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.

International Nurses Day 2018: Celebrating an Essex nurse

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

To celebrate International Nurses Day (marked each year on 12th May, Florence Nightingale’s birthday), we thought we’d take a look at the career of an eminent Essex nurse, Mary Ellen Ruck RRC, who served as the Matron of Black Notley Hospital near Braintree from 1929 to 1952.

Among the records relating to her (A14768 box 3), which were deposited with Essex Record Office alongside other records of Black Notley Hospital last year, is a book which was presented to her at the time of her leaving listing all her colleagues and associates, including the former County Medical Officer of Health, W. A. Bullough, who described her in a testimonial in 1930 after only one year in office, as ‘a splendid organiser and administrator’ who had ‘rendered me able assistance’ in connection with a scheme for recruiting secondary school girls into the County’s nursing service.

The new Essex County Council Sanatorium at Black Notley for the treatment of Tuberculosis in women and children was opened on 26th April 1930, and the photograph below was probably taken at the time showing Nurse Ruck standing with the Minister of Health, Arthur Greenwood, the Bishop of Barking, W. A. Bullough and councillors and staff associated with the hospital.

The Ambulant Children’s Pavilion at Black Notley Sanitorium

Former staff who worked with her described her supervision as “firm but fair”.  A nurse who joined the staff in 1950, described how Mary Ruck would work at night in the kitchen, how strict she was about cleanliness and in particular about the provision of good food.  Apparently, she was also a great entertainer, famous for her summer strawberry and raspberry teas.  She even concerned herself with the grounds of the hospital making certain that the gardeners looked after them properly so that they should look nice for the patients.[1]  Her attention to cleanliness possibly accounts for the nick-name ‘Mops’ given to her by a friend and associate signing his photograph ‘John’, a Christmas greeting in 1938.

She continued, however, to be involved with nursing in Essex after leaving the sanatorium and was eventually appointed County Nursing Superintendent of the Essex branch of the British Red Cross Society on 1st November 1954.

But perhaps the most impressive part of Mary’s story dates back to before her arrival in Essex.

She originally came from Lincolnshire.  According to her entry in the 1939 Register taken at Wanstead Hospital, she was born at Grantham on 22nd December 1886.  In 1891, the family were living at Louth, her father working for the railway as a ticket collector.  By 1901, he had become the Station Master of Dog Dyke on the Lincolnshire fens, memorably recalled in Flanders and Swann’s well-known song ‘The Slow Train’:

On the Main Line and the Goods Siding
The grass grows high
At Dog Dyke, Tumby Woodside
And Trouble House Halt

By 1911, she was a nurse at the Leeds General Infirmary where she completed her training in 1913. On the outbreak of the First World War, she joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service and was posted to France in January 1915.  And from then she seems to have covered herself with glory. After the Battle of Ypres in 1915, she was mentioned in a despatch by Field Marshall Sir John French on 30 November, which was reported in a local Lincolnshire newspaper.

Among her records are a collection of negatives of photographs taken at Ypres showing the bombed city and Mary Ruck at her station in what looks like a field hospital hut presumably located by the battlefield.

In 1916, after the Battle of the Somme, she was decorated on the field with the Royal Red Cross 1st Class.  The photograph below, thought to have been taken after the battle, shows her at the right-hand end of the back row of nurses.

Finally, after the war, she received a personal letter dated 1st March 1919 signed by Winston Churchill acknowledging her mention in despatches by Sir John French and conveying His Majesty the King’s ‘high appreciation’ of her gallant and distinguished service in the field.

During her long career in nursing Mary must have helped thousands and thousands of people, from soldiers wounded on the battlefields of the First World War to children suffering from tuberculosis. She lived to the age of 85, and died in 1969.


[1] Black Notley Hospital: a century of service, Black Notley Parish Council, 1998

Surveying Stuart Essex

New accessions arrive at ERO in a steady stream, and sometimes a very special survivor from the past comes into our care.

One such item that recently came into us is this map of Grays dating from 1631, made by a surveyor named Samuel Parsons (A14738 box 1).

The map in our Conservation Studio after being cleaned. East is at the top of the map. The area shown is the west side of Grays. London Road, shown running along the south side of the map, is today’s A126, and Hogg Lane, shown running along the east side of the map, is today the A1012. The salt marshes shown along the banks of the Thames are today housing. Part of the area shown in the middle of the map is today Grays Chalk Quarry Nature Reserve, part of it is Badgers Dene housing estate,  part of it is Askews Farm Industrial Estate, and part of it is a NuStar oil and gas terminal.

