Leigh-on-Sea on the Map

“a pretty little town, well stock’d with lusty seamen”

This vivid description of Leigh-on-Sea comes from William Camden’s Britannia, a survey of Great Britain and Ireland published in 1586.

We are diving in to Leigh’s history at the moment ahead of Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017, when we will be displaying a selection of our historical maps and images of Leigh at The Forum in Southend, showing its transformation as development spread ever further out from the small old town area that hugs the Thames shoreline.

Here we share some sneak peaks at some of the maps and postcards we will be bringing with us to display.

Leigh tithe map, 1847 (D/CT 217B)

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Extract from the Leigh tithe map, 1847 (D/CT 217B)

The centrepiece of our display will be Leigh’s tithe map, which dates from 1847. The map shows Leigh just before the coming of the railway, when it was still a small fishing town or village.

Tithe maps are brilliant sources for researchers interested in the history of their family or a particular property or place, as each plot on the map is numbered. This is because the maps are accompanied by a list of who owned and occupied each property, as they were used to work out how much tax people should pay based on the value of their property. The system of taxing people according to the value of their property replaced a much more cumbersome medieval system of people rendering a tenth of their agricultural produce to the church.

Railway map, c.1854 (D/DS 177/1)

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This 1854 map shows the route the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway was to take through Leigh, cutting through a swathe of existing buildings (D/DS 177/1)

Soon after the tithe map was prepared in 1847, another map of Leigh was produced which shows us the dramatic transformation the old town was about to undergo. This map was prepared in connection with the building of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, and shows the somewhat brutal course the track was to take through the town.

Although each building is numbered and presumably linked to a schedule giving names of owners of the properties through which the railway would pass, the whereabouts of the schedule is unknown. The map shows all the familiar Leigh landmarks, including the Bell and Ship inns, the Billet and Smack public houses, the Coast Guard House, the Custom House and individual wharfs and quays.

The building of the railway sliced the old town in two, marooning the High Street on a thin strip of land along the edge of the Thames. Victorian progress was rarely halted by the presence of old buildings that today we would consider precious, and in Leigh the presence of steep cliffs meant there was no alternative but to drive the railway through the town.

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Leigh-on-Sea High Street in the late nineteenth century, in the part of the old town which was sandwiched between the new railway line (behind the buildings on the left) and the Thames (behind the buildings on the right). The Crooked Billet Inn still survives, as do several of the buildings shown in this picture. (ERO postcard collection, Leigh-on-Sea no. 38)

Ordnance Survey maps

The best maps which show the development of Leigh from 1890 to 1939 are the large scale ordnance survey maps of the “County Series”.

These were made in three waves – the first edition, made in the 1870s, the second edition, from the 1890s, and the New Series, made between the 1920s and 1940s. The county was entirely mapped in two different scales, 6” to the mile and the fabulously detailed 25” to the mile.

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Later copy (1964) of the first edition Ordnance Survey map of Leigh which was made in 1873 (MAP/CM/142/1)

Unfortunately we do not have an original 25” to the mile first edition OS map showing Leigh, but we will be bringing a well-known copy of it that was made later. The original map dated from 1873, and we can see that by this time Leigh remained a fairly small place, although now with a railway running through its centre. We can see that adjustments had been made to existing buildings to accommodate the railway, and that a ‘New Road’ had been built alongside it.

Amongst the new buildings shown are the Smack pub in a new building across the street from its original site (which by this time was underneath the railway line) and, on the hill below the church, a new National School which was built in 1852.

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Ordnance Survey map of Leigh, 1897

Leigh was resurveyed in 1897 for the second edition of the County Series. By this time, much of the open land around the old town had been divided up to be sold as plots, and new streets had been planned out, with pockets of building underway. This sort of development is seen frequently in our maps of Victorian Essex. Plots were either bought by individuals who then built their own houses, or purchased by developers who built who rows or streets of houses. Some plots were reserved for shops or hotels.

