Give peas a chance!

Archive Assistant Neil Wiffen takes a look at how peas became so ubiquitous on the dinner tables of the nation.

Frozen peas must be the most accessible vegetable known to 21st century shoppers – such an easy convenience food to reach for all year round. Peas throughout history have been an important food source, and catalogue entries from Essex Archives Online are littered with references to them. During the middle-ages and early modern period they were grown as field crops for drying and use over winter, as an easily stored, high protein food source. Historians believe that ‘garden’ peas for eating freshly picked were an introduction from the Low Countries in the seventeenth century (T. Musgrave, Heritage Fruits & Vegetables (London, 2012), p.106). The kitchen gardens of the large country house would have produced them for the table along with market gardeners operating around towns, and it is quite probable that general gardeners, from a fairly early date, would have also done so once seed became readily available.

Through the nineteenth century the consumption of fresh(ish) peas increased, and the expansion of the railway network allowed Essex producers to send vast quantities of all sorts of fresh produce up to London – by 1850 3,900 tons of peas from surrounding counties were sold through the markets there (G. Dodds, The Food of London (London, 1856), p.387). And how were many of these peas harvested in a pre-mechanised age? Well, school log books of the period are littered with references to pupils being absent for all sorts of harvest work, not least that of pea picking, probably there alongside their mothers. The income that families made from seasonal work was not to be underestimated, and full advantage was made of these opportunities.

Note about students absent pea-picking from Coggeshall National School log book
Note in Coggeshall school log book about pupils absent due to pea-picking, 9 July 1873 (E/ML 310/1)

And it was not just women and children who helped bring in the peas. Many itinerant workers also relied on various crops, and growers were glad of the extra labour to bring in the harvest. David Smith, farmer, author and broadcaster of Broomfield, wrote of the ‘grey tattered figures of all types and ages [as] they trudged along slowly in the bright June sunlight … They would come, every year … just as they came to thousands of other farms … And so to Hill Farm, with near it the brilliant green of two to three fields of picking peas … for a fickle London market.’ (D. Smith, The Same Sky Over All (London, 1948)*, p.116).

As to quite how ‘fresh’ hand-picked peas were in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it is debatable. It wasn’t until freezing was first developed in the 1920s that the possibility of something akin to freshly picked peas became available to most consumers. However, without the advent of retailers with frozen sections and domestic home freezers, frozen peas eaten widely would have to wait until well into the second half of the twentieth century. In the meantime, and as with most vegetables, peas would have probably been well boiled!

If you wanted to eat peas fresh from the garden then, as indicated above, you had to grow them, and it is the same today. The joy of podding peas is one of the highlights of summer – so much so that sometimes more end up being eaten before they even make it to the cook! There are lots of varieties to choose from, not least the well known and locally raised Kelvedon Wonder which harks back to the 1920s. An older variety is Ne Plus Ultra from the early nineteenth century. Perhaps you know it from the BBC television series The Victorian Kitchen Garden (1987)* when Harry Dodson and Peter Thoday resurrected the variety from some very old seed. It was alleged to reach 7 foot in height, which is probably why it waned in popularity – modern varieties are generally all dwarfing which is an advantage to growers.

There used to be many more pea varieties grown in the past, partly because there would have been regional varieties that were only available locally, but also because of the proliferation of seed companies – something which, as with many businesses, has reduced over the last 50 years or so. If we take Chelmsford based Cramphorns, they listed 15 varieties of just the second early and maincrop varieties, including Ne Plus Ultra, in their 1898 catalogue. Along with the early sorts of peas, growing a lot of different varieties meant that if one failed there were others to come along and, in a pre-refrigeration era, it extended the length of the season in which to enjoy fresh peas.

The ornate cover from Cramphorn’s 1890 catalogue (ERO A10506 Box 7)

‘New Plus Ultra – one of the best; pods large and well-filled with dark green peas. Peas of delicious flavour – Height 6ft’. (From Cramphorn Ltd’s Catalogue of Vegetable and Flower Seeds (Chelmsford, 1898), (ERO A10506 Box 7) .

