A bad day’s hunting: one of Essex’s ‘ancientist’ families and the death of a king

In August 918 years ago, the king of England died in suspicious circumstances. Here, our medieval specialist Katharine Schofield discusses what may or may not have happened that day, and the Essex connections of the man rumoured to have killed the king.

On 2 August 1100 William II was killed while hunting in the New Forest. William (also known as William Rufus) was the son of William the Conqueror, and had inherited the kingdom of England on the death of his father in 1087.

William II of England.jpg

William II drawn by Matthew Paris

The earliest account of his death in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that he was shot by an arrow by one of his men. Later chroniclers named Walter Tirel as the man who fired the fatal shot. Opinions vary as to whether Rufus met his death by accident or design.

Tirel was a renowned bowman; one account of William’s death records that at the start of the day’s hunting the king was presented with six arrows, two of which he gave to Tirel with the words Bon archer, bonnes fleches [To the good archer, the good arrows].

Other chroniclers record that Tirel let off a wild shot at a stag which he missed, hitting the king instead. Tirel took no chances and fled to France, according to legend having the horseshoes of his horse reversed to throw off any pursuit. In France he always maintained his innocence. Abbot Suger of St. Denis who knew Tirel in France recorded ‘I have often heard him, when he had nothing to fear nor to hope, solemnly swear that on the day in question he was not in the part of the forest where the king was hunting, nor ever saw him in the forest at all.’

What is not in doubt is that Rufus’ younger brother Henry (Henry I) was the main beneficiary. Henry was part of the hunting party on that day and he was able to secure the Treasury (then held at Winchester) the same day and had himself crowned king at Westminster Abbey on 5 August, just three days after his brother’s death.

Illustration of Henry I by Matthew Paris

Walter Tirel (or Tyrell) is thought to have originated from Poix in Picardy and may have been the same Walter Tirel named as holding the manor of Langham, in north east Essex, (Laingeham) in Domesday Book. The Revd. Philip Morant in The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex (1768) was rather dubious as to whether there was a connection, while another historian with Essex connections, J.H. Round writing in 1895 was more certain that they were the same.

The Domesday Book recorded in 1086 that the manor of Langham was 2½ hides in extent (roughly 300 acres), with 17 villeins and 27 bordars. There was wood for 1,000 pigs, 40 acres of meadow, two mills, 22 cattle, 80 pigs, 200 sheep and 80 goats. The resources of the manor were mostly larger than they had been before the Norman Conquest, and its value had increased from £12 to £15, making it quite valuable; by comparison, the manor of Chelmsford was valued at £8 and Maldon at £12.

Tirel held the manor from Richard son of Count Gilbert, also known in Domesday Book as Richard fitzGilbert or Richard of Tonbridge, and is later more familiarly known as Richard de Clare. It is likely that Tirel acquired the manor through his wife Adeliza, Richard’s daughter and this explains why he had such a valuable holding.

The Pipe Roll of 1130 records that Adeliza, by then a widow, was still in possession of Langham and in 1147 their son Hugh Tirel sold it to Gervase de Cornhill, before embarking on the Second Crusade. In 1189 Richard I granted Gervase’s son Henry permission to enclose woods there to create a park. The manor remained part of the Honour of Clare, while passing through the hands of different owners. In the late 14th century it passed to the de la Pole family and remained in their possession until the early 16th century. The oldest surviving court roll from the manor, 1391-1557 (D/DEl M1) begins during their ownership.

Henry VIII’s first wife Katharine of Aragon held the manor, later Langham Hall, until her death, when it passed to his third wife Jane Seymour. In 1540 it passed briefly to Thomas Cromwell and after his execution formed part of the lands granted to Anne of Cleves (Henry VIII’s fourth wife) on her divorce. In the early 17th century it was granted by Charles I to trustees of the City of London in repayment for a loan. In 1662 it was purchased by Humphrey Thayer, who Morant described as a druggist to the King and was inherited by his niece, the wife of Jacob Hinde.

While Morant was doubtful as to the connection of Walter Tirel in Langham with the Tirel who may have killed William Rufus, he was in no doubt that he was the ancestor of the Tyrell family in Essex who he described as ‘early persons of great consequence in this County; and one of the ancientist families’.

While the Tyrells did not keep Langham for more than one generation, they acquired extensive lands in Essex, as well as lands in Hampshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Their lands centred on the manor of Heron in East Horndon, but Tyrells also held land in Broomfield, Springfield, Beeches at Rawreth, Hockley and Ramsden Crays.

The most distinguished of the Essex Tyrells was probably Sir John Tyrell. He served as sheriff of Essex in 1413-1414 and 1437 and was elected to Parliament on a number of occasions between 1411 and 1437, serving as Speaker in 1421, 1429 and 1437. He held many posts in Essex, including acting as steward to the Stafford family and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, as well as for Clare and Thaxted during the minority of Richard, Duke of York. He was appointed a royal commissioner in the county on a number of occasions and was Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster north of the Trent. Morant recorded that he served Henry V in France and in 1431 was appointed treasurer to the household of Henry VI and to his Council in France.

In a curious coincidence his grandson Sir James Tyrell was alleged to have confessed before his execution in 1502 to murdering the Princes in the Tower for Richard III.

Document of the Month, August 2018: Drought in Essex, 1905

As we experience some of the warmest temperatures on record for the UK, Archivist Katharine Schofield finds out how hot weather affected some of our ancestors, using the voluntary rate book for Belchamp Walter, 1883-1920 (D/P 215/4/2)

So far 2018 has seen the warmest May on record and the driest June, followed by near-record high temperatures in July, and it appears to be destined to become a long-remembered summer, like that of 1976. While we can enjoy the air-conditioned temperatures of the ERO Searchroom, and currently there are no plans for any restrictions on water use in the county, we should spare a thought for residents of Essex in years past who had no respite from hot temperatures and the longer-term consequences.

The years between 1890 and 1910 witnessed what has been called the ‘Long Drought’.  A series of dry winters were exacerbated by several hot summers causing major problems with the water supply.  In Belchamp Walter the wells dried up in the autumn of 1905.

In 1906, the ratepayers of Belchamp Walter were asked to contribute to the cost of bringing water to the village after their well ran dry

The amounts paid by individuals are recorded in the rate book, and add up to a total of £3 10s 1 1/4d

On 1 January 1906 the ratepayers of Belchamp Walter were asked to contribute towards a voluntary rate ‘for the purpose of defraying cost of conveying water to the villagers during the autumn, an insufficient supply being obtained from the well, owing to the drought’.  A total of £4 0s. 9¾d. (around £317 today) was assessed to be due, although 10s. 8½d. was not collected, leaving a total of £3 10s. 1¼d. raised, the equivalent of around £275.

Of this sum, £2 17s. was spent on what was described as expenses, with a note that the balance of 13s. 1¼d.  had been in the hands of the Revd. A.P. Pannell and that he then paid this into the Post Office Savings Bank on 3 October 1906.   It is not recorded how the water was taken to Belchamp Walter, but presumably it must have been taken there in barrels by horse and cart.

