‘I Remember Them With Affection’: the USAAF in the Essex Sound and Video Archive

Feeling inspired by our recent conference on the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in Essex?

In the Essex Sound and Video Archive, we preserve dozens of interviews with American servicemen and those who worked and lived alongside them during the Second World War. Take a listen below.

You can also browse the conference programme with links to further resources here.

Photograph of silver tape reel with black magnetic audio tape. Two handwritten labels read 'I remember them with affection'.

Radio programmes

The BBC Essex documentary ‘Essex Airfields at War – I Remember Them With Affection’ (SA 1/643/1), broadcast in 1990, is a substantial account of the history and role played by airfields in Essex during the Second World War. The BBC Essex archive also includes the original, unedited interviews recorded for the documentary, including interviews with an American soldier who helped build Willingale Airfield in 1942 and British RAF and WAAF operators who recall the Americans well.

“We just worked constantly in mud, mostly up to our knees… Concrete flying all over the place, and lorries running up and down runways which are partly built.”

Excerpt from interview with Ken Arnold, a US Engineering Battalion soldier who built Willingale airfield in 1942 (SA 1/635/1). Ken met his English wife in the Forces canteen in Epping. Read a transcript here

In 1992, BBC Essex celebrated the 50th anniversary visit of USAAF veterans with another documentary, ‘Overpaid, Oversexed, and Over Here’ (SA 1/1927/1). The anniversary also saw reports on a reception for the veterans at Silver End (SA 1/888/1) and a tea and dance at Cressing Barns (SA 1/889/1).

“We don’t have enough words in the English language we use over in America to tell you how we feel about your welcome… It’s wonderful, and we sure appreciate it.”

Excerpt from a BBC Essex report on the 50th reunion event in Silver End (SA 1/888/1). Read a transcript here

Other relevant BBC Essex programmes include the 1989 documentary ‘Wartime in Essex’ (SA 1/463/1) and interviews with American pilots Clifford Pontbriand and Julian Woods, who were both stationed at Stansted (SA 1/1183/1 and SA 1/1740/1).

On Essex Radio, the 1989 documentary ‘World War Two in Essex’ (SA 11/503/1) also features interviews with people about the American air bases in the county.

Oral histories

The Colchester Recalled oral history group also recorded many returning American airmen at the 50th anniversary visit in 1992, alongside BBC Essex. The archive (SA 8/8) includes 59 recordings at reunion events in Essex and beyond – at Black Notley, Chelmsford, Stansted, Wormingford, Debden, Great Saling, Earls Colne, Rivenhall, Boreham, Braintree, and Boxted as well as Madingley and Duxford.

Excerpt from an interview with David E. Hubler about his memories of Boxted Airfield at the reunion of the 394 Bomber Group and Eagle Squadron, Black Notley, 1992 (SA 8/8/4/1). Read a transcript here

Saffron Walden-born, Pennsylvania-based Mona Johnston talks about meeting her American husband during the war (SA 8/8/25/1). Read a transcript here

We also preserve a number of interviews about specific airfields: in 1994, Wethersfield Local History Group recorded their discussion of the airfield there that had closed the previous year (SA 24/866/1); and in 2003, the Essex Record Office interviewed four members of the 394th Bomb Group Association about their memories of Boreham Airfield during the war (SA268).

“So I haven’t liked orange marmalade since…”

One member of the 394th recalls the things he was most surprised by at Boreham Airfield (SA268). Read a transcript here

There are other references to the Americans scattered across the oral history collections – people who lived near the airfields during the war often recall the novelty of the newcomers, and the dances, candy and nylons that came with them. Many of those interviewed in the Silver End oral history project (SA733) talk about their childhood memories of the American soldiers at the nearby Rivenhall Airfield.

“This American serviceman came along and he talked to me, you know, and he more or less said, ‘Are you watching the planes?’ … and he said, ‘Would you like to go in one?'”

Silver End resident Derek Gilder talks about playing in one of the bombers on Rivenhall Airfield when he was 8 or 9 years old. Read a transcript here.

In April 2024, we were fortunate to find the real Geraldine who the 322nd Bomb Group at Andrewsfield had named a B-26 Marauder after. Last week our very own Neil Wiffen visited Geraldine to talk to her about the experience.

“Once they’d got the name on, and that, I said to them, I don’t want you making any holes in my plane, okay?”

Geraldine talking about the Marauder being named after her (SA966). Read a transcript here

To see what Marauder squadrons looked like at the time, see ‘Pioneers, Wolfpacks, and Widow-makers: The Story of Boxted Airfield’ (SA811). You can also watch the East Anglian Film Archive’s documentary ‘GI Airmen in East Anglia’ (VA 1/47/1) in our Searchroom.

To explore more recordings, search Essex Archives Online, or take a look at the Essex Sound and Video research guide on the Second World War.

400th anniversary of William Byrd (c.1540-1623)

July 2023 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the composer William Byrd, who for over 25 years lived in Stondon Massey.

Byrd was a recusant Catholic who refused to attend the services of the Church of England. While living at Stondon Massey, Byrd composed two books of illegal Latin religious music known as the ‘Gradualia’. The first set of 1605 was dedicated to the Earl of Northampton, and the second set dated 1607 was dedicated to Byrd’s great friend and patron, Lord Petre of Writtle who lived nearby at Ingatestone Hall.

According to a household inventory dated 1608, the Petre family possessed “2 sets of Mr Byrd’s books intituled Gradualia, the first and second set”, as well as other books containing “songs” by the composer (Edwards, A C. John Petre (1975), p.138). All the pieces were probably tried out at Ingatestone Hall before publication.

At the ERO we are fortunate to have two books from the household of John, 1st Baron Petre (1549-1614) that feature music written by Byrd. Dating from around 1590, these are known as part books, as they only show one part of the composition – in this case the part for the bass singers.

Leather-bound book with gold detailing on front, including the name 'John Petre' embossed in gold.
The front cover of one of the part books, c.1590 (D/DP Z6/1 and D/DP Z6/2). It is embossed with John Petre’s name, suggesting that it was his personal book.
Open leather-bound book, showing a music score with text below. William Byrd's name is written in elaborate writing at the end.
Part of William Byrd’s motet Ne irascaris Domine in the part book. Can you spot Byrd’s name at the end?

Byrd’s motet Ne irascaris Domine, dating from 1589, is one of the pieces included in the Petre part books. Dating from 1589, its Latin title means ‘Be not angry O Lord’. Here it is performed by Southend-based chamber choir Gaudeamus:

Essex Record Office · Gaudeamus performing William Byrd’s ‘Ne irascaris Domine’

William Byrd successfully managed to navigate the intrigues of being a Catholic in late Elizabethan and early Stuart England, being about 82 years old when he died. His wonderful music lives on.

With thanks to Andrew Smith. To find out more, read our previous blog post on music in the archives, which delves deeper into the music the Petre family would’ve enjoyed at Thorndon Hall and Ingatestone Hall during this period, and another post by archivist Lawrence Barker on the part book and Byrd’s Ne irascaris Domine motet.

You can also listen to more Byrd on BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week – William Byrd: A Man of Many Parts, and BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship, where the Revd Dr Jonathan Arnold visits the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Stondon Massey and Ingatestone Hall.

Folk in Essex: Part Three

Following on from his first blog post about the Essex folk movement oral history project and his second about the folk revival in England, MA placement student Callum Newton explores what the folk movement looked – and sounded – like in Essex from the 1960s.

Dennis Rookard introduces the folk scene in Essex and Roger Johnson performs the music hall piece ‘Gunner Joe’. Rookard recorded the feature for Harold Wood Radio at a ceilidh hosted by Blackmore Morris at Stondon Massey, around 1980 [SA 19/1/34/1]. Read a transcript here.

Folk clubs

Those interviewed for the Essex folk movement oral history project recall a very active folk club circuit around all areas of Essex, with the more prominent clubs being Blackmore Folk Club, Chelmsford Folk Club, and the Hoy at Anchor in Southend. Blackmore’s influence is felt particularly in the interviews, as Sue Cubbin, the interviewer, and several of the interviewees – including Simon Ritchie, Annie Harding, Jim Garrett and Paul O’Kelly – had performed either within the club or with Blackmore’s associated Morris team. Ritchie, Cubbin and Roger Johnson had also participated in running the club at various stages.

‘The March Hare’ performed by Simon and Bobbie Ritchie at Chelmsford Folk Club, recorded by Jim Etheridge on 3 March 1985 [SA 30/6/653/1]. Simon briefly introduces the piece at the start.

There were dozens of folk clubs across the county, however, from Harwich to Colchester and as far as Brentwood and Havering. Associated with the Essex Folk Association (EFA), or the earlier Essex District Committee of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, all of them were documented in Essex Folk News [LIB/PER 2/22/1-50], so that every club was regularly accessible to anyone involved in the movement.

Another feature presented by Dennis Rookard on folk clubs in Essex, including an interview with Ron Cowell, editor of Essex Folk News [SA 19/1/70/1]. Read a transcript here.
Membership cards for folk clubs in Essex and cards for musicians and others involved in the folk scene, laid on a table. Most feature black stylised text on cream, yellow, orange or pink backgrounds.
A selection of folk club cards [SA 30/2/3/4] . Essex and London were home to hundreds of folk clubs, each with a unique but often travelling set of floor singers and attendees.

Essex’s relationship with the larger London folk circuit is also evident due to its geographical relationship. Many practitioners were born in London, discovered folk and later moved to Essex, like Jill-Palmer Swift; or travelled to London specifically for folk, like Dave Vandoorn who ran his first folk club in East Ham in the 1960s despite working in Brentwood.

Paul McCann and Jill Palmer-Swift performing on East Anglian Dulcimers at Chelmsford Folk Club, recorded by Jim Etheridge on 22 December 1985 [SA 30/6/712/1].

