Guest post: ‘an adventure beyond words’

This guest post is written by Ben, Grace, Evie, Akmal, Toby, Ben, Grace, Lucas and Bella who are all in year 5 at Broomfield Primary School. They were shown around the ERO by Neil Wiffen, Public Service Team Manager, and Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer. If you would like to arrange a visit for an educational group, please get in touch with us on heritage.education@essex.gov.uk

My teacher and a small group of pupils were invited to The Essex Record Office. Not the CD, track kind of record: the letter, diary, document kind of record. We were not just fascinated to find out some amazing facts, we were amazed to see some facts that gave us a link to things from hundreds of years ago. On our journey through time we filled our brains with lots of information and fun facts.

Why does the Essex Record Office (ERO) exist? Some people have interesting artefacts in their home but it’s no good having it all there! The ERO provide the capability of looking at all the information you need in one place.  You do not have to make appointments in different buildings, the ERO has everything you need, but they have certain rules. These include not taking any bags (at all!) into the Searchroom.  This is because some naughty people try and steal the information. The other rule was to use pencil only, as they don’t want to ruin any documents or information. The ERO is for people of all ages – there is no limit. You cannot only just have fun and find out information, you can understand and communicate with the past.

When the ERO was opened in 2000, there was a model made of a flower designed by pupils [ed.: the sculpture which runs alongside the public stairs up to the Searchroom]. The roots were to represent that History is in the past, the stem shows that were are the present.  The flower and the seeds (which were binary 1 and 0s) represented the information travelling out in the future.

When we walked into the Searchroom Mr Wiffen explained about the organization of the documents. We thought it sounded quite complicated but actually it turned out to be a lot easier than we thought. IMG_5792 They have this website called Seax (a Seax is an Anglo Saxon stabbing sword and on the Essex County Council logo, the swords are Seaxes).  The website called Seax helps you to find documents VERY quickly and efficiently.  We searched for ‘Maps of Broomfield’ and it came up with 113 results.  The earliest was made in 1591 and the latest was made in 2007. To search, you type in the key words, and then it shows you all the search results with the key words in date order.

Hannah then informed us about a pie chart that someone made from the information in a book called a Parish Register which had a list of Births, Deaths or Marriages.  Somebody looked at details telling us about deaths in the 1830s.  We were shocked to hear that over half the people died under the age of 10!!

We definitely realised that Seax was helpful, especially for people who live overseas and love historical documents, because anyone around the world can ask for things to be put on there.  It is much cheaper than travelling to the ERO, but it was more fun to go there for our visit.

After we observed the picture-perfect painting of James I [ed.: on display in the Searchroom], Hannah told us that when monarchs wanted portraits of themselves, they would have chosen props that represented them. For example, Elizabeth I chose a globe to show she has invaded different nations. We should look for clues in paintings, not just at the person who has been painted. IMG_5800 Next Mr Wiffen pulled a draw out full of envelopes and picked up a microfiche, which is miniscule pictures of wills and newspapers.  The reason why the newspapers are made smaller is because you can keep lots of information on a small sheet of film and the big news paper takes up a lot of room, is very thin and will disintegrate. You have to place the microfiche in a machine, so that when you look through, it will magnify and illuminate it big enough for people to read it. IMG_5807 Mr Wiffen showed us a couple of unique maps of Broomfield in the past. The first one we looked at was from 1846. It was an enormous map and Broomfield looked empty and lonely, with fewer houses and more greenery.  We found that our school and houses had not been built yet. We put our fingers on our invisible houses. Bromfield Hospital was not there yet either, but the area where it would be built was called Puddings Wood. IMG_5832 Then we looked at the earliest map of Broomfield which was made in 1591 by John Walker.We could see the beautiful colours to show the roads, houses and landmarks.  It was made for Widow Wealde and showed all of her land. D-DVk 1 watermarked The next map we looked at was created and drawn by hand in 1771 of Broomfield, it is 244 years old. It showed a field called Drakes Fut, which is near our school.  It is now called Dragon Foot Field. We talked about a legend from 1,00 years ago.  Every day workers would build a bit of Broomfield Church and use strange red bricks and tiles that they found in the field.  But in the night, when they were sleeping, a dragon would take all the bricks and bury them back in the field. Imagine how the builders felt when the dragon took their building materials! They must have felt frustrated and scared. Nowadays, we know the bricks and tiles were made by Romans and there was a villa in that field. Bricks and tiles from the villa can be seen in the walls of Broomfield Church.

