Essex Country Houses

This guest blog post from Ben Cowell, Director General of the Historic Houses Association, is based on his talk on Essex country houses which he gave at the Essex History Group in September 2017. You can read more from Ben on his blog.

Essex is not particularly well known for its country houses. Yet there are far more of them than you might think.

The most famous is Audley End, an English Heritage property and arguably one of the country’s most important mansions. Audley End was principally built in 1605-1614, although the property that is seen today is around a third of its former size (the courtyard wings were pulled down in the 18th century). With rooms by Robert Adam and grounds by Capability Brown, Audley End certainly meets the criteria of a house of national importance.

Print of the principal front of Audley End in its original state (I/Mb 381/1/55)

Audley End today – the large principal court between the remaining building and the river was demolished in the eighteenth century

But what of Essex’s other houses? The National Trust doesn’t have a single mansion property in Essex – somewhere like Paycocke’s House at Coggeshall, charming as it is, is a sizeable merchant’s house rather than a country seat. However, the presence of a fair few Historic Houses Association (HHA) member properties alerts us to the fact that there were mansions all over the county, of which many still survive.

Map showing locations of country houses across Essex

HHA member houses in Essex include Layer Marney Tower, Ingatestone Hall, Hedingham Castle and Braxted Park. All of these houses are open to visits, or run for weddings and other events. Each is of genuine historical significance, and lived in by families who have an extended connection with their house stretching back many generations.

Hedingham Castle

The presence of so many HHA members in Essex is a sign of the attractiveness of the county as a place to site a country residence. Proximity to London, and to the major trading routes via the Thames, led to the decision of many landowners to construct substantial houses. Layer Marney was a remarkable gatehouse of the early 1520s, built from brick in an attempt to transpose Hampton Court to the Blackwater Estuary. Only Lord Marney’s death in 1523 put a brake on the ambitions behind the property. Henry VIII visited in August 1522, when on a royal progress that took in New Hall at Boreham too.

Layer Marney tower

There were plenty of houses built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Audley End may be the most famous, but in all I found 182 houses in total, many of them built between 1600 and 1800. They included huge palaces, such as Wanstead Park, built in 1715 only to be demolished (for its building materials) 110 years later. North and south of my home village of Newport are two substantial houses from the late 17th century, Shortgrove and Quendon, although the Shortgrove of today is a modern rebuilding of the house that was lost to fire in the 1960s.

Number of country houses in Essex demolished in each century, 1900-1989

The truth was that many houses were demolished – I counted 37 in total. The peak of these losses was in the 1950s, when an astonishing number of Essex mansions were either being pulled down because families were unable to keep them going (such as at Marks Hall and Easton Lodge), or were lost beneath the suburbs of east and north-east London.

Wanstead House, one of the largest houses ever built in Essex, which stood for just 110 years (I/Mp 388/1/20)

Nevertheless, many houses survived, and continue to survive, leaving their mark on Essex’s gentle rolling landscapes. Today, Essex country houses either survive through tourism (for which see the Essex houses and gardens website), or as wedding venues. Indeed, it might be said that the Essex wedding has been the saviour of many an Essex country house.

Document of the Month, October 2017: Ghost sighting at Castle Hedingham

Our Document of the Month for October tells of a dark happening. It is a letter written in 1713 that tells the tale of a ghost sighting.

The letter was written by Nicholas Jekyll of Castle Hedingham to Rev. William Holman of Halstead (D/Y 1/1/111/19). It is one of about 200 letters from Jekyll to Holman which are today at ERO, the earliest dating from 1711 and the latest to 1730.

Holman was collecting materials to write a history of Essex, and Jekyll was helping him by supplying information and commenting on his manuscripts. They did, however, sometimes correspond about other topics. In some letters Jekyll thanks Holman for gifts such as bottles of brandy and homemade elderberry wine, and in others discusses current affairs, or gives updates on members of his families who have emigrated to America.

This letter begins with mention of a book Jekyll was returning to Holman, and a request by Holman for Jekyll to do some research for him.

Jekyll’s handwriting is on the challenging side; if you see the letter while it is on display in our Searchroom you will find a transcript alongside it

The majority of the letter, however, describes the sighting of ‘an apparition of that wretched poor fellow who lately drowned himself’ near Jekyll’s house. Initially Jekyll was scornful of the report of ghost sighting, but believed he now had ‘unquestionable proof’ that it was true. The apparition had been seen ‘acting like a fellow in deep melancholly [sic]’ in the place where the man had drowned himself, before throwing itself into the water.

The letter will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout October 2017.


Harwich Society’s Memories Exchange Interviews

Recently, we have been uploading a collection of oral history interviews conducted by The Harwich Society between 2009 and 2014 (Catalogue Reference SA 49/1/2).

These twenty-four interviews are just the first instalment of an ongoing project to record the experiences of current and former residents of Harwich and Dovercourt. As with most collections of oral history interviews, they reveal shared experiences but also how life varied even in one town depending on personal circumstances.

Harwich Junior School (T/Z 241/1)

The playground of Harwich Junior School was flooded to a depth of 1½ metres (T/Z 241/1).

