Andy Popperwell shares his experiences volunteering for the Essex Sound and Video Archive
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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).
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.
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).
He 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.
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
BFBSColchester: 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.
FunkySX: For the Southend area, broadcast on 103.7.
Gateway97.8: 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.
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 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.
We are fortunate to have a wonderful library collection here at ERO, including everything from AA Command: Britain’s air defences of the Second World War by Colin Dobinson, to Zillah’s Village: A Family’s Record of War and Peace in Rural Essex by Mark Roberts.
The ERO reference library is made up of books and other publications mostly about – you guessed it – Essex. We have local histories, biographies, social histories, economic histories, population studies, and lots more.
Our library recently joined the digital age, having graduated from our old index card system, onto our online catalogue, Essex Archives Online (EAO), which should make it much easier to find out if we have a particular book, and where you can find it on the shelves. Details of some 6,000 individual titles are now available on EAO, including all of the books in the Searchroom, and the older and more fragile books we keep in our document stores.
This has only been made possible by the mammoth effort over several years by our dedicated volunteers, who have worked through every single item in our library and added its details to a database. A big thank you to all everyone who has worked on this and made our library so much easier to use!
Some of our more historic library items
A particularly murderous shelf
To search for a book, simply type in key words of the title or author on Essex Archives Online (EAO) to see if we have it. When you find what you are looking for in the search results, the book’s entry will tell you whether it is on open shelving in the Searchroom, or stored in our stacks. Researchers can help themselves to the books on the open shelves, and items in the stack can be ordered in the same way you order archive documents.
While there is no subject index as such on EAO, you can see what we have for each Dewey category by typing this into the document reference box beginning with LIB/ – for example, a search for LIB/942.67 will bring up general books about Essex history. There is also a paper subject index at the Searchroom help desk to which you can refer to find the relevant class number.
We are also very grateful to donors of books for the library – here are a few of our recent additions.
In addition to the books, the library also includes over 9,000 pamphlets covering all sorts of topics, and the next phase of our library project will be to add these to EAO as well.
Is there something in our collection that you would love to investigate, but you aren’t able to visit us yourself? Or perhaps a document that contains vital information, but it’s just too tricky to decipher? Whether you are researching the history of your family, your house, or a vintage or classic vehicle, our Search Service might be able to help you.
One of the most frequent search requests we receive is to dig out information from the tens of thousands of wills in our collection. These date from around 1400 up to 1858, and contain all sorts of juicy nuggets of historical information.
One such will that our Search Service was recently asked to transcribe was left in 1615 by John Pease, who was a yeoman and lived in Great Baddow (D/ABW 30/235). Getting to look at a document in this amount of detail and delve into the lives of people long gone is always a treat, despite the trickiness of the handwriting.
The beginning of John Pease’s will, made on 11th January 1615. Just three days later his burial is recorded in the local churchyard.
Wills can be fabulously interesting documents and if you are particularly lucky you will find out the names of family and friends and details of property and this will is no exception. As is usual for a will of this period John Pease ensures that there is no doubt that while he is ‘weak in bodie’ he is ‘yet of good & p[er]fect memorie’. If there was any doubt as to his mental capacity then, just as now, his will would be invalid. He bequeaths his soul to God and his ‘Bodie I bequeath to the earth from where it came to be buryed in the Churchyard of Much [Great] Baddow’.
Interestingly there must have been some doubt in his mind as to if his wife Edee was pregnant or not for he goes on to describe what was to happen if, having three daughters already, his wife ‘be conceaved w[i]th a man child’ or ‘be conceaved with a woman child’. If it were a boy then he was to get certain land and property and if it were a girl then their inheritance was taken in to account along with his daughters Mary, Margaret & Edee. Reading between the lines you get the impression he was hoping for a boy!
John thought he was leaving his wife Edee expecting a child. He made various provisions in the case of the birth of a ‘man child’ and different provisions for a ‘woman child’
And what of John? Well his will is dated 11 January 1615. On examination of the relevant parish register for Great Baddow St Mary there is an entry made on the 14 January 1615 noting his burial (D/P 65/1/1, image 202) – he didn’t last long when he realised he had better make his will. Checking the baptism entries for Great Baddow for the months following his death there does not appear to be a record of a baptism of another Pease child so it seems that after all there was nothing to worry about.
So Edee, John’s wife, was now a widow and a quick check of the marriages for the few years after 1615 doesn’t show her getting re-married. However, there is an entry on August 11 1617 (D/P 65/1/1, image 123) for the marriage of Thomas Turner[?] and Margaret Pease. Could this possibly be John’s second daughter?
All documents tend to answer some questions and ask several more, which is one of the things that can make historical research such an addictive thing to do. If there’s a document you would like to see at ERO but you can’t visit, or you need some help understanding it, our Search Service is here to help – just get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500 for further details and prices.
In the first of our new Curiosity Cabinet series, Hannah Salisbury shares some of the fascinating things to be found in some recently accessioned First World War albums.