The close proximity no doubt enabled practitioners to travel between: many already worked in London, like Reg Beecham and Simon Ritchie; or others simply travelled to perform, like Alie Byrne and Jim Garrett. There were considerable differences between the two locations however – while Byrne cites the typically younger audience members in London,Jill Palmer-Swift had always noted the typically wider mix of ethnicities present in London’s folk clubs.

Alie Byrne talks about the younger audience of London’s folk clubs [SA 30/7/1/10/1]. Read a transcript here.
Hand-illustrated poster for Hornchurch Folk Club. The text is in blue and orange on a cream background. It reads 'Hornchurch Folk Club presents Special Christmas Party Night Sunday 23rd Decbr' and lists some of the artists involved.
Poster for Hornchurch Folk Club [SA 30/2/3/4]. Folk clubs seemed to transcend the professional and amateur boundary, as very well organised but often unprofitable organisations.

The role of folk clubs was not universal – some existed to have performers, to be watched by those who attended, while others encouraged group singing lead by a particular performer [1].

The traditional shanty ‘Haul on the bowlin” led by Simon Thorneycraft at Blackmore Folk Club in 1981 [SA 30/3/6/1]. Read a transcript here.

This was certainly the case, also, in Essex. Paul Kiff describes how the Old Ship in Heybridge acted as a more informal club, entirely focused on singarounds.

Paul Kiff describes singarounds at The Ship, in Heybridge [SA 30/7/1/11/1]. Read a transcript here.

This stands in contrast to a club like Maldon Folk Club, where performers were specifically booked by the host, Rick Christian. It is crucial to consider the individual philosophies of those who ran folk clubs; Christian maintained a professional folk career, and this certainly bled into his organisation of folk festivals, where the performer tends to be the focal point. Paul Kiff, on the other hand, openly rejected festivals and artists as the centre of performance entirely, citing that it was against the tradition, while maintaining a reformist political career within the EFDSS. Ultimately, this is just one of the themes central to finding a definition for the tradition – as in, what is legitimate folk? Sometimes, the vocal, passionate people involved would split bands, or even entire clubs over their position on that question (for more on this topic, see the interviews with Simon Ritchie and Myra and Red Abbott).

Poster for the Art Gardner and Rick Christian, with black text overlaid on a black and white photograph of the duo. Both men are smiling, with long hair.
Rick Christian developed a professional music career in his duo with Art Gardner, born from performing in folk clubs [SA 30/2/3/4].

Repertoire

Essex had a very pronounced tradition of its own – largely attributed to the song collections of Vaughan Williams but also from particularly Essex dances like ‘Sally’s Taste’, ‘The Tartar’ and ‘A Trip to Dunmow’ as discovered by John Smith and Jim Youngs (as referenced in interviews with Tony Kendall and Jill Palmer-Swift).

The songs themselves were also a point of contention by some who practiced folk music. Don Budds explained that to his band the Folk Five, folk was an orthodoxy of strictly ‘modal’ style songs like “Maids when You’re Young” or “My Bonny Boy” (see also copy of the Folk Five repertoire, SA 30/1/37/3).

Don Budds on modal music as legitimate folk [SA 30/7/1/27/1]. Read a transcript here.
‘The Gauger’ performed by the Folk Five at the Recreation Hotel, Colchester, recorded by John Gomer in 1964 [SA 30/1/37/1]. The traditional Scottish song tells the story of a sailor who dresses as a ‘gauger’ – an exciseman – to convince his lover’s mother to allow them to marry. Read a transcript here.
A programme and a yellow membership card for Chelmsford Folk Club, laid side by side on a table. The header on the programme shows the logo of the folk club, a bridge, and the location, DJs Clubroom on Rainford Road. It then lists the upcoming acts - including the Watersons, Seven Straw Braid, and Roaring Jelly - in black text on a white background.
Chelmsford Folk Club had regular guests and floor singers, with many faces becoming familiar on the circuit [SA 30/2/3/4].

Peter Chopping described folk songs as ‘workers songs; sea-shanties, capstan shanties and halyard shanties’ as well as ‘forebitter’ songs – all some form of worker chant or sea-shanty. Others were less strict; Annie Harding, for example, opted to incorporate jazz and other types of non-folk into her folk act repertoire, alongside traditional songs.

‘Reynardine’ performed by Annie Harding at Chelmsford Folk Club, recorded by Jim Etheridge on 7 November 1982 [SA 30/6/428/1]. The song is a traditional English ballad also known as ‘The Mountains High’. This title was popularised by A.L. Lloyd, linking the title figure to the fox and folk trickster Reynard. Read a transcript here.

Alie Byrne is indicative of this less orthodox approach as the tradition progressed, as a relative newcomer to the folk scene even at the time of the interview. She suggests that there is a fundamental difference between performing folk and listening to folk, and that while some audiences were strict about ‘purist’ songs “they’ve heard before”, others were more appreciative of less orthodox, more experimental songs. She describes folk as a common ownership of songs, and that there is no one way to perform any song, and that every performer “owns” a song at the moment they are performing it. Byrne’s depiction of folk is a more romantic approach, though certainly this was not always generally accepted. It is certain that there was no universally accepted way to perform folk, even by the people actively performing it, and that the philosophy was actively argued inside and outside of clubs, or between clubs.

The EFDSS and the Essex Folk Association

The politics and philosophy of folk was felt quite heavily within Essex, induced by Essex’s relationship with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), which was seemingly tumultuous at the best of times. In 1995, the Essex Folk Association was founded from the remnants of the Essex District Committee of the EFDSS [EFN Spring 1995, LIB/PER 2/22/23]. Instead of being a regional committee of the EFDSS, the Association instead adopted affiliate status and organised its own affairs. Ivy Romney and Paul Kiff both explore the arguments for this – with Romney claiming that many believed a “non-English” designation would encourage specifically non-English style dancing and music, of which many clubs existed in Essex, such as Scottish country dancing or Irish music, to associate with the Essex movement.

Certificate given by the English Folk Dance and Song Society to Purleigh and District Folk Dance Club in 1969. The certificate is cream, with a bordered edge and the logo of the EFDSS, six interlocked swords.
The English Folk Dance and Song Society had both a positive and infamous reputation amongst folk practitioners [A14095].
Ivy Romney on the Essex Folk Association and international dances [SA 30/7/1/8/1]. Read a transcript here.

The EFDSS policy, since its founding, of ‘English only’ had prevented some groups, such as Romney’s own Society for International Folk Dancing, from being incorporated properly into the folk scenes despite the universal theme of folk between them. Paul Kiff, additionally, proposed the idea of affiliated clubs within the EFDSS to give each Association its own direction behind some guiding principles, and suggested that some unspecified but consistent names had held back the folk movement within the executive of the EFDSS. This criticism of the EFDSS is explored within the interviews, with some accusing the EFDSS of gatekeeping, and others proposing that dance was always the priority for Cecil Sharp House.

Performance by the dance band ‘Bushes and Briars’, formed by Paul Kiff, recorded by Jim Etheridge on 8 January 1983 [SA 30/6/23/1].

Practically, as a response to the EFDSS monopoly on folk song collecting, the Essex folk movement is of note for its own individual second-revival collectors. Some of those interviewed, like Dennis Rookard and David Occomore, spent countless hours recording in folk clubs.

Dennis Rookard on recording folk music in Essex [SA 30/7/1/3/1]. Read a transcript here.

These collections – alongside those of other collectors, notably John Durrant and Jim Etheridge – are now housed in the Essex Record Office as part of the wider folk music collection, catalogued as SA 30. Additional recordings made by Dennis Rookard are catalogued as SA 19, and David Occomore as SA 21.

Folklore and oral history are inextricably linked because the traditions of folk were themselves an oral tradition. In a modern world, where recording equipment is practically accessible by any person, oral history with a recorder is seemingly the natural successor to this kind of oral tradition [2]. In the spirit of Ewan MacColl’s radio ballads, which combined elements of song and interview into a documentary, folk can and does exist as a wide-ranging, permanent record of the lifestyle people lived [3].

Jill Palmer-Swift introduces Chelmsford Assembly, performed by the folk dance group Seven Straw Braid at Chelmsford Folk Club [SA 30/6/736/1]. Recorded by Jim Etheridge on 20 April 1986. Read a transcript here.

A folk archive then, like the one idealised by Paul Kiff, is fundamentally an extension of the folk movement itself. The collection housed at the Essex Record Office, and the project Sue Cubbin began in 1998, is fundamentally, itself, the folk tradition in the twenty-first century.

‘Old Leigh Regatta’ performed by Jack Forbes at Southend Folk Club in 1981 [SA 30/3/6/1]. The song was one of many written by Forbes, a legend on the Southend folk scene. Read a transcript here.

Find out more about folk archives preserved at the Essex Record Office in this guide: Sources on Folk Music.


[1] Bean, Singing from the Floor, p.3

[2] Graham Smith, The Making of Oral History, (2008)https://archives.history.ac.uk/makinghistory/resources/articles/oral_history.html [accessed July 2022]

[3] BBC, The Original BBC Radio Ballads, (2006) https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/radioballads/original/orig_history.shtml [accessed July 2022]. To find out more about one of the radio ballads produced by Dennis Rookard, Wind Over Tilbury, see one of our previous blog posts.

Folk in Essex: Part Two

Following on from his first blog post, MA placement student Callum Newton explores the history of folk revival in Britain, through the Essex folk movement oral histories and recordings held in the Essex Sound and Video Archive.

It may appear as though there is a dichotomy between the emphasis placed on the importance of folk music in the extensive archives at the ERO, and the lack of prominence it is afforded in the British popular consciousness. To many in Britain, traditional folk music has been considered a niche interest – somewhat ignored compared to its popular cousin, pop folk. Morris dancing has often been viewed as eccentric and alien, while folk clubs have had no place within most people’s daily lives.