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Ordnance Survey map of Leigh, 1922

The next major survey of Leigh took place in 1922, and the map which resulted shows a fairly spectacular explosion of new housing that had been built since the 1890s. The town we see in this map resembles much more closely the town we can see today. Beside the railway, a tramline had been built running along The Broadway from St Clement’s church, past the Grand Hotel, and then along Leigh Road into Southend.

 

Southend bomb map, 1945 (D/BC 1/4/3/3)

The most recent map which will be on display was made soon after the end of the Second World War, and shows where bombs and other missiles were dropped on Southend, including Leigh, during air raids. If you live in Leigh, was your house near one of these bomb sites?

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Map showing where bombs fell on the Southend district during the Second World War, 1945 (D/BC 1/4/3/3)

For more historic maps and images of Leigh, join us at Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017, 10.00am-3.00pm, at The Forum, Elmer Square, Southend-on-Sea, SS1 1NE. Entry is free, but if you could make a donation to support our work we would really appreciate it.

Document of the Month, February 2017: Photograph of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, aka Fanny and Stella

As February is LGBT history month, we have chosen this photograph from the Frederick Spalding Collection (D/F 269/1/3696), dating from c.1869.  Frederick Park (left) and Ernest Boulton (right) were presumably photographed by Spalding in his Chelmsford studio while they toured Essex as part of a small theatrical company.  They often dressed in women’s clothing when not on stage, calling themselves Fanny Graham and Stella Boulton.

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Park (the son of one the Masters of the Court of Common Pleas) was articled to Gepps, the Chelmsford solicitors; Boulton was the son of a London stockbroker.  They were arrested by the Metropolitan Police in April 1870 while wearing women’s clothing at a London theatre and charged with six others with “conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence”.  Their arrest and subsequent trial the following year was reported in detail in newspapers throughout the British Isles.  After the ‘not guilty’ verdict, Frederick Park emigrated to the US, dying there in 1881 at the age of 34. Ernest Boulton continued performing, touring in small theatre productions with his brother Gerard until his death in 1904.

A print of the photograph will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout February 2017.

New recordings to commemorate the 1953 floods

During the night of January 31st, many of the lower-lying districts of eastern England were overwhelmed by a devastating flood.

So begins the narration to a documentary created by the department that later became the Essex County Council Educational Video Unit about the 1953 floods (VA 3/8/4/1). The documentary focuses on Canvey Island, which was severely hit by the floods, and was put together from film footage taken at the time.

The floods caused terrible suffering: people drowned or died from exposure to the bitter cold, waiting on islands of rooftops to be rescued; houses and possessions were ruined; livelihoods destroyed. But is there a purpose in holding commemorations year after year, making the same observations, telling the same stories?

We could point you to a blog entry we wrote in 2013, on the sixtieth anniversary of the floods. It cites some staggering figures of the losses suffered, illustrated by harrowing photographs showing the full extent of the flood. Is there anything more to say four years later?

Recent bad weather no doubt brought back the full fear of flood to coastal residents, particularly those who were evacuated from Jaywick. The sea defences are vastly improved, particularly with the sea wall erected round Canvey Island, but we can never guarantee safety from the threat of flood. Can the history of the 1953 floods help us when facing such threats today?

One of the audio-video kiosks touring the county for our You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place project is currently visiting Canvey Island Library. To prepare for this, we have been digitising sound and video recordings about the floods in the Essex Sound and Video Archive, including the documentary mentioned above.

Listening to memories of the survivors and those who helped the rescue efforts, like watching the contemporary film footage, gives greater impact to studying the events. Hearing the emotion in people’s voices, learning about individual experiences, brings the history to life as no text book can do.

Listen to one woman’s memories of that terrible night in this clip from a special BBC Essex programme about the floods, ‘Tide on Tide’, first broadcast in 1988 (SA 1/313/1).