Shortly after, we were showed a map from 1919 in Broomfield. There were 2 coffee shops and here is a photograph to prove that it really did exist.  We were surprised that people used to go out for a coffee, just like we do today.  Coffee shops were there to stop people from spending all of their money in the pubs. But even 100 years ago there were no roads, just mud. The road outside Broomfield Primary School was just mud too – and it looked VERY muddy.

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One of Broomfield’s two coffee shops (from the Fred Spalding Collection)

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Broomfield School and a very muddy unmade road (from the Fred Spalding Collection)

There is a pub called The Saracens Head on the High Street in Chelmsford.  We saw a photograph if it showing the American soldiers who used to go there to interact and relax. Back in the Second World War, Mr Wiffen’s dad (who lived in Broomfield) had heard planes fighting overhead when he was a boy.  Would you like it if bullet cases were falling on your shed?  That’s what he could hear, but he was probably in his Anderson Shelter.  Forty years later, he found a spent bullet case (probably from those fights) in his back garden.

Broomfield has lots of things in the ground from different periods of history.  How would you feel to be standing on history, or to never find artefacts that could be worth millions! We had an amazing time looking at the spectacular maps.

After that we carefully opened a box that was in another box with another padded cover.  Inside was a special bible that Charles I had before his gruesome and terrifying beheading happened. Somehow, Charles’s librarian Patrick Young, got his hands on it and gave it to his granddaughter Sarah who gave it to the Broomfield Church. IMG_5880 IMG_5883 When the Church was being renovated, apparently the builders dropped it by accident!  They decided to give the responsibility to the ERO to protect the Bible forever. The Bible has an amazing silver outline with a glorious red velvet cover, decorated with a lion, a unicorn, a crest of arms and initials. IT MUST’VE COST MILLIONS!!!!!  The lion was very detailed with tiny silver stitches – the mane swerving in different directions and the ribs and claws very clearly seen.  He has two beady bead eyes.

The ERO looks after Log Books from different schools, and here is a page from Broomfield Primary School in 1912.  The book sat on a special pillow to protect the spine and showed the beginning of the school summer holidays.  the school was closed so that the children could go and help with pea picking for the harvest.  Food was important – everyone needed to help collect enough food to get through the next winter.  That is why we have six weeks off in the summer.   Luckily we don’t actually have to pick peas any more!

Eventually, we reached the storage room after a long walk from the library. The storage room keeps all of the documents and old books safe. The humidity and temperature was cool enough to preserve them for even longer than usual. To access the room, Mr. Wiffen had to scan his staff card in a laser. We had to be quick going in because the door shut after 30 seconds!

As soon as we got in we felt a lot cooler and looked at huge rolls and lots of shelves and books. First of all, he showed us the stacks. These have codes on them to help staff find the right document quickly. They are moveable so they can fit more of them in. There are 8 miles of shelves altogether. He also told us that the red pipes let out a special gas during a fire to prevent the special files from burning.  Water would damage the documents, and so would foam, so gas is safer for the documents.  However, if the fire alarm goes off you have only 45 seconds to escape!

Next, Mr. Wiffen showed some precious packages, one of which was an Anglo Saxon document from 962 AD, written on parchment (Animal skin). They were deeds from Devon, part of Lord Petre’s collection. This is the oldest item in the collection.

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Looking at the ERO’s oldest document, an Anglo-Saxon charter from 962 (D/DP T209)

He then showed us a huge, hand drawn and hand coloured old map of Chelmsford from 1591, by John Walker. Even though it was old, the colours were bright and beautiful.  On the edge of Chelmsford, were two little lines to show the town gallows.  Who would have thought they would build grizzly gallows in such a beautiful town? And right behind the town centre was a field called the Back Sides, where John Lewis will be built!

John Walker's map of Chelmsford, 1591

John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591 (D/DM P1)

Lastly, we scurried out past the timed doors and saw a strange thing.  It did look peculiar, but it was one of the camera’s dust covers: a chicken tea cosy! If you live in Australia and want a photograph of a document, they will use the really good camera to take an image and then send it to you.