So as it is the time of year to start sowing peas I thought it might be fun to have a go at growing some Ne Plus Ultra peas – just as past gardeners in Essex would have done. I have also so challenged some colleagues and friends of the ERO to grow some to see if any of us can get them to 7 foot – all for a bit of fun I hasten to add. I’ll grow some Kelvedon Wonder as well by comparison and, weather and pests being kind, I’ll update you on how we’re all getting along as well as ruminating on other points of gardening that ‘crop’ up over the summer. For the moment though, keep your fingers crossed for a spell of dry weather as I’ll need to get on in the garden to prepare the soil.

A tray of Ne Plus Ultra peas grown by Neil for the ‘competition’, just before potting on.

*If you don’t know the work of David Smith then his books are well worth a read. There are copies of them in the ERO Library. If you haven’t seen The Victorian Kitchen Garden then it is available on DVD.

Essex Archives Online digital images: Parish Registers – what will you find?

While the Essex Record Office might be closed to physical researchers it is still open for remote users via our Essex Archives Online (EAO) service that contains over three-quarters of a million digital images of parish registers, wills and some other records. This service has been up and running since 2011 and in that time researchers from across the globe have made use of the service. And it is a dynamic service as new images are added as and when relevant documents have been deposited and digitized.

In this Blog post EAO user Ian Beckwith has kindly shared some of his research that he has undertaken whilst using our parish register digital images. Ian is a seasoned user of the service and has been using it for several years but if you are new to research and are thinking of possibly taking out a subscription then it is worth considering the wonderful breadth of what is available. So, to begin with Archive Assistant Neil Wiffen discusses how to get started.

During the 20 years that I have worked at ERO I have been advising researchers on how to start making use of the digital images that are on EAO and here are some of my tips.

Firstly, I would strongly recommend that before you take out a subscription you familiarize yourself with the EAO catalogue. It is completely free to search the catalogue as much as you wish. There are several ‘User Guides’ which are located at the bottom of the home page (https://www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk/) so scroll down and have a read of these.

The cover of the Gt Burstead Parish Register – D/P 139/1/0

Secondly, have a go at searching the catalogue by trying out a simple search – try typing in the wide white text box (which contains ‘search the archive’) the name of the parish you are interested in and ‘church register’ and click ‘Search’. This will bring up instances of all sorts of registers, not just church, or parish, registers, for a certain place. Some of these won’t have digitized images associated with them so this is why it is essential to check that what you want to look at has digital images before taking out a subscription. It will, however, give you an idea of the range of documents that the ERO looks after. All the Church of England parish registers deposited in the ERO, except for a few of the most recent ones, have been digitized, so you should find that they all have the a picture frame icon at the end of their entry in the search results.

By clicking on the ‘Reference’ or ‘Description’ you will be taken to the full catalogue entry for a document which might well give you further information. You might find that it isn’t really what you’re looking for. But if it is, remember to check for the photo frame icon to find out whether there is a digital image associated with the document .

A quick way to search for parish registers in particular is to look at the ‘Parish Register’ section of EAO (top right-hand corner). Here you will be able to refine your search to the parish you are interested in. If what you are looking for isn’t there (or if it is there but doesn’t have ‘Digital images’ next to it) then don’t take out a subscription. It is worth remembering that not every parish will have records going back to 1538 so do check the catalogue before subscribing to avoid disappointment.

Every parish has its own unique number assigned to it. Great Burstead, for example, is D/P 139 and registers of baptisms, marriages and burials come under D/P 139/1. The first register, which covers 1559 to 1654, is then catalogued as D/P 139/1/0. Take time to familiarize yourself with the catalogue before taking out a subscription.

And do bear in mind that even if a parish register survives then early registers have baptisms, marriages and burial scattered throughout them so you will probably need to go hunting through the register for the entry that might be there – or might not . In the Tudor, Stuart and Georgian period it was very much down to the individual incumbent, or his deputy, as to how much effort was put into keeping the registers up to date. Not every vicar, rector or church clerk was as assiduous a record keeper as we might have liked him to have been. Fortunately, if you have a subscription to Ancestry, we have worked together with them to create a name index, which can take a lot of the leg work out your research. You can even buy digital images of what you find directly from Ancestry.

Handwriting can also be difficult to read, although some incumbents like Rev Thomas Cox in Broomfield and the famous Essex historian Rev Philip Morant, have beautifully clear handwriting. Sometimes the writing is faint or illegible and the register itself might be damaged. Remember these were working documents that have spent several centuries in damp and cold churches before being deposited at ERO.