Still image from the 1953 documentary about the floods on Canvey Island (VA 3/8/4/1)

Still image from the 1953 documentary about the floods on Canvey Island (VA 3/8/4/1)

More than that, people’s stories of the clear-up efforts can teach us lessons if facing similar catastrophes. The documentary shows people rowing for their lives to bring people to safety, helping at rescue centres, pulling together to rebuild the sea wall. Much of this work was done by the Army, the police, and voluntary organisations, but members of the public also pitched in to help. It is encouraging to see how whole communities came together in the face of danger. And how many smiling faces can you spot in the film footage, despite the ordeal?

Sir Bernard Braine, then MP for Canvey, praises his constituents in this clip from the ‘Tide on Tide’ programme (SA 1/313/1).

One local hero, Winne Capser, illustrates this attitude. In subsequent days, she took it upon herself to rescue pets and reunite them with their owners. We could question whether it was worth the risk. But to the owners, having these non-human members of their families back again was probably a great comfort, and a big step towards returning to normality.

Clip of Winne Capser talking about rescuing animals after the 1953 flood. This is from a Sounds of Brentwood feature on the floods produced by Dennis Rookard and broadcast in 2013 (SA 2/1/110/1).

It wasn’t just local people who helped: as news spread, people nationally and internationally were prompted to donate clothing, household goods, and food to help families get back on their feet. In Harwich, whole houses were donated from Norway to relieve evacuees temporarily accommodated in caravans on the Green.

Another clip from the Sounds of Brentwood feature, this time with Cllr Ray Howard and Fred McCave describing the donations sent from across the globe to help flood survivors (SA 2/1/110/1).

We should also raise questions about how the floods are commemorated. Jaywick lost 5% of its population – but how often is this town mentioned in comparison to Canvey or Harwich?

Further clip from the ‘Tide on Tide’ programme, talking about the impact of the flood on Jaywick, and the impact of Jaywick on public consciousness of the flood (SA 1/313/1).

We talk about the community spirit, but do we also talk about the police that were put in place to protect against looters in the aftermath? Which stories are absolute fact, and which have turned into folklore?

Clip about a thief caught stealing money from gas meters after Canvey Island had been evacuated, from the BBC Essex ‘Tide on Tide’ programme (SA 1/313/1).

By combining contemporary film footage, personal memories, newspaper reports, and official documents, we can build up a full picture of that awful night. We can then use this picture for commemorating the local heroes who saved countless lives, and for drawing inspiration to respond to future disasters.

You can watch the full documentary and some of these sound recordings through Essex Archives Online. You can visit the audio-video kiosk at Canvey Island Library, or view the same content on our second touring kiosk at Brentwood Library, until they move to their next venues at the end of March.

You Are Hear is a three-year Essex Sound and Video Archive project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. You can read more about it on our project blog site.

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Sounds of Essex captured for future generations

For our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, we commissioned Sound Recordist Stuart Bowditch to capture what Essex sounds like in the present-day. Some of his recordings were made in response to historic recordings of events and places from our Archive, some in response to public suggestions about which sounds represent Essex, and some on a whim and a fancy. The recordings have been posted on our online audio map of Essex Sounds, where you can compare past and present recordings made across the county. They have also been deposited with the Essex Sound and Video Archive, so future generations can experience the sounds we hear today. What will Essex sound like in fifty years?

You can read about Stuart’s week-long trip to the north of the county in an earlier blog entry. Here, he reflects on the project as a whole. All images used with Stuart’s kind permission.

So, the recording phase of the You Are Hear project comes to a close, and I will miss it. It has been a year full of exploration and discovery, meeting a multitude of characters and learning about local skills and traditions, none of which was further than 42 miles (as the crow flies) away from where I live. I have travelled from the more familiar industrial and suburban south to the rural wilds of the north, and from the summery seaside riviera of the east to the west that seems somehow slightly detached and belonging to neighbouring counties.

