Shipping news

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.

Christine ‘Heaven’ Bradhurst – Society Lady, Actress, Playwright, Red Cross VAD and Fundraiser

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.

Document of the Month, January 2017: Sir John Griffin Griffin’s new toys, 1765

Chris Lambert, Archivist

Our theme this month is toys – but of a grown up kind.  This bill is one of thousands in the Audley End estate archive.  General Sir John Griffin Griffin, later to become the 1st Baron Braybrooke, had inherited the estate from his aunt in 1762, and seems to have been spending fairly freely.

These purchases from Francis Watkins, a London instrument maker, put Sir John squarely in tune with the fashionable pleasures of the age – but pleasures that were linked to serious technological innovation.  Founded in the 1740s, the Watkins firm survived to be taken over in the 1850s by its younger rival Elliot Brothers.  In the 1960s Elliot’s, early manufacturers of electrical equipment and then of computers, became in turn one of the component parts of GEC Marconi.  The connection between optics and electrics was evident even at the time of this bill: amongst the ’optical, philosophical, and mathematical instruments’ available from Watkins were ‘electrical machines’.

D/DBy A23/4

So far as Sir John’s own purchases are concerned, a ‘concave to opera glass’ is probably a replacement lens, although it is interesting that Watkins was advertising ‘an opera-glass entirely new’.  For outdoor amusement, perhaps on the private bowling green behind Audley End house, we have 6 pairs of bowls with a jack, apparently bought in from another supplier.  A ‘book camara’ seems an unexpected purchase for the 1760s, but in fact cameras were well-developed by the late 18th century.  How to fix the images that they produced was unknown, but the principles of focusing light on to a screen were well understood, and a wide variety of cameras was available.  Probably Sir John’s purchase was a camera in the form of a book, opening to display an image to the (hopefully) delighted viewer.

Less of a toy was the most expensive item, a 6-guinea mahogany measuring wheel.  Sir John may have led a life of luxury, but he was also interested in the land that supported it.  He spent many years re-assembling the Audley End estate, which had been split three ways on the death of the 10th Earl of Suffolk in 1745.  For a serious landowner, estate management involved estate measurement, and it is likely that the measuring wheel was a means to that end.

Bills like this show vividly how many human activities – serious and frivolous – are united through the making of tools.  But we came across this one only because we were looking for something else in the bundle.  Serendipity is one of the great pleasures of an archive, and not to be had from a search engine.  Why not try it yourself?

The Church of England and the Home Front, 1914-1918: Civilians, Soldiers and Religion in Wartime Colchester

In this guest post, Father Robert Beaken describes the research he has undertaken for his latest book, on the Church of England in the First World War. Father Robert is parish priest of St Mary the Virgin, Great Bardfield, and St Katharine, Little Bardfield, in Essex. He holds a PhD from King’s College, London, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is the author of seven works, including Cosmo Lang: Archbishop in War and Crisis (2012).

“Father Robert? I think you’d better come in to the Record Office the next time you’re passing.”

My unexpected telephone caller was Mrs Jane Bedford, who then worked at the Essex Record Office branch in Colchester, and who was an enormous help to me as I researched the role of Colchester’s parish churches in the Great War. Mrs Bedford went on to explain that an old established business in Colchester had recently closed. Going through the cupboards, someone had found the records of the Borough of Colchester Social Club for the Troops and had brought them into the Essex Record Office.

Papers from the Colchester Social Club for the Troops (C948)

Papers from the Colchester Social Club for the Troops (C948)

I knew a little about the Borough of Colchester Social Club for the Troops because it was mentioned in the Colchester War Memorial Souvenir (1924), which even included a somewhat lugubrious photograph of a tea party for wounded soldiers after the Armistice. The unexpected cache of papers revealed a whole lot more information about the club and its role helping the troops in wartime Colchester.