In a parlour there were three
A maid, a parlour lamp, and he
Two is company without a doubt
That’s why the parlour lamp went out
These rather cheeky lines were written by Gunner J. Frank of the Royal Garrison Artillery as he recuperated at Hylands House Hospital in Chelmsford, after being wounded at Ypres in August 1917.
This little trace of Gunner Frank is preserved in an autograph album which belonged to Kathleen May Morley who volunteered as a nurse and worked in several hospitals, including Hylands.
Three albums which were kept by Kathleen during the war years have recently been accessioned into our collections. Two are autograph albums filled with poems, drawings, and notes from men she nursed. The third is a photograph album, and includes pictures of Kathleen as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), her colleagues, and her patients.
Kathleen was from West Ham, and had grown up in a middle-class household, in a house opposite Ham Park. Her father was the Borough Surveyor for West Ham, and the 1901 and 1911 census returns show that the family had live-in servants. Kathleen was born in 1891, and would have been 23 when the First World War began. She volunteered as a nurse in 1915, and worked in military hospitals in Richmond, Lincoln, Wanstead, Woodford, and at Hylands House in Chelmsford.
Kathleen in her VAD uniform in 1915
The notes and sketches provide fascinating insights into hospital life and interactions between the patients and staff.
This cartoon, by Private George P. Clark of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, shows a conversation between a patient and the Medical Officer:
Patient: And is the operation likely to be fatal, Sir?
M.O.: Dear me, man! – considering the Government is giving you this operation free, I consider your idle curiosity most unseemly!
Other poems escaped from hospital life altogether, such as this one by Signaller James Watt of the 13th Royal Scots:
I’d like to be a hairpin
To bind a lady’s hair
Among the transformations
And the pads I’d nestle there
But if I were a hairpin
In Mabel’s tresses black
You bet if I slipped down her neck
You’d never get me back
Not everyone, however, rated their literary talents; J.E. Watson left Kathleen ‘A few lines by a bashful poet’ when she was at Woodford Military Hospital in May 1915.
Others, however, were only too happy to share their poetic talents. This little verse was written by Private W. Harris of the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards:
Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s wife
His ass thou shalt not slaughter
But thank the Lord ‘tis not a sin
To covet thy neighbour’s daughter
Some of the soldiers who appear in the albums were very far from home. Signaller W. Cowlishaw of the 1st Canadian Artillery Brigade left this message for Kathleen on 15 June 1915 at Wanstead Park Military Hospital:
I wish that I was able, just by your side to stand
And in the good old English way to shake you by the hand
But, as the sea’ll divide us, well, this I cannot do
So to prove that your [sic] remembered still
I’ll write these lines for you
Perhaps the cheekiest poem in the albums was by an Australian, Private C.V. Jordan from Melbourne, who describes himself as ‘the Chair King’:
Our eyes have met
Our lips not yet
But by jove kid
I’ll get you yet
There do not seem to be any American troops represented in the albums, but their influence is clear in this sketch by R.G. Beynon of the 16th Royal Fusiliers. One wounded soldier asks another “How did you get your packet mate?” “Learnin’ baseball orf the Yanks” replies his companion.
A great deal of affection and respect for Kathleen from her patients is evident throughout all three albums. F.E. Jenkins wrote this glowing review of her healing powers:
A good tip
When you’re feeling down & poorly
And you’re looking pasty white
Try my remedy – Nurse Morley
She’ll fix you up all right
Several of the patients who appear in the photograph album shared in Jenkins’s gratitude to Kathleen; this unusual bedside portrait is signed ‘Yours Gratefully H W Sheald’.
Altogether, the albums provide a fascinating record of life in the hospitals in which Kathleen worked throughout the war.
The two autograph albums and a small selection of pictures from the photo album will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout January and February 2019.
This month’s document has been chosen to mark National Tree Week, 24th November to 2nd December 2018, the UK’s largest annual tree celebration marking the start of the winter tree planting season. The document is the sale catalogue dating from 1923 for the Hallingbury Estate (SALE/A316). The estate included Hatfield Forest.
The part of the sale catalogue describing Hatfield Forest. The lot was over 922 acres, and included several cottages and a shell room or grotto,
The sale catalogue includes a large fold-out map which shows how big the estate being sold was. Hatfield Forest is the area coloured in grey in the top right corner.
In his book entitled The Last Forest, 1989, Oliver Rackham begins by quoting from a previous book of his; ‘Hatfield is of supreme interest in that all the elements of a medieval Forest survive: deer, cattle, coppice woods, pollards, scrub, timber trees, grassland and fen, plus a seventeenth-century lodge and rabbit warren. As such it is almost certainly unique in England and possibly in the world. …The Forest owes very little to the last 250 years. … Hatfield is the only place where one can step back into the Middle Ages to see, with only a small effort of the imagination, what a Forest looked like in use.”
The sale catalogue draws attention to the timber ‘of very considerable value, the wood having been carefully managed for many years’. Many years indeed, as the Domesday survey of 1086 shows that it belonged to Earl Harold during the reign of Edward the Confessor before passing to William 1st after the conquest. Thus it became a ‘royal’ forest, part of the Forest of Essex which included Epping and Hainault, and alongside provision of timber it was used by the kings for hunting purposes. The chief beasts of the chase were red, roe and, particularly, fallow deer which still populate Hatfield Forest today.
