Where there’s a will, there’s often an archaic word!

Chris Lambert, ERO Archivist

The ERO’s collection of wills, stretching from 1400 up to 1858, is widely used by family historians, but also by those trying to get closer to our ancestors’ material lives and their mental worlds. In particular, wills can tell us about the language that they used. A query from our friends at the Oxford English Dictionary recently brought this example to our attention.

One page of Black ink on paper, secretary hand, sentence concerning temes loaf outlined in black

Will of Thomas Leffyngwell of Pebmarsh (catalogue ref: D/ABW 23/83)

It comes from the will of a man from Pebmarsh called Thomas Leffyngwell, made in January 1553 when he was sick and probably close to death (will reference D/ABW 23/83). Having made over his landed property to his two sons, his main concern was to provide for his wife Isabel. The two were to pay her, in quarterly instalments, a pension of £1 6s.8d. (half each), and to provide her with food, drink, clothing, a room called ‘the nether chamber’ with a bed, and a cow that they were to keep fed, winter and summer. And then, as if thinking that perhaps more detail was needed:

‘… Item I wyll that myne executores shall / delyuer unto Osbell my wyffe wekely one pote wythe ale off too galons & a [word struck through] / Temes loffe wythe a chese as often as nede shall requyre …’

Close up of manuscript. Black ink on paper, secretary hand, sentence concerning temes loaf outlined in black

Close-up of the section of the Will of Thomas Leffyngwell concerning “Temes loffe”. Right-click the image and open in a new tab to see an enlarged copy

All perfectly clear, except just possibly that bit about ‘a temes loffe’. ‘Loffe’ is easy enough if you give it a long ‘o’, but ‘temes’ may puzzle you as it certainly did us. It turns out that this is the earliest known reference to a ‘temse loaf’, meaning ‘a loaf made of finely sifted flour’. To temse, you see, was to sift, and a temse was a type of sieve, especially as used for bolting meal. A ‘temse loaf’, therefore, was one of several contemporary expressions for a better sort of bread – a class distinction as well as a culinary one, even in the 1500s.

The word temse itself, of Anglo-Saxon origin, survived into the 20th century, although seemingly restricted latterly to the brewing industry. The burial register from Pebmarsh unfortunately did not, and so we do not know whether Isabel lived to enjoy her ration of bread, cheese and ale. One can only hope that Thomas’s careful instructions were useful to her as well as to the makers of dictionaries.

What on earth is a Seax – Essex Day 2023

Image

The 26th October is the feast day of St Cedd, it is also Essex Day. Over on our social media we have taken you on a treasure trail of where you can find Seaxes here at the Essex Record Office. The three Seaxes will be familiar to many Essex residents as part of the logo for Essex County Council and on a red background, as their Coat of Arms. But what is a Seax and why has Essex taken it as their symbol? Customer Service Team Lead, Edward Harris delves deeper.

Essex County Council was first granted it’s Coat of Arms by the College of Arms on the 15th July 1932 comprising:

Essex Coat of ArmsGules, three Seaxes fessewise in pale Argent, pomels and hilts Or, pointed to the sinister and cutting edges upwards.

 

The somewhat archaic terms used by the College of Arms can be translated to:

Red, three Seaxes horizontal in pale silver, pommels and hilts gold, pointed to the viewers right with cutting edges upwards.

So now we know what the official Coat of Arms should look like, but we are still not given any clues as to the origin of the name Seax for the bladed weapons shown on the Coat of Arms.

The seax, (or scramasax as it is more usually called by archaeologists) is a weapon used by the Anglo-Saxon people who had displaced, at least culturally the Romano-British inhabitants of the British Isles in the 5th and 6th Centuries. The earliest evidence for the use of a Seax is from the mid 5th Century, though they would still see use in one form or another into the late 13th Century. The term Seax covers a whole family of germanic blades which varied widely in size and shape. The Anglo-Saxons widely used the distinctive broken back seax which varied in length from 30″ to as short as a few inches and, for most, it was probably a utility or defensive knife rather than a weapon of war.

Iron seax, with a straight cutting edge and sharply angled back, the tang offset from the blade.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

It is from the Saxons that the County of Essex (along with the Ancient County of Middlesex) takes its name. The Boundary of Essex still resembles that of the Saxon Kingdom of Eastseaxe. And it is from this Saxon heritage that Essex adopted the seax as it’s symbol.

The Coat of Arms itself was in regular use well before the grant from the College of Arms in 1932 albeit unofficially. It is likely that the Arms were first assigned to the Saxon Kings of Essex by the more romantic minds of the Late 16th and early 17th Century, as the heraldry in any recognisable sense would not exist until the 12th Century.

One of the earliest mentions of a coat of arms is by Richard Verstegan who writes in 1605 of the East Saxons having two types of weapon, one long and one short. The latter being worn “privately hanging under their long-skirted coats” and “of this kind of hand-seax Erkenwyne King of the East Saxons did bear for his arms, three argent, in a field gules”

Peter Milman’s History of Essex 1771 (LIB/942.67 MUI1-6)

By the 18th Century the use of the Arms seems commonplace, in 1770, Peter Muilman published the first volume of his History of Essex. The frontispiece shows a shield with the three seaxes although with an unfamiliar shape.

The Plans for the building of the Shire Hall in Chelmsford drawn up in 1788 (Q/AS 1/1) clearly show the Seaxes emblazoned on its neo-classical portico. These wouldn’t form a part of the final design though with this space being blank in an engraving from 1795 (I/Mb 74/1/59) shortly after the building’s completion. It now houses a clock.

[You can find about more about the history of Shire Hall on our blog  – ed]

John Johnson plans for Shire Hall 1788 (Q/AS 1/1)

Engraving of Shire Hall shortly after it’s opening 1795 (I/Mb 74/1/59)

The seaxes on a red field would make numerous other appearances, among them: the Essex Equitable Insurance companies fire plate from around 1802; the Essex Local Militia ensign formed in 1809 and the Chelmsford Gazette in 1822. It appears on the cap badge of Essex Police and who remembers the single seax that appeared on the original logo for BBC Essex way back in 1986?

BBC Essex logo from 1986

The shape of the seax on Coats of Arms has led to confusion and myth. As you can see from the examples here, the shape of the Seax changes with use, the notched back of the weapon may simply be to distinguish it from a scimitar for which it is often mistaken. The notch itself has gained a myth all of its own. To many people the notch exists so that the Saxons could hook their Seax over the cap-rail of an enemy longboat to haul it closer.  This sounds rather difficult to achieve, but also to justify, given that the notch doesn’t appear on any of the real world weapons categorised as Seaxes.

The Coat of Arms of Essex

Either way, the Essex Coat of Arms remains an enigmatic and iconic link to our county’s Saxon past.

I owe much of the information that I have garnered from the excellent pamphlet ‘The Coat of Arms of The County of Essex’ produced by F.W. Steer, an Archivist at Essex Record Office ,in 1949 (LIB/929.6 STE) which is well worth a read on your next visit.