Yet, this limited perspective did not detract from the detailed, vibrant and quite living world those interviewed for the Essex folk movement oral history project inhabited. In many ways, it was a universe of their own, as conservators of a tradition as well as practitioners of it. It was their culture, and still is today [1]. There should be no doubt that this is a legitimate reason for capturing the folk movement, and Essex’s role within it. If preserving the tradition, practices and knowledge is integral to folk itself, then preserving the history and making it accessible within an archive is integral to the movement too. After all, Morris sides often keep their own archives and have a designated archivist for this very same task [2].

Daniel Fox on the role of archives in Morris [SA 30/7/1/25/1]. Read a transcript here.
Poster for Morris Dancing at Westminster Abbey. The top section features the text in white and black on a red background. The bottom section features an illustration of a Morris dancer on a background of a Union Jack.
Poster for Morris Dancing, a considerable part of the folk movement [SA 30/2/3/4].

However, to fully understand the intricacies of the Essex folk movement, and the traditions practitioners incorporated into their lifestyles, one cannot ignore the wider context in which Essex’s folk music collection exists.

Where did folk music come from?

Folk, ultimately, means people. Folk music, then, must mean a music of the people. The history of the folk movement in Britain is one arranged around a question of how that definition might be interpreted. There is no clear concept behind what ‘folk music’ is, as it is one that has evolved over the last two centuries with social, political and technological impositions [3].

The story starts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the first ‘folk revival’, where amateur historians began their collections of folk songs and ballads by going out into the world and making a record of them [4]. These pioneers, like Sabine Baring-Gould, Frank Kidson, Lucy Broadwood and Cecil Sharp, were limited by technology – their writings, rather than recordings, would go on to begin the collection later housed at the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) [5], based at Cecil Sharp House [6]. Rooted in antiquarianism, the EFDSS assumed an authority over all English folk scholarship, enjoying a monopoly on “promoting vintage musical and dance styles” [7]. It existed primarily as a vehicle for an academic style and rejected popular folk music, leading to a historiographical perception of gatekeeping folk music from “rowdy” people [8]. In their own words, they were ‘protectors’ and ‘preservers’ of folk [9]. The legacy of this philosophy would repeatedly come into conflict with the practices of the second folk revival from the 1950s and 1960s. Performance became the driver of the tradition, but the purpose of performance became hotly contested [10].

Excerpt from ‘A Bicycle Ride With Vaughan Williams’ by Tony Kendall, which presents the story of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ first visit to Ingrave, where he recorded his first folk song [SA 30/1/7/1]. Read a transcript here.
Front cover of 'That Precious Legacy: Ralph Vaughan Williams and Essex Folksong' by Sue Cubbin. The text is in red over a map of Ingrave, with a large photographic portrait of Vaughan Williams to the right.
That Precious Legacy, by Sue Cubbin (2006) [C/DR 1/136] . Vaughan Williams is often extolled as the best source of Essex folk songs, due to his collecting in the country in the early twentieth century.

A history of the second folk revival in England cannot be complete without touching on the lineage of folk song collecting in the USA. The two nations were interlinked in the early movement, with collectors and performers travelling across the Atlantic. With the release of American Ballads and Folk Songs in 1934, John and Alan Lomax “set the standard for folk song collecting” globally [11]. The USA had always been more receptive to folk music generally, allowing various collectors to rise throughout the early twentieth century to cover the huge range of popular American folk songs. In contrast, the British collections largely began and ended with the EFDSS [12], although a generation after the likes of Cecil Sharp, private collectors did exist, with individuals like Ralph Vaughan Williams collecting in Essex from 1903 [13]. Yet the lack of popularity of English folk meant collectors were few and far between, or concentrated at Cecil Sharp House, while the popularity of American folk meant collections across the Atlantic were in vogue [14].

David Occomore on researching Essex folk music at Cecil Sharp House and beyond [SA 30/7/1/5/1]. Read a transcript here.

These worlds would start to collide during the second folk revival, particularly during Alan Lomax’s travels to England [15]. American country music became popular during the 1940s, as American soldiers stationed in Britain began broadcasting through the American Forces Network [16]. Eventually the British interpretation of those country folk songs became skiffle, inspired by Lonnie Donegan’s number one hit cover of ‘Rock Island Line’, in a very homemade fashion due to the relative expense of instruments [17]. Alan Lomax arrived in Britain in 1950 and further propagated the skiffle scene by broadcasting American folk songs and collecting the English songs where he could. During this time, Lomax became the inspiration for the left-wing actor and writer, Ewan MacColl [18]. MacColl saw folk music as a platform for the working people of Britain, to give the ‘common man’ back his music. After Lomax introduced him to A. L. ‘Bert’ Lloyd, this became a reality with the six-part radio series Ballads and Blues – though MacColl’s professional career had only really just begun [19].

Red and Myra Abbott discuss Alan Lomax’s radio show [SA 30/7/1/20/1]. Read a transcript here.
Newspaper cutting titled 'New folk club launched'. The text - about Benfleet and Canvey Folk Club - sits above a photograph of the folk club, a group of ten men and women gathered around a violinist.
Folk clubs were founded for many different purposes. Some, like the Hoy, were offshoots of other clubs due to disagreements on song policy [SA202].

Lomax predicted that skiffle would be a short-lived phenomenon, and that many American-inspired skiffle musicians would turn to their own folk tradition for new inspiration. After all, argued Lomax, ‘Do it Yourself’ music was, by definition, folk [20]. MacColl accepted Lomax’s vision, but saw skiffle as only a means to an end. Despite his politically socialist internationalism, in 1958 he instituted a policy of national restriction at his Ballads and Blues club; only Americans could sing American songs in his club, he argued, in order to protect the English tradition from being replaced [21]. To MacColl, folk music remained an image of unity for working people. This began his relationship with Topic Records, a company under the umbrella of the Worker’s Music Association based in the United States. Alongside the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which made use of skiffle and folk as a rallying cry, MacColl became the face of political folk music, and introduced many on the left-wing spectrum to folk [22].

Poster for 'The Windmill Folk Club' at Old Windmill Hall, Upminster. The poster is a relatively simple design in cream and brown.
London’s folk scene was integral to the development of the second wave of folk music – particularly in the case of its connection to Essex [SA 30/2/3/4].
Colin Cater on the influence of Ewan MacColl [SA 30/7/1/7/1]. Read a transcript here.

As Lomax had predicted, when skiffle music began to fall out of favour, the performers turned to folk. Skiffle clubs became folk clubs and began to attract a new generation of performers with an interest in the English tradition. These names included Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins and Bob Davenport [23]. They arrived at folk clubs housed at a temporary location, usually in a pub, and performed for or with each other [24]. At the height of the movement, there were hundreds of these permanent and semi-permanent clubs in London, and possibly at least one in every major city in England [25]. There was little financial incentive for these clubs to run; often they barely broke even [26]. And what was played in these clubs was never static, as popular folk of the Donegan strand, propagated by touring American folk artists like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott or Bob Dylan, continued to be played alongside more English traditional songs straight from the EFDSS library [27].

Peter Chopping tells an anecdote about Ramblin’ Jack Elliott visiting Dartford Folk Club [SA 30/7/1/22/1]. Read a transcript here.

In some cases, this resulted in schisms over the legitimacy of the songs performers adopted, as with MacColl’s ruling over national songs, and also in divisions over ‘electric folk’ and ‘popular folk’ [28]. The latter is most prevalent in the case of Bob Dylan, who was infamously jeered by a folk audience by changing his persona and style, sensing a possible decline in folk [29]. With the professionalisation of the folk movement, particularly by bands like Fairport Convention, folk no longer existed in the vacuum of the folk clubs where everyone participated in singarounds led by a performer [30].

Poster for 'Gardner and Christian Harmony Duo'. The text encircles a black and white photograph of two men with long hair and guitars, kneeling on some grass.
Poster for Art Gardner and Rick Christian [SA 30/2/3/4]. Pop folk was viewed as both a benefit and drawback to folk as a whole – with disagreements about watering down the tradition versus finding a wider audience for folk.
‘These Things Happen’ by Rick Christian [SA 30/1/24/1], originally published in 1996 on an album of the same name. Read a transcript here.

By the 1990s, folk was largely seen as being in decline. The nature of folk had changed over the decades, and the original practitioners no longer held a monopoly over the practice. As folk had become a genre rather than a lifestyle, folk festivals came to replace the folk club. JP Bean cites BBC radio’s transition to ‘fresh’ artists, with an appeal to a younger generation, for the decline in ‘traditional’ English folk [31]. Elsewhere, folk continued to be inherited by the children of the older practitioners of the 1960s onwards, who grew up with folk and the lifestyle. The tradition, in this sense, does live on [32].

Jim Garrett talks about his musical daughter [SA 30/7/1/24/1]. Read a transcript here.

[1] Folk Singing in Essex from the 1960s, Sue Cubbin SA 30/7/3/37

[2] Essex Record Office, Interview with Daniel Fox, 6 April 2000, SA 30/7/1/25/1

[3] Britta Sweers, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music, (Oxford University Press, 2005), p.25

[4] Ronald D. Cohen and Rachel C. Donaldson, Roots of the Revival: American and British Folk Music in the 1950s, (Illinois, 2014), p.7

[5] For the purposes of this section, the activities of the English Folk Song Society and English Folk Dance Society are being combined under the label of EFDSS, although they did not merge until 1929. In principle, though, the organisations had identical aims and goals when it comes to preservation.

