In our last blog post we introduced you to Dr David Crease, one of the speakers for our day long science conference on March 7th. Next up we would like to introduce you to Peter Wynn, who will be giving two talks: one about gas manufacture and one about water purification.
Peter is a retired senior lecturer of civil engineering at Anglia Ruskin University and a fellow of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management. He has long held an interest in gas manufacture in Essex, having discovered papers from 1947 relating to issues with the Chelmsford gas holder’s foundations.
Though the dangers of unsanitary water supply
were proved by Dr John Snow in 1854, his findings were not widely believed
until after his death when the bacteria causing cholera was isolated in the
In 1895, when John Clough Thresh became the
Medical Officer of Health for Essex, the purification of water for human
consumption was still very much a challenge. Well beyond his retirement, Thresh
continued to act as a consultant for Essex County Council until his death in
1932. His work to improve the water supply for his adoptive county was
considered pioneering by both his peers and by more recent researchers alike. His
influence extended well beyond Essex.
Commercial supply of gas in the UK began in
the early 19th century, originally by way of small gas plants
installed in the premises where the gas was to be used. Following the formation
of the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company in London in 1812, pioneers of
public gas supply, many other companies were founded; including in Chelmsford
Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex. Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project
This time we are looking at the most exotic leg of John
Farmer’s first American journey when he toured the islands of the Caribbean.
In the course of nearly two years Farmer had travelled
through Pennsylvania, the Jerseys, to New York, Nantucket Island, Long Island,
Boston, Rhode Island, and Virginia, holding meetings wherever and whenever he
could, bringing his Quaker Testimony and gathering Certificates of Unity from
the various Friends’ Meetings he visited along the way.
Certificates were important documents as Quakers travelled
only with the agreement of their fellow Friends, and their home meeting would
issue a Certificate confirming their unity with the testimony that individual
gave, and in return meetings who received that testimony would give a
certificate confirming their satisfaction.
An example here is from Thaxted, held here at the Essex
Record Office, confirming their approval for John Farmer to travel in 1707, and
their unity with him and his testimony. Note it is signed by his wife Mary
Farmer as well as a number of other Quakers.[i]
Arriving in Philadelphia at the end of October 1713 John Farmer
reviewed his progress so far:
cast up my account of the miles I had traveled in North America & found it
to bee 5607 miles. Friends of Phyladelpha & Samuel Harrison merchant a
friend of London beeing there & having there a ship bound to Barbados were
very kinde to mee & John Oxly (a minister of Phyladelpha) who went with
mee: som in laying in Provishon for us & Samuel Harrison in giving us our
passage to Barbados. Wee went on board the latter end of the 9th month 1713 [November
had a pritty good voyage & had som meetings on board in our passage to
Barbados where wee arrived the 5th of the 11th month 1713’ [5th January
Quakers had been appearing in the Caribbean since
the early 1650s, some coming as transported slaves from Britain, punished for
being Quakers but others seeking the religious and career freedoms denied in
their home countries. In Britain
religious dissenters were denied the option of going to university or taking up
the professions, so many became businessmen, and the Caribbean colonies offered
opportunities for trade, running large plantations and owning ships, as well as
a greater freedom of religious expression than in Britain in the second half of
the 17th Century.[iv]
The trade in
cotton, sugar, coffee and tobacco required huge numbers of slave workers, many
owned by Quaker families. There was a divided spirit within Quakers about the trade
in human beings, and the owning of slaves.
As early as 1671 the founder of Quakerism George Fox had suggested
slaves should be considered indentured servants and liberated after a given
period of time, perhaps 30 years, and that they should be educated in Quaker
religious beliefs[v]. The difficulty this caused was that Quakers
believed all men to be born equal, and therefore by bringing their slaves into
the Quaker brotherhood it meant they should be considered of one blood with
their white masters. This dilemma meant that there was disquiet for the next
100 years in Quaker communities as they wrestled with the issue of whether or
not they should keep and trade in slaves.
Despite travelling through the slave owning states
in America and the Caribbean Islands John Farmer passed no comment on the
slavery situation in his 1711-14 Journal.
For now he was silent on the matter.
Almost inevitably, John Farmer eventually waded into this highly
controversial dispute, with catastrophic results, but that is a story for
John Farmer made a four-month tour of the Caribbean islands of Nevis, St Kitts (which he called Christopher’s Island as Quakers did not recognise saints), Anguilla and Antigua holding several meetings.
