For Home and Country: more from the Broomfield WI

Our Document of the Month for March is a record of the first Women’s Institute meeting to take place in Essex, which was in Broomfield, near Chelmsford, on 12 May 1917.

Spying the piece we wrote about this record, one of our regular searchers, Pat Bruce, contacted us to say that her great-grandmother, Emily Crozier, had been one of the original members of the Broomfield WI in 1917, and that she had Emily’s original membership card, which she has kindly lent to us to add to our display.

Broomfield WI Membership Card Emily Crozier 1917

Emily Crozier’s membership card for the Broomfield Women’s Institute, 1917 (Temporary Accession 4346). The card includes the motto ‘To do all the good we can, in every way we can, to all the people we can; and above all to study household good in any work which makes for the betterment of our home, the advancement of our people, and the good of our country’.

The logo at the top of the card is that of the Agricultural Organisation Society (AOS), which promoted the formation of Women’s Institutes during the First World War as part of its work to increase food production and save waste. The card is signed by Emily Crozier, and Dora M. Christy, the Secretary. Dora Mary Christie was described in her obituary in the Chelmsford Chronicle in 1947 as ‘a pioneer of the Women’s Institutes in Essex’. She was actively involved in the Essex WI from its earliest days, and was remembered as ‘a vital personality’, whose name ‘will be woven into the history of Women’s Institutes in Essex’.

Along with Emily’s membership card, Pat has also lent us a photograph of the Broomfield WI. Emily is sitting in the front row second from left.

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(Temporary Accession 4346).

Emily Crozier’s daughter Ethel was also a member joining in 1931 and her membership card, together with a programme for 1945, have also been lent to us.

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Ethel Crozier’s WI membership card, 1931 (Temporary Accession 4346). The motto by this time had altered slightly but maintained the same principle seen in 1917.

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An extract from the 1945 programme of the Broomfield WI, including on 7 March a talk from Antony Minoprio on the Chelmsford Area Planning Survey, which was a proposal to demolish most of the town centre. (Temporary Accession 4346).

We thank Pat Bruce for loaning us this charming collection of records. They will be on display in our Searchroom alongside the Broomfield WI minute book for the rest of March 2017.

Chelmsford Then and Now Project: Photographs and Photoshop

In our eleventh and penultimate post from our Chelmsford Then and Now project, Ashleigh Hudson explains how during her research project we compared historic photographs of Chelmsford High Street with today’s streetscape.

Chelmsford is often (we think mistakenly!) viewed as having little in the way of historic character. We would argue that there are, in fact, as many examples of continuity as there are of change, and the key is to know where to look. One of the invaluable resources used during this project is the Spalding photographic collection of some 7,000 images. The Spalding family of photographers were based in Chelmsford High Street from the 1860s until the 1940s, and recorded how the street has changed over time.

Fred Spalding senior was a self-taught photographer who set up the family business in Tindal Street in the mid-19th century. His young son, also called Fred, took a keen interest in his father’s business and quickly picked up the family trade. Several years later, an adult Fred relocated the thriving business to the site of 4-5 High Street (the current site of NatWest), where he established himself as the town’s ‘go-to’ photographer. The Spalding family captured Chelmsford through time, and their legacy endures through their magnificent collection of images. You can read more about Fred Spalding and the Spalding shop here.

We have done our best to recreate some of the Spaldings’ classic shots of the High Street, taking a set of prints out with us and dodging showers to do replicate the original pictures as closely as we could.

A quick comparison of some of the images revealed a high level of continuity across the upper half of most of the buildings. While the various owners and occupiers have changed over time, many of the architectural details have endured.

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Photograph of the Spalding shop c.1930

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The same building today. Beneath the layers of cream and pale blue paint, the upper exterior of NatWest is very much the same as when the building was occupied by Spalding.

Armed with our fresh images, the fun could really being. Using Photoshop, we layered the old photographs on top of our new ones, blending the two images together:

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The Spalding image is layered over the top of the current image. The image is resized and repositioned to fit the intended space

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It was then possible to blend the Spalding image into the current photograph.

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A finished example of this process. The edited image stretches down the high street, from the present day to the past.