The rate book will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout August 2018.

Essex Record Office achieves Archives Accreditation

We are pleased to announce that ERO has been awarded Archive Service Accreditation. This scheme, led by the National Archives, is the UK national standard for archive services, and defines good practice and agreed standards for services across the UK. To be awarded the status, archives must complete a thorough assessment of their service, which looks at an organisation’s ability to develop, care for, and provide access to its collections.

How do archives celebrate? With cake!

This award is being made in our 80th year, and is perhaps a good moment to reflect on the continuity and change of the last eight decades. Would our first County Archivist, Fred Emmison, who was appointed in 1938, recognise the ERO of today?

Our core purpose has remained unchanging: to preserve the archival heritage of Essex, for both present and future generations. The collections have, of course, grown and grown over the years, and by the late 1990s had outgrown the space we had at County Hall, necessitating the move to a new, purpose-built archive building at Wharf Road in 2000. In our new home, we have 8 miles of shelving, a spacious Searchroom, and on-site sound and video, digitisation, and conservation studios.

In this photostory, we take a look at what has changed, and what has stayed the same.

Searching for answers

For nearly 80 years, researchers have been visiting to ERO to use our collections. The environment may have changed, but the quest to find answers to research questions is as compelling as ever.

A view of an early ERO Searchroom

A later Searchroom at County Hall

The latest incarnation of the Searchroom at our Wharf Road building. Researchers today can enjoy the advantages brought by a digitised catalogue of our own collections, as well as digital access to many nationally important sources.

Storage solutions

In our County Hall home, the documents were kept in controlled conditions in the basement, and were ferried up to the Searchroom in a dumbwaiter. In our Wharf Road home, we had much more space to expand – although even more space will be needed in the future!

Document storage in the basement of County Hall

One of the repositories at Wharf Road

The clip below from a video made about the ERO in 1989 shows how documents used to be retrieved for researchers:

Taking care of the past

Specialist conservation care for the documents in our collection is a vital part of our work.  Many pieces of equipment (e.g. presses, book binding equipment) have followed us from home to home, while other equipment (e.g. video microscopes) and techniques have evolved over time.

Conservators at work in the ERO Conservation Studio in the 1960s or 1970s

The ERO Conservation Studio today. The move to Wharf Road brought the studio into the same building as the rest of ERO’s operations for the first time.

Education, education, education

Education is at the heart of ERO’s existence. In the past and now we have encouraged and welcomed groups from schools and all forms of other educational organisations to discover more about the world around them through the collections we care for.

A schools session being delivered at Ingatestone Hall, where ERO’s education service was based for many years.

A school visit to ERO in 2017. School groups can visit ERO, or we go out to deliver sessions in schools.

Exhibitions and events

Alongside providing access to records in the Searchroom, the ERO has long had a programme of exhibitions and events to showcase the fascinating things we look after.

The Queen visiting an ERO exhibition.

Members of the public at Leigh-on-Sea on the Map in 2017

Digitisation

Perhaps the biggest change for ERO has been digitisation. We have moved from handwritten and typed catalogues and indexes to an online catalogue with digital images and recordings of some of our records, which can be accessed around the world.

The beginning of the computer age at ERO

Today our Digitisation Studio can produce hundreds of high quality digital images of our records every day.

With a strong history behind us, the ERO team will continue to do our best to look after the unique items in our care, and make them available for as many people as possible to use and enjoy.

If you’ve not been to the ERO Searchroom before, or would like a refresher, do join us for our next free Searchroom Tour on 7 August 2018.

Essex-on-Sea: The Essex coast in historical picture postcards

Just in time for the summer holidays, we have installed a new display in our Searchroom of a selection of the wonderful picture postcards we have of Essex coastal resorts.

Our new Searchroom display highlights historical postcards from Southend-on-Sea, Clacton-on-Sea, Frinton-on-Sea, and Walton-on-the-Naze

Open the drawers of our display case to see original postcards sent by people holidaying in Essex in the early years of the 20th century

In their heyday, the coastal resorts of Essex attracted thousands of holidaymakers every summer. Postcards can bring us something of the atmosphere of these holiday destinations – not only through the photographs on the front of the cards, but through the messages on the back as well.

Postcards have existed in various forms since the 1840s, but picture postcards only became widespread in the UK from the 1890s. The boom in postcards coincided with a huge increase in tourism among ordinary people, driven by the invention of paid time off and the ability to travel further from home thanks largely to the building of railways. A belief in the health benefits of sea air and salt water bathing also drove the development of coastal resorts.

The ERO’s postcard collection is one of the very few things we have which is not listed on our online catalogue. If you would like to see postcards from our collection for a particular place, please ask staff who will be able to advise you on how to order them.

See the Flickr albums below for a flavour of the collection, and do stop for a look at the display next time you are visiting.

 

Southend-on-Sea

Southend’s origins are as the ‘south end’ of the ancient parish of Prittlewell, occupied by isolated farms. In the late eighteenth century a fashion took off for visiting the seaside for the supposed health benefits of bathing in and drinking sea water. Southend, being relatively easy to reach from the capital, became a popular place for London’s fashionable gentry to visit. Southend’s reputation as a resort for fashionable, wealthy visitors would all change with the arrival of the railway, which reached the town in 1856. This drastically reduced journey times and costs, and meant that a trip to the town was, for the first time, within the reach of ordinary people. New entertainments and accommodation were built to cater for the masses of tourists who now flooded Southend every summer. In 1889 a new iron pier replaced the original wooden one. It included an electric railway, the first of its kind on a pleasure pier. Visitors might still come for their health or to enjoy a quiet retreat, but people after noisier entertainments could avail themselves of donkey rides or boat trips, or take in a performance by a brass band or pierrot troop, perhaps while enjoying an ice cream.

Southend-on-Sea historical postcards

Clacton-on-Sea

The resort of Clacton-on-Sea was founded in 1871 with the opening of a pier, built by civil engineer and businessman Peter Bruff, who had also played an important part in the development of Walton. The Royal Hotel opened in 1872, also built by Bruff, initially standing alone at the base of the pier. By the 1890s the pier had been extended, and housed hot and cold sea baths, and the Pavilion theatre at the pier head. The railway reached Clacton in 1882, opening it up to even more visitors. In 1938 Billy Butlin opened his second holiday camp at Clacton, which was visited by thousands during its lifetime until its closure in 1983.

Clacton-on-Sea in old postcards

Walton-on-the-Naze

The development of Walton-on-the-Naze began with the opening of the Marine Hotel in 1829 and the town’s first pier in 1830, both built by Mr Penrice of Colchester. The pier was the main way in which visitors would arrive and depart, travelling on steamships coming from London and Ipswich, at least until the railway arrived in 1867. By the 1890s Walton had a second, much longer pier, with an electric tramway running its 790 metre length. Other attractions for the Victorian and Edwardian visitor included pleasure craft, bathing machines, theatrical entertainments, and later cinemas.

