An Essex Record Office project to preserve the history and memories of former Marconi Company employees is to receive a grant of almost £100,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Part of Essex 2020, the project, Communicating Connections: Sharing the heritage of the Marconi Company’s wireless world, is to receive £93,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Further funding has come from Chelmsford City Council’s Essex 2020 fund and the Friends of Historic Essex.
Communicating Connections aims to preserve the memories of former employees and others involved with Marconi through oral history interviews recorded by volunteers. Founded by Guglielmo Marconi, the company is famous for making the first ever transatlantic wireless communication, which was received in Newfoundland, Canada. The company also made the first wireless entertainment broadcast in the UK (renowned opera singer Dame Nellie Melba performing on 15 June 1920), and its equipment was vital for communication systems at sea, allowing the rescue of hundreds of people from the RMS Titanic and the RMS Lusitania.
“To receive such a large grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is absolutely wonderful. This project will not only allow us to celebrate the rich history of the Marconi Company and its historical connections with Chelmsford but it will also provide an informative and educational experience for all of our residents and visitors.”
Cllr Susan Barker, Essex county council cabinet member for customer, communities, culture and corporate
Local residents and visitors will be able to learn more about Marconi, and the company’s connections to Chelmsford, via an audio trail app, while a selection from over 150,000 images at ERO and Chelmsford Museums will be digitised and made available to the public to go alongside the oral history interviews. Temporary exhibitions featuring the interviews and images will be held in the city centre and will be co-curated by a team of dedicated volunteers, with guidance from Chelmsford Museums.
The project will also give us the opportunity to make better use of existing material about the Marconi Company, such as this interview with Gerald Isted, who started working for the Company in 1923 (SA 24/825/1).
“Chelmsford City Museum are proud to partner with the Essex Record Office on the project. It fits perfectly with our mission to inspire residents and visitors to discover and explore Chelmsford’s stories through shared experiences. In this centenary year, it offers a landmark opportunity to foster the sense of civic pride local people have in our Marconi heritage and demonstrate how this legacy continues to influence our lives today.”
Dr Mark curteis, assistant museums manager at chelmsford city museum
“The archive is such an important local and national resource, as well as a great example of local science and creativity. Our Essex2020 funding panel were keen to support ERO’s ambition to make the archive accessible in new and creative ways. The panel were particularly supportive of the engagement of volunteers in the project and saw it as a strength that their voices and experiences would be represented.”
dr katie deverell, cultural partnerships manager at chelmsford city council and co-ordinator of chelmsford’s essex 2020 hub
Although the original project timetable is being delayed and altered due to COVID-19, keep an eye out for further announcements including opportunities to get involved with the project.
After a lot of work we are finally able to announce that the Essex Record Office, working alongside Ancestry.com have launched a new searchable index of the Essex parish registers. Searching for your Essex ancestors is now easier than ever!
In celebration of our new partnership with Ancestry.com, Edward Harris, Customer Service Team Lead, takes a look at some of the stories found in the pages of our parish registers. Read on for more information about what we have been working on with Ancestry.com.
The Parish Registers of England, containing as they do the records of baptisms, marriages and burials made by the Church of England are frequently the start and the backbone of a genealogist’s journey into family history. Prior to 1837 and the start of civil registration, they are essential for family history. Unfortunately they are all too often the end of that journey. When the next link cannot be made or one elusive great, great, great, great grandparent fails to materialise, it is usually normally the pages of a parish register that we are gazing at.
Despite the frustrations so many of us hardy researchers are well aware of, it cannot have escaped our notice that within this great national collection there are a countless stories. These stories provide snippets of the joys and sorrows of everyone, whether normal or extraordinary. They can be better than any soap opera but always tantalising because of what they often don’t tell us and the questions they can’t answer for us. We decided to take a retrospective look at some of the stories we have unearthed over the years at the Essex Record Office where a helpful curate or vicar has decided to provide us with a few extra snippits of information.