In some instances, such as with Jamie’s Trattoria/Barclays Bank (no.2 High Street), the level of continuity is striking.

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Barclays Bank c.1930 layered over the current occupier, Jamie’s Trattoria.

In contrast, areas where entire stretches of the High Street were demolished and rebuilt, such as the sites of Paperchase and M&S (61-62 High Street), the edited images revealed how parts of the High Street are completely unrecognisable.

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The west side of the high street featuring the Queen’s Head in the centre and a building that would later form part of the future site of Marks and Spencer’s. These buildings have since been demolished and the site redeveloped, which is why the images do not match up smoothly.Ch

You can see the final results of our image blending on our Historypin page, or you can visit the Searchroom to explore the full extent of the Spalding photographic collection.

Document of the Month, March 2017: Jam and Jerusalem come to Essex

Our Document of the Month for March 2017 has been chosen by Archivist Katharine Schofield, who has selected the earliest record of the Women’s Institute in Essex, the minutes of the Broomfield WI who began meeting in May 1917.

The Women’s Institute can trace its origins back to Ontario, Canada in 1897.  In Britain the WI was created in part to cope with food shortages during the First World War and to help rural communities generally.  The first British meeting was held in Anglesey in 1915.

In Essex there were twenty-two WIs in existence by the end of 1917, with minutes surviving for the County Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes (Accession A8980 Box 1) and for the WIs at Broomfield (Accession A11304 Box 1), Epping (Accession A13888 Box 1) and Woodham Ferrers (Accession A11292 Box 39).  The earliest record of a meeting was at Broomfield on 12 May 1917, followed by Woodham Ferrers on 6 June and Epping on 13 September.

Minutes from the first meeting of the Broomfield WI on 12 May 1917 - the earliest  WI meeting in Essex for which we have any records

Minutes from the first meeting of the Broomfield WI on 12 May 1917 – the earliest WI meeting in Essex for which we have any records

The WI was promoted by Mrs Alfred Watt, one of Canada’s first female university graduates.  Madge Watt had been widowed and in 1913 came to Britain with the intention at least in part to establish the WI here.  The First World War and the need for increased food production gave her the opportunity, working in partnership with the Agricultural Organisation Society (AOS).

Mrs Watt and a representative from the Society toured the county addressing prospective groups.  In April 1917 Mrs Watt spoke to a group of women at Chelmsford and presumably this inspired smaller groups to invite her to speak in their villages.  She was too ill to attend the first meeting of the Broomfield WI so Mr Nicholson from the AOS spoke instead.

It was proposed that a WI be started ‘to help food scarcity’, and Mr Nicholson described the WI as ‘a centre round which a group of women banded themselves together to help themselves and their country’.  They would be able to do this ‘1st by releasing men from the land, 2nd by increasing food supply by cultivating vacant land, 3rd by preventing waste’.  There would be co-operation in buying seeds, tools, cooking and preserving utensils.  The WI also made war savings collections and helped village schools and industries.  The meetings themselves offered women the opportunity to work on home-made clothing, see demonstrations and hear about keeping livestock, goats, bees, rabbits and poultry and conserving fruit and vegetables, as well as an opportunity to enjoy ‘the social element’.

In Woodham Ferrers the rector had arranged the meeting and spoke about the ‘beneficial advantages’ before introducing Mrs Watt.  By the time that the Epping WI was started the County Federation had been established and the speakers were Lady Petre and Mrs Watt.

Most of these initial meetings were then given over to the practicalities of setting the group up and electing officers for future meetings.  By 1917 there was an established national organisation to provide guidance, suggestions for talks and demonstrations, as well as supply badges and other items.  Both Woodham Ferrers and Epping WIs purchased a book for their minutes stamped on the front ‘Agricultural Organisation Society’ at a cost of 6s.