We tend to lump together all the British soldiers in the First World War, but in fact there were three distinct British armies. Firstly, in 1914 there was the old regular British army and its reservists: what the Kaiser called ‘that contemptible little army’. From late 1914/early 1915 there was Kitchener’s New Army, which was composed of volunteers who were usually of a much higher intellectual and social calibre than the old regular troops. Finally, in January 1916, Conscription was introduced, which meant that men from across the social spectrum were called up.

Before 1914, the ‘other ranks’ in the regular army were treated with some disdain by the general public and frequently regarded as potential sources of trouble. I show in my book how attitudes towards the army shifted during the Great War as a consequence from 1915 of a huge influx of ‘civilians-in-uniform’ (some 8 million British men had worn khaki by the Armistice). To begin with, it was felt desirable in Colchester to take steps to prevent the troops passing through the town from getting into scrapes, which principally meant keeping them out of pubs and brothels, and trying to preclude gambling and stealing. Various ‘clubs’ sprang up for the troops around the town, but the largest was run by the Borough, with significant help from the churches. This was open in the Albert School of Art in the High Street between 24 September 1914 and 31 May 1919. It provided a canteen, baths, a soldiers’ help bureau, a games room, a writing room, a reading room, a post office, and a small branch of Barclays Bank.

From the papers found in Colchester, I discovered that the club initially expected to cater for 1,000 visits per week, but soon had to cope with 25-30,000 visits per week. In 1916, for example, the club used 10,804 loaves of bread, 6,139 pounds of butter, 1,645 gallons of milk, 6,973 pounds of sugar, 1,557 pounds of tea, 449 pounds of coffee, 917 pounds of cocoa, 21,672 bottles of mineral water, 11 tons of cake, 311,515 pastries, and 2,404 pounds of meat for sandwiches.

Papers from the Colchester Social Club for the Troops (C948)

Papers from the Colchester Social Club for the Troops (C948)

The club was fairly successful in keeping troops out of mischief and preserving military discipline in Colchester. As the war progressed and the composition of the army changed, it helped volunteers or conscripts who were finding their introduction to military life difficult, or who were anxious about being sent to France, to cope. Similarly, keeping busy in the club and having a sense of purpose may have helped many of the civilian volunteers who ran the club to cope with their own wartime anxiety and bereavement.

Papers from the Colchester Social Club for the Troops (C948)

Papers from the Colchester Social Club for the Troops (C948)

When Mrs Bedford telephoned me with the news that these documents about the Borough Social Club for the Troops had turned up, she knew that I was seeking to reconstruct the life of Colchester throughout the Great War as part of my study of the role of the parish churches on the home front. At long last my research has been published by Boydell and Brewer with the title The Church of England and the Home Front, 1914-1918: Civilians, Soldiers and Religion in Wartime Colchester. A copy is available at Essex Record Office and is on sale at all good bookshops and online sources. I should like to add how immensely grateful I am to Mrs Bedford and the staff of Essex Record Office for their knowledgeable help and support.


Church of England and the Home Front, Robert Beaken

Find out more about The Church of England an the Home Front on the publisher’s website here.


Document of the Month, September 2015: Derwentwater correspondence, 1716

Katharine Schofield, Archivist

September’s Document of the Month is a collection of letters and a printed copy of a speech by James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, written as his execution for his part in the Jacobite Rebellion approached (D/DP F273/2-6, 37). The letters were written to his wife, his mother, and his wife’s parents, and discuss the heartbreak of leaving his wife, his hope for forgiveness and happiness in the afterlife, and care of his brother and children.

James Radclyffe 3rd Earl of Derwentwater

Engraving of James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater by George Vertue, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1716 (National Portrait Gallery)

The Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 was the attempt made by the Old Pretender, Prince James Francis Edward Stuart to claim the throne.  James II succeeded his brother Charles II in 1685 but his Catholicism made him unpopular with his subjects.  In 1688 James’s Protestant son-in-law William, Prince of Orange and daughter Mary were invited to England and James fled abroad.  The Glorious Revolution established a Protestant monarchy and after Mary’s sister Queen Anne died in 1714 the crown passed to George, Elector of Hanover (George I).