Walton-on-the-Naze in old postcards

Frinton-on-Sea

The development of Frinton-on-Sea began a little later. In 1886 the Marine and General Land Company published plans for creating ‘a high class watering place’ at Frinton, including hotels, a marine parade, a cricket ground, and tennis lawns. One undated postcard sent from Frinton reads: ‘Yesterday we went to Frinton and enjoyed it very much, it is so pretty. You would like Frinton there are such lovely large private residences each standing in own grounds along the front – a very select place. Only 4 large hotels and no boarding houses.’

Frinton-on-Sea in old postcards

Document of the Month, July 2018: ‘How many kinds of sweet flowers?’: the garden record book of Robert Chatfield, 1884-1898, 1918

Chris Lambert, Archivist

High summer, and thoughts perhaps turn to lazing in a garden.  But for Robert Chatfield (born 1845), manufacturing chemist, gardening was to be taken seriously – as can be seen from this recently acquired record of his garden at Woodlands, Sewardstone, in the Lee Valley (D/DU 1510/6).

‘Country notes’ extracted by Chatfield in 1918 from his (lost) diary, illustrating the progress of the gardening year in 1890 and culminating in the first new potatoes on 4 July.  Connaught Water, where he skated in December 1889, was a popular spot for recreation in Epping Forest.

More detailed notes for part of the same period, describing the pleasures and sorrows of the kitchen garden.

A plan of the front lawn at Woodlands, revealing a small initial planting of roses at one side of the drive in 1877, and a burst of additions in the 1890s.

Chatfield took a 21-year lease of Woodlands in 1877, but his was not a local family.  Robert was a Wiltshire vicar’s son; his wife came from Warwickshire; and their son Arthur had been born in north London.  For professional people this corner of south-west Essex offered a degree of rural seclusion combined with fast rail links to London.  Chingford station, opened in 1873, was only 2 miles away.

Woodlands in 1870, just before Chatfield took out his lease (Ordnance Survey 1:2,500 1st edition Essex 57.10)

Woodlands was a brick and stucco villa, probably of the mid 19th century: not a grand pile, but not particularly modest either.  Besides two female servants, Chatfield by 1889 employed an elderly local man, Richard Pearson, as a gardener to help him manage its 4 acres.  Pearson was later joined or replaced by ‘Burgess’, but Chatfield rarely mentions either man in his notes.  (His wife is not mentioned once: clearly the garden was a male undertaking.)  He was punctilious in recording what he grew – or tried to grow – and especially the moments when flowers, fruit and vegetables were either planted or came into season, making this a valuable record of the gardening year.  His careful naming of plants illustrates the wide choice of commercial varieties available to the late Victorian gardener.

Although a tenant, Chatfield also made considerable investment in the garden: in 1896 he re-laid the gravel drive, built a workshop for Arthur and provided the gardener with a toolshed.  When their lease expired, just two years later in 1898, the Chatfields moved away.  By 1901 they were living in rather more modest circumstances in Bowerdean Street in Fulham.

Woodlands itself seems to have had a few last years of prosperity: in 1901 the owner built a new conservatory on one end of the house.

The conservatory and ‘plant house’ built at Woodlands in 1901, after Chatfield’s departure (D/UWm Pb2/40)

However, the area was changing quickly.  From 1913 the meandering river was replaced by the George V Reservoir, fringed on the opposite bank by industrial development at Enfield.  The Essex side became a centre of the Lee Valley glasshouse industry.  Woodlands was put up for sale at least 3 times between 1914 and 1928, typically as an ‘old fashioned residence’.

The estate put up for sale in 1914 (SALE/A479)

The garden as described in 1914, with all the specialized structures that the serious gardener required (SALE/A479)

The last sale catalogue held by the ERO, dating from 1928, provides our only photographic record of the property, but ominously points to ‘land suitable for the erection of glasshouses’.

By 1935 house and, presumably, garden were gone.  The Ordnance Survey map of that year shows nothing but a line of trees fronting the now empty plot, with an orchard to the rear – perhaps a last remnant of this English country garden.

Horticulture versus gardening: the site of Woodlands in 1935 (Ordnance Survey 1:2,500 Revision Essex 69.1)

Robert Chatfield’s garden notebook will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout July 2018.

Sister Suffragettes: The Lilley family and the campaign for votes for women

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Researching the story of Kate and Louise Lilley, leaders of the women’s suffrage campaign in Clacton, I was put in mind of the song sung by Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins when she returns from a suffrage rally. The ‘sister suffragettes’ she sings about go ‘shoulder to shoulder into the fray’, which is just what Kate and Louise did. Kate and Louise are the best known of the Lilley family, but they were two of 10 siblings, and all three of their sisters and both their parents also took part in the campaign for votes for women.

The sisters were born in London, Kate in 1874 and Louise in 1883. Their father, Thomas Lilley, was one of the partners of the shoe manufacturers, Lilley and Skinner. The business had been begun by his father, and would stay in the family for several generations. The company became one of Britain’s largest shoe retailers, and for many years ran the largest shoe shop in the world on Oxford Street. (A selection of shoes made by the company can today be found at the Victoria and Albert museum.)

Thomas had married Mary Ann Denton in 1870, and they lived a comfortable life in London with several household servants. The help must have been useful – they had a total of 11 children together (although a son, Benjamin, died aged just 3). In 1908, Thomas had a new home built for the family in Clacton, Holland House, on the corner of Skelmersdale Road and Holland Road. (The building, somewhat extended, survives today as flats.)

At the time the family took up residence in Clacton, Kate would have been about 34 and Louise about 24. Tracing their activities through the Clacton Graphic, we can see that the sisters were extremely active within the Clacton branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant organisation led by Emmeline Pankhurst. They organised and spoke at meetings, helped run the WSPU shop on Rosemary Road, organised fundraising events, and sold the WPSU newspaper, Votes for Women.

From local papers we can even get an idea of the content of the speeches that the sisters made at meetings. One such speech, made at a meeting of the local Liberal Association, was reported in the Graphic on 15 April 1911. In front of a large audience, one of the sisters (the paper doesn’t specify which Miss Lilley spoke) put forward her arguments in favour of women’s suffrage:

They could have no true democracy, unless every class was represented, and that applied quite as much to sex as class. Some might say that there were men who would always look after the interests of a woman, but men could not understand the needs of a woman, so well as the woman herself.

Women, she said, ‘wanted to feel their responsibility and help to ameliorate certain social evils, which at one time women thought it right to ignore’. She agreed with the consensus of the time that the woman’s place was in the home, but in reality ‘every morning five million women had to go out of their homes in order to keep it.’

She also spoke about wage inequality, and the different application of laws to men and to women:

it was not fair to have one law for a man and another for a woman. They asked for fair play and no favour, and as long as woman had no political status she would always be bottom dog in the labour market.