The parish burial register for St Mary the Virgin in Hatfield Broad Oak includes in its pages the sad and untimely death of 5 year old Betsy Rogers burnt to death, and two extraordinary marginal notes on that page give a clue as to how:
Feb.y 7. A frost of 7 weeks broke up today. Temperature 12° below freezing point! Many persons frozen to death. One at Gt Canfield, one at Sawbridgeworth.
The seat of Lord Rendlesham (Rendlesham Hall, Suffolk) burnt to the ground, damage = 100,000£; The seat of Lord Sandwich (Hinchinbroke, Huntingdonshire) also destroyed by fire with title deeds, fine pictures, etc.; The Argyle Rooms, Regent St, London also destroyed by fire. Lyceam also…All in Jan.y in Feb.y arising from the unusual heating of flues etc. in consequence of the uncommon severity of the season.
The register for Little Clacton contains a very sad and somewhat mysterious story dating from 1592, when a bride, Prudence Lambert, hanged herself the morning after her wedding to Clement Fenn.
Clement Fenn singleman, and Prudence the late wife of Nycholas Lambert, wch dwelt in Little Clacton Lodge; were maryed uppon Teusdaye [six], the xvth day of August; but the (most accursed creature), did the verye next morning, desperatelie hang her selfe, to the intolerable grieffe of her new maryed husband, and the dreadfull horror and astonishment of all the countrye.
Prudence’s burial is recorded two days later in the same register.
Prudence Fen, now the wife of Clem[e]nt Fen, and late the wife of the above named Nicholas Lambert; was buried out of the compas of Christian burial; in ye furthest syde of the churchyard northward; uppon the xviith daye of August; for that shee most accursedlie hanged her selfe.
A slightly happier story is found in the parish register from Ugley (one of Essex’s more esoteric place names) in 1759 which records the baptism of:
Anne daughter of John Grimshaw, a Sailor in the Dreadnought Man of War, & Jane his wife found in Labour in the Road, & taken care of by the Parish, was born June 27th & baptized July 7th
From these stories of life and death, to the sort of story that leaves family historians pulling out their hair in frustration.
In 1862 the baptism register for St Mary Magdalene in Harlow recorded the reason for its early closure. The registers had been removed from the church by the curate Revd William Raymond Scott who took them to Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands). The curate had travelled to accompany the new Bishop of Honolulu to the island, but also to chaperone 70 young women destined for a life in Australia.
The registers would survive a mutiny, make a brief stop at the Falkland islands and Australia before reaching Hawaii. Fortunately the registers did return to the church 2 years after leaving these shores and so are still available to researchers.
Fortunately, provided the register in question isn’t on a voyage around the world, searching the Essex parish registers is now easier than ever!
Since 2011, the Record Office’s service Essex Archives Online (www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk) has been making Church of England parish registers – and some other documents – available as digital images. Off-site, this works as a subscription scheme, offering various lengths of subscription between 1 day and 1 year. Some documents on the system, such as wills, come with their own name indexes, but the parish registers do not. Subscribers looking for a particular baptism, marriage or burial have often had to work through a whole parish year by year.
The ERO has now teamed up with Ancestry, the world’s largest online commercial family history website, to offer a new way to access the data. Ancestry have created a name index to the parish register images, and Ancestry users can click straight through from the index to Essex Archives Online in order to buy a copy of the indexed image. Images are emailed out automatically on payment; each one costs £2.99 including VAT.
Essex Archives Online expands as new registers are deposited, but currently it holds about 600,000 images of Anglican parish registers deposited either in the ERO itself or in Waltham Forest Archives. The registers cover the whole of the present county of Essex, including Southend and Thurrock – and also including parts of north-east London that used to be in Essex. Depending on the parish and the event in question, they cover the whole period from 1538 almost up to the present day. Ancestry’s new index covers all the baptisms up to 100 years ago; all the marriages up to 84 years ago; and all deposited burial registers, whatever their date.
For those with large family trees to discover the subscription option is still available, but for anyone who needs an image now and again the new system is easier, quicker and cheaper!
On this World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, our Sound Archivist Sarah-Joy Maddeaux shares news of a new collection of moving stories that have recently been added to the archive.