[6] Jacqueline Simpson, and Steve Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, (Oxford, 2003) and Frederick Keel, “The Folk Song Society 1898-1948”, Journal of English Folk Dance and Song Society, 5.3 (1948), p.111

[7] Cohen and Donaldson, Roots of the Revival, p.61

[8] Sweers, Electric Folk, pp.31-32 and Billy Bragg, Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World, (London, 2017), p.235

[9] Frederick Keel, The Folk Song Society 1898-1948, p.111

[10] Bragg, Roots, Radicals and Rockers, p.253

[11] Cohen and Donaldson, Roots of the Revival, p.14

[12] Ibid, p.17

[13] Tony Kendall, “Through Bushes and Briars: Vaughan Williams’ earliest folk-song collecting”, in Ralph Vaughan Williams: In Perspective, ed. By Lewis Foreman, (Tonbridge, 1998), pp.48-55

[14] Cohen and Donaldson, Roots of Revival, p.21

[15] Ibid, p.40

[16] Cohen and Donaldson, Roots of Revival, p.19

[17] John Robert Brown, A Concise History of Jazz, (Fenton, 2006), p.142 and JP Bean, Singing from the Floor: A History of British Folk Clubs, (London, 2014), pp.1-2

[18] Bean, Singing from the Floor, p.1

[19] Cohen and Donaldson, Roots of Revival, p.44 and Bragg, Roots, Radicals and Rockers, pp.252-253

[20] Cohen and Donaldson, Roots of Revival, p.96

[21] Bragg, Roots, Radicals and Rockers, pp.367-368

[22] Cohen and Donaldson, Roots of Revival, pp.20, 40, p.130 and Interview with Myra and Red Abbott, 9 February 2000 [SA 30/7/1/20/1]

[23] Bean, Singing from the Floor, p.2

[24] Julia Yvonne Mitchell, “Subterranean Bourgeois Blues: The Second English Folk Revival, c. 1945-1970”, (unpublished doctoral thesis, University College London, 2014), p.62

[25] Bean, Singing from the Floor, p.xiii

[26] Mitchell, “Subterranean Bourgeois Blues”, p.63

[27] Bean, Singing from the Floor, pp.3, 18-19, 30, 56, 68

[28] Folk Singing in Essex from the 1960s, Sue Cubbin [SA 30/7/3/37]

[29] Bean, Singing from the Floor, p.31 and Sweers, Electric Folk, pp.23, 30

[30] Sweers, Electric Folk, p.23 and Bean, Singing from the Floor, p.3

[31] Bean, Singing from the Floor, p.350

[32] Ibid, p.326

Folk in Essex: Part One

Each year the ERO offers a placement to students on the MA History course at the University of Essex, jointly funded by the university and the Friends of Historic Essex. Last year, we were lucky to be joined by Callum Newton, who catalogued the Essex folk movement oral history project, conducted by Sue Cubbin between 1998 and 2002 (SA 30/7). Over the next three blog posts, Callum delves into the oral histories and chooses some of his personal highlights from the folk collection held in the Essex Sound and Video Archive. In this post, he explains the background to the collection and explores some of the issues discussed in the interviews.

Photograph of an office, with a corner desk and pinboard in the background. A woman, Sue Cubbin, is sitting side on at the desk, looking at a piece of paper in front of a reel-to-reel tape machine.
Sue Cubbin pictured in 1999 [C/DR 6/84].

In 1998 Sue Cubbin began an oral history collection that can only be described as a passion project. Inspired by the everyday lives recorded in the Colchester Recalled project (SA 8) she encountered through her work with the Essex Sound Archive, Sue set about conducting interviews with individuals involved in a lifestyle that she herself was deeply enmeshed with: the Essex folk movement.

‘Essex Folk Theme’ written and performed by the Jack Forbes Band [SA 30/3/6/1]. The recording was one of several played on Essex Radio’s Essex Folk programme in autumn 1981.

Sue’s belief was that the people involved in preserving the English folk tradition had their lives completely and utterly transformed by their relationship to folk. It was not simply a hobby for those involved; many committed every day of their week to participating in different folk clubs like Blackmore or the Hoy at Anchor. These clubs were home to a dedicated group of singers and musicians, like the Folk Five, Mick and Sarah Graves and the Grand Ceilidh Club. Every year, Essex also became home to folk festivals, most famously at Leigh-on-Sea.

‘Get a Little Table’ performed by Sarah and Mick Graves, recorded by Jim Etheridge at Chelmsford Folk Club on 18 July 1982 [SA 30/6/402/1]. The song was originally a music hall tune and is known by several names – including ‘The Lincolnshire Wedding Song’ (or ‘The Lancashire Wedding Song’). Read a transcript here.
Newspaper cutting dated Wednesday, November 11, 1970, showing a photograph of a group of people gathered around a guitar. The photograph is captioned 'Last Sunday at the Fitzwimare School the Rayleigh Society of Folk Dance and Song held a very successful musical evening."
Myra Abbott (left) started the Southend and the Hoy at Anchor Folk Clubs in the 1960s [SA202]

Over the next few years, this archive grew beyond the oral histories to include music recordings, video, photographs, scrap books and all kinds of other assorted materials, all preserved by Sue at the ERO.

Sue Cubbin explains the oral history project to Myra and Red Abbott [SA 30/7/1/20/1]. Read a transcript here.

From the beginning, Sue saw the project as an opportunity to help protect Essex folk by keeping a record for future generations to be inspired by. This idea is parallel to the oral nature of the folk tradition itself, in which music and dances were inherited generation after generation, by communities for future communities. The nature of this tradition in a modern world, however, was not without question. In a world with commercial records, big-name artists, and large festivals, one might ask what place a folk club might have. As we will see, many interviewees who were patrons of folk clubs asked this same question, suffering a kind of existentialism about the nature of folk and what place their lifestyle and tradition had in a country that often seemed to soundly reject it.

The front cover of a bright yellow programme. At the top is the emblem of Chelmsford Folk Club, a bridge, and at the bottom is an illustration of a man playing a violin and the text 'folk for enjoyment'.
Programme for Chelmsford Folk Club, which ran from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s [SA 30/2/3/4]
‘I Sowed Some Seeds’ performed by Martin Carthy, recorded by Jim Etheridge at Chelmsford Folk Club on 17 October 1982 [SA 30/6/425/1]. The song is based on the traditional song ‘The Hostess’s Daughter’, documented by Sabine Baring-Gould. Carthy released ‘I Sowed Some Seeds’ on his 1982 album, ‘Out of the Cut’. Read a transcript here.

This series of blog posts will explore how the individuals involved interpreted their commitment to the movement, and to the folk revival overall. For the rest of this post, I shall briefly spell out the main themes of the interviews: definitions of folk; the issues posed by commercialisation; and how to keep folk alive. The second and third posts shall explore the story of the folk revival and the nature of the folk movement in Essex.

What is folk?

The definition of folk is not a simple one. To many of us, folk music is often associated with singer-songwriter artists like Bob Dylan or Judy Collins, or perhaps even American country music. Yet many of the interviewees in the collection describe folk as something more: a lifestyle that they commit entirely to, a tradition they have inherited from ‘ordinary people’ of the past. There was not one idea of folk, however. It appears everyone involved had at least their own interpretation of the philosophy.

Some describe it as a continuation of that tradition, a very tangible lineage, rather than something separate or new. But others – like Colin Cater – view this lineage as not necessarily linear.

Colin Cater proposes his circular theory of inheritance within the folk tradition [SA 30/7/1/7/1]. Read a transcript here.

Others felt strongly that folk was a living tradition, rather than a re-enactment, the ‘folkies’ of Essex often deriding the English Folk Dance and Song Society for aligning with the latter. Folk clubs came under especial scrutiny. Did the music enjoyed locally and communally within these clubs constitute a living tradition? Was having guest performers, on a stage, being watched in silence, contrary to the spirit of a communal folk tradition? Does folk belong to one economic class?

Paul Kiff explains why he is principally against performance-centric folk clubs [SA 30/7/1/11/1]. Read a transcript here.

Or, as Paul O’Kelly suggests, is folk for personal enjoyment? Does it need to be communal at all?

Paul O’Kelly talks about individuality in folk music [SA 30/7/1/18/1]. Read a transcript here.
Poster for 'Touchwood: Electric folk & soft rock', with a white background and text in pink and green. To the left is an illustration of a tree, an imp, and a frog, and to the top right is a moon with a hat and face.
Poster for Touchwood, electric folk and soft rock [SA 30/2/3/4]. Folk had many definitions for the people who practiced and played it. Some rejected more popular forms, instead arguing that folk music was an older tradition of inheritance.

Popular folk and commercialisation

Popular folk music has a fundamental connection to the definition of folk. As the folk revival progressed, many folk practitioners became professional musicians. These artists were writing music, producing records, and gigging under the guise of folk music, very often in folk clubs but certainly within the popular sphere as well. To some of the local folk practitioners, however, this was seen as a degradation of the tradition. Many practitioners thought folk should stay true to its traditional roots, as a communal activity. Putting artists on a stage, separate from its audience, was not considered within their definition of folk, and was even treated as damaging to traditional interpretations of folk music.

Paul Kiff explains why commercialisation is anti-folk [SA 30/7/1/11/1]. Read a transcript here.

This debate also raged within Morris dancing. Those who were lucky enough to be given television appearances were accused of, in the words of Peter Boyce, ‘prostituting’ the tradition, because their costumes were experimental and unique, rather than by the book.

Peter Boyce explains the split between Chingford and Albion Morris over ‘electric Morris’ [SA 30/7/1/14/1]. Read a transcript here.

On the other hand, some viewed commercialisation positively. It provided opportunities for those with unique song-writing talent the opportunity to make a living from what they loved and gave folk a platform to present itself positively. Popular folk introduced many of the interviewees to folk clubs in the first place.

Sarah Graves explains the benefits of commercialisation [SA 30/7/1/19/1]. Read a transcript here.
Poster for 'Folk Concert'. The text is in blue on a white background and reads 'Folk Concert for The Linda Sargant Disneyland Fund in The Brentwood Odeon at Midnight - 2.30 on Friday December 7th. Featuring Touchwood, The Riggers, Dave Royall, Tony Maloney.". There are also small illustrations at the top and to each corner.
Poster for a folk concert [SA 30/2/3/4]. The Essex folk movement was not immune from commercialisation. Many viewed the potential to make a living from their lifestyle and practice as a positive element of folk music.