Just who is St Cedd? Essex Day 2023

The 26th October is St Cedd’s day. It is also known as Essex Day as St Cedd is Essex’s very own patron saint. Bur who is St Cedd? And why is he held in such high esteem in Essex? Archive Assistant, Robert Lee takes a look at the life of St Cedd.

St Cedd – A Hagiography

Icon of St Cedd

Cedd’s life began in the Kingdom of Northumbria under the tutelage of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne. The oldest of four brothers (Chad, Cynibil & Caelin), Cedd in particular would be unwavering to the Celtic Rite imbued to him by Aidan. Cedd’s introduction to Christianity was anti-diocesan: not liturgical and parochial, but peripatetic and abstinent. In one of very few sources on Cedd, the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, emphasis is made on both Cedd and Chad’s devotion to Saint Aidan; such that four years after Aidan’s death in 651, Cedd is said to have been consecrated by the hands of his successor, Saint Finan of Lindisfarne.

Cedd’s reputation in Christendom had much to do with his proselytizing. In 653, at the behest of King Oswiu of Northumbria, Cedd journeyed into the Midlands with three other priests in order to evangelise the “Middle Angles”: an ethnic group predominantly living in Mercia. By Bede’s account, Cedd was greatly persuasive, with masses coming forward to listen to his preaching and receive baptism. Cedd’s enthusiasm would even sway the opinion of King Penda of Mercia, a long committed pagan. Later in the same year, Cedd would be recalled from Mercia and sent into Essex to aid King Sigeberht of the East Saxons. Again Cedd’s evangelism was highly successful, and Essex was thoroughly Christianised. For his efforts Cedd was ordained Bishop of the East Saxons.

Cedd attended the Synod of Whitby in 664 as a vigilant mediator between Iona (followers of the Celtic Rite) and those who followed the Roman Rite. Roman missionaries were arguing for their own computation of the calendar day of Easter, to which the predominantly Celtic northern English initially disagreed. Uncharacteristically, Cedd was won over by the catholic system, and converted to the Alexandrian computus of Easter Sunday. Following the Synod, Cedd returned to Northumbria to supervise the foundation of a monastery, but the Kingdom had been overwhelmed by the yellow plague, which would bring about Cedd’s death.

St Peters-on-the-wall in November with clear skies

St Peters-on-the-wall in November (Copyright Edward Harris)

Perhaps appropriately, Cedd is remembered far more for his itinerant sainthood than for government of the East Saxon Church. The chapel of Saint-Peter-on-the-Wall in Bradwell-on-Sea is said to have been built by Saint Cedd after his ordination. Having gone through several phases of disuse and ruination, the chapel still stands as testimony to Cedd; to God’s glory and the humility of man.

His role in converting the East Saxons and role as their bishop is the reason that Essex now claims Cedd as their patron saint.

If you would like to visit the Chapel of St Peter yourself it can be reached by taking East End Road from the brick built church in Bradwell-on-Sea for about one and a half miles, until you can see the carpark ahead of you, from there it is a ten minute walk to the Chapel. It is open all year and is well worth a visit!

Solanum Lycoperiscum – the tomato

The home-grown tomato season is coming to an end and to mark this, ERO Archive Assistant and vegetable patch correspondent Neil Wiffen, delves into the history of the tomato.

Tomatoes in season are one of the joys of summer, especially if you can grow your own which, warm from the greenhouse, are a delight to eat. In our modern world they are available all year round, but this is a rather recent phenomenon, as with so many of our salad and soft fruit crops. It’s really only in the last 40 or so years that they have become such staple fare for before that, the cost of heating greenhouses was such that they were really just another seasonal crop which came on during the summer. It has a fascinating history.

A (concrete – but that’s another story!) greenhouse in Broomfield full of tomatoes, possibly the variety Moneymaker c.1980. (Reproduced by courtesy of N. Wiffen)

A (concrete – but that’s another story!) greenhouse in Broomfield full of tomatoes, possibly the variety Moneymaker c.1980. (Reproduced by courtesy of N. Wiffen)

The tomato, which is really a fruit, originates in South America, back to at least the eight century, and its name derives from two Nahuatl words for ‘swelling fruit’ – xitomatl and centtomati. It arrived in Europe sometime in the mid-sixteenth century where it was known in Italy as pomi d’oro (golden apple), with the first English reference being recorded in 1578. Several names were recorded by this stage including Poma Amoris and pommes d’amour – the love apple. It is likely that this was a corruption of an earlier name, possible the Spanish pome dei Moro, the ‘apple of the Moors’ (T. Musgrave, Heritage Fruits & Vegetables (London, 2012), p.120). Philip Miller, writing in the early eighteenth century (P. Miller, The Gardeners Dictionary (London, 1731): ERO, D/DU 588/1) called them Love-Apples, a name which was still in use, although now subordinate to ‘tomato’, when Mrs Beeton was writing in the mid-nineteenth century (I.M. Beeton, The Book of Household Management (London, 1861, p.252). At the end of that century, it was still listed thus by Cramphorns in their catalogue of 1898 (ERO, A10506 Box 7).

Title page of Philip Miller’s Gardeners Dictionary. (ERO, D/DU 588/1)

Title page of Philip Miller’s Gardeners Dictionary. (ERO, D/DU 588/1)

The tomato didn’t get off to a flying start as it was treated with suspicion, it being related, along with the potato and aubergine, to the poisonous deadly nightshade.

It took until the later nineteenth century to become more acceptable, which might have had something to do with the spread of greenhouses from the big country houses to more general growers. Tomatoes will grow outside in our climate but growing them in greenhouse will give a much better chance of successful harvest and fuller flavoured fruits.

It might also have had something to do with the Victorian mania for growing and propagating all sorts of fruits and vegetables, along with the proliferation of magazines and newspapers related to gardening which helped to spread information about new ideas and new plants, while the postal and railway systems allowed seedsmen and nursery gardeners to easily send catalogues and packets of seeds throughout the country.

The tomato varieties sold by Cramphorns in 1898, including the Dedham Favourite. (ERO, A10506 Box 7)

The tomato varieties sold by Cramphorns in 1898, including the Dedham Favourite. (ERO, A10506 Box 7)

It was not only private gardeners who were growing all sorts of fruit and vegetables. Urban populations were growing and needed feeding and there was a proliferation of market gardens on the outskirts of larger towns, from the later years of the nineteenth century to the 1980s. And it was here that market-gardeners and growers were producing tomatoes, earlier on grown as an outdoor crop but over time growing under glass, for local sale via a network of green grocers. However, for larger growers with access to a railway station, or later via road haulage, the massive London market was accessible. Tomatoes were not listed in 1850 among the ‘Principal kinds of vegetables sold at the London Markets’, although 260 tons of asparagus, 300 tons of marrows and a staggering 4,150 tons of turnip tops were (G. Dodd, The Food of London; a sketch (London, 1856), p.387).

