just clicked on a bit of history from right here in the City of Chelmsford.
Many people know Chelmsford is the birthplace of radio, it’s where Marconi chose to build his first factory and where ideas and experiments
unfolded across the years, but it’s so much more than that, it’s where our
future world of communication began.
a hundred years before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Marconi was laying down the
foundations of the communication explosion of the 21st century. One of the
first truly global figures in modern
he was the first inventor to not only communicate globally but think globally
telegraph to telephone and radio to the world wide web, mobile phones and
satelitte navigation, the link between then, now and the future is the
development of wireless communication.
Record Office continues to capture and preserve our local histories with
written material, historical documents, recordings and interviews. The Essex
Record Office is also home to a collection of over 150,000 images that
catalogue the places, people, objects and machinery of the Marconi Company.
Elaine Tribley, was given access to this collection as part of an Essex 2020
Artist in Residence project with the ERO. Focusing on the photographed objects
she produced a series of artworks enlarging and placing them into the
landscapes around the Records Office
reflective texts. Elaine says “I not only wanted to bring these objects to our
attention, challenging their place, Marconi’s place in our future, but I also
wanted to celebrate the fact that this incredible collection of photographic
history is right here in our own City”.
Two of these works were chosen to be displayed at Chelmsford’s rail station
to coincide with the British Science Festival being held in the City.
For the last few months ERO has hosted two student placements jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex. They have both written for us about their experiences and what they have discovered here at ERO. In his blog post below Aaron Archer explores the huge wealth of information held within parish Poor Law documents. If you enjoy this article, Aaron has also written a separate article for the Friends of Historic Essex –News – Friends of Historic Essex
During my placement at the Essex Record Office, I have been cataloguing the parish records of north-east Essex. Dating broadly from the late seventeenth century through until the mid-nineteenth century, many of the documents contained within this collection relate to the Poor Law and the daily administration of the various parishes.
The ‘old Poor Law’ which
concerns these documents began with the acts of Elizabeth I between 1598 and
1601, and effectively outlined those who were considered ‘the deserving poor’
and those that ‘refused to work’.
The responsibility of this poor relief system lay with the parishes, particularly
the churchwardens and overseers of the poor, who enacted the day-to-day
workings of the system.
Whilst my time has largely
involved cataloguing these various documents, such as settlement certificates,
apprenticeship indentures and removal orders… I must confess – I have been
unable to resist taking some notes on some of the more colourful or exceptional
stories uncovered within these records!
Also, I should preface this by stating that all of what I record here has been uncovered with minimal research – and that alone should demonstrate the wealth of information and the variety of stories that one could find if you are actively seeking to research a similar topic (or looking for a research starter!).
Let us begin the examples of
William Allen and Deborah Brooks. These names occur more than once each within
the bastardy bonds of the parish of St Peter’s in Colchester.
On 10 June 1823, Deborah Brooks
underwent a voluntary examination (D/P 178/15/2/4) relating to the illegitimate
child she had recently given birth to. Such an examination was necessary to
determine whether the child would be chargeable to the parish in which the
examination was taking place. During this, Brooks reputed that William Allen, a
blacksmith from Brightlingsea, was the father of the child. As such, Allen
would be liable to pay a bastardy bond of £2 immediately to the churchwardens
of St Peters for any costs incurred by parish, then a further two shillings per
week in support of the child, and a further sixpence per week to support
Brooks. Clearly, illegitimate births like these were costly. According to the
National Archives’ currency converter, £2 was the equivalent of 13 days wages of
a skilled worker.
Yet, this is not the last we
hear of William Allen. On 2 December 1823, Alice Cook of St Peter’s, Colchester
undertook a voluntary examination relating to her illegitimate pregnancy (D/P
178/15/2/5). Once again, the name William Allen was stated when it was
questioned who the father may be. This time, William Allen was said to be a
drover from Ardleigh. In this instance, Allen was ordered to pay a bastardy
bond of £1, 16 shillings to St Peter’s, then a further two shillings and
sixpence per week to Alice Cook and the child once it was born.
Of course, this very well could
have been a separate individual, however it is also a stretch that two women
from the same parish became pregnant to two different men sharing the same name,
and only six months apart… If these cases do indeed involve the same individual,
then William Allen certainly was an unfortunate soul to fall into the same
situation twice – and with only 6 months in between cases!
But we must not forget Deborah
Brooks either. Her name also appears again on the 10 September 1824. Again, she
underwent an examination regarding her illegitimate pregnancy, and on this
occasion, Charles Wenlock, a mariner from Brightlingsea, was the reputed father
(D/P 178/15/2/8). The parish of St Peter’s wrote up a bastardy bond for £4 and
one shilling, plus the further weekly one shilling and sixpence for the child,
and sixpence per week for Brooks, however it appears that things were not so
simple for Wenlock. An attached note states that Wenlock had changed addresses
during this period and thus was unaware of
the money he now owed. When he was eventually found on 29 June 1827, he owed a
total of 146 weeks of unpaid maintenance amounting to £10 and 19 shillings! For
reference, this was about two months wages for a skilled tradesman.
These stories present some
interesting implications. Firstly, and most apparently, these instances offer
an insight into relationships and people’s perceptions towards sex. Clearly
people were frequently engaged in physical relationships outside of wedlock
despite religious doctrine and expectations still being a considerable part of
society. Moreover, these relationships were not just between people from
neighbouring parishes, but sometimes parishes miles apart – suggesting how
mobile people were on a regular basis.
Secondly, there is the suggestion
that bastard births were a broader social problem for early modern parishes,
and one that exacerbated an already stretched and flawed relief system. A small
note amongst St Peter’s records states that in 1819 a total of £1368, 11
shillings and 4 pence was levied in local rates. Of this, £1247, 7 shillings
and 1 pence was expended in poor relief alone, highlighting that there was
little flexibility for further strain on the existing system. This made it
imperative for parishes to ensure illegitimate births were chargeable to the
correct parishes to avoid footing the bill.