Most of the recordings touch on the 1953 flood. On the night of Saturday, 31 January, a storm surge caused the sea to overwhelm flood defences along the eastern coast of Britain. Harwich was one of the places affected, and the traumatic experience is unsurprisingly etched on the town’s corporate memory.

Even here, experiences varied. Some residents in Dovercourt only knew about it from news bulletins on the television. But in the Bathside area, the water rose to the first floor of people’s houses. Tom Bell and Danny Goswell, then young lads who belonged to the sailing club, were kept busy ‘fishing people out of houses’ in boats, ‘rowing around doing what we could’ (SA 49/1/2/12/1).

Evacuees sought refuge in the drill hall, where the Salvation Army was handing out blankets and cups of tea, before being billeted with family members or kind-hearted strangers with rooms to spare. The water took a week to recede, and the houses were permanently damaged. Ruby Cooper-Keeble recalls how they lost all their possessions. By the time the family moved back to the house, it had been cleaned out and redecorated, but the smell ‘stayed with it for years and years’, and ‘you could actually scrape the salt off the [wall]paper’ as it seeped out of the walls, residue from the sea salt water that flooded the home (SA 49/1/2/9/1). But as a child, she still saw the ordeal as something of an ‘adventure’.

Some people, such as Mr and Mrs Moore, never moved back (SA 49/1/2/14/1).

The interviews are full of memorable details that bring the event to life: tables laid for breakfast that neatly settled back into place once the water receded; the vigour of local hero Leonard ‘Pummie’ Rose in organising the rescue operations. The stories take different tones. Tom and Danny chuckle over how, after working all day in rescue boats, they still had the energy to go out in the evening. ‘Commandeering’ a dinghy tied up outside the police station, they rowed down the main road to the Spread Eagle pub that remained defiantly open, to enjoy a couple of Vimtos before rowing home.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, recalling the childhood trauma of that long, cold, dark night spent trapped in the bedroom waiting for rescue affected one interviewee so much that it sounds as if he had to pause during the interview to compose himself.

Whether they were only onlookers or whether they lost everything, when listened to together the interviews reveal how the town rallied together to overcome this ordeal – as they had done just ten years earlier during the Second World War. From the family who tirelessly worked to restore their grandparents’ house to normal in time for Christmas (interview with Diane Butler, SA 49/1/2/11/1), to the boy who joined with his friends to build a sea wall in the sand when they moved back, ‘in our own simple way to try and stop the waves coming again’ (interview with Ray Chippington, SA 49/1/2/22/1), the town was determined to recover. And what better way to cheer flagging spirits than travelling in a ‘cavalcade of coaches’ to a football match at Wembley to support your local team in the FA Amateur Cup final? Harwich and Parkeston Football Club’s finest hour was among the happier events of 1953, as recalled by Malcolm Carter (SA 49/1/2/16/1).

The collection covers other topics as well, including experiences during the Second World War; growing up and working in Harwich; and how the town has changed. We are grateful to The Harwich Society for taking the time to capture these memories, and for allowing us to make them publicly available. We are also grateful to the participants who, as June Cummings describes, had to relive the events in the act of sharing them (SA 49/1/2/20/1).

 

You can listen to these oral history interviews in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford, or, thanks to our Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project, in the comfort of your own home through Essex Archives Online.

It is not surprising that such a momentous event crops up in several of our other collections. You can search the subject index term ‘Floods’ to find related material, such as this film footage of the floods on Canvey Island. Or look up Hilda Grieve’s authoritative work on the 1953 floods in Essex, referred to in some of these clips: The Great Tide: The story of the 1953 flood disaster in Essex (copies available in the Searchroom Library or in branch libraries across Essex).

Further afield, the East Anglian Film Archive holds a compilation of film footage of the floods which reveal the devastation caused. You can watch it for free on their website here.

Does your community have a story that should be recorded? Do you want to undertake your own oral history project? Contact us to find out more about the oral history training we provide.

Document of the Month September 2017: Farming and national survival in the First World War

This month’s Document of the Month is a small part of the story of how Britain was saved from starvation during the First World War.

100 years ago our ancestors were facing a food crisis. When Britain entered the war on 4 August 1914, the country had enough wheat in stock to last for just 125 days. In the decades preceding the First World War Britain had increasingly relied on imports of food, and by 1914 60% of its food supply was imported. Between 1914 and 1917 these imports were increasingly under attack by German U-boats; by 1914 the Germans were sinking one in four merchant ships in the Atlantic.[1]

Farmers at home faced the huge challenge of growing enough food to feed the nation. Not only did this mean bringing more land under arable cultivation than ever before, it meant doing so with a shortage of male agricultural workers and a shortage of horses.

In an effort to make sure the nation had enough to eat, in late 1915 the Board of Agriculture called for counties to set up War Agricultural Committees. The records of the Essex War Agricultural Committee, today looked after at ERO, can give us valuable insights into the efforts that went in to producing enough food to keep the nation alive.