Then we continued our journey to the Conservation Room. The Conservation Room is a room where they carefully fix and clean documents, maps and letters. A lady called Diane showed us all the things that she needed, and some things that she couldn’t fix. For instance a letter, which was folded up into a bundle and tied up, had been burnt by fire and had got very brown.  It felt harder than metal – however it would be very, very easy to break if anyone tried to unroll the document.  Nobody would ever know what was written on it.  On the other hand, some Americans have now invented a machine, which mysteriously x-rays the bundle and scans the letters by looking at the ink inside, and makes a reconstruction that shows you what it had on it before it went in the fire. Maybe one day somebody will be able to put this document in and see what it is all about.  Right now, all we know is a date of 1917, which we found when we examined it. IMG_5955 Next Diane showed us a paper document that had lots of mould on it. She said it would never come off, so if you at home have very special letter or something else, make sure it’s not in your loft where mould will develop. The only writing on this was ‘{Be is re……..day of……year of the reign of our……. of Great Britain, Franc…….and fo forth.’  The rest of the paper had disintegrated. As well as that, we were allowed to hold a real piece of parchment.  It is animal skin and is very strong.  It lasts much better than paper so we could touch it. There also was large a circular thing made of wax. It looked a giant coin because it had Queen Victoria on her throne. On the other side, it was a picture of her on a horse.  A quarter of it had been smashed on the floor. Most of words were in Latin, however most of it we could read. These big seals were attached to important documents to show that the King or Queen agreed with what was written inside it.

IMG_5966 Last of all, Diane showed us scientific equipment such as a measuring container that could make sure that when she fixed using different liquids, she had the right amount of it. For example if she needed a litre of water, she could make sure there’s not too much and not too little.  There were other scientific instruments to make sure the temperature and humidity were exactly right in the room all the time.  It was interesting to see how Science and History were used together in one job.

We had a mind-blowing time at the ERO, our brains were stretched. It was an experience of a life time and an adventure beyond words. We had no idea it would be so interesting and would like to say thank you to the ERO for giving us an amazing tour, we learnt lots! It’s a brilliant place to find out many things. The people who work there are very kind and friendly.  They were experts and shared all their knowledge and information with us from generations ago. We were mad at Mrs McIntyre (our teacher) for making us leave, and were desperate to stay to find out more about our own pasts and where we lived. We hope to be back soon…

By Ben, Grace, Evie, Akmal, Toby, Ben, Grace, Lucas and Bella, Broomfield Primary School

The passing of the plotlands

Archivist Lawrence Barker takes a look at the rise and fall of the Basildon plotlands…

Anyone exploring the history of the development of Basildon New Town is quite likely to encounter the curious phenomenon of the ‘plotlands’.  These developed throughout the first half of the 20th century but were to more-or-less disappear with the development of Basildon New Town for which much of the land was purchased, compulsorily if necessary, during the 1970s.  The history of this process has recently generated quite a lot of interest (a talk given at ERO in April 2014 in April by Ken Porter proved to be the best-attended of the year).

In searching for original records for another project on the same subject, we uncovered many more previously hidden in the large collection associated with Basildon Development Corporation which was responsible for the creation of the New Town. The development of the plotlands had is origin in the decline of agriculture in this country during the second half 19th century.  In particular, cheaper grain imported from America in the mid 1870s knocked the bottom out of the grain market resulting in many farms switching to pasture.

Great Gubbins sale poster watermarkedSouth Essex, with its heavy clay soils which were more difficult and therefore more costly to work, was particularly hard hit.  On top of that, an extended period of bad weather finally finished off arable farming in south Essex.  Many farms collapsed and were sold off as cheap building land; farms such as Great Gubbins near Laindon.  The sales catalogue (left) and map (below) dating from 1885 (D/DS 4/20) shows the extent of the original farm land which was put up for sale.  Towards the bottom, one can see the proposed route for the new extension of the railway to Southend and the location of the new station to be built for Laindon. Great Gubbins sale map watermarked

It is interesting to compare how the same area looked 50 years later on an OS map in 1939 showing the plotlands landscape fully established (below, with Great Gubbins Farm outlined in red).

OS map new series 1939 81-9 watermarked Yet, little seems to have happened at first.  Another sales catalogue with map for the same land dated 1893 (D/DS 15/2) shows the vacant land this time split into 5 lots.