Unfortunately, this did lead to
more tragic examples, too. For instance, the case of Ann Bugg, whose issues
with the poor relief system and an illegitimate birth proved harrowing.
On 20 April 1816, Ann Bugg, a
single woman living in St Peters, was removed from the parish with her child
George (D/P 178/13/2/21), and was returned to her last legal settlement, St
Mary in Whitechapel. This was not unusual, as parishes were likely to remove
single men and women, probably to avoid instances of illegitimate births. Yet
two months later, on 10 June 1816, the churchwardens of St Mary sent a copy of
Ann Bugg’s bastardy examination to St Peter’s. In it, the churchwardens of St
Mary suggest that the child was chargeable to St Peter’s rather than them, as
the child was born there. The emergent argument here being one of an individual
removed to their legal settlement, yet her child being born in another parish,
with two overseeing parties unwilling to deal with the situation by placing the
responsibility on each other.
As we have already seen,
however, St Peters was particularly stringent in its budgeting and chose to
argue the case rather than foot the bill. The situation escalated, and the Justices
of the Peace were employed to address the situation. They officially recognised
the complaint of St Peters on 8 July 1816 (D/P 178/15/5/1), and two days later
issued an official summons (D/P 178/15/5/2) to the churchwardens of St Mary, on
the grounds of their refusal to reimburse St Peters for the costs incurred for
Ann Bugg’s bastard child. The matter was to be addressed at the next Quarter
This was not to be the last of
the story, however. In 1820, the issue arose again when the parish of St Mary
once again wrote to St Peters (D/P 178/15/5/3), stating they had no knowledge
of Ann Bugg’s child and the birth, and therefore refused any steps towards
reimbursing St Peters for all the of the costs incurred. Meanwhile, during this
four-year quarrel between the two parishes, it is unknown whether Ann Bugg
received any support for herself or her child from either parish.
The last mention of this case
comes from a small note dated 28 June 1821 (D/P 178/15/5/4). In it, an
individual named John Bugg, agreed to reimburse St Peters for the costs
incurred during the entire ordeal. This amounted to £4, 14 shillings, though
the note states that at this point Ann Bugg’s child had passed away since.
Quite clearly, this unfortunate
story highlights the problems associated with the patchwork-quilt like system
of parishes and poor relief seen during the Poor Law. It both demonstrates the
loss of a young life due to the financial worries and bickering of inter-parish
relations, along with the neglect of individuals based on the grounds of “not
our problem”. Thus, it is no surprise that the system was unsustainable and saw
‘reform’ in the 1830s – though, this had its own whole series of problems!
It should be clear by now that
these parish records can contain some fascinating insights into the lives of
early modern individuals. As a historian, I previously would not have
considered the depth seen these documents, nor the kinds of stories I have
uncovered with relatively little research. After all, these stories I have
covered here have literally only come together whilst passing through the
various stacks of documents that have slid across my desk.
With this piece I hope I have
been able to shine a light on the stories that one can find within parish
records, such as bastardy bonds and removal orders, and demonstrated the
potential that they have. With them family historians can uncover a much deeper
understanding of the movements of their ancestors and the struggles they faced.
Meanwhile, there is plenty of room for historians to explore microhistories of
individual lives of people like Deborah Brooks, William Allen, and Ann Bugg.
These parish records are
fascinating, and I would strongly encourage people to expand their scope beyond
the singular documents they seek. Rather than focus solely on a specific
document, explore other documents within the same box number – you will be
surprised at some of the stories you can uncover!
 Samantha Williams, Poverty, Gender and
Life-Cycle Under the English Poor Law 1760-1834, (Croydon: Boydell Pres,
 W.E. Tate, The Parish Chest: A Study of
the Records of Parochial Administration in England, Third Ed. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 30.
In a recent internet deep-dive in search of social media inspiration, we came across a recurring statement declaring Agnes Waterhouse, a local Essex woman, as the first person executed for witchcraft in England in 1566. Marion Gibson, currently a professor at Exeter University, has kindly written this blog post for us, to tell us a little bit more about Agnes and why these claims about her are actually fake news.
Agnes Waterhouse was a widow from the village of Hatfield Peverel who was tried in Chelmsford for witchcraft in the summer of 1566. It’s as a witchcraft suspect that her name appears on a list of accused felons held by the Essex Record Office, among the Quarter Sessions rolls.
A “felony” was a serious crime, punishable by death, and the group of suspected felons who included Agnes passed through the lower court of Quarter Sessions in 1566 on their way to the higher court of the Assizes. There they would be tried and sentenced.
Agnes was going to the Midsummer Assizes, held in the hot
months when England’s top judges got out of London and had time to sit in
judgement over suspected provincial criminals. In Chelmsford the Assizes were
held in the Market Cross House, which stood just in front of the present-day
Shire Hall. The Essex historian Hilda Grieve describes it as:
‘an open-sided building, with eight oak columns supporting upper galleries and a tiled roof. The galleries, which overlooked the open “piazza” below, were lit by three dormer windows in the roof… the magistrates and justices sat in open court, which measured only 26 feet by 24 feet, with the officers of the law, counsel and clerks, plaintiffs and defendants, jurors, sureties, witnesses and prisoners, before and around them, while spectators, hangers-on, and those awaiting their turn, crowded into the galleries above or thronged the street outside.’
Market Cross House was an unsatisfactory courtroom – packed, noisy and horribly
public – but it was Agnes’ destination in summer 1566 after she had been
accused as a witch.
Witchcraft was a crime that came to Assize courts regularly, but only after a new Witchcraft Act had been passed by Parliament in 1563. The new Act stated that witches who were convicted of lesser offences – like making farm animals sick – would be punished with one year in prison. Witches who were convicted of killing a person, however, were to be hanged.
Agnes was accused of murder by witchcraft, for which she would be executed if she was found guilty. She was said to have killed her neighbour William Fynee. When questioned, she also admitted harming pigs, cows and geese in her village. Eventually she said she had murdered her own husband in 1557 because they lived “somewhat unquietly” together; it is possible that this confession was drawn out, in part, by some guilt she may have felt over relief at his death and the relative freedom that widowhood granted her.
