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‘It seemed to us it was going to go on forever’: reflections on the First World War

As the centenary of the end of the First World War approaches, we are delving into our collection looking at some of the fascinating wartime records we look after. Join us on Saturday 10th November 2018 to mark 100 years since the Armistice at ‘Is this really the last night?’ Remembering the end of the First World War.


In 1992 Dilys Evans’s year four class in Hockley was learning about the First World War. When Dilys mentioned this to her neighbour, a veteran of the First World War, he immediately offered to come and speak to her class about his experiences. Fortunately for us, she recorded this meeting of generations and later deposited the tape at ERO (catalogued as SA 24/1011/1).

The veteran in question was Alf Webb, who at the time was aged 95. He volunteered for the army in 1914 aged 17, only realising the horror he had let himself in for when he arrived in France.

The whole recording is about 45 minutes long, and in it the children ask Alf questions about his wartime experiences. Alf talks about his recollections of both the mundane detail and the harsh reality of war, in a matter-of-fact and unflinching way (perhaps surprising given the audience). He talks about mud and lice, tactics and trenches, the death of friends and colleagues, and his own attitude to the war, which was to ‘try and survive and get out of this’.

Extracts of the recording are available here, and we will shortly be publishing the whole recording online. In the meantime, you will be able to hear it at our event marking 100 years since the Armistice, ‘Is this really the last night’? Remembering the end of the First World War, on Saturday 10th November.

Alf Webb was born in Hackney in 1897. His parents were Christopher, a boot finisher, and Mary. Alf had an older sister, Rosetta, and a younger brother, Alexander, who also served in the army towards the end of the war.

Alf began his military service in the cavalry, but ended up in the Machine Gun Corps. He answers the children’s questions frankly, and clearly wanted to convey the horrors of war to them.

One of the questions put to Alf by the children was ‘Did you think the war was going to be exciting?’. He replied:

‘I did when I first joined, I thought it would be wonderful. I’d be in the cavalry you see with spurs on and riding breeches and a posh bandolier out there, I didn’t realise we was going to get blown to bits. But, when you’re young, you see there hadn’t been a war before, only the Boer War which was all open country, and so we had nothing to go on, and to a young person, I mean I was 17, I was 18 by the time I’d gone over the top, it seemed a very exciting thing, but my God, you soon alter your opinion.’

He tells the children several times how fearful he felt being at the front:

‘When you hear people saying they’ve got no fear I don’t believe them because the first time I ever went in the trenches I was frightened out of me life. There had been a bombardment and there were so many dead bodies and things lying about I was sick I was scared, and the Sergeant said to me ‘all right boy, in a few months you’ll be used to it’ and after about 3 months you are.’

British machine gun crew (Imperial War Museums)

Describing one occasion when he was firing a machine gun, he told them that in half an hour he had three different men come up to work the gun with him and each get killed in turn:

‘all you do is to push them out the way and another one comes up and takes their place. In some ways it doesn’t seem much because all you see is them fall down, fall over, but it’s very very nasty when you see the chap next to you is feeding these in and a shell or something or a burst hits him in the face and you look round and you see your mate there with no face. And there’s blood all over you. It’s not very nice, you don’t enjoy it.’

When asked by one of the class ‘How many Germans do you think you shot?’, he replied: ‘I’d have to say thousands, because with a machine gun going at 600 shots a minute … you could just see them dropping.’ Another child asked ‘How many times did you make a friend and then have to watch them die?’. Alf’s answer was: ‘Oh dozens of times. It happens all the time. There’s no way out of it.’

On the subject of how long he felt at the time the war would last, Alf told the class:

‘Well it seemed to us it was going to go on forever. There seemed to be no end to it because when things were static right from 1915 on advances used to be a matter of just a few yards and that sort of thing.’

The war did, of course, finally come to an end, and one of the children asked Alf how he felt at that time:

‘Highly elated. Actually, I’ll go onto that now. We were pushing the Germans back in 1918. After they broke through, we stopped them and then we were pushing them back. And I happened to get to a place called Verviers in north Belgium, and Spa, where the Armistice was signed was a few kilometres away up in the mountains so we was actually the first to know that an Armistice had been proclaimed. And in Verviers where we were, the villagers there opened their estaminets, like our pubs or anything, and everything was open for everybody. The troops were lighting and other people there were lighting tar barrels so we could have light, and well, there was general rejoicing, although we knew that we were still in trouble as you might say, there was no more fighting to be done. But Spa itself was a beautiful part of Belgium, it’s very hilly there. In fact they hadn’t had much trouble there before and they’d still got trams running. But the trouble was they’d got so little power that if you got on one of these trams … to go uphill you all got out and pushed it up the hill.’

The children were also interested in Alf’s love life, asking if he had a girlfriend during the war. ‘Yes,’ he replied; ‘And I’m still married to her!’ Further detail followed:

‘Actually, before the war, I was with a lot of other youngsters, we used to belong to the boys club, and there was one lot of girls that was four sisters, and the one that I married was one of them, I’d been out with all of them! We used to enjoy life, we was all friends together… We still corresponded afterwards and eventually when I came home we got married. That was in 1924 we got married, and she’s still alive today thank goodness.’

