The Reach of The Marconi Photographic Section

Lewis Smith, the Essex Record Office’s Engagement Fellow, takes a look at some of the things in the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive.

Founded by Guigielmo Marconi in 1897, the Marconi Company (which held various names over its lifetime) were pioneers in wireless technology. Famously based in Chelmsford (regulars in the area will draw attention to places like ‘Marconi Road’ and ‘Navigation Road’), his technologies helped to shape the world we live in today: so much of our lives are a result of their research, from radio to navigation, from aeronautics to maritime, from communications continent to continent.


A11449 – 16748 MARCONI CO. TRADE MARK OR LOGO, 1947.

One part of the most interesting parts of the Marconi Company’s history was the Marconi Photographic Section, whom took hundreds of pictures over the organisation’s lifetime. These records are now stored at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. Unfortunately, this collection remains largely underused – so the British Society for the History of Science and Essex Record Office tasked me to spend some time scoping out the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive, working out what kind of images are within and, perhaps most importantly, work out how they can be used. Whilst I have only been in the archive for a relatively short period of time (since the beginning of October), there are some very interesting historical angles in desperate need of further research – from business to imperial history, from labour to marketing history.


A11449 – 78774, MAP OF NADGE RADAR CHAIN, 1968

One thing to note is that there are a lot of pictures of non-descript machines and circuitry – fans of the history of electronic engineering need look no further: historians of oscilloscopes, transmitters and receivers, power supplies, RADAR arrays, and pretty much all kinds of specialist electronic engineering will find something of interest here. These images present an extensive product history of Marconi’s inventions and patents. Perhaps more generally appealing, there is a lot for those interested in maritime and aeronautical history: one of the key ideas that came about from wireless communication was the idea of wireless navigation, and Marconi fitted many different pieces of equipment to aircraft and ships to aid in their navigation around the globe.


A11449 – 15771, TYPE D.F.G.26 RECEIVER WITH OSCILLOSCOPE TYPE O.R.3, 1945

But the view of higher international politics, engineering and industry are only one side of the coin: the prevalence of this technical equipment masks ordinary life. The archive presents us with a rich social history of the worker and their working practices. Workers, many male and female, black and white, British and international, are presented in the factories assembling intricate circuits. To look at the ethnography behind the people in these pictures reveals the clear shifts, both natural and forcible, in middle and working class employment. Notice particularly with image 2015 – everyone is happy and content, giving the viewer the impression that everything was okay working for Marconi. It wasn’t always this sweet.


A11449 – 2015, GIRLS WINDING & LACQUERING SHOP AT WORKS, 1919

As this is evidently the photographic archive of a business, there is huge scope for a business historian. These photographs are frozen moments in time, specifically captured because they want to show a particular angle, person, product or scene – why one moment and not another? Why one person over another? Why one place over another? More specifically, there are multiple photographs of how the Marconi Company attempted to market itself in a world of innovation: some of the most interesting pictures are of the exhibits set up to advertise wireless communication at various exhibitions.


A11449 – 2464, MARCONI STAND, AERO EXHIBITION, OLYMPIA, 1920

What is most interesting about the archive is the company’s vast spread throughout the globe: as with any history of the twentieth century, Empire remains front and centre. Imperial conquerors can come and go as they please, but radio technology meant the constant connection between colony and coloniser. Furthermore, the concept of technological Imperialism remained hot in this period: teaching others how to use Marconi equipment orients them towards using that equipment for a long time, forcing the colony to ask for technical help from the coloniser. This relationship is observable in the photographic archives as Marconi equipment was placed in different colonies, greatly expanding the imperial nation’s reach.


A11449 – 3070, MAHARAJAH USING A MARCONI TELEPHONE IN INDIA, No date.

Art lovers may also find something worthwhile in the archives. There are photographs of many different artistic drawings by members of staff in the collection depicting a variety of different scenes. The collection features many talented artists, as well as plastic models of Marconi scenes and vehicles, models of scientific principles, and copious drawings. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that science and art are two separate unconnected topics, but the collection features some stunning images which clearly appeal to the art behind science.


A11449 – 14559, PAINTING ENTITLED “VOICE OF FREEDOM”, 1943.

This collection is for use in the Essex Record Office under Accession A11449 in over 100 individual boxes. This project hopes to eventually digitise and map these images to show the company’s reach. I have spent time electronically tagging the pictures with keywords: if you would be interested in looking at this spreadsheet or further discussing the project, do contact me at lcsmit@essex.ac.uk. Whether for research or for a casual perusal, this collection really has a lot to offer!