Agnes also confessed to owning a demonic spirit in the form of a pet cat called Sathan, given to her by her sister Elizabeth Fraunces, and this cat had killed her husband and done all the harm of which Agnes stood accused.
Elizabeth Fraunces and also Agnes’ daughter Joan were accused of witchcraft alongside her. Joan was just eighteen years old. She was accused of bewitching another teenager, the Waterhouse’s neighbour Agnes Browne. Joan and her mother, twelve year old Agnes Browne told the court, had sent a black dog to torment her. It brought her the key to the Browne family’s dairy and stole or damaged some of their butter. More seriously, the dog tempted Agnes Browne to suicide by bringing her a knife. He told her this was “his sweet dame’s knife” and when he was asked who this was, Agnes Browne said “he wagged his head to your house, mother Waterhouse”. As well as being a talking dog, this demonic tempter had a monkey’s face and a whistle hung around his neck: a strange beast to see trotting around Hatfield Peverel!
Agnes Waterhouse told Agnes Browne that she was making this story up: “thou liest” she told the girl stoutly. She added that she didn’t even own a dagger. It sounds as though Agnes Waterhouse was in court facing down Agnes Browne – and this account of the trial may be true. But Agnes Waterhouse didn’t need to confront Agnes Browne. She had in fact already pleaded guilty to witchcraft. Most accused felons fought for their lives by pleading “not guilty” but Agnes Waterhouse didn’t. Why did Agnes plead guilty, and why was she still fighting on in the courtroom after she had confessed? The answer is probably Joan. By pleading guilty and then standing beside her daughter to take the blame perhaps Agnes hoped to save Joan from execution.
The case made what we would now think of as “headlines”.
Someone gave the statements of the accused witches to a London publisher, who
added an eyewitness account of the courtroom scenes, a couple of very bad poems
and a description of Agnes’ execution. Yes, that was her fate, and 29th
July is the anniversary of her death. Agnes Waterhouse was executed with the
other felons convicted at the Assizes, hanged in front of a crowd gathered at
the gallows in Chelmsford. The site of her death lies on the road leading
It was a sad end to Agnes’ life, but it was a golden opportunity for journalists. The publisher rushed out a booklet about the case and even added a portrait of Agnes to his story, a woodcut print labelled in blackletter font and showing a woman looking oddly pious, with her hand upraised in blessing. There’s a good reason for this mismatch between story and woodcut.
The picture isn’t actually of Agnes at all. It was just a woodcut from the publisher’s stockroom, with space in the label to insert metal blocks of type. In this way the publisher could give any name to the woman depicted. Witches were usually women, this was a picture of a woman: that would do.
This bit of fake news isn’t the only myth to get stuck to Agnes over the course of the last four hundred and fifty years, however. She’s routinely described as the first witch to be executed for witchcraft in England. In fact, witches had been being executed in England and the wider British Isles for centuries, often because they were judged under laws concerning treason or heresy. Examples include Petronilla de Meath from County Meath, who was executed in 1324 and Margery Jourdemayne from Eye in Suffolk, who was executed in 1441. Both women were burned at the stake. But it is true that Agnes is the first media superstar of the age when witch-hunting got serious in England. She’s a “first witch” because she’s the first witch we know about from a printed news story. In the sixteenth century, that was extraordinary fame.
We should remember Agnes on the anniversary of her execution. She died surrounded by her enemies, likely jeering and jostling for a better view, but she died knowing that her daughter Joan had been acquitted, just as Agnes had hoped.
All the details of the case are taken from the news pamphlet ‘The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches at Chensforde in the Countie of Essex (1566)’.
You can read more about Agnes, including the whole text of this pamphlet, in Marion Gibson, ‘Early Modern Witches’ (London: Routledge, 2000)
In the meantime, St Andrews Church in Hatfield Peverel is probably the closest glimpse we can get of the Hatfield Peverel that Agnes knew.
Much of the building dates to the 19th century restoration, but the nave and central tower arch from the original 12th century priory still remain and Agnes would have looked on these features much as we do now, as an enduring memento of history. (Photo by Fred Spalding c.1940)
Over the course of the UK lockdowns the music collective, Resonance have been working with the ERO to incorporate recordings preserved by us into their work, culminating in an Album which has been launched today!
Chris Adam, co-founder of Resonance takes us through the journey below together with some details about how you can purchase your own copy.
Strangely enough for a project so grounded in history, this album started from a meeting about the future. Sometime in January (I forget the actual date!), Martin [Martin Astell – the Essex Record Office Manager] and I were included in a meeting to discuss ideas incorporating digital technology into art and heritage projects in Essex. It was in this meeting I discovered the amazing resource that was essexsounds.org.uk and realised there was an opportunity for Resonance to collaborate with the Essex Record Office.
The Record Office has an extensive archive of recorded audio material
from around Essex. Many of these archives are fragile and at-risk – having been
initially captured decades ago on ageing formats such as reel-to-reel tapes,
early records or even wax cylinders. These are continuously in the process of
being digitised, in order to preserve the audio history of Essex.
All of this is probably old news to fans of the Record Office, but it
struck me as a fantastic opportunity to involve the members of Resonance in
an interesting project: using the archives of sound to create music that
embodies the spirit of revival and restoration. Combining the old with the new.
Resonance was created with the aim of embracing an alternative side to electronic
music. Many of our artists embrace the use of analogue and digital equipment,
combining 1970s-inspired synthesizers with modern, digital recording methods
and technology. The process isn’t all that different to the Record Office’s
approach: trying to capture ephemeral one-of-a-kind sounds in a way that
preserves their emotional impact.
We therefore arranged for 12 of our musicians to choose samples from the
Essex Sounds website that they could use for our own compositions. Once we had
cleared the sounds for licensing purposes, we were free to manipulate them
however we chose. This could be cutting the samples into pieces so tiny they
are perceived by the human ear as a single tone, or changing the pitch and
timbre using modular synthesis (think giant electronic switchboards, and you’re
not far off what this looks like!). Some of us used guitar effects pedals to
change everything into unrecognisable sounds. Throughout this, computers and
digital recording processes allow us to capture all these experiments and save
them for arrangement and use later.