The children clearly had an understanding of the effect wartime experiences had on the mental health of many of the people who experienced it, and one child asked Alf ‘Did you dream about the war?’. He answered:

‘For the first twelve months after I was demobilised, I was quite OK. And then I used to wake up in the night and I could see all of it over again, I could see my friends being killed and dying. It was so bad that I couldn’t even go to work. I saw our local doctor, old Dr Anderson, he said ‘Look, I’ll tell you the best thing to do, you don’t want medicines, you don’t want anything like that, get away to a quiet place in the country, anywhere, where you can go out into the open air. Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired. Don’t try and not think about anything, just try and enjoy it’. And that’s what I did. Actually, it might seem strange to you, but we was in London, and I went down to Battlesbridge, which is not far from here. My mother and father knew an elderly couple who were retired and bought some cottages down there, and I went down there and stopped there for three weeks. I used to get up in the morning, and there was big fields between there and the river Crouch, and I used to walk all round those,  go in the Crouch swimming and that sort of thing, and at the end of three weeks, it was all gone. I don’t know if I was lucky or what it was, but that’s how it went. For the first twelve months out I didn’t feel, everything didn’t matter, and then as I say I got this reaction. And I couldn’t sleep and I used to wake up seeing it all over again, trying to push somebody away because they were dead so somebody else could take their place. Horrible feeling.’

Alf had a powerful message for the children in the class that day:

‘Anybody that tries to glorify war [is] stark raving mad. There should not be wars, there should always be a compromise… Nobody wins, you all lose… It’s all wrong.’

Alf and his pre-war sweetheart, Violet, moved to Hockley in later life. Violet died there in 1991 aged 93. Alf lived until 1997, reaching the age of 99.


Hear from Alf for yourself at our Armistice event on Saturday 10th November 2018, ‘Is this really the last night’? Remembering the end of the First World War. Find full details and booking information here.

Also on 10th November, we will be at Chelmsford Library in the morning running a drawing activity for children based on Gerald’s sketches – find the details here.

First World War stories from ERO’s collections will also be featuring in a remembrance concert at Chelmsford Cathedral in the evening of 10th November – find the details here.


 

Making sense of the census in the classroom

Our Learning from History Manager, Valina Bowman-Burns, is here to bring the past to life for schools. Here she tells us why census records are one of her favourite things to use in the classroom.


Click here for information on a free schools resource pack on Victorian census records, as well as other packs on life for Victorian children, and more.


Valina with students from the Ursuline School in Brentwood visiting ERO

What is the census?

The census counts everyone living in the UK on a particular day and tells us a little about them – their name, age and where they live. The census is used by the government and local authorities to help plan new schools, houses and roads. A census has been taken in Britain every 10 years since 1841 (except for 1941, when everyone was busy with the Second World War). To keep everyone’s personal information safe we are not able to look at the Census for 100 years. It then becomes interesting for another reason – as a fantastic source for finding out about the past.

How do I find census records?

You can come to the Essex Record Office!  Using computers in the ERO you can access all census records (and much more) via Ancestry for free. It is not possible to print from these computers, but by pressing the green ‘save’ button in the top right hand corner, you will be given the option to e-mail it to yourself.

If you’ve not visited ERO before, our short video will tell you what to expect from your first visit:

The National Archive has selected a few interesting examples of census records which yo can see here – including census records for Queen Victoria, a poor London family, industry in Lancashire and a 1911 census tampered with by a suffragette!

Or there are examples here in this blog post that relate to Essex that could be useful to you. If you use them in your classroom, please let us know with a quick e-mail to Heritage.Education@essex.gov.uk

How can I use the census in my classroom?

History: A Local history Study

Try searching for the location of your school and discover interesting local characters from the past. To start a local history study present the children with a census page like this and ask them what information we could find out from it. Perhaps set tasks, like finding the oldest person on the page or the youngest. Can they find a scholar (a child who goes to school)?

Census records record who was living or staying at each address in the country on the night the census was taken. The first column gives the address followed by individuals’ names, marital status, ages, occupations, and where they were born.

What caught my eye on this 1881 census was a gentleman living at 31 Church End in Great Dunmow, who will forever be remembered now as ‘Old Joe’. At first I felt bad that Joe’s surname had been lost to history, until I looked down and found ‘His Wife’ – no first name or surname correctly recorded. Perhaps this could lead to a discussion about how women or immigrants (they are originally from Ireland) were viewed in Victorian Society.

History: the lives of significant individuals

Try putting the names of significant individuals from Victorian times into Ancestry. Refine your results by looking only at ‘Census and Voter Lists’.

In 1851 Florence Nightingale is with her parents and the section of the Census for occupation is left blank.

In 1861 Florence Nightingale is now ‘formerly [a] Hospital Nurse’:

What happened in the 10 years in between? Can the children find out? Hint: they should come back with something like – she became a nurse, tended the wounded of the Crimean War, showed that trained nurses and clean hospitals could save hundreds of lives, set up a training hospital and is credited with founding modern nursing.

