Adrian Corder-Birch is
retired; he has interests in local history, genealogy and industrial
Where is your ‘office’? I prefer to call it a study rather than an office and it is situated on the ground floor. It contains part of my reference library, a laptop, computer and printer. My wife, Pam, has her study in the balcony room on the first floor.
Do you have a view out of a window when you are working? What is it and is it a distraction? I am fortunate enough to have two windows. One, where my main desk is, faces west towards the drive. The other, where my computer is located, faces south across our front garden where magnolia, cherry and other trees are in full bloom, with azaleas and rhododendrons just beginning to come out.
What Essex research are you catching up on? Will this result in something published? I am currently completing research for a book about the history of the Portway family and their foundry in Halstead where tortoise stoves were manufactured. Pam is compiling a separate book about the history of Bois Hall (now demolished) which was a former home to the Portway and many other families. It is our intention that both books are published and launched simultaneously, when circumstances permit.
Do you set yourself a strict timetable to work to or just pick up your research as and when? I no longer work to a strict timetable as I am retired.
Do you have a favourite online resource? I use several online resources and it is difficult to suggest a favourite. Those I use regularly include Ancestry, British Newspaper Archive, Free BMD and of course Essex Archives Online including Parish Registers. I also keep an eye on EBAY and sometimes purchase items relating to Essex history.
your favourite research beverage and snack?
A cup of tea and this time of the year a hot cross bun.
Apart from the news, is there anything that distracts you from your research? I am sometimes distracted by wildlife in the garden including squirrels climbing everywhere, noisy partridges, green woodpeckers and occasionally a spotted woodpecker. I am very fortunate to see this wildlife, which is well worth being distracted. The main disturbance this time of the year is from rooks, building a rookery in our oak trees and making quite a noise.
What are you most looking forward to when you are able to visit ERO again? One of the benefits of the lockdown is that I am beginning to sort through documents and photographs, which should be deposited at the Essex Record Office. I am looking forward to normal service being resumed so that I can deliver these records, which will undoubtedly help historians in the future. This will provide an opportunity to see the archivists and archive assistants again, many of whom I have known for some years and have become good friends, quite apart from being extremely helpful and sharing their extensive knowledge.
Hi, I am Julie Miller and I am finishing my second year as a
part-time History MA student at the University of Essex. In the summer of 2019 I won a research
placement at the Essex Record Office to transcribe and research a handwritten
18th century Journal by a Saffron Walden Quaker called John
Farmer. He is now the subject of my
Masters’ dissertation and ongoing research.
When the lockdown was announced my stepdaughter and
ten-year-old granddaughter moved in with us so we could all help look after
each other. This means the house is not
quite as peaceful as before. It’s been
very special spending time with them, but Nanny Jules is now in charge of home
schooling a very reluctant reader. We
have found comic poetry a great resource and my disinclined pupil is enjoying
her reading much more. My husband is a Flour Miller and designated a key worker
so he is working a lot of extra shifts, day and night so I am trying to keep
everything running smoothly for him too.
Where is your office?
Currently my office is a summer house in the garden. Called Miller’s
Rest, it was a gift from my husband for my 40th birthday and I
usually use it as an art studio. We have
rigged up a rudimentary power supply and I’ve moved all my research materials
and laptop up there so I can work in peace. My desk is a curious bit of
Colchester history. It was made for my
Uncle out of offcuts of coffin oak from the Co-op Funeral Service workshops
many years ago and I inherited it when he passed. Because its coffin wood it’s a bit narrow, so
the laptop doesn’t quite fit, but I manage, and I like the quirkiness of it. I
have a really good office chair though and that makes working at an odd desk
much more comfortable.
I have a radio because there is always time for Women’s
Hour, and I also have a 1920s gramophone and a collection of wonderful 78s by
the stars of yesteryear like Elvis, Doris Day, Bill Hayley, Dean Martin and
Glen Miller. Sitting out there in the evenings with a drink and the gramophone
is a real treat, till the mosquitoes from the pond start munching.
Do you have a view out of a window when you are working?
What is it and is it a distraction?
From the open doors of Miller’s Rest I can see all
the way back down the garden to the rear of our 1920s house where an ill-thought
out 1970s extension does nothing to improve the view. However the side window in front of my desk
looks out onto trees overhanging an ancient pond which is currently full of
tadpoles. The sparrows enjoy balancing
on twigs over the pond to get a drink, or maybe a nibble on a tadpole and they
are very entertaining. The garden is
always distracting, and I am drawn to my greenhouse at this time of year, but I
am trying to be disciplined. Sadly there is often a full washing line too.
What Essex research are you catching up on? Will this
result in something published?
For the last 4 weeks I have been doing a job for one of my
tutors, a 22,000-word transcription of a research interview she did with a
professor of Chinese Religious History.