Keeping alive and communicating a folk tradition

Unlike the other issues discussed, the interviewees all agreed that more could have been done to keep the folk tradition alive, and that a lack of communication and pride in folk was to blame. Many felt that English people were ashamed of their folk roots, seeing a snobbery or embarrassment that was not present in Irish or Scottish folk traditions. Others tried to encourage the tradition, by writing new dances and songs, as a method of keeping it active and alive, instead of rehashing the older music that some had grown tired of.

Jill Palmer-Swift on how the folk tradition was still alive by virtue of new dances being written [SA 30/7/1/4/1]. Read a transcript here.

Many suggested that young people simply had no interest in folk, with many alternatives for entertainment in a modernising world; none more so than Tony Kendall, who envisioned a revival based in teaching the folk tradition in primary schools across Essex and Britain.

Tony Kendall on his plans to encourage young people to respect and participate in the folk tradition [SA 30/7/1/13/1]. Read a transcript here.

While folk music and dance was certainly still alive when the interviews were recorded, there was an acceptance amongst practitioners that folk was in decline by the 1990s. Some feared this would lead to the folk tradition disappearing altogether, without fast acting documentation.

Ivy Romney on her fear of losing traditional dances to the decline of the folk movement [SA 30/7/1/8/1]. Read a transcript here.
Black and white photograph of a group of people gathered at a party, next to a handwritten yellow label. The label reads 'Ivy Romney 80th Birthday Folk Dance Party at Alresford Village Hall. Guests from many Essex Dance Clubs'.
Ivy Romney (centre) played an important role within the English Folk Dance and Song Society – particularly in advocating for recognition for international folk dances [A14095]

While the Essex folk tradition does live on, preserved by a dedicated group of practitioners, some twenty years on from when she began, the interviews and the folk song and music collection held at the Essex Record Office acts as an insurance for Essex folk. Forever can the sounds and dances of the movement be experienced and inherited, and the lives attached to the golden age of the folk movement be remembered through their own experiences, in their own words and on their own terms.

‘Bonny Ship The Diamond’, performed live by the Skinners Rats, formed by Peter Chopping [SA 30/1/24/1]. The recording was published in 2001 on ‘Folk Festival’, a CD produced for Walton Folk Festival. The song is a traditional whaling tune. Read a transcript here.

Find out more about folk archives preserved at the Essex Record Office in this guide: Sources on Folk Music.

“I got out of bed, and when I looked outside, I was in the sea” 

As described in our earlier blog post, this week marks the 70th anniversary of the 1953 North Sea flood, one of Europe’s worst peacetime disasters in the the twentieth century. As communities along the Essex coast gather to commemorate the lives lost, amongst them will be people who still remember the devastation caused by the flood, although most were just children at the time. But how will we remember the flood when it fades from living memory?

At the ERO, we are fortunate that the voices of many of those who experienced the flood are now preserved in the Essex Sound and Video Archive. The quote above comes from a recording of Mrs Rudge, interviewed a few days after the flood by Sir Bernard Braine, Canvey Island’s MP. In the recording, Mrs Rudge recalls waking up in the small hours of Sunday morning to find her bungalow in Newlands overwhelmed with water, after the tidal surge overcame the sea wall at Small Gains Creek. Nearly 80 at the time, she spent three days trapped on her dining table before being rescued, without being able to access even the “nice little bottle of whiskey” in her dressing table drawer:

Florence Rudge interviewed by Bernard Braine in 1953 [SA 1/656/1]. Read a transcript here.

The interview with Mrs Rudge is one of a precious few recordings we hold from the immediate aftermath of the flood. In the decades since, oral historians, community archives, and radio producers have continued to preserve people’s memories of that night, complementing the abundance of personal testimony woven through Hilda Grieve’s The Great Tide. To mark the 70th anniversary, we wanted to share some of those recordings, telling the story of the flood through the words of those who were there.

Rising tides

Interviews with people who had to escape their homes often begin with the moment they realised that they were flooded. As the tidal surge came with very little warning, in the middle of the night, many recall being woken up by the sound of the water in and around their homes. Interviewed in 1988, Audrey Frost described hearing:

“The sound of all this rushing water, it sounded like. And I just sort of tapped Derek, and I said, ‘Sounds as though we’ve got an awful lot of rain coming down.’ And with that he said, ‘My god, it ain’t rain – the sea’s come over!”

Audrey Frost interviewed in 1988 by the Clacton and District Local History Society [SA 16/759/1]. Read a transcript here.

Audrey and her husband Derek lived on Gorse Way, one of the worst affected areas of Jaywick. Although it initially seemed that the sea walls had protected most of the town, the tide had breached the wall at Colne Point and swept across the marshes, surging into Jaywick from behind just before 2 AM. By the time that Audrey and Derek realised what was happening, the water was higher than the gutters of their bungalow. Thankfully, they managed to swim out of one of their windows with their eighteen month-old son, Michael, and spent the night on their roof in bitingly cold conditions before being rescued the following morning.

Like Audrey and Derek, many people in Jaywick and Canvey Island lived in bungalows, making it difficult to get above the freezing water that poured in through their letterboxes and window frames. A common theme in the interviews is the speed at which the water rose, leaving people no time to get dressed or gather possessions. Those who couldn’t make it up to their roofs climbed into their lofts, or – like Mrs Rudge – even onto their furniture as it floated on the water.

One unexpected detail mentioned by many of the interviewees was the challenge posed by lino flooring as it floated up on top of the water and became near-impossible to cross, jamming doors and windows shut. Interviewed in 1993 for the Breeze FM documentary, ‘The Great Tide’, Bill Rowland recalls trying to rescue his son’s brand-new bike at home in Parkeston Quay, Harwich:

“In those days I had a lino runner down my hall, and unthinkedly I came down the stairs, and I could see this bike standing sort of submerged in water. And I could also see the lino runner. And like a silly man, I trod on the lino, and of course, you can imagine, I did a complete somersault, because the lino was just resting on the top of the water. And I finished up in this absolutely icy water. Frozen to the bone I was.”

While some had no option but to stay put and wait for help, others made the difficult decision to try and get through the water to safety. On Canvey Island, Thelma and Donald Payne found that they couldn’t get up into the loft as a gas pipe had been laid across the hatch – and, being seven months pregnant, Thelma couldn’t fit either side of it. Although they found a temporary refuge in the external staircase of the house next door, when Thelma started having pains, they decided to make a break for it in their bath.

Donald and Thelma Payne recorded in 1999 by Stephen Hussey, as part of the ‘Headline History’ oral history project [SA 13/6/4/1]. Read a transcript here.

Others were lucky enough to have boats that hadn’t been carried away by the flood. In this interview from 2019, Malcolm MacGregor described how he managed to row his family away from their farm in Lee-over-Sands, with his sister’s Exmoor pony swimming behind them. Many of those who had their own boats, like Malcolm, were the first to help their neighbours, rescuing people from their lofts and roofs through the night.

Malcolm MacGregor recorded by Carol Dawson in 2019 as part of the ‘Tides of Tendring’ oral history project [SA 84/5/1]. Read a transcript here.

The rescue effort

Co-ordinated rescue efforts varied across the county. The policeman Kenneth Alston arrived in Harwich at 2.30 AM, five hours after the harbourmaster raised the alarm. In the intervening time the tidal surge had inundated the town, cutting it off completely. Interviewed in 1990, Ken recalled that:

“Although the water ran over the quay, the break came from the marshes at the back, what we call Bathside. There were just earthen ramparts. Those ramparts broke and water just poured into the back of Harwich. Overwhelmed all the properties there, the schools, over the railway, into the street behind the police station. And there were panic stations I can tell you.”

While the police and the fire brigade did all they could to help people get up above the water, into the upper storeys of buildings, Ken set about getting in touch with local boat owners and fishermen, the naval training ship HMS Ganges and Trinity House, who all contributed their boats to the rescue effort the following day, when hundreds of people were evacuated out of first and second-story windows.

In Jaywick, the force of the water that surged across the marshes washed away the only police car with radio equipment, hampering rescue efforts. PC Don Harmer – who hadn’t even been to Jaywick before – crawled a mile along the sea wall through the flood water to telephone for help from Clacton. Astoundingly, once he’d delivered his report, he followed orders to crawl all the way back again.

Don Harmer recorded by Anton Jarvis for the Breeze FM documentary, ‘The Great Tide’, broadcast in 1993 [SA 24/827/1]. Read a transcript here.

Any available boats along the coastline arrived to help as the morning went on, manned by emergency services, fishermen, and local residents. The following day, Monday 2nd February, the BBC journalist Max Robertson talked to some of those who had been involved, who were accompanied by a cat they’d rescued:

“Well we first pushed off from Grasslands in the boat. We hadn’t been rowing many yards when we heard a woman calling for help. So we immediately made for this bungalow, and reassured her that help was on the way.”

Down on Canvey Island, Reg Stevens, Canvey Urban Council’s Engineer and Surveyor, started co-ordinating the rescue effort at around 1.25 AM, when it was clear that the sea walls would not hold. Stevens tried to warn residents using the wartime air raid sirens and sent the policemen and firemen on the island out to reach as many people as they could. As Stevens recalls, the “heroic” telephone operator stayed sitting in the floodwater until his equipment ceased to function. Fortunately, one of the ambulances on the island had been fitted with a radio the previous week, and they managed to get a message out to their MP, Bernard Braine, who helped with the rescue effort from the mainland.

Reg Stevens, also recorded by Anton Jarvis for the Breeze FM documentary, ‘The Great Tide’, broadcast in 1993 [SA 24/827/1]. Read a transcript here.

As Canvey remained cut off, the rescuers had to make do with whatever they could find. Geoff Barsby, one of eight part-time firemen on Canvey at the time, recalls using collapsible canvas dinghies to help rescue people from their homes, and then a boat from Peter Pan’s Playground in Southend.