Alongside their local activities, Kate and Louise also sometimes headed back to London to take part in the campaign. Both were arrested during Black Friday in November 1910, along with hundreds of other campaigners who had attempted to gain access to the Houses of Parliament. In that instance the sisters were not prosecuted, but in March 1912 they took part in the WSPU’s campaign of smashing windows, using large pieces of flint to each break a window at the War Office. They were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

The sisters were committed to Holloway prison, and were placed in cells next door to each other. After their release, Kate wrote an account of her time in prison for the Clacton Graphic (4 May 1912). She began by explaining the reasoning behind the decision to damage property as part of their campaign:

What we feel we have to do now, is to make every just-minded person, especially the men, wake up to the fact that it is their duty to help. First of all public opinion may be against us, and great anger felt. We say we would rather anger than indifference. Indifference helps no one, and after 40 years’ experience we have found coaxing and persuading of no avail. How then, are we to wake up public conscience? For any woman who is yet doubting whether our cause is really worth the sacrifice of committing an offence, which, naturally, must be very repulsive to her, imprisonment, the risk of losing her friends and social position, and, in many cases, means of earning a livelihood, besides family sacrifice she has to make, let her go to Holloway Prison. She will come up against many hard facts in life; the ordinary prisoners will become real human beings to her, and not some vague class of individuals one reads of in the newspapers. They will impress her as looking very like ourselves, except for the ugly prison dress and the hopeless expression one sees on so many of their faces. As Dr. Garrett Anderson remarked the other day: “Suffragettes go to prison as a move in the fight to life the burden from women’s lives; the other prisoners go because this burden has been too great for them.” And we must not forget the chief cause of their crime is their status and their poverty. One has plenty of time to think in Holloway.

She went on to give a description of the time she and Louise spent in Holloway, including long stretches of solitary confinement, and time in cells below ground level where they ‘suffered very much indeed from the cold’. They were allowed no letters and no visitors, but after a time were allowed two books a week from the prison library. One half-hour period of exercise was allowed per day to begin with, but as the women’s health began to suffer this was increased to two by the prison doctor.

On the subject of the hunger strike which took place at that time, Kate wrote ‘the horrors of it are still too fresh in my memory for me to feel able to dwell on any of the details’. The sisters must have taken part in the hunger strike, as on their release both were presented with hunger strike medals by the WSPU, which are today in the collections at the Museum of London.

Louise Lilley’s hunger strike medal from the Museum of London. Kate’s medal is also in their collection.

The sisters were released in early May, and returning home to Clacton they were ‘met with a most hearty welcome home from hundreds of spectators, including many women wearing the W.S.P.U. badge’ (Clacton Graphic, 4 May 1912). The crowd cheered the sisters, and they were presented with bouquets. The Graphic further reported that ‘Their suffering for the cause, which they believe to be right and just, have not damped their ardour, and they are more determined than ever to go forward’. Two photographs published in the paper show the sisters arriving at Clacton station, and being driven away in their father’s motor car.

Kate and Louise Lilley return home to Clacton after their release from Holloway prison in May 1912. One of the women on the left of the photograph, possibly one of the sisters, carries a WSPU flag. Clacton Graphic, 4 May 1912.

Kate and Louise Lilley leave Clacton station in their father’s motor car in front of a crowd of onlookers. Clacton Graphic, 4 May 1912.

The sisters must have drawn strength from the support of their family, and the fact that they also joined in the campaign. I have not found any reference to any of their brothers campaigning, but their three sisters also pop up in the Clacton Graphic.

The oldest of the sisters was Mary Hetty Lilley, born in 1872. She had married Arthur Skyes (an architect, who actually designed the Lilley’s home in Clacton, Holland House), and she lived half a mile away from her parents and sisters, at Carnarvon Road in Clacton. She chaired and spoke at local suffrage meetings, and wrote to the Clacton Graphic to express her views on things.

In April 1912, for example, an auction was held to sell a pair of binoculars, which had been confiscated from a Miss Rose, who had refused to pay her taxes as a protest against women not being allowed to vote. Mary Sykes presided over a meeting after the auction, where she ‘explained in a few words that the reason why they had met together was because they wished to express their sympathy with Miss Rose in her protest, and because they felt she was perfectly right in so doing. Women had no voice or vote, and therefore should not be taxed’ (Clacton Graphic, 27 April 1912).

In March 1912 she wrote to the Graphic in support of her sisters’ acts of breaking windows at the War Office:

Sir, – Will you allow me through your paper to contradict a wrong report issued in some of the daily papers that Miss Kate Lilley and Miss Louise Lilley had broken windows because they had been influenced by speakers. This statement is incorrect. In both cases it was pleaded that they had broken a pane of glass valued at 3s. in a Government building as a protest against the Government, and they did not wish to offer any apology.

Yours truly,

M.H. Sykes

Clacton Graphic, 16 March 1912

The other two sisters, Helen Doris Marjorie Lilley, born in 1890, and Ada Elizabeth, born in 1893, are a bit more shadowy, but they do appear in local reports as being present at suffrage meetings, and as being part of a choir dressed all in white at a WSPU meeting at Clacton in February 1912.

Most extraordinarily, there are even photographs of the Lilley sisters out in force, campaigning together:

This montage of photographs in the Clacton Graphic shows the Clacton branch of the WSPU at work, including all five of the Lilley sisters. All of them appear in the top photo; photo number 3 shows Mary Sykes, and photo number 5 shows the four unmarried Lilley sisters parading together in their sandwich boards.

The Lilley parents, Mary and Thomas, also got involved in the suffrage campaign. In June 1911, Mary Lilley hosted an ‘at home’ at Holland House (described in the Clacton Graphic, 10 June 1911), and she often attended suffrage meetings, and lent plants from her garden to help decorate halls and stages.

Thomas Lilley, who in addition to being a company director was a local JP and president of the local Liberal Association, was a vocal supporter of women’s suffrage. He chaired and spoke at suffrage meetings, supported women’s suffrage at Clacton town council meetings, and expressed his views in the local papers:

We are shouting, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” What right have we to deprive a woman of her vote simply because she is a woman? For shame! This is indeed tyranny and injustice combined.

Letter to the Clacton Graphic, 13 May 1911

The family business, Lilley and Skinner, also publicly supported the campaign, decorating their window displays with ribbons in the suffragette colours of purple, white and green. They advertised in the WSPU magazine, Votes for Women, thereby financially supporting the organisation, and even made a slipper died in purple white and green.

Uncovering the extent of the Lilley family’s joint campaigning activities has been a surprising research journey (especially the bit about the purple, white and green slippers). Again the words of Mrs Banks’s song Sister Suffragettes comes to mind; the Lilley family were indeed ‘dauntless crusaders for women’s votes’.


If you would like to trace the stories of other local suffragettes, a really good place to start is the British Newspaper Archive online, which you can use for free at ERO and at Essex Libraries.

