Discovering stories of the First World War

Archives are packed with people’s stories. From the everyday to the extraordinary, the records carefully looked after in our archives give us insights into the life experiences of individuals, families, and whole communities over the last several centuries.

Some of the most powerful stories in the records we look after at ERO are of people’s experiences of the First World War. From the official to the personal, First World War records are full of stories that deserve to be discovered and shared.

Both official and personal records can give us fascinating insights into people’s experiences during the First World War

One of the privileges of working at ERO has been being able to explore the First World War stories within our collections, and to share them on this blog.

Alf Webb, for example, joined up in 1914 at the age of 17, and served throughout the whole of the war. In 1992 he talked to a class of primary school students about his recollections of both the mundane details and the harsh realities of the war, from the lice which infested his uniform to the deaths of his friends. Fortunately, the teacher who organised his talk to her class made a recording of Alf’s talk, and deposited a copy with ERO. It has been said that listening to an oral history interview is the closest we can get to time travel, since we hear real people telling us about real events that they experienced.

Listen to extracts of Alf Webb’s recollections of his First World War experiences here.

Sister Kate Luard, meanwhile, was on the first boat she could get on to France after the outbreak of the war. She served on the Western Front throughout the war, working in some of the most dangerous conditions nurses faced. Somehow she found time to write home frequently, and her letters provide highly personal insights into her experiences as a nurse. One little bundle of letters she kept were written by relatives of men who she had nursed while they died. These letters often thank her for her care of sons, brothers and nephews, and ask about the men’s last days.

Read more about Kate Luard in our previous posts about her.

Richard Udney wrote to Sister Kate Luard in June 1915 to ask her about the death of his 18-year-old nephew, 2nd Lieut. George Udney. Click for a larger version.  (D/DLu 61)

Other records tell us about how those at home managed through the tough years of the war, facing a very real prospect of invasion and potentially severe food shortages, while having to cope with the departure and often loss of loved ones.

In the decades running up to the First World War, Britain had imported more and more of its food. When Britain entered the war on 4 August 1914, the country had enough wheat in stock to last just 125 days. Farmers at home were faced with the huge challenge of growing enough to feed the nation, with a shortage of male agricultural workers and a shortage of horses.

Read about some of the efforts that went into producing enough food to keep the nation from starving.

The home front also faced aerial bombardment for the first time. On the night of 23 September 1916 two Zeppelins crash landed in Essex, one in Little Wigborough, where the crew walked away largely unharmed, and one in Great Burstead, where all men on board were killed.

Read eyewitness accounts of the Zeppelin crashes here.

The Zeppelin which crashed at Little Wigborough, 23 September 1916

There is some light relief amongst the darkness of so many war stories. In February 1917 the Chelmsford Chronicle reported on a ‘Romantic Essex War Wedding’, in which Miss Clara Elizabeth Potter and Driver Charles T. Kidd had married, having never met but only communicated by letter.

Read the Chronicle’s account of Clara and Charles’s romance here.

What stories are still waiting to be discovered?

If you have an idea for a project that would highlight a forgotten or unknown piece of your local First World War history, join us on Friday 8 December 2017 for a day of inspiration and practical advice on how to make your ideas into a reality.

The day will include an introduction to Heritage Lottery funding streams for First World War projects, and showcase existing community First World War research projects taking place in Essex. There will also be a presentation by the Everyday Lives in War First World War Engagement Centre on how they can support independent researchers and community groups researching the First World War, and an insight into the resources and support available from the Essex Record Office.

Find out more about the day and book your place here.

Changing Perceptions, Changing Essex?

Recently our You Are Hear Project Officer, Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, has been cataloguing a collection of oral history interviews received from Epping Forest District Museum. The interviews were collected in 2004-2005 as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, called Changing Perceptions, which aimed to collect everyday accounts to illustrate how life in the district has changed over the twentieth century. Here Sarah-Joy shares some impressions from the recordings.

What do a farmer, a dentist, a magistrate, and a blacksmith have in common? No, this is not the start of a joke. The answer is that these were all people interviewed for Epping Forest District Museum’s Heritage Lottery Funded project, Changing Perceptions. The Museum kindly deposited copies of a selection of their interviews with us at the Essex Sound and Video Archive, and I have had the joy of cataloguing them (Series Reference SA 61/1/1).