The first organised meeting of the Broomfield WI was held on 6 June.  The minutes record that the first competition, making cakes or biscuits without flour, had ten entries with two prizes awarded and the first talk, arranged for the next meeting, was to be a demonstration of fruit bottling.  The Epping WI talks for 1917 were on the subjects of ‘parcels for the Front’, sugar substitutes and the care of children in winter.  The first competition in Epping was the best home-made Christmas gift, cost not to exceed 6d.  At Epping there was some discussion about the membership fees ‘amongst the poorer people’ with a suggestion that these might be paid at a rate of 2d. per month.  It was also agreed ‘by large majority’ that members could bring their children to meetings and that a volunteer would look after them in a separate room.

Minutes from the second meeting of the Broomfield WI on 6 June 1917. A competition was held for baking cakes and biscuits without flour, and a demonstration of fruit bottling was organised for the next meeting.

Minutes from the second meeting of the Broomfield WI on 6 June 1917. A competition was held for baking cakes and biscuits without flour, and a demonstration of fruit bottling was organised for the next meeting.

The singing of Jerusalem was not associated with the WI until the early 1920s, but the first meeting at Woodham Ferrers concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.

In September the County Federation met for the first time at the Shire Hall in Chelmsford, with Lady Petre subsequently serving as the first president.  The County Federation minutes record an organisation which grew rapidly from 1917.  By the end of 1918 the number of groups in Essex had more than doubled.  There had been classes on basket and glove making, boot mending, cobbling, rush work and straw plaiting, as well as lectures on housecraft, including mending leaks and repairing taps.

Although the WI was established with the aim of helping the war effort during the First World War, the organisation was keen that they should continue after the war.  In December 1918, only a month after the Armistice, the County Federation’s half-yearly report reiterated that while the production of food was of primary importance, ‘due weight’ should be given to the subject of Housecraft and the promotion of local handicrafts or industries.  The WI should ‘arouse interest in local history’ as well as teach the ‘principles and duties of citizenship’.  It should be a ‘valuable means to promote businesslike methods among women of all classes.’

The minutes of the first meeting of the Broomfield WI will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout March 2017.

Filling the holes in history

History sometimes gets a bit tatty around the edges. Most of the documents we look after were originally created as working items, things to be used, referred to, added to, amended, and carried around.

Wear and tear is inevitable, but fortunately modern conservation techniques can make once fragile documents much stronger again and allow us to make them accessible to researchers.

This map shows a plan of a late Victorian development in Leigh-on-Sea that will be on display at Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017. It dates from 1893, and had several small splits in it and a rather large hole on one edge. To make it ready for display we took it to our expert conservator Diane Taylor. This short photo story will take you through the process of how the biggest hole in the map was repaired.

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Senior Conservator Diane Taylor working on a plan of the Victorian development of the Leigh Hall Estate, dating from 1893 (D/DS 365/2/1). The map shows part of an important stage in the development of the town, when open land was sold off in plots for new houses to be built.

The process begins with preparing a sheet of Japanese tissue paper, a very fine but strong tissue paper which will be used as a backing for the map to give it strength. The tissue is laid onto the glass surface of a large light box, and sprayed with a fine mist of distilled water, then covered with an even layer of wheat starch paste, which will act as an adhesive. The map itself is then also sprayed with distilled water and laid on top of the tissue (the idea of getting documents wet sounds alarming, but many kinds of older paper and ink can get wet without disintegrating). The map is then covered in a sheet of transparent polythene and smoothed down with a wide flat brush.

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Diane carefully shapes a piece of new, traditionally-made paper to fit the hole as precisely as possible, with just a small overlap. Wheat starch paste adhesive is used to adhere the infill to the map and the tissue backing.

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Using the light box, Diane closely examines the other smaller splits in the map and makes sure they are all closed up and securely adhered to the tissue backing.

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Once the infill is in place and the splits carefully realigned, the map is again covered with the polythene sheet and a wide brush is used to smooth everything down.

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The main repair will now need to be left to dry, and the edge of the piece of infill will then be trimmed to be flush with the edge of the map.

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The polythene is peeled back to reveal a repaired but wet map.

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The map is covered with thick felts to absorb the water and begin the drying process.

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Wooden boards are placed over the felts to press them and draw water out of the map.

After drying, the edges of the tissue backing and the infill repair will be trimmed, and the map will be clean and strong and ready for researchers to use.