What does ‘home’ mean? What does it mean to be ‘British’? What does it mean to be Black in Britain? What can we learn from our elders? And what does all of this have to do with a Caribbean restaurant in Colchester?
We are delighted to announce that we have received, catalogued, and published the interviews created by Evewright Arts Foundation for their Caribbean Takeaway Takeover exhibition. From 2017 to 2018, artist Everton Wright (EVEWRIGHT), staff, and volunteers of his art foundation recorded oral history interviews with 10 elders who moved to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1940s to 1960s.
Last summer, on the on the weekend of the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush to Tilbury, Evewright ‘took over’ the S&S Caribbean Café in St Johns Street, Colchester, redecorating the walls and tables with pictures and documents relating to these elders’ lives. Ten-minute segments from their interviews played on a loop in the café, making the exhibition fully immersive. A number of community events encouraged engagement with the exhibition, and thereby with the incredible stories of these elders.
Detail of art installation at S&S Caribbean Café, 2018 (c) Evewright
The elders generously granted us permission to make their interviews freely available through our catalogue. Search for ‘EVEWRIGHT’ on Essex Archives Online, or type ‘SA 69’ in the ‘Document reference’ box to find all ten interviews.
One of the most exciting interviews is that with Alford Gardner. Now aged 92, he is one of the few remaining passengers who travelled on the SS Empire Windrush, the first ship to bring West Indians to settle in post-war Britain. His vivid description of life on board the ship gives an impression of a fun communal experience. His optimism for the future took time to realise, as he faced initial opposition when he tried to settle in Leeds. He was treated very differently in 1948 than when he had previously spent time there as part of the Royal Air Force.
Alford Gardner describes the struggle to find accommodation in Leeds in 1948 (SA 69/1/3/1).
As a collection, the interviews reveal a number of similarities in the elders’ experiences, but also some significant differences – factors that determined whether their move was overall a positive step, or a negative one which they came to regret.
As we might expect, many commented on adjusting to cold, wet England, and coming to appreciate the heating that required houses to have chimneys, which in the Caribbean only appeared on factories or bakeries.
Nell Green‘s first impression of the houses in England (SA 69/1/4/1).
Some recalled their first taste of fish and chips – but others were glad that they could access London markets to purchase the tastes of home, such as yams, tanier, dasheen, or plantain.
In the 1940s to 1960s, British people might have felt like they were being overwhelmed by new arrivals from the Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries, an impression heightened by unfair media portrayals and some politicians stoking fear. However, to the West Indians moving to Britain, black faces were all too scarce. Many interviewees described finding and socialising with other West Indians, particularly in London. Some women became adoptive mothers, inviting young people into their homes and cooking meals for them, helping them adjust to life in this strange, cold country. Was this because it was difficult to make friends with English people? Or was it because we naturally gravitate towards those who share our heritage, with whom we can feel ‘at home’ and recapture something of the country that we left behind?
Carol Sydney‘s social life as a young trainee nurse (SA 69/1/5/1)
Experiences depended, partly, on the financial position and status of the individuals before they moved. Life was easier for those who had money to spend on decent accommodation. Life was also easier if you already had family in England to support you, or if you found a job that you enjoyed and where you were treated with respect. In contrast, it was most difficult for the earliest migrants, the Black people trying to settle in the 1950s amidst Teddy Boy attacks and ‘No cats, no dogs, no Blacks’ signs. It became a little easier for those who arrived in the 1960s and beyond. Many Black people began purchasing their rented homes using a traditional saving scheme called Susu or Pardnor. This enabled them to become landlords to other Black people seeking rooms to rent.
Don Sydney explains the Susu saving scheme that allowed West Indians to support each other in saving up for accommodation and furnishings (SA 69/1/6/1).
Yet, sadly, racist treatment was a shared experience right through the time period covered in the interviews, reported to some extent by each elder.
Carlton Darrell was dismissive of these examples of prejudice against him (SA 69/1/2/1). Is this because he felt it was inevitable, or because he considered himself fortunate compared to others?