The collection shares all of the wonderful features of any oral history interview: providing an intimate insight into the lives of everyday people, told in their own voices, ranging from amusing anecdotes to heartfelt memories. It also achieves its primary purpose of demonstrating exactly how much life has changed in the last century, even in the last fifty to sixty years. Even taking rose-tinted spectacles into account, a common impression running through the collection is of small towns and villages with a true community spirit, self-sufficient places with a range of shops and services and a real local character.

Photograph of Epping High Street, in what looks like the late nineteenth century

But one of the distinctive assets of this collection is its diversity. The interviewers spoke to a range of people: people from different parts of the UK, in different professions, with different backgrounds and experiences. Listening to these together forms a broader picture of the range of life within Epping Forest.

For instance, Bob Willis is a lively, frank character who was born in Suffolk in 1928 but moved to the Gaynes Park Estate, Coopersale when he was nine. He spent most of his working life at Cottis Ironworks. His interview (SA 61/1/1/5/1) gives interesting technical details about his work as a carpenter at the brickworks. It also reveals social information about the relationship between employer and employee.Then he unexpectedly casts light onto significant local events, such as the fire at Copped Hall (though he was not speaking from personal experience).

Print of Copped Hall, near Epping, which suffered a serious fire in 1917

 

The interview with retired dentists Alain Quaife and Graham Bond (SA 61/1/1/8/1) is very different. It also contains technical information about their occupation, but in the process gives a greater insight into social history. For starters, their accents are more polished: perhaps to be expected from their higher class, more educated backgrounds. They remark on changing trends in dental hygiene, exploring possible reasons for this, beyond better public awareness. While both interviewees have now been retired for over ten years, their comments about how the NHS operates, and the difference between private and public treatment, still provide an interesting insight today. A word of warning, though: some details of treatment, particularly in the early years, are so graphic they may give you virtual toothache.

 

Maureen Chalk (SA 61/1/1/4/1) and Jill Atlee (SA 61/1/1/7/1) both describe working at the Bank of England printing works in Debden, and about the experience of raising children in the area. As Jill’s interview reveals, as recently as the late 1970s, it was the norm that women left work to raise children, perhaps returning to work part-time when their children went to school. But this phase of motherhood provided some opportunities to socialise with other women in the same situation, as Maureen describes.

 

Some of the interviews might stir a response that prompts you to take action. After listening to Joyce Woods talk about her experience of serving as a magistrate (SA 61/1/1/9/1), might you consider volunteering for this valuable work? Do you have the qualities she lists as essential to being a good magistrate?

 

Or listen to the interview with retired farmer John Graham (SA 61/1/1/1/1), recorded in 2004. How does that make you feel about the state of the farming industry in Britain now?

 

The authentic stories of real people can be more persuasive than thousands of words of polemic in a newspaper feature or a commissioned report.

Do these interviews change your perceptions? Of Epping Forest, of certain professions, of life in the mid-twentieth century? And does that in turn make you reflect differently on your own neighbourhood, career, life? What will your children and grandchildren think of your Essex?

Thanks to our Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project, the full-length interviews can all be heard through our Essex Archives Online catalogue. Contact the Museum for access to recordings not deposited with us.

You can get further impressions of how life in Epping has changed by visiting the town’s own listening bench, located in the churchyard of St John the Baptist (St Johns Road off the High Street). Join us for the official unveiling of the bench on Saturday, 4 November 2017, at 3pm – which will still leave you time to get to the firework display of your choice!

Harwich Society’s Memories Exchange Interviews

Recently, we have been uploading a collection of oral history interviews conducted by The Harwich Society between 2009 and 2014 (Catalogue Reference SA 49/1/2).

These twenty-four interviews are just the first instalment of an ongoing project to record the experiences of current and former residents of Harwich and Dovercourt. As with most collections of oral history interviews, they reveal shared experiences but also how life varied even in one town depending on personal circumstances.

Harwich Junior School (T/Z 241/1)

The playground of Harwich Junior School was flooded to a depth of 1½ metres (T/Z 241/1).

Most of the recordings touch on the 1953 flood. On the night of Saturday, 31 January, a storm surge caused the sea to overwhelm flood defences along the eastern coast of Britain. Harwich was one of the places affected, and the traumatic experience is unsurprisingly etched on the town’s corporate memory.