We knew from the outset that the project would only be fruitful if we listened to local people, their suggestions and invaluable local knowledge. But we also knew that the ‘picture’ of Essex that could be formed from its diverse sounds would be more vivid and much wider than the stereotypical image that is often perceived. We carried out public surveys in several towns and reached out using mailing lists and social media, asking: What does Essex sound like? What sounds are connected to the place where you live? What is a sound of today or yesteryear? What sounds are new or have been lost? Questions certainly got people thinking, and we were bombarded with suggestions, clues, hints and leads to where, when and how we could find them. It was my job to take this valuable information and to try and capture the sounds for preservation in the archive; to paint that ‘picture’ of Essex as best as I could.

I drove (a 15 year-old Corsa), jumped on trains (including a Class 156 and Class 31), climbed, hiked and walked to all kinds of destinations, at all times of day and night, in all kinds of weather and every season throughout the year. I discovered new places and villages that I’d never heard of, as well as revisiting places I’m familiar with to hear them in a new ‘light’. Wherever I went, I went with an open mind, not jumping to any conclusions before arriving in order for me to capture as authentic a recording as possible. Apart from setting out with a small nugget of information, who was I to know what a place would actually sound like on any given day? There are so many variables that it’s really not helpful to try and imagine them on the way there. Upon arriving, discretion, sensitivity and impartiality were often paramount to capturing the right moment, negotiating permission or gaining access to property.

 

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Maersk Lins being loaded at DP world, London Gateway. Listen to the sounds on the Essex Sounds page.

Working for the Essex Record Office helped to reassure people that my intentions were honourable,and that recording the sound of their activity, place of work or garden was of value, even though at first they may have thought the idea strange. It also afforded me some leverage in gaining access I wouldn’t usually be able to negotiate by myself, such as on the quayside of the DP World super port and the factory and farms of Wilkin and Sons Ltd.

 

I’ve also had to do things I never had before in order to gain access to places, such as sign disclaimers and send a scan of my passport through a week in advance to gain access to a restricted area. In fact I’ve gone to quite some lengths in the pursuit of capturing sounds: I even put my recording kit through an X-ray machine to record, amongst other things, the men who are responsible for luggage ending up in Barbados when it should have been in Lanzarote.

As well as contributing to a more detailed and colourful image of Essex and its inhabitants, I have also learned a lot during this project. People are generous with their time, knowledge, good will, and sometimes even gifts. Some people’s skills and knowledge are very niche, which is interesting, informative and essential, both in their given field and in their ability to find somewhere within society where they excel. Others were reluctantly compliant when asked by their boss to start up a particular machine so that I could record it, but reassured after a chat about the reason for my interrupting their work routine. There is a reasonably high level of trust between folk, which worked in both directions: someone letting a stranger into their house to record the aeroplanes, and me meeting a man outside the chip shop in Jaywick at 10pm with my sound recording equipment. Both situations were problem free, naturally, and led to good recordings and unique experiences for all parties.

I discovered that a big, fluffy microphone windshield apparently resembles a cute, fluffy animal, and some members of the public seemed surprised when they discovered that its owner wasn’t so. I mean, you wouldn’t put your finger onto a photographer’s lens and expect them to be happy about it, would you? But being so visible also worked the other way, as I was able stand in the middle of two hundred people drinking champagne and eating canapes for 40 minutes whilst appearing to be invisible.

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The microphone recording soundscapes on Halstead High Street. Did you see the microphone on our Twitter feed? It gained its own followers as it travelled round the county in search of the best sounds.

My work didn’t finish with recording. Most of the recordings were edited and uploaded to the Essex Sounds website, where you can explore the map and listen to sounds relating to that place. As part of the project, we’ve also been digitising a lot of the archived recordings, and you can hear recordings we’ve made as a comparison to archival recordings. One such location is Chelmsford Cattle Market, where you can hear what the market sounded like in the 1950s or what the site sounded like in 2016 (now the indoor High Chelmer shopping centre). You can also hear Colchester United winning a 1971 match at their Layer Road stadium, but losing in 2016 at Weston Homes Community Stadium (oh dear).