History: Children’s History

This page shows some of the boys described as ‘inmates’ at Colchester Union Workhouse in 1891.

By this time school is free and compulsory for all children and we know that North School in Colchester, nearby and newly built, accepted some of these children as students. How could this have changed these children’s lives?

What might your students discover in their local census records?

English: creative writing

Start by challenging children’s information retrieval skills, asking what information they can gather from this 1851 census. Perhaps choose one person to be the character in a story – what do we know about them? How can we create a story from this?

Sarah’s story could start like this:

Sarah Waters awoke with a start.

“Sarah” she heard her father call urgently, “Sarah! Anne needs you!”

She suddenly realised that he wasn’t calling her, he was calling her mother. Sarah’s baby sister Anne was crying again. Sarah was glad she had woken up, because it was nearly time to school ….

Sarah made her way downstairs through her father’s shoe making workshop. The overwhelming smell of leather and glue made her feel a little dizzy, but she soon got used to it….

Sarah stepped out of her house on Railway Street. Railway Street was always dirty from the factories nearby pumping smoke from their chimneys.  Sarah was on her best behaviour, as quiet as a mouse, when she walked past the house next door. It belonged to Mrs. Midson her strict, scary school teacher.

Other ways you can use Census records

The Census has amazing potential for Geography – especially showing movement and migration and how this is nothing new. Children could use a page from the census and maps to locate people have moved from. Census pages are often full of marks and dashes – where clerks have compiled information to inform government policy. In a maths lesson children could follow in their footsteps and answer questions like: how many children are there? How many people are over 60 years old? How many people are living in a different place to where they are born. An IT class gives the potential for children to present the information in fun and interesting ways – using charts and graphics.

If you want to use primary sources to bring history to life for your students, get in touch with us on heritage.education@essex.gov.uk, or see what we can offer to schools on our Education page

The strange case of Sarah Moore

As the nights draw in it’s the perfect time to gather to hear tales of dark happenings in the past. Here, bestselling novelist Syd Moore tells us about how she first became interested in researching Essex witches, ahead of her talk at our screening of Witchfinder General on Friday 26 October 2018 – find all the details here.

Best-selling novelist Syd Moore who will be speaking about her research into Essex witches at ERO

I first encountered Sarah Moore, when I visited the pub in Leigh on Sea named after her. It was shortly after it had opened and the name piqued my curiosity. This was mainly because a) we share the same surname and b)  in my experience it’s unusual to come across a pub named after someone who isn’t famous or a king, queen, lord, lady, duke, admiral, marquis etc. When I asked about it at the bar the staff told me the brewery chain that owned the place often ran competitions to name their pubs. Regularly they would chose winners with a local flavour. Sarah Moore, I was informed, was the subject of a Leigh legend – an evil sea-witch who raised the Great Storm of the Estuary, caused great havoc about the town and sank a plethora of boats.  When I probed further I learned the story of Sarah Moore. Which, if any of you don’t know, goes like this:

Sarah Moore was a bent and bitter old witch, who made her living sitting by the estuary down in Old Leigh, telling fortunes and selling sailors ‘a good wind’ for a penny. The latter was a common practice along various coasts. The ‘witch’ would take a length of string or ribbon and ‘tie’ the wind into it.  The sailor would buy it. Then when out at sea, if they desired wind, they would untie the string. A single knot would loosen a breeze, two would summon a strong wind, and three would unleash a storm. Allegedly one day, a foreign captain rocked up in Leigh. He was a zealous man and, when he heard about Moore and her spells, he forbade his crew to consult her, give her any money or buy any wind. As the legend goes, when Moore heard about this she flew into a rage and, in revenge, summoned up The Great Storm of the Estuary. This, she threw at the vessel as it sailed out into the open sea. The poor boat rocked from side to side, with all aboard much afeared. The crew tried with all their might to get the sails down but, alas, the rigging kept snaring.  One of them cried out in a moment of awful horror, ‘This is the work of the witch. It’s the witch!’ Whereupon, the story goes, the captain picked up an axe, ran to the mast and felled it with three hefty strokes. As soon as the mast hit the deck the storm instantly subsided. When the beleaguered crew got the wounded ship back to Belle Wharf, they saw, there on the floor the dead body of Sarah Moore, three axe wounds across her corpse.

This was a splendid tale, I thought at the time, full of intrigue, horror, suspense and supernatural murder. And as soon as I heard it my interest was immediately fired up. But I was left full of questions: was the story really a myth or a legend? Had Sarah Moore been a real person? Was there some truth in parts of it? Any of it?

In a strange synchronicity, at about the same time, I was asked to present a pilot for a TV series about legend and lore of the land. Cunningly I suggested we look at Sarah Moore and, microphone in hand, ventured out with the team to quiz a whole host of strangers about the legendary sea-witch.  I heard variations of the tale many times, but nobody really knew whether Sarah had ever existed. A couple of Leigh locals suggested it was possible that the myth had been stitched together from various Essex witch stories and that Sarah was a conflation of sorts. It wasn’t what I had been expecting to hear, to be honest. And although I was disappointed I determined to keep on going with my own private research. Which I did. And over the next few years I delved deeper into the myths and legends of Leigh and its surrounding areas, and read up on local history. Yet I did not find much else about the witch.