Even here, experiences varied. Some residents in Dovercourt only knew about it from news bulletins on the television. But in the Bathside area, the water rose to the first floor of people’s houses. Tom Bell and Danny Goswell, then young lads who belonged to the sailing club, were kept busy ‘fishing people out of houses’ in boats, ‘rowing around doing what we could’ (SA 49/1/2/12/1).

Evacuees sought refuge in the drill hall, where the Salvation Army was handing out blankets and cups of tea, before being billeted with family members or kind-hearted strangers with rooms to spare. The water took a week to recede, and the houses were permanently damaged. Ruby Cooper-Keeble recalls how they lost all their possessions. By the time the family moved back to the house, it had been cleaned out and redecorated, but the smell ‘stayed with it for years and years’, and ‘you could actually scrape the salt off the [wall]paper’ as it seeped out of the walls, residue from the sea salt water that flooded the home (SA 49/1/2/9/1). But as a child, she still saw the ordeal as something of an ‘adventure’.

Some people, such as Mr and Mrs Moore, never moved back (SA 49/1/2/14/1).

The interviews are full of memorable details that bring the event to life: tables laid for breakfast that neatly settled back into place once the water receded; the vigour of local hero Leonard ‘Pummie’ Rose in organising the rescue operations. The stories take different tones. Tom and Danny chuckle over how, after working all day in rescue boats, they still had the energy to go out in the evening. ‘Commandeering’ a dinghy tied up outside the police station, they rowed down the main road to the Spread Eagle pub that remained defiantly open, to enjoy a couple of Vimtos before rowing home.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, recalling the childhood trauma of that long, cold, dark night spent trapped in the bedroom waiting for rescue affected one interviewee so much that it sounds as if he had to pause during the interview to compose himself.

Whether they were only onlookers or whether they lost everything, when listened to together the interviews reveal how the town rallied together to overcome this ordeal – as they had done just ten years earlier during the Second World War. From the family who tirelessly worked to restore their grandparents’ house to normal in time for Christmas (interview with Diane Butler, SA 49/1/2/11/1), to the boy who joined with his friends to build a sea wall in the sand when they moved back, ‘in our own simple way to try and stop the waves coming again’ (interview with Ray Chippington, SA 49/1/2/22/1), the town was determined to recover. And what better way to cheer flagging spirits than travelling in a ‘cavalcade of coaches’ to a football match at Wembley to support your local team in the FA Amateur Cup final? Harwich and Parkeston Football Club’s finest hour was among the happier events of 1953, as recalled by Malcolm Carter (SA 49/1/2/16/1).

The collection covers other topics as well, including experiences during the Second World War; growing up and working in Harwich; and how the town has changed. We are grateful to The Harwich Society for taking the time to capture these memories, and for allowing us to make them publicly available. We are also grateful to the participants who, as June Cummings describes, had to relive the events in the act of sharing them (SA 49/1/2/20/1).

 

You can listen to these oral history interviews in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford, or, thanks to our Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project, in the comfort of your own home through Essex Archives Online.

It is not surprising that such a momentous event crops up in several of our other collections. You can search the subject index term ‘Floods’ to find related material, such as this film footage of the floods on Canvey Island. Or look up Hilda Grieve’s authoritative work on the 1953 floods in Essex, referred to in some of these clips: The Great Tide: The story of the 1953 flood disaster in Essex (copies available in the Searchroom Library or in branch libraries across Essex).

Further afield, the East Anglian Film Archive holds a compilation of film footage of the floods which reveal the devastation caused. You can watch it for free on their website here.

Does your community have a story that should be recorded? Do you want to undertake your own oral history project? Contact us to find out more about the oral history training we provide.

Chelmsford Then and Now: layers of history

In the twelfth and final post from our Chelmsford Then and Now project, student researcher Ashleigh Hudson explains how during her research project we used maps to establish areas of continuity and change in the High Street of our county town.

A key objective of the Chelmsford Then and Now project was to establish what has changed and what has stayed the same over time in the centre of our county town. We are lucky that Chelmsford has been mapped and re-mapped several times over the centuries, enabling us to make comparisons over time, and to find traces of the medieval town in today’s High Street, even though no buildings from that period survive. In this post we will show how we have used maps in this project to look at the detailed history of specific properties.