Not very Essex at all admittedly, but now that’s finished I am writing
an article for the magazine for the Essex Society for Family History. I was very lucky to win their 2020 Award for
my research into John Farmer. They want to know more about him for their readers,
and I am happy to oblige.
After the article, I will be turning my full attention to
completing my dissertation, which will cover the work I did on the John Farmer
Journal while I was at the ERO, and subsequent research I have done to flesh
out his later story. He was a remarkable
man who visited the Native Americans and the Caribbean Islands in the
1710-1720s but was thrown out of the Philadelphia Quakers for challenging them
to give up slaves and slave trading. He was described as a man of ‘indiscreet
zeal’. He was way ahead of his time and
deserves to be recognised. Neil Wiffen at the ERO has challenged me to write a
book about Farmer before 2024 which will be the 300th anniversary of
John Farmer’s death. No pressure there
then Neil! I will also be continuing my research into John Farmer and his wife
Mary for my upcoming PhD which I hope to start in October (lockdown
Do you set yourself a strict timetable to work to or just
pick up your research as and when?
I try to do at least two hours a day, more if possible but
with the cooking and work associated with extra people in the house it is
proving tricky. My Supervisor is
starting to make chivvying noises and asking to see draft chapters, so I am beginning
to feel the pressure.
Do you have a favourite online resource?
I have been lucky in that I was able to get lots of copied
material from the ERO while I was on my placement, and I have visited several
times since so I haven’t needed to rely on much online research. But there are some interesting online
resources in America and the UK relating to Quaker history and I have had an
enjoyable ongoing discussion with a genealogist from Mobile, Alabama who had
posted on the Find a Grave site, to try to resolve some errors in the family
history relating to John Farmer. Note to
any researcher – do not upset an American genealogist, they take their work
very seriously and luckily I was able to supply documentary proof of my
research and they corrected their information.
I think that is quite an achievement.
What is your favourite research beverage and snack?
Well, as I am writing this on Easter Monday I suppose I
would have to say Easter Egg. However on
a (what passes for) normal day I would have a ham sandwich and a packet of
crisps washed down with water or diet coke.
Our family have a long tradition of tea or coffee and cake at 4pm, so
that is usually when I stop work and we all come together to watch the BBC
virus update before planning the evening entertainment.
Apart from the news, is there anything that distracts you
from you research?
One of my university colleagues has set up a regular quiz on
Zoom, several times a week and we all join in from our sofas which has been a
lot of fun. My granddaughter has a liking for gambling with grandad’s pennies
and we play Newmarket sometimes. I like
folk music so enjoy watching the online live sessions from people like Kate
Rusby, Chris Leslie and While and Matthews and being a nosey parker I like
seeing their homes. Also I belong to a
local shanty group and we have been using Skype to do virtual unplugged singing
sessions. Its been funny seeing everyone
placing themselves in front of bookcases.
Along with that it’s regular calls to family, I am missing
my little grandson a lot, and am so thankful that social media allows us to
stay in touch.
What are you most looking forward to when you are able to
visit ERO again?
I am desperate to get back into the Colchester and Saffron
Walden Quaker minute books from the 17th and 18th century
as I am trying to trace John Farmer in both towns, filling in some of the gaps,
and also looking for more information about his amazing wife and daughters who
all had their own stories to tell. Also
Mary Farmer and her daughter Mary Fulbigg left behind journals that still need transcribing,
so I have lots of work ahead of me.
Dr Herbert Eiden is the research assistant of The People of 1381 project (https://www.1381.online/) and former assistant editor of Victoria County History of Essex.
Where is your ‘office’?
I have a dedicated downstairs office containing my reference
library, a laptop and a desktop because I work from home regularly.
Do you have a view out of a window when you are working? What is it and
is it a distraction?
My view is into our side garden south-east facing with a big shrub (currently in white blossoms) in front of me.
What Essex research are you catching up on? Will this result in
I am building up Excel sheets of relevant manorial documents for five counties; Essex is one of them. I took lots of images of Essex manorial court rolls before the ERO closed and can work with those now (at least for a few weeks).
Do you set yourself a strict timetable to work to or just pick up your
research as and when?
I normally start at 8.30am, have a lunch break (cooked
lunch!) and finish around 4.30pm.
Do you have a favourite online resource?
Manorial Documents Register; ERO online catalogue; NROcat; The National
Archives Discovery catalogue; British Library Manuscript catalogue.
What is your favourite research beverage and snack?
Nuts, sweet chilli
crisps; juice, peppermint tea.
Apart from the news, is there anything that distracts you from your research?
What are you most looking forward to when you are able to visit ERO
Manorial court rolls (late 14th century) and, of course, the
staff, who are always friendly, extremely helpful and hugely knowledgeable.