Did Britain ever become ‘home’? Yes and no. Some indicated that they still missed their ‘home country’ and wished they could return. Others alluded to a feeling that they were not ‘foreigners’ anymore, but neither were they fully British – even though, coming from Commonwealth countries, they were British subjects before they even set foot on England’s shores.
Carol Sydney reflects on what it means to be ‘British’ (SA 69/1/5/1).
Overall, most of the interviewees were pleased with how their lives had turned out. Does this reflect the type of person they were? That they took the initiative to move to England, the so-called ‘Promised Land’, in search of self-improvement and a better life? Even if they did not believe the ‘streets paved with gold’ promise, many mentioned that Britain did hold a promise of better education, better jobs, and better salaries. Did this proactive attitude make them more resilient, more likely to be happier with what they have accomplished?
Alton Watkins looks back with satisfaction on his life and his accomplishments (SA 69/1/8/1).
They certainly contributed to British society. In their work as nurses, teachers, and midwives, they helped produce the next generation of Britain’s workers. They paid taxes. They contributed to the economy. In retirement, they are volunteering in schools, sports clubs, and libraries.
However, even now, there is more that these elders can contribute. Most of the interviewees acknowledged a persistence of racist attitudes in Britain, some indicating that it is growing worse. Perhaps the interviews, and the exhibition that was held in the summer, will help in the battle to humanise migrants and demonstrate all that they have overcome in their lives.
In this year of the 70th anniversary of the Empire Windrush ship arriving in Tilbury; the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the National Health Service that partly prompted recruitment calls across the Commonwealth; this year of the Windrush scandal, we are grateful to Evewright Arts Foundation for capturing these individual stories that add meaning to national headlines.
Our You Are Hear Project Officer, Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, reflects on the listening bench tour that has been running for the last two years.
On Monday we moved one of the touring You Are Hear listening benches. For the last three months, it has been sitting outside the Guildhall in Finchingfield, a beautiful building lovingly restored and used as a hub for the community. It hosts the library, museum, and a number of classes and activities.
Touring listening bench when it was situated outside the Guildhall, Finchingfield
I selected audio for the bench that showcased aspects of the village history, such as information about straw plaiting, once a significant local industry. I also included clips of memories from village residents, taken from interviews recorded by the Guildhall and recently deposited with the Essex Sound and Video Archive (Acc. SA837).
Roger Guppy sharing memories of growing up in Finchingfield, from an oral history interview recorded by the Guildhall. Used with kind permission from the Guildhall.
I hope these insights into the past helped visitors more fully appreciate the rich heritage of the village, and of the Guildhall in particular.
Neil Banks at Stansted Airport being interviewed for BBC Look East in 2016
We have now delivered the bench to its final resting place, outside the METAL arts centre in Chalkwell Park, Southend-on-Sea (more information below). The tour has drawn to a close. In two years, this bench has visited eight locations, ranging from open spaces to shopping centres to Stansted Airport. There, it had its fifteen minutes of fame, when it was briefly featured on BBC Look East.
It has travelled more than 250 miles. The buttons have been pressed over 30,000 times. Around 150 children completed a quiz about the recordings while it was at Belfairs Woodland Centre. We have shared music, poetry, and memories from Essex people about Essex places. Recordings about the location, recordings to reflect the season, or recordings just because I like them and want to show them off.
The statistics show that we have accomplished one of our aims: thousands more people have listened to an Essex Sound and Video Archive recording than would have without the bench. But since we ‘drop and go’, leaving people to discover the bench, it is hard to measure any deeper impact.
I would like to think that the bench has made listeners look again at familiar sights. Did hearing a piece by Thomas Tallis while sitting within sight of where he was once an organist make people value the significance of Waltham Abbey Gardens?
The Walk Fair Singers and The Thameside Waits sing Thomas Tallis’ ‘O Nata Lux’ at New Hall, Boreham in 1993 (SA 1/1287/1, used by kind permission of BBC Essex).
Did the programme about the opening of Stansted Airport’s second runway show how far this busy gateway to Essex has come since its humble beginnings? Did listening to an account of travelling salesmen delivering clothes make shoppers think again about their experience at Lakeside Shopping Centre?