Henry III was the first king to part with the forest and it passed down through the families of Bruce, de Bohun, the earls of Stafford and the Dukes of Buckingham. At one point, Robert the Bruce owned it before it was forfeited along with the rest of his lands in England when he became King of Scotland (the story is featured in this earlier blog posted in August 2014 featuring some of the oldest ‘Essex’ documents kept by ERO). Eventually, along with much of Hallingbury and Hatfield, it came into the possession of the Houblon family who developed it as park during the eighteenth century, creating the lake, planting ornamental trees such as horse chestnuts and building the charming shell house. The family later invoked the Enclosure Act of 1857 and paid £3000 to take it out of common land and enclose it as a private park. Following a decline in their fortunes, however, it was put up for sale in 1923.
According to the National Trust, after an administrative error, a timber merchant bought Hatfield Forest and started felling the timber. At which point, the 83-year-old Edward North Buxton, a council member of the National Trust and a life-long preserver of forests helping to save Epping Forest of which he was a verderer, stepped in to save Hatfield Forest too. He managed to purchase it with the help of his sons from his deathbed and then give it to the National Trust. It was first opened to the public by Lord Ullswater on the 10th May 1924.
An invitation to the public opening of Hatfield Forest in 1924
A map of Hatfield Forest from a 1952 National Trust guide
The forest is famous for its splendid oaks which acted as standard trees amid the coppices. One of the legendary trees was the Doodle Oak which in 1813 measured 60 feet in circumference. Unfortunately, by 1924 it had disappeared. At first the National Trust adopted a laissez-faire approach to preserving the forest but quickly realised that in order to preserve it properly, it would have to be managed as a working forest, especially with regular cutting of timber in the coppices, thereby preserving it in the same way it has been worked for nearly a thousand years.
The sale catalogue, guide book map and invitation will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout December 2018. You can find out how you can visit this ancient forest on the National Trust website.
What makes Christmas, Christmas? And how has this changed over the years?
Delving into some of the hundred-year-old newspapers we look after, we find some surprising things. Then, as now, newspapers were packed with adverts for food, drink, gifts, clothing, and even furniture which readers were encouraged to purchase for the festive season.
So what was being marketed to our ancestors as the perfect Christmas present? Before the days of music downloads and streaming, one ideal gift being advertised in Essex was a gramophone. Walker’s Music Warehouse in Clacton advertised their gramophones as ‘A most suitable and lasting present for the Festive Season’, and promised the machines would bring ‘to the home absolutely the very best vocalists and instrumentalists procurable’. Prices began at 34s (about £130 in today’s money), and went up to 12 Guineas (about £980 today).
Advert for gramophones from Walker’s Music Warehouse in Clacton from the Clacton Graphic, 16 December 1911
Large department stores offered a huge range of consumer goods, such as those advertised by J.R. Roberts in Stratford in the run up to Christmas 1911. For children, there were books and toys, such as dolls’ houses or toy trams. For ladies there were silk and lace blouses, fur wraps and muffs, handbags and wool and kid gloves. Men seem to have got the raw end of the deal, with only handkerchiefs being mentioned in this particular advert as gifts for men. Customers could order by post, and Roberts offered free delivery to any address within 20 miles of the shop or on orders of over 5 shillings.
Advert for Christmas presents at J.R. Roberts’ Stores in Stratford, Chelmsford Chronicle, 15 December 1911
If after a trip to Roberts you were still in doubt as to what to get for the lady in your life, J.G. Bond Ltd in Chelmsford had the perfect answer in the shape of ‘Baker’s Celebrated Chelmsford Lavender Water’.
Advert for Chelmsford lavender water, Chelmsford Chronicle, 15 December 1911
After presents had been chosen, what did shops suggest people might purchase to eat and drink over the festive season? The Clacton Stores on 22 Pier Avenue offered a huge range of luxury food items, from Seager’s Best Sausages, to Stilton and Roquefort, to everything needed to make and decorate a Christmas cake. Also available were crystallised fruit sweets, and ‘Fancy Boxes of Chocolates’. To drink, the Chelmsford Chronicle advertised Glen Spey Whiskey, made from finest barley malt, and Gilbey’s Invalid Port (a ‘Pure Health-giving Wine’).
Advert for The Clacton Stores, Clacton Graphic, 16 December 1911
Whiskey 15 Dec 1911 Chelmsford Chronicle 1080 watermark
While adverts abound for luxury, or ‘fancy’, items, there were also plenty of adverts for more practical gifts. 100 years ago, people were getting ready for the first peace time Christmas in five years. While luxury goods were still available, there were more adverts such as the one from Bolingbroke & Sons Ltd in Chelmsford, promoting ‘useful and moderate’ presents, ‘the very thing for this memorable Yule Tide’.
Bolingbroke Christmas advert 20 Dec 1918 Chelmsford Chronicle 1080 watermark