The map was made for George Whitmore, Lord Mayor of London, and shows land that he owned in Grays called Notts (alias Ripleys), Wrightes and Lords Land. Whitmore was a merchant and member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers. During the Civil War, not long after this map was made for him, he supported the king and was imprisoned by the Parliamentarians.

The map was made for George Whitmore, Lord Mayor of the City of London

Traditionally, surveys of estates were written documents, and the practice of making maps to either supplement or replace a written survey only started to take off in the 1570s. This type of map served two purposes: firstly, they were useful tools for ensuring efficient and profitable use of land; and secondly, they were status symbols for land owners.

At the centre of the map is Notts Farm, alias ‘Rippleyes’, surrounded by cherry orchards.

The names and acreages of the individual fields are listed along the left-hand side of the map, including ‘the eleauen [eleven] acres’, ‘Wallnutt tree feilde’ and ‘Pearetree feilde’.

Grays church is shown in the top right corner of the map.

And ‘The River of Thames’ flows along the right hand side of the map, with salt marshes along its edge.

Parsons shows wooded areas using tiny, individually drawn trees. Each one is coloured in green and yellow, adding detail and dimension.

The map joins two other documents made by Samuel Parsons already looked after at ERO. One is a map of land around Coggeshall Grange made in 1639 (D/DOp P1 – view a digital image of it here), and the other is a written survey of land in Little Bentley (D/DQs 4).

The Coggeshall map shares several stylistic similarities with the newly arrived Grays one. Both share the same patterned border, and decorative scale giving Parsons’s name as the maker.

The scale on the Grays map, bearing Samuel Parsons’s name

The scale from Parsons’s 1639 map of Coggesall, again decorated with compasses showing his name

The Coggeshall map shows Coggeshall Grange, including the barn which is today a National Trust property, shown here in ‘the Graunge yarde’.

 

The first surviving work of Parsons’ in Essex is his survey of land in Little Bentley in Tendring (D/DQs 4), made for Sir Paul Bayning, who was from a family of wealthy London merchants. This written survey book refers to a map made by Parsons at the same time, but this sadly seems not to have survived. Parsons signed this survey as ‘Samuell Parsones Practitioner in the Mathematicks’.

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Parsons also made maps and surveys in Middlesex, Berkshire, Shropshire and Yorkshire. His map of Dringhouses in York (1624-29) is the earliest surviving large-scale plan of any part of York and its neighbourhoods, and even shows the names of the local people who farmed the land. York archivist Victoria Hoyle says that Parsons’s map ‘is so accurate, it perfectly matches the 1853 Ordnance Survey map’. (You can read more about the Dringhouses map here.)

The three documents made by Samuel Parsons which are now all part of the collections at ERO

Most of Parsons’s surviving maps were made in Shropshire (you can view an image of his 1635 map of Rudge Heath on Shropshire Archives’ catalogue here). Indeed, there is a connection between some of Parsons’s Shropshire maps and his map of Grays; some of his Shropshire work was for the Whitmore family of Apley Hall, of which George Whitmore (the commissioner of the Grays map) was a member.

In his study of 17th century mapmakers in Essex ‘An upstart art. Early mapping in Essex’ (T/Z 438/2/1) A. Stuart Mason, an expert on early map making suggests that Parsons may have been based in London, meeting his wealthy clients there, and being despatched to the countryside to survey their estates. His signature as a ‘Practitioner in the Mathematicks’ could suggest, according to Mason, that Parsons may well have taught mathematics in London alongside his surveying work.

Parsons made maps of extraordinary quality for their time, and we are very happy to welcome this new addition into our collection.

Document of the Month, May 2018: Down and out in Victorian Essex

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Our Document of the Month for May 2018 is an admissions register from the Essex Industrial School for Neglected and Destitute Boys (D/Q 40/1). The volume contains records of boys admitted to the school between 1872 and 1883, giving the reason for their admission and following their school career. For some boys it also records what happened to them after they left the school. Each page reads like a miniature Dickens novel, and the book is full of stories of boys who have been wandering the streets or arrested for petty crimes before being sent to the school.

Established in 1872 by local businessman Joseph Brittain Pash, the school started life in two converted houses in Great Baddow, supported entirely by donations. It provided accommodation, clothing, education and practical training for destitute boys, especially orphans or those at risk of falling into crime.

Buildings in Great Baddow used by the school in its early days

The school obviously met a social need, and by 1876 had grown to fill three houses and four cottages. In 1877 it was granted £5,000 by the Essex county authorities and £2,000 by the West Ham School board for a new building. Land was purchased in Rainsford End, Chelmsford, and a new building with space for up to 150 pupils was opened in 1879.