The War Agricultural Committees were intended to ensure greater productivity of agricultural land and to increase the amount of land under cultivation. Despite their work, by December 1916, the Board of Agriculture was extremely concerned at the decrease in acreages of particular crops, when compared with the previous decades.  A meeting that month noted that the combined acreage for the production of wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas and carrots in Essex had fallen from 428,904 in 1874 to 324,352 in 1914. Most of this decrease was due to a drop in wheat production, which was increasingly imported from the USA.

In January 1917, a new committee was formed from members of the existing Essex War Agriculture Committee. The Executive Food Production Committee, later renamed the Agricultural Executive Committee, were required to oversee improvements on an almost full time basis. In their meetings, members discussed the loans of equipment and horses; requests for petrol, the housing of prisoners of war (often in workhouses and camps) and the employment of women on the land.  In extreme cases, they could also arrange for the removal of tenants where the land was not being farmed to their approval.

It is clear from an early stage that there were tensions between the agricultural committees and local military tribunals concerning agricultural workers. The minutes often include decisions regarding applications for exemption from call up on the grounds of work of national importance, requesting a transfer to army reserves or release from military service and for temporary leave.

At one such meeting 100 years ago this month, the Agricultural Executive Committee approved a number of applications on these grounds.  An H. J. Willett was granted a voucher to remain in employment as a tractor supervisor in Chelmsford and a Private G. Cole was allowed to join the army reserves in order to continue as a wheelwright at Pitsea. This reminds us that farmers and agricultural labourers relied on other skilled workers to maintain and improve production. It would be interesting to see whether the number of applications for exemptions increased as the war progressed and the need for greater production and for more men in the armed forces intensified.

Extract from the Essex Agricultural Executive Committee in September 1917, where applications for transfer to the army reserve or for leave and for petrol licences were discussed (D/Z 47/17)

It is thanks to the efforts of all of those men and women who worked against enormous odds to keep the nation fed during the First World War that Britain never faced famine.

__________________________________________

[1] Figures from World War One: The Few that Fed the Many, published by the National Farmers’ Union, accessed 5 September 2017 https://www.nfuonline.com/assets/33538

Prizes, pigs and ploughing: A brief history of the Orsett Show

This Saturday, 2 September 2017, we will be at the Orsett Show with a table in the Heritage Zone. This got us thinking about where this long running agricultural show all began.

The Orsett Show can trace its history back to ploughing matches held in the village from 1841, organised by The Orsett Agricultural Association and Labourers’ Friend Society. The competitions were held with the support of Mr Richard Baker Wingfield-Baker, the owner of Orsett Hall and President of the Society.

These events are described in local newspapers of the time. After the ploughing matches, the company would retire to the George Inn in Orsett for a prize giving and meal. The last of these events was held in October 1879, when there were 21 entries in the ploughing competition, and a ‘very good show of market garden produce, bread and needlework’ (Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 10th October 1879). In March 1880, Wingfield-Baker was killed in a hunting accident (aged 78), and the competitions ceased.

In 1895, the new owner of Orsett Hall, Captain T.C. Douglas Whitmore and his son Francis Whitmore revived something along the lines of the previous events when they set up the Orsett and District Cottage Garden and Agricultural Society. They hosted the Orsett Show themselves in the grounds of Orsett Hall.

Orsett Hall (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

The Chelmsford Chronicle tells us that at the first of the new shows ‘The garden produce and exhibits were highly creditable’, but ‘In many instances it was noticeable that lessons in selecting fruit were required… The vegetables were worthy of mention. The pot plants did not call for special praise.’ Entertainment was provided by a roundabout and other amusements, and the band of the training ship Shaftesbury. In the evening, guests enjoyed dancing and fireworks.

Competitors in the ring at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

Horse jumping at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

A bull being exhibited at the Orsett Show, 1935 (from Whitmore family photograph album D/DWt Z3/10)

An exhibit by the Orsett Basket Works at the Orsett Show. The Orsett Basket Works was set up by Col. Whitmore after the First World War to provide employment for local men who had been wounded during the war and were not able to return to their previous employment (from Whitmore scrapbook D/DWt Z2/7)

The show continued to be held at Orsett Hall, with breaks during the World Wars. Over time new classes were introduced for vegetables, horses, cattle, and more. In 1948, Orsett Hall hosted two agricultural shows in one year, being the venue for the Essex Agricultural Show in June and the Orsett Show in September. The June event must have been a special occasion for many people as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited, spending the entire afternoon meeting competitors and stallholders.

Their majesties visit the pig judging at the 1948 Essex Show held at Orsett Hall (from Whitmore family photo album D/DWt Z3/14)

In 1968, the Whitmore family sold Orsett Hall and Sir John Whitmore, the son of Sir Francis, resigned the presidency of the show, which had been with his family since 1895. A site in Rectory Road in Orsett was acquired by Orsett Show Ground Ltd to provide the show with a permanent home and it has been held there every year ever since.

Queen Elizabeth I and some Essex churchwardens’ accounts

This guest blog post is by Marion E. Colthorpe, who has been investigating the people and places visited by Queen Elizabeth I since the 1970s. Her work expanded until she had discovered the whereabouts of the Queen on every day of her reign, along with what she was doing and who she was with. This research has included many different kinds of document, including a good number of records from the Essex Record Office. The results of Marion’s research, totalling 3,324 pages, have recently been published online by the Folger Shakespeare Library as The Elizabethan Court Day by Day. Here she shares with us how churchwardens’ accounts help to trace the Queen’s travels.