Until one day when my friend, the writer Rachel Lichtenstein, invited me to go with her to the Essex Record Office. Believe it or not it hadn’t dawned on me that I might be able to find out more about Sarah outside of history books.  Neither was I aware that anyone could pop along to the offices. Somehow I had it in my head that it was something you could do only if you were a professional researcher or a historian or historic writer or had some other kind of credentials. So the whole trip really was a bit of a revelation.

That afternoon spent at the Record Office I discovered the numerous resources: books, reports, various antique volumes, microfiche.  With great excitement I dived straight in to see what I could find. It took me several visits but one dark and stormy afternoon, almost as I was about to give I up, I hit upon a record!

Burial record for Sarah Moore at St Clements church, Leigh-on-Sea, 14 December 1867 (D/P 284/1/38 image 87)

This was the burial entry in the St Clement’s church register for one Sarah Moore. It was dated the 9th of December, 1867 and was my ‘light bulb’ moment. I remember sitting in the record office as the rain pelted against the windows and feeling flooded with light. For not only did the record confirm my hunch that Sarah had been a living breathing woman, it also gave me a solid date around which to research. Another thought that immediately struck me was the fact she had died in 1867. The Great Storm of the Estuary had occurred in 1870. Sarah couldn’t possibly have been responsible for raising it, even if you did believe poor dispossessed old women had control over meteorology.  She had been dead for three years. This realisation prompted me to conclude that Sarah had been scapegoated for the event posthumously. During my further research I was to learn that this was not the only natural disaster that had been attributed to her. All of this evoked a tremendous amount of pity for the woman, and despite the centuries that separated us, I felt outrage on her behalf. The feeling spurred me on to explore the real woman behind the myth and to tell her untold side of the story.

Soon I found her on the census of 1851, by which time she had been twice widowed and left with a great number of children to provide for. In fact, Moore had a terrible life.  Perversely over the years, her association with witchcraft and tragedy, metamorphosed her reputation into a ‘wicked’ one. Through careful consideration I was able to track the route that had facilitated the switch from tragic victim to sinister oppressor and highlight this in the novel, that was published in 2011, The Drowning Pool. It was the start of a career investigating the other miscarriages of justice that occurred in our county: the Essex Witch Hunts.

If you would like to hear more about them I will be speaking on the 26th of October at the Record Office, before a screening of the very relevant classic horror film The Witchfinder General.

Syd Moore’s new book Strange Casebook is out on Halloween.

‘Never look backward, always look ahead’: The First World War drawings of Gerald Rickword

As the centenary of the end of the First World War approaches, we are delving into our collection looking at some of the fascinating wartime documents we look after. Join us on Saturday 10th November 2018 to mark 100 years since the Armistice at ‘Is this really the last night?’ Remembering the end of the First World War.

Gerald Rickword’s advice to ‘Never look backward, always look ahead’ appears on his sketch of a First World War soldier whose gaze is set firmly on the drinks at the bar in front of him. While never looking back is not advice that we could advocate at the archive, it must have been one way of coping with life on the Western Front, where Rickword was based when he made the sketch.

‘Never look backward, always look ahead’; more than one of Gerald’s sketches feature the theme of alcohol and bars

Gerald Rickword was born in Colchester in 1886, the second of four children. His brother John Edgell Rickword also served in the war, and is the better known of the two. John Edgell was a poet, critic and journalist, and in the 1930s became a leading communist intellectual.

Both were the sons of George Rickword, who was Colchester Borough Librarian, and attended Colchester Royal Grammar School. In later life Gerald maintained a lifelong interest in Colchester’s history.

Before the beginning of the First World War, Gerald was an insurance clerk. During the war, he served first with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and then with the Labour Corps as a transport officer. It was during this period that Gerald drew the sketches shown here.

A collection of about 30 sketches made by Gerald during the war survive today at the Essex Record Office, each full of evocative little details that provide windows into scenes that Gerald witnessed. The sketches are all in pencil, and most are monotone, with just a few in colour. The sketches are all loose, and on scraps of various paper stocks.

‘A Sentry, not one of the Lifeboat crew’ – a soldier is shown on sentry duty in driving rain

Some of the sketches show men of different nationalities and regiments observed by Gerald. One of these is dated 8 January 1917, and shows different soldiers Gerald had seen on the Boulevard Jacquard (he doesn’t give a town, but this could perhaps be the Boulevard Jacquard in Calais). One head and shoulders sketch is of a French Algerian soldier, while a full length portrait is of a French cavalry officer. The sketch is in black and white, but for the cavalry officer Gerald has noted the colours of his uniform – a red hat, a light blue tunic, red breeches, and red cloak lined with white.