An Essex Quaker Visits the Native Americans

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 May 1713 John Farmer was in Maryland attending the Western Shore Yearly Meeting of Friends..

“Afterwards I staid som time in Maryland & wrought with my hands at wool combing… While I was here I received fresh orders from Christ to have meetings amongst Indians in order to their convershon to Christ & to go to Virginia & Pensilvaina & ye west Indies in his service.” [i]

Farmer then set out to meet the local Native American communities properly and having had a good meeting amongst friends he commented that he had given testimony amongst “Indians and some Chief Indians and they were glad of it and marvelled that no such thing had been before offered to them”[ii]

He went on to say an interpreter spoke Farmer’s testimony and prayer at a meeting “to which the Indians several times gave their approbation in their way by giving a sound” [iii]. We can only wonder what form that sound took.

In August 1713 Farmer was at the Mulberry Grove plantation in Maryland at an evening meeting at George Truit’s house, where they were joined by a Native American priest, an interpreter and a number of other Native Americans.  Later in the evening they were joined by the “Indian King” who “spake very good English” and invited Farmer to visit their settlement.   In September 1713 he had a memorable visit lodging with the “Shuana Indians” at Conestoga on the Susquehanna River, staying in what he described as an “Indian King’s Palace”, where he slept on “bare [bear] skins on scaffolds before a good fire, for it was a cold frosty night”[iv]

Extract of page 8 of Part 2 of the Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 50

In September 1713 Farmer was at the Philadelphia yearly meeting where he told the assembled Friends that he wanted to spend more time with the Native Americans and he received a Certificate of Unity from the Philadelphia Friends and received help and translators to hold meetings in Pennsylvania and share his testimony of the story of Jesus.

Farmer spent six months travelling and preaching with the Native Americans.  On 9th October 1713 there was a

large meeting amongst Indians nere Brandy Wine River in Chester County in Pennsylvania. Where a honest Swede did well Interpret for mee. It was a large & satisfactory meeting to the Indians & to our friends & to mee at the End. Whereof the Indians said that they were pleased with what they heard in the meeting.”[v]

John Farmer was aware that the Native Americans had a belief in God and the Devil and a concept of heaven and hell:

“The Indians have a beliuef of God. & that hee hath a son. & that hee is Good. & that the good people when they dy goe to him: & bee alwais in pleasure. But after ye bad people dy they are alwaise in affliction. The Indians also say yt there is a Divel who is bad & ye Author of badness & they are afraid of him.” [vi]

Virginia and Maryland Map Augustine & Moll Hermann C1700

But he reported that much trouble was being caused in the Native American communities by rum.  One man told him about a dream story he had heard:

The Indian in a trance had one com to him & bid him goe back & live well & then when hee dyed hee should be amongst thouse Indians who were in pleasure. Hee was asked why then did hee live badly by drinking to much Rum. Hee answered that before white people cam amongst them they were good & kind one to another but now they are becom bad & hard to one a nother that they may have wherewithal to buy Rum.”[vii]

At a meeting on 18th October 1713 at Conestoga, Farmer met up with Philadelphia Friends Hugh Lowden and Andrew Job.  At a meeting they convinced the Native Americans there to send one of their sons to Philadelphia to be taught to read and write in order that he could translate and ensure that “the love that hath hitherto been between you and us continuew between our Children and your Children after us, which the Indians assented to” [viii].

Farmer was obviously interested in the Native American’s spiritual understanding of the world around them and he reported the story of one hunter’s unearthly encounter:

“Ye sd Indian had bad luck in hunting. At wch hee was troubled & then see a man in white Raiment stand before him. Who asked him why hee was troubled & further said dost thou not know yt there is a great God who ruleth althings & giveth good luck to whome hee please? Do thou live well & teach ye Indians to do so too & then hee will give thee good things. The Indian asked him his name where upon hee gave himselfe ye name of a bird (wch the Indians say is so holy yt hee never tocheth ye ground) & then vanished out of the Indian’s sight.” [ix]

Within the journal I have not found references to Native American communities resisting or objecting to the conversations with John Farmer in particular and the Quaker’s in general.   He was not the first Quaker visitor, Thomas Chalkley had been at Conestoga in 1706 and had a good relationship with a female tribal leader who he called “an old Empress” who had dreamed that a friend of William Penn’s would be visiting and had advised her people to allow them to preach. Thus the foundations had already been laid for Native Americans to be receptive to the Quaker message.  At least initially.[x]

By November 1713 John Farmer was back in Philadelphia where he tallied up the miles he had travelled since arriving in America and found it to be 5607 miles.   It was then time to start planning for the next part of his journey, to the Caribbean Islands.