When I began to trace Elizabeth I’s whereabouts throughout her reign I made sure to read every churchwardens’ account I could find, because whenever the Queen passed through or even near a parish it was obligatory for the church bells to be rung; if they were not the Queen’s Almoner levied a fine, and the church door was sealed up until the fine was paid. There are a number of payments for ringing, and a fine for not ringing, in the accounts held by the Essex Record Office. (In Essex, as in other counties, considerably more parish registers have survived than churchwardens’ accounts, so there are a limited number to select from).

On her first ‘progress’ through Essex and Suffolk in 1561, on her way from Sir William Petre at Ingatestone, whose lavish expenditure is described in F.G. Emmison’ s  Tudor Secretary: Sir William Petre  (London, 1961), Chelmsford St Mary (now Chelmsford Cathedral)  paid [July 22]  ‘To the ringers when the Queen came through the town, 6s8d; paid for drink for them, 12d’.

The accounts of the churchwarden’s of St Mary’s in Chelmsford (D/P 94/5/1) include money paid to the bell ringers for their services in ringing the bells when the queen passed through the town, and for drink for them:
‘It[e]m paid to the rynggares when the queen cam thorowe the towne – vis viiid’
‘It[e]m paid for drynk for them – xiid’

The Queen was on her way to stay at Harwich, at an inn, August 2-5.  There the churchwardens had been preparing for several days, making payments from July 25 onwards to masons and labourers from neighbouring villages for working on the town gates, and to an Ipswich ‘stainer’ for ‘setting of the Queen’s Majesty’s great Arms of England upon the town gates, 15s’, and to ‘four poor folks in carrying of sand and water to the workfolks’ hands, 20d’. Also to three women and the Sexton ‘for washing and making clean of the church and chancel, 20d’. Whilst the Queen was at Harwich, the wardens on August 3 paid 6s8d ‘to the trumpeters’ and the same ‘to them that did bear the bottles’.

The Queen sailed up the Orwell to Ipswich on August 5. On August 25, back in Essex, Great Dunmow wardens ‘Paid to the good wife Barker for ale for them that did ring when the Queen’s Grace came through the parish, 8d’. The Queen was on her way from Lord Rich, at Little Leighs (he founded Felsted School in 1564; his monument is in Felsted Church), to Lord Morley at Great Hallingbury.

The Great Dunmow churchwardens’ accounts (D/P 11/5/1) include this payment in 1561: ‘It[em] payd to the good wife barker for ale for the[m] yt dyd rynge when ye Quenes grace ca[me] thorow ye p[ari]she – viii d’

The Queen next passed through Great Dunmow in September 1571 on her way from Horham Hall, Thaxted, to Little Leighs again;  in September 1578 it was Great Easton which  paid  ‘To the ringers when the Queen lay at Horham, 3d’.

In September 1579  the Queen stayed several days at New Hall, Boreham, with her close friends the Earl and Countess of Sussex, where entertainment included music,  speeches by Jupiter and goddesses, and a tournament. Chelmsford St Mary ‘Paid for 8 ringers two days when the Queen’s Majesty was at New Hall, 6s8d; paid the same time to the Almoner’s man, for unsealing the church door, 5s’.

Drawing of New Hall Palace by Ian Dunlop, based on a ground plan of the palace, engravings by George Vertue and an engraving after a drawing in the Laurentian Library, Florence. From Palaces and Progresses of Elizabeth I, Ian Dunlop, 1962 (I/Mb 42/1/27)

The Earl of Sussex died on 9 June 1583 at his Bermondsey, Surrey, home.  In his will he described in detail the hangings (tapestries) and furnishings at New Hall at the Queen’s visit.  On July 8 his funeral procession left Bermondsey, was conducted through London by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, and a Chelmsford churchwarden noted  ‘About 6 or 7 afternoon with much royalty was the body of the right honourable Earl the Earl of Sussex  and late Lord Chamberlain to the Queen’s Majesty brought through the town to New Hall to be buried in Boreham Church’.   The funeral was next day at St Andrew’s, where his monument remains. By her own will in 1589 the Countess of Sussex founded Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (with a bequest of £5,000).

From early in the reign it became the custom to celebrate the Queen’s Accession Day (17 November 1558). Thus in 1578 Great Easton paid ‘To the ringers the 17th of November 1578 to ring in token of Queen Elizabeth’s joyful entrance to the Crown of England, 20d’. The day was usually known (incorrectly) as ‘Coronation Day’, or ‘Crownation Day’, and also as the Queen’s day, the Queen’s night, the Queen’s holiday, or St Hugh’s day (being his feast day).

The Great Easton churchwarden’s accounts (D/P 232/8/1) record a payment to the parish bell ringers on 17th November 1578:
‘It[em] payed to the ryngers the xviith of November 1578 to rynge in token of queen Elyzabethes joyfull Entrance to the crowne of England – xxd’

The Great Easton wording in 1579 was ‘Spent on the Coronation day to the ringers, 3s4d; for two books of prayer to be used on the Coronation Day, and Articles of religion, 16d’. Over the years parishes paid for bells, bell-ropes, ‘victuals’ for ringers, and seats in the church.

