a combination of the OED definitions. Maybe this is all we can say as we don’t, after all, want to over-egg the pudding! Still it’s good to ponder on such things now and again and thinking on, with all this talk of baking perhaps we might just reach for the flour, fat and sugar …

Celebrating Essex Women for International Women’s Day

Sound Archivist Sarah-Joy Maddeaux shares snippets from just a few of the hundreds of oral history interviews with women held in the Essex Sound and Video Archive.

Women’s history is one of the areas where oral history can make a great contribution. From telling the stories of notable women who have made a significant impact in their field, to telling the equally significant stories of ‘everyday’ women who made an impact just by their daily routine, first-hand accounts can reveal subject areas that do not always make it into written records. Furthermore, they can reveal the ‘whys’ of history – motivations that prompted women to take the actions they did.

Colour picture of box of cassette tapes

Sample collection of oral history interviews on cassette tape

The Essex Sound and Video Archive at the Essex Record Office is one resource for accessing such sources for women’s history. A substantial number of the oral history interviews in our recollection were recorded with women – and many were recorded by women (a discussion topic for another time – what difference does the gender of the interviewer make to the recording?).

Let’s start with some headliners. We have an interview with Elfrida Johns, who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War (Acc. SA580). Eva Hart, a Titanic survivor, recorded her memories on a number of occasions which have made it into the Archive (Acc. SA318, Acc. SA398, SA 1/323/1, and SA 19/1/14/1). Helen Welburn was the first female Superintendent of the Essex Police, on her appointment in 1970, and spoke about the major improvements she made for other women in the police force (SA 25/1/10/1). We even have the reminiscences of a Suffragette, Helena Taylor, from an edition of the Sounds of Brentwood talking magazine (SA 2/1/12/1).

 

We feel privileged to have the reminiscences of such accomplished women in our archives.

But we also feel privileged to have the reminiscences of so many other Essex women in our archives. Perhaps their lives did not figure in newspaper headlines; perhaps they were never known outside their village; perhaps they did not feel they had a story worth telling. However, it does not take long to get hooked into each woman’s story, no matter how mundane it seems at first, as her life unfolds over the course of the interview.

Take, for example, the many ‘New-Towners’ who have been recorded for posterity. At a young age, these women left their families and homes in East London to settle in relatively rural locations and establish their own homes, away from familial support networks. Dr Judy Attfield’s collection of interviews with Harlow residents is particularly rich in women’s accounts, fully exploring their experiences and emotions on moving to these remote locations (SA 22). For example, Mrs Summers in 1986 described her feelings when she and her husband moved to Harlow New Town in 1952 (SA 22/1364/1).

Black and white picture of Carol Sydney

Carol Sydney (copyright EAF)

 

We have recently received the recollections of women who moved even further to forge new lives for themselves. The Evewright Arts Foundation recorded a number of Windrush generation immigrants about their experiences of moving to Britain. Some already had family here; some left their family behind until they had established a new home for their children. Most commented on the cold; most admitted to encountering racist attitudes. But they persevered until, like Carol Sydney, they could claim to have made a success of their lives in Britain (SA 69/1/5/1).

 

Life could also be a struggle for those who stayed in the same place. One of our favourites is Edie Brown, who was born in Kelvedon in 1895 and spent most of her life in Witham. She worked hard from the day she left school in her teens: working in domestic service and local industry before her marriage, then contributing to the household economy by going pea-picking or fruit-picking, sometimes before her children woke, or sometimes taking them with her. But she was never subservient: she would rather lose a job than put up with wrongful accusations or excessive demands in service (SA 59/1/7/1).

 

In the same collection, Elsie Hammond recalls female workers at Pinkham’s glove factory striking for more pay (SA 59/1/16/1).

Sometimes it is precisely the ‘normal’, everyday nature of an interviewee’s life that is useful to the researcher. Where else could you find detailed descriptions of household chores explained by the women who did them? Memories of helping mothers with household work allow us to reach back into the nineteenth century for the methods of housekeeping common in Essex. As technological advancements reduce domestic chores to button-pressing, without these interviews the former way of life of women kept busy full-time cooking and cleaning would otherwise be lost. With cultural change, it is also important to preserve the stories of mothers struggling to run their households on the limited budget provided by their husbands, as Connie Robinson shared about women she knew (SA 26/61/1).

 

Oral history interviews even give us the chance to look back on areas of private life that were formerly taboo. In later life, women were often happy to speak about their experiences of puberty or childbirth that they would not have discussed at the time.

But. There is still much about women’s experiences that is lacking in the historical record. We were intrigued by the Rebellious Sounds Archive, which captured the stories of activist women in south-west England. What more can you do to preserve the significant contributions of the women you know? Please do get in touch if you want to discuss an idea for an oral history project.