If you need to make sure your voter registration is up-to-date, you can do so here.

Letters from the Western Front: The Allied Advance, 1918

This post is published with thanks to Caroline Stevens, Kate Luard’s great-niece, who supplied the extracts from Unknown Warriors.

When we last left Sister Kate Luard she had just reached the end of April 1918, after a dramatic few weeks in which the German Army had broken through Allied lines during the Spring Offensive of 1918. Kate and her colleagues had evacuated their hospital and retreated along with the rest the British Army.

Between May and August 1918 the Germans made no further progress and it was clear the German army was overstretched and weakened from their Spring Offensive; and the Allies launched their counter attack in the summer of 1918. The Germans at Amiens had not had the time to build up their defences and the British Expeditionary Force’s combined artillery, infantry and tank offensive, with the French Army as well as troops from the United States and Italy, launched an offensive decisively turning the tide of war toward an Allied victory.

The Allied offensive began with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August and continued to 11 November – known as the Hundred Days Offensive.

Kate Luard rejoined No.41 casualty clearing station at Pernois between Amiens and Doullens on 9 May. Here she sometimes had time to write home about the landscape and countryside  before the Allied Advance commenced.

 

Monday, May 13th. Pernois

There is so much to see to in starting a new site with a new Mess consisting of Nothing, with the patients already in the Wards when we arrived, that there has not been a moment yet to unpack my kit, barely to read my mails, let alone to write letters, other than official and Break-the-News, till now 10.30 p.m.

We had our first rain to-day with the new moon, and the place has been a swamp all day.

The great Boche effort is supposed to be imminent and this wet will delay and disgust him.

The C.O. of this Unit is very keen, full of brains, discipline and ideas. Everyone is out for efficiency and we are all working together like honeybees. There is a very fine spirit in the place. The Sisters are all so pleased with our unique Quarters that they’re ready for anything. The C.O. has gone this time to the opposite extreme from daisies under our beds and we are sleeping in the most thrilling dug-outs I’ve ever seen.

The Camp itself is very well laid out with roads to the entrances to the wards for Ambulances, to save carrying stretchers a long way. We evacuate by car to the train at the bottom of the valley.

 

May 22nd, and the hottest day of the year.

This full moon is, of course, bringing an epidemic of night bombing at Abbeville, Étaples and all about up here. … I had a lovely motor run to the Southern Area B.R.C.S. [British Red Cross Society] Depot yesterday, through shady roads with orchards blazing with buttercups.

  

May 25th

Nothing to report here: people seem to think he [the Germans] has his tail down too badly to come on, and it looks like it. An inimitable Jock told me to-day that you only had to fill a Scot up wi’ rum and he could do for as many machine-gun nests as any Tank!

  

May 28th

There’s nothing to say that one may write about, but a good deal to do.

  

Whit Sunday

We had a divine day here and it’s a translucent night of sunset, stars and moon and aeroplanes, and spoilt by the thunder of the guns which are very busy now on both sides. This is a Sky Thoroughfare between many Aerodromes and the Line, and from sunset onwards the sky is thick with planes, and the humming and droning is incessant and very disturbing for sleep. There are a hundred interesting things one would like to tell you, but everything comes under forbidden headings.

The men have the same spirit, the same detached acceptance of their injuries, and the same blind unquestioning obedience to every order, the same alacrity to give up their pillows … as at the beginning of this War. And they are all like that – the Londoners, the Scots, the Counties, the Irish, the Canadians and the Aussies and the New Zealanders.

The Jock is helping in a Ward and bends over a pneumonia man helping him to cough, or cajoling him to take his feeds, with an almost more than maternal tenderness or … helps with a dressing with a gentleness and delicacy that no nurse could hope to beat.

Their obedience is another unfailing quality. When a convoy comes in at night they’re out of bed in a second, filling hot bottles, and undressing new patients and careering round with drinks. If a boy asks for a fag after a bad dressing they literally rush to be first to get him one of theirs.

I could do with some more Sisters. Must do a round now and see what’s likely to be wanted during the night.

The Officers’ Ward at the 41st Casualty Clearing Station, by J. Hodgson Lobley (Art.IWM ART 3809) image: The interior of the large tented officers’ ward of a casualty clearing station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/16920

  

Tuesday, June 4th, 10.30 p.m.

He is at this moment making the dickens of an angry noise about 100 feet directly overhead: whether he means to unload here or not remains to be seen. We’ve had rather a busy week …

The weather continues unnaturally radiant. I have never worked in a more lovely spot in this war. There is always a breeze waving over the cornfields and the hills are covered with woods near the valleys, with open downs at the top. Below are streams through shady orchards and rustling poplars – and you can see for miles from the downs.

We had two French girls, sisters of 19 and 16, in, badly gassed and one wounded. I took them to the French Civilian hospital at Abbeville the next day. They were such angels of goodness, blistered by mustard gas literally from head to foot, and breathing badly. They came from near Albert.

Fritz has made a horrid mess of Abbeville since we were there a month ago: 10 W.A.A.C.’s [Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps] were killed at once one day.

 

Sunday, June 16th

The hills are covered with waving corn, like watered silk in the wind, with deep crimson clover, and with fields of huge oxeye daisies, like moving sheets. To-day there is no sound of guns and it is all Peace and loveliness. All the worst patients are improving and the Colonel has come back from his leave. We are able to get fresh butter, milk from the cow, and eggs, from the farms about and generally fresh vegetables.

 

Monday, June 17th

Last night he was over us again and working up to his old form: he passed overhead flying very low a good deal from 11 p.m. The sky illuminations in this wide expanse on these occasions are lovely: searchlights, signals, flares and flashes. We had a busyish night with operations.

  

June 29th

We are still very busy with influenza [the start of the great influenza epidemic] and also some badly wounded. Jerry comes every night again and drops below the barrage: I think he gets low enough to see our huge Red Cross. Nearly all the wards are dug in about 5 feet and were much approved by the D.M.S. yesterday.  There are four badly wounded officers who need a lot of looking after. The problem is to get the influenzas well enough to go back to the Line and yet have room for the new ones.

British and Belgian wounded, 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205238965

  

Tuesday, August 6th

For a week past the air has been thick with rumours of a Giant Push, of Divisions going back into the Line after only 24 hours out, of 1,000 Tanks massing in front of us, Cavalry pushing up, and for 5 nights running we heard troops passing through our village in the valley below to the number of 40,000. To-day two trains cleared us of all but the few unfit for travel, and to-night we have got the Hospital mobilised for Zero and every man to his station. As the 1st Cavalry Division was trotting by in the dark, the men calling cheerily, ‘Keep an empty bed for me’ or ‘We’re going to Berlin this time’.

  

Wednesday, August 7th. 11 p.m.

Brilliant sun to-day, after the heavy rains for weeks past. We’ve had a long day of renewed preparations.

All is ready for Berlin. I’m hoping breathlessly that they hold back my leave to see this through. 