It may be added that in other Essex records F.G. Emmison found several reports of fights in Essex churches on Coronation Eve and Coronation Day.  (Elizabethan Life: Morals & the Church Courts (Chelmsford, 1973), chapter on ‘Religious Offences’).

The Queen’s birthday (7 September 1533) was also celebrated, but the custom was not widespread, although in Essex Hornchurch churchwardens made payments,  such as in 1592:  ‘Laid out for six ringers of the birthday of our most gracious Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth, 6d’. In contrast, on Accession Day there were 10 ringers, who received 10 shillings. In 1597 Hornchurch ‘Paid to the ringers when the Queen came to Havering and her birthday, 6d’. The Queen was at Havering royal manor-house from August 19-31, where she hunted in Waltham Forest.

Churchwardens also made occasional references to national events. There was a ‘great earthquake’ on 6 April 1580, when considerable damage was caused in London and southern England. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued an ‘Order of Prayer … to avert and turn God’s wrath from us … to be used in all Parish Churches’.   Chelmsford St Mary paid on April 28 ‘For two books of prayers concerning the earthquake to be read in the church Wednesdays and Fridays, 8d’.

When the Queen decided to assist the Low Countries, in rebellion against their Spanish rulers, her principal favourite the Earl of Leicester passed through Essex on his way to Holland in December 1585. Chelmsford St Mary paid  [Dec 4]   ‘To the ringers at the right honourable the Earl of Leicester his coming through Chelmsford, 6d’;  and in the same account  ‘Laid out for two prayer books for the praying for the Queen’s Majesty, 8d’.

The Earl was again in Chelmsford in July 1588 when St Mary paid [July 24]   ‘For ringing when my Lord of Leicester came, 12d’. The Earl wrote on July 25 from Tilbury Camp that he went to Chelmsford ‘ to take order for the bringing of all the soldiers hither this day’. On the most famous visit of her reign the Queen stayed overnight on August 8 at Edward Rich’s Saffron Garden house at Horndon-on-the-Hill; she made not one but several speeches at Tilbury.

A fleet commanded by Lord Howard and the Earl of Essex left for Cadiz in Spain in June 1596. The Queen herself had written a prayer ‘at the departure of the fleet’.  Hornchurch paid 3d ‘For a book which was to pray for the fleet’. According to Francis Bacon, in just 14 hours on June 21 the Spanish Navy was destroyed and Cadiz was taken, one of the most notable exploits of the reign.

The Queen died on 24 March 1603. There would be no more payments such as that at South Weald Church  in 1590: ‘Paid Weaver’s wife and is for the ringers’ dinners and suppers and for the next day ringing for the Crownation of our gracious good Queen whom God long preserve, Amen. 12s6d’.

A turnip a day keeps the doctor away

An unseasonably soggy August day seemed a good opportunity to share Elizabeth Slany’s recipe for a ‘Syrup of Turnips for a cold’.

We have written about Elizabeth’s recipes before; her recipe book (catalogued as D/DR Z1) is one of the most substantial recipe books in our collection, and includes recipes for food and drink and medicines for both people and animals, dating from the early-mid 1700s. This recipe comes from the earlier part of the book, which we believe is in Elizabeth’s own writing.To make Syrup of Turnips for a cold

Take a peck of turnips pare them & slice them then take these following herbs of each one handfull maidenhair, scabious, agrimony betony rosemary harts tongue liver wort hore hound colts foots unset hyssop 2 ounces of liquorice scrape it & slide it thin the same quantity of elicampane one ounce of Annisseeds bruised then put half your slic’t turnip into a pot then lay yr herbs & other things upon them then lay on the rest of your turnips & past it up with dough & bake it with brown bread & when you have taken it out of the oven the oven [sic] and let it cool then mash your turnips & herbs together then strain them through a canvas cloth & make thereof Syrup with half sugar candy you must put 2 pound of sugar to one pound of juice take it at night going to bed or in the night upon a liquorice stick & keep yourself warm after it

Or, to restate it in a way that is perhaps easier for our modern eyes to read:

  1. Peel and slice a peck (2 gallons) of turnips
  2. Collect a handful each of the following herbs:
    1. Maidenhair (maidenhair fern, which was still in use in cough syrups into the nineteenth century)
    2. Scabious (a plant of the honeysuckle family of flowering plants, traditionally used as a folk medicine to treat scabies)
    3. Agrimony (a plant which grows slender cones of small yellow flowers with a long history of medicinal use for treatment of a wide range of ailments)
    4. Betony (a plant with purple flowers used as another ‘cure-all’)
    5. Rosemary (this fragrant Mediterranean herb has traditionally been used to treat a variety of disorders)
    6. Hart’s-tongue – also known as hart’s-tongue fern, has been used both internally (e.g. for dysentery) and externally (e.g. for burns)
    7. Liverwort (a perennial herb with a long history of medicinal use, including for liver ailments, healing wounds, and bronchial conditions)
    8. Horehound (this herbaceous plant with white flowers has appeared in numerous books on herbal remedies over several centuries, and modern scientific studies have investigated its antimicrobial and anticancer properties)
    9. Coltsfoot (a member of the daisy family with yellow flowers and hoof-shaped leaves, coltsfoot has been used in herbal remedies for respiratory diseases for centuries, but today it is known to be potentially toxic)
    10. Hyssop (a plant widely used in herbal remedies, especially as an anti-septic and cough reliever)
  3. Scrape and thinly slice 2 ounces of liquorice – the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra, which has been used in herbal medicines for sore throats and related illnesses, as well as a range of other conditions
  4. Elizabeth’s instructions next call for 2 ounces of elicampane, another root. She doesn’t specify how it should be prepared, but it could either be turned into syrup or powdered (elicampane appears in The English Physician Enlarged, With Three Hundred and Sixty-Nine Medicines Made of English Herbs, by Nicholas Culpepper, Gentleman, Student in Physick and Astrology, 1770, which recommends that the roots of elicampane could be preserved with sugar into a syrup or conserve, or dried and powdered then mixed with sugar. Both were recommended for stomach complaints, and ‘to help the Cough, Shortness of Breath, and wheezing in the Lungs.’)
  5. Bruise one ounce of aniseeds (seeds of the anise plant, used in herbal medicines for a range of complaints including a runny nose and as an expectorant)
  6. Put half the sliced turnips in a pot, and cover them with the herbs and liquorice, then lay the rest of the turnips on top
  7. Cover the whole mixture with pastry dough
  8. Elizabeth’s next instruction is to bake the mixture ‘with brown bread’ – perhaps this means it should stay in the oven for the time it takes a loaf of brown bread to cook but if anyone has any other ideas of the meaning of this do leave a comment
  9. Remove from the oven – and presumably take off the pastry lid
  10. Mash the turnip and herb mixture, then strain it through a cloth
  11. To each 1lb of the resulting juice, add 2lb sugar to make a syrup
  12. Take the syrup before bed, or during the night, on a stick of liquorice and keep yourself warm after taking it

With a total of 13 ingredients added to the turnip and then plenty of sugar added at the end, this sounds like an elaborate cold remedy, and would presumably have been out of reach of most ordinary people. If you have other historical cold remedies do leave them in the comments below; hopefully we won’t need them as summer wears on but it might be best to be prepared.

Document of the Month, August 2017: Salvation for sale

Indulgence granted to John and Lucy Prince of Theydon Garnon by John Kendale, turcipelerius of Rhodes and Commissary of Pope Sixtus IV, 10 April 1480 (D/DCe Q2)

Our Document of the Month for August 2017 is a medieval indulgence – a certificate granted by the Catholic Church to absolve the bearer of sin, and reduce any punishment they would receive either in this life or in purgatory.

The document dates from 1480, but we have chosen to highlight it in 2017 because this year marks 500 years since Martin Luther’s publication of his Ninety-Five Theses, an event which is generally seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. The Ninety-Five Theses is also known as the Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, and criticised the way the Catholic Church was granting these documents.

Indulgences had originally been intended to be a reward for piety and good deeds, but the system had become increasingly commercialised, with indulgences being sold. In 1517 Pope Leo X offered indulgences to those who contributed alms towards the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In Germany a Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, was prominent in selling indulgences and the saying ‘As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs’ is attributed to him.

Luther attacked the sale of indulgences not only for their commercialisation, but also because he contended that the Pope had no right to grant indulgences on God’s behalf. He also argued that the selling of indulgences discouraged people from truly repenting of their sins or performing acts of mercy.

This particular indulgence was granted to John and Lucy Prince, ‘in consideration of [their] devotion to the Roman Church and willingness to aid the sacred and necessary expedition against the perfidious Turk and for the defence of the Isle of Rhodes and the Catholic Faith’ [Suarum pro expeditione contra perfidos turchos christinai nominis hostes in defensionem insule Rhodi et fidei catholice facta].

The indulgence was granted by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, at their English headquarters of St John’s Priory in Clerkenwell. The Knights Hospitallers were a religious and military order charged with defending the Holy Land. Having been based originally in Jerusalem, by this time they had bases across Europe and operated their military activity from the island of Rhodes.

In 1480, the year this indulgence was granted, the Ottomans under Sultan Mehmet II laid siege to Rhodes; granting indulgences was one of the ways the Knights Hospitallers raised money for its defence. Mehmet II had been waging a largely successful campaign against Christian forces since 1453 when he captured Constantinople (Istanbul). Rhodes did not fall until 1522 when it was captured by Suleiman the Magnificent, Mehmet’s great-grandson.

The indulgence gave the Princes the right to choose their own confessor with the power to absolve all sins, other than murder of a priest, violence against a bishop or disobedience towards the Pope. It also granted the right for a full remission and indulgence of sins once during their lifetime and once at the point of death.

The Protestant Reformation centred round the principle that salvation could be achieved by faith alone, not by faith and good works, as emphasised by the Catholic Church. In this Luther built on the works of humanists such as Erasmus. The subsequent emphasis on translating the Bible from Latin into the vernacular (i.e. English) was intended to make it more accessible to everybody.