And so we leave our intrepid Essex Friend in Philadelphia, waiting for the ship to take him all the way to Barbados.


[i] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[ii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[iii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[iv] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[v] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

[vi] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[vii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[viii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

[ix] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[x] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

For further information see Thomas Chalkey’s Journal for 1706 chap 45: http://www.archive.org/stream/journalofthomasch00chal/journalofthomasch00chal_djvu.txt

A New World in Essex

The Rise and Fall of the Purleigh Brotherhood Colony, 1896-1903

On the 21st November we invite you to join us at to celebrate the launch of A New World in Essex by Victor Gray with a talk by the author here at ERO in Chelmsford.

Victor Gray, Author of A New World in Essex

In this title Vic examines a period of time in the 1890s when there was widespread concern about the ills of late-Victorian society. One group of Christian Socialists, known as the Brotherhood Church, fired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, set out to build an alternative to the harsh realities of urban life. Their mission led them to seek out a place where they could live out their beliefs, going ‘back to the land’, seeking self-sufficiency and equality of labour and reward. Their search led them to Purleigh in Essex, deeply rural and in the midst of a depression.

Despite the commitment, enthusiasm and sheer hard work poured into it, the colony lasted barely three years, but it had a strong influence on many progressive thinkers and experiments in the following decades. The ideas behind it and the causes of its failure remain relevant to this day.

Victor Gray is a former County Archivist of Essex. He was awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Essex in 1993 for his contribution to the study and publication of Essex history. In 2014 he was made a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the University of Suffolk. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and was awarded an M.B.E. in 2010 for services to British archives.

During the event you will also be able to purchase your copy of A New World in Essex at the special event price of £8.99 (RRP £9.99).

Thanks to the support of the Friends of Historic Essex this event is completely free, but booking is still essential, please click the button below to book.

An Essex Quaker in Ireland 1710 – 11


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.

At the end of the last post we left John Farmer living in Colchester.  He was a 43-year-old family man, a wool comber by trade and his wife Mary was working as a nurse.  They had two children, Mary Fulbig, Mary’s 20-year-old from her first marriage, and Ann, now about 8 years old. But John Farmer was also an itinerant Quaker minister who was regularly moved by Christ to travel, giving his testimony at inns and on the streets and he had already travelled widely in England, Scotland and in some of Ireland.

His journal says that in the 11th month of 1710 (January 1710/11) John Farmer received the  instruction of the Lord to travel to the West of Ireland where there were currently no Quaker meetings. Farmer went to Liverpool, taking ship and arriving in Dublin on 18th March 1710/11.  He travelled to the West of Ireland intending to hold meetings wherever he stopped.  But he was imprisoned twice at Castlebar, County Mayo by Justice George Bingham for holding meetings.

In Headford in County Galway, Farmer endured his first episode of charivari (protest by rough music) when he encountered a priest and some townspeople determined to stop his meeting at a local hall.  He reported glumly that the priest engaged a bagpipe player to interrupt proceedings:

‘ye priest instructed ye man to thrust his bagpipes in at ye window there he sounded to hinder ye people from hearing me speak. But ye people within thrust out ye pipe & shut ye window whereupon hee thrust it in at another but ye people thrust it out there also.  But he had a drunken souldier that assisted him in it by opening ye window again & again for him to thrust his bagpipe.’

Anonymous sketch of an 18th Century piper.

To the modern mind this episode is highly amusing. However the sober and godly John Farmer found the situation difficult, particularly as the priest then arranged a warrant for his arrest.  Farmer was much relieved when friendly townspeople advised his guide to take him out of town by another road and he ‘escaped ye snare which ye priest laid for me after hee saw his musicians were ineffectual’.

In Galway John Farmer was arrested again, having fallen out with the local priest Reverend Shaw, and all his notes, permission papers and certificates were confiscated before he was thrown into prison again.  He was forcibly removed from town by being placed on a boat which later came ashore in County Clare, where he held rather more successful meetings at Ennis, Quin and Sixmilebridge before moving on to Limerick where he preached at Bruff, Kilmallock, Tralee and Killarney and elsewhere.  Farmer finally returned to England via Wales, the West Country and the home counties where he had various meetings with Quaker friends and visited his family in Somerset to advise them of his plan to go to America.  He arrived home in Colchester on 9th July 1711.

So we leave John and Mary Farmer, and their girls Mary and Ann living quietly in Colchester, but not for much longer.  In my next post we will look at John Farmer’s exploits in pre-revolutionary America.