I would also like to think that the bench has taught listeners something new: whether they are visitors to the area or have lived nearby all their lives. For instance, did you know that over 30 species of butterfly have been spotted at Belfairs Woodland Centre, including some of the rarest in the country? Or that Raphael Park has been a public park for over 100 years, with origins as part of a private estate dating back to Saxon times?
Touring listening bench in Raphael Park. Copyright Jade Hunter.
So, have we accomplished one of the bigger aims of the project? Have we made people rethink the sounds that are around them – the changing accents, the sounds of nature blended with human noise? And have we made people think twice about this diverse, much maligned county based on the sounds that they hear?
We hope that we have – but we would love to hear it from you directly. Have you used our touring bench at any of its venues? Did you have a favourite clip? What did you think of it? Please comment below, e-mail us, or complete a short survey about the project to give us your thoughts.
METAL is an arts organisation with a base at Chalkwell Hall, Chalkwell Park, Southend-on-Sea. This provides space for artist residencies, as well as for a variety of classes and workshops. The listening bench will be incorporated into their NetPark project, aiming to improve well-being by engaging with digital arts in an open setting. Find out more on their website.
Our other touring listening bench will remain at Weald Country Park for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile our touring audio-video kiosks are approaching the end of their tours also: it’s your last chance to catch them at the Cater Museum in Billericay or Rayleigh Town Museum.
Our You Are Hearproject Sound and Video Digitiser, Catherine Norris, reflects on sound and why it matters ahead of our ‘Sounds in the City’ event on Friday 27 October 2017.
I’ve always been slightly obsessed with sound since I was very young. My very first bedroom growing up was positioned at the back of the house and the view from my window looked out onto a street lamp. One night I heard a buzzing sound and I thought it was in my room. I would have only been four or five years old but I distinctly remember checking under the bed and in the wardrobe as I was convinced there was a giant buzzing monster in there.
I then saw the light of the lamp and walked towards the window and realised that it was the lamp making the noise; it was hypnotising. Years later when training to be a sound engineer and learning about acoustics, I realised why I heard what I did and why it appeared to be such a strong sound.
The sound that I heard was affected by the environment it was being captured in. The fact that it was night time, that there was no traffic and no one walking around, the open casing around the lamp and the location would have all had an impact on the sound and amplified it.
There are many factors in play as to why we hear what we hear, and how and why the sounds around us change depending on what the environment is like and what else is happening within it.
I love how the outside of buildings can affect what we hear because of their shape and size, what they are made out of and how they can be a sound barrier. I also really like the contrast between man-made and natural sounds and how they can mix together.
Weather, traffic, wildlife and people all add to the soundscape we hear on a daily basis. But with many of us just rushing to get from A to B it is as if we tune out of what we could be listening to. This is a shame because there is so much out there to hear and discover.
Just over a year ago, as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project at the Essex Record Office, we launched the Essex Sounds map, made up of old and new sounds captured in Essex. This got me thinking about what else we could do to create sounds, which then led on to the idea of doing a sound walk somewhere in Essex. The sound walk would be a way of encouraging people to collect sounds and create their very own soundscapes.
This idea has now grown into a fully-fledged event taking place in the city of Chelmsford on Friday the 27th of October 2017, as part of the Ideas Festival and the Art of the Possible Festival. Chelmsford is a city that is forever changing and in soundscape terms is very interesting. It’s mixture of historic and modern buildings, nature and busy streets makes it the ideal place for a walk of this kind.
The morning session will include a talk on recording soundscapes, then the sound walk around parts of Chelmsford. During the sound walk we will be recording sounds at specific locations, with myself leading the walk and providing advice on recording techniques and acoustics and how to create the best recordings.
The afternoon session will include learning the basics of editing sound recordings with specialist software at the Essex Record Office.
You don’t need to have any previous experience with recording to come on the walk as training will be given throughout the event. We will also provide recording equipment to those not bringing their own. All you need to have is a passion or interest in sound (and suitable footwear!).