Geoff Barsby recorded by Ted Haley in 1983 [SA 20/1138/1]. Read a transcript here.

More boats from Southend, Grays, Tilbury and Thurrock arrived as the morning went on, and by 5.30 AM the army and RAF had arrived to help. Thirty-five years later, one of the borough policemen recalled arriving on Canvey early that morning:

“The thing that we noticed as soon as we got out of the van were the cries of help from people who were stranded nearby, plus the noise of the wind, and you know, the shock of seeing so much water in a residential area.”

Many of those involved in the rescue effort recount the practical difficulties of rescuing people. A common theme was the impossibility of using motor boats when there were so many obstacles under the water, forcing rescuers to row. Even that wasn’t straightforward – one interviewee who went out to rescue people from Canewdon and Foulness Island commented that:

“We hadn’t realised that there were so many underwater obstructions, because every now and then there were these ominous bangs coming from underneath the boat. We’d probably hit some farm machinery or a tree or a hedge or something like that and I thought any moment now we’re going to have a hole in our boat and we shall all be sunk.”

Another challenge was getting people off their roofs into the boats. In addition to the strength of the tide, there was always the risk that people would miss altogether, capsize the boat, or in the case of the canvas boats, go straight through the bottom. In one interview, Sammy Sampson describes how he rescued several residents of Great Wakering by encouraging them to slide down his back into the boat.

Once on dry land, survivors were taken to rest centres, co-ordinated by the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Services) and the local chapters of the British Legion, amongst others. As one interviewee recalls, rescued residents of Canewdon, Foulness Island, and Wallasea Island were taken to the Corinthian Yacht Club in Burnham-on-Crouch to be given tea and support. As many of those who escaped were still in their cold, wet nightclothes, the rest centres also co-ordinated collecting and distributing clothing.

Interview broadcast on BBC Essex in 1988 as part of the programme ‘Tide on Tide’ [SA 1/313/1]. Read a transcript here.

On Canvey, those who had escaped their homes initially gathered at William Read School. With the arrival of army lorries, they were taken onto the mainland and to South Benfleet School. By midday on the 1st February, journalists and photographers had started to turn up to document the ongoing rescue effort. One of the most publicised photographs at the time shows PC Bill Pilgrim carrying a child onto a lorry. As he recalls in this interview from 1988, he was just doing his job:

PC Bill Pilgrim interviewed for the 1988 BBC Essex programme ‘Tide on Tide’ [SA 1/313/1]. Read a transcript here.

The rescue effort went on for days. Families were scattered across hospitals, rest centres, relatives and friends. Canvey resident Shirley Thomas (née Hollingbury) recalled becoming separated from her parents after her mother was taken to hospital:

“Being twelve years old, I had not noticed that everybody was writing their names on the paintboard in the schools that they were taken to, and I hadn’t done it. So for a couple of days my father hunted in vain for his two girls… Eventually somebody in Benfleet remembered seeing two little girls. Luckily my sister was a redhead, so it had stuck in their mind… And I can still remember my father crying– I never saw him cry again, in his lifetime.”

Despite the disruption, businesses like Jones Stores continued to operate. Interviewed by Ted Haley in 1983, Albert Jones recalls the support of the army and Southend Grocers Association in keeping them going. In the following weeks, residents slowly returned – under the watchful eye of the police, to ensure that looting didn’t take place – to see what was left of their homes.

The famous bear outside Jones Stores, with a sign reading ‘Bear up! Canvey will rise again’

Many had lost everything to the flood. Yet, alongside the loss, people also recall the generosity of their communities and people across the country who donated clothes, food, and furniture to help the survivors rebuild their lives. There was much press coverage of the attempts to rescue pets and reunite them with their owners, led by the PDSA. One interviewee, Alan Whitcomb, recalled how he was reunited with his tortoiseshell cat after seeing him on the television:

Dr Alan Whitcomb recorded in 2004 for the ’12 Foot Under’ project [SA481]. Read a transcript here.
People holding pets and other animals rescued from the flood

Another interviewee, Winnie Capser, received an RSPCA award for Gallantry and Services on Behalf of Animals for her work. Interviewed in the early 1980s by radio producer Dennis Rookard, she commented that:

“You know, you just can’t imagine it. But I always say now, if you lived through the flood, you could live through anything.”

While it might be difficult for us to imagine the flood, seventy years on, hearing the voices of the people who lived through it – their intonation and emotional cadence – brings the scale of the tragedy closer. In listening to the detail, we bear witness to the human cost of that night – and the human perseverance and courage.

Further listening

You can listen to all of these clips – and more – at the listening post in our Searchroom. We’ll also be at Canvey Library on Wednesday 1st and Thursday 2nd February, and at Harwich Museum on Saturday 4th February. Find more information here.

You can access many of the full recordings in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office. To explore the archives we hold relating to the 1953, see our source guide.

The story of the floods on Canvey Island was told in a film made by Essex County Council’s Educational Film Unit that same year, ‘Essex Floods’ (VA 3/8/4/1). You might recognise some of the audio from the documentary ‘Learning From The Great Tide’, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 earlier this week. The new interviews recorded for the documentary will be preserved in the ESVA for future generations.


Black History Month at the ERO: Part 2

In the second post focusing on Black histories at the Essex Record Office, we’ll explore some of the audio recordings preserved in the Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA). Including broadcasts on local radio, spoken-word poetry, and oral histories, these recordings give us an insight into the experiences of a diverse range of Black people in Essex over the past 75 years, right up until the present day.

You can explore the Black History Month display and listen to more clips in our Searchroom – check our website for opening hours.

Unfortunately, the earliest recording in the ESVA relating to Black history – a race relations meeting held at St Martin’s Church, Basildon, in December 1968 –  is very poor quality, largely due to the acoustics of the venue (SA 20/2/37/1). More audible recordings can be found in the archive of BBC Essex, which broadcast events, discussions, and features across the county from 1986. While there were no programmes produced specifically for Black or ethnic minority audiences (as there were on other local radio stations outside Essex), the archive does include some recordings that help us to understand the experiences of the Black community during this period.

The clip below is from a radio programme about the work of Thurrock Community Relations Council, broadcast in 1988. The council aimed to “promote harmony, eliminate racial and cultural discrimination, and promote equal opportunities” in the area, and included representatives from the local Sikh, Vietnamese, and African-Caribbean communities. The speaker in the clip is Diana Wall, who had moved to the UK from Guyana in the 1960s and was working as a midwife in Grays.

“The older people accept me as a person in my field of work, but the younger generation sometimes do cause a little bit of a problem.”

Diana Wall talks about her experience of racism in Grays on BBC Essex, 1988 (SA 1/240/1). Read a transcript here.

Voices from Black communities across Essex continue to be recorded for broadcast today, both by BBC Essex and organisations like the Essex Cultural Diversity Project (ECDP), which launched ECDP Radio in 2021. In episode below, presenter Nita Jhummu talks to Sangita Mittra, Wrenay Raphael and Carlos Byles from the New Generation Development Agency, about Black History Month in Chelmsford (SA 74/2/7/1):

Other contemporary reflections on issues of identity and place have been commissioned by Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea for FPG Sounds, an online project supporting the development of new sound works by artists from or based in Southend, now archived in the ESVA (SA912). Amongst the fifteen commissions are several spoken-word pieces by Carrissa Baxter and The Repeat Beat Poet (Peter deGraft-Johnson), exploring Black British history and their own experiences.

The Repeat Beat Poet’s poem ‘One Black Lotus’, inspired by the eighteenth century Jamaican-Scottish radical and union activist William Davidson.

Over the last fifteen years, museums, arts organisations, and artists have also recorded the stories of people who moved to Essex from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as more recent experiences of those with African or Caribbean heritage.

Oral histories are some of the most powerful records of recent Black history in Essex. As historians have shown, the fact that the personal experiences of people of African descent in Britain have not generally been recorded – as we found in the first blog post – has contributed to their historical erasure. In contrast, oral histories give people the opportunity to share their stories in their own words. Quoting from the 1991 Julie Dash film, Daughters of the Dust, Dr Meleisa Ono-George has emphasised that “there is power in the knowing, but there is also power in the telling”. As the artist Everton Wright (EVEWRIGHT) describes in the clip below, the richness and complexity of these stories also provides a foundation for future generations to listen to and learn from.

The artist EVEWRIGHT speaking on ECDP Radio, 2021 (SA 74/2/5/1). Read a transcript here.

In 2008, staff at Hollytrees Museum in Colchester recorded oral histories with nurses who came to work for the NHS from around the Commonwealth, including the Caribbean, for the exhibition ‘Empire of Care’. In the recordings, the interviewees talk about their memories of arriving in Essex, training to be nurses, living in Colchester during the late 1950s and 1960s, and their careers since.

Looking back over their lives, they also reflect on their achievements and the challenges they faced. In the clip below, Shirla Philogene (née Allen) describes her experience of ‘colour prejudice’ during her nursing training in Colchester. Shirla grew up in St Vincent & the Grenadines and started her training in Colchester in 1959. She received an OBE for her services to nursing leadership and development in 2000 and published a book about her experiences, Between Two Worlds, in 2008.

Shirla Philogene describes her experience of prejudice during her nursing training (VA 77/1/5/1). Read a transcript here. To listen to the full interview, please get in touch.

Another interview with Shirla is preserved in the Royal College of Nursing archive (T/374), and you can hear more clips from the interviews with Shirla, Ester Jankey, and Rosie Bobby in this blog post about the collection.

Picture of the redecorated Caribbean Cafe in Colchester
Detail of art installation at S&S Caribbean Café, 2018. Image: EVEWRIGHT.