Soldiers seen by Gerald on the Boulevard Jacquard on 8 January 1917

Several of the sketches are humorous, such as ‘A portion of the rear of the British line’, showing a rear view of a rather wide British soldier, his uniform straining around him. In another sketch, two mice help themselves to cheese and crackers. In another, a sentry stands in driving rain, his jacket buttoned up over his face, a large wide-brimmed hat hopefully ensuring he didn’t get rain water pouring down the back of his neck. The caption informs us that despite appearances, this man is ‘A Sentry, not one of the Lifeboat crew’. Other sketches are more haunting, such as the one of a soldier in a gas mask.

After the war Gerald returned to Essex, and in 1923 married Florence Webb in Colchester. He lived until 1969, when he died aged 82.


More of Gerald’s sketches will be on display at our Armistice event on Saturday 10th November 2018, ‘Is this really the last night’? Remembering the end of the First World War. Find full details and booking information here.

Also on 10th November, we will be at Chelmsford Library in the morning running a drawing activity for children based on Gerald’s sketches – find the details here.

First World War stories from ERO’s collections will also be featuring in a remembrance concert at Chelmsford Cathedral in the evening of 10th November – find the details here.


 

History and horror: do you dare to meet the Witchfinder General?

This Hallowe’en, experience history and horror with a screening of 1968 cult horror classic Witchfinder General at the Essex Record Office on Friday 26th October, 6.30pm-9.00pm. The screening will be accompanied by a talk about the real history of witchcraft in Essex by bestselling novelist Syd Moore (tickets available here).

The film is set in East Anglia in 1645, and stars Vincent Price as the notorious self-appointed ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins, who claimed to have been given the right by parliament to interrogate and execute witches. The plot is a fictionalised account of Hopkins’s bloody exploits, and follows him and his assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell) as they visit village after village, torturing and executing suspected witches.

Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General. Price was 56 when he played Hopkins, even though Hopkins was only in his 20s when he sparked a major witch panic in the 1640s. Image: British Film Institute

Interior scenes were filmed in converted aircraft hangars near Bury St Edmunds, and exterior scenes were filmed on locations including the Dunwich coast, Lavenham, Kentwell Hall, and Orford Castle.

The film is best known for its violence, despite being extensively cut by the British Board of Film Censors. It has divided audiences and critics alike, with some deploring its violent scenes, while others have championed it as an important part of British film history.

While Hopkins did exist and did indeed hunt suspected witches, the film departs from real history in several ways. Hopkins was the son of a Suffolk minister. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but by the winter of 1644-5 he was living in Manningtree in Essex. He came to believe that there were 7 or 8 witches living in the town; these and others were arrested and questioned, with Hopkins giving evidence against them. This sparked a trail of accusations, and eventualy 36 Essex women were tried for witchcraft at the Essex assizes in July 1645. Nineteen of them were executed. 9 died in prison, and 6 were still locked up in 1648. What Hopkins had started in Essex spread to Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, with at least 250 people tried as witches, and at least 100 executed.

Hopkins did not meet the violent end that he does in the film, but according to a contemporary account died slowly of consumption (tuberculosis) at his home in Essex in 1647. Price was 56 at the time that he played Hopkins, but in reality Hopkins was only in his 20s when he instigated the East Anglian witch hunts. The film’s biggest departure from reality, however, is its omission of court cases; in the film, Hopkins and Stearne subject their victims to summary executions, but in reality suspected witches were arrested and tried.

Burial record of Matthew Hopkins in the Manningtree and Mistley parish register, recording his death in August 1647, two years after he began pursuing witches (Essex Record Office). The text reads:
Mathew Hopkins sone of Mr James Hopkins Minister of Wenha[m] was buryed at Mistley August 12th 1647


Here are all the details if you want to join us for horror and history this Hallowe’en:

Date and time: Friday 26 October, 6.30pm-9.00pm

Location: Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT

Film length: 86m

Rating: The film is rated 18 as it contains strong violence and execution scenes. If you are lucky enough to look under 18 we will ask to see proof of your age on the door

Tickets: £10

Booking: Please book online at www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events  

Document of the Month, October 2018: Marriage of Captain James Cook and Elizabeth Batts, 1762

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

250 years ago, on 25 August 1768, Captain James Cook of the Endeavour embarked from Plymouth on his first voyage of discovery to the South Pacific to observe the transit of Venus. In so doing, he left behind Elizabeth his wife of nearly 6 years and their first 3 children. It has been calculated that the couple spent a total of just four years together out of 17 years of marriage.

Record of the marriage of Captain James Cook to Elizabeth Batts in 1762 in the Barking parish register (D/P 81/1/10). Both have signed their names; the fact that Elizabeth was literate enough to do so is an interesting detail.

This month’s document, a marriage register (D/P 81/1/10), records their marriage at St Margaret’s church, Barking on 21 December 1762. James Cook lived further up river at Shadwell and Elizabeth (née Batts) was the daughter of the inn-keeper of The Bell at Wapping. Cook was fourteen years older than Elizabeth who was aged just twenty. As neither of them belonged to the parish of Barking, they were married by licence of the Archbishop of Canterbury by George Downing, the vicar of Little Wakering in Essex (it is thought that Elizabeth Batts knew Downing who was also chaplain of Ilford Hospital).