The Earl of Derwentwater's letter to his in-laws as his execution approached, telling them how much he loved their daughter and apologising for the unhappiness he had brought to her

The Earl of Derwentwater’s letter to his in-laws as his execution approached, telling them how much he loved their daughter and apologising for the unhappiness he had brought to her

On 6 September 1715 the Earl of Mar raised the Old Pretender’s standard at Braemar, beginning the rebellion.  Most of the armed conflict took place in Scotland, but in October there was a rising in Northumberland in which James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater and his brother Charles (later 5th Earl) took part.  They joined with Scottish Jacobites (from the Latin Jacobus or James) and reached as far as Preston where they were defeated and surrendered to the Government forces on 12-14 November.  By the time the Old Pretender landed at Peterhead on 22 December, the Jacobite army was heavily outnumbered and he left defeated in February 1716.

Earl of Derwentwater speech

Printed copy of the speech made by the Earl of Derwentwater at his execution

The Earl of Derwentwater was convicted of high treason and executed on Tower Hill on 24 February 1716.  Many of Derwentwater’s final letters to his family survive among the Petre family records, as his daughter Mary married the 8th Lord Petre.

In 1745 the Old Pretender’s son Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender (Bonnie Prince Charlie) made another unsuccessful attempt to claim the Crown.  Derwentwater’s brother Charles had managed to escape abroad in 1716, but was executed for his part in the 1745 rebellion.

The documents will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout September 2015.

Recording of the Month, November 2014: Chelmsford in 1381

Our Sound Archivist Martin Astell brings us another highlight from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

SA 24/854/1

This month’s recording is an extract from a lecture delivered to the Essex Branch of the Historical Association by Hilda Grieve in 1981. The lecture – entitled ‘The Rebellion of 1381 and the County Town’ – was given to mark the 600th anniversary of the Peasants’ Revolt. As the title suggests, the lecture considers the contribution of people from Chelmsford to the rebellion. The extract I have chosen comes from the start of the lecture, as the speaker sets the scene by describing the extent and nature of Essex’s county town in 1381. It is a fascinating picture painted by a historian who may have developed a greater knowledge of the history of Chelmsford than any other. It may come as a surprise to learn of the humble nature in the fourteenth century of what is now the only city in Essex. Hilda Grieve (1913-1993) joined the newly-created Essex Record Office in 1939 – the same year in which she was awarded the Alexander Medal of the Royal Historical Society – and continued in the post of Senior Assistant Archivist until 1966. From 1966 to 1973 she was Deputy Editor of the Victoria County History of Essex.

Hilda Grieve's house in New London Road, Chelmsford

Hilda Grieve’s house in New London Road, Chelmsford

Hilda Grieve

Hilda Grieve, eminent historian of Chelmsford

Her first major publication was The Great Tide (1959) which was written for Essex County Council on the subject of the 1953 floods in Essex. The first volume of her exhaustive history of Chelmsford – The Sleepers and the Shadows – was published in 1988 (as Essex Record Office publication no.100). This volume covered the medieval and Tudor story. And the second volume, subtitled ‘From Market Town to Chartered Borough 1608-1888’, was published posthumously in 1994 (as Essex Record Office publication no.128). Volume 1 is now unfortunately out of print but can be consulted at ERO or Chelmsford Library; volume 2 is also available for consultation and we have copies for sale.

Recording of the Month June 2014: Rickling Rat and Sparrow Club

Our Sound Archivist Martin Astell brings us another highlight from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

SA 13/4/9/1

The Essex Sound and Video Archive holds a wealth of material relating to farming practices and village life before the Second World War. This recording provides us with an example of how village life was often defined by the requirements of agriculture. It is an interview with Eric Wright, whose father was the farm bailiff at Rickling Hall, and who, as a child in the 1920s and 1930s, had a part to play in controlling the numbers of vermin on the farms in the village of Rickling.