In Barbados he held a large meeting in ‘Brigtoun’ (Bridgetown) where he remarked that the public were very
civil. In Anguilla he wrote
disapprovingly that the Quaker congregation had “fell away into drunkenness and other sins which so discouraged the rest
that of late they kept no meeting.” [vii]
Antigua was more successful, and he held 26 meetings and
stayed five weeks bearing “Testimony for
God against the Divell and his rending, dividing works on this island.’ But on one occasion in Parham, Antigua, Farmer
again fell afoul of the local priest who “Preached
against Friends [and] some of his
hearers threatened to do me a mischief if I came there away and had another
In Charlestown on
Nevis, Farmer again endured the tradition of protest by charivari (protest by rough
music) something which had also happened in Ireland on a previous journey[ix],
but this time with fiddles rather than Irish bagpipes and with somewhat darker
consequences. John Farmer encountered a troublesome Bristol sea captain who decided
to have fun at the intrepid Quaker’s expense, and paired up with an innkeeper
to disrupt Farmer’s meetings by arranging for loud and continuous fiddle
playing to drown out his preaching.
Farmer mused in his journal on the fact that the sea captain died a few
days later of a “fevor & disorder”
reflecting that God’s judgement may have come down upon the disturber of his meeting,
reporting with some satisfaction that “at
his buriell the Church of England preacher spake against people making a mock &
game of religion”.[x]
Farmer wrote in his journal that while in Barbados he received
instruction from God to go home to England for a short time before going back
to America. Perhaps this was a clue to
the next phase of his life. He took ship
for England on the Boneta of London, sailing from Antigua 24th May 1714 and he
landed safely back in London where his wife and daughters were waiting for him. They then travelled on to Holland and also visited
friends and family in Somerset and the south west before arriving home in
Saffron Walden on 28th November 1714.
This is where the John Farmer journal finishes, but his
story went on for another 10 years. A
story of passionate anti-slavery campaigning that cost John Farmer very
And that will be the story to be told in my next post about
John Farmer’s extraordinary life.
Record Office A13685 Box 47 Certificate for J Farmer to travel 29.3rd mo. 1707
(29th May 1707)
note on the dating processes used prior to 1751: Years were counted from New
Year’s Day being on March 25th, so for example 24th of
March was in 1710 and March 25th was in 1711. In addition Quakers provided an extra
difficulty as they refused to recognise the common names for days of the week,
or months as they were associated with pagan deities or Roman emperors. So a Quaker would write a date as 1:2mo
1710 which was actually the 1st April 1710 as March was counted as
the first month. In 1751 this all
changed when the British government decreed the Gregorian form of calendar was
to be adopted and the new year would be counted from 1st January
1752. See my previous post An Essex Quaker Goes Out into the World.
Lewis Smith, the Essex Record Office’s Engagement Fellow, takes a look at some of the things in the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive.
Founded by Guigielmo Marconi in 1897, the Marconi Company
(which held various names over its lifetime) were pioneers in wireless
technology. Famously based in Chelmsford (regulars in the area will draw
attention to places like ‘Marconi Road’ and ‘Navigation Road’), his
technologies helped to shape the world we live in today: so much of our lives are
a result of their research, from radio to navigation, from aeronautics to
maritime, from communications continent to continent.
One part of the most interesting parts of the Marconi
Company’s history was the Marconi Photographic Section, whom took hundreds of
pictures over the organisation’s lifetime. These records are now stored at the
Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. Unfortunately, this collection remains
largely underused – so the British Society for the History of Science and Essex
Record Office tasked me to spend some time scoping out the Marconi Photographic
Section’s archive, working out what kind of images are within and, perhaps most
importantly, work out how they can be used. Whilst I have only been in the
archive for a relatively short period of time (since the beginning of October),
there are some very interesting historical angles in desperate need of further
research – from business to imperial history, from labour to marketing history.
One thing to note is that there are a lot of pictures
of non-descript machines and circuitry – fans of the history of electronic
engineering need look no further: historians of oscilloscopes, transmitters and
receivers, power supplies, RADAR arrays, and pretty much all kinds of
specialist electronic engineering will find something of interest here. These
images present an extensive product history of Marconi’s inventions and
patents. Perhaps more generally appealing, there is a lot for those interested
in maritime and aeronautical history: one of the key ideas that came about from
wireless communication was the idea of wireless navigation, and Marconi fitted
many different pieces of equipment to aircraft and ships to aid in their
navigation around the globe.