The earliest known map of Chelmsford was drawn up by John Walker in 1591. The shape of Chelmsford High Street, as depicted on the Walker map, is remarkably similar to the shape of the high street today; in fact the basic make-up of the town has not changed in nearly five hundred years. Internally, the shape and size of individual properties has varied significantly over time, reflecting changing economic, demographic and technological trends. The 20th century in particular saw sweeping changes to areas of the high street. As the town’s population increased, the demand for more retail spaces grew, and the arrival of department stores facilitated the absorption of many of the smaller businesses.

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Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591.

Observing the sites of 61-66 High Street on several Ordnance Survey maps, it was immediately obvious that a number of properties had been consolidated, demolished or rebuilt over time. Using the first edition OS map of 1876 as a starting point, it is clear that large, department sized stores were not yet a standard feature of the high street. Based on this map, we can see that properties in this section of the high street were small and packed closely together, perhaps the result of centuries of uncoordinated and sporadic development.

(2) OS Map 1876

Extract from the 1876 first edition OS map, from the west side of the high street. 61 High Street is occupied by the Queen’s Head inn. Adjacent to the Queen’s Head sits a narrow passageway, which leads from the high street into the yard. To the north of the passageway is the site of 62 High Street and adjacent to that, a number of small, individual properties, all of which would ultimately form part of the Marks and Spencer’s site in the 1970s.

For a more direct comparison, we took photographs of the OS maps from 1963 and 1974 and uploaded them into Photoshop.

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Extract from the OS Maps of 1963 and 1974 showing the sites of 61-66 High Street. The 1963 extract has been highlighted in red, while the 1974 extract has been highlighted in blue.

(4) 1974

Extract from the OS Maps of 1963 and 1974 showing the sites of 61-66 High Street. The 1963 extract has been highlighted in red, while the 1974 extract has been highlighted in blue.

From there we layered the maps, drawing around the border of each property using different colours to make it easy to differentiate between them. Areas where the borders had shifted were then clearly visible, indicating where and when development had occurred.

(5) 1963 and 1974 layered

Extract from the 1963 map highlighted in red, layered with the extract from the 1974 map highlighted in blue.

At first glance, the OS map of 1963 appears remarkably similar to the OS map of 1876. There are still plenty of small properties, packed closely together. The Queen’s Head is still present, identifiable by the ‘PH’ for public house. The property retains its distinctive shape and the narrow passageway, sandwiched between 61 and 62, is still visible.

The biggest and most obvious changes have occurred by the OS map of 1974. The 1974 map presents a significantly changed section of the high street. The former Queen’s Head building has been demolished, and in its place a uniform, rectangular building has been erected. The narrow passageway has been built over and now features as part of the sites of 61 and 62. The sites of 62-66 now form one large property, occupied by Marks and Spencer’s.

(6) SCN 4595

Photograph of the west side of the high street including the Queen’s Head in the centre and several properties to the right that would eventually form part of the Marks and Spencer’s site. Photo by Fred Spalding.

(7) Current Image

A current image of the west side of the high street.

This map comparison perfectly illustrates how the town was transforming in the 20th century to accommodate modern development. In many cases the new buildings replaced small, dated properties which were considered no longer fit for purpose. The imperfect, quirky buildings visible in the Spalding photograph above were replaced by larger modern buildings built over several of the historic plots. Whether these new, spacious retail establishments improved the overall appearance of the high street is open to debate.

If you would like to use historic maps for a project of your own, do come and visit our Searchroom where staff will be happy to help you get started.

And that’s all from the Chelmsford Then and Now project! We will shortly be publishing the results of a similar project undertaken in Colchester so if you like old maps and historic photos there are more treasures to come.

Document of the Month, May 2017: School bills and receipts, 1897

May’s Document of the Month has been chosen by our Learning from History Manager, Valina Bowman-Burns. Valina runs workshops for schools to help students discover the past through documents, maps and images from the ERO’s collections, and recently has been building a session for a Coggeshall school using records from their own local past.

This little bundle of receipts (D/NC 1/5/17) dates from 1897, and gives us an insight into the daily life of Coggeshall Congregational School in the late Victorian period. They are also aesthetically interesting, many of them featuring some beautiful artwork and lettering.

