For Home and Country: more from the Broomfield WI

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

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

Broomfield WI Membership Card Emily Crozier 1917

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

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

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

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(Temporary Accession 4346).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filling the holes in history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leigh-on-Sea on the Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ordnance Survey maps

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

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

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

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

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

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Ordnance Survey map of Leigh, 1897

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

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Ordnance Survey map of Leigh, 1922

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to choose a wife, Victorian style

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

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

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

Now why my dear Fred don’t you marry?

I had hop’d the late rumour was true

Now take my advice and don’t tarry

But set off instanter* to woo

But first my dear Fred pay attention

And though you should love and admire

If she’s one of these Ifs that I mention

Dear Fred make your bow & retire

If you find that she can’t darn a stocking

If she can’t make a shirt or a pie

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

If she ever drinks beer on the sly

If soon of the country she’s weary

If politics e’er are her theme

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

If she crosses her legs or her letters

If you’ve seen her drink three cups of tea

If she boasts of those wearing her fetters

If she’s sick when she goes on the sea

If she seems the least bit of a scold

If her manners have any pretence

If her gown does not cover her shoulders

If her bustle is very immense

If she’s nervous, or bilious, or sickly

If she likes to take breakfast in bed

If she can’t take a hint from you quickly

If her nose has the least touch of red

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

If she seems a coquette or a flirt

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

If she’s stupid or if she is pert

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

The chain she around you has bound

And seek for a maid in whom never

These follies and failings were found

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

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

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

‘If her bustle is very immense’

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

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

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

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

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

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

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

 

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

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

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

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

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

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

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

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

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

Cover of the first Maldon All Saints parish register

Cover of the first Maldon All Saints parish register

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

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

Harlow Housing and Design Interviews Online

Harlow New Town was established in 1947, when the New Town Development Corporation began to purchase land around the old town and erect new housing estates. The houses primarily served to relieve housing pressures on bombed-out, overcrowded London, particularly from the East End. The first residents began moving in from 1949.

So say the textbooks, but what personal stories lie behind these brief facts? At the Essex Sound and Video Archive, we hold a wonderful collection of oral history interviews conducted by Dr Judy Attfield in the 1980s for her research project, Harlow Housing and Design (SA 22). These interviews reveal what it was like to live in the new town. Our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, has enabled us to digitise all of the original cassettes and make them freely available through Essex Archives Online.

Screenshot of SA 22 catalogue

A satisfying sight: the icons show that there is audio material attached to that catalogue entry.

At first, we thought the digitisation would be a straightforward task. Shortly after the collection was first deposited with us in 1996, we created access copies on cassette, to safeguard the original masters (our standard procedure in the Sound Archive). The access copies are all neatly labelled and clearly identified, one cassette per interview.

However, when we looked in the box containing the original cassettes, things were not quite so straightforward. We digitise from the original recording (or as near to the original recording as we can get), to capture the purest sound. On revisiting the masters, we realised that the interviewer had used one cassette for multiple interviews – a common practice when you want to make the most of the cassette tape you have. Piecing each recording together to make one complete interview has caused our digitiser, Catherine Norris, several headaches.

But now they are all digitised. Similar to our procedure with physical analogue recordings, we keep a master, uncompressed .wav file safely in storage. We then create compressed .mp3 copies as our new access copy. You can still come into the Searchroom and listen to the recordings, but you can also now listen from home, through Essex Archives Online.

Each interview is valuable in its own right, but as a collection it is even more fascinating. Dr Attfield spoke to a range of people: developers, architects, and town councillors who shed light on the planning of the new town; shopkeepers; people who moved to Harlow before the new town; and people who moved as part of the new town settlement. Putting these different viewpoints together gives a rich, rounded impression of this time in history. Some interviewees say that women found it more difficult than men to settle in new towns and felt lonely and depressed; some say that women found it easier to form new bonds because they were surrounded by women in a similar position, raising children away from their parents in unfamiliar surroundings. Some were ecstatic to have their own front doors, their own staircases in two-storey homes; some missed the familiarity of London, even if they were living in cramped, shared housing. The multiplicity of memories challenges generalisations about life in a new town. It also demonstrates (by listening to the accents of the interviewees, if nothing else) that not everyone in Harlow in the 1950s was an ex-Eastender.