Join us at Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017 at The Forum in Southend to see this map alongside several others tracing the development of Leigh from a small fishing village to the town we see today. Find full details here.

Leigh-on-Sea on the Map

“a pretty little town, well stock’d with lusty seamen”

This vivid description of Leigh-on-Sea comes from William Camden’s Britannia, a survey of Great Britain and Ireland published in 1586.

We are diving in to Leigh’s history at the moment ahead of Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017, when we will be displaying a selection of our historical maps and images of Leigh at The Forum in Southend, showing its transformation as development spread ever further out from the small old town area that hugs the Thames shoreline.

Here we share some sneak peaks at some of the maps and postcards we will be bringing with us to display.

Leigh tithe map, 1847 (D/CT 217B)

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Extract from the Leigh tithe map, 1847 (D/CT 217B)

The centrepiece of our display will be Leigh’s tithe map, which dates from 1847. The map shows Leigh just before the coming of the railway, when it was still a small fishing town or village.

Tithe maps are brilliant sources for researchers interested in the history of their family or a particular property or place, as each plot on the map is numbered. This is because the maps are accompanied by a list of who owned and occupied each property, as they were used to work out how much tax people should pay based on the value of their property. The system of taxing people according to the value of their property replaced a much more cumbersome medieval system of people rendering a tenth of their agricultural produce to the church.

Railway map, c.1854 (D/DS 177/1)

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This 1854 map shows the route the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway was to take through Leigh, cutting through a swathe of existing buildings (D/DS 177/1)

Soon after the tithe map was prepared in 1847, another map of Leigh was produced which shows us the dramatic transformation the old town was about to undergo. This map was prepared in connection with the building of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, and shows the somewhat brutal course the track was to take through the town.

Although each building is numbered and presumably linked to a schedule giving names of owners of the properties through which the railway would pass, the whereabouts of the schedule is unknown. The map shows all the familiar Leigh landmarks, including the Bell and Ship inns, the Billet and Smack public houses, the Coast Guard House, the Custom House and individual wharfs and quays.

The building of the railway sliced the old town in two, marooning the High Street on a thin strip of land along the edge of the Thames. Victorian progress was rarely halted by the presence of old buildings that today we would consider precious, and in Leigh the presence of steep cliffs meant there was no alternative but to drive the railway through the town.

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Leigh-on-Sea High Street in the late nineteenth century, in the part of the old town which was sandwiched between the new railway line (behind the buildings on the left) and the Thames (behind the buildings on the right). The Crooked Billet Inn still survives, as do several of the buildings shown in this picture. (ERO postcard collection, Leigh-on-Sea no. 38)

Ordnance Survey maps

The best maps which show the development of Leigh from 1890 to 1939 are the large scale ordnance survey maps of the “County Series”.

These were made in three waves – the first edition, made in the 1870s, the second edition, from the 1890s, and the New Series, made between the 1920s and 1940s. The county was entirely mapped in two different scales, 6” to the mile and the fabulously detailed 25” to the mile.

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Later copy (1964) of the first edition Ordnance Survey map of Leigh which was made in 1873 (MAP/CM/142/1)

Unfortunately we do not have an original 25” to the mile first edition OS map showing Leigh, but we will be bringing a well-known copy of it that was made later. The original map dated from 1873, and we can see that by this time Leigh remained a fairly small place, although now with a railway running through its centre. We can see that adjustments had been made to existing buildings to accommodate the railway, and that a ‘New Road’ had been built alongside it.

Amongst the new buildings shown are the Smack pub in a new building across the street from its original site (which by this time was underneath the railway line) and, on the hill below the church, a new National School which was built in 1852.

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Ordnance Survey map of Leigh, 1897

Leigh was resurveyed in 1897 for the second edition of the County Series. By this time, much of the open land around the old town had been divided up to be sold as plots, and new streets had been planned out, with pockets of building underway. This sort of development is seen frequently in our maps of Victorian Essex. Plots were either bought by individuals who then built their own houses, or purchased by developers who built who rows or streets of houses. Some plots were reserved for shops or hotels.