Many of these topics and more will be discussed at the Essex Women’s History Festival at the University of Essex tomorrow, part of the Snapping the Stiletto project. You will also have an opportunity to listen to these and other recordings of women from the Essex Sound and Video Archive, and to chat to Sound Archivist Sarah-Joy Maddeaux about our collections. There are still a few (free!) tickets, so book now!

If you cannot make it to the Festival, some of these recordings can be played online from the comfort of your own home. Look up the reference numbers on Essex Archives Online to check. Some will have a play feature; some will allow you to order the material to listen in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office; and others will advise you to contact us to arrange to hear the material.

Local radio archives for the promotion of dialogue, tolerance, and peace?

Banner for World Radio Day

13 February is World Radio Day: an annual day promoted by UNESCO to celebrate radio and the impact it can have. It marks the date in 1946 when the United Nations radio service was established, and it has been celebrated each 13 February since 2013. This year, the theme is ‘Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace’.

To Brits in 2019, perhaps this sounds pretentious.  Isn’t radio just the poor cousin of television, and haven’t both been made redundant by online media?  Who listens to radio now that there are podcasts and streaming music services?

To people in other parts of the world, radio can be a significant source of information or an arena to explore different viewpoints.  Equally, in the UK, we risk underestimating and taking for granted how much we still get out of our radio service.

At the Essex Sound and Video Archive, we are fortunate to hold archived broadcasts of local radio programmes – primarily from BBC Essex, with a handful of recordings from other local stations.  They are useful for researching local history, particularly for understanding local responses to events.  Features also preserve random stories of weird and wonderful things.  For instance, if it wasn’t for our prolific local radio producer Dennis Rookard, we would never have discovered Tino Morena, an Italian barber in Brentwood who also composed sacred choral music:

Tino Morena speaking to Dennis Rookard, SA 19/1/64/1 – come into the Searchroom to hear a sample of the music, which we cannot publish on the Internet for copyright reasons.

And then, of course, there are those early Paul Simon tapes, recorded for a folk music programme on Harold Wood Hospital Radio (SA 30/3/3/1 and SA 30/3/4/1 – also only available in the Searchroom for copyright reasons).

But local radio stations in Essex also produce meaningful programmes that encourage dialogue, thereby promoting tolerance and peace.

One of the most striking series in our archive is part of the BBC’s national ‘Sense of Place’ series, broadcast in 2002. Local radio stations produced a series of programmes about stories of everyday life in their area, which were broadcast on six successive Sundays from 28 April 2002. They aimed to give ‘insights into how different people live’ and explore ‘what makes our different communities distinctive and individual’ (from promotional BBC material, SA 1/2/8).

BBC Essex recorded seven programmes in their series (Catalogue Reference SA 1/2).  Some of the most striking topics are examined below.

The fifth programme talked to Jews in the Southend area, where there is still a thriving Hebrew Congregation (SA 1/2/5/1).  They spoke to a gentleman whose family were killed in the Holocaust, who shared his feelings when he goes back to visit Vienna where he once lived.  They interviewed an Orthodox Jew who stands out because she always wears a head covering, but who had become a respected member of the Jewish but also wider Southend community.  They also spoke to Sybil Greenstein, who regularly visited schools and hosted visits to the synagogue to tell people about her faith and demystify the religion.  She got a great sense of accomplishment from informing others about what it means to be Jewish:

 

In the third programme, producer Anton Jarvis granted insight into an area perhaps few of us have ever experienced: daily life at Chelmsford Prison (SA 1/2/3/1).

Black and white image of Chelmsford PrisonHe spoke to a variety of inmates about their experiences, their first impressions, their hopes for the future.  As to be expected, different people had different responses: some created home out of their cells, some did not want to personalise their cells in any way, but just focus on getting to their home outside.  Some found it an extremely trying ordeal; some survived by finding humour in the bleak situation.

An inmate of Chelmsford Prison hopes for a better life when he gets out.

In the final programme, Anton spoke to people in vulnerable housing in Colchester about how they became homeless, what they were doing to survive, and whether they felt any sense of place and belonging (SA 1/2/7/1). Many expressed similar sentiments: they were not really living anymore, just getting from one day to the next, but with little hope because it was so difficult to rise up once you hit rock bottom. Mostly, they felt alienated from the rest of society.

Black and white image of Culver Street, Colchester

Homeless people in Colchester share their experiences – including endless days of walking round town with nowhere to go.

These programmes gave voice to marginalised sections of the society. They allowed a close, personal insight into what life is like for other people, views we are unlikely to encounter anywhere else. This is the power of local radio.

It continues today. When we consulted BBC Essex about this blog post, they explained some of the challenges facing them in the current politically-charged and divisive climate.