The front cover of the register

Altogether, they had 6 children, three of whom died in infancy. Of the others, two went to sea like their father. Nathaniel was lost aged sixteen in 1780 in the Thunderer, which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies, and their eldest James (a commander and the longest lived) was drowned in 1794 whilst trying to board his sloop in a storm. Meanwhile, their youngest, Hugh, died of scarlet fever in 1793 aged seventeen whilst he was a student at Cambridge. James Cook, of course, was murdered by enraged natives in Hawaii whilst on his third and last voyage in 1779.  Consequently, there are no direct descendants of James Cook.

So, Elizabeth Cook was not only a widow but had lost her whole family by 1794. And she was to outlive them by another 40 years as she died aged ninety three in 1835 and was buried alongside her sons, James and Hugh, in the church of St Andrew the Great in Cambridge which contains a monument to the whole family.

The register will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout October 2018.

If you are interested in finding out more about Captain Cook and Elizabeth Batts, you might want to take a look at another document in our collection – an essay by Derek Simmans entitled ‘The mystery of the marriage of Captain James Cook to Elizabeth Betts [Batts] on 21st December, 1762’ which is catalogued as T/G 437/3, and which you can search for on Essex Archives Online.

Back to (Industrial) School: images of Essex Industrial School admission registers now online

Digital images of the admission registers of the Essex Industrial School and Home for Destitute Boys for 1872-1914 are now available on our online subscription service, Essex Ancestors.

The Essex Industrial School and Home for Destitute Boys gave boys a basic education, and training in practical skills such as shoemaking and carpentry

The school’s admission registers sometimes include incredible detail about the boys who were admitted to the school

We have written before about the fascinating history of the Essex Industrial School, which opened in 1872 in two converted houses in Great Baddow. It was a charitable institution founded by local business man Joseph Brittain Pash, and provided accommodation, a basic education, and practical training for destitute boys, especially orphans or those considered to be at risk of falling into crime. By 1876 the school had grown to fill three houses and four cottages, and in 1879 it moved to a new purpose-built building in Rainsford End, Chelmsford, with space for 150 pupils.

The images which have now been added to Essex Ancestors include admission records for about 1,200 boys who were admitted to the school over this period. Individual records include the reasons for the boy’s admission, and sometimes record information about their progress and what happened to them after they left the school. (Sometimes, as in the case of William Swainston, who emigrated to Canada, it can be possible to find out quite a bit about what happened to the boys after they left.)

These records, especially when combined with information from birth, marriage and death records, census records, and newspapers, can provide some incredibly detailed information about the lives of the boys at the school, and their stories often read like Dickensian novels.

Charles Bartlett, for example, was 12 years old when he was admitted to the school on 3rd November 1874.

Photograph of Charles Bartlett on his admission to the Essex Industrial School (D/Q 40/153)

Charles Bartlett’s page in the Essex Industrial School admission registers (D/Q 40/1)

He had been sent by the Waltham Abbey magistrates, where he had twice been brought before the bench for sleeping rough, once in a water closet, and once in a shed. He was sentenced to be detained at the Essex Industrial School for four years.

The details given in Charles’s admission register paint a bleak picture. His father, George Bartlett, was dead. His mother had remarried to Richard Adams. There were three children from the first marriage (including Charles), and five from the second. Richard Adams also died while Charles was at the school. Charles had not received any education and could not read or write. The admission register states that Charles had ‘been systematically illused & neglected, causing him to run away & sleep in sheds’; when admitted he had a deep cut on his hand, apparently caused by his mother throwing a knife at him. (An article found on the British Newspaper Archive from the East London Observer on 7 September 1872 shows that his mother and step-father were hauled before the court after beating Charles so violently that neighbours ran to fetch the police.)

Despite his troubled home life, Charles doesn’t seem to have been pleased to find himself at the school. The register details several occasions where he ran away, only to be returned, sometimes kicking and biting the person who picked him up. On the second occasion he absconded it was thought he had scaled a chimney to escape.

In the end, Charles did remain at the school for his allotted four years. When his time was up in November 1878, he was sent him to his mother at her request. It has been possible to trace him in 1881 in Putney, visiting his mother and her third husband, Charles Munro, and in 1891, living with them in Horley, Surrey. After that the trail has, so far, run cold.

The registers now online are full of stories like Charles’s, and make for fascinating study. The images now available online are from four volumes, with the following catalogue references:

  • D/Q 40/1 – the earliest admission register, recording boys admitted in 1872-1881
  • D/Q 40/2 – 1883-1897
  • D/Q 40/3 – 1897-1911
  • D/Q 40/4 – 1911-1914 (this volume includes admissions up to 1925, but records after 1914 are closed)

How to view the records

You can see the digital images of the records for free at the ERO Searchroom and at the ERO Archive Access Point in Saffron Walden.

Instructions on how to take out a subscription are available on the Subscription Service page on Essex Archives Online.

Once logged in and subscribed, use the document reference search box in the top right of the screen to search for the reference of the volume you are interested in.