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Ordnance Survey map of Leigh, 1922

The next major survey of Leigh took place in 1922, and the map which resulted shows a fairly spectacular explosion of new housing that had been built since the 1890s. The town we see in this map resembles much more closely the town we can see today. Beside the railway, a tramline had been built running along The Broadway from St Clement’s church, past the Grand Hotel, and then along Leigh Road into Southend.

 

Southend bomb map, 1945 (D/BC 1/4/3/3)

The most recent map which will be on display was made soon after the end of the Second World War, and shows where bombs and other missiles were dropped on Southend, including Leigh, during air raids. If you live in Leigh, was your house near one of these bomb sites?

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Map showing where bombs fell on the Southend district during the Second World War, 1945 (D/BC 1/4/3/3)

For more historic maps and images of Leigh, join us at Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017, 10.00am-3.00pm, at The Forum, Elmer Square, Southend-on-Sea, SS1 1NE. Entry is free, but if you could make a donation to support our work we would really appreciate it.

Document of the Month, February 2017: Photograph of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, aka Fanny and Stella

As February is LGBT history month, we have chosen this photograph from the Frederick Spalding Collection (D/F 269/1/3696), dating from c.1869.  Frederick Park (left) and Ernest Boulton (right) were presumably photographed by Spalding in his Chelmsford studio while they toured Essex as part of a small theatrical company.  They often dressed in women’s clothing when not on stage, calling themselves Fanny Graham and Stella Boulton.

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Park (the son of one the Masters of the Court of Common Pleas) was articled to Gepps, the Chelmsford solicitors; Boulton was the son of a London stockbroker.  They were arrested by the Metropolitan Police in April 1870 while wearing women’s clothing at a London theatre and charged with six others with “conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence”.  Their arrest and subsequent trial the following year was reported in detail in newspapers throughout the British Isles.  After the ‘not guilty’ verdict, Frederick Park emigrated to the US, dying there in 1881 at the age of 34. Ernest Boulton continued performing, touring in small theatre productions with his brother Gerard until his death in 1904.

A print of the photograph will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout February 2017.

New recordings to commemorate the 1953 floods

During the night of January 31st, many of the lower-lying districts of eastern England were overwhelmed by a devastating flood.

So begins the narration to a documentary created by the department that later became the Essex County Council Educational Video Unit about the 1953 floods (VA 3/8/4/1). The documentary focuses on Canvey Island, which was severely hit by the floods, and was put together from film footage taken at the time.

The floods caused terrible suffering: people drowned or died from exposure to the bitter cold, waiting on islands of rooftops to be rescued; houses and possessions were ruined; livelihoods destroyed. But is there a purpose in holding commemorations year after year, making the same observations, telling the same stories?

We could point you to a blog entry we wrote in 2013, on the sixtieth anniversary of the floods. It cites some staggering figures of the losses suffered, illustrated by harrowing photographs showing the full extent of the flood. Is there anything more to say four years later?

Recent bad weather no doubt brought back the full fear of flood to coastal residents, particularly those who were evacuated from Jaywick. The sea defences are vastly improved, particularly with the sea wall erected round Canvey Island, but we can never guarantee safety from the threat of flood. Can the history of the 1953 floods help us when facing such threats today?

One of the audio-video kiosks touring the county for our You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place project is currently visiting Canvey Island Library. To prepare for this, we have been digitising sound and video recordings about the floods in the Essex Sound and Video Archive, including the documentary mentioned above.

Listening to memories of the survivors and those who helped the rescue efforts, like watching the contemporary film footage, gives greater impact to studying the events. Hearing the emotion in people’s voices, learning about individual experiences, brings the history to life as no text book can do.

Listen to one woman’s memories of that terrible night in this clip from a special BBC Essex programme about the floods, ‘Tide on Tide’, first broadcast in 1988 (SA 1/313/1).

Still image from the 1953 documentary about the floods on Canvey Island (VA 3/8/4/1)

Still image from the 1953 documentary about the floods on Canvey Island (VA 3/8/4/1)

More than that, people’s stories of the clear-up efforts can teach us lessons if facing similar catastrophes. The documentary shows people rowing for their lives to bring people to safety, helping at rescue centres, pulling together to rebuild the sea wall. Much of this work was done by the Army, the police, and voluntary organisations, but members of the public also pitched in to help. It is encouraging to see how whole communities came together in the face of danger. And how many smiling faces can you spot in the film footage, despite the ordeal?

