Conserving Essex’s past: Saffron Walden on the Map

In the days when you can carry a device in your pocket which can access not only a map of the whole globe but satellite images of the earth’s surface, it is hard to imagine life without easy access to accurate maps.

Historic maps are fascinating and often beautiful documents, and the Essex Record Office holds many maps which help us to tell the story of our county’s past. Some of these maps have been well treated and survive today in good condition, perhaps a little faded and worn but largely complete. Others, however, have not been quite so lucky.

Regular readers may remember that in spring 2012, a dirty, tattered piece of parchment was found in a farm outbuilding in Wendons Ambo, near Saffron Walden. Upon unrolling it, it was discovered to be a map of the historic town ofSaffron Walden, dating to 1757. This makes it the earliest known map of the town. This is a very special find, showing in great detail the historic centre of Saffron Walden, much of which survives today.

Before conservation work. The map was brittle, dark, mouldy, and peppered with small tears and holes.

Before conservation work. The map was brittle, dark, mouldy, and peppered with small tears and holes.

The map was made by Edward John Eyre, whose slightly later, larger 1758 map of the area around the town may well already be familiar to Saffron Walden residents. It is likely that both maps were commissioned by Elizabeth Countess ofPortsmouthor her nephew, Sir John Griffin Griffin, who inherited part of the nearby estate of Audley End. 

In June 2012 the map was transferred on permanent loan to the Essex Record Office for conservation work and storage. Despite the degree of damage it has suffered, the hand-drawn streets and buildings are still remarkably clear. Since the map arrived at ERO, our expert conservators have worked to stabilise the map to prevent any further deterioration, and have made any repairs possible. 

During conservation work. As part of the conservation work the map was stretched out after being humidified. This looks alarming but it mimics the original treatment process the parchment went through when new.

During conservation work. As part of the conservation work the map was stretched out after being humidified. This looks alarming but it mimics the original treatment process the parchment went through when new.

After months of painstaking effort, the conservation work is now complete, and the map is due to make a special one-day visit to its home town for local people to come and see it.

For your opportunity to see the original map and to find out more about its conservation, come to Saffron Walden on the Map at Saffron Walden Town Hall on Saturday 16 March, 10.30am-3.30pm, were ERO Senior Conservator Tony King will be talking about his work. There will also be talks from other experts about historic maps and how they were made. You can download a programme for the day here.

After conservation work. The map is still very dark due to the layer of discoloured varnish which cannot be removed, but it has been flattened and tears and holes filled in. Despite the damage it has suffered, the outlines of the streets and buildings are remarkably clear.

After conservation work. The map is still very dark due to the layer of discoloured varnish which cannot be removed, but it has been flattened and tears and holes filled in. Despite the damage it has suffered, the outlines of the streets and buildings are remarkably clear.

The return of Sargant Wilson: deeds in family history

Archives Assistant Edd Harris blogs for us about just a few of the things family historians can learn from property deeds…

Do you remember our friend Sargant Wilson? At the beginning of October we discovered his marriage licence which told us that in 1834 at the age of 60 he married Karenhappuch Morgan, ten years his junior. We have come across the couple again although unfortunately in less happy times.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

This document is an admission onto copy hold land (D/DCf M73). This is a type of land holding used when land is part of a Manor. The people who hold land from the Manor are recorded in the Manor Court Roll along with any payments or rents that they are due to pay as well as a description of the land and its previous owners. The new landholders are then provided with a copy of that entry in the Court Roll, hence the name ‘copy hold’.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

In the recitals of this particular example from Southminster in 1844 (ten years after his marriage) we are told that Sargant Wilson has died. The land that he held has been passed back (surrendered) to the Manor. The admission then goes on to say that Sargant Wilson left the land to his wife by his will which is quoted at length, describing the property and revealing that it was bequeathed to him by his former wife Dorothy and that he had a son who predeceased him.  It goes on to admit his second wife Karenhappuch onto the land in his place and collects a fine or payment for doing this.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

This just goes to show that family history can move far beyond the usual records of births, marriages and deaths. We now know that Sargant Wilson had a previous marriage to a Dorothy with whom he had a son, he had written a will, held land in the Manor of Southminster and we have a rough date for his death, all from one document.

You can search for deeds on Seax by the name of a person or property. Not all deeds are catalogued to this level of detail however, in which case manorial court rolls may be helpful. These records can be challenging, but as we have seen in the case of Sargant Wilson they can also be extremely rewarding, not only for family history but for house history and local history too. If you would like any further advice, then talk to ERO staff in the Searchroom, e-mail us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk, or telephone 01234 244644.