An Essex Quaker Goes Into the World -The Scottish Journey 1707-08

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.

Before looking at the next phase of John Farmer’s life I wanted to look first at the complexities associated with the diaries or journals of people living before the 1750s.

The Wool Comber. Image from The Book of English Trades 1827.

In 1751 England and her empire, including the American colonies, still adhered to the old Julian calendar, which was now eleven days ahead of the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and in use in most of Catholic Europe. Years were counted from New Year’s Day being on March 25th, so for example 24th of March was in 1710 and March 25th was in 1711. In addition Quaker’s provided an extra difficulty as they refused to recognise the common names for days of the weeks, or months as they were associated with pagan deities or Roman emperors. So a Quaker would write a date as 1:2mo 1710 which was actually the 1st April 1710 as March was counted as the first month.

In 1751 this all changed when the British government decreed the Gregorian form of calendar was to be adopted and the year would be counted from 1st January 1752. At the 1751 London Meeting for Sufferings the Quakers issued a document advising Friends how to adjust to the new way of counting years but refused to acknowledge the naming of days and months as being based on ‘Popish Superstition’.i

London Meeting of the Sufferings Advice on Regulation Commencement of the Year, 1751, Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 53.

John Farmer’s Journal, stored at the Essex Record Office, is a handwritten account of one man’s travels in the eighteenth century taking the Quaker message to communities in Ireland, Scotland, America and even the Caribbean Islands. Because he was writing in the first quarter of the 18th Century he used old style dating , and the Quaker method for numbering days and months as described above. A first day is a Sunday, a first month is March, so I have calculated all dates into Common Era notation, and dual dated years for dates shown between January and March.

Farmer wrote the journal after he returned in 1714 from his first American journey. He was born in Somerset in 1667, brought up a Baptist, and almost immediately following his Baptism in 1684 he sought fellowship with the Quakers of Stogumber in Somerset and Cullompton in Devon and began work as an itinerant wool comber. He travelled throughout England with his trade before settling in Saffron Walden where he married a fellow Quaker, widow and nurse Mary Fulbigg in 1698 and started family life with his wife, her daughter Mary from her earlier marriage, and they were joined in 1701 by another daughter, Ann. However both John and his wife were also drawn to preaching the Quaker testimony and were prepared to travel many miles in the ministry.

John Farmer quotes numerous biblical tracts within his journal, but one resonates in particular as being his inspiration: “And he said unto ym go ye into all ye world & preach ye gospel to every creature.”ii Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 16, verse 15. And John Farmer certainly travelled far and wide to preach the gospel wherever he could.

The first section of his journal details his intention to have the book published, “for ye good of soules now and in future ages”. The second part details his religious testimony, his early life in Somerset before his conversion to Quakerism, and his struggles with keeping true to his faith. He goes on to describe his travels, alone or occasionally with his wife. He travelled throughout Britain and Ireland holding public meetings to preach his testimony, sometimes with disastrous and occasionally unwittingly humorous results.  The third section of the journal is an account of his journey through the eastern states of America, visiting Native American communities and travelling to the islands of the Caribbean, in an extraordinary expedition that lasted nearly 3 years. We will be looking at the various places he visited and the adventures he had in later posts.

In 1705 Farmer obtained a certificate giving the Thaxted Quaker Monthly Meeting’s blessing on his idea of travelling to ‘severall parts of England.”iii

Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry, dated 24th of 2nd mo 1705 (24th April 1705) Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 47 Bundle F5.

However when he asked the Saffron Walden Friends to approve his revised plan which was to now include Scotland and Ireland in 1706 he reported there was some opposition to the scheme. A letter in the Essex Record Office archive gives us a clue to the possible attitude of the Thaxted Friends. Written by John Mascall of Finchingfield and dated 25th 2nd month 1707 (25th April 1707) Mascall tells the monthly meeting that “Reciting the case of the Talents Given; to some more, some lesse, which everyone is fitfull to and not go beyond it” he had advised John Farmer to “weight a while… to exercise his talents nearer to home…”iv which must have been very disappointing to a man so desperate to take his testimony out into the world.

This delay led to John Farmer suffering what he saw as God’s chastisement for the delay with a 4-month long bout of piles, an affliction he described as ‘Himrodicall paine’. Clearly this was not a condition beneficial to long expeditions on horseback.

Eventually a certificate was issued by the Thaxted meeting in May 1707 , interestingly signed by both Mary Farmer and the previously doubtful John Mascall, and so John Farmer began his travels in earnest. He and Mary went to Nottingham, and then John went on alone to Scotland.

Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry, dated 29th of 3rd mo 1707 (29th May 1707) Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 47 Bundle F5.

Whilst in Durham on his way to Scotland John Farmer sent a loving letter to his wife Mary, dated 16th June 1707 where he asks her to send mail care of “Bartie Gibson the Blacksmith of Edinburgh”. He reminds Mary to keep the children reading the bible and “tell ym I would have them remember their creator & love him more than their Idolls”.vi

John made his first visit of six months to Ireland which he briefly covers in saying that he “attended all the meetings there and held several meeting at inns and on the street where people were attentive and civil.” He then headed back to Scotland again where he mentions preaching in Port Patrick, Stranraer, Govern, Ayr, Douglas and elsewhere. He complained some Scottish people were rude and in Penrith, Cumberland (Cumbria) he was assaulted at a Sunday meeting when: “the Divil raged & stired up a man to abuse mee by throwing dirt in my face & striking mee”vii

In Ormskirk John Farmer was imprisoned for a night by the Constable for holding a meeting in the street. From Lancashire where Mary met up again with her husband, the Farmers travelled homeward, stopping in London for the 1708 yearly meeting before going home to Colchester where they had now settled, and where they remained until January 1711 when the urge to travel struck John Farmer yet again.

In the next post we will look at Farmer’s 1711 visit to the West of Ireland, where he was not widely welcomed.


i London Meeting of Sufferings Advice on Regulating Commencement of the Year, 1751, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 52

ii John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p1

iii Thaxted Monthly Meeting Minutes 1705, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

iv Letter from John Mascall 1707, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

v Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry 1705, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

vi Letter from John Farmer to Mary Farmer Durham 1707 Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 51

vii John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p28 [1] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p28

John Farmer: An Essex Quaker in the New World

Julie Miller, a master’s 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 during the 12-week project.

John Farmer was born near Taunton in 1667 to Particular Baptist preacher Isaac Farmer and his wife Jane.  He learned a trade as a wool-comber and by the age of 18 he was travelling with his trade and seeking his faith along the way.  He accidentally found himself in a Quaker meeting house in 1685 and heard Jasper Ball speak and he knew he had found the faith he was looking for.  He married the Saffron Walden widow and Quaker preacher Mary Fulbigg (neé Wyatt) on 27th May 1698 and settled into married life in Essex.  On 1st May 1701 their daughter Ann was born.

So far so normal.

But John Farmer was a man who liked to travel.  His were not the random wanderings of a feckless young man, but the journeys of a dedicated Quaker who lived to share his religious faith wherever he could be heard. As he writes in his own words:

It hath pleased the (ye) Lord to make use of me as an Instrument to
preach his Everlasting Gosple (sic) so much as that I have at several times spent about
6 years & 6 months time & have travelled about 29200 miles by land
& sea in England Wales Scotland Irland (sic) North America & the
West Indies in it.

Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714 p 6. – D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 50

Fortunately, the Society of Friends in Thaxted and Saffron Walden held a comprehensive archive which has now been accessioned to the Essex Record Office and the handwritten testimony of John Farmer’s life and journeying in the Quaker faith along with his journal of his travels in America 1711 – 1714 were bound in a single volume and stored with associated papers for us to enjoy over 300 years later.

The opening pages of the Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 51

The Quaker faith was based on a personal relationship with God, with no intervention from a priest.  They believed their actions were based on instruction received from God which made Himself known by bringing awareness of an Inner Light during silent prayer.   Thus, John Farmer wrote his own testament of faith and shared it at meetings throughout Britain, Holland and America.  He met with Native Americans and survived illness and injury on his first journey before returning to England to write up his experiences. Later he returned to America and became a radical anti-slavery campaigner, was ejected from the Philadelphia Society of Friends and died at the age of about 57 in late 1724 in Germantown Pennsylvania.

Looking back at Essex on the Edge

Jennifer Ward – Essex’s pre-eminent medieval expert – looks back on ‘Essex on the Edge’ our fantastic conference back on the 18th May which examined Essex’s medieval history as a county on the Edge of England, London and rebellion.

The Essex Record Office Study Day this year took place on 18 May, and concentrated on new research being undertaken for Volume XII (on Harwich) of the Victoria County History of Essex, as well as on the Hundred Years War and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  It was organised by the Essex Record Office, the Victoria County History and the Friends of Historic Essex, and proved to be an enjoyable and informative day.  The lectures were excellent and have given us much to think about, and there was plenty of time for everyone there to meet and exchange news of ongoing research and other concerns.