Laindon Station estate sale cat 1 watermarkedIt was the coming of the railway that seems to have boosted sales but not perhaps in the direction the vendors had originally hoped.  Records dating from the 1890s for the development of the neighbouring estate surrounding the new Laindon station (D/DS 4/35), called the Laindon Station Estate, include posters and catalogue (left) advertising cheap building land and show the aspiration held by the vendors Protheroe and Morris that the area would ‘shortly become an important residential neighbourhood’ served by shops and even featuring a new Essex racecourse.  This time the land was parcelled up into hundreds of smaller 20-by-140 foot plots (hence plotlands) which buyers could combine to create larger plots if they wished as shown on the accompanying map (below).

Laindon Station estate 1892 watermarked

Instead, although a new hotel and some shops were built near the station, most of the plots were bought up by hoards of ordinary folk as individuals who erected all kinds of chalets and shacks which they used as weekend retreats.  The pictures below were found among many such photographs in the first box of Basildon Development Corporation records (A9238) and demonstrate the variety of buildings erected by the plotlanders, in this case in Victoria Road on the former Great Gubbins farmland.

Victoria Road Photos watermarked Deanna Walker provides a fine first-hand account of the process in her book Basildon Plotlands published in 2001, where she describes her childhood memories as a resident of Dagenham spending weekends in the plotlands at Langdon Hills. Later still, many people replaced their shacks with more substantial bungalows and came to take up permanent residence. When the time came for the land to be designated for development for Basildon New Town, the Development Corporation commissioned surveys of the land which include maps of the various plots based on copies of large scale OS maps with each plot numbered, linked to a description, name, no. of rooms, condition, life, architectural quality, services (e.g water, sewerage, gas, electricity), rate value, condition of plot, and remarks (see below).  These have been catalogued as A/TB 1/8/10/1-14. Laindon Station estate 1949 watermarked Material uncovered Box no.1 of A9238 includes aerial photographs of the Basildon area prior to development of the New Town showing the plotlands, and later photographs showing the transformation from plotlands to new town.  For example, the photograph below shows how the streets planned for residential estates were created first with building following on after, and one can just detect a few remaining plotlands before they were obliterated. Baslidon Aerial Photo 1 watermarked Typically, people whose properties were affected were encouraged to accept the inevitable and take the initiative in coming to an agreement with the Development Corporation to sell their plot to them and so avoid compulsory purchase. A typical letter is one received by a plotland owner on 30 January 1962 which begins by outlining the Corporation’s intention to develop the area and that their property will be affected.  It then goes on to say that the Corporation has authority from the Minister of Housing and Local Government to:

…buy by agreement the land and property required for this redevelopment and it is hoped that you will be prepared to consider opening negotiations for the sale of your property by agreement to the Corporation.

The Corporation also offered to pay for legal costs, surveyors’ fees and ‘reasonable removal expenses’ if an agreement is reached and, in addition, to offer alternative accommodation. Not everyone was affected though.  Another box (no.33) includes individual case files of plotland properties which were not to be affected by the creation of the New Town and which possibly still exist today.

If you would like to find out more about plotlands for yourself, there is plenty of material to explore in the ERO archive and library.

Saffron Walden: 1758

This coming Saturday, 8 November 2014, come and join us at Saffron Walden Town Hall for a look at one of the most spectacular maps in our collection.

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The map shows the town of Saffron Walden and the surrounding area, and is so large we’ve had to give serious thought to how we will transport it!

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The map was made in 1758 by Edward John Eyre, along with a survey book, recording all the individual pieces of land, and how they were being used. The day will include a talk from an ERO Archivist about how the map and survey book work together.

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The map shows the town of Saffron Walden, and lots of other local details.

IMG_4489-1 IMG_4487 IMG_4485 IMG_4465 editIf you would like to join us on Saturday to see the map, here are all the details:

Saffron Walden 1758 At Saffron Walden Town Hall

In 1758 an extensive survey was carried out covering lands surrounding Saffron Walden, and several maps were made to accompany the survey books. This is a unique opportunity to see these maps and the survey books displayed together, to explore what the town and surrounding countryside looked like in the mid-eighteenth century.

The day will include a talk by Paul Marden of the Essex Place Names Project at 11.30am explaining the origins of some of the field names on the map. Allyson Lewis, archivist at the ERO will then give a talk at 12.00noon about the survey which accompanies the map.