The hey-day of Essex grown tomatoes was probably from the 1920s to the 1980s, although more research could really be undertaken on this subject. The rise of foreign imports, from large Dutch growers and Spanish producers, along with the decline of local retail outlets, due to the growth of supermarket chains, very much put an end small market-gardeners and growers.

To see what commercial tomato growing looked like in the early 1980s do take a look at the Essex Educational Video Unit production showing the processes involved in the commercial production of tomatoes as carried out at Spenhawk Nurseries, Hawkwell (ERO, VA 3/8/11/1):

Cramphorn’s tomatoes as sold in 1962 with Golden Sunrise and Harbinger listed. (ERO, A10506 Box 7)

Cramphorn’s tomatoes as sold in 1962 with Golden Sunrise and Harbinger listed. (ERO, A10506 Box 7)

In the last few years ‘heritage’ tomatoes have become quite common in shops and supermarkets, with fruits of different shapes, sizes and colours, very different from the post-war period when they were almost exclusively red. This is not a modern phenomenon, for Miller describes red and yellow fruits, small cherry ‘shap’d’ tomatoes and ‘hard, channell’d fruits’, possibly what we might recognise as lobed, maybe beefsteak tomatoes. Cramphorns advertised 20 varieties in 1898, which included red and yellow varieties along with cherry and currant sized fruits and the ‘irregular’ shaped President Garfield, although it was of ‘good quality’.

Of particular interest is the Dedham Favourite – was this a locally raised variety and does it still exist out there?

By 1962, 12 varieties were listed, including the well-known and comparatively recent Moneymaker but also including the older Golden Sunrise (c.1890) and Harbinger (c.1910). A special tomato,’ Cramphorn’s own Wonder of Essex headed the list. In the catalogue for 1975 eight varieties were listed.

And those you could buy from Cramphorns in 1975. (ERO, A10506 Box 7)

And those you could buy from Cramphorns in 1975. (ERO, A10506 Box 7)

And how to deal with a tomato? Miller states that ‘The Italians and Spaniards eat these Apples, as we do Cucumbers, with Pepper, Oil and Salt, and some eat them stew’d in Sauces, &c’. Meanwhile, Mrs Beeton, says they are:

chiefly used in soups, sauces, and gravies. It is sometimes served to table roasted or boiled [into submission?], and when green, makes a good ketchup or pickle. In its unripe state, it is esteemed as excellent sauce for roast goose or pork, and when quite ripe, a good store sauce may be prepared from it.

An interesting use as an acidic sauce to accompany goose or pork, perhaps replacing cooking apples before they were in season? The other curious thing about these recipes is that the tomatoes are all cooked or processed in some way. Where we regularly eat them as a salad, here they are cooked – perhaps a hang-over from the suspicious way they were treated when first introduced.

Writing about tomatoes is one thing, but it’s being able to taste them that counts! Recently the massed ranks of the ERO staff were treated to a ‘blind’ tomato tasting of seven different varieties, some modern, some old. It was very gratifying to see that the old variety Harbinger, first listed over a century ago, was the outright winner with seven votes (eight if you include the outdoor grown version):

A selection of tomatoes for blind tasting by ERO Staff.

A selection of tomatoes for blind tasting by ERO Staff.
  1. Golden Sunrise: 0
  2. Artisan Bumble Bee mix: 1
  3. Harbinger (greenhouse grown): 7
  4. Indigo Blue Berries: 0
  5. Gardeners Delight: 2
  6. Tigerella: 1
  7. Chocolate Pear: 1
  8. Harbinger (out-door, pot grown): 1

The eagle-eyed among you will surely have noted though, that Golden Sunrise, the oldest known variety grown, received no votes, so age isn’t everything!

While Mrs Beeton might not have mentioned bruschetta, it’s one of my favourite ways of eating tomatoes, so I treated the staff to a taste to celebrate the flavour of locally grown toms!


Bruschetta made with Harbinger and Golden Sunrise tomatoes along with lots of basil and a good heft of garlic. (Photo courtesy of Andy Morgan)

So, if you have any stories to share about tomato growing in Essex, or market gardening in the county (an under-researched and known about topic in my mind), then do a leave a message below. There’s still lots to learn about their culture in the county. And, if you fancy growing any of the tomatoes mentioned above (and I really recommend the Harbinger as a very good ‘doer’) in 2024, then a quick search of the internet will find many suppliers from whom you can purchase some seed. Just remember not to over-water and to pick out the side shoots. But hey, this isn’t Gardeners Question Time but a history blog, you’ll work it out!!!

Neil

Black History Month at the ERO: Part 1

Note: Some of the records discussed in this blog post contain language that you may find offensive or distressing.

As the destination for the Empire Windrush, which arrived at the Port of Tilbury on 21 June 1948, Essex has a prominent place in recent Black British history. However, people from African and Caribbean backgrounds have been part of the history of this county for centuries, and as Essex becomes an increasingly diverse place today, new histories continue to be made.

Black History Month is held every October to celebrate the lives and achievements of Black people in the UK. At the ERO, it is an opportunity to reflect on the histories of Black people that are preserved here, and to share their stories and voices more widely.

The display cabinet in our Searchroom is currently home to the earliest fragment of Black history at the ERO, dating from 1580, and the most recent, dating from 2022. There are also parish registers, newspapers, photographs, books and sound recordings to look at and listen to in the drawers below and on the listening post nearby.

In Part 1 of this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the parish registers on display, which date from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. In Part 2, we’ll explore much more recent recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive. In comparison to the parish registers, which often record Black people as the ‘other’, many of the recordings preserved in the ESVA record the experiences of Black people in their own words.

Parish registers

The Rayleigh parish register displayed at the top of the case contains the earliest mention we have found of a Black individual in our collections; the burial record of Thomas Parker, ‘a certayne darke mane’ in Rayleigh in 1579/1580*. While the use of the word ‘dark’ is not always an indication that the person was of African descent or origin, it was often used to describe those who were.

Image of a baptism record in a parish register in secretary hand, with the relevant text highlighted. The text reads: "a certayne dark mane called Thomas Parker".
Burial record of Thomas Parker, 1579/1580 (D/P 332/1/3)

More commonly, the church ministers or wardens who kept the parish registers described people of African or Caribbean descent as ‘Negro’ or ‘a Black’. These terms are obviously outdated and offensive today. Yet, to the present-day researcher, these references highlight the existence of Black people in Essex during this period; in most cases, the entries in the registers are the only record of their lives that has survived. By giving us their names, and the date and place they were baptised, married, or buried (and sometimes, if they were a servant, the name of their employer), they provide a glimpse into who they were, and allows us to understand more about the Black population in Essex as a whole.

In some cases, where the same name appears in more than one parish register or document, we can build up a more detailed picture. This register from the parish of St Mary the Virgin, Woodford, records the baptism of George Pompey, ‘a black at Madm Bettons’, in October 1699.