We also reached out to the general public to contribute, and many people have uploaded their own recordings to further widen the view of where we live. If you have something that you would like to contribute, please head over to the website and get clicking. Or if you’d prefer just to hear what we have all been collecting, the map is where it’s at. I hope you enjoy it.

Is there a sound of Essex that we have missed from our map? We continue to welcome public contributions of sound recordings to our Essex Sounds map. Read more about how to contribute, then get recording!

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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’.

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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?

Top tips for starting out on your family history

Did conversation at your family get togethers over Christmas turn to your family history? Finding out about the lives of your ancestors can be an absorbing and rewarding hobby, and here at the Essex Record Office we can help you get started on your search, whether you visit us in person or use our records online.

 

Tip no. 1: Talk to your relatives and search family papers

Talk to your relatives – particularly older generations. Find out what they know and remember, and write it all down. You could even make a sound or video recording of your conversations.

Look out for any old photographs, birth, marriage and death certificates, military records, medals, or if you’re very lucky, letters or diaries that you or relatives might have.

Use what you find out to start to build your family tree. Write down everything you know so far about when and where people were born/married/died, and any other key information about them. This will help you work out what else you would like to find out.

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Talking to your relatives and searching family papers and photos can be an excellent way to start building your family tree

Tip no. 2: Record where you find your information

Wherever your research takes you, make a note of your sources. It will make life much easier if you ever need to double-check something, and helps you keep track of where you have already looked.

 

Tip no. 3: Birth, marriage and death indexes

Search the civil registration indexes – these are indexes of birth, marriage and death certificates which begin in 1837. The indexes are available on various websites – if you visit the ERO or your local Essex library, you can use www.ancestry.co.uk for free. The indexes will give you the basic information of when and where someone was born/married/died. You can find out more by ordering the full certificate, which you can do through the General Register Office, or for Essex certificates from us at ERO.

 

Tip no. 4: Search the census

Search the census records – census records are available for every ten years between 1841 and 1911. These fascinating records list all the people living in each household in the country, along with their ages and occupations and where they were born. Again, these are available on various websites, but you can search them for free at the ERO or your local Essex library on www.ancestry.co.uk

 

Tip no. 5: Move on to parish registers

Parish registers are church records which record baptisms, marriages and burials. In some cases these can date back to 1538, and so can be used to go back much further in time than censuses and birth/marriage/death records. Parish registers for the historic county of Essex (including parts of greater London which used to be in Essex such as West Ham and Stratford) are all kept at the Essex Record Office. We have digitised all of our parish registers and they are all available to view online at www.essexancestors.co.uk (with the exception of marriages after 1957). You can take out a subscription to view the images from home, or use the service for free in the ERO Searchroom. You can also view images of all 70,000 of our original wills, dating from the 1400s-1858. Double-check that the documents you want to view are available before taking out a subscription.

Parish registers record baptisms, marriages and burials and can date back to 1538. Essex parish registers are kept at ERO - digital images are available on Essex Archives Online

Parish registers record baptisms, marriages and burials and can date back to 1538. Essex parish registers are kept at ERO – digital images are available on Essex Archives Online

Tip no. 6: Ask for advice

If you want further advice or have specific questions about the kinds of records available, talk to our experts either in the Searchroom (find out how to visit us), e-mail us or give us a ring on 033301 32500.

Good luck and happy searching!

Harwich Inspired Youth Action collaborates on listening bench

As part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, we have been installing listening benches across the county. These solar-powered park benches have in-built speakers, so at the touch of a button they play back clips of recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive. The clips give an insight into the heritage of the surrounding area, mostly from memories of long-standing residents first recorded as oral history interviews.

We have been working with volunteers from each community where we are installing these benches. With training, the volunteers have listened to relevant material from the Archive; chosen interesting snippets; and edited the audio recordings to create a series of short clips for the bench. They have also decided on the location of the bench and arranged for its installation and unveiling.