But the view of higher international politics, engineering
and industry are only one side of the coin: the prevalence of this technical
equipment masks ordinary life. The archive presents us with a rich social
history of the worker and their working practices. Workers, many male and
female, black and white, British and international, are presented in the
factories assembling intricate circuits. To look at the ethnography behind the
people in these pictures reveals the clear shifts, both natural and forcible,
in middle and working class employment. Notice particularly with image 2015 –
everyone is happy and content, giving the viewer the impression that everything
was okay working for Marconi. It wasn’t always this sweet.
As this is evidently the photographic archive of a business,
there is huge scope for a business historian. These photographs are frozen
moments in time, specifically captured because they want to show a particular
angle, person, product or scene – why one moment and not another? Why one
person over another? Why one place over another? More specifically, there are
multiple photographs of how the Marconi Company attempted to market itself in a
world of innovation: some of the most interesting pictures are of the exhibits
set up to advertise wireless communication at various exhibitions.
What is most interesting about the archive is the company’s vast spread throughout the globe: as with any history of the twentieth century, Empire remains front and centre. Imperial conquerors can come and go as they please, but radio technology meant the constant connection between colony and coloniser. Furthermore, the concept of technological Imperialism remained hot in this period: teaching others how to use Marconi equipment orients them towards using that equipment for a long time, forcing the colony to ask for technical help from the coloniser. This relationship is observable in the photographic archives as Marconi equipment was placed in different colonies, greatly expanding the imperial nation’s reach.
Art lovers may also find something worthwhile in the
archives. There are photographs of many different artistic drawings by members
of staff in the collection depicting a variety of different scenes. The
collection features many talented artists, as well as plastic models of Marconi
scenes and vehicles, models of scientific principles, and copious drawings. It
is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that science and art are two separate
unconnected topics, but the collection features some stunning images which
clearly appeal to the art behind science.
This collection is for use in the Essex Record Office under Accession A11449 in over 100 individual boxes. This project hopes to eventually digitise and map these images to show the company’s reach. I have spent time electronically tagging the pictures with keywords: if you would be interested in looking at this spreadsheet or further discussing the project, do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether for research or for a casual perusal, this collection really has a lot to offer!
Archive Assistant Neil Wiffen looks at a military operation crucial to ending the Second World War, which took place over 17-19 September 1944.
Essex played a vital role throughout the Second World War, being crucially placed to help in the defence of London, home to many important industries, as well as being a base for many British and American aircraft taking the fight to the Germans in occupied Europe. By the late summer of 1944, following on from the success of the Normandy invasion and liberation of much of occupied western Europe, there was a real hope that, after five years, the war could be finished before the start of 1945.
Flushed with the success of the advance across France and into Belgium the British commander, Field Marshall Montgomery, planned a new offensive for mid-September to drive a spearhead of troops that would outflank German defences by crossing the rivers Meuse, Waal and Lower Rhine. This would allow the deployment of armoured and mechanised forces to drive on Berlin and finish the war. In order to enable the ground forces to cross the many rivers in their way, para-troops and glider-borne infantry would be deployed to capture the bridges crossing them, creating a ‘carpet’ of friendly troops to make the advance of the ground forces as easy, and, crucially, as swift as possible.
Three airborne divisions were used: the American 82nd and 101st Airborne and the British 1st Airborne, the latter to be dropped furthest away from the relieving ground forces – their objective being the bridge at Arnhem. The airborne phase of the plan was codenamed MARKET while the ground-based operation was given the name of GARDEN. The lightly armed and equipped airborne troops had to be relieved as quickly as possible by the ground units – speed was of the essence. Perhaps the joint operation is most well-known to us from the 1977 film – A Bridge Too Far.
The operation commenced on Sunday 17 September. The first many people in Essex knew of it was when the vast aerial armadas of gliders (over 2,000 of these were on hand) and their tug aircraft (almost 2,000, mainly the famous Douglas C-47 Dakota, were available) flew over the county (the author’s father, then a teenager, retained vivid memories of the aircraft flying low over Broomfield on their way to mainland Europe). It is this phase of the operation that concerns us here.
Due to the large force of paratroops and gliders that were required, along with the dropping of supplies, several days of flying had to be undertaken to bring in more troops and equipment. This just added to the complex nature of running an airborne operation, increasing the risks inherent in conducting a successful engagement. The weather played a crucial part: gliders really did need quite still and stable conditions.to be launched. Conditions were not always kind. Early morning fog and mist delayed the launching of further reinforcement flights. By 19 September conditions had deteriorated, but resupply and reinforcement flights had to continue despite the risks.