 

Thursday, August 8th, or rather 4 a.m. August 9th

20,000 prisoners, 20 kilometres, 200 guns, transport captured, bombs continually on the congested fleeing armies – and here on our side the men who’ve made this happen, and given their eyes, limbs, jaws and lives in doing so. It is an extraordinary jumble of a bigger feeling of Victory and the wicked piteous sacrifice of all these men.

I have 34 Sisters and the place is crawling with Surgeons but we want more stretcher bearers. 

The Operating Theatre, 41st Casualty Clearing Station, by J. Hodgson Lobley, 1918 (Art.IWM ART 3750) image: The interior of a casualty clearing station with a patient under anaesthetic lying on an operating table surrounded by five medical staff, all dressed in white. In the foreground is a table full of medical instruments and an array of gas canisters and breathing apparatus. Two further medical staff are visible in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/16912

 Saturday, August 10th, 10 p.m.

By now we [the Allies] should be in Marchelepot again. It is fine to hear of our bridges at Péronne and Brie, that we knew and saw being built by Sappers, being bombed before he [the Germans] can get back over them. (The sky at the moment is like Piccadilly Circus, with our squadrons going over for their night’s work.) The wounded, nearly all machine-gun bullets – very few shell wounds, as his guns are busy running away: very few walking wounded have come down compared to the last Battle – in fifties rather than hundreds at a time, but we have a lot of stretcher-cases. Of course we are all up to our necks in dealing with them, with ten Teams.

There are great stories of a 15-inch gun mounted on a Railway, with two trains full of  ammunition being taken. … We have a great many German wounded. For some never-failing reason the Orderlies and the men fall over each other trying to make the Jerries comfortable.

Must go round the Hospital now and then to bed. The Colonel tells me that nothing has come through yet, thank goodness, about my leave. He says he has written a letter to our H.Q. that would melt a heart of stone.

 

August 11th

Orders have come for me to ‘proceed forthwith’ to Boulogne for leave. That probably means that I shall not rejoin this Unit.


Kate was right – after her return from leave the rest of her letters were written from two Base Hospitals, where she remained until the end of November 1918. You can read more of her letters in Unknown Warriors: the letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. 

You Are Hear Listening Bench Tour Draws to a Close

Our You Are Hear Project Officer, Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, reflects on the listening bench tour that has been running for the last two years.

On Monday we moved one of the touring You Are Hear listening benches. For the last three months, it has been sitting outside the Guildhall in Finchingfield, a beautiful building lovingly restored and used as a hub for the community. It hosts the library, museum, and a number of classes and activities.

Touring listening bench when it was situated outside the Guildhall, Finchingfield

I selected audio for the bench that showcased aspects of the village history, such as information about straw plaiting, once a significant local industry. I also included clips of memories from village residents, taken from interviews recorded by the Guildhall and recently deposited with the Essex Sound and Video Archive (Acc. SA837).

Roger Guppy sharing memories of growing up in Finchingfield, from an oral history interview recorded by the Guildhall. Used with kind permission from the Guildhall.

I hope these insights into the past helped visitors more fully appreciate the rich heritage of the village, and of the Guildhall in particular.

Neil Banks at Stansted Airport being interviewed for BBC Look East in 2016

We have now delivered the bench to its final resting place, outside the METAL arts centre in Chalkwell Park, Southend-on-Sea (more information below). The tour has drawn to a close. In two years, this bench has visited eight locations, ranging from open spaces to shopping centres to Stansted Airport. There, it had its fifteen minutes of fame, when it was briefly featured on BBC Look East.

It has travelled more than 250 miles. The buttons have been pressed over 30,000 times. Around 150 children completed a quiz about the recordings while it was at Belfairs Woodland Centre. We have shared music, poetry, and memories from Essex people about Essex places. Recordings about the location, recordings to reflect the season, or recordings just because I like them and want to show them off.

The statistics show that we have accomplished one of our aims: thousands more people have listened to an Essex Sound and Video Archive recording than would have without the bench. But since we ‘drop and go’, leaving people to discover the bench, it is hard to measure any deeper impact.

I would like to think that the bench has made listeners look again at familiar sights. Did hearing a piece by Thomas Tallis while sitting within sight of where he was once an organist make people value the significance of Waltham Abbey Gardens?

The Walk Fair Singers and The Thameside Waits sing Thomas Tallis’ ‘O Nata Lux’ at New Hall, Boreham in 1993 (SA 1/1287/1, used by kind permission of BBC Essex).

Did the programme about the opening of Stansted Airport’s second runway show how far this busy gateway to Essex has come since its humble beginnings? Did listening to an account of travelling salesmen delivering clothes make shoppers think again about their experience at Lakeside Shopping Centre?

I would also like to think that the bench has taught listeners something new: whether they are visitors to the area or have lived nearby all their lives.  For instance, did you know that over 30 species of butterfly have been spotted at Belfairs Woodland Centre, including some of the rarest in the country?  Or that Raphael Park has been a public park for over 100 years, with origins as part of a private estate dating back to Saxon times?

View of the bench sitting by large oak tree

Touring listening bench in Raphael Park. Copyright Jade Hunter.

So, have we accomplished one of the bigger aims of the project? Have we made people rethink the sounds that are around them – the changing accents, the sounds of nature blended with human noise? And have we made people think twice about this diverse, much maligned county based on the sounds that they hear?

We hope that we have – but we would love to hear it from you directly. Have you used our touring bench at any of its venues? Did you have a favourite clip? What did you think of it? Please comment below, e-mail us, or complete a short survey about the project to give us your thoughts.

METAL is an arts organisation with a base at Chalkwell Hall, Chalkwell Park, Southend-on-Sea. This provides space for artist residencies, as well as for a variety of classes and workshops. The listening bench will be incorporated into their NetPark project, aiming to improve well-being by engaging with digital arts in an open setting. Find out more on their website.

Our other touring listening bench will remain at Weald Country Park for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile our touring audio-video kiosks are approaching the end of their tours also: it’s your last chance to catch them at the Cater Museum in Billericay or Rayleigh Town Museum.

We are grateful to the Friends of Historic Essex who sponsored this bench, and to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the main funders behind the You Are Hear project.Friends of Historic Essex logoHLF Logo

 

Document of the month, June 2018: ‘war and confusions’ in Colchester

Archivist Lawrence Barker tells us about his choice for Document of the Month: a newly accessioned Church Book from Colchester dating from 1796-1816 (D/NC 42/1/1A).

A year of ‘war and confusions’: this is how the Reverend Joseph Herrick (1794-1865) described 1815-16 at the Church of Christ in Colchester.

Revd. Joseph Herrick, who was minister of Stockwell Congregational Church in Colchester for over 50 years, from 1814 until his death in 1865 (I/Pb 8/16/2)

Herrick had been elected as minister of the congregation in 1814. At the time, the Church of Christ met in a building on Bucklersbury Lane, which is now St Helen’s Lane. (The congregation was later to build what would become Stockwell Congregational Chapel.)