It’s going to be a very interesting event, and I’m looking forward to listening to all the sounds that get recorded on the day.
Date and time: Friday 27 October, 10.00am-4:30pm Price: £20 Location: Meet at the Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT
This was a phrase used by legendary wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson in a keynote address delivered at the Sound+Environment Conference hosted by the University of Hull in June 2017. He used it in his narration of his personal journey into his career as a sound recordist, and it struck a chord. Have you ever experienced a moment where the soundscape was so startling, unexpected, beautiful, quiet, or loud that it opened your ears and heightened your awareness of the sounds around you?
The Essex Sounds audio map, developed as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, could provide moments like that. Although you can listen to sounds recorded across the county from an enclosed, familiar location, browsing the Web at home or in a library, we hope it will spur you on to take greater notice of the sounds of your Essex in your daily routine: whether natural or man-made; everyday or unusual; familiar or unidentified. Do the sounds on the map reflect your own experiences, or does your Essex sound very different?
The free app version of Essex Sounds (available from Google Play or Apple IStore) allows more direct comparisons between the sounds on the map and present moment experiences. Travel to the location of one of our historic recordings from the Archive; play the sound; then take a few moments to listen to the present-day soundscapes. What are the similarities and differences? Is one quieter or louder? What does that tell us about broader changes in Essex?
The Sound+Environment Conference was full of presentations on how to encourage active listening. We learn to filter sounds because our atmospheres are so noisy. We tune into the sounds that we like (a loved one’s voice, the music coming through our headphones) or that give us important information (alarms, tannoy announcements) while ignoring those we do not (traffic, the music coming from other people’s headphones). But sometimes, it is enlightening to open our ears, notice the full range of noises around us, and contemplate what those sounds tell us about our environment.
The Conference was truly interdisciplinarian – there were even one or two other archivists in attendance. Many of the presenters were involved in acoustic ecology: judging the health of ecosystems based on the sounds that they make. For example, Dr Leah Barclay’s River Listening project seeks to collect data from hydrophones placed in rivers across the globe. What can the sounds tell us about the diversity of the ecosystems, and what, in turn, does that tell us about the condition of the water? Many presenters, like Stuart Bowditch who co-presented our paper on Essex Sounds, were sound artists: using varying combinations of field recordings, musical instruments, and technology to capture, mix, and remix soundscapes to make an artistic statement. Others were interested in merging the two disciplines to strengthen the field of ‘ecological sound art’ (as argued by Jono Gilmurray). The power of sound can move us to respond, initiating the culture change that ecologists warn is vital if we are to preserve ecosystems threatened by our current way of life.
For example, how do you feel after listening to the pounding sea in Stuart’s recording made at Bradwell-on-Sea?
Looking out over the sea from Bradwell-on-Sea
Or after hearing the number of peaceful recordings interrupted by aeroplanes rumbling overhead? Or after attentively listening to the baby owls in Joyce Winmill’s 1974 recording in Henham churchyard, an eavesdropping through time made possible by the simple technology of a microphone and tape recorder?
How does this make you feel about your Essex, how it has changed, and how it might change? What do you want your future Essex to sound like, and how do you make that happen?
Perhaps we think it is only far-flung landscapes like the Arctic Tundra or the depths of the oceans that demonstrate the majesty of nature which we must preserve. If you are thinking along those lines, stop what you are doing and open a window. Wait. Listen. What sounds do you hear? Essex Sounds is full of birdsong: some, yes, recorded in secluded environments such as wildlife reserves, but some just captured in towns, in the midst of our everyday lives.
This, too, is nature that might have changed and might change in future.
Neither is it just natural sounds that indicate change over time. Changing human activity is also evident on our sound map. Some industries have only moved. Others have largely disappeared, machinery laid to rest in museums, only resurrected for special events.
Perhaps you can identify with this collection of ‘lost sounds of Essex’, collected in 2015 when we asked people which sounds they no longer hear (Word Cloud created at Wordle.net).