Saturday 8 November, 10.30am-3.00pm

Free entry, suggested £2.00 donation

Saffron Walden Town Hall, Market Square, Saffron Walden, CB10 1HR

In association with the Saffron Walden Archive Access Point

Supported by Saffron Walden Town Council

In search of Mars

Our newest Archivist Lawrence Barker pins down where composer Gustav Holst wrote his famous Planets suite…

It was about a hundred years ago that the composer Gustav Holst started work on his masterpiece, The Planets suite, and at the same time, to spend weekends at Thaxted.  He started with Mars “The bringer of war” shortly before the First World War broke out, and much has been made of the coincidence.  However, apparently Holst always denied that he had had a premonition of the horrors of war that were to ensue.

Like many I am sure, I had assumed that the house in the middle of Thaxted, identified now by a blue plaque, was where he wrote The Planets. But, as the plaque confirms, he only moved into that house in 1917 after he had completed the work.  Before then, he rented what his daughter Imogen described as a ‘three-hundred-year-old cottage on the top of a hill…two miles from Thaxted’[1] in the small hamlet of Monk Street, which had been previously occupied by the writer S.L. Bensusan.  It was there that he wrote Mars.

Sadly, the cottage no longer exists but a photograph does exist of the interior (which you can see here) showing Holst’s wife Isobel sitting by the fire and possibly taken by Holst himself.  The grand piano also visible in the left foreground is recognizably the same as that which Holst bought for the cottage which now takes pride of place in the Holst birthplace museum at Cheltenham, with a score of The Planets placed on the music stand and a note claiming that it was composed on that piano.  Holst bought it because it had a very light action which suited his neuritis.

At the time, Holst called himself Von Holst as is confirmed by his entry in the 1911 census.  Imogen describes how he helped out with the music in the church and was affectionately called ‘our Mr. Von’ by singers in the church choir.  However, with the onset of the First World War, neighbours became suspicious of him walking around the district and asking questions about the history of the area.  He was reported to the local police who carried out an investigation under the terms of the Aliens Restriction Order; and you can read the outcome reported below in a book of police investigations of those with German associations (J/P 12/6, 1914-18) kept by the ERO.  Usefully, you can see that the book states his address at the time as ‘Hill House, Monk Street, Thaxted’.

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Holst later took steps to have ‘Von’ formally removed from his name and paid for a change in the deed poll.  However, ironically, as Imogen relates, he was not entitled to call himself ‘Von’ Holst in any case as the title was initiated as an affectation by his father in the 1880s to increase his kudos by advertising himself as a German music teacher.

As the cottage has disappeared, I thought I would try and find its exact location by carrying out a typical house-history search.

Imogen Holst described the cottage in a small pamphlet about her father and Thaxted published in 1974:

The cottage dated from 1614; it had a thatched roof, and open fire-places, and a wonderful view across meadows and willow trees to the church spire in the distance.[2]

The NW volume of the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments for Essex has an entry for such a cottage on the Dunmow Road, East side:

(37). Cottage, about 1½ m. S. by E. of the church, was built apparently in 1614, and has a modern wing at the back and a low modern addition at the N. end.  On the W. font are three gabled dormer windows; the middle window is dated 1614.

The map shows it to be located on the right going towards Thaxted just before the road bends to the left into the hamlet of Monk Street.

The cottage was owned by Bensusan, and this is confirmed on the 1910 Finance Act map based on OS 25″ 2nd ed. sheet XIV.16 (ERO reference A/R 1/3/14), which shows the cottage to be plot 743 (79 on OS map) with the ownership of Bensusan confirmed in pencil on the map; that is, the second cottage past the turning to Sibley’s Green to the South and just before the left bend into Monk Street to the North on the Thaxted road (now the B184).  The accompanying reference book (A/R 2/5/10) shows on pg. 72 that assessment no. 743 was a vacant cottage (extent 1/3 Rod) owned by Samuel Bensusan (of The Brick House, Gt Easton) in Monk Street.  This was the only cottage in Monk Street belonging to Bensusan.

Armed with the name of the cottage, I carried out a search on Seax for any other documentation that might survive about it and found two bundles of documents.  The first (D/F 35/8/308) concerned ‘Hill Cottage’, Monk St., which underwent repairs, including the thatch, in 1924.  It was leased to Mrs Kennedy and correspondence contained in an envelope dated 1924 referred to the ‘Monk St property belonging to S. L. Bensusan Esq.’.  The other bundle (D/F 35/8/342) includes an agreement between M. Kennedy and L. Mackinnon re. the let of Hill Cottage, Monk St. in 1926 which identifies the plot as No.79 on the OS map (see the 1879 edition below).