The collection also serves as a good example of how to conduct an oral history interview. Dr Attfield had a specific interest in the interior design of the new houses. She directed questions to gather information on this topic. However, she also asked wider questions for context. She let her interviewees say what they wanted with minimal interventions, but also guided the interview to cover her set of questions. Occasionally she probed her interviewees for more details, or challenged their viewpoints to get a better understanding, without revealing any judgement of their opinions.

Dr Attfield made a significant research contribution in the fields of material culture, gender studies, and design history, among other overlapping areas. Based for many years at the Winchester School of Art, her book Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life (Oxford: Berg, 2000) has become a key text in her field. She passed away in 2006. We are very grateful that she deposited her recordings about Harlow with us, for future researchers to use and enjoy.

One particularly moving interview from the collection is that with Mrs Summers, who moved to the new town from Walthamstow in 1952 (SA 22/1364/1). At several points in the interview, Mrs Summers describes the long adjustment period when ‘home’ still meant London before completely settling in Harlow. As well as missing her family, in this clip she describes how she ‘couldn’t get used to the newness of things’ after coming from Walthamstow with its ‘houses with big windows… little tiny houses… nice houses… [and] grubby-looking houses’.

At a time when neighbourhood plans for vast numbers of additional houses are being developed across Essex – across the country – perhaps these experiences of new settlers can help with the process of creating new communities.

Dr Attfield published an article based on these interviews in the book that she co-edited with P Kirkham, A View from the Interior: Women and Design (London: Women’s Press, 1995). The article can be consulted at Colchester Library.

We hope to showcase clips from these recordings on a listening bench in Harlow, in time for the 70th anniversary of the New Town in 2017. If you are interested in helping to work on the bench for Harlow, please get in touch: info@essexsounds.org.uk

Essex Archives Online update – digitising our electoral registers

We have just begun the next big expansion of digitised records available through our subscription service on Essex Archives Online, with the beginning of our project to provide digital images of our electoral registers.

There are some 850 volumes in our collection of Essex electoral registers

There are some 850 volumes in our collection of Essex electoral registers

Ultimately we will be making available images of all the registers we hold from 1833-1974. The first phase of the project has just been completed, with digital images of our electoral registers from 1833-1868 now all available online. We will be releasing the images in batches, with a target completion date for the whole project of January 2018.

(There is a little caveat to this – the registers for 1918 and 1929 have been online for some time, and they will of course remain.)

While our set of Essex electoral registers is not 100% complete, it is the best surviving set of these records, and for some registers ours is the only surviving copy. This collection of some 850 volumes provides vital evidence of Essex people’s lives and locations over almost 150 years.

As with the images of Essex parish registers and wills already available online, the images of the electoral registers can be viewed free of charge in the ERO Searchroom, or as part of our online subscription packages. Information about how to find the records and how to subscribe can be found on our subscription home page.

Electoral register page for Bardfield Saling, 1851 (Q/RPr 1/10)

Electoral register page for Bardfield Saling, 1851 (Q/RPr 1/10)

 

Why digitise electoral registers?

There are two key drivers for digitising these records: 1, to make them more widely available, and 2, to preserve the originals. Electoral registers were not designed to have a long lifespan and can be somewhat fragile. As popular records they are frequently in demand, and digitisation allows us to make the information available while protecting the original documents.

 

How will the records be indexed?

As with the parish registers already available in Essex Archives Online, we are not publishing a name index, but all of the registers in this batch are arranged alphabetically – that is, electors appear in each parish in alphabetical order of surname.  This makes tracing individuals fairly easy.  In addition, each register is indexed by parish or place, and they offer great opportunities not just for family historians but also for studies of local society and urban development.  An annual list of the main property owners and occupiers in each place is a valuable addition to the online record, particularly where the local rate books (the ultimate source of much of this information) fail to survive.

 

Why do the records start in 1833?

Modern electoral registers came into being with the Great Reform Act of 1832.  The Act did not hugely increase the electorate, but for the first time it required the Clerk of the Peace – the head of the county administration – to have the annual parish lists of electors’ names ‘fairly and truly copied … in a book to be by him provided’, and to give to each elector’s name ‘its proper number, beginning the numbers from the first name’.  That book would be the electoral register for the following year. The Clerk was not required to print the registers, or to preserve them once the year was out, and before the mid-1840s only two survive in Essex. After that matters steadily improve, and from the early 1860s until 2001 the Record Office’s collection is fairly complete.