In the afternoon of 19 September, at 13:15, an American Waco CG-4 glider broke its tow rope and came down in a field, ending up in a ditch in High Easter. Fourteen soldiers and the two crew hadn’t made it to the continent. Shortly afterwards, at 14:05, another CG-4 came down for the same reason, along with its pilot and six soldiers, near to Spitals Farm, Tolleshunt D’Arcy.
We know about these gliders because they were recorded in the Air Raid Precautions records which are still held at the Essex Record Office. These incidents are from the Crashed Aircraft series of records – three extracts below (C/W 1/11, click to enlarge images).
Of interest are the details contained in each report. A six-figure map grid reference is quoted for each report, which allows us to accurately plot where the event took place. These references correlate to the GSGS 3906 War Office series of maps (c.1940), which is different from our current National Grid Ordnance Survey (OS) map references. Luckily ERO has a set of these maps, and we include an extract to show where in High Easter the glider landed.
As the GSGS 3906 series of maps are at a 1:25,000 scale we have also included an extract of the same area from a 2nd Edition 6 Inch OS (1895) map which, while from the nineteenth century, does show the area in more detail. Also, being mapped on an individual county basis means that these earlier maps cover a different area. This allows us to also show Blunts farm, which is mentioned in the report but which is just off of the GSGS map extract – thus observing the First Law of Local History Research which says that whatever part of the county you are researching will always be on at least two maps, but often four!
The glider that came down in High Easter was recorded as having the following numbers on it: 274026 (serial number?), 29B (individual aircraft squadron number?) and 6413. The entry for the second glider is even more revealing. We know that the aircraft number in this case was 340369 and that the pilot was called Lionel Neyer with Sergeant Prupey[?]. They had taken off from Greenham Common. This would mean that this glider at least was being towed by a Dakota from the 438th Troop Carrier Group. (R.A. Freeman, UK Airfields of the Ninth then and now (London ), p.16).
That’s about all we know, so over to you. What can you tell us about these events? Did you have a relative living in High Easter or Tolleshunt D’Arcy who was eyewitness to these momentous happenings? Do you know what happened to Flying Officer Neyer and Sergeant Prupey? Are you an expert on WACO CG-4 gliders and can tell us more about them? Comment below, or e-mail us to share your stories and research.
Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex. Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project.
In this installment we will look at some of the encounters John Farmer had in pre-revolutionary America.
Having returned to Essex in England
from his Irish adventures in May 1711, and not being one to stay in a place for
long, by Autumn 1711 John Farmer was off on his travels again. Before travelling John Farmer’s wife Mary,
step daughter Mary Fulbigg and 10-year-old daughter Ann moved from Colchester
where they had settled in 1708, back to Saffron Walden. John explained further
in his journal:
“I staid at home a little with my wife & helped hur to remove to Saffron Walden. For shee thought it best for hur in my absence to bee there amongst hur relations with hur lame daughter whom she hoped there to help in to busness whereby shee might git hur a living: which shee could not doo at Colchester. But Colchester is ye best place of ye 2 for my wifes nursing & my woolcoming. Whereby wee earned good wages there untill my wife was taken from it by hur daughters sickness & I was taken from it by ye Lords sending mee to Ireland as aforesaid”.[i]
After putting his affairs in
order John Farmer set off from Gravesend on 1st November 1711 on a
ship called the Thomas of London, captained by Master Benjamin Jerrum. The voyage was uneventful, and John Farmer
was allowed to hold meetings on board and landed in Maryland at the beginning
of March 1711/12 having spent 4 months at sea.
Having been met of the ship by well-known Quaker Richard Johns Senior,
John Farmer stayed with Mr Johns at his house ‘Clifts’, in Calvert County while
he travelled within Maryland, and held several meetings along the Western Shore
before travelling on to Virginia where he held a further eighteen
In Virginia Farmer
was troubled by reports that local Quakers had been imprisoned for refusing to
help build garrisons or fortifications. This
reluctance was due to a key principle of the Quaker movement, the Peace
Testimony declared by founder George Fox in 1660, which was a vow of pacifism
that endures to this day.[ii] Quakers refused to have any part in building
fortifications and rejected all weapons of war. Farmer recounted stories of the
harm done by the local Native American people to settlers who had been
persuaded to take up arms, and the Quakers saved by tribespeople when they held
“For I have been cridditably Informed yt som friends hereaway for severall years (in obedience to Christ) have refused to make use of Garrisons & carnall weapons for their defence against Indians: & have Insteed thereof made use of faith in God & prayer to God: & hee hath saved them from beeing destroyed by Indians …who did destroy their neighbours who did use weapons, particularly one man whom his neighbours perswaded to carry a gun, but the Indians seeing him with a gun shot him deadly and they afterwards said that it was his carrying a gun that caused them to kill him which otherwise they would not have done.”