The first lecture was given by Neil Wiffen of the Essex Record Office staff on Supplying the Army: the Contribution of Essex to Provisioning the Forces of Edward III, c. 1337.  Neil has long been interested in the Hundred Years War, and, as he pointed out, the provision of food and equipment for the soldiers has not been studied as much as the campaigns and battles.  Before the king departed on a campaign, orders were sent to the sheriff of each county to collect particular provisions and take them to the port of embarkation.  The list for Essex in 1337 included specific quantities of wheat, malt, bacon pigs and cheese.  The collection of these goods proved difficult as men were unwilling to hand over goods for which they might not be paid, goods might be scarce at a time of poor harvests, and/or the time between the order to the sheriff and the king’s departure might be too short to collect the goods.  Essex did not produce all the goods asked for in 1337, and this often happened in subsequent years as well.  It will be interesting to see if Neil’s work sparks off further research.

Herbert Eiden preparing for his paper about life in Fourteenth and Fifteenth century Harwich.

Neil was followed by Herbert Eiden, the deputy editor of the Victoria County History of Essex, speaking on Life in Fourteenth and Fifteenth-Century Harwich as seen through the Court Rolls.  Harwich was a ‘new town’ of the Middle Ages, first mentioned in the records in the mid-1190s.  A few court rolls survive for the fourteenth century and most of the rolls for the fifteenth century.  They throw light on law and order, the urban economy, and the links with the town’s lords, the dukes of Norfolk; both men and women appear in the rolls, involved in cases of robbery, housebreaking, wounding and the hue and cry.  The assize of bread and ale was enforced, and a licensing system evolved for the brewing of ale and beer.

After lunch, the editor of the Essex Victoria County History, Chris Thornton, spoke on Overseas Immigrants in Harwich in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries.  Interest in immigrants of the Middle Ages has grown since the universities of York and Sheffield published their national survey of English immigrants online, and a book has also been published.  These men and women were more numerous and settled in a greater number of places than used to be thought.  Immigrants from the Low Countries and Germany are found in Harwich, many working as servants, and also involved in crafts such as shoe-making.  The richest immigrants were often beer-brewers, often brewing beer with hops which lasted longer than English ale.  Although there was some resentment among the English, these men prospered and many settled for life in the town and brought up their children to whom they bequeathed their goods.

Speakers; Chris Thornton and Ken Crowe examining a map of Harwich ahead of their papers at Essex on the Edge.

Ken Crowe, the fourth speaker, is leading a group in Southend researching its history in the nineteenth and twentieth century for the Victoria County History.  For his lecture, Ken chose a topic from his own research, The Abbeys of Barking and Stratford Langthorne: Dissolution, Dismantling and Recycling.  Henry VIII claimed for himself all the material and goods from the monasteries dissolved in 1536-40, and the stone from these two houses was re-used in royal palaces.  Certain buildings remained on site untouched; we can still see the Curfew Tower at Barking, and at Stratford Langthorne  a chapel and the main gatehouse were not demolished until the nineteenth century.  At the present day, much of the site is covered by the railway.  The dismantling and later history of the monasteries has not been much studied, and the lecture gave us yet another insight into the possibilities of new research.

The Essex Record Office, Victoria County History and the Friends of Historic Essex are to be congratulated on the organisation and lectures of the study day. The audience was shown how new research is opening up familiar topics, and how local historians can build on these foundations and extend our knowledge of Essex history through their use of the documents at the Essex Record Office.   We look forward to learning more at future study days and wish the Record Office and the Victoria County History every success in their work.

Angels in the Barn at Stratford Langthorne Abbey

In todays post Ken Crowe gives us a tease of just some of the huge wealth of information he has gleaned during his investigations into the history of Stratford Langthorne Abbey ahead of his paper at our conference ‘Essex on the Edge’. Otherwise known as the Abbey of St. Mary’s or West Ham Abbey, this Cistercian foundation would survive from 1135 to the dissolution.

This is just one of the many stories Ken has unearthed.

I/MP 164/1/25 – Part of the Abbey of Stratford Langthorne can seen in this late 19th Century pamphlet. By this time only this small chapel and the gatehouse survived.

James Huddleston was a tenant of Stratford Langthorne Abbey, and lived in a tenement within the precincts. It is not know if he was a relation of the last Abbot, William Huddleston, but it seems very likely. In the mid-1530s he decided to travel north, to visit friends in Cumbria, taking his son (it seems by his first marriage) with him. Unfortunately he was taken ill while in Cumbria, and on his death-bed he told his son (it is alleged) that he had hidden a quantity of gold coins (angels or, as described by many contemporaries, angel-nobles) in a post in his barn within the abbey precincts.