Photograph of an open parish register on display in a case in the Searchroom at the record office. The entries are all handwritten, and the relevant entry reads: "George Pompey, a black at Mdm Bettons, was baptised Oct 27".
Parish register for St Mary the Virgin, Woodford, including the record of George Pompey’s baptism in 1699 (D/P 167/1/3A)

Another reference to ‘George Pompey a Black, servant to Sir Fisher Tench’ can be found in the parish register for Leyton, which records his burial on 3 September 1735. Fisher Tench was a city merchant who was deeply involved in the transatlantic slave trade; as well as owning a plantation in Virginia, he was also sub-Governor of the Royal Africa Company and Director of the South Sea Company.

Image of a handwritten burial record in a parish register. The text reads: "George Pompey, a Black Servant to Sir Fisher Tench".
Burial record of George Pompey, 1735 (D/P 45/1/2)

The inscription on George’s headstone noted that he died aged 32, after working for the Tench family for over twenty years – probably at the Great House in Leyton, which they built in the early 1700s. It is possible that George’s age was mistaken, and that this is the same George that was baptised in Woodford thirty-six years earlier. It is not impossible, however, that there were two people called George Pompey in the area at the time; during this period it was common for enslaved people to be given classical names, like Pompey, when they were baptised.

As well as baptisms and burials, the registers also recorded the marriages that took place in each parish, including inter-racial marriages. This parish register from Little Baddow shows that Sarah, ‘a Black woman servant at Graces’ was baptised on 30 November 1712, and married Edward Horsnail the next day, on 1 December. Their daughter, also called Sarah, was baptised on 25 February the following year (it wasn’t unusual at this time for children to be born only a few months after a marriage took place).

Image of a series of handwritten entries in a parish register. The text reads: "A Black woman servant at Graces was baptised Sarah the, November 30th. Edward Horsnaill & Sarah Rogers a black widower were married December 1st.... Sarah Horsnail daughter of Edward Horsnail was baptised February 25th."
Record of the baptism and marriage of Sarah Horsnail, and the baptism of her daughter, 1712 (D/P 35/1/1)

Ten years later, the rector of Little Braxted recorded the marriage of Cleopatra Manning ‘a black, of Fryerning’ to John Coller ‘of ye parish of Ingatestone’. Interestingly, the marriage bond beside the register below shows that John applied to marry Cleopatra by licence, which meant that banns did not have to be read out in church.

Photograph of an open parish register beside a marriage bond license in a display case in the Searchroom at the record office. There is a printed caption below the register with the archive references for each item.
Marriage records for Cleopatra Manning and John Coller, 1723 (D/P 224/1/1 and D/ABL 1723/44)

Parish registers like these record an increasing number of Black people living and working in Essex from the seventeenth century.

This increase was inextricably linked to the rise of the transatlantic slave trade. Several prominent families in Essex owned plantations in the Caribbean and benefited financially from the labour of enslaved people**. While some Black people arrived in Essex as seamen, labourers, or artisans, either from London or abroad, others were brought to the county to work as servants.

The legal status of this group of people was ambiguous. While some rulings stated that enslaved people became free on arrival on British soil, or after being baptised, others suggested that they could continue to be treated as property. In 1772, the judgement in the Somerset v. Stewart case stated that ‘no master’ was allowed ‘to take a slave by force to be sold abroad’. Although some people understood this to mean the abolition of slavery in England, the practice continued, and it was not until 1833 that it was formally outlawed.

Very few people are identified in the parish registers as ‘slaves’; more commonly, people are listed as being ‘of’ or ‘belonging to’ their masters – like Rebecca Magarth, who was recorded in the Broomfield parish register in January 1736/7 as ‘belonging to Edward Kelsall’ (D/P 248/1/1). A much greater number are listed as servants. The experiences of these people would have varied enormously, both between individuals and over the time period. It is likely, however, that many would not have been free to leave their employers or been paid for their labour.

Beyond the memoirs of people like Mary Prince, who had been enslaved on Bermuda and Antigua before being brought to England as a servant in 1828, very little has survived that can tell us about these experiences. However, other documents from the archive do record examples of of agency and resistance. Alongside the activities of white abolitionists, like John Farmer, Thomas Fowell Buxton and Anne Knight, the records show that hundreds of people in Essex attended lectures given by formerly enslaved people about their experiences, usually in America. In the 1840s, the author and activist Moses Roper spoke in more than a dozen places across the county, including Stockwell Congregational Chapel in Colchester. A volume from the church records suggests the audience of 1,500 was ‘the greatest number’ the chapel had ever seen. Seven years later, the same volume details a lecture at the Friends’ Meeting House by Frederick Douglass, a leader of the abolitionist and civil rights movement in the USA .

Image of a handwritten entry in a church register. The text reads: "September 30th NB. Moses Roper, an escaped American slave, spoke for upwards of two hours, to an audience of perhaps 1500 persons - certainly the greatest number that ever got into Stockwell Chapel. He exhibited the whips, chains etc. We sold 101 of his books, at 2s each & next day the sale amounted to 141. May good arise to the sacred cause of religious and civil freedom."
Entry in a book kept by Stockwell Congregational Chapel, 1848 (D/NC 42/1/1B)

Some traces also remain of those mentioned in the parish registers outside the archive. While George Pompey’s headstone in Leyton no longer survives, other memorials commemorating the lives of Black people during this period can still be seen today. In 2018, Elsa James’s Forgotten Black Essex project highlighted the story of Hester Woodley, who died in Little Parndon in 1767, aged 62. Hester and her adult daughter Jane were brought to Essex from a plantation on Montserrat in around 1740, to work for Bridget Woodley. When she died, the Woodley family erected a memorial in St Mary’s Church ‘as a grateful remembrance of her faithfully discharging her duty with the utmost attention and integrity’. Although it was intended as a tribute, the inscription makes it clear that Hester was considered the property of the family, ‘to whom she belonged during her life’.

Another memorial in St Andrew’s Church, Heybridge, remembers Eleanor Incleden, who died in 1823 aged 45 (a record of her burial can be found in the Heybridge parish register, D/P 44/1/6). Eleanor had worked at Heybridge Hall for Oliver Hering, Deputy Lieutenant of Essex, and his wife Mary, who erected the memorial: a ‘small tribute of respect and gratitude to her exemplary worth, and the merits and sorrows of her son’. It also notes that Eleanor was Jamaican, so it is possible that she was brought to Essex from Paul Island, the Hering’s sugar estate on Jamaica.

In 2022, the gravestone of Joseph Freeman in the non-conformist cemetery on New London Road, Chelmsford, was given Grade II listed status. Freeman had been born into slavery in Louisiana around 1830, but managed to liberate himself at the start of the American Civil War. He then moved to Essex, settled down with a local woman in Moulsham, and worked at the London Road Iron Works until his death in 1875.