 

Who will be included in these registers?

The 1832 Reform Act expanded the electorate to some extent, but it was still limited to men aged over 21 who owned a certain amount of property. In 1851 just 11,500 county electors spoke for an Essex population of almost 370,000.

By no means all the electors for a particular parish actually lived there, or even close by, and their actual places of residence can be revealing. In 1851 the divided freehold of the King’s Head Inn at Gosfield, in the northern division of Essex, provided the qualification for 6 of the parish’s 13 electors. One lived in Chelmsford, one in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, one in London and three in Surrey.

At Braintree, three brothers from the Buxton brewing family each held a vote in respect of Hyde Farm, the farm’s ownership being split between them. According to the register, however, Sir Edward North Buxton Bt. – who was in fact the MP for South Essex – lived in Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair; Charles Buxton lived near the brewery in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, Middlesex; and Thomas Fowell Buxton lived in Leytonstone (Leyton), which was at least in Essex at the time, although far away in the southern division.

At Leyton, the pattern was repeated and each of the brothers qualified once more, this time through the freehold of the Three Blackbirds inn – although Thomas Fowell Buxton had apparently forgotten that he lived in the parish and gave the Spitalfields address as his place of residence.  For researchers into Victorian society, and especially the connections between land and politics, electoral registers are a mine of information.

For family historians, the names of the electors will naturally be the focus of interest, although the electors themselves are not the only people named.  For example, William Wing of Bloomsbury in London had a vote in 1851 for his house in Braintree on ‘corner of square, Miss Wing, tenant’.  She, of course, had no vote at all – but the naming of such voteless tenants increases the registers’ value to historians.  Miss Wing is known from the 1851 census as Sarah Wing, a silversmith and watchmaker living and working in Great Square, and census users might well have wondered about a possible connection with William Wing, born in Braintree but working as a watchmaker in New Bond Street in London.  Despite the gap between New Bond Street and Braintree, the electoral register evidence makes their connection almost certain, and suggests something of Sarah and William’s family arrangements.  Linking the electoral registers to other sources makes the whole data set much more powerful.

 

How did elections take place in this period?

The process of electing MPs in the 1830s-1860s was quite different to today. There were two different kinds of constituencies – counties and boroughs. The theory was that county MPs would represent landholding interests, and borough MPs the interests of the mercantile and trading classes. Before 1832 Essex sent 8 MPs to Parliament – 2 from the county seat of Chelmsford, and 2 each from the ancient boroughs of Colchester, Maldon and Harwich.

Before 1832 there was enormous variety in the size of constituencies and in voting qualifications. Polling could last up to 40 days, and there was no secret ballot. The whole system was liable to corruption and domination by local elites.

The 1832 Reform Act went some way towards resolving some of these issues. Most rotten boroughs (boroughs with tiny electorates controlled by a wealthy patron) were abolished, and seats were redistributed to growing industrial towns. Polling was limited to two days, and the qualifications for the franchise were standardised.

Essex gained two more MPs as part of the changes as the county constituency was split into two divisions, north and south, each returning two MPs, in addition to the two each still returned from the three ancient boroughs.

Flyer by John Gurdon Rebow of Wivenhoe Park, who stood as an independent candidate for North Essex in the 1847 general election. The policies he outlines here include the protection of agriculture, and of the Church of England and individual liberty. He was not successful on this occasion, but was MP for Colchester between 1857 and 1859, and again from 1865 until his death in 1870. (T/P 68/38/9)

Flyer by John Gurdon Rebow of Wivenhoe Park, who stood as an independent candidate for North Essex in the 1847 general election. The policies he outlines here include the protection of agriculture, and of the Church of England and individual liberty. He was not successful on this occasion, but was MP for Colchester between 1857 and 1859, and again from 1865 until his death in 1870. (T/P 68/38/9)

Looking to the future…

Further reforms were, of course, to come, and successive electoral registers include more and more people, until finally all men and women over 21 were granted the vote in 1928. We will continue to post updates on the blog as the electoral register project progresses, and we hope you enjoy exploring the new images.