Between 2017 and 2018, EVEWRIGHT and Evewright Arts Foundation recorded thirteen oral histories with Caribbean elders across Essex. Ten-minute excerpts from the interviews were played as part of the Caribbean Takeaway Takeover exhibition at the S&S Caribbean Café in Colchester on the weekend of the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury. As with the ‘Empire of Care’ recordings, many of those interviewed describe their journeys to the UK from the Caribbean. One interviewee, Alford Gardner, travelled from Jamaica on the Windrush itself:

” When we came here, reach Tilbury, there were two Calypsonians from Trinidad and any part of the boat you walk on I mean, some little ting, ting ting, ting, ting t-ting-ting. Anything that moved on the boat, a song was made up about it!”

Alford Gardner speaking to Ionie Richards and Everton Wright in 2018 (SA 69/1/3/1)

Importantly, the oral histories record the many different experiences of the pioneers now known as the ‘Windrush generation’, and their lives in the UK beyond the point of arrival. In this clip, Alton Watkins, who passed away in May this year, reflects on his contribution to British society as a teacher and England being his home.

Alton Watkins reflects on his life in England (SA 69/1/8/1). Read a transcript here.
Tilbury Bridge Walkway of Memories installation by EVEWRIGHT. Image: John Ferguson.

In 2020, EVEWRIGHT created a new installation in a passenger walkway at the Port of Tilbury. The 432 panes of glass along the walkway are collaged with photographs, passports, documents, boat passenger tickets and memorabilia. There is also a series of sound windows, where visitors can listen to some of the audio stories recorded for the Caribbean Takeaway Takeover installation, as well as new interviews recorded by Evewright Arts Foundation and donated by members of the public across the UK. The clip below is from an interview with Freda Seaton, where she describes moving to the UK from Jamaica in 1957.

Freda Seaton talking to Nadine Persaud in August 2020 (SA 69/2/10/1). Read a transcript here.

This series of recordings was deposited in the ESVA earlier this year. Thanks to the generosity of the participants, we are delighted to be able to share them on our catalogue, Essex Archives Online, and our Soundcloud channel. You can also pick up a legacy publication about the installation in our Searchroom.

Installation view, Black Girl Essex, Firstsite. Image: Ollie Harrop.

Another collection of recordings recently deposited in the ESVA is a series of four conversations recorded by the artist Elsa James in 2019 for ‘Black Girl Essex’, a project carried out during her four month residency for Super Black, an Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme exhibition at Firstsite in Colchester (SA 78/1).

The thirteen participants in the conversations represent the diversity of the Black community in Essex in the twenty-first century. They varied in age, from 13 to 74, and while some moved to Essex as children, or later on in life, others were born and brought up in the county. This diversity is reflected in the recordings, as they discuss their perceptions of Essex, whether the Essex stereotype resonates with them, and their experiences of being othered.

One of the participants was the actor and director Josephine Melville, who sadly died on 20 October. Jo set up the South Essex African Caribbean Association (SEACA) in 2012 and was passionate about bringing communities together to celebrate their culture and heritage. As well as the interview with Elsa James, Jo was also involved with EVEWRIGHT’s Tilbury Bridge Walkway of Memories project, to which she contributed a recording of her parents’ experience of moving to Britain from Jamaica, and a conversation with her mother, Byrel.

In this excerpt from her conversation with Elsa, she reflects on the importance of recording and preserving Black histories in Essex.

“Moments need to be logged and treasured, so that we don’t get lost, and that our history and our presence in this area are not just told by other people, they’re told by us.”

Josephine Melville speaking to Elsa James, September 2019

Communicating Connections: oral histories and website now online!

We’re delighted to announce that the oral histories recorded for Communicating Connections: Sharing the Heritage of Marconi’s Wireless World are now available to explore on Essex Archives Online. You can also explore our project website, Marconi Stories, where you can learn about the project, listen to clips from the interviews and podcasts, view a gallery of digitised photographs, and download our guided walks around Marconi heritage in Chelmsford.

A screenshot of the homepage of the project website. The project title is on a background of a photograph of a Marconi factory, with the menu above.
The Communicating Connections project website

The oral histories with 30 former employees of the Marconi Company are at the heart of the Communicating Connections project. As the interviewees worked at the company in a huge range of roles from the 1950s to the 2000s, the recordings capture a real variety of experiences. Together, they add a human dimension to a story of technological innovation, and give a personal insight into how the company operated across the fields of broadcasting, telecommunications, navigation, and other wireless technologies. They also reveal how life in Chelmsford – and the fabric of the city itself – was shaped by the company. This living heritage will now be preserved in the Essex Sound and Video Archive at the ERO for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

The clips and excerpts below provide an insight into the experiences discussed in the interviews. Most of the interviewees begin by describing how they came to work at the company. Many, like Peter Farnworth, joined as apprentices. In this clip, he talks about moving into the ‘ship room’ in the hostel for apprentices on Springfield Place in 1966.

Interview with Peter Farnworth [SA 13/8/26/1]

Several female interviewees – Barbara Stephens, Joyce Allan, Maria Smith, and Val Cleare – discuss what it was like to join Marconi’s as a woman. In this clip, Barbara recalls being the only female apprentice on her course in 1974. She went on to become a trailblazer in the world of engineering.

Interview with Barbara Stephens [SA 13/8/3/1]

A detached building behind some elaborate gates and a fence, next to a sign that reads 'Marconi Aeradio Training School'
Marconi Aeradio Training School, Chelmsford

After their apprenticeships, the interviewees went on to work in various departments across the company, often progressing into management positions. Chris Denly recalls that a job at Marconi was seen as a ‘job for life’ –

“It was going to be a job for life. [It had] its own culture; we used to go on things like ‘walkabout’, where we’d go to different departments, talking to people, communicating, and seeing what everybody else was actually up to”

Interview with Chris Denly [SA 13/8/12/1]

The interviewees also explain the technology and equipment they worked with, often in great detail. In this clip, Malcolm Frost talks about his time working on the ‘Heli-tele’ system for aircraft, which they sold to the BBC so they could record television from the air.

Interview with Malcolm Frost [SA 13/8/19/1]

As the company had customers and clients all around the world, many Marconi employees travelled abroad for work, sometimes for months or even years at a time. The interviewees often recalled their travels with Marconi as a highlight of their careers. In his interview, Bob Willis listed where he’d been –

“I’ve been to Australia and South Africa. I’ve been to Japan, Korea, Taiwan. People from India and China came over to the UK. Chinese engineers came from a couple of space companies because I had a relationship with the National Physics Laboratory.”

Interview with Bob Willis [SA 13/8/6/1]

An old-fashioned car on a road outside a building with 'Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Works' painted on the corner.
A Marconi vehicle outside the Hall Street factory

The interviewees also describe their memories of Marconi’s factories, workshops, laboratories, and training schools back home in Chelmsford, and the working atmosphere. In her interview, Maria Smith describes the importance of working together in the drawing offices. After she had her first child in 1977, she continued working for Marconi’s from home.

Interview with Maria Smith [SA 13/8/20/1]

While many of the interviewees look back on their time at Marconi’s fondly, they also discuss the challenges they faced at work and the decline of the company from the 1990s. Cyril Teed worked at Marconi’s for 15 years before moving to be Chief Engineer at ITN. In this clip, he describes the changes that had occurred at Marconi’s when he returned three years later.

Interview with Cyril Teed [SA 13/8/14/1]

Like Cyril, Martyn Clarke also took part in the social side of working at Marconi’s. Here, he talks about reviewing films for the monthly Marconi magazine and making a pirate-themed float for Chelmsford Carnival.

Interview with Martyn Clarke [SA 13/8/21/1]

At the end of the interviews, many of the interviewees reflect on the friendships they made, and note that they remain in touch with people they met through work – even as apprentices back in the 1950s.

“I still dream that I’m back working at Marconi’s in New Street. I don’t dream about working [elsewhere], where I worked for three times the length of time. It was a special company, it worked in a special way. And lots of friendships were made and survive to this day.”

Interview with Mike Plant [SA 13/8/25/1]

Each of the interviews recorded through the project is now available to browse on our catalogue here. You can listen to most of the interviews on Essex Archives Online, and some of the clips featured above on our Marconi radio in the Searchroom.

Our Communicating Connections radio

Thank you to everyone who has been involved since the start of the project in August 2020: all of the interviewees; the volunteer interviewers and podcasters; the project co-ordinator, Laura Owen; and our evaluator, Pippa Smith. We are also grateful for the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Essex 2020.

Read previous blog posts about the project here:

Nursing Stories: Essex County Hospital, Colchester

University of Essex MA student Punna Athwall writes about the ‘Empire of Care’ collection of oral histories…

In 2018 the NHS celebrated its 70th anniversary. Since 5 July 1948, the NHS journey has involved major changes in terms of its organisation, professionalisation and new treatments. However, the fundamental features of universal healthcare for everyone, free at the point of delivery are the same. The recent COVID pandemic has demonstrated the value of NHS provision to keep the nation safe.

Colchester reached another milestone in 2018 when Essex County Hospital on Lexden Road closed its doors after 200 years. A joint project by Essex University and Colchester General Hospital has compiled a library of images from its history.

Ten years earlier, Hollytrees Museum hosted the ‘Empire of Care’ exhibition, which focused on the lives and and stories of the nurses who came to Colchester to work for the NHS, recruited from other countries throughout the Commonwealth Empire. As well as objects, photographs, and press cuttings, the exhibition included interviews with a number of nurses who came to train at Essex County Hospital. These oral histories provide a window into life in Colchester from the 1950s to the 1970s.

History of Essex County Hospital

In 1818, a hospital for the poor was set up on Lexden Road by the archdeacon of Colchester, Joseph Jefferson. From 1907, his voluntary institution became known as Essex County Hospital. During the early days, the hospital was financed by subscriptions, gifts, and interest on investments, as well as collections, bazaars, and fundraising by the Ladies’ Linen League and Colchester Ladies’ Collection Association. From 1920, in-patients were charged £1 a week for maintenance, reduced to 10 shillings for contributors to an insurance scheme.