The result of these experiments is a journey that moves between dark,
minimal compositions and uplifting passages that highlight the mixed history of
Essex. Nostalgic sounds merge with machinery noises reminiscing of Chelmsford’s
scientific and industrial heritage. Field recordings capture the Essex
countryside and Southend Seafront, combined with introspective electronic
melodies. The ambience of Colchester and its famous Zoo blend with trains and
sampled orchestral TV programmes, inviting memories of days out around Essex
and the journeys these archives capture.
The artwork for the album was created from the location data of around
400 sounds from the Essex Sounds website. It is essentially a top-down map,
where each of the coloured pathways start at a location one of the archived
sounds is recorded. From the initial coordinates, lines (or waves) are traced through
a “flow field” – a simulation of physical field that assigns a force to every
pixel in the image. As the lines move through the space they flow in the
direction of the underlying field. This parallels the way that sounds move from
a location, following the currents of the air outward until they are heard far
away from their original source.
The name of the record was a sticking point for
quite some time within the collective. We knew that we wanted to use the word
“record” due to its double meaning – both in the archival sense and the musical
sense – but the rest of the title eluded us until we finally settled on
“recreating”. This summed up the attitude we had of turning the past into
something new for the future, the iterative process of recording and preserving
the sounds led us into new creative directions.
That’s probably enough of my ramblings for now. Hopefully that’s given you some insight into the thought processes and background to the project, and why it was so interesting for us to work on. Please listen with an open mind and we really hope you enjoy the experience!
The album is available on the 15th July 2021, and released for download on Resonance’s bandcamp page at resonancehq.bandcamp.com.
All proceeds are going to the Friends of Historic Essex charity, who
work closely with many heritage organisations to preserve Essex’s history.
Christopher Parkinson, researcher for the CVMA, project introduces us to project and some of the important resources held at the Essex Record Office.
Essex is fortunate that during the 17th and 18th centuries two antiquaries wrote manuscripts which, amongst other things, described any heraldry then present in parish churches. Richard Symonds (1617-1660), an English Royalist, produced three volumes of genealogical collections which included descriptions of heraldry in different mediums to be seen in some Essex churches. While these three volumes are now with the Royal College of Arms in London, volumes 1 (covering the Hundreds of Witham, Thurstable, Winstree, Lexden and Tendring) and volume 2 (covering the Hundreds of Clavering, Uttlesford, Freshwell, Dunmow and Hinckford) are available on microfilm at the Essex Records Office (T/B 73). William Holman (1669-1730) was a congregational minister at Stepney, Middlesex before being transferred to Halstead. He visited every town and village in Essex in order to compile a history of Essex. His manuscript is now held by the Essex Records Office in just over 500 parts (T/P 195/-/-).
My particular interest in these documents is for research in stained glass heraldry that is now lost from the county. This will be included in an appendix for a forthcoming Catalogue of the Medieval Stained Glass of Essex to be published for the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, CVMA. Although the term Medii Aevi implies the ‘middle ages’, my co-author Dr Penny Hebgin-Barnes and myself will include glass up to 1800 in the catalogue within the old (pre-Greater London) county boundary. Surviving medieval including heraldic stained glass can bee seen on the CVMA website in the picture archive section;
click on the dedication of the church and the stained glass from all periods will be displayed. While there are about 162 pre-1800 stained glass shields of arms currently surviving within the county, the Symonds and Holman manuscripts show that there was a substantially larger number of such shields in churches and secular buildings during the first half of the 18th century. Obviously their loss cannot be due to the actions of iconoclasts, but presumably caused by general decay and later ‘restorations’ where such damaged glass was removed.
During our closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have been working hard adding new entries to our catalogue “Essex Archives Online“. Archivist Katharine Schofield takes a look at one of these documents which reveals that rights of way disputes aren’t a modern invention.
the entries added to our online catalogue during ‘lockdown’ are calendars of
medieval deeds, dating from the early 13th century onwards, relate
to various small properties mostly in Hatfield Broad Oak. The deeds are part of the Barrington collection
Not all of the calendared deeds related to the Barrington family’s possessions at the time, although they may have subsequently acquired the land. They include the ratification of an agreement (D/DBa T4/253) between William le Cook of Broad Street and Hatfield Priory, dated at Hatfield Broad Oak on the Monday after Epiphany in the 18th year of the reign of Edward III (10 January 1345) and it concerns a dispute over access. John de Barynton’ is listed as the first of the witnesses.
access in contention is described as a footpath 6 feet wide leading through
Bykmereslane beyond William’s property Bykmerescroft towards Munkmelnes where
the Priory’s mill was located. Canon
Francis Galpin identified Bykemere Street or Lane as the present-day Dunmow
Road (B183) past the junction of the High Street and Broad Street (Essex
Review volume 44, page 88). He
described the name as a corruption of Byg (or big) mere, probably derived from
the nearby ponds. The ponds still
visible on maps today presumably provided the water power needed for the
agreement recites that there had been ‘contention’ between William and the
Priory over the footpath. The Priory
produced deeds from their archives (ostensionem munimentorum), made by
William’s predecessors, tenants of Bykmerescroft. The archives had demonstrated that the Priory
and all others were accustomed to use the footpath to the mill and had the
right to do so. Consequently, William
agreed to make rectification.
Mills were a vital part of the medieval economy. At the beginning of the 13th century, it has been estimated that there were between 10 and 15,000 mills in England. They were also a key part of the income of a manorial lord. Lords were able to compel their tenants to use their mills, paying for the right to do so. It has been estimated that payments from mills made up 5% of manorial income at the beginning of the 14th century (John Langdon ‘Lordship and Peasant Consumerism in the milling Industry of Early Fourteenth Century England’ Past and Present 145, pages 3-46, November 1994). The Priory was anxious not to have access to their mill disrupted and their record keeping ensured that they were able to prove their rights and request remedy.
today, among the many people visiting the Record Office and using the archives,
it is not unusual for people to try to solve access problems, although mostly
by using Ordnance Survey maps, rather than medieval deeds.
Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex. Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project.
In part 8 of this series, we change tack to explore the life of John’s wife Mary Farmer.
There is an old saying that
behind every great man there is a great woman.
In the case of John Farmer, wool comber, Quaker, traveller and slavery
abolitionist, this is certainly true, in that he had an unusually independent
Mary Wyatt was born 8:9mo 1665 (8th
November 1665) to Thomas and Etheldered Wyatt, the eldest of twelve siblings.
An annotated list of the births of her numerous brothers and sisters, and sadly
the deaths of four of them in infancy, is held in the Essex Record Office
archive, an unusual survival of a complete family list from the time.
The Wyatt family appear
throughout the Thaxted and Saffron Walden Quaker archives, a large family who
left a lasting mark on the records of their community in the 17th
and 18th centuries.
of Wyatt siblings ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle of birth & burial notes Thaxted
Mary Wyatt married Samuel Fulbigg
of Haverhill in 1689. Their only
daughter, also called Mary was born on 16th day of 5th
month 1690 (16th July 1690) in Saffron Walden.[ii]
Birth Record of
Mary Fulbigg : ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle I.1 of birth & burial notes Thaxted
Tragically this marriage was not
to last long. Another note in the
archives tells us that on 1st of 10 mo 1692 (1st December 1692)
Samuel was buried, having been killed when the funnel fell from his brewing
copper the previous Monday (2nd Day). This awful accident left Mary
as a widow at 27 years old, with an 18-month-old baby to look after.
Burial Record of
Samuel Fulbigg : ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle I.1 of birth & burial notes
Originally from Somerset, John
Farmer came to Saffron Walden in late 1697 or early 1698. I first find him in a Monthly Meeting at
Thaxted in April 1698 showing as donating a shilling for the relief of a Quaker
in need[iii]. He was an itinerant wool comber, as was
fellow Quaker Zacharias Wyatt, the younger brother of Mary Fulbigg. It is possible that as they shared a common
employment, perhaps Zacharias brought John Farmer to Saffron Walden. Or perhaps they met when John Farmer joined
their Quaker meeting, but at some point it is likely that Zacharias introduced
his widowed sister Mary to John Farmer.
Mary had not been idle since
being widowed. According to a comment in
John Farmer’s journal she had travelled 1400 miles in the ministry before he
met her, and she had “a gift of prophesy
or preaching given her by ye Lord before she was my wife”.[iv]
Marriage was a welcome gift to John Farmer who had agonised in his diary about
the fears of giving into temptation and vanity.
Farmer wrote in his journal that when they married 27:5mo 1698 (27th
“Ye Lord preserved mee in many Temptations from being destroyed by them. In & by his advice and help I took an honist Friend to bee my wife in ye way of marriage used amongst us”.[v]
Married life does not appear to
have stopped either Mary or John from traveling. In July 1700, Sampford Women’s
Meeting heard from Mary Farmer that she intended to take a journey along with
another Friend, Elizabeth Spice of Saffron Walden “upon the sword of truth through Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire to
visit meetings there” and permission to travel was granted. A month later
the Thaxted Women’s meeting received 15 shillings from Mary, perhaps collected
on her journey. [vi]
Ten months later John and Mary Farmer’s only daughter Ann
was born 1:3 mo 1701 (1st May 1701).[vii] Now having two young children one might have
expected Mary to settle into domestic life.
But Farmer’s journal comments that by 1714 she had travelled a further
1700 miles in her own ministry.
In December 1702 Mary Farmer was
asked by the Monthly Meeting to work with two other women Friends to sell the
property of deceased widow Elizabeth James and settle her funeral expenses,
bringing any residue back to the Meeting.
Clearly this was a task which required someone to be held in the utmost
trust and seems to have gone well.
In 1704 Mary went on an extended five-month long journey
travelling in the South and West of England, recorded in John Farmer’s journal, while he
was left at home to care for the children:
“In ye year 1704 my wife was moved & inabled by ye Lord to travel 5 months in his service in ye west & south of England. Shee had a good journey & did service for ye Lord in it. & came well home to mee & our children wch bee also well. Blessed bee God for it. Before she went shee told ye monthly meeting of it & recived a ceirtificate from them to carry with her.”[viii]
However her husband’s description
of Mary as an ‘honist friend’ was
possibly a little dubious. A significant
issue had hung over the Farmer family both before, and for some years after,
their marriage and related to a legacy for Mary Fulbigg (Mary Farmer’s daughter
from her first marriage) from Grace Fulbigg, her grandmother, and it came to a
head in 1705.
John Farmer commented in his
“In ye year 1705 the enemy strove to destroy severall of us in & by a difference about Earthly things. But blessed bee ye Lord for his making use of our friends called Quakers to save us whereby also by his Spirit in us hee ended ye difference & saved us from disstruction.”
It was noted in the Monthly Meeting on 26th
July 1698 (the day before the Farmers got married) that the permission was
granted “Depending on the resolution of
£10 owed to Mary Fullbigg Junior from her grandmother’s will”.[ix] At the time £10 was worth £1070 in today’s
money, the equivalent of 4 months work for a skilled tradesman at the time[x].
It seems this issue remained unresolved until
1705 when the matter was raised by John Mascall who noted in the Monthly Meeting
on 20th March that he “desires
ye judgement of ye said meeting concerning JF”. At the next meeting on 24th April
John Farmer himself raised the subject, asking if the £10 given for the use of
his daughter in law (step daughter) could be placed in his own hands against
him offering his house as surety. In
June the Monthly Meeting asked John Farmer to sign a double bond of £16 for the
use of Mary Fulbigg, and trustees were appointed, one of whom was Thomas Wyatt,
Mary Farmer’s father. But at the meeting
on 28:6mo 1705 (28th October 1705) the whole
family dispute came to a terrible head when Thomas Wyatt and his son Zacharias came
to the monthly meeting and publicly accused Mary Farmer of destroying Grace
“The case of difference being …the said Mary of destroying a widdows will made by the advice of her relations before marriage to the said John and left in her own hands to address wherein was ten pounds given to a daughter which the said Mary had by a former husband.”[xi]
The meeting insisted this “mischief” be resolved immediately and at
the first meeting of 1706 the Friends gathered at Henham to witness a bond
given from John Farmer to John Wale of ten pounds by the direction of the
quarterly meeting for the use of Mary Fulbigg.
