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.’
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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  John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p28
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.’
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.
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.
This Hallowe’en, experience history and horror with a screening of 1968 cult horror classic Witchfinder General at the Essex Record Office on Friday 26th October, 6.30pm-9.00pm. The screening will be accompanied by a talk about the real history of witchcraft in Essex by bestselling novelist Syd Moore (tickets available here).
The film is set in East Anglia in 1645, and stars Vincent Price as the notorious self-appointed ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins, who claimed to have been given the right by parliament to interrogate and execute witches. The plot is a fictionalised account of Hopkins’s bloody exploits, and follows him and his assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell) as they visit village after village, torturing and executing suspected witches.
Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General. Price was 56 when he played Hopkins, even though Hopkins was only in his 20s when he sparked a major witch panic in the 1640s. Image: British Film Institute
Interior scenes were filmed in converted aircraft hangars near Bury St Edmunds, and exterior scenes were filmed on locations including the Dunwich coast, Lavenham, Kentwell Hall, and Orford Castle.
The film is best known for its violence, despite being extensively cut by the British Board of Film Censors. It has divided audiences and critics alike, with some deploring its violent scenes, while others have championed it as an important part of British film history.
While Hopkins did exist and did indeed hunt suspected witches, the film departs from real history in several ways. Hopkins was the son of a Suffolk minister. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but by the winter of 1644-5 he was living in Manningtree in Essex. He came to believe that there were 7 or 8 witches living in the town; these and others were arrested and questioned, with Hopkins giving evidence against them. This sparked a trail of accusations, and eventualy 36 Essex women were tried for witchcraft at the Essex assizes in July 1645. Nineteen of them were executed. 9 died in prison, and 6 were still locked up in 1648. What Hopkins had started in Essex spread to Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, with at least 250 people tried as witches, and at least 100 executed.
Hopkins did not meet the violent end that he does in the film, but according to a contemporary account died slowly of consumption (tuberculosis) at his home in Essex in 1647. Price was 56 at the time that he played Hopkins, but in reality Hopkins was only in his 20s when he instigated the East Anglian witch hunts. The film’s biggest departure from reality, however, is its omission of court cases; in the film, Hopkins and Stearne subject their victims to summary executions, but in reality suspected witches were arrested and tried.
Burial record of Matthew Hopkins in the Manningtree and Mistley parish register, recording his death in August 1647, two years after he began pursuing witches (Essex Record Office). The text reads: Mathew Hopkins sone of Mr James Hopkins Minister of Wenha[m] was buryed at Mistley August 12th 1647
Here are all the details if you want to join us for horror and history this Hallowe’en:
Date and time: Friday 26 October, 6.30pm-9.00pm
Location: Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT
Film length: 86m
Rating: The film is rated 18 as it contains strong violence and execution scenes. If you are lucky enough to look under 18 we will ask to see proof of your age on the door
Visitors to the ERO may not notice the canal basin that lies just behind our building – although ‘Wharf Road’ is a bit of a clue. Nevertheless, into the last century the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation of 1797 (strictly, a river made navigable and not a canal) was an important means of transport for heavy freight. In its way, it is partly responsible for the ERO lying where it does: heavy freight includes coal, coal can be used to produce gas, and so it was natural for Chelmsford’s gasworks to rise beside the basin. Natural gas brought the end of the gasworks, and created a large development site handily close to the town centre.
This Ordnance Survey map from 1897 shows the system of waterways to the south west of Chelmsford town centre, where the rivers Chelmer and Can met, and where they fed into the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. The Navigation ended at Springfield wharf, where there were timber and coal wharves for unloading the goods brought up the Navigation on barges from Heybridge Basin, 13.5 miles away. The Essex Record Office stands today between the Navigation and the Chelmer, just south of the gasometers.
Watercolour of Springield Wharf by A.B. Bamford, 1906 (I/Ba 14/2)
The main archive of the Navigation Company was deposited in the ERO decades ago (reference D/Z 36). What we did not know then is that there were some volumes missing. Three registers of ships berthing between 1886 and 1941 at the far end of the navigation – 13½ miles away in Heybridge, on the Blackwater estuary –had been loaned out to a student. They were never returned, and their whereabouts are now unknown. Fortunately, one of the researchers through whose hands they passed kept a set of photocopies. Through his kindness we have recently been able to borrow the photocopies and make a set of digital copies from them (reference T/B 694).
The digital copies we have been able to make of the missing records are now available on Essex Archives Online, catalogued as T/B 694/1, /2, and /3
The registers name vessels unloading (or occasionally loading) at Heybridge Basin, with the names of their masters and the nature and tonnage of their cargoes. Now and again a small private yacht turns up, but for the most part this is a record of freight traffic during the last years of canals as a working transport system. As you can see from the images on Essex Archives Online, even in 1886 the navigation handled quite a narrow range of bulk goods for a small band of local companies. Coal, timber, chalk, wheat – all headed up the navigation on horse-drawn lighters. At first some cargoes of fish were also landed, although these disappear after 1901. Steamships made a few entrances, but most of the navigation’s visitors were sailing vessels.