The Coggeshall Congregational School has its roots in a Sunday School that was established in 1788 with 200 places for children aged over 7 (there were 268 applicants, suggesting a great deal of local demand for education). The Sunday School movement began in the 1750s, running schools for children of poor families on Sundays as children were often needed to work during the week.

The Congregational School existed by 1855, when the school master was dismissed for drunkenness. By 1857 there were 90 children on the roll; this number was to rapidly expand over the rest of the century as education became compulsory, firstly for children aged 5-10 in 1880, and then up to age 11 in 1893, and up to age 12 in 1899. By the time this bundle of receipts was created there were 258 boys and girls on the school registers, with an average attendance of 190 (Kelly’s Directory, 1898).

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The documents will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout May 2017

The most numerous receipts are for purchases made from local coke and coal merchant William Sutton – hopefully enough to keep the pupils and teachers warm while they learned.

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This handwritten receipt records the items in everyday use within the school including slates and pencils, blotting paper and exercise books. Three dozen exercise books were purchased in February and twelve dozen purchased in April meaning that between January and June 180 exercise books were delivered, almost one for every child in the school.

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One way the school raised money was through the sale of needlework; one document records the sale of needlework items throughout 1897 raised £5 1s 5¾d (about £300 in today’s money). Mr Scott’s pillowslips fetched 1s 5d a pair, while Miss Unwin’s knickers made 1s 9d each.

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Among the receipts is this insurance certificate from the London & Lancashire Fire Insurance Company, insuring the school for £800, about £45,000 today, for a premium of 12 shillings.

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The school ordered items not only from local supplies but from those further afield. This bill is from school suppliers E.J. Arnold & Son who were based in Leeds, and had embraced new communications technology by having a telephone (they were contactable on ‘Nos. 33 & 331’). Directions to their works for visitors, however, were for people who were walking or riding.

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If you are interested in arranging a local history workshop based on real sources from our collections (where we do all the research for you!) do take a look at our Learning from History webpages to see how we can help bring history to life.

For Home and Country: more from the Broomfield WI

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

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

Broomfield WI Membership Card Emily Crozier 1917

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

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

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

Broomfield WI inc Emily Crozier at Q

(Temporary Accession 4346).

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

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

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

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

Chelmsford Then and Now Project: Photographs and Photoshop

In our eleventh and penultimate post from our Chelmsford Then and Now project, Ashleigh Hudson explains how during her research project we compared historic photographs of Chelmsford High Street with today’s streetscape.

Chelmsford is often (we think mistakenly!) viewed as having little in the way of historic character. We would argue that there are, in fact, as many examples of continuity as there are of change, and the key is to know where to look. One of the invaluable resources used during this project is the Spalding photographic collection of some 7,000 images. The Spalding family of photographers were based in Chelmsford High Street from the 1860s until the 1940s, and recorded how the street has changed over time.

Fred Spalding senior was a self-taught photographer who set up the family business in Tindal Street in the mid-19th century. His young son, also called Fred, took a keen interest in his father’s business and quickly picked up the family trade. Several years later, an adult Fred relocated the thriving business to the site of 4-5 High Street (the current site of NatWest), where he established himself as the town’s ‘go-to’ photographer. The Spalding family captured Chelmsford through time, and their legacy endures through their magnificent collection of images. You can read more about Fred Spalding and the Spalding shop here.

We have done our best to recreate some of the Spaldings’ classic shots of the High Street, taking a set of prints out with us and dodging showers to do replicate the original pictures as closely as we could.

A quick comparison of some of the images revealed a high level of continuity across the upper half of most of the buildings. While the various owners and occupiers have changed over time, many of the architectural details have endured.

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Photograph of the Spalding shop c.1930

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The same building today. Beneath the layers of cream and pale blue paint, the upper exterior of NatWest is very much the same as when the building was occupied by Spalding.

Armed with our fresh images, the fun could really being. Using Photoshop, we layered the old photographs on top of our new ones, blending the two images together:

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The Spalding image is layered over the top of the current image. The image is resized and repositioned to fit the intended space

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It was then possible to blend the Spalding image into the current photograph.

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A finished example of this process. The edited image stretches down the high street, from the present day to the past.

In some instances, such as with Jamie’s Trattoria/Barclays Bank (no.2 High Street), the level of continuity is striking.