Photograph of the gravestone for Joseph Freeman. The inscription reads: "Erected by his Christian friends, to the memory of Joseph, a slave in New Orleans who escaped to England and became also a Freeman in Christ. He was employed for several years at the London Road Iron Works till his death at the age of 45 on the 28th Nov 1875. Reader! Have you been made free from the slavery of sin."
Joseph Freeman’s gravestone in the non-conformist cemetery on New London Road, Chelmsford

These are a small sample of the records that include references to Black people from this period. We keep a running list of all the references to people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds we find in the parish registers. If you would like to see the full list, please email ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk. You can also find out more about some of these records in this earlier blog post.

For more information, see:

Thanks also to Evewright Arts Foundation and Elsa James for shedding light on Black histories in Essex, and recording new histories to preserve for future generations.

*Thomas was buried on 12 February in the year that we would call 1580; at the time, however, New Year was marked on 25 March rather than 1 January, so contemporaries would have thought of it as still being 1579.

**Examples include the Neave family of Dagnam Park, the Conyers of Copped Hall, and the Palmers of Nazeing Hall, who were all awarded compensation under the Slave Compensation Act of 1837. Records relating to their involvement in plantations, including lists of enslaved people who worked on them, are held at the ERO. For a detailed list of these, email ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk.

A Distracted Researcher

Visiting the Searchroom can be a dangerous business – you can be looking for one thing and find yourself fully distracted by something else. Such as finding a full farm inventory when you were only trying to research crop rotations and the incidence of the growth of turnips…

A Wethersfield farm inventory of 1803

The culprit for this particular distraction was an impressively detailed entry in a 19th century valuer’s notebook for Wethersfield Farm (D/DF 35/1/4). Friend and user of Essex Record Office, Dr Michael Leach, discusses this interesting entry.

Inventories (usually prepared for probate purposes) give a unique room-by-room view of how the interiors of houses in the early modern period were arranged and furnished, as well as clues to the affluence and style of living of their occupants. By the end of the eighteenth century, they are much fewer in number and rarely adopt the useful room-by-room listing which provides so much insight. So it is particularly illuminating to find one which provides the full details, dating from 1803. This particular one was prepared for estate, rather than probate valuation, purposes.

Arrangement of Rooms

The standard medieval house comprised a hall, with a parlour at high end and a buttery at the opposite end, with chambers over the parlour and buttery. Later additional chambers were provided when a floor was inserted into the double height hall. The extra rooms so created were used for storage, as well as for sleeping. At farmhouse level, kitchens were unusual and, though they increasingly appeared over the seventeenth century, cooking was often still carried out over the open fire in the hall. However, it is perhaps surprising to see this pattern continuing into the early nineteenth century in an obviously affluent household.

Hall: In this Wethersfield farm, the medieval arrangement persisted as late as 1803, though the hall was renamed the ‘keeping’ room; a term that I have not met elsewhere. The Wethersfield farm was still doing all of its cooking in the hall which was the only room provided with the essential cobirons to support the spits, and the ‘nocked trammel’, an adjustable chain in the chimney for suspending cooking vessels over the open fire. However most of the cooking utensils (spit, saucepans, skillets, frying pan, dripping pans, ladles and so on), as well as the tableware and drinking vessels, were kept in the two butteries. As is usual with inventories, it is not possible to deduce where the food preparation took place. The Wethersfield hall, with its square ‘dining table’, pewter mugs and at least ten chairs, was used for eating meals, as well as cooking them.

Parlour: This room was also used for meals with a large oval dining table and six chairs. It also had a number of smaller tables, and a ‘tea chest’ and was perhaps used for more ‘polite’ entertainment. It was also furnished with two large pictures and seven small prints and included a fireplace with cobirons (but no other cooking equipment). The two linen horses suggest it was also used for drying clothes. The level of sophistication of this household is shown by the ownership of an ‘iron footman’, a device used to keep plates warm before serving food.

Butteries: Provision of separate butteries for strong and small beer was common by the seventeenth century and is still found at Wethersfield. Only the strong beer buttery served its named purpose, albeit on a substantial scale (five hogsheads, four half hogsheads and two 20 gallon barrels – a total capacity of nearly 400 gallons, though some, of course, must have been empty).

This buttery was also storing cutlery, dishes and mugs, and was equipped with a sideboard and shelving. The small beer buttery had a sink, shelving, a few more barrels and most of the cooking equipment – and an ironing board. It also had a meat safe, so may have used for food storage as well. Neither room appears to have been heated, or to have had a table which would have been necessary for food preparation.

Chambers: None appear to have been heated by fireplaces. It is assumed that these chambers were either upstairs (a staircase is mentioned) or over some of the subsidiary offices outside the main core of the house. There were five in total, one of which (the cheese chamber) was used exclusively for storing and maturing cheese (10 old and 24 new cheeses were listed). The other four chambers were furnished as bedrooms, one of which (the menservants’ chamber) slept two in stump beds. These were probably for the annually hired farm servants, rather than for domestic ones. Two other chambers (‘best’ and ‘small’) had four poster beds, mahogany or walnut furniture, and curtained windows. The ‘spare’ chamber had a sacking bottom bedstead but was furnished with chairs, a dresser and various chests and boxes – but no curtains.

Domestic offices: These consisted of brewhouse, dairy, cream house, mealhouse, granary and cornchamber, all appropriately equipped for their named function. Only the brewhouse had evidence of a fireplace, equipped with a nocked trammel.

Wealth and Status of the Occupants

Compared to typical farm inventories of a century earlier, the number and quality of possessions is striking, including a 30 hour clock and barometer (which would have been mercury, as the aneroid was yet to be invented) in the hall, as well as walnut and mahogany furniture elsewhere. Oak is now limited to more utilitarian purposes.

There is a plethora of table ware including ‘Queensware’, a cream-coloured earthenware which had been developed by Josiah Wedgewood in the 1760s. Pewter plates have entirely replaced wooden ones, and there is a surprising amount of tinware, presumably manufactured in the industrial Midlands.

The spare chamber contained ‘a Lot of Books’, so the household was a literate one. Two large pictures hung in the parlour, and some other rooms had prints on the walls.

Two of the bedrooms were curtained but no carpets or rugs were listed, so the floors were probably bare. Most striking, though, is the very large quantity of ‘stuff’ which had been bought or acquired. But, in spite of this level of sophistication, food was still being cooked and eaten in the hall over the open fire; exactly as it would have been several centuries earlier.

Farming methods and its products

It is surprising that no animals are listed, though it is clear that this was principally a dairy farm. Also there is none of the normal farm equipment such as carts, and ploughs with their necessary tackle, though the listing of two scythes and five sickles suggests that a crop, or hay, was harvested. There was only one sack of wheat in the granary at the end of July – this may have been bought in for domestic use.