Heybridge Basin in 1910 (I/Mb 182/1/11)
Some more unusual river traffic – a funeral barge on the navigation at Hebridge, 1912 (I/Mb 182/1/11)
As its trade was taken over by rail and then by road transport, the navigation slowly shrank into a backwater. As late as 1927 the gas company was still bringing in coal, but soon only the timber trade was left – and only one customer, Brown and Son Ltd of Navigation Road, Chelmsford. The last delivery to be registered was on 21 November 1941, although commercial traffic on the navigation did not actually cease until 1972.
Brown’s timber yard in Springfield wharf. Photo by Fred Spalding (D/F 169/1/1215)
Registers of freight traffic sound un-promising, perhaps, but they are an intriguing relic of an enterprise and a way of life that marked this patch of Essex deeply and literally. Do take a look.
Throughout the centenary of the First World War, the Friends of Historic Essex are running the Essex Great War Archive Project. One of the aims of the project is to collect First World War documents relating to Essex to add to the ERO collections to preserve them for current and future generations. One such document acquired recently is a scrapbook kept during the First World War by Minna Evangeline Bradhurst of Rivenhall Place, now catalogued as Acc. A14491 (you can read some more background on it here). Caroline Wallace, a History MA student from the University of Essex, has been researching the contents of the scrapbook, to see what it can tell us about the lives of Minna and her family during the First World War.
Born on 21st May 1894, Christine Evangeline Minna Elizabeth Bradhurst was the only child of Minna Evangeline Bradhurst, née Page Wood of the county ‘Wood’ family, and Augustus Maunsell Bradhurst of New York. As a family of social standing in the county, Christine grew up as any other upper-class daughter would at the turn of the twentieth century with a life full of country houses, society families, large birthday parties and lavish gifts (listed painstakingly by her mother in one of her many scrapbooks). By 1913, Christine was off to debutante balls with the cream of British society.
Christine pictured in costume for one of her plays during the First World War.
Christine pictured at Rivenhall Place. The notes on the photograph refer to her ‘swish’ hat, which was part of a costume for a play she was in.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Christine was 20 years old and expected to do her bit for the war effort. As a society lady with no need to work for a living, there was one occupation that was both suitable and acceptable – that of British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment, or VAD, worker. She could have become a VAD nurse, as many other middle and upper class ladies did, including most famously Vera Brittain and Agatha Christie.
However, Christine chose to work as a general service VAD, undertaking general duties at Earls Colne Auxiliary Hospital, whilst putting her considerable artistic talents to use to raise funds for war charities in the county, the number of which had grown substantially nationally. The Essex Record Office hold several scrapbooks (three on microfilm, one original) put together by her mother, Minna Evangeline Bradhurst, that document her life and record the concerts, plays and musicals that she put on and performed in. Fundraising was not only seen as ‘the thing to do’ by society, but was encouraged by Queen Mary with her Needle Work Guild, and it is believed that the First World War inspired the greatest level of philanthropy that Britain has ever seen.
The first mention of Christine on stage in the scrapbooks is in 1914 at the Colchester Hippodrome, where the East Lancashire Regiment put on a performance in which she assisted. Another of the scrapbooks but together by Minna has details of the entertainment that Christine organised and paid for in December 1915. It describes how 100 wounded soldiers were entertained for 2 days at the family home at Rivenhall Place, near Witham, coming from the Earls Colne hospital as well as Stansted Hall, Witham Hospital and Colchester Military Hospital. Performed each day were plays written by Christine called ‘Spy Mania’ and ‘The Companion’. These plays were also performed in theatres across the county, including at Colchester and Kelvedon on a regular basis to raise funds for the Red Cross Hospitals in Essex, in which Christine acted along with plays and comedies written by others.
A programme for an ‘entertainment’ held in aid of Coggeshall Nurse Fund in which a play by Christine was performed.
Alongside her Red Cross fundraising work, Christine helped to raise funds for other county, national and international associations and societies, including the French Wounded Emergency Fund, the Coggeshall Nurses Fund, the Friendless Soldiers Guild and the Khaki Prisoners of War Fund. Somehow, she also managed to find time to organise ‘Pound Days’ with her mother (events were people were encouraged to donate a pound in weight of particular necessities) and to be the secretary of the Rivenhall War Savings Association. These fundraising efforts were not unusual for a woman of Christine’s social position. Many middle and upper class ladies used their society connections to raise money for the Red Cross across the country, often in combination with voluntary work in the Red Cross hospitals, work depots and convalescence homes.
Details from Rivenhall parish magazine about a fundraiser organised by Christine in aid of the Essex Red Cross Society.
A letter to the people of Rivenhall with details about a Red Cross entertainment to be held, and the Rivenhall War Saving Association, of which Christine was the secretary.
A poster advertising War Saving Certificates, advertising for people to apply to Christine at Rivenhall Place for information.
After the war, Christine married and had a daughter (who, it turns out, of her own who, it transpires, is the mother of the current home secretary The Right Honourable Amber Rudd MP). It appears that Christine carried on singing and dancing on stage for a few years, but any trace of her in later life has not been found.