By this time, the hospital included an operating room and beds for more than 80 patients in eight wards. The hospital continued to add new buildings and medical facilities to cater for increasing demand, and during the Second World War it was graded as a first-class non-teaching hospital for all types of cases, becoming part of the emergency medical service.

In 1948 the County became part of the National Health Service. Over the next 40 years, the hospital added further facilities, including new operating theatres, a radiotherapy block, a postgraduate study medical centre and a children’s wing.

Empire of Care Interviews

The ‘Empire of Care’ collection, held as part of the Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA) at the Essex Record Office, includes seven interviews, from 21 minutes to over an hour long. Two of the nurses interviewed came from Malaysia, one from St Vincent, two from Trinidad and one from Braintree. Another interviewee was a local lady who supported trainee nurses.

Rosie Bobby describes why she decided to become a nurse, travelling in England on the SS Antilles in 1959, and arriving in Colchester (SA 77/1/2/1).

Most of the international trainee nurses were young – around 18 years old – when they arrived in Colchester. They all wanted to care for others and considered nursing to be a good job. They came to England because of a shortage of nurses. For most of them, it was the first time they had left home, and was their first experience of air or long boat journey.

Ester Jankey recalls the nurse’s home and fostering scheme for nurse trainees when she arrived in Colchester in 1969 (SA 77/1/1/1).

They comment that, at the beginning, they felt lonely in a strange country, with strange cultural practices and the wintry weather. However, they soon settled into their unfamiliar environment, sometimes helped by local families and by nurses from their own country who had come before them.

Sew Em Tan describes sending photographs to her mother and the difficulty of finding Chinese ingredients (SA 77/1/7/1).

They all said that training was demanding and regular work on wards was tough. They had to provide their own laced black shoes and black stockings, and some had to buy warm clothes and coats from their first wage.

Photograph of a replica nurse's uniform. The uniform is white and in two parts, a dress and apron, both made of a linen/cotton blend. The uniform is covered with ironed-on photographic images from former nurses at the hospital.
Replica of a nurse’s uniform that would have been worn at Essex County Hospital in the 1950s. Made by Creative Couture and Ciara Canning for the ‘Empire of Care’ exhibition at Hollytrees Museum, Colchester, in 2008. Courtesy of Colchester Museums.

Most felt that the matrons and sisters were stern but fair. Trainee nurses had to be quiet during ward visits by consultants. Different shifts required certain tasks to be completed to tight schedules, which could cause problems. All the nurses were dedicated to their studies and did well to complete their training successfully.

A photograph of two doctors in aprons carving a turkey on a hospital ward. There are also three nurses in uniform in the photograph, either side of the doctor in the middle.
The trainee nurses had to work on Christmas Day – the senior doctors carved turkey for everyone. Photograph courtesy of Colchester Museums.

Work on wards brought all training nurses in close contact with patients, all of whom were white. They knew little about the places that the international nurses came from, but were curious to know about food and how life was back home.  Some patients were surprised that Caribbean nurses spoke good English, without realising that English was their mother tongue. The Malaysian nurses mentioned that they found it difficult to understand patients when they used local slang and spoke fast.

Shirla Philogene describes her experience of prejudice on a ward (VA 77/1/5/1). ‘PTS’ stands for Preliminary Training School.

In the clip above, Shirla recalls not being taught as well as her fellow trainees by one of the ward sisters. She was so upset that she wanted to leave and sent a telegram to her family, asking for money to go back home. The money did not materialise, and she was persuaded by another sister to return to her duties. After explaining the situation to Matron, she had no problems.

A black and white photograph of 22 formally dressed people on a stage, with flowers in the background.
A photograph of the graduation ceremony for Essex County Hospital nurses, 1972. The photograph includes two of the interviewees, Ester and Sena. Courtesy of Colchester Museums.
Seng Ling Cheung recalls sewing her own dresses to go dancing at the International Club (VA 77/1/3/1).

Colchester was considered a small town with few facilities – one interviewee recalled her excitement when the first coffee shop opened. On days off, some of the trainees visited their foster families or went home with local nurses. They had to leave the nurses home during holidays, but usually couldn’t return home as it was too expensive. One nurse stayed at the Methodist International Hall for her holidays. The Colchester International Club provided socialising opportunities to meet people from other countries. One of the interviewees met her husband, who was from Hong Kong, there; they had their wedding reception at her foster parent’s house.

Gillian Nicholson, one of the ‘foster parents’ for the international nurses, recalls hosting a wedding at her house (VA 77/1/4/1).

Most of the nurses stayed in England and worked until they had families. Only one returned home to Malaysia, and she came back to England after three years. There was a general belief among international nurses that their chances of promotion were limited. Most of them left general nursing and went to London and trained in midwifery. Despite that, all the interviews were glad they came to England, and enjoyed long and successful careers.

Sew Em Tan reflects on her career in nursing (SA 77/1/7/1).

Healthcare today in Colchester

During the 70 years since the creation of the NHS, health services in Colchester have undergone tremendous change. According to the April 2018 Annual Report, Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust provided healthcare services to around 370,000 people from Colchester and the surrounding area. It recognised that Colchester was a largely affluent area with relatively low unemployment and above average life expectancy.

However, a recurrent theme for the staff survey was that “staff from an ethnic background do not routinely feel supported to progress their careers and move into management posts”.

The Trust had a programme of work celebrating all staff and providing support such as dedicated group meetings for international new joiners. While progress has been made, it is recognised that further work is required.

In 2014 the BBC reported the shortage of trained medical staff as a major challenge for the NHS. More than a third of nurses in three Essex hospitals were from overseas due to a shortage of British-trained recruits. At Colchester Hospital, 29% of doctors and nurses came from overseas. The most popular countries for recruiting nurses are Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and the Philippines.

Recently, the Nuffield Foundation report Closing the Gap estimate that for the English NHS an additional 5,000 internationally recruited nurses will be needed each year until 2023/24″.

Based on the current indicators, the shortage of nurses, recruitment from abroad, and barriers to promotion for Black and Asian nurses, may not have been left behind in the 1970s.

Accessing the interviews

You can now read full summaries of each interview in the ‘Empire of Care’ collection on Essex Archives Online (reference SA 77/1). To listen to the interviews in the Searchroom, contact ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk.

Call for volunteers: Essex Ensembles Assembled

Do you have an ear for music? An investigative streak? An interest in audio archives? Or, even better, all three?

We are looking for volunteers to help catalogue recordings of the Essex Youth Orchestra (EYO) and Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra (CYCO) from the 1960s to the 2000s.

The recordings have recently been digitised as part of the ‘Essex Ensembles Assembled’ project, funded by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC).

The next step in the project is to make information about the recordings available on our catalogue, Essex Archives Online, and (rights-permitting) share some the recordings online.

Ideally, we’d like volunteers to listen to the recordings, identify the pieces performed, and write time-coded descriptions for our catalogue. For those less familiar – or a bit rusty! – with classical music, some of the concert programmes are available to help.

If you are interested, please get in touch with our Sound Archivist, Kate O’Neill.
We would especially love to hear from you if you were involved with the EYO or CYCO yourself. You can volunteer remotely or here in the Searchroom at the Essex Record Office, so you’ll be able to get involved whether you’re based in Essex or further afield.

About the Essex Youth Orchestra

The Essex Youth Orchestra (EYO) was founded in 1957 and continues to this day as Essex Music Services’ flagship ensemble. The EYO has consistently maintained an excellent reputation for the very high standard of its performances, in part down to its history of distinguished conductors, such as John Georgiadis. 

Essex Youth Orchestra perform Holst’s ‘Brook Green Suite’ in Thaxted Church on the 75th anniversary of the Thaxted Music Festival, 28 December 1989 [SA 1/927/1]. Recorded by BBC Essex.

There are over 50 recordings of EYO performances in the Essex Sound and Video Archive. They feature a range of composers, from Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach to those with a local connection such as Holst, Britten, and Gordon Jacob. The EYO regularly performed at local festivals and on tour, with concerts in the USA in 1972, Israel in 1976 and East Germany in 1982.

The first performance of Gordon Jacob’s ‘Sinfonia Brevis’, performed by Essex Youth Orchestra at Saffron Walden County High School, 5 April 1975 [SA881].

About Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra

Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra (CYCO) was founded in 1982 to provide talented local musicians an opportunity to play in an ambitious chamber orchestra. It also featured notable musicians, with trumpeter George Reynolds conducting from 1984. It closed in 2007.

Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra performing at the Colchester Rose Show in July 1984 [SA645]. Do you recognise the piece being performed?

The CYCO archive was deposited at the Essex Record Office in 2012. Alongside programmes, posters, and press clippings, the archive includes twenty recordings of CYCO performances, from concerts at the annual Colchester Rose Show to the first performance of Alan Bullard’s ‘Colchester Suite’.

Presenter Liz Mullen explains the inspiration behind Alan Bullard’s ‘Colchester Suite’, commissioned for Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra in 1983 [SA645]. From ‘Folio’, Anglia Television’s arts programme.

The aim of the Essex Ensembles Assembled project

The project aims to preserve recordings of the Essex Youth Orchestra and Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra and make them available for future generations to enjoy. It is funded by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation and study of sound recordings.

As an aural record, the recordings provide a unique insight into the changing nature and repertoire of youth orchestras in Essex over the past fifty years, and give a platform to local musicians, conductors and composers.

They also capture music-making that is often lost to posterity, with performances by the Second Essex Youth Orchestra as well as the First, and the occasional wrong notes and coughs from the audience.

Nevertheless, as a whole the recordings reveal a high standard of performance, and demonstrate what young people can contribute to music in Essex and beyond.

Conductor John Georgiadis and four Essex Youth Orchestra members talk about their involvement with the orchestra on the EYO’s 30th anniversary in 1987. Recorded by BBC Essex [SA 1/1291/1].
Collage of black and white photographs of the Essex Youth Orchestra in concert and on outings.
A collage of photographs from an Essex Youth Orchestra concert programme.