Cheese making seems to have been the main activity, with 10 old and 24 new cheeses in the cheese chamber. The cheese making indicates the need for quantities of milk, but where were the cows, and where were they being milked? Was the necessary milk being bought in, or were the animals excluded from this inventory for some reason?

Bee-keeping was a subsidiary, but not insubstantial, activity with at least 14 skeps listed. These were made of straw and were destroyed at each harvest, so this total might represent the number of colonies that were being used for honey production.

The other significant activity on this farm was brewing which seems to have been on a much larger scale (and a level of equipment, including an ‘iron furnace’) than normal household consumption would justify.

Conclusion

For the historian inventories provide a unique opportunity for a virtual tour of houses at various periods, as well as offering much information on the level of wealth and sophistication of the occupants. It is much to be regretted that most Essex probate inventories were destroyed but fortunately those of Writtle, a peculiar of New College, Oxford, have survived in the college archives and were published in full (with an invaluable commentary and glossary of archaic terms) by F W Steer as Essex Record Office Publications No. 8 in 1950, Farm and Cottage Inventories of Mid-Essex, 1635-1749.

What’s in a Window

Christopher Parkinson, researcher for the CVMA, project introduces us to project and some of the important resources held at the Essex Record Office.

Essex is fortunate that during the 17th and 18th centuries two antiquaries wrote manuscripts which, amongst other things, described any heraldry then present in parish churches. Richard Symonds (1617-1660), an English Royalist, produced three volumes of genealogical collections which included descriptions of heraldry in different mediums to be seen in some Essex churches. While these three volumes are now with the Royal College of Arms in London, volumes 1 (covering the Hundreds of Witham, Thurstable, Winstree, Lexden and Tendring) and volume 2 (covering the Hundreds of Clavering, Uttlesford, Freshwell, Dunmow and Hinckford) are available on microfilm at the Essex Records Office (T/B 73). William Holman (1669-1730) was a congregational minister at Stepney, Middlesex before being transferred to Halstead. He visited every town and village in Essex in order to compile a history of Essex. His manuscript is now held by the Essex Records Office in just over 500 parts (T/P 195/-/-).

St Mary Magdalene, North Ockendon, 14th century panel showing a coat of arms of the Bohun family.

My particular interest in these documents is for research in stained glass heraldry that is now lost from the county. This will be included in an appendix for a forthcoming Catalogue of the Medieval Stained Glass of Essex to be published for the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, CVMA. Although the term Medii Aevi implies the ‘middle ages’, my co-author Dr Penny Hebgin-Barnes and myself will include glass up to 1800 in the catalogue within the old (pre-Greater London) county boundary. Surviving medieval including heraldic stained glass can bee seen on the CVMA website in the picture archive section;

http://www.cvma.ac.uk/jsp/locationIndex.do?countyCode=EX,

click on the dedication of the church and the stained glass from all periods will be displayed. While there are about 162 pre-1800 stained glass shields of arms currently surviving within the county, the Symonds and Holman manuscripts show that there was a substantially larger number of such shields in churches and secular buildings during the first half of the 18th century. Obviously their loss cannot be due to the actions of iconoclasts, but presumably caused by general decay and later ‘restorations’ where such damaged glass was removed.

St Mary and St Clement, Clavering. Arms of William Barlee.

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

Back at the end of March Ian Beckwith kindly shared with us some of the fruits of his research he had undertaken on digital images of Parish Registers
(
Essex Archives Online: Parish Registers – what will you find?) accessed through our subscription service on Essex Archives Online. So, although the physical building may be closed for the time being, research is still possible and we enjoyed Ian’s piece so much we thought we’d ask our friends from Mersea [Island] Archive Research Group to share with us just a taste what they have found by looking through wills, of which we look after over 69,000 covering the years 1400-1858. We hope you find it as motivating as we have and, perhaps, it will tempt you to have a go yourself.

Mersea Wills

A year ago, in a world now so remote from the unfamiliar present, a new group was set up at Mersea Island Museum. To some attending the AGM at which this proposal was agreed, it offered an exciting and challenging project: to others, it may have seemed as dull as ditchwater, but worth a try. Now, after the first, gratifyingly successful year, our fortnightly meetings have been brought to an abrupt halt by the unprecedented coronavirus lockdown. In place of sociable discussions over coffee and biscuits, we now try to spend some of our hours of isolation in continuing local researches, communicating online and building on our previous shared learning experiences.

Our group goes by the initials MARG: Mersea Archive Research Group. Its aims are to help members acquire the basic skills of palaeography and to develop and extend these skills by transcribing some of the wonderful local documents preserved in Essex Record Office (ERO). We concentrate on the plentiful records from Mersea Island and nearby villages during the tumultuous Tudor and Stuart periods. Before the enforced closure, we hoped to visit ERO to see original documents, but after the first, enjoyable visit by six members, this was of course no longer possible. The obvious alternative, and one which protects fragile archives from excessive handling, is to make more use of ERO’s increasing collection of digitized documents, which currently include thousands of Essex wills and all available parish registers.  We are lucky to have such a wonderful resource available to download on payment of subscription for a variable period. Local appreciation is shared by historians outside the county – an email I received last week from a fellow researcher, commented that ‘You are so lucky with all of the digital resources from the Essex Record Office – as I found out with my Repton project as my local archive has not got nearly as many.’

So often, studying these documents can suddenly reveal an unusual, shocking or moving event recorded, almost incidentally, among pages of routine items. In his ERO Blogpost of 27 March,  Ian Beckwith told a tragic story revealed by an entry in Great Burstead’s burial register:

Elizabeth Wattes Widdow sume tyme the wife of Thomas Wattes the blessed marter of god who for his treuth suffered his merterdom in the fyre at Chelmesford the xxij day of may in A[nn]o D[o]m[ini] 1555 in the Reigne of queen mary was buryed the 10 [July] 1599 (ERO, D/P 139/1/0, Image 49).

Amazingly, a similar event was revealed in several entries in court records of East Mersea Hall Manor, this time concerning a Roman Catholic rather than Protestant martyr:

It is presented that Thomas Abell, Clark, who of the Lord holds … [one tenement called ] Stone Land; befor this court was Accused and by Acte of parlament Convicte of Treason &c Agaynst our soveraign Lord the kynge, and for that cause he is in the Tower of London in prison. (ERO D/DRc M12, unnumbered folio. This document was not digitized but photographed earlier using the £12 camera fee in the Searchroom )

Rebus of Thomas Abell in the Beauchamp Tower, Tower of London

Thomas Abell was chaplain to Queen Katherine of Aragon, who granted him the benefice of Bradwell juxta Mare. He was imprisoned in 1534 for publishing a book attacking the royal divorce, and after six years in the Tower Abell was hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield. In the first year of Queen Elizabeth a letter from the queen was copied into the same East Mersea court book (D/DRc M12), granting all of Thomas Abell’s former holdings, to his brother, John Abell.