One last thing, if you have identified that there are parish registers that you want to look though that have digital images associated with them, and you take out a subscription, then make sure that you take down the reference of what you have looked at and what you have found as you work your way through them. This will save time in the long-term and if you share your research with others you can tell others in what document you found the information.

I hope I haven’t put you off after all that but I do have one last warning: historical research can be addictive. You might start out looking for one thing but get distracted by something else. After 20 years of working at ERO I know there’s always another new topic of interest just lurking over the page!

Neil Wiffen – Archive Assistant.

If you require any assistance, having taken out a subscription, then you can contact the Duty Archivist at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk. While the Record Office is shut, emails are being monitored remotely during the present crisis. Please bear with us though.


Parish Registers – Researching Remotely

I, like many others of my age and with underlying health conditions, am in self-isolation.  But this doesn’t mean that I can’t get on with research.  Thanks to the digital age there’s so much available on-line for the local historian to work on, e.g. Essex parish registers, which, thanks to the wonders of the ERO, are at my finger-tips on my laptop.  There’s a subscription to pay, but once you’re registered., you can log-in, click on ‘Parish Registers’ in the top bar, scroll down the page until you find ‘Choose a letter’, then ‘Choose a parish’ and finally ‘Choose a church’.  Up will come a table, telling you when your chosen registers begin, click on ‘View’ in the right hand column, and the register will appear.  You need to know that in the case of the earliest registers, the baptism, marriage and burial entries were written up in one book, sometimes in different sections of the book, sometimes together as they occurred through the year.  Later registers record baptisms, marriages and burials in dedicated volumes.  When the image of your selected register appears, click on the rubric ‘To enhance this image… ’ and the image will expand to fill the screen.  Away you go!

D/P 139/1/0

In September 1538, King Henry VIII’s Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell, issued an injunction to every parish priest in England requiring him to keep a record of all baptisms, marriages, and burials in his parish.  In Essex at least seventy-five parishes have registers beginning in about 1538.  Most of these survivals are copies made in the reign of Elizabeth I, either by the incumbent or the parish clerk, from the old book, which was then apparently discarded.[i]   Many other registers begin in the reign of Elizabeth I.  Apart from the marriages, baptisms and burials that are the building blocks of family reconstitution, what else can we learn from scrutinising parish registers?

In rural Essex as elsewhere in the sixteenth century it was taken as a given that God existed.  No one’s head was bothered by whether the earth was the centre of the universe (it obviously was) or whether God was in his heaven up above while hell was down below (they undoubtedly were).[ii]  The only issue was whether God was Protestant or Catholic.  The wrong choice could cost you your life in this world and your salvation in the next.   When it came to making this choice, parishioners in England had been on something of a roller-coaster ride since 1538.   Four years before Cromwell issued his injunction introducing parish registers the Pope’s authority over the English Church had been abolished and the King had made himself Supreme Head of the Church in England.  Between 1536 and 1541 the Dissolution of the Monasteries had seen the closure of over 900 monastic foundations, the dispersal of the monks and nuns who occupied them, and the sale of their vast landed estates.  Yet the parish registers that survive from this period show that, while these upheavals were taking place, baptisms, marriages and burials carried on as normal.  The services of the Church continued to be said in Latin, in the form in which they had been since time immemorial.  It was not until 1549, two years after the death of Henry VIII, that the mass was first said in English.  Four years later the Protestant Edward VI was succeeded by his half-sister the Catholic Mary Tudor, Henry’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon, and during the next five years England returned to obedience to Rome, the services in the parish churches reverted to Latin, the traditional rites and ceremonies were restored, and images and treasures that had been hidden were brought out again, only for all this to be reversed in 1558 when Elizabeth I came to the throne: again the Pope’s authority over the English Church was abolished and the Queen was proclaimed Supreme Governor of the Church.[iii]   On May 8th 1559 the Act of Uniformity, authorising the use of the new Book of Common Prayer, received the Royal approval.  The new prayer book, which replaced all other service books, came into use on 24th June 1559.