Holst's cottage Monk st - no 79

So, there can be little doubt that the cottage in which Holst worked on Mars, the bringer of war, just before the start of the First World War, was on the right just past the right turn to Sibley’s Green and before the road bends round the left.  The cottage was still there in 1948 according to 25″ OS map but by 1977 on the OS map TL 6128 it had disappeared, although the plot still seems to be intact despite road widening and the building of new by-pass to Monk Street, now a left turn off the road.



[1] Holst, Imogen (1938). Gustave Holst: a biography. London: Faber and Faber

[2] Holst, Imogen (1974). Gustav Holst and Thaxted. Thaxted: Thaxted bulletin (later published as a separate pamphlet)

What is a manor and what are manorial records?

Ahead of Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July, we begin a manorial mini-series exploring what these fascinating documents can tell us about Essex in the past. In this first post Archivist Katharine Schofield writes for us about what a manor actually was…

A manor was essentially a unit of land.  Manors were at the heart of the post-Norman Conquest feudal system whereby all land was owned by the King.  He rewarded his followers (or tenants-in-chief) by giving them land which they held in return for military service to the King.  They in turn rewarded their followers (or tenants) on the same basis.  At the bottom of the structure was the knight’s fee, the amount of land considered sufficient to finance the service of one knight.  Domesday Book, produced in 1086, shows the beginnings of this system and is arranged by manors rather than towns or villages.  It is for this reason that a number of places appear in it more than once.

Manors and parishes rarely coincided.  Domesday Book, for example, records three manors in the parish of Takeley, owned by Eudo Dapifer [the steward], Robert Gernon and the Priory of St. Valéry in Picardy.  By the time that the Revd. Philip Morant wrote The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex in 1768 there were four manors in the parish – Waltham Hall, Colchester Hall, St. Valerys or Warish Hall and Bassingborns which could trace their ownership back to the three Domesday manors.  Manors could also have land in a number of different parishes; for example, records of the manor of Berechurch or West Donyland in Colchester included property in Old Heath and on East Hill and St. John’s Green, all in other parishes.

The lord of the manor owned everything in and of the manor – the crops, animals, mineral, hunting and fishing rights and also the tenants, who could be bought and sold and who owed days of labour and items of produce to the lord.  The lord would either keep the land and farm it using the labour of his tenants or he would rent the land, retaining jurisdiction over it.

Among the earliest deeds in the Essex Record Office are a small number of early 13th century grants where named individuals, with their belongings and descendants, or chattels and issue [catallis et sequela – underlined in red below]), are sold or exchanged for land.

Grant by Thoby Priory of William le Beggere to Barking Abbey, c.1202-1201 (D/DP T1/1582). William had originally been purchased by the Priory from Robert de Saincler. In return for this grant, the abbey gave the priory land in Mountnessing.

 

As tenants were considered part of the property, the lord was also entitled to customary dues which would be paid as compensation for the loss of income that the tenant or members of his family would bring.  These included payments which were required when a son was sent to school or entered holy orders, as well as ‘merchet’ which was paid when a daughter married and ‘chevage’ paid to live the outside the manor.

The territorial rights of the lord over the tenants and their lands were enforced in the manorial court – the court baron.  Some, but not all, manorial lords also had jurisdiction over minor criminal matters in the court leet.

The rights of manorial lords did not change significantly over the centuries, but the nature of the manor did.  Some rights ceased to be exercised and others became more important.  It is estimated that the Black Death of 1348-1349 killed around a third of the national population and possibly as much as half of the population of East Anglia.  This ultimately led to lords being unable to find tenants willing to work the land as they had done previously, and the labour dues of tenants being commuted to rents or quit rents.  This, in turn, meant that records which commonly appeared in the early Middle Ages disappeared to be replaced with rentals.  Similarly by the 18th century the business of the manorial courts was mostly taken up with the admission and surrender of land by copyhold tenants.