Most of the more than forty transcripts completed by MARG members have been digitized wills of the Tudor and Stuart periods. Several members of MARG with subscriptions share downloaded images for discussion with the group, purely ‘for study purposes’. We are aware of strict copyright conditions regarding ERO documents, so images are used only for a couple of weeks while being transcribed by individual members. In some cases where the language is particularly obscure, a modern translation is added. After checking, transcripts are then uploaded to the Mersea Museum website, and can be seen by accessing https://www.merseamuseum.org.uk/mmsearch.php, clicking on ‘Mersea Museum Articles books and papers’ and entering the search-term ‘MARG’. We make sure that no digital images downloaded from ERO are posted on the Mersea Museum website, or available to anyone outside the group.

One way to find refuge from each day’s disturbing Covid bulletins is to lose oneself in the no less anxious times of the 16th and 17th centuries. Wills transcribed over the past year contain a wealth of detail evoking the families, possessions and daily concerns of testators ranging from poor, illiterate villagers to prosperous landowners. Because no lord of any of the Mersea manors chose to live on the island, no great houses were built here. The lords (and lady) of West Mersea lived in splendour at St Osyth’s Priory, almost visible across the River Colne, before the terrors of civil war drove Countess Rivers into exile and bankruptcy. When her great estates and many manors were divided and sold in 1648, Peet and Fingringhoe were sold separately from the previously attached manor of West Mersea, to a rich Irish merchant. His increasing wealth and likely slave ownership were explored by two group members following a hint in the will of his tenant, the widowed Sarah Hackney.

Sarah Hackney’s digitized will (D/ABW 61/125) was made in March 1660/1. She lived in Peet Hall, formerly in the parish of West Mersea, though on the mainland, and the location of most of its manorial courts. Her will specifies the magnificent bequest of £105 and some valuable furniture to her favourite servant, John Foakes, while her brother received the comparatively paltry sum of £15. An apparently unrelated executor received the remainder of her goods and chattels, apart from her clock, to be delivered to her landlord, Thomas Frere, at the end of her lease of Peet Hall. This link led to an investigation of the will of Thomas Frere of Fingringhoe, which yielded far more exotic properties to bequeath. His will (D/ACW 17/114) contains the following unexpected legacies:

Imprimis I give & bequeath unto  Thomas Frere my sonne and to his heires executors administrators & assignes All my estate whatsoever both reall and personall in the Island of Barbadoes which was bequeathed unto mee by mr John  Jackson my late brother in law & by Elizabeth Jackson his wife my late sister or by either of them or that I have any right or title unto in the said Island of Barbadoes or else where from them or either of them, Alsoe  I give & bequeath unto the said Thomas Frere my sonne and to his heires executors administrators & assignees  all my landes plantations and other estate whatsoever both reall & personall in the Island of Antigua commonly  called Antego.

Map showing the Frere family estates in the South and East of Barbados. Thanks to MARG member Trevor Hearn for this information (http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~sfreer/barbados.html )

In contrast to the lucrative estates of a probable slave-owner is the situation of Robert Wilvet of West Mersea, who made his short will (D/ABW 39/55) in 1542. The will unusually includes an inventory of his goods, and the many debts totalling nearly £30, which he owed to others on Mersea and beyond.

The very recent changes brought about by the Reformation meant that Wilvet left no precious pennies to the church, simply hoping to be received as one of the ‘faithful and elect of Christ’. Unusually, his will names no specific bequests, even to his son, who, while named as one of three executors, had the other two to be his guides, and ‘see [th]at he Doo no Wronge nor take no Wronge’.  The inventory which follows suggests how little there was to inherit: one ‘aulde’ boat worth 6s 8d, one oar, a sail, lines, dredges and a trawling net, plus 30 shillings worth of oysters and household goods worth 3s 4d. Wilvet or his son had little hope of paying off the largest outstanding debt of ‘xix li’ [£19]. However, it is interesting to note that the equipment used by John Wilvet, in his occupation as oyster fisherman, probably changed little until the introduction of marine engines and mechanized trawling gear, many centuries later.

Such brief extracts from wills transcribed by Mersea’s MARG group can only hint at the tantalizing stories that these documents so frequently evoke.  While parish registers, rent rolls and property deeds can suggest the bare bones of a person’s life, the documents they dictated to parish priests or literate neighbours as they calmly or fearfully contemplated death, tell a far more complex story. Their possessions, activities, and bonds with family and neighbours, all come to life as we painstakingly transcribe these voices, speaking to us from another age. It is thanks to the preservation of these essentially human records, preserved and now digitized by the skill and dedication of ERO staff, that we can understand more about those who once built and inhabited our local communities.

Sue Howlett
Mersea Archive Research Group

Give peas a chance Part 2: Protection

Crops of every kind, including peas, were tempting targets for humans as well as natural predators, such as rabbits but mainly birds. Extensive acreages of field crops posed a challenge to protect, but an abundance of cheap human labour would have provided at least some form of bird-scaring by children armed with clappers and loud voices. Fortunately for the farmer, this was an easy job that required little skill and not much, if any, payment.

A story passed down in my family is that my great-grandfather, Henry Wiffen (1862-1946), was taken out bird scaring as one of his first jobs, presumably when he was 7 or 8. His father lit a little fire in the base of a hedge for him to keep warm by while keeping an eye out for birds. This might have been at Nightingale Hall Farm in Halstead / Greenstead Green. See George Clausen’s painting, ‘Bird Scaring – March’.

For those levels of society that could afford to have large, planned gardens, with an appropriate number of gardeners, then there was plenty of people on hand to protect crops from predation. However, that fickle, enigmatic element known to all gardeners, the weather, had also to be countered. To begin with a warm wall or sheltered corner of a garden might suffice to an aspiring gardener. Small moveable enclosures, known as cloches, or cold frames with a covering of ‘lights’, could be used to give protection to particular plants or small areas of crops. If you were rich then money, and lots of it, could be thrown at this problem, and, as with all things, technology evolved over time along with the aspirations of the owners of grand houses. They were the early adopters of even greater resource-intensive infrastructure, and a good example of this can be seen in the incredible, and now lost, gardens of Wanstead House.

The plan of the house gardens park & plantations of Wanstead in the county of Essex, the seat of the Rt. Honble the El. Tylney. (ERO, I/Mo 388/1/2, 1735)

A vitally important part of a planned garden was the kitchen garden, for in an age before global trade and refrigeration only a very small amount of produce was imported. So if you wanted to eat something out of the ordinary then you had to grow it, and if you wanted to eat that something out of season then you had to make it happen. The wealthier you were the more you could eat out of season fruit and vegetables, such as peas and peaches, and the more exotic would be the produce that your gardens grew – pineapples being the most unusual and difficult to grow (the first grown in Britain is reckoned to have been in 1693 for Queen Mary II: T. Musgrave, Heritage Fruits & Vegetables (London, 2012), p.193). Grapes were also a symbol of status and perhaps the most famous vine is the 250 year-old Black Hamburg at Hampton Court Palace, which has an interesting Essex connection (see: https://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/the-great-vine/#gs.2k24uk). Kitchen gardens then, were both a symbol of wealth and status as well as a practical contributor to the household economy. At Wanstead the extensive gardens were located close to the main house.