Occasionally, however, in the midst of the routine recording of rites of passage, the registers provide glimpses of the impact of these changes at parish level.  In July 1599 the Great Burstead register recorded that

Elizabeth Wattes Widdow sume tyme the wife of Thomas Wattes the blessed
marter of god who for his treuth suffered his merterdom in the fyre at
Chelmesford the xxij day of may in A[nn]o D[o]m[ini] 1555 in the Reigne of
queen mary was buryed the 10 day 1599 so she liued a widow after his death
xlviij yeres & fro[m] the 22 of may to the 10 july & made a good end like a
good Christian woman in gods name.[iv]

D/P 139/1/0

Thomas Watts was one of almost eighty Essex men and women who were burned at the stake in the reign of Mary Tudor for refusing to recant their Protestant beliefs.[v]  A full account of Thomas Watts’ martyrdom is provided in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, more correctly titled Acts and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, first published in 1563 and greatly expanded in 1570.[vi]    Described as a linen draper of Billericay, then part of the parish of Great Burstead, Thomas Watts had, according to Foxe ‘daily expected to be taken by God’s adversaries’.  Accordingly he had assigned his property to his wife and children and donated his stock of cloth to the poor.  He was arrested on April 26th 1555 and brought before Lord Rich at Chelmsford, accused of not attending church, i.e. hearing mass.   Interrogated by Sir Anthony Browne, who, with Rich, had been appointed to purge Essex of heretics, as to why he had embraced his heretical views, Watts replied that

You taught me and no one more than you.  For, in King Edward’s days
in open sessions you said the mass was abominable trumpery, earnestly
exhorting that none should believe therein, but that our belief should be
only in Christ.[vii]

It seems that Watts had also spoken treasonable words against the Queen’s husband, King Philip.[viii]  Unable to persuade Thomas Watts to recant, he was sent to Bishop Bonner, ‘the bloody bishop,  …’.[ix] Essex was then within the diocese of London and Edmund Bonner was its bishop, first under Henry VIII and again under Mary.  He remained staunchly Catholic during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth.  Although usually depicted as sadistic and merciless, it is worth noting that even Foxe acknowledges that Bonner made several attempts to persuade Watts (and others) to recant, ‘gave him several hearings, and, as usual, many arguments with much entreaty, … but his preaching availed not, and he resorted to his last revenge – that of condemnation’.  ‘I am weary to live in such idolatry as you would have me live in’, Watts is alleged to have said, and signed the confession of heresy.  Faced by his refusal, Bishop Bonner had little choice but to consign Thomas Watts to the secular arm, the Church not being allowed to take life, to suffer the penalty prescribed by the Statute De Heretico Comburando (Concerning the Burning of Heretics) of 1401, originally intended to deal with Lollards.[x]

Returned from the Bishop of London’s prison to Chelmsford, Thomas Watts was lodged at ‘Mr Scott’s, an inn in Chelmsford where were Mr Haukes and the rest that came down to their burning, who all prayed together’.  Watts then withdrew to pray by himself, after which he met his wife and children for the last time, exhorting them to have no regrets but to glory in the sacrifice he was making for the sake of Jesus.  So powerful were his words that, it is said, two of his children offered to go to the stake with him.  At the stake, after he had kissed it, he called out to Lord Rich, who was supervising the execution: “beware, for you do against your own conscience herein, and without you repent, the Lord will revenge it”. ‘Thus did this good martyr offer his body to the fire, in defence of the true gospel of the Saviour’.[xi]

It seems unlikely that Rich, a man whose name is a byword for cruelty, sadism, dishonesty, ruthlessness and treachery, possessed a conscience.  Born about 1496, Richard Rich was a lawyer who entered the service of Thomas 1st Baron Audley of Walden,, who assisted Rich to become MP for Colchester.[xii]  In 1533 Rich was knighted and became Solicitor General.  In this capacity, he used selective quotations from a private conversation with Thomas More in the Tower in evidence at More’s trial.  In 1536 he was appointed Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, charged with the disposal of former monastic estates, a position that he used to enrich himself.  In 1546 he personally tortured the Lincolnshire Protestant martyr, Ann Askew, in the Tower. During the reign of Edward VI, as Lord Chancellor, however, he presented himself as a reformer, taking part in the trials of Bishops Gardiner and Bonner. Yet in Mary’s reign he helped restore the old religion, actively persecuting those like Thomas Watts of Billericay who refused to conform. Under Elizabeth he sat on a Commission to enquire into grants made during the previous reign and was called upon to advise on the Queen’s marriage. Richard Rich died on 11th of June 1558 at Rochford and was buried at Felsted on the 8th of July.  The entry in the Felsted register gives only the bare facts. For those at Felstead who had dealings with him, Richard Rich, first baron Rich, must have been terrifying.[xiii]

In Elizabeth’s reign, others submitted to the Religious Settlement but made their resistance covertly, like the parson of Great Baddow who recorded the burial of Joan Smythe on May 1st 1572 ‘being the purificacion even of o[ur] lady St Mary’ (i.e. the evening preceding the feastday).