Five favourite Chelmsford documents

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

We have two great events coming up in late October looking at the history of Chelmsford. On Wednesday 26 October we have a guided walk of the city centre based on John Walker’s fabulous 1591 map (see below if you have never seen this before), and on Saturday 29 October we are hosting Chelmsford Through Time, a pop-up display of historic maps and photographs, with a talk by Dr James Bettley on the post-war development of Chelmsford. You can find details of both of these on our events webpages.

In preparation for these events we have been sifting through some of the masses of material we have on Chelmsford history, and I thought I would share here five of my favourite Chelmsford items from our collections, that provide fascination snapshots into the past of our county town.

  1. John Walker’s map, 1591

Any round-up of significant documents of Chelmsford’s history must surely start with John Walker’s spectacular map, dating from 1591 (long-time readers of this blog will most like have come across this in some of our previous posts). It shows the town in exquisite detail, with each building individually drawn with its own doors, windows and chimneys. What’s more, a written survey that goes with the map tells us who was living in each of these properties at the time. It’s a very special window into the past that I never get tired of looking through.

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Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591, showing the town (D/DM P1)

  1. James Maylett execution

A grimmer choice, but I have always been interested in Tudor history and this snippet from the Chelmsford burial registers serves as a reminder of how brutal life could be. This burial entry dates from December 1542, and reads:

Jamys Maylette clerke Bachelor of Dyvinyti and p[ar]son of moche Lyes was drawen hanged and quarteryd on the market hyll for high treason on fryday the firste daye of December ao 1542.

That is to say, James Mallett, the parson of Great Lees, was hung, drawn and quartered in the market square at Chelmsford for high treason. 1 December that year was a Friday, market day, to ensure maximum witnesses for the gruesome spectacle.

Mallett had been a chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife whom he divorced in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Mallett had also been rector of Great Leighs for 28 years. His treasonous offence was to comment unfavourably on Henry’s policy of dissolving religious houses. His public execution must surely have been intended as a warning to other clergy not to pass comment on the king’s decisions.

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Extract from the Chelmsford parish registers showing the burial of James Mallett, December 1542 (D/P 94/1/4 image 26)

 

  1. Spalding photo of High Street, c.1869

This is one of the earliest surviving photographs of Chelmsford High Street, dating to about 1869. It shows a view looking north up the High Street towards Shire Hall. It was taken by Fred Spalding, Chelmsford’s first commercial photographer. Spalding’s son and grandson both became photographers too, and we have about 7,000 of their photographs at the ERO today. This one, like all of Spalding’s early photographs, was taken on a glass plate coated with chemicals; a challenging process to get right, especially in the open air.

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Photograph of Chelmsford High Street by Fred Spalding, c.1869 (D/F 269/1/3715)

  1. Photograph of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

If I could wave a magic wand over Chelmsford I would love to be able to bring back the Corn Exchange. This neo-Renaissance building was designed by Fred Chancellor in 1857, and sat on Tindal Square (Shire Hall is just out of frame on the right of this photo). It was demolished, along with the whole of the west side of Tindal Street, to make way for the High Chelmer redevelopment in 1969.

corn-exchange-1080-watermarked

Photograph by Fred Spalding of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

  1. Women at work in Marconi’s

This photograph is one of a series of images taken of Marconi’s Hall Street works, sometime between 1898 and 1912. At the start of the twentieth century, women were mostly expected to marry, have children, and stay at home. As an archetypal `new’ industry, the wireless industry involved complex assembly operations and `high-tech’ components requiring manual dexterity. The Marconi Hall Street works pioneered the early recruitment of a trained female workforce. Women are so often invisible or difficult to find in historical sources, so to find such striking photographs giving an insight into what their lives were like is always exciting. (You can see some more photos from this set on our Historypin page.)

Women at work in Marconi's Hall Street Factory, c.1902 (A11449)

Women at work in Marconi’s Hall Street Factory, c.1902 (A11449)

 Join us for Walking with Walker (Wednesday 26 October 2016) or Chelmsford Through Time (Saturday 29 October 2016) to delve deeper into Chelmsford’s history.