He describes the Rickling Rat and Sparrow Club which was a means of ensuring that responsibility for pest control was shared throughout the community, and also served as a social activity for the working men of the village.

This recording is not for the faint-hearted as it describes an unsentimental, or one might say brutal, approach to the trapping and killing of rats, sparrows and rooks.

Lumières, Caméra, Action!

We had a little bit of glitz and glamour at the record office today as the international television cameras started to roll in the Searchroom. The occasion was the filming of part of an episode of ‘Qui étes vous?’ which is the French-Canadian version of our own ‘Who do you think you are?’

Members of the crew prepairing to shoot in the searchroom.

Members of the crew preparing to shoot in the Searchroom

The crew and local expert Patrick Denney spent an enjoyable morning filming for the episode which features the award winning actor Antoine Bertrand. A number of our original documents were consulted but we won’t let on which in case some of our Canadian readers get upset.

The crew from Quis Etes Vous? Along with Antoine Betrand (5th from right) and Patrick Denney (6th from right)

The crew from Quis Etes Vous? Along with Antoine Betrand (5th from left) and Patrick Denney (6th from left)

Do you have any North American connections among your ancestors or does your family history wend its way back to British shores? Either way it can be a frustrating but rewarding obstacle to overcome in the course of your research and hopefully the Essex Record Office and our colleagues in the UK and elsewhere will be able to help you.

Christmas concert at Ingatestone Hall

 Since 1953, the Essex Record Office has been kindly supported by the Friends of Historic Essex. The Friends are hosting their Christmas concert at Ingatestone Hall at 7pm on Saturday 1st December…

Before the frantic run up to Christmas, spend a relaxing musical evening with the acclaimed male voice quartet SongCycle in the wonderful surroundings of  Ingatestone Hall. There will be a mixture of music ranging from Bach to the Beatles, and Christmas music of all kinds in the second half. 

Festive refreshments will be served in the interval.

Tickets cost £10 each. To book tickets please contact Maureen Scollan on 01376 517863 or mjscollan[at]

Alternatively, send a Stamped Addressed Envelope to Maureen Scollan at 22 Abercorn Way, Witham, Cm8 2UF enclosing a cheque for £10 per person may payable to The Friends of Historic Essex.

Please note that parking directly outside Ingatestone Hall is restricted, although Lord Petre will allow cars to drop people with mobility difficulties outside the house, before parking in the car park at the end of the drive. 

Ingatestone Hall, John S Turner

Ingatestone Hall, John S. Turner


Workers of the world unite!

Recently, we held our Workers of the world unite! day as part of Black History Month. We heard stories from around the county about people from other countries and cultures who have come to live and work in Essex, from those who arrived on the Empire Windrush in 1948, to the community around Tomas Bata’s shoe factory in East Tilbury, to what it was like to arrive in Essex from India and Jamaica.

We were visited on the day by BBC Essex’s Ian Wyatt , who recorded interviews with some of our speakers, which he played on his shows this weekend.

Scroll through to 56 minutes on his Saturday show to listen to our chairwoman Yvonne Howard, and Fred Price from the Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre:

And on his Sunday show, tune in from 53.58 to listen to poet Jeffrey Porter:

Both shows will be available on iPlayer for the next few days.

The conference was a great day, and we are now busy planning for our next one, A night at the opera and a matinee at the flicks: theatre and cinema in Essex, on Saturday 24 November, exploring the history of theatre and cinema in the county. More details can be found here.

Poet Jeffrey Porter being interviewed by BBC Essex's Ian Wyatt

Poet Jeffrey Porter being interviewed by BBC Essex’s Ian Wyatt

Lunchtime - enjoying our culturally diverse buffet

Lunchtime – enjoying our culturally diverse buffet

This event was kindly sponsored by the Essex Cultural Diversity Project.