Moving on to North Carolina John Farmer was
troubled to hear of a recent massacre 20 miles away and reported in his journal
that he heard a Quaker had forcibly taken land from the local native Americans,
“whereas hee might have bought his land for
an iron pottage pot.”
Native American communities
had suffered considerably at the hands of the new settlers who raided the
villages and kidnapped the people to be sold into slavery and stole land. The
tribes had also suffered substantial population decline after exposure to the infectious
diseases endemic to Europeans. As a result, under the leadership of
Chief Hancock, the southern Tuscarora allied with the Pamlico, the Cothechney,
Coree, Woccon, Mattamuskeet and other tribes to attack the settlers in a series
of coordinated strikes that took place in Bath County, North Carolina on 22nd
September 1711 and which heralded the start of the Tuscarora War that lasted
until 1715. [iii]
John Farmer described the suffering of that Quaker
family in the Bath County Massacre though it is clear where he felt the fault
“These Indians haveing been much wronged by English French & pallitins did at last come sudenly upon ym & kiled & took prisoners, as i was told 170 of them & plundered & burnt their houses. Amongst the rest ye said Friend was kiled as he lay sick in his bedd & his wife & 2 young children wer caried away captive & Induered much hardship. But upon a peace made with ye Indians they were delivered & returned to Pensilvania.” [iv]
Travelling back to Virginia and
then Maryland John Farmer attended the 1711 Yearly Meeting at West River on the
Western Shore of Maryland but there he contracted ‘ague & feavor’ which made him too ill to travel for four weeks
and began what he called a “sickly time
for mee and others”. This was almost
certainly Malaria which was endemic at the time. Eventually he recovered, and
travelled on to New York, Rhode Island and Nantucket Island before arriving in
Dover, New England. He was not specific about the date, but it was sometime in
1712. Farmer recorded that he held many
meetings amongst Friends and others “notwithstanding
the danger from the Indian Wars which had long been destructive in this part of
In the winter of 1712 Farmer was
in Rhode Island where he nearly died after being injured in a fall from his
horse. But by May 1713 he was recovered
enough to attend meetings at Long Island, East and West Jersey and back to
Maryland where he spent some time working at wool combing again, presumably to
increase his depleted funds.
It was here that “I received fresh orders from Christ to have
meetings amongst Indians in order to their conversation to Christ and to go to
Virginia and Pensilvania and the West Indies in his service”.[vi]And thus the next year’s travel was
And that is where we can leave
John Farmer, planning his first expedition to take the Quaker message to the Native
American people. And those encounters
will make up the content of the next article.
[i] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.44
To George Fox, this principle served a two-fold purpose, as a protest against
the horrors of the English Civil Wars, and to try to mitigate the opportunity
for violence to be done to Quakers, if they were perceived as peaceful, if
rather disruptive, themselves. For more
information see M Rediker, The Fearless
Benjamin Lay, 2017, Verso, London Ch 1, p.19
The Tuscarora War was fought in North Carolina from September 1711 until February 1715 between the British, Dutch, and German settlers and the Tuscarora Native Americans. The Europeans enlisted the Yamasee and Cherokee as
Indian allies against the Tuscarora, who had amassed several allies themselves.
Principal targets were the planters along the Roanoke, Neuse, and Trent
rivers and the city of Bath. They mounted their first attacks on 22nd
September 1711 and killed hundreds of settlers. One witness, a prisoner of the
Tuscarora, recounted stories of women impaled on stakes, more than 80 infants
slaughtered, and more than 130 settlers killed. The militia and approximately
500 Yamasee marched into Tuscarora territory and killed nearly 800, and after a
second assault on the main village, King Hancock, the Tuscarora chief, signed a
treaty. After a treaty violation by the English, war erupted again. The militia and about 1,000 Indian allies
travelled into Tuscarora territory. Approximately 400 Tuscarora were sold into
slavery. The remaining Tuscarora fled
northward and joined the Iroquois League as the Sixth Nation.
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.
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.