What other changes become apparent from playing with Essex Sounds? Is there some vital sound that is missing from the map? Please help us make it more representative by adding your own contributions. Or perhaps you are a sound artist inspired by our collection of historic and modern sounds. We would love to hear ideas about how we can reuse these sounds and present them in new ways.
But above all, please take time to listen to the present-day Essex. Wake up five minutes earlier to allow time to listen before you start your day. Pause in your commute. Think again before popping on headphones. Close your eyes and open your ears.
Would you be interested in a sound walk event around Essex, which would incorporate an introduction into active listening, making sound recordings, and editing the results? We are running a survey to gauge interest in such an event. Please let us know what you think, and you could win a discount on the ticket price.
As part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, we are working with volunteers to install listening benches across Essex. These solar-powered park benches play clips of recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive, recordings chosen and put together by our volunteers. The listening bench for Coggeshall was successfully unveiled on Tuesday 11 July. Each listening bench launch has its own character, but this was the first to include a poetry recital in honour of the bench! We loved the poem so much that we wanted to reprint it, with an introduction by another volunteer to explain how the Coggeshall bench came about.
Miall James writes:
Back in January I went into the Coggeshall Library, and one of the staff asked me if I knew anyone who’d be interested in setting up a Listening Bench. So I asked what it was, was told, and said, OK, I’ll give it a go. I recruited my friend Nic Johnson, a well known, if fairly new in Coggeshall terms, local resident, and together we enlisted the aid of two more, thought that was enough and presented ourselves to the Essex Record Office.
Volunteers who worked on Coggeshall’s listening bench (L-R: Michael Horne, Nic Johnson, Miall James, Stan Haines (who opened the bench), and Sylvie Overnell).
One of the two was Michael Horne, a well-known local historian and poet (and Lord of the Manor of Little Coggeshall), who in fact wrote some of what finally went onto the bench; the other was Sylvie Overnell, a retired local teacher, with local contacts. We looked at what was required, divided up the work and got on with it. There were no arguments; we discussed what to do, agreed and got on with it. Indeed it’s wonderful what can be done if no one’s bothered about who gets the credit! Finally, after about five months’ work we were ready, and the bench was ready for use.
Miall James with Stan Haines officially ‘opening’ Coggeshall’s listening bench
We recruited Stan Haines, who has lived in the town most of his life, and was Chairman of the Parish Council for 48 years, to officiate at the opening.
The only thing that went wrong was the weather on the day, which wasn’t as kind as it might have been!
We’ve had some very good feedback, and we feel that, with a little fine-tuning, our Listening Bench will be something our fellow citizens can enjoy for many years to come.
Michael Horne’s poem composed for the occasion
A Poem Upon the Ceremonial Opening of Coggeshall’s Listening Bench at Doubleday Corner 11 July 2017
Michael Horne reciting his poem
On this occasion so polite,
I can do nothing but endite
A hymn of praise, with joy intense,
To Coggeshall’s newborn Listening Bench.
We’ll take upon us, even now,
An eleemosynary vow
To set up Peace, Goodwill and Sense
Upon our worthy Listening Bench.
The stories that we now can hear
Bring memories back that are so dear
To all who’ve taken up residence
Near Coggeshall’s stalwart Listening Bench.
They speak of pubs and crafts and trades
From days of yore, of men and maids
Who gave our town its eminence,
Preserved now on the Listening Bench.
In times of great austerities,
With caps on pay and a pension squeeze,
When fiscal stocks we must retrench,
We’ll still possess our Listening Bench.
People will come this bench to view
Both in and outside the EU,
And accents Dutch, Peruvian, French
Will echo from our Listening Bench.
So men may come and men may go,
Enslaved by Time’s incessant flow,
But anything of permanence
Will stay within our Listening Bench.
And now I’ll cease these paltry rhymes
Unworthy of these glorious times,
Let’s shout instead, with Power Immense,
Three cheers for Coggeshall’s Listening Bench!
Check our website for details of further listening bench launches, and to keep track of our two touring benches. Can you visit them all?
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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)
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)
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.
This autumn will see an exciting new development for us as we welcome a new member of our team, who just happens to be over 3,000 miles away.