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Manorial survey of Castle Hedingham by Israel Amyce, 1592. This survey book includes written descriptions of pieces of land illustrated with maps. (D/DMh M1)

The Manorial Documents Register (MDR) was established in 1926, the year after manorial landholding (copyhold) was abolished, to record the location of documents and ensure that they could be traced if they were required for legal purposes.  The two main types of manorial records listed by the MDR are:

  • Court records – court rolls, later books, estreat and suit rolls, stewards’ papers, admissions and surrenders
  • Assessment of land and financial records – surveys, extents, custumals, accounts (or compoti), rentals, and quit rents

As well as the records listed by the MDR, the Essex Record Office holds many deeds of copyhold properties and of the manors themselves.  Manorial titles remain and still retain some rights, including the extraction of minerals and fishing and any remaining rights must have been registered with the Land Registry before October 2013 if a lord intends to continue enforcing them.

Over the last few years, the ERO has been contributing to a major update to the Manorial Documents Register, improving the catalogue and getting information online to make these useful and fascinating documents more available to researchers. Even if you don’t want to attempt reading the earlier Latin documents, from 1733 they were kept in English, so there may well be information contained within them of interest to your research in family history, house history, or local history. Essex through the ages on 12 July marks the completion of our contribution to the project, and celebrates the improved accessibility of these records for researchers.

Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

ERO @ 75: The Open Day

Well, colour me exhausted!

After a thoroughly enjoyable Heritage Open Day on Saturday, I am sure you will forgive us a brief hiatus in the social media sphere. We all had a great time and we hope you did too. It was great to see so many people, roughly more than 500 came through the door by our closest estimates and every tour was packed. In fact, in the the end we had to lay on a few additional tours to ensure as many people could enjoy a guided tour of our searchroom or a visit to our conservation studio (from which one of my friends returned green with envy, saying “Some of the kit in there…fantastic!” He may have had too much blue icing though.

Our thanks must also go out to all our lovely volunteers without whom the day would not have been possible.

I thought I should share with you a few of the photos from the day, there are many more to follow.

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Lord Petre, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Councillor Kay Twitchen, Chairman of Essex County Council and Stephen Dixon, Archive Services Manager, cutting our 75th Anniversary cake.

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Could this be our smallest document?

D/DLu 17/6 is definately very small.

D/DLu 17/6 is definitely very small.

D/DLu 17/6 measures just 36 x 26 mm and is so small that we have had to construct a special folder to keep it safe and to make it harder to lose.

D/DLu 17/6 in its specially made folder.

D/DLu 17/6 in its specially made folder.

All wrapped up and ready to go back into storage. The larger folder certainly makes it easier to keep track of.

All wrapped up and ready to go back into storage. The larger folder certainly makes it easier to keep track of.

 D/DLu 17/6 is a tiny sketchbook created by Clarissa Sandford Bramston [née Trant] who was married to the Reverend John Bramston from 1832 (vicar of Great Baddow, 1830-40; vicar of Witham, 1840-72; Dean of Winchester, 1872-1883). It is impossible for us to know when the document itself was created other than to say it must have been created before 1844 when Clarissa died. Perhaps someone with a strong magnifying glass and an interest in Essex architecture may be able to suggest a date?

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Galleywood Chapel which pre-dated the church before it was a parish in its own right.

The sketches show several churches, chapels and houses of Essex and a rather attractive view of Danbury, all in a surprising amount of detail for its diminutive size.

A view of Danbury.

A view of Danbury.

Alongside this miniature sketchbook, Clarissa also left us several other documents of more reasonable size, including her journals and diaries running from 1800 right up until her death in 1844 and numerous other scrapbooks, recipes and items of correspondence, all of which are part of the Luard and Bramston deposit (catalogued as D/DLu).

Billericay High Street in 1950s photographs

We have recently had deposited with us a series of 146 photographs taken (for uncertain reasons) by the RAF of Billericay High Street in the 1950s (A13652 Box 1).

The High Street was systematically photographed, and the images include residences, local businesses, chain shops, pubs, and people. The full set of photographs can be ordered to view in the Searchroom, but you can see below for a few sneak previews.

42 High Street & 1-3 Chapel Street

42 High Street & 1-3 Chapel Street – Goodspeeds fish and caterers

61, 59 & 57 High Street

61, 59 & 57 High Street – E. Smith, family butcher

63 High Street

63 High Street – J.E. Morris, Off Licence

88 & 90 High Street

88 & 90 High Street, W.H. Iles Estates Ltd and Bata shoes

89 High Street

97-95 High Street

97-95 High Street – Essex County Library and Slade’s boot and shoe repairs

101 High Street

101 High Street – Woolworths