Several new (to us) documents relating to Herrick’s early years at the church were recently deposited at ERO. The two most significant items are a commonplace book, a kind of journal kept by Herrick himself recording his activities as a preacher from 1813 to 1819, and a church book, which is a record of church activities and members from 1796-1816, which Herrick must have kept in his personal possession. After his death, it must have passed down through his descendants and has thus survived. It is an important record relating to the early history of the Congregational Church in Colchester which has remained hidden for 200 years.

One function of the church book was to record the names of members of the church, noting when they joined and when they either left, died or were ‘excluded’ during disagreements (D/NC 42/1/1A)

The book begins by recording the ministries of Herrick’s predecessors Isaac Taylor and Joseph Drake. Drake’s ministry was plagued by a quarrel over a man named John Church, who had been invited to preach in the church by some members of the congregation. The majority of the members, however, disapproved of Church’s views: he was an antinomian, that is, he held the view that salvation could be achieved by faith alone, and people were not compelled to follow moral laws by any external influence.[1] Such a row followed that Drake resigned, having been in post less than a year. From March 1812 and throughout 1813 the church was without an appointed minister, and nothing was entered into the church book during this time. At the time of Herrick’s official election in April 1814, the book records that:

This Church was thrown into a great deal of confusion in the year 1813 by a Mr Church, an Antinomian Preacher, of very vile character, being forced into the pulpit contrary to the wish of the generality of the people.

In December 1813, Herrick came down from London and preached his first sermon at the Church of Christ on Christmas Day. After labouring amongst the church for 3 months ‘with a view to a settlement if things were mutually agreeable’, an invitation dated 16 January 1814 was sent to Herrick signed by the Deacon, James Mansfield Senior, and other members of the church.

Yet Herrick’s ministry does not seem to have restored harmony to the church, in the main because a conflict arose between him and the very Deacon responsible for his ordination, James Mansfield.  Things came to a head in June 1815.  Mansfield concocted a letter of dismissal (D/NC 42/6/6) dated 6 June to send to Herrick stating that ‘from and after the twenty fourth Day of June instant your services as Preacher at such Meetinghouse will be dispensed with.  And that from and after such time we shall Consider you entitled to no payment of a Minister for the performance of Divine Service in such Meetinghouse’.  The letter is signed by Mansfield and others of his cronies (some of which are thought to have been invented).

In the short term, Herrick seems not to have been affected by this:

June 14 1815

Our 15 Church meeting was held. – this was a special meeting called to consider the conduct of James Mansfield Senr Deacon, Mary Tillet and Mary Wright, when it was unanimously agreed that their conduct was highly inconsistent; and such as we could by no means tolerate. Mr M had abused his pastor, insulted the members, destroyed the harmony of the church, kept back part of the subscriptions etc etc – and the others had been concerned with him, and supported him in all his improper practices.  All suspended.

In August, an intermediary tried to help resolve the situation:

August 14, 1815

Our 16 Church meeting was held. This was a special meeting, to hear the report of the Rev W B Crathern, who had been requested to attempt an adjustment of the differences between the church and Mr Mansfield Senior etc. His interference had been, he stated, without effect, entirely owing to the obstinacy of Mr Mansfield. He advised the church not to consider him as suspended, but to try him a few months longer and if no alteration appeared, then, to cut him off. Agreed to etc. Joseph Herrick.

In September, having accepted (presumably) James Nash as his new Deacon, Herrick reported that Mansfield ‘refused to deliver to Mr James Nash, Deacon the sacramental cups which are the property of the church; awful sacrilege! We, however, bought one which we administered the Lord’s supper on the 10th’.

By February 1814, desperation seems to have begun to set in:

February 2, 1816

This day the following persons broke into our meeting. –

Quilter, carpenter, F Smythies, lawyer, J Mansfield Senior, J Mansfield Junior, S Mansfield, Isaac Brett, Chas Heath, John Hubbard, John Inman, Thos Podd, James Nevill. On hearing they were there I immediately went and took possession, and James Nash my Deacon went with me – after staying about 20 minutes they retired and left us in the possession of the place.

Our 22 Church meeting was held this evening, no particular business was attended to, excepting the above, which we shall refer to the Protestant Society for the defence of Religious liberty.

Joseph Herrick

Entry in the church book from 2 February 1816 when the church meeting was disrupted by several members of the congregation (D/NC 42/1/1A)

Eventually, so determined it seems was Mansfield to dispense with Herrick as Pastor that he went to the extraordinary expedient of organising the de-roofing the chapel so that it could no longer be used as a meeting place, a development laconically reported by Herrick as the last entry in the church book:

June 3 – 1816 –

Mansfield and his party, without any previous notice, sent a bricklayer to unroof the meeting which is now exposed to the weather etc.

Entry from the church book for 2 June 1816, when the roof was removed from the church by a disgruntled member of the congregation (D/NC 42/1/1A)

But that wasn’t going stop Herrick pursuing his mission.  He simply built a new chapel 50 yards further along St Helen’s Lane, on the corner with East Stockwell Street, which was to eventually become Stockwell Congregational Church. This new chapel was enlarged in 1824 and 1836 to accommodate a growing congregation.

This 1870s map of Colchester shows that by this time the chapel had seating for 750 people and an attached Sunday School (Ordnance Survey first edition map 27.12.3, 120”: 1 mile)

Herrick remained its minister until his death in 1865; he is buried in Colchester Cemetery, where a large obelisk dedicated to his memory stands. On his death it was estimated that he had conducted over 10,900 services in his 51 year career in Colchester. While he was never universally approved of, he clearly had a large band of very dedicated followers. An obituary for him in the Essex Standard of 8 February 1865 describes a man ‘Firm in purpose’, with ‘gravity and sobriety’, who was deeply knowledgeable not only on Christian theology but on a whole range of other subjects as well, who practiced what he preached and unaffectedly sympathised with ‘those in sorrow’. For his congregation, his loss after so many years must have been felt deeply indeed.

The church book will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout June 2018.


[1] Antinomianism is one of many debates within Christianity. The word itself literally means rejection of laws (from the Greek ‘anti’ meaning against, and ‘nomos’ meaning laws). In Christianity, antinomianism is part of the debate about whether salvation is achieved through faith in God alone, or through good works. An Antinomian in Christianity is someone who takes the view that salvation is achieved by faith and divine grace, and those who are saved in this way are not bound to follow the laws set out in the Bible. However, this is not to say that someone with antinomian views believes that it is acceptable to act immorally, rather, that the motivation for following moral laws should flow from belief rather than external compulsion. In this view, good works are considered to be the results of faith, but good works above and beyond what is required through faith were viewed as signs of arrogance and impiety.

William Swainston: a tale of a juvenile wanderer

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Archives are packed with thousands upon thousands of life stories. And individual life stories are not only interesting in themselves, but can tell us about the society that individual lived in, and even human nature itself.