Linda MacIver at Boston Public Library during Neil and Allyson’s visit last summer
Linda MacIver will be working for us based in Boston, Massachusetts, to help people in New England who want to trace their English, and especially Essex, ancestors. Linda has many years of experience as both a librarian and as a teacher of local history and genealogy, so we are excited that she will be working with us.
Linda will be available to give talks and attend genealogy fairs (and anything else you might want to invite her to!). She will be introducing people to the historical documents from our collection which can be accessed online anywhere in the world through our subscription service, and to talk about some of the connections between Essex and New England.
We first met Linda last summer when two of our number, Neil Wiffen and Allyson Lewis, paid a flying visit to Boston to meet American researchers who use our collections. Linda was then working at Boston Public Library, one of the venues Neil and Allyson gave a talk, and it was from that visit that the idea of her being our representative in New England emerged.
As has become traditional with new members of our team, we thought we would get to know Linda a little better:
Hello Linda, tell us a bit about yourself.
My professional career started as a high school teacher of U.S. and Modern European History. Unexpectedly I was recruited to serve as the school librarian and my career would take a “librarian train ride” through stops in academic, corporate and, finally, a public library with research library status, one of only two such public libraries in the U.S., New York and Boston. That move brought all of my intellectual background together, using subject expertise in business and social sciences areas, as a frontline librarian and as a researcher. It was my original interest in history that turned my attention to local history and, finally, family history. For the past five years I have developed the Library’s genealogy program, not only through two very successful lecture series, but by teaching genealogy classes for our patrons, bringing me back full circle to my teaching roots.
What is your favourite period of history?
As a teen I was enthralled with ancient history and the rise of civilization, partly because I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist and partly because I had great teacher in the subject. Then I took Modern European History and had another great teacher. Both had taught with the Socratic method, making us think through the reasons that caused cultural development and change. This critical thinking process made history come alive. As a young teacher myself, I started travelling, mostly to England a baker’s dozen times. London became my home away from home, and my favourite period became the evolution of the constitutional monarchy and democratic movements in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Do you know if you have English Ancestors yourself?
From my “Mac” name, we know I have mainly Scottish and Irish DNA. Historically, the MacIvers left Uig in the Hebrides in the early 1800’s for Quebec province, my direct line crossing the border to northern New Hampshire just before 1900. My maternal heritage is Anglo-Saxon. Today the surname is Arlin, deriving from Harland or Hoarland. Family folklore says we come from the Great Migration immigrant George Harland of Virginia, but I have yet to make the connection. It is more likely that I do, in fact, have Essex connections since the 1891 census actually finds more Arlins in Essex and Suffolk than in any other part of England! My English connections are many: one of my favourite spots in the world is Salisbury Cathedral; I spent a summer in England studying the “History of the Book” and visiting many English libraries and printers; and I was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, the “Manchester of America.”
How are you going to be helping people in New England discover their English and Essex ancestors?
It is no secret that there is great interest for New Englanders to make connections to their English roots. Neil and Allyson’s whirlwind visit last year was proof of that. I hope to further encourage that interest by bringing them news of the ways they can make those connections as I lecture around the region, exhibit at genealogy conferences and perhaps even do some “hands on” training of the free and subscription services of ERO.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Actually, what I do outside of work is quite similar to what I do for work. Working on my own family history can sometimes be a rare event since I am so often working on others or teaching them how to research. I hope to do more of my own. I am also Secretary of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council. In the fall I will start to volunteer at the Boston Registry where I will be surrounded by Boston civil records from the 1600s on. Not quite as old as some of ERO’s holdings, but impressive from this side of the pond. Otherwise, from Boston, one MUST BE a sports addict! We tend to live and die with our teams; for me especially the Red Sox and New England Patriots. But I am fortunate to live in one of the cultural meccas of the world and enjoy the Boston Symphony and Pops, musical theatre, and folk and “Big Band” concerts.
If you are in the Boston, Massachusetts area and would like to book Linda for a talk on Tracing Your English Ancestors, get in touch with us on email@example.com