The Meeting directed that Henry Starr should keep it for her and John
Farmer eventually confirmed to the Monthly Meeting on 25th February
1706/7 that the bond was signed and sealed, and now in the hands of Henry
Starr. Having sorted out the mess his wife appeared to have caused, at the same
meeting John Farmer then advised them he would be heading off on his travels, but
not surprisingly the somewhat irritated meeting advised him to request
permission of the Quarterly Meeting first.
Perhaps the reluctance to allow
him to travel was because in 1703 Zacharias Wyatt had to advise the Meeting
that John Farmer had “gone forth a journey into ye Northern parts” [xii]
and he had not waited to get a certificate, but asked Zacharias to procure one,
and get Mary Farmer to send it on to him.
It seems clear John Farmer was always going to be a rule-breaker and
Mary Farmer was something of a willing accomplice. Perhaps it was Farmer’s need to travel that
had prompted the Friends to pin down the details of Mary Fulbigg’s legacy
before he took off again.
When John Farmer travelled north eventually in 1707 Mary
accompanied him to Nottingham and then came home to wait for him. When he reappeared in September 1708 he
immediately moved his family to Colchester where they then resided for three
years, him working as a wool comber and she as a nurse before he decided to go
travelling again, this time on a 3-year trip to pre-revolutionary America. John Farmer moved Mary and her daughters back
to Saffron Walden and the Monthly Meeting accepted them back on 20th
September 1711. He noted that Mary was working as a nurse and she had decided
to be amongst Friends at Saffron Walden while she nursed her now lame daughter
Despite her husband being in
America Mary did not stop performing the ministry work she also felt called to
do, and in March 1713 she requested and was granted a certificate to visit
churches in Suffolk and Norfolk. In July
1714 she appeared in the records again having returned a certificate for
travelling in the North and had acquainted the Friends that she now intended to
go to Holland[xiii].
John Farmer arrived back in the Thaxted
Meeting records on 30:9mo 1714 (30th November 1714) and they were
delighted to receive the many certificates he had collected from America. However at the same meeting he announced he
would be returning immediately to America and they drafted a lengthy
certificate allowing him to go.
Interestingly although several women did sign the certificate, Mary
Farmer was not one of them.
Before he travelled back to
America John Farmer wrote out in full his journal, from the notes he had
gathered on his travels, and attached to it an epistle with instructions that
the Journal was to be published. It
seems this never happened, and we have to wonder with whom he left the
document. A tantalising clue lies on
page 6 of the document. Farmer is
discussing financial matters and mentions when he married Mary “Her estate was valued at upwards of …” and
the next word has been neatly cut out of the page. Then he mentions “I saved for my selfe by my labour and God’s blessing upwards of …”
and again the word had been cut out of the page. It’s only a theory, but my hunch is that Mary
may have removed this personal information – she did after all apparently have
previous for destroying financial information! [xiv]
John Farmer’s Journal showing excisions – Essex Record Office A13685 box 51 – page 6
A couple of letters from John
Farmer to Mary survive at the Essex Record Office. One particularly poignant
one is from him in Virginia dated 1st of 4mo 1716 (1st
June 1716) instructing Mary to send her belongings to Philadelphia, via Anthony
Morris and detailing how she and the children were to travel to him, as he now
planned to settle in America. But for
some reason, which we do not know, she never went, and never saw her husband
After a number of adventures in
America detailed in my previous posts John Farmer died in 1724 and in his will
he left all his English possessions to Mary Farmer. He left his American
possessions to his daughter Ann. Mary
promptly sent Ann to America to claim her inheritance and Mary began her own
foreign adventure, travelling to Holland and Denmark in the ministry in 1725. She
also left a handwritten account of her journey, where alongside her testimony
she revealed encounters with pirates, fierce storms and other adventures. [xvi]
Mary Farmer’s Journal 1725 ERO A13685 Box 51
John’s stepdaughter Mary Fulbigg
stayed in Saffron Walden and kept a notebook for many years. Her book noted that
her mother Mary Farmer had died 13th of 2nd month 1747
(13th of April 1747) at the extraordinary age of 82. [xvii]
Extract – Mary
Fulbigg’s Journal – ERO A13685 Box 51
So far I have found no record of
what finally happened to Mary Fulbigg. The last entry in her notebook is dated
3mo 24 1762 (24th March 1762).
She would have been nearly 72 years old so perhaps she died not long
afterwards. Hopefully the record lies somewhere still to be found. Both Mary Fulbigg and Mary Farmer’s handwritten
books are here in the Essex Record Office and will be part of my future study
Ann Farmer finally travelled to
America in early 1725. The daughter who hadn’t seen her father for ten years
applied to the Thaxted Friends Men’s Meeting for a certificate to attend
Philadelphia Meeting on 23: 12th 1724 (23rd February
to claim her inheritance. Her certificate also indicated helpfully that she was
clear of any attachments in England and free to marry, should she wish to. Ann went on to become a small part of the
American founding story. She married
Benjamin Boone, uncle of the frontiersman Daniel Boone, on 31st
October 1726 and had one son, John Boone born in December 1727, but sadly Ann
died very shortly after of complications from childbirth, at the age of only 26[xix]. John Boone was reported to have been brought
up at his Uncle Squire Boone’s house alongside his cousins including the famous
Daniel (b 1734), until his father remarried in 1738. John Boone went on to have 9 children, founding
a Boone dynasty in Hunting Creek, Rowan County, North Carolina the eldest of
whom, Benjamin Boone became a Baptist Reverend [xx].