Extract from the plan of Wanstead House and gardens showing the main house and kitchen garden. The numbered parts are: 2. stables and out houses; 3. the church; 6. the greenhouse; 11. the stoves; 12. ‘kitchen gardiners house’; 17. the kitchen garden. The ‘kitchen gardiners [sic] house’ is probably what we would more familiarly know as the Head Gardener’s house. Having such an important person on hand was essential to oversee the gardens both as a security measure and for keeping a professional eye on the running of the garden. (ERO, I/Mo 388/1/2, 1735)

As can be seen, the kitchen gardens are on a grand scale and laid out in a very formal manner with lots of beds and borders. From these would have been grown all the run of the mill fruit and vegetables that would have fed the household throughout the year. These gardens were powered by the extensive use of manure, as often as not horse manure, to provide the soil with the necessary body to produce large yields. As can be seen from the plan, the stables are quite close but on the opposite side of the house from the gardens. This would have entailed the carting of manure across the sightline of the house or a very long detour to get it to the gardens out of sight. Wherever practical the stables and gardens were, sensibly, located adjacent to one another and quite often out of view altogether so as not to offend the owner and his family with sights and smells that might not be conducive to their sensibilities. It could be that at Wanstead we are looking at an early form of that relationship and that by the nineteenth century the layout of an estate had become more nuanced. A good example of a recreated kitchen garden and stable set-up is at Audley End (http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/organic-kitchen-gardens/)

Detailed extract from the plan of Wanstead House showing the Stove House, Green House and Great Stove House (ERO, I/Mo 388/1/2, 1735)

Having sheltered open borders was all very good but in order not only to grow tender plants, but to extend the season of more general crops, then much more intensive infrastructure was required. This is highlighted on the 1735 plan of Wanstead with individual depictions of a green house (6 on the plan) and two ‘stove’ houses (both marked as 11 on the plan). A greenhouse at this stage was a light, airy building with some glazing that sheltered plants, while the stove house was much the same but had heating of some kind, often free-standing stoves located within the building. We think of greenhouses today as having minimal structure and maximum glazing, but this design only came around in the second half of the nineteenth century as developments in cast-iron production and the decreasing cost of glass made the ‘modern’ greenhouse possible. The eighteenth-century equivalent had much more structure and far less glazing, very much like what we would think of as an orangery. As indicated above, these were very expensive to build and run.

Detail of ‘The Great Stove House’ (ERO, I/Mo 388/1/2, 1735)

While the gardens at Wanstead House were obviously cutting-edge, they also deployed other techniques for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. If we look at the image of the Great Stove House we can see a couple of examples. Firstly this sub-section of the garden is surrounded by what appears to be wooden fencing. Not only does this define the area, but the fencing also gives protection from damaging winds thus creating a sheltered micro-climate. In a later period, brick walls were built which fulfilled the same functions as a wooden fence but also had the advantage of acting as a structure up which plants could be trained – tender ones on the south facing walls with hardier ones on the cooler, north facing walls. Some of these walls were built to be heated themselves by fireplaces and flues to protect crops from frost, think outdoor radiators – but they must have been extremely expensive to run. Not all plant protection at Wanstead was very expensive, for in the borders are bell-shapes which are probably glass cloches, a low-tech form of plant protection. Cloche being French for bell – hence they get their name from their shape.

Cloches and cold frames were available to a wider cross-section of the population than expensive greenhouses. For example, Richard Bridgeman (d.1677) had 18 ‘cowcumber’-glasses worth 9 shillings, while Theophilus Lingard (d.1743/4) had, among extensive possessions, 20 bell glasses and two cucumber frames. (F.W. Steer, Farm and Cottage Inventories of Mid-Essex, 1635-1749 (Chelmsford, 1950), pp.145, 270.) So for gardeners of all degrees there was some form of artificial plant protection available to give that little bit of advantage when growing crops. A more modern version of the traditional bell cloche was the Chase barn cloche, introduced in the early twentieth century by Major L.H. Chase. These simple forms of protection were used in their thousands by nursery and market-gardeners to give protection to their crops from the bad weather. However, they were susceptible, along with greenhouses, to the rain of shrapnel that was caused by anti-aircraft fire during the Second World War – thank goodness we don’t have that to worry about now!

Surviving Chase barn cloches about to protect Ne Plus Ultra peas from the weather and pigeons.

While no longer bell-shaped, protective covers are still known as cloches, although it is thought that in Essex most market gardeners of the post-war years pronounced cloche as CLOTCH (sounding like BLOTCH) – no subtleties in pronunciation there! (Photo: N. Wiffen)

How to pronounce ‘cloches’ if you’re speaking Essex

Researching From Home

With Dr James Bettley

Dr James Bettley is an architectural historian, currently planning his next project.

Where is your office?

I’m lucky to have a study on a mezzanine floor at the back of the house that makes it feel quite separate from the rest of the house. We’ve lived here for 30 years and I’ve been working from home for 20, so the current situation doesn’t feel that strange.

Do you have a view out of a window when you are working? What is it and is it a distraction?

There are two windows, facing east and south, with views over our garden and fields beyond. The windows are not in my direct line of site so I don’t find the view too distracting.

What Essex research are you catching up on? Will this result in something published?

I’m thinking about a couple of subjects – John Bateman of Brightlingsea, and the 20th-century restorations of St Peter’s Chapel, Bradwell – but the research I really want to do involves travelling in the UK and abroad, so that’s on hold for the time being. Any thoughts of publication are very remote just yet.

Do you set yourself a strict timetable to work to or just pick up your research as and when?

Generally when I’m at home I work from 8 to 6 with an hour for lunch and a walk, but I’m slipping into a more relaxed coronavirus regime of concentrated working from 9 to 1, lunch followed by a couple of hours permitted exercise or essential shopping, then catching up on emails etc until 6 or so.

Do you have a favourite online resource?

British Newspaper Archive. Endlessly diverting.

What is your favourite research beverage and snack?

Coffee, mainly. I tend not to snack, although I can’t pretend that if there’s a packet of biscuits open I don’t occasionally…

Apart from the news, is there anything that distracts you from your research?

I’m easily distracted by emails, tweets etc, but not for long.

What are you most looking forward to when you are able to visit ERO again?

T/M 508/2. It’s only a photograph of a map (the original’s at New College, Oxford, who owned land at Bradwell) but it includes a vignette of ‘St Peter’s Chapel in Ruins’ that I’d like to see. But mostly I’m simply looking forward to being able to visit the ERO and a number of other libraries and archives again. Perhaps we’ll value you all the more after this period of abstinence and deprivation.