You will not, however, find someone’s life story all in one place. Records of our lives are scattered piecemeal through innumerable different records; the fragments that can be gleaned from various records can pinpoint people in time – when and where they were born, married and died, where they lived, what job they did. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to find records which give us more detail of what somebody looked like, or of their particular life experiences, which help us to imagine the world from their point-of-view.

When we run training courses on archival research, one of the things we say is that you will likely have to use several different sources to piece together the jigsaw. This work is, of course, immeasurably aided by the availability of key source material online, much of it accompanied by searchable indexes. A piece of research which would have once taken months or years or even been impossible can now sometimes be accomplished in a matter of hours.

The detective work which goes in to piecing together someone’s life story from archival records can be addictive. So it has been the case with William Swainston, a Victorian orphan who was admitted to the Essex Industrial School in 1876, aged 11, having been found sleeping rough in an outhouse at Parson’s Heath near Colchester. We have written previously about the Essex Industrial School, and its records have proved too tempting to resist further investigation.

William Swainston, who joined the school in 1876, aged 11, having run been orphaned and run away from his half-brother. Photo by Edouard Nickels (D/Q 40/153)

William is one of the school’s pupils of whom we have a named picture. This picture can then be tied up with his school records, so we can put a face to the boy described in the written records, and discover the story of the small boy looking out at us from this 140-year-old photograph. It has then been possible to pick up his story in other records, including newspapers, which have provided incredible detail of William’s turbulent life story.

William had had a difficult start in life. He was born in 1865 in Leicestershire, to parents Henry Thrussell Swainston and his wife Mary (his birth was tricky to track down, having been registered as William Thrussell). Henry’s occupation was described variously as a ‘chemist’, a ‘druggist’, and a ‘medical practitioner’. Henry was over 35 years older than Mary, and had had children from two previous relationships. Before William was born, the couple had had two other sons who both died in infancy. In 1871, when William was 6, his mother died. His father committed suicide 12 months later.

When William was orphaned, he went to live with his much older half-brother Charles Swainston in Colchester. Charles had himself had a difficult start in life; his mother had died young and his father seems to have disappeared.He was a former military man (indeed, it was the army which brought him to Colchester), and then became a Police Constable. Judging by newspaper articles, Charles seems to have been a respected figure in Colchester. When he died in 1906, a short article in the Essex Newsman noted:

The funeral has taken place at Colchester of Mr. Swainston, for many years caretaker of Colchester Castle. The deceased served as a soldier both in the Crimea and Indian Mutiny, and was greatly esteemed by all who knew him.

Yet William’s life with Charles’s family was not a happy one. In March 1876, William was arrested under the Vagrancy Act for sleeping rough in a cart on Parson’s Green near Colchester. The officer who arrested him said that William was ‘in a filthy condition’. According to a newspaper article affixed to his school records, William said that ‘he had nowhere else to sleep, being afraid to go home’ because of his half-brother.

The newspaper article affixed to William’s school records. The uncle mentioned was really William’s half-brother. (D/Q 40/1)

A hearing was held in Colchester Town Hall in front of the Mayor, at which William’s half-brother Charles also appeared. The Essex Standard of 31 Marcy 1876 reported that Charles denied William’s claims of ill treatment, and said that the boy ‘had been a source of great trouble and anxiety to his foster parents’. The Mayor admonished William for his unfeeling treatment of his benefactors, and suggested he be detained in an Industrial School as he was ‘evidently just entering on the path of crime’.

The next place where we pick up William’s story is in his school records. He arrived at the Essex Industrial School in Chelmsford on 6 April 1876. He was 4’2” tall, his figure ‘slight’, complexion ‘fair’, his hair ‘light brown’, his eyes ‘grey’ and his nose ‘straight’. Unusually among the boys, he could read and write ‘pretty well’. He had attended school regularly for five years, but received no schooling for the previous four. His report on 1 July said that he ‘seems to be a quick boy’ and described him as intelligent.

William Swainston’s record page in the Essex Industrial School admission register (D/Q 40/1)

William’s school records are not as detailed as some of the others, but they do tell us that in April 1881 he set out for Canada, aged 16. In 1881 it was noted that they had heard from him ‘several times he seems doing well’.

William also appears in the school’s discharge registers (D/Q 40/12), which gives more detail of the contact the school had with him after he left. The notes include in 1884 that ‘his brother’ in the school said that his mother had received a letter from William – this must be Francis Bulwer Swainston, who was actually William’s nephew, of whom more below.

Seven years later, in 1888, William was back in England with a consignment of cattle, and during this trip visited his old school to give a talk about his life farming in Canada. A short report on the talk appeared in the Essex Standard of 16 June:

Essex Industrial School – On the evening of the 7th inst. an interesting address was delivered at this Institution by Mr. Wm. Swainston, of Lowville, Canada, who was at one time an inmate of the School, and has been for seven years in Canada. – Mr. Frederick Wells presided, and was supported by Mr. J. Brittain Pash [the founder of the school], the Rev. R.E. Bartlett, and the Rev. D. Green. There was a crowded attendance of friends of the school, many of whom previously made an inspection of the buildings. – Mr. Swainston, who was most cordially received, began by describing his life on a Canadian farm, after which he spoke generally of the way in which agriculture was carried on there. In answer to questions, which were invited, Mr. Swainston stated that an industrious young man could save a hundred dollars a-year; he himself had saved that amount in a single summer. He mentioned that the knowledge he had acquired of various trades at the School had been most useful to him. He had come over to England with a consignment of cattle… A charge of 3d. was made for admission to the lecture, and the sum obtained will go towards sending a boy to Canada.

William seems to have made a good go of life in Canada. In March 1892 in Peel, Ontario, he married Helen or Ellen Quinn, who originated from Ireland. Both were aged 24, and William was described as a farmer. The last record it has been possible to trace so far for William is the 1901 Canadian census, in which he is recorded in Toronto along with Ellen, and three children – E. Mary, Annie, and William.

As a footnote, William was not the only member of his family to end up in the Essex Industrial School. Somewhat embarassingly for William’s half-brother Charles Swainston, one of his own sons, Francis, was in trouble throughout his childhood for a series of petty crimes, and in 1884, being deemed ‘uncontrollable’, was sentenced to be detained at the Essex Industrial School until he was 16. In the week before he was sent there he was kept at the Colchester workhouse, and three times escaped, once with no clothes on. His time at the school doesn’t seem to have deterred Francis from a life of crime, and as a young man there are further reports of him getting in trouble with the law for running confidence tricks. His crimes seem to have petered out, however, and he went on to work as a painter/decorator and as a tailor, and married and had 10 children.

If there are any living descendants of William’s out there, then I hope this post finds them.


If you would like to research further life stories of the boys in the Essex Industrial School admission books, you can find and order the books through our online catalogue (search for ‘Essex Industrial School admission register’, and use sources such as the census (available online for free in our Searchroom) and newspapers (again, available in our Searchroom) to find out more.