I am not sure John Farmer would
Thus we come to the end of the
story of the Essex Quaker and his family for now. It is by virtue of the fact that the Thaxted
and Saffron Walden Quakers kept such comprehensive records that the family’s
adventures, squabbles and dedication to their faith have come down to us in
such glorious detail and nearly 300 years after John Farmer died we can still
hear his voice, in the twenty-thousand-word journal that he laboured over, “Written in obedience to God for ye
good of souls in this and future ages” [xxi]. If only he could have known just how far into
the future his words would travel.
ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle of birth & burial notes Thaxted
ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle I.1 of birth & burial notes Thaxted 1665-1745
This newspaper article, from the Brighton and Hove and South Sussex Graphic, was found pasted inside an early 20th century scrapbook belonging to the Bradhurst family of Rivenhall Place (specifically to Minna Evangeline Wood and Augustus Maunsell Bradhurst). It, along with other articles and letters, gives us an insight into an interesting musical career.
Immediately, your eye is caught by the flamboyant photograph in the centre of the page: an elderly woman riding a tricycle with free abandon. What wonderful woman could this be? You ask, and the answer is right there: Lady Barrett-Lennard, A Famous Brighton Composer. Not only is this an elderly woman, but a high class elderly woman; certainly not the photograph one would expect of her!
Emma Barrett-Lennard was baptised as Emma Wood on February 17th 1832
in London. She was baptised by her father, Sir John Page Wood, a rector. Her
mother was Lady Emma Caroline Wood. She became a Barrett-Lennard on January
18th 1853 when she married Thomas Barrett-Lennard, who ascended to the
baronetcy upon the death of his grandfather in 1857. Her death came, in
Brighton, on June 18th 1916; less than a year after this article was written.
The main reason for the article? Her success as the composer of ‘Canadian Guns’, a patriotic song which had become a popular song to perform at events.
Another article, this one from the Hythe, Sandgate and Cheriton Herald, praises a particular performance of Canadian Guns given at “Lady Lennard’s Concert Party”. This concert was the third of a series given by Lady Barrett-Lennard at different hospitals in the Folkestone area.
Alongside this article, a letter was also pasted into the scrapbook. The letter was from Lt. Col. L. G. Rennie, written to thank Lady Barrett-Lennard for her for the work her concert had done in cheering up sick and wounded soldiers.
A second letter was written from Sgd. F. Timberlake (bandmaster) thanking her for making Canadian Guns accessible to him and assuring her that he will “get the march played with the band every day to get the tuneful melody memorised by the troops”.
If this isn’t sufficient proof of Lady Barret-Lennard’s success as a musical composer, then the final thing that is need to cement this claim is the following article which seems to exist purely to sing her praises and demand more songs. Published by ‘The Bystander’ on November 10th 1915, the article is titled: “An Octogenarian Song Composer: The Elusive Personality of the Writer of Plymouth Hoe and Canadian Guns”. The writer of the article begins by marvelling at her age and gender (obviously two limitations which make her success all the more remarkable…) and blames Lady Barrett-Lennard’s modesty for the lack of success seen by her forty or so other songs.
The article suggests that her other popular song,
‘Plymouth Hoe’, was “rescued” from being “pigeon-holed” at her publishers office.
According to this article it was only because she heard that people thought
‘Plymouth Hoe’ was her only song that she allowed for ‘Canadian Guns’ to be
published and “not pigeon-holed”. The article ends with the hope that their
writing has successfully persuaded Lady Barrett-Lennard to write more songs, or
her publishers to “rescue” more of her songs from their pigeon-holes.
Of course the true proof of fame is the critics! And Lady Barrett-Lennard was not without her own critics. One critic is given a particularly amusing spotlight in the Brighton Graphic and South Coast Illustrated News in an article titled: Brighton Lady Composer: Scandalous Insinuations. (‘Lady’ clearly having been underlined to emphasise the rarity of a successful female…) The article is written around a letter which has been anonymously sent to them, signed by “Musicus”, in which Lady Barrett-Lennard is accused of paying her way to success. The most amusing point of this letter seems to be that “Musicus” has never actually heard ‘Canadian Guns’ performed and yet is disparaging it regardless. The insinuation clearly being that a woman could not have created something that is actually good enough to earn such attention and success.
Fortunately (for Lady Barrett-Lennard and for feminists everywhere), the author of the article seems as disbelieving of these accusations as Lady Barrett-Lennard’s secretary whose withering reply has also been published alongside the article.
As well as her famous songs, ‘Canadian Guns’ and ‘Plymouth Hoe’, Lady Barrett-Lennard also composed music to accompany a variety of poems. Some of these are by known poets, whilst some appear to be written by her own acquaintances. Many of these compositions are written to accompany poems by Lord Alfred Tennyson. We are fortunate to have a book of Lady Barrett-Lennard’s songs amongst the many documents which make up our Barrett-Lennard collection.
Hi, I am Julie Miller and I am finishing my second year as a
part-time History MA student at the University of Essex. In the summer of 2019 I won a research
placement at the Essex Record Office to transcribe and research a handwritten
18th century Journal by a Saffron Walden Quaker called John
Farmer. He is now the subject of my
Masters’ dissertation and ongoing research.
When the lockdown was announced my stepdaughter and
ten-year-old granddaughter moved in with us so we could all help look after
each other. This means the house is not
quite as peaceful as before. It’s been
very special spending time with them, but Nanny Jules is now in charge of home
schooling a very reluctant reader. We
have found comic poetry a great resource and my disinclined pupil is enjoying
her reading much more. My husband is a Flour Miller and designated a key worker
so he is working a lot of extra shifts, day and night so I am trying to keep
everything running smoothly for him too.
Where is your office?
Currently my office is a summer house in the garden. Called Miller’s
Rest, it was a gift from my husband for my 40th birthday and I
usually use it as an art studio. We have
rigged up a rudimentary power supply and I’ve moved all my research materials
and laptop up there so I can work in peace. My desk is a curious bit of
Colchester history. It was made for my
Uncle out of offcuts of coffin oak from the Co-op Funeral Service workshops
many years ago and I inherited it when he passed. Because its coffin wood it’s a bit narrow, so
the laptop doesn’t quite fit, but I manage, and I like the quirkiness of it. I
have a really good office chair though and that makes working at an odd desk
much more comfortable.