Photograph of Harwich listening bench on St Helen's Green

One of these benches is in Harwich, in a picturesque spot on St Helen’s Green looking towards the Treadwheel Crane and the sea beyond. The memories shared on the bench include experiences during the Second World War, visiting the Electric Palace Cinema, and of course the harrowing 1953 floods, such as Bett Calver’s experiences on that dreadful night:

 

The audio for the bench was selected and edited by members of Harwich Inspired Youth Action (HIYA). This group of teens takes on campaigns to improve the town and provide information and activities for other young people. They are supported by Teen Talk Harwich, a valuable information and support centre for the town. Here, two of the volunteers involved with the listening bench project share their thoughts on the experience. First, Brandon says:

We have both given up our own time to help create the sound bench part of the You Are Hear project, which is now located in old Harwich. The You Are Hear project was very interesting, learning about Harwich history with specific fascinating points like the floods, the building of the promenade and so much more. We spent some time picking out and editing the clips we thought would be good to use for the project and had to create 11 minutes of historic memories of the local area. Creating this project we felt not only inspired but also educated, learning about our town’s history. Once the audio was completed we went to the grand revealing of the bench by the mayor and mayoress. I felt proud to have taken my great-nan, who is 95 years old, to be part of the unveiling of the bench and felt I had shared some of her memories growing up in Harwich.

Photograph of Brandon with his family

Brandon with his family on the listening bench. Courtesy of Maria Fowler.

Stephen says:

Although this project took a long time to go through the different clips available, we had the difficult task of choosing the ones that seemed the most informative about Harwich and creating a short 11-minute audio clip with a number of people sharing their memories. I enjoyed meeting the mayor [at the unveiling ceremony], and I feel proud of what we have accomplished. We would hope you all can take the time to go along to sit and listen to the You Are Hear project in Harwich and to feel the same humble connection we did, listening to all the memories people shared over the years about Harwich.

Photograph of Brandon and Stephen holding HLF sign behind listening bench

Brandon and Stephen at the listening bench launch. Courtesy of Maria Fowler.

Read more about Harwich’s listening bench on the You Are Hear website. We are grateful to the HIYA teens for working so hard on the project.

Do you want to be involved with the next round of listening bench installations? We are looking for volunteers from Burnham-on-Crouch, Chelmsford, Clacton-on-Sea, Clavering, Coggeshall, Epping, Galleywood, Harlow, Southend-on-Sea, and Witham. Please get in touch if you can help.

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How to choose a wife, Victorian style

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Archives are wonderful places for surprise discoveries. When searching for one thing, you will often come across something completely different that you would never have thought to go looking for. In this sense working in an archive is challenging for the easily distracted, as there is always something intriguing to pursue.

My latest find, from the parish records of St Botolph’s in Colchester, is this Victorian poem, which gives advice to a man named Fred in choosing a wife (click the images for larger versions, and see below for a transcript):

Now why my dear Fred don’t you marry?

I had hop’d the late rumour was true

Now take my advice and don’t tarry

But set off instanter* to woo

But first my dear Fred pay attention

And though you should love and admire

If she’s one of these Ifs that I mention

Dear Fred make your bow & retire

If you find that she can’t darn a stocking

If she can’t make a shirt or a pie

If she says “Oh! Law!” “Mercy”! “How shocking”!