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Barclays Bank c.1930 layered over the current occupier, Jamie’s Trattoria.

In contrast, areas where entire stretches of the High Street were demolished and rebuilt, such as the sites of Paperchase and M&S (61-62 High Street), the edited images revealed how parts of the High Street are completely unrecognisable.

(7) SCN 4595-Current

The west side of the high street featuring the Queen’s Head in the centre and a building that would later form part of the future site of Marks and Spencer’s. These buildings have since been demolished and the site redeveloped, which is why the images do not match up smoothly.Ch

You can see the final results of our image blending on our Historypin page, or you can visit the Searchroom to explore the full extent of the Spalding photographic collection.

New recordings to commemorate the 1953 floods

During the night of January 31st, many of the lower-lying districts of eastern England were overwhelmed by a devastating flood.

So begins the narration to a documentary created by the department that later became the Essex County Council Educational Video Unit about the 1953 floods (VA 3/8/4/1). The documentary focuses on Canvey Island, which was severely hit by the floods, and was put together from film footage taken at the time.

The floods caused terrible suffering: people drowned or died from exposure to the bitter cold, waiting on islands of rooftops to be rescued; houses and possessions were ruined; livelihoods destroyed. But is there a purpose in holding commemorations year after year, making the same observations, telling the same stories?

We could point you to a blog entry we wrote in 2013, on the sixtieth anniversary of the floods. It cites some staggering figures of the losses suffered, illustrated by harrowing photographs showing the full extent of the flood. Is there anything more to say four years later?

Recent bad weather no doubt brought back the full fear of flood to coastal residents, particularly those who were evacuated from Jaywick. The sea defences are vastly improved, particularly with the sea wall erected round Canvey Island, but we can never guarantee safety from the threat of flood. Can the history of the 1953 floods help us when facing such threats today?

One of the audio-video kiosks touring the county for our You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place project is currently visiting Canvey Island Library. To prepare for this, we have been digitising sound and video recordings about the floods in the Essex Sound and Video Archive, including the documentary mentioned above.

Listening to memories of the survivors and those who helped the rescue efforts, like watching the contemporary film footage, gives greater impact to studying the events. Hearing the emotion in people’s voices, learning about individual experiences, brings the history to life as no text book can do.

Listen to one woman’s memories of that terrible night in this clip from a special BBC Essex programme about the floods, ‘Tide on Tide’, first broadcast in 1988 (SA 1/313/1).

Still image from the 1953 documentary about the floods on Canvey Island (VA 3/8/4/1)

Still image from the 1953 documentary about the floods on Canvey Island (VA 3/8/4/1)

More than that, people’s stories of the clear-up efforts can teach us lessons if facing similar catastrophes. The documentary shows people rowing for their lives to bring people to safety, helping at rescue centres, pulling together to rebuild the sea wall. Much of this work was done by the Army, the police, and voluntary organisations, but members of the public also pitched in to help. It is encouraging to see how whole communities came together in the face of danger. And how many smiling faces can you spot in the film footage, despite the ordeal?

Sir Bernard Braine, then MP for Canvey, praises his constituents in this clip from the ‘Tide on Tide’ programme (SA 1/313/1).

One local hero, Winne Capser, illustrates this attitude. In subsequent days, she took it upon herself to rescue pets and reunite them with their owners. We could question whether it was worth the risk. But to the owners, having these non-human members of their families back again was probably a great comfort, and a big step towards returning to normality.

Clip of Winne Capser talking about rescuing animals after the 1953 flood. This is from a Sounds of Brentwood feature on the floods produced by Dennis Rookard and broadcast in 2013 (SA 2/1/110/1).

It wasn’t just local people who helped: as news spread, people nationally and internationally were prompted to donate clothing, household goods, and food to help families get back on their feet. In Harwich, whole houses were donated from Norway to relieve evacuees temporarily accommodated in caravans on the Green.

Another clip from the Sounds of Brentwood feature, this time with Cllr Ray Howard and Fred McCave describing the donations sent from across the globe to help flood survivors (SA 2/1/110/1).

We should also raise questions about how the floods are commemorated. Jaywick lost 5% of its population – but how often is this town mentioned in comparison to Canvey or Harwich?