I have a radio because there is always time for Women’s
Hour, and I also have a 1920s gramophone and a collection of wonderful 78s by
the stars of yesteryear like Elvis, Doris Day, Bill Hayley, Dean Martin and
Glen Miller. Sitting out there in the evenings with a drink and the gramophone
is a real treat, till the mosquitoes from the pond start munching.
Do you have a view out of a window when you are working?
What is it and is it a distraction?
From the open doors of Miller’s Rest I can see all
the way back down the garden to the rear of our 1920s house where an ill-thought
out 1970s extension does nothing to improve the view. However the side window in front of my desk
looks out onto trees overhanging an ancient pond which is currently full of
tadpoles. The sparrows enjoy balancing
on twigs over the pond to get a drink, or maybe a nibble on a tadpole and they
are very entertaining. The garden is
always distracting, and I am drawn to my greenhouse at this time of year, but I
am trying to be disciplined. Sadly there is often a full washing line too.
What Essex research are you catching up on? Will this
result in something published?
For the last 4 weeks I have been doing a job for one of my
tutors, a 22,000-word transcription of a research interview she did with a
professor of Chinese Religious History.
Not very Essex at all admittedly, but now that’s finished I am writing
an article for the magazine for the Essex Society for Family History. I was very lucky to win their 2020 Award for
my research into John Farmer. They want to know more about him for their readers,
and I am happy to oblige.
After the article, I will be turning my full attention to
completing my dissertation, which will cover the work I did on the John Farmer
Journal while I was at the ERO, and subsequent research I have done to flesh
out his later story. He was a remarkable
man who visited the Native Americans and the Caribbean Islands in the
1710-1720s but was thrown out of the Philadelphia Quakers for challenging them
to give up slaves and slave trading. He was described as a man of ‘indiscreet
zeal’. He was way ahead of his time and
deserves to be recognised. Neil Wiffen at the ERO has challenged me to write a
book about Farmer before 2024 which will be the 300th anniversary of
John Farmer’s death. No pressure there
then Neil! I will also be continuing my research into John Farmer and his wife
Mary for my upcoming PhD which I hope to start in October (lockdown
Do you set yourself a strict timetable to work to or just
pick up your research as and when?
I try to do at least two hours a day, more if possible but
with the cooking and work associated with extra people in the house it is
proving tricky. My Supervisor is
starting to make chivvying noises and asking to see draft chapters, so I am beginning
to feel the pressure.
Do you have a favourite online resource?
I have been lucky in that I was able to get lots of copied
material from the ERO while I was on my placement, and I have visited several
times since so I haven’t needed to rely on much online research. But there are some interesting online
resources in America and the UK relating to Quaker history and I have had an
enjoyable ongoing discussion with a genealogist from Mobile, Alabama who had
posted on the Find a Grave site, to try to resolve some errors in the family
history relating to John Farmer. Note to
any researcher – do not upset an American genealogist, they take their work
very seriously and luckily I was able to supply documentary proof of my
research and they corrected their information.
I think that is quite an achievement.
What is your favourite research beverage and snack?
Well, as I am writing this on Easter Monday I suppose I
would have to say Easter Egg. However on
a (what passes for) normal day I would have a ham sandwich and a packet of
crisps washed down with water or diet coke.
Our family have a long tradition of tea or coffee and cake at 4pm, so
that is usually when I stop work and we all come together to watch the BBC
virus update before planning the evening entertainment.
Apart from the news, is there anything that distracts you
from you research?
One of my university colleagues has set up a regular quiz on
Zoom, several times a week and we all join in from our sofas which has been a
lot of fun. My granddaughter has a liking for gambling with grandad’s pennies
and we play Newmarket sometimes. I like
folk music so enjoy watching the online live sessions from people like Kate
Rusby, Chris Leslie and While and Matthews and being a nosey parker I like
seeing their homes. Also I belong to a
local shanty group and we have been using Skype to do virtual unplugged singing
sessions. Its been funny seeing everyone
placing themselves in front of bookcases.
Along with that it’s regular calls to family, I am missing
my little grandson a lot, and am so thankful that social media allows us to
stay in touch.
What are you most looking forward to when you are able to
visit ERO again?
I am desperate to get back into the Colchester and Saffron
Walden Quaker minute books from the 17th and 18th century
as I am trying to trace John Farmer in both towns, filling in some of the gaps,
and also looking for more information about his amazing wife and daughters who
all had their own stories to tell. Also
Mary Farmer and her daughter Mary Fulbigg left behind journals that still need transcribing,
so I have lots of work ahead of me.
Dr Herbert Eiden is the research assistant of The People of 1381 project (https://www.1381.online/) and former assistant editor of Victoria County History of Essex.
Where is your ‘office’?
I have a dedicated downstairs office containing my reference
library, a laptop and a desktop because I work from home regularly.
Do you have a view out of a window when you are working? What is it and
is it a distraction?
My view is into our side garden south-east facing with a big shrub (currently in white blossoms) in front of me.
What Essex research are you catching up on? Will this result in
I am building up Excel sheets of relevant manorial documents for five counties; Essex is one of them. I took lots of images of Essex manorial court rolls before the ERO closed and can work with those now (at least for a few weeks).
Do you set yourself a strict timetable to work to or just pick up your
research as and when?
I normally start at 8.30am, have a lunch break (cooked
lunch!) and finish around 4.30pm.
Do you have a favourite online resource?
Manorial Documents Register; ERO online catalogue; NROcat; The National
Archives Discovery catalogue; British Library Manuscript catalogue.
What is your favourite research beverage and snack?
Nuts, sweet chilli
crisps; juice, peppermint tea.
Apart from the news, is there anything that distracts you from your research?
What are you most looking forward to when you are able to visit ERO
Manorial court rolls (late 14th century) and, of course, the
staff, who are always friendly, extremely helpful and hugely knowledgeable.