Ian Beckwith


[i] It is not necessarily clear by whom the registers were kept.  Although the entries for the preceding week were supposed to be read to the congregation at the principal service on Sunday, there are indications that some were written up at the year’s end (24th March), possibly from notes on slips of paper.  The penmanship of the entries remains generally of a very high standard until the last decade of the sixteenth century, when it often becomes slapdash and much less legible. 

[ii] The realisation that the world was not flat, as the circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan and Drake demonstrated, did not shake the belief in this three-decker image of the universe.  

[iii] The change from Supreme Head as Henry VIII was designated, to Supreme Governor, it has been claimed, reflects the opinion that a woman could not be ‘Head’ of the Church.  However, when Elizabeth was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the title ‘Governor’ was retained and continued to be used by every subsequent monarch, male and female.     

[iv] ERO, D/P 139/1/0, Image 49. However, the length of her widowhood seems to have been miscalculated.

[v] J E Oxley, The Reformation in Essex to the Death of Mary, Manchester University Press, 1965, pp.210-237.  Coincidentally, my copy was withdrawn from Billericay Public Library in about 2013.

[vi] I have drawn upon an edition of 1860, published in Philadelphia.  The account of Thomas Watts’ martyrdom is on p.367. The Book of Martyrs has been blamed for inciting anti-Catholic sentiment in England.

[vii] Foxe, p.367

[viii] Mary had married Philip on 25th July 1554

[ix] Foxe, p.367

[x] Several Essex Lollards were burned at the stake in Henry VIII’s reign.  The purpose of burning was to act not just as a deterrent but also as a purgative, to rid the realm of disease.  See David Nicholls, The Theatre of Martyrdom in the French Reformation, Past & Present, Vol 121, Issue 1, November 1988, pp 49-73.

[xi] Foxe p.367. 

[xii] Thomas Audley (1488-1544), formerly MP for Colchester, a member of Cardinal Wolsey’s household, Speaker of the Commons during the Reformation Parliament and Lord Chancellor of England from 1533-1544

[xiii] Born about 1496, Richard Rich was a lawyer who entered the service of Thomas Audley, who assisted him to become MP for Colchester.  In 1533 Rich was knighted and became Solicitor General.  In this capacity, he used selective quotations from a private conversation with Thomas More in the Tower in evidence at More’s trial.  In 1536 he was appointed Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, charged with the disposal of former monastic estates, a position that he used to enrich himself.  In 1546 he personally tortured the Lincolnshire Protestant martyr, Ann Askew, in the Tower. During the reign of Edward VI, as Lord Chancellor, however, he appeared as a reformer, taking part in the trials of Bishops Gardiner and Bonner, yet in Mary’s reign he helped restore the old religion, actively persecuting those who refused to conform. Under Elizabeth he sat on a Commission to enquire into grants made during the previous reign and was called upon to advise on the Queen’s marriage.

Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – Gas Manufacture and Water Purification

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.

A view from ERO of the Gas Holders, photo courtesy of Walter Roberts

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 1880s.

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 in 1819.

Photo of coke lorries from the Spalding Collection

If we’ve managed to pique your interest, be sure to book your place at the conference now: http://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

If you still aren’t quite convinced, keep an eye on our blog for more speaker introductions to entice you in!

Part of:

An Essex Quaker in the Caribbean 1713-14

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]

Essex Record Office A13685 Box 47 Certificate for J Farmer to travel 29.3rd mo. 1707 (29th May 1707)

Arriving in Philadelphia at the end of October 1713 John Farmer reviewed his progress so far:

“I 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 1713] [ii].

Wee 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 1713/14].” [iii]

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. 