Going further

If you find a name in the admission registers that you want to follow up, you can try to further trace the individual through census and birth, marriage and death records. Sometimes it is also possible to find newspaper articles about individual cases – the British Newspaper Archive online (which you can access for free at ERO and in Essex Libraries) is an invaluable resource here.

You can also see if any further details are given in the school’s discharge registers. These are not available online, but you can visit us to view them for yourself, or contact us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk about remote search and reprographics options.

Best of luck with your research!

School Then and Now: Change and Continuity

Our Learning from History Manager, Valina Bowman-Burns, is here to bring the past to life for schools. Here she shows us how one of our local primary schools has changed over the last hundred years – and what has stayed the same.


Click here for information on a free schools resource pack of the images below, as well as other packs on life for Victorian children, and more.


The archive holds a beautiful collection of photographs. The ones of Ford End School were particularly detailed capturing the school inside and out. Inspired by this I wanted to retrace the photographer’s steps and retake the photographs. The kind staff and pupils of Ford End Primary School made me very welcome and showed me around their school.

In taking this photograph of the front of the school I came across an issue the original photographer probably did not have: the fast moving and constant traffic on the road through Ford End – changing the soundscape as well as the look of the area.

This image shows the back of the school. Here we see a hard working group bringing in the harvest with horse and carts.

There are still working farms around the school, but this particular area is now the school playground for games and fun.

However some traditions have been continued. Here we see the former pupils of Ford End working together to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

The school still has an allotment. Unfortunately my photograph from a chilly day in February doesn’t show the area in its full glory, but pupils today are still growing their own.

This is my favourite of all the Ford End photographs. I have shared this image with schools around Essex. The pupils’ sharp eyes still sometimes pick out features that I hadn’t noticed before. There are clues on the walls and around the room that hint at science, art and geography lessons.

Believe it or not – this is the same classroom! It is now divided into three rooms: a class room, a staff room and the head teacher’s office, but the windows and chimney are in the same place. I was not able to stand in exactly the same place as the original photographer due to the addition of a cloak room.

In 1900 the girls are sewing and the boys are writing. Present day we have a vibrant classroom with computers and smart boards. The layout and position of the desks are different and the children’s best work is displayed on the wall. The number of children in a class has decreased. I counted around 70 in the Victorian classroom, the school today has around 70 children in total, divided into different classrooms. The gaslights have been replaced by electric lights and the fireplace has been boarded up and replaced by radiators.

Do you remember the three arched windows nearest to us in the photograph of the front of the school? We could also see it at the back of the Victorian classroom from the inside. That distinctive window is still there, but a dividing wall now makes this the head teacher’s office. There is no false ceiling here and the full height of the Victorian classroom can be seen.

The small staff room shows the two internal walls that have been added. Notice through the window the wall and entrance gate, still in the same location.

One mystery remains. This photograph shows a cookery lesson. Searching the school for original features like the high ceiling, fireplace and what appears to be a very large door at the end of the room. I looked around hoping to rediscover the beautiful murals around the room – the black and white photograph hinting at the possibility of vibrant colour and a perhaps a moral story unfolding for the improvement of the children’s minds.

Yet it could not be found. It is certainly not in the current school building, but could be in Ford End or perhaps further afield.  We know that pupils used to be bundled onto a carriage –perhaps to reach this classroom?

Do you know where this is? Do you have any school memories that you would like to share?

Document of the Month, September 2018: survey of Rivenhall

New fragments which tell us about Essex’s past come in to us all the time, in all shapes and sizes. Here, Archivist Ruth Costello tells us about one of our new additions – a beautiful survey of the Rivenhall estate. The volume bears no date, so Ruth has been sleuthing to see if she could find out when it was made.

This month’s document is one of two volumes of maps which we received earlier this year as part of accession A14956. This, the smaller of the two, shows Rivenhall Place and its lands, which were owned by the Western family.

The index at the beginning of the volume lists the parts of the Rivenhall estate which are included in the survey

For each part of the estate, there is a carefully drawn map, and a list of how each parcel of land was being used. This map shows Rivenhall Place and the lands immediately around the grand house.

Despite its undoubted beauty, it seems to have been treated as a working document, with annotations in pencil, some of which seem to have been rubbed out at a later date.

Unfortunately, the survey does not include a title page, where we might expect to find the name of the surveyor.  Nor does it include a date.

We knew the volume must predate 1839 as the Rivenhall tithe map produced in that year clearly shows the newly built Eastern Counties Railway running through the parish.  In the volume, it has been pencilled in at a later date (it’s the line crossing through the meadow land numbered ‘23’, north of Rivenhall End in the page on display).

The two lines marked in pencil through field no. 23 on this map show where a railway line was later built, helping us to date the volume

We already held two maps of Rivenhall Place among the Western family estate records drawn in 1828 and 1839 (this latter one didn’t show the railway, so must have been produced earlier that year).  It’s unlikely that the land would have been surveyed and mapped on another occasion, so we thought that the volume must tie in with the date of one of these maps.