These principles resonated across Europe in the 16th century, and we can find evidence of them in the ERO collections. In 1588, for example, John Brockise of Havering Green, Hornchurch, a painter, left a will (D/AEW 9/10) in which he bequeathed his most precious possessions. After bequests of furniture to his children, he left to Samuel Brockis the Paraphrase of Erasmus on the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles ‘in consideration that he shalbe good to my wife and to the reste of his bretherne and sister after my desese’ or his wife had the power to withhold the bequest. He left to his son Robert ‘one bybell’ translated by Miles Coverdale on the same basis. Miles Coverdale first translated the Bible into English in 1535.

So this one little document which is today looked after as part of the collections at ERO is a small part of a big story about a transforming world. We will not ever know what sin John and Lucy Prince felt they needed an indulgence for, but in the world of medieval Catholic belief it was better to be safe than sorry.

 The indulgence will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout August 2017.

Disaster relief in Restoration England: brief in aid of Weymouth, Dorset, July 1666

Archivist Chris Lambert shares his selection for July’s Document of the Month

Recent tragic events have underlined the public desire to help those caught up in catastrophe.  In the 17th century, when state and society commonly saw themselves as a single Christian entity, the characteristic expression of that desire was the brief.

England had already invented social care.  An Act of 1601 had created the parish poor rate, distributed in goods or money to the deserving poor.  There were also charities providing food, fuel and housing.  These initiatives, however, dealt only with ordinary needs.  Catastrophic events involved another process, in which the state mobilized voluntary giving from society at large.

The Crown, on petition, would issue letters patent allowing the gathering of contributions from ‘all well-disposed persons’.  Individuals named in the grant would then employ collectors to carry the appeal around the country.  The original handwritten letters patent, issued under the Great Seal, tend not to survive, but in a way they hardly mattered.  The process really depended on the use of printing technology to make copies – ‘briefs’ – for distribution.  The printed copies became so familiar that their title of ‘brief’ was applied to the whole process.

This particular brief (D/P 152/7/2), from the parish records of Theydon Garnon, was issued in 1666 in aid of Melcombe Regis (Weymouth) in Dorset.  In September 1665 the town had suffered a ‘sad and lamentable fire, wherein seven and thirty houses were utterly consumed’.  Their occupants had been ‘brought to ruine’, the total loss being estimated at £3,055.  Such fires were not uncommon.  Much less usual is the note, in King Charles’s name, that ‘We Our Self was then present and an eye-witness of the said sad spectacle, and are thereby the more sensible of the said loss’.  The King had indeed been in the West Country during that summer of 1665, taking refuge from the Great Plague in London.

2017-07 D-P 152-7-2 front watermarked

Some briefs allowed for house-to-house collections, but charity being above all a Christian duty, the normal mechanism for collecting the money was the parish, then both a religious institution and the foundation of local society.  The clergy ‘published’ the brief at a Sunday service and exhorted their parishioners to contribute, the amounts raised being written on the back of the brief.  When this example reached Theydon Garnon in the summer of 1667 – almost a year after it was issued and almost two years after the fire – that one parish collected 8 shillings and 10 pence (for comparison, a few months earlier they had raised £27 5s. for the Great Fire of London).  In this case they were to deliver the money back, via the appointed persons, to the authorities in Weymouth.  They in turn were to ‘contract for the re-building of the said houses’, taking care ‘that none of them for the future be covered with thatch, or other combustible matter’.

2017-07 D-P 152-7-2 image back watermarked

Note on the back of the brief recording how much was collected: ‘Collected then in the parish church of Theydon Garnon towards the releife of the w[i]thin named the sum of eight shillings & ten pence. I say James Meggs DD Rector’

Not all briefs focused on local disasters.  Many sought to rebuild churches – including, in 1632 and again in 1678, St Paul’s Cathedral in London.  Others aimed to help whole social groups.  From the late 16th century the objects of briefs included Christians taken captive by the Ottoman Turks, joined in the 1680s by Protestant refugees from the France of Louis XIV, in 1689-1690 by Irish Protestants suffering in the war between James II and William of Orange, and in 1709 by the ‘Poor Palatines’ from the Rhineland.  Briefs like these expressed a Protestant national identity, yet in 1793 they were also used to help Roman Catholic clergy fleeing revolutionary terror in France.

The system had obvious defects.  Slow, cumbersome and costly at best, it was also open to fraud.  Security measures such as expiry dates (one year, in this case) offered little real protection.  The Essex Quarter Sessions records show evidence of prosecutions – in 1647 for collections on a wholly fraudulent brief (Q/SR 333/105, Q/SBc 2/35), and in 1653 for collections on what may have been a genuine brief by someone apparently unconnected with the parties concerned (Q/SBa 2/82).  Eventually a reforming Act in 1705 tried to clean up the system, providing an elaborate system of registration, with all briefs now being printed by the Queen’s Printer.  A handful of Essex parishes still have the registers of collections that the Act required.