Further clip from the ‘Tide on Tide’ programme, talking about the impact of the flood on Jaywick, and the impact of Jaywick on public consciousness of the flood (SA 1/313/1).

We talk about the community spirit, but do we also talk about the police that were put in place to protect against looters in the aftermath? Which stories are absolute fact, and which have turned into folklore?

Clip about a thief caught stealing money from gas meters after Canvey Island had been evacuated, from the BBC Essex ‘Tide on Tide’ programme (SA 1/313/1).

By combining contemporary film footage, personal memories, newspaper reports, and official documents, we can build up a full picture of that awful night. We can then use this picture for commemorating the local heroes who saved countless lives, and for drawing inspiration to respond to future disasters.

You can watch the full documentary and some of these sound recordings through Essex Archives Online. You can visit the audio-video kiosk at Canvey Island Library, or view the same content on our second touring kiosk at Brentwood Library, until they move to their next venues at the end of March.

You Are Hear is a three-year Essex Sound and Video Archive project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. You can read more about it on our project blog site.

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Five favourite Chelmsford documents

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

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

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

  1. John Walker’s map, 1591

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

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

  1. James Maylett execution

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Spalding photo of High Street, c.1869

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

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

  1. Photograph of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

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

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Photograph by Fred Spalding of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

  1. Women at work in Marconi’s

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

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

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

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

Chelmsford Then and Now: 62 High Street – from prison to M&S

In this tenth blog post in our Chelmsford Then and Now series, our former student researcher Ashleigh Hudson looks at her final property. Today the site is part of Marks and Spencer’s – but in times gone by it was used for a rather different purpose…

From the early 17th century, a large portion of the current site of Marks and Spencer was occupied by the county’s House of Correction. By the early 19th century, deteriorating conditions forced the closure of the House. The site was eventually demolished to make way for several new buildings. The site housed various retail establishments until the 1970s when sites 62-66 were absorbed by Marks and Spencer.

Houses of Correction were established in the early 17th century, as a place to send vagrants, beggars, and those ‘unwilling to work’. Petty criminals and prostitutes could also find themselves committed to these institutions. The inmates were put to work, but were often not there for very long. A spell in a house of correction may well also have included whipping, especially for those charged with offences such as theft or prostitution.

From 1587 the county House of Correction was situated in Coggeshall, but by 1593 the property had deteriorated considerably. The house was sold in 1611 and the county purchased the site of 63-64 Chelmsford High Street. Shortly after, the House of Correction admitted its first prisoners under the watchful guard of Keeper Walter Kellaway.

In order to provide suitable work for the prisoners, Kellaway was in charge of a range of equipment including mills to grind wheat and malt, wheels to spin flax and cotton, and billets for pounding hemp. Perhaps anticipating being charged with unruly or troublesome individuals, Kellaway also had chains and manacles. This account list highlights the interesting contrast, inherent in all houses of correction, between punishment and reform.

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Bill of implements for use in the House of Correction, 1612, including ‘A mill to grind wheat’, ‘2 Wheels to spin flax’, ‘7 Paid of cards to card wool’ (Q/SR 197/143)

Prisoners from across Essex were admitted to the house on a range of charges, as punishment for perceived lewd, idle, vagrant or disorderly behaviours. Peter Lake was admitted in 1616 for vagrancy and ‘keeping the company with the wife of John Mayfield as if she were his own wife’, while Susan Larkin was admitted in 1617 for ‘living lewdly and out of all order to the disquiet of her neighbours’.

Women accused of being pregnant out of wedlock were often admitted to the House for a whole year. A Bastardy Order made by Sir Henry Mildemay and Sir John Tirell condemned Elizabeth Clarke to the House of Correction to receive ‘due punishment’. The Justices, apparently on the complaint of the town, ordered the reputed father to pay 12d weekly until the child was able to provide for itself. (There is no mention as to whether he was also sent to the House of Correction, but we can probably safely assume he was not.)

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Bastardy Order made by Sir Henry Mildemay and Sir John Tirell committing Elizabeth Clarke to the House of Correction, 1636. (Q/SR 294/22)

Prisoner escapes were not a common occurrence, although it was a cause of concern given the location of the House of Correction in the High Street. In April 1776 the Chelmsford Chronicle reported that prisoners had escaped from their ground floor dormitory at the House of Correction in the early hours of one morning. In scenes reminiscent of the Shawshank Redemption, prisoners reportedly pulled up the floorboards with a gimlet and tunnelled under the foundations into the yard. Despite the best efforts of the local constabulary, several of the prisoners remained at large three days later.