Chris Thornton (left) and Ken Crowe (right) examining a 19th Century Ordinance Survey map of Harwich.

In the Bill of Complaint before Chancery, it is claimed that James told his son, on his return home to tell his mother where the coins were, so that she could convert them to land and property.

This case before Chancery, like so many, lacks an ending, so we will never know whether Miles (as he claimed) knew nothing of any gold coins, or, as his mother claimed, “he spoke nothing of the said gold but secretly went into the said barne where the said gold was hid and toke and bare awaye” the gold coins.

Although a story without an ending, it gives us a glimpse into one aspect of life among the tenants within the precincts –particularly in the days before banks!

Ken Crowe will be talking more about Stratford Langthorne Abbey at
‘Essex on the Edge-the experience of a county from the Hundred Years’ War to the Dissolution’ on the 18th May at the Essex Record Office. Click on the link to book your ticket!

At ‘Essex on the Edge’ there will also be an opportunity to a copy of ‘The Fighting Essex Soldier’ “an authoritative and often very entertaining account of Essex in the Hundred Years’ War” at a price of £15.00 reduced from £18.99 while stocks last.

From Chelmsford to Jamestown: the story of a bartered Essex bride

Can you help trace the family of a young Essex woman sent to Virginia 400 years ago and traded for tobacco as a planter’s bride? Historian Jennifer Potter, author of The Jamestown Brides, would like to hear from you.

In 1621, 27-year-old Ann Tanner from Chelmsford in Essex sailed to Virginia on the Marmaduke to find a husband in the New World. She joined a shipment of 56 brides dispatched to the colony by the near-bankrupt Virginia Company of London. This trade in ‘maids for wives’ was among several new ventures designed to attract investors. Husbands would be charged 150lbs of best-leaf tobacco, then valued at £25 – more than double the estimated cost of clothing and transporting each bride. But three months after the women arrived at Jamestown, an orchestrated attack by Virginian tribes wiped out between a quarter and a third of the entire English colony.

Ann Tanner may have been one of the lucky ones to survive. From papers held at Magdalene College Cambridge, we know that her father Clement Tanner was a husbandman living in Chelmsford; she also had a saddler cousin, Thomas Tanner, dwelling in Aldgate, London. As Jennifer explained in her lively talk to the Essex History Group, Ann Tanner may have married one of two recent arrivals to the colony: either Thomas Doughtie or Nicholas Baly; both men married women called Ann who had arrived on the Marmaduke in 1621. The two couples survived the Indian attack and by early 1625 were living at a settlement now called Flowerdew Hundred. Out of three eligible Anns, Tanner would have made the best planter’s wife: ‘She can spin and sew in blackwork, She can brew, and bake, make butter and cheese, and do housewifery.’

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

If you have any information about the Tanner family in Chelmsford, or Ann’s life in Virginia, please contact Jennifer through her website, www.jenniferpotter.co.uk, where you can find out more about the women’s story. The Jamestown Brides is published by Atlantic Books in the UK.

The strange case of Sarah Moore

As the nights draw in it’s the perfect time to gather to hear tales of dark happenings in the past. Here, bestselling novelist Syd Moore tells us about how she first became interested in researching Essex witches, ahead of her talk at our screening of Witchfinder General on Friday 26 October 2018 – find all the details here.

Best-selling novelist Syd Moore who will be speaking about her research into Essex witches at ERO

I first encountered Sarah Moore, when I visited the pub in Leigh on Sea named after her. It was shortly after it had opened and the name piqued my curiosity. This was mainly because a) we share the same surname and b)  in my experience it’s unusual to come across a pub named after someone who isn’t famous or a king, queen, lord, lady, duke, admiral, marquis etc. When I asked about it at the bar the staff told me the brewery chain that owned the place often ran competitions to name their pubs. Regularly they would chose winners with a local flavour. Sarah Moore, I was informed, was the subject of a Leigh legend – an evil sea-witch who raised the Great Storm of the Estuary, caused great havoc about the town and sank a plethora of boats.  When I probed further I learned the story of Sarah Moore. Which, if any of you don’t know, goes like this:

Sarah Moore was a bent and bitter old witch, who made her living sitting by the estuary down in Old Leigh, telling fortunes and selling sailors ‘a good wind’ for a penny. The latter was a common practice along various coasts. The ‘witch’ would take a length of string or ribbon and ‘tie’ the wind into it.  The sailor would buy it. Then when out at sea, if they desired wind, they would untie the string. A single knot would loosen a breeze, two would summon a strong wind, and three would unleash a storm. Allegedly one day, a foreign captain rocked up in Leigh. He was a zealous man and, when he heard about Moore and her spells, he forbade his crew to consult her, give her any money or buy any wind. As the legend goes, when Moore heard about this she flew into a rage and, in revenge, summoned up The Great Storm of the Estuary. This, she threw at the vessel as it sailed out into the open sea. The poor boat rocked from side to side, with all aboard much afeared. The crew tried with all their might to get the sails down but, alas, the rigging kept snaring.  One of them cried out in a moment of awful horror, ‘This is the work of the witch. It’s the witch!’ Whereupon, the story goes, the captain picked up an axe, ran to the mast and felled it with three hefty strokes. As soon as the mast hit the deck the storm instantly subsided. When the beleaguered crew got the wounded ship back to Belle Wharf, they saw, there on the floor the dead body of Sarah Moore, three axe wounds across her corpse.

This was a splendid tale, I thought at the time, full of intrigue, horror, suspense and supernatural murder. And as soon as I heard it my interest was immediately fired up. But I was left full of questions: was the story really a myth or a legend? Had Sarah Moore been a real person? Was there some truth in parts of it? Any of it?

In a strange synchronicity, at about the same time, I was asked to present a pilot for a TV series about legend and lore of the land. Cunningly I suggested we look at Sarah Moore and, microphone in hand, ventured out with the team to quiz a whole host of strangers about the legendary sea-witch.  I heard variations of the tale many times, but nobody really knew whether Sarah had ever existed. A couple of Leigh locals suggested it was possible that the myth had been stitched together from various Essex witch stories and that Sarah was a conflation of sorts. It wasn’t what I had been expecting to hear, to be honest. And although I was disappointed I determined to keep on going with my own private research. Which I did. And over the next few years I delved deeper into the myths and legends of Leigh and its surrounding areas, and read up on local history. Yet I did not find much else about the witch.

Until one day when my friend, the writer Rachel Lichtenstein, invited me to go with her to the Essex Record Office. Believe it or not it hadn’t dawned on me that I might be able to find out more about Sarah outside of history books.  Neither was I aware that anyone could pop along to the offices. Somehow I had it in my head that it was something you could do only if you were a professional researcher or a historian or historic writer or had some other kind of credentials. So the whole trip really was a bit of a revelation.

That afternoon spent at the Record Office I discovered the numerous resources: books, reports, various antique volumes, microfiche.  With great excitement I dived straight in to see what I could find. It took me several visits but one dark and stormy afternoon, almost as I was about to give I up, I hit upon a record!

Burial record for Sarah Moore at St Clements church, Leigh-on-Sea, 14 December 1867 (D/P 284/1/38 image 87)

This was the burial entry in the St Clement’s church register for one Sarah Moore. It was dated the 9th of December, 1867 and was my ‘light bulb’ moment. I remember sitting in the record office as the rain pelted against the windows and feeling flooded with light. For not only did the record confirm my hunch that Sarah had been a living breathing woman, it also gave me a solid date around which to research. Another thought that immediately struck me was the fact she had died in 1867. The Great Storm of the Estuary had occurred in 1870. Sarah couldn’t possibly have been responsible for raising it, even if you did believe poor dispossessed old women had control over meteorology.  She had been dead for three years. This realisation prompted me to conclude that Sarah had been scapegoated for the event posthumously. During my further research I was to learn that this was not the only natural disaster that had been attributed to her. All of this evoked a tremendous amount of pity for the woman, and despite the centuries that separated us, I felt outrage on her behalf. The feeling spurred me on to explore the real woman behind the myth and to tell her untold side of the story.

Soon I found her on the census of 1851, by which time she had been twice widowed and left with a great number of children to provide for. In fact, Moore had a terrible life.  Perversely over the years, her association with witchcraft and tragedy, metamorphosed her reputation into a ‘wicked’ one. Through careful consideration I was able to track the route that had facilitated the switch from tragic victim to sinister oppressor and highlight this in the novel, that was published in 2011, The Drowning Pool. It was the start of a career investigating the other miscarriages of justice that occurred in our county: the Essex Witch Hunts.

If you would like to hear more about them I will be speaking on the 26th of October at the Record Office, before a screening of the very relevant classic horror film The Witchfinder General.

Syd Moore’s new book Strange Casebook is out on Halloween.