Quakers in the Colonies[vi]

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 another day.

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 meeting.” [viii]

Map of St Kitts 1729

 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 dear. 

And that will be the story to be told in my next post about John Farmer’s extraordinary life.



[i] Essex Record Office A13685 Box 47 Certificate for J Farmer to travel 29.3rd mo. 1707 (29th May 1707)

[ii] A 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.

[iii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[iv][iv] For more information relating Quakers and the Slave trade see

Drake, T.E., Quakers & Slavery in America, Oxford University Press, London 1950

Rediker, M. The Fearless Benjamin Lay, 2017, Verso, London

Soderlund, J.R, Quakers & Slavery, A Divided Spirit, Princeton, 1985

[v] Drake, T.E., Quakers & Slavery in America, Oxford University Press, London 1950 pp. 6-9

[vi] Quakers in the Colonies: www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/268

[vii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[viii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[ix] See previous post An Essex Quaker in Ireland, to understand more about protest by music.

[x] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p58

The Reach of The Marconi Photographic Section

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.


A11449 – 16748 MARCONI CO. TRADE MARK OR LOGO, 1947.

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.


A11449 – 78774, MAP OF NADGE RADAR CHAIN, 1968

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.


A11449 – 15771, TYPE D.F.G.26 RECEIVER WITH OSCILLOSCOPE TYPE O.R.3, 1945

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.


A11449 – 2015, GIRLS WINDING & LACQUERING SHOP AT WORKS, 1919

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.


A11449 – 2464, MARCONI STAND, AERO EXHIBITION, OLYMPIA, 1920

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.


A11449 – 3070, MAHARAJAH USING A MARCONI TELEPHONE IN INDIA, No date.

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.


A11449 – 14559, PAINTING ENTITLED “VOICE OF FREEDOM”, 1943.

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 lcsmit@essex.ac.uk. Whether for research or for a casual perusal, this collection really has a lot to offer!

Operation Market Garden: 75 Years Ago Today

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 101st Airbrone Division was reinforced with 12 glider serials on September 18, 1944. In this photo, Waco gliders are lined up on an English airfield in preparation for the next lift to Holland. Apart from the serial number on the tail (the nearest is 339953) there are no other markings, which suggests these gliders are yet to be issued to the units that are going to use them. By U.S. Army Signal Corp – http://www.amazing-planet.net/operation-market-garden-chronology.php, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6080516

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!

Extract from GSGS Prov. Ed. 1:25,000 map, sheet 59/22NE, c.1940.
Extract from GSGS Prov. Ed. 1:25,000 map, sheet 59/22NE, c.1940. This kilometre square shows the area in which the glider came down. The six-figure grid reference, 099349, places it in the top right-hand corner.
Extract from 2nd Ed. 6 inch OS, sheet 33SW, 1895. ‘X’ marks the spot in this larger scale map. Possibly it was the northern boundary to this field that contained the ditch the glider ended up in?

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 [1994]), 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.

An Essex Quaker’s American Adventure 1711 – 1713

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]

John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.46

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 meetings. 

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 no weapons: 

“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.”

Herman Moll: New England, New York, New Jersey and Pensilvania, (sic)1729

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 lay.

“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 New England.”[v]  

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 planned. 

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

[ii] 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

[iii] 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.

For more information about these events see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuscarora_War

https://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/tuscarora-war/

https://tuscaroranationnc.com/tribal-history

[iv] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.46

[v] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.47

[vi] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

A day in the life of an Essex Sound and Video Archive volunteer

Andy Popperwell shares his experiences volunteering for the Essex Sound and Video Archive

Photograph of volunteer smiling at camera

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.

Photograph of an open reel tape on player

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.  

Photograph of volunteer working at tape player

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 great Essex bake off(ice)

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.

This plan of 1906 shows the Bake Office for what must be a thriving bakery and tea room on Military Road in Colchester. The owner is applying to have a new bread oven built.
(D/B 6 Pb3/2363)

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.

This sale catalogue lists both a “bake office” and a “Brewhouse” attached to this windmill in Pebmarsh. Beer and bread have always been natural bedfellows. (SALE/B5065)

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 …

Celebrating Essex Women for International Women’s Day

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.

Colour picture of box of cassette tapes

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).

Black and white picture of Carol Sydney

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.