If she ever drinks beer on the sly

If soon of the country she’s weary

If politics e’er are her theme

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

If she crosses her legs or her letters

If you’ve seen her drink three cups of tea

If she boasts of those wearing her fetters

If she’s sick when she goes on the sea

If she seems the least bit of a scold

If her manners have any pretence

If her gown does not cover her shoulders

If her bustle is very immense

If she’s nervous, or bilious, or sickly

If she likes to take breakfast in bed

If she can’t take a hint from you quickly

If her nose has the least touch of red

If she screams when she’s told she’s in danger

If she seems a coquette or a flirt

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

If she’s stupid or if she is pert

If she’s one of these Ifs oh! then sever

The chain she around you has bound

And seek for a maid in whom never

These follies and failings were found

* While not a word we’re familiar with today, this word looks like ‘instanter’. The Oxford English Dictionary lists ‘instanter’ as a humorous or archaic word meaning at once, or immediately

If Fred was fortunate enough to find a girl who measured up to these exacting standards one does have to wonder whether he would ever had any fun with her, or indeed a meaningful conversation.

The poem is unsigned and undated, so I hoped that its content might provide some clues that would help to pin it down at least to a decade. Some of this evidence, however, is a bit contradictory:

‘If her bustle is very immense’

Bustles were fashionable from the late 1860s until the early 1890s.

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

This seems most likely to refer to Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), a polymath who published papers and books on a range of scientific subjects between 1821 and 1867.

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

This could refer to a few different publications by Irish scientific writer Dionysius Lardner, who published works about steam engines in 1828, 1832, 1836, 1840, 1844, 1856 and 1857.

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

The polka and galop were lively, energetic dances popular across Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century.

 

This evidence all points to a date in the 1840s or 1850s, apart from the line about the bustle. If bustles did not come in until the late 1860s, the poem must date from after then.

If anyone has any further information or spots any more clues that could tell us more about this poem, do please leave a comment or get in touch with us.

Document of the Month, December 2016: burial of a presidential ancestor

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

Parish Register, All Saints, Maldon (D/P 201/1/1)

Now that the forty-fifth President of United States of America has been elected, one could perhaps reflect back upon that illustrious line to the first holder of that office, George Washington, one of whose direct ancestors lived in Essex and was buried at All Saint’s Maldon in 1653, as recorded in this burial register.  This was George’s great-great-grandfather, Revd. Laurence Washington, who was probably born at Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire in 1602, the son of another Laurence Washington.   It was Revd. Laurence Washington’s own son John, born at Purleigh c. 1633/4, who emigrated to Virginia in 1653.  There he in turn fathered a son also called Laurence Washington who was to be George Washington’s grandfather.

Burial entry for Laurence Washington in the parish register for All Saints, Maldon (D/DP 201/1/1)

Burial entry for Laurence Washington in the parish register for All Saints, Maldon (D/DP 201/1/1)

Ironically, in view of George’s role in the American War of Independence, Revd. Laurence Washington was a staunch royalist and a protégé of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.  Through Laud’s agency he acquired the wealthy living of Purleigh near Maldon in 1632, and it must have been because of his royalist leanings that Laurence was one of those ministers ejected from their livings during the Civil War in 1643, in this case on a trumped up charge of drunkenness.  So, he moved, possibly incognito, to the impoverished parish of Little Braxted.  His family did not join him, however, but were sheltered by the family of Sir Edwin Sandys, who helped Laurence’s son John into the tobacco trade thus initiating his connection with Virginia.  Sadly, Revd. Laurence died without an estate sufficient to need letters of administration and was buried at Maldon.

Cover of the first Maldon All Saints parish register

Cover of the first Maldon All Saints parish register

Incidentally, the burial entry in this register dated 21st January 1652 provides a good example of how one must be mindful of the old style calendar when researching one’s ancestors.  Further down the register, one can see that the New Year starts on 25th March, so, the date of burial is actually the 21st January 1653 as reckoned by the modern calendar.

The parish register will be on display in the Searchroom throughout December 2016.

Harlow Housing and Design Interviews Online

Harlow New Town was established in 1947, when the New Town Development Corporation began to purchase land around the old town and erect new housing estates. The houses primarily served to relieve housing pressures on bombed-out, overcrowded London, particularly from the East End. The first residents began moving in from 1949.