The earliest collections so far traced in the ERO’s holdings were in the 1570s, for the reinstatement of Collington (Colyton) Haven, a harbour in Devon.  For that purpose in 1575 the little Essex parish of Heydon raised 6s.8d.; Canewdon collected 1s.8d. in 1576/7, and then another 1s. two years later.  Briefs continued to be issued even under the Commonwealth, but seem to have been at their peak under the restored monarchy of the late 17th century.  Over time, however, fire and flood became matters mainly for the insurance industry, and the objectives of briefs were limited largely to church building.

Briefs effectively came to an end in 1828, when responsibility for churches was transferred to the Incorporated Church Building Society.  The need for large-scale relief funds eventually found expression in more secular ways.  From the late 19th century many such efforts were organized through the Lord Mayor of London.  The Titanic Disaster Fund of 1912 – later the National Disasters Relief Fund – was one of these.  Mass media and then social media opened new possibilities, and online donation sites operate very differently from the state-sponsored briefs of old, but they draw on the same urge to help strangers in need.

The document will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout July 2017.

Chelmsford Then and Now: layers of history

In the twelfth and final post from our Chelmsford Then and Now project, student researcher Ashleigh Hudson explains how during her research project we used maps to establish areas of continuity and change in the High Street of our county town.

A key objective of the Chelmsford Then and Now project was to establish what has changed and what has stayed the same over time in the centre of our county town. We are lucky that Chelmsford has been mapped and re-mapped several times over the centuries, enabling us to make comparisons over time, and to find traces of the medieval town in today’s High Street, even though no buildings from that period survive. In this post we will show how we have used maps in this project to look at the detailed history of specific properties.

The earliest known map of Chelmsford was drawn up by John Walker in 1591. The shape of Chelmsford High Street, as depicted on the Walker map, is remarkably similar to the shape of the high street today; in fact the basic make-up of the town has not changed in nearly five hundred years. Internally, the shape and size of individual properties has varied significantly over time, reflecting changing economic, demographic and technological trends. The 20th century in particular saw sweeping changes to areas of the high street. As the town’s population increased, the demand for more retail spaces grew, and the arrival of department stores facilitated the absorption of many of the smaller businesses.

southend saturday

Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591.

Observing the sites of 61-66 High Street on several Ordnance Survey maps, it was immediately obvious that a number of properties had been consolidated, demolished or rebuilt over time. Using the first edition OS map of 1876 as a starting point, it is clear that large, department sized stores were not yet a standard feature of the high street. Based on this map, we can see that properties in this section of the high street were small and packed closely together, perhaps the result of centuries of uncoordinated and sporadic development.

(2) OS Map 1876

Extract from the 1876 first edition OS map, from the west side of the high street. 61 High Street is occupied by the Queen’s Head inn. Adjacent to the Queen’s Head sits a narrow passageway, which leads from the high street into the yard. To the north of the passageway is the site of 62 High Street and adjacent to that, a number of small, individual properties, all of which would ultimately form part of the Marks and Spencer’s site in the 1970s.

For a more direct comparison, we took photographs of the OS maps from 1963 and 1974 and uploaded them into Photoshop.

(3) 1963

Extract from the OS Maps of 1963 and 1974 showing the sites of 61-66 High Street. The 1963 extract has been highlighted in red, while the 1974 extract has been highlighted in blue.

(4) 1974

Extract from the OS Maps of 1963 and 1974 showing the sites of 61-66 High Street. The 1963 extract has been highlighted in red, while the 1974 extract has been highlighted in blue.

From there we layered the maps, drawing around the border of each property using different colours to make it easy to differentiate between them. Areas where the borders had shifted were then clearly visible, indicating where and when development had occurred.

(5) 1963 and 1974 layered

Extract from the 1963 map highlighted in red, layered with the extract from the 1974 map highlighted in blue.

At first glance, the OS map of 1963 appears remarkably similar to the OS map of 1876. There are still plenty of small properties, packed closely together. The Queen’s Head is still present, identifiable by the ‘PH’ for public house. The property retains its distinctive shape and the narrow passageway, sandwiched between 61 and 62, is still visible.

The biggest and most obvious changes have occurred by the OS map of 1974. The 1974 map presents a significantly changed section of the high street. The former Queen’s Head building has been demolished, and in its place a uniform, rectangular building has been erected. The narrow passageway has been built over and now features as part of the sites of 61 and 62. The sites of 62-66 now form one large property, occupied by Marks and Spencer’s.

(6) SCN 4595

Photograph of the west side of the high street including the Queen’s Head in the centre and several properties to the right that would eventually form part of the Marks and Spencer’s site. Photo by Fred Spalding.

(7) Current Image

A current image of the west side of the high street.

This map comparison perfectly illustrates how the town was transforming in the 20th century to accommodate modern development. In many cases the new buildings replaced small, dated properties which were considered no longer fit for purpose. The imperfect, quirky buildings visible in the Spalding photograph above were replaced by larger modern buildings built over several of the historic plots. Whether these new, spacious retail establishments improved the overall appearance of the high street is open to debate.

If you would like to use historic maps for a project of your own, do come and visit our Searchroom where staff will be happy to help you get started.

And that’s all from the Chelmsford Then and Now project! We will shortly be publishing the results of a similar project undertaken in Colchester so if you like old maps and historic photos there are more treasures to come.