Sir Bernard Braine, then MP for Canvey, praises his constituents in this clip from the ‘Tide on Tide’ programme (SA 1/313/1).

One local hero, Winne Capser, illustrates this attitude. In subsequent days, she took it upon herself to rescue pets and reunite them with their owners. We could question whether it was worth the risk. But to the owners, having these non-human members of their families back again was probably a great comfort, and a big step towards returning to normality.

Clip of Winne Capser talking about rescuing animals after the 1953 flood. This is from a Sounds of Brentwood feature on the floods produced by Dennis Rookard and broadcast in 2013 (SA 2/1/110/1).

It wasn’t just local people who helped: as news spread, people nationally and internationally were prompted to donate clothing, household goods, and food to help families get back on their feet. In Harwich, whole houses were donated from Norway to relieve evacuees temporarily accommodated in caravans on the Green.

Another clip from the Sounds of Brentwood feature, this time with Cllr Ray Howard and Fred McCave describing the donations sent from across the globe to help flood survivors (SA 2/1/110/1).

We should also raise questions about how the floods are commemorated. Jaywick lost 5% of its population – but how often is this town mentioned in comparison to Canvey or Harwich?

Further clip from the ‘Tide on Tide’ programme, talking about the impact of the flood on Jaywick, and the impact of Jaywick on public consciousness of the flood (SA 1/313/1).

We talk about the community spirit, but do we also talk about the police that were put in place to protect against looters in the aftermath? Which stories are absolute fact, and which have turned into folklore?

Clip about a thief caught stealing money from gas meters after Canvey Island had been evacuated, from the BBC Essex ‘Tide on Tide’ programme (SA 1/313/1).

By combining contemporary film footage, personal memories, newspaper reports, and official documents, we can build up a full picture of that awful night. We can then use this picture for commemorating the local heroes who saved countless lives, and for drawing inspiration to respond to future disasters.

You can watch the full documentary and some of these sound recordings through Essex Archives Online. You can visit the audio-video kiosk at Canvey Island Library, or view the same content on our second touring kiosk at Brentwood Library, until they move to their next venues at the end of March.

You Are Hear is a three-year Essex Sound and Video Archive project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. You can read more about it on our project blog site.

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Top tips for starting out on your family history

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Tip no. 2: Record where you find your information

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

 

Tip no. 3: Birth, marriage and death indexes

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

 

Tip no. 4: Search the census

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

 

Tip no. 5: Move on to parish registers

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

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

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

Tip no. 6: Ask for advice

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

Good luck and happy searching!

How to choose a wife, Victorian style

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

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

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

Now why my dear Fred don’t you marry?

I had hop’d the late rumour was true

Now take my advice and don’t tarry

But set off instanter* to woo

But first my dear Fred pay attention

And though you should love and admire

If she’s one of these Ifs that I mention

Dear Fred make your bow & retire

If you find that she can’t darn a stocking

If she can’t make a shirt or a pie

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

If she ever drinks beer on the sly

If soon of the country she’s weary

If politics e’er are her theme

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

If she crosses her legs or her letters

If you’ve seen her drink three cups of tea

If she boasts of those wearing her fetters

If she’s sick when she goes on the sea

If she seems the least bit of a scold

If her manners have any pretence

If her gown does not cover her shoulders

If her bustle is very immense

If she’s nervous, or bilious, or sickly

If she likes to take breakfast in bed

If she can’t take a hint from you quickly

If her nose has the least touch of red

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

If she seems a coquette or a flirt

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

If she’s stupid or if she is pert

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

The chain she around you has bound

And seek for a maid in whom never

These follies and failings were found

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

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

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

‘If her bustle is very immense’

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

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

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

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

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

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

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

 

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

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

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

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

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

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

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

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

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

Cover of the first Maldon All Saints parish register

Cover of the first Maldon All Saints parish register

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

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