So say the textbooks, but what personal stories lie behind these brief facts? At the Essex Sound and Video Archive, we hold a wonderful collection of oral history interviews conducted by Dr Judy Attfield in the 1980s for her research project, Harlow Housing and Design (SA 22). These interviews reveal what it was like to live in the new town. Our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, has enabled us to digitise all of the original cassettes and make them freely available through Essex Archives Online.

Screenshot of SA 22 catalogue

A satisfying sight: the icons show that there is audio material attached to that catalogue entry.

At first, we thought the digitisation would be a straightforward task. Shortly after the collection was first deposited with us in 1996, we created access copies on cassette, to safeguard the original masters (our standard procedure in the Sound Archive). The access copies are all neatly labelled and clearly identified, one cassette per interview.

However, when we looked in the box containing the original cassettes, things were not quite so straightforward. We digitise from the original recording (or as near to the original recording as we can get), to capture the purest sound. On revisiting the masters, we realised that the interviewer had used one cassette for multiple interviews – a common practice when you want to make the most of the cassette tape you have. Piecing each recording together to make one complete interview has caused our digitiser, Catherine Norris, several headaches.

But now they are all digitised. Similar to our procedure with physical analogue recordings, we keep a master, uncompressed .wav file safely in storage. We then create compressed .mp3 copies as our new access copy. You can still come into the Searchroom and listen to the recordings, but you can also now listen from home, through Essex Archives Online.

Each interview is valuable in its own right, but as a collection it is even more fascinating. Dr Attfield spoke to a range of people: developers, architects, and town councillors who shed light on the planning of the new town; shopkeepers; people who moved to Harlow before the new town; and people who moved as part of the new town settlement. Putting these different viewpoints together gives a rich, rounded impression of this time in history. Some interviewees say that women found it more difficult than men to settle in new towns and felt lonely and depressed; some say that women found it easier to form new bonds because they were surrounded by women in a similar position, raising children away from their parents in unfamiliar surroundings. Some were ecstatic to have their own front doors, their own staircases in two-storey homes; some missed the familiarity of London, even if they were living in cramped, shared housing. The multiplicity of memories challenges generalisations about life in a new town. It also demonstrates (by listening to the accents of the interviewees, if nothing else) that not everyone in Harlow in the 1950s was an ex-Eastender.

The collection also serves as a good example of how to conduct an oral history interview. Dr Attfield had a specific interest in the interior design of the new houses. She directed questions to gather information on this topic. However, she also asked wider questions for context. She let her interviewees say what they wanted with minimal interventions, but also guided the interview to cover her set of questions. Occasionally she probed her interviewees for more details, or challenged their viewpoints to get a better understanding, without revealing any judgement of their opinions.

Dr Attfield made a significant research contribution in the fields of material culture, gender studies, and design history, among other overlapping areas. Based for many years at the Winchester School of Art, her book Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life (Oxford: Berg, 2000) has become a key text in her field. She passed away in 2006. We are very grateful that she deposited her recordings about Harlow with us, for future researchers to use and enjoy.

One particularly moving interview from the collection is that with Mrs Summers, who moved to the new town from Walthamstow in 1952 (SA 22/1364/1). At several points in the interview, Mrs Summers describes the long adjustment period when ‘home’ still meant London before completely settling in Harlow. As well as missing her family, in this clip she describes how she ‘couldn’t get used to the newness of things’ after coming from Walthamstow with its ‘houses with big windows… little tiny houses… nice houses… [and] grubby-looking houses’.

At a time when neighbourhood plans for vast numbers of additional houses are being developed across Essex – across the country – perhaps these experiences of new settlers can help with the process of creating new communities.

Dr Attfield published an article based on these interviews in the book that she co-edited with P Kirkham, A View from the Interior: Women and Design (London: Women’s Press, 1995). The article can be consulted at Colchester Library.

We hope to showcase clips from these recordings on a listening bench in Harlow, in time for the 70th anniversary of the New Town in 2017. If you are interested in helping to work on the bench for Harlow, please get in touch: info@essexsounds.org.uk