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Article from the Chelmsford Chronicle reporting the escape of 15 prisoners from the House of Correction, 5 April 1776

In the mid-18th century the House of Correction expanded to include three brick prison buildings where the more unruly prisoners were detained. The original timber-building, fronting the High Street, continued to be used by the Keeper and his family. Renowned prison reformer John Howard described his visit to the House of Correction in his 1777 book entitled The State of the Prisons in England and Wales. The men and women had separate quarters, with the men’s accommodation located on the ground floor and the women’s, to the same design, located on the floor above.  The Keeper, Thomas Ford, informed Howard that prisoners had an allowance of three-pence a day, for which they had a pound and a half of bread, and a quart of small beer. Howard described the courtyard as ‘small and not secure’ resulting in the prisoners always being kept indoors. Furthermore, he described the rooms as ‘offensive’ and generally inadequate.

Several years later, reformer James Neild visited the House of Correction and met with the Keeper Thomas Ford who he found to behave ‘…not only very humanely, but also very religiously to his prisoners’. While Neild found the house to be under satisfactory leadership, the same could be not for the state of the property, which Neild concluded had:

…many and great inconveniences, and is by no means calculated for the purposes to which it is applied.

By 1803 the premises had deteriorated further and on a subsequent visit, Neild was compelled to report this damning verdict:

On my visit the 31st July 1803, I found the good old keeper dead; the whole prison [was] filthy and out of repair; in the two upper rooms five women and two children sick on the floor; the straw worn to dust; and in one of the rooms a cartload of rubbish heaped up in a corner. In one of the sick rooms below were four women; in the other room six women and two children, one of the women quite naked, another without a shift, the other four had neither shoe nor stocking…The whole prisoners were coniferous, and almost desperate for water…The prisoners complained of the want of medical attendance, and, if I may judge from the filthiness of the fores and bandages, not without reason.

Not surprisingly, Neild was relieved to discover that a new site had recently been purchased adjacent to the new county gaol. The site was completed in 1806, with the prisoners moving in that same year.

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Illustration depicting the new site of the House of Correction and County Gaol.

Suggestions as to what to do with the vacant site continued for some time. At one point it was hoped that the site should be redeveloped to accommodate the judges visiting the town for the Assizes although this plan never came to fruition. The property was ultimately sold in 1811 and demolished a year later, making way for two new brick houses.

Various retail properties occupied the site over the course of the 19th and 20th century, including a branch of Singer’s Sewing Company (at no. 64). In the 1970s, the individual sites of 62-66 were consolidated by Marks and Spencer, forming one of the largest stores on the high street.

OS maps of Chelmsford 1963 and 1974

OS maps showing dramatic change on the west side of Chelmsford High Street between 1963 and 1974. The largest store seen on the 1974 map is Marks and Spencer

The extract from the 1963 OS map above depicts 62-66 prior to the arrival of Marks and Spencer. There are a number of small properties, packed closely together, dominating the stretch currently occupied by M&S. By 1974, these properties had been consolidated to form one large property. The 1974 OS map presents a significantly cleaned up version of the high street. Marks and Spencer continue to occupy the same spot on the high street today.

If you would like to find out more about the House of Correction or any other of the topics covered in this series, Hilda Grieve’s excellent two-volume history of Chelmsford, The Sleepers and the Shadows, is available in the ERO Searchroom, or you can dive straight in to Essex Archives Online and explore our catalogue. For a contemporary account on the state of prisons in the 18th century see John Howard’s, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales.

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Discover more of Chelmsford’s history at:

Chelmsford Through Time

Our county town of Chelmsford may look modern on the surface, but look a little deeper and you will find layer upon layer of history waiting to be discovered. Chelmsford’s history is richly told by maps, photographs and sound and video recordings, as well as documents. Come along to see and hear them for yourself, and for a talk from architectural historian Dr James Bettley on some of the major changes to the town since the Second World War.

Saturday 29 October, 10.30am-3.00pm (talk at 1.30pm)

Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT

No need to book, suggested £2 donation (places at talk first-come-first-served)