…It’s our job as a radio station to remain impartial – but ensure everyone has a voice. Sometimes, when you use interaction as we do a lot on the phones, it can be quite intimidating to listeners to present an alternative view which is opposite to the majority.  I spend a lot of time with presenters explaining how to make listeners feel all views are welcome and encouraging a contrary view to air.

We compiled a ground-breaking podcast series called Brexit Britain (available here).  These are individual stories about Brexit, narrated by ordinary people. Guests ranged from a young supply teacher to a pensioner and a taxi driver to a fisherman.  It was the first time so-called immersive podcasts had been commissioned by BBC local radio.

Your Essex, presented by Jodie Halford 7-10pm Monday-Thursday, aims to show listeners the sides of Essex they may not be familiar with. Whether that’s race, opinions on Brexit, gender, or class, the aim is to bridge divides. We are working on two pieces at the moment which aim to bring together polarised views. One is a woman whose life has been blighted by a traveller encampment talking one-to-one with a traveller and the other is a woman opposed to the building of a new mosque in the county, talking direct to the imam. The aim of these pieces is to fulfil the BBC’s “inform and educate” remit – as well as provide a rich listening experience.

Transmission of these pieces is scheduled for April.

While most of our collections come from BBC Essex, we must also celebrate the hard work of community radio stations, including hospital radio – often largely run by volunteers, eager to spread awareness and encourage cohesion within their local communities, as well as seeking to entertain. Most are currently recruiting volunteers if you want to get involved!

Community Radio Stations in Essex

BFBS Colchester: For Colchester, broadcast on 107. A Global Forces Radio station, BFBS has studios around the UK Garrisons as well as in many other MoD locations around the world. The Colchester studio concentrates mainly on 16 Air Assault Brigade and the three sites controlled from Colchester Garrison: Garrison HQ in Colchester,  Wattisham Flying Station and Rock Barracks, Woodbridge. Interview subjects – and their core audience – tend to be serving personnel and their families. They also include veterans, the work of military charities, and work with the Garrison to enhance and publicise events. Colchester is currently working on four separate five-parters on objects held at the Airborne Assault Museum in Duxford, and associated with the 75th anniversaries of, respectively, D-Day, Arnhem, South of France and the Greek atrocities. These will be aired from April onwards.

BHR1287: Basildon University Hospital’s radio station.

CCR: For Chelmsford, broadcast on 104.4.

Colne Radio: For Wivenhoe, broadcast on 106.6.

FunkySX: For the Southend area, broadcast on 103.7.

Gateway 97.8: For the Basildon / East Thurrock area, who say: ‘At Gateway 97.8, we love celebrating World Radio Day. The theme this year is Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace – our broadcasts throughout February 13th will cover this theme. Make sure you listen to Basildon and East Thurrock’s community radio station to hear the fun things we have planned!’ They are also celebrating Basildon at 70 in their programming this year.

Harlow Hospital Radio: Broadcasting to Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow.

Hospital Radio Colchester: Broadcasting to Colchester General and Essex County Hospital, Colchester.

Hospital Radio Chelmsford: Broadcasting to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford.

Leisure FM: For Braintree, broadcast on 107.4, who say: ‘We broadcast only local GOOD news and events with the emphasis on “Good News”, and all feel-good music from the past 60 years.’

Phoenix FM: For the Brentwood area, broadcast on 98. Today’s programmes will include Carmel Jane Talks Business, celebrating female entrepreneurs; popular football show The West Ham Way; and Curveballs, showcasing the best of new music from local bands.

Radio Forest: Broadcasting to hospitals in Epping, Saffron Walden, Brentwood, and Harlow.

Southend Hospital Radio: Southend Hospital  has been  broadcasting for over 40 years. More than 60 volunteers provide a 24-hour broadcasting service, with a mix of live programmes, and information/entertainment for the patients. Some specialist shows include Southend Hospital Radio Kids

Presenter Alice Ryan in studio at Southend Hospital Radio

Presenter and Committee Member Alice Ryan in the studio at Southend Hospital Radio (image courtesy Southend Hospital Radio)

(presented by 11-year old Kara and Kathryn, for the youngsters on Neptune Ward), Sound of the Pirates (presented by Trevor Byford, re-living the offshore sounds of the sixties), plus Musical Moments (presented by Nick Bright and Jonny Buxton, with the smash hits of the stage and screen). As well as being available at Southend Hospital, you can listen live online. The station is a registered charity that relies on donations to stay on-air and fulfil its aims as spelt out in its Constitution: “…To relieve the effects of sickness, infirmity and old age by providing a local broadcasting service to the patients of Southend Hospital”.

 

Today, take some time to tune in to your local station. You might learn something new about your community, you might engage in dialogue with a different sector of society, and you might spread a little toleration and peace as a result.