On display in the ERO Searchroom, the volume is opened to display the map of Pond Farm, which at the time was leased (somewhat appropriately) by Joseph Lake.  Both the volume and the 1828 map (D/DWe P12) show a property described as ‘workhouse land’ (it’s surrounded on two sides by the field numbered ‘26’).  The later map of 1839 (D/DWe P16) has the name ‘Bilney’ against this property.  It would seem that Mr Bilney bought the property after the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 led to the sale of former, smaller parish workhouses and the creation in this case of the new Witham Poor Law Union workhouse.

Map of lands that made up Pond Farm

List of lands making up Pond Farm

Some of the surrounding area is described as ‘William Blackborne’s land’.  We found a burial for a William Blackborne in the Rivenhall parish register in 1825.  Initially this made us think that the volume must predate his death and must be earlier than 1825.  However, both the 1828 and 1839 estate maps also included his name, which showed that out of date information was being copied forwards.

We think, therefore, that the volume and the 1828 map we already held were drawn at the same time.  Sadly, we still don’t know who drew them; the map also has no author.  The map shows the whole of the estate and its individual farms together, but it has only a very little colouring, by comparison with the volume.  This volume and its companion (a series of maps of the Felix Hall estate) are thus a welcome addition to our holdings.

The volume will be in display in the Searchroom throughout September 2018.

A reminder of Britain’s slave-owning past: administration of the estate of Stella Frances Allen

23 August is Slavery Remembrance Day, which seemed an appropriate moment to highlight this document, which is one of the darker things in our collection.

The document dates from 1822 and is part of a series of papers which relate to the administration of the estate of Stella Frances Allen, née Freeman, who had died in 1821 (D/Dc F9/8). Stella had inherited estates owned by her family in Jamaica, which relied on slave labour, and this document lists the slaves who were at work on the family’s Belvidere plantation in the parish of St. Thomas-in-the-East in Jamaica. The lists give the name, colour, and age of the slaves, and whether they had been born in Africa or the West Indies.

The lists of enslaved people stretch over four substantial parchment sheets

The documents were compiled by George Cuthbert, who seems to have been the Freeman family’s agent on the Belvidere estate

The document lists the names, ‘color’, and ages of the enslaved people forced to work on the estate, and whether there were born in Africa or the West Indies

In the ‘color’ column, people are listed as being either ‘Negro’, ‘Sambo’, ‘Mulatto’, or ‘Quadroon’ – terms which today are considered offensive and have fallen out of use. These terms were used at the time to categorise people based on their skin colour and ancestry; definitions for these terms are given in the Oxford English Dictionary as follows:

  •  ‘Negro’: a person of Black African origin or descent
  • ‘Sambo’: this word seems to have several meanings, and was often used as an offensive nickname for Black people. It could also be used to mean someone who had one ‘Negro’ parent and one ‘Mulatto’ parent.
  • ‘Mulatto’: a person with one white parent and one Black parent
  • ‘Quadroon’: a person with one Black grandparent

The fact that people were categorised in this way based on the colour of their skin, and the skin colour of their ancestors, is deeply uncomfortable to read today, but provides a stark insight into the mindset of the time.

Another column, titled ‘African or Creole’, gives an indication of where each person was born, i.e. whether in Africa, or in the West Indies. One man, John Williams, aged 55, is described in this column as ‘American’.

There are actually two lists, or schedules, in the document; one from 1817 and the other from 1820. In 1817 there were 355 enslaved people engaged in forced labour on the estate – 182 men and 173 women – and in 1820 there were 348. The 1820 schedule notes that since 1817 there had been 21 births and 28 deaths amongst the enslaved people on the plantation. The reasons for deaths are given, including fever, old age, ‘mal d’Estomac’ (literally, a ‘bad stomach’), tetanus, and dropsy. One enslaved man, John Whitfinch, was named but noted to have ‘run away since 1818’.

Part of the 1820 schedule which records reasons of death, and curiously also one case of ‘transportation’

Perhaps especially disturbingly, there are also several children, toddlers and babies listed, including in 1817 Biddy, aged 5 days, daughter of Aneilla Mowatt, and Penny, 1 month, daughter of Jane Williams. Sometimes it is possible to identify three generations amongst the enslaved worker: 9-year-old Clara was the daughter of Henny Richard, aged 30, whose mother was Mary Richards, aged 55.

Some of the very young children listed on the 1817 schedule

Even though the slave trade had been abolished in Britain in 1807, the whole system of slavery in British-held territories was not abolished until 1833. The British government granted £20 million in compensation, to be paid by British taxpayers, not to the slaves themselves, but to the slave owners who were losing their ‘property’. Stella Allen had already died by this point, and the compensation for the slaves she had owned was paid to her executor, Capel Cure of Blake Hall in Bobbingworth (detailed in Stella Freeman’s entry on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project).

Seeing this list of people ‘owned’ by other people is a chilling experience, and reminds us that much of the wealth of Britain at that time was built on the horrendous practices of enslavement.

A search on Essex Archives Online for the word ‘slave’ brings up 76 results; there are plenty of other stories relating to this dark period in our history waiting to be uncovered.