The new school building which opened in Rainsford End, Chelmsford, in 1879

The Essex Industrial School, in the north west quadrant of this map, was built in what was at the time open countryside outside Chelmsford town centre. The building survived until the 1980s when it was demolished and replaced with housing.

Alongside a basic education the boys received training in shoemaking, tailoring, gardening, building, carpentry, painting and decorating, and engineering. The school also had a theatre, a swimming pool, and a fife and drum band. When boys left, attempts were made to find them employment, sometimes in Australia, New Zealand, or Canada.

View more photographs from the school on our Historypin page

The school admission register and photographs of the school’s buildings, classrooms and workshops are wonderful enough, but we also have some further photographs which make the whole collection even more special.

The school sometimes commissioned individual portrait photographs of their pupils, and a little bundle of these survived today at ERO, most of which are named. These names can then be looked up in the admissions registers, and the photographs of the boys can be tied up with their stories told in the school records. Some of the photographs were taken after the boys had been at the school for a while, but others were taken when the boys first arrived. Often they were unshod and wearing rags, and had clearly suffered extreme deprivation.

Photograph of 11-year-old Charles Tungate, who was admitted to the school in 1873, along with his page in the admission register.

Charles Tungate was admitted to the school in October 1873, aged 11. His attendance at the school had been ordered by Greenwich Police Court, following his arrest for stealing a bolt, nails and screws which belonged to his father (his mother had reported this crime). He was sentenced to be detained at the school until he was 16 years of age.

The admission register gives a remarkable amount of detail about Charles’s situation. His parents were Robert and Emma Tungate of Deptford. Robert was a carpenter, but is also described as a drunkard. Charles was one of their eight children; three older children were out at work, but four children younger than Charles were at home. Clearly the family was struggling. Charles had been ‘wandering the streets’, and when admitted, his hair was ‘matted together & full of vermin’ and his body was ‘pale & thin, and almost naked’, and he had sores on his ankles and feet. He had never been to school, but his sister had managed to teach him to read a little.

After 11 months at the school, Charles was described as ‘Rather inattentive, somewhat disobedient, but much improved since admission’. Charles’s school reports are something of a mixed bag – he is described as being ‘deceitful’ and ‘untidy’, but also as ‘persevering’ and ‘diligent’. He left the school in 1878 and was apprenticed to a Chelmsford baker, Mr Hicks, ‘to be taught the trade of a Fancy Bread & Biscuit Baker’. Charles lasted two of his three years as an apprentice, before absconding in August 1880. In 1881, however, he had found another position in London as a baker. Baking seems ultimately to have proved not to be for Charles, and in 1884 he joined the army. He served in India and in South Africa, where he suffered a gunshot wound to both legs during the Boer War. By the time of the 1911 census, Charles was living in Warley, and was an army pensioner and grocer. He was married with four children. He died in 1940, aged 75.

There are two photographs which are labelled ‘G Newman’; the jury is out on whether they are before and after photographs of the same boy or if more than one G Newman attended the school.

George Newman was admitted in 1874 aged 10, having been ‘wandering around with his mother until she became insane’. His father was dead, and his mother was placed in the Essex Lunatic Asylum in May 1874. He stayed at the school until 1880, and wrote in December that year that he had got a job at one of the very first Sainsbury’s shops in London. Sadly when he visited the school in August 1881 he was out of work, and nothing further is reported of him.

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

William Swainston was admitted in 1876, aged 11, having been found sleeping rough in an outhouse at Parson’s Heath near Colchester. He was an orphan, and had been living with his uncle, but stated he had run away from his uncle because he was afraid of him. A newspaper article fixed to his school record says that ‘He had been wondering about the locality for a fortnight previously, and witness [a local policeman] had received several complaints respecting him… The witness added that when found the boy was in a filthy condition, and Mr. Charles Harvey, the gaoler, said he had never before in his life had a boy in such a dirty state in custody’. He was described on arrival at the school as ‘a quick boy’ and ‘intelligent’, and unusually he could read and write. In 1881 a position was found for him in Canada, and he wrote to the school to tell them he was doing well. Canadian records show that he married an Irishwoman, and settled in Toronto.

The school was later known as the Essex Home School, and continued in various forms until 1980. The buildings have since been demolished and the site redeveloped.

The admission register, along with photographs of some of the pupils of the school, will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout May 2018.

Shipping news

Visitors to the ERO may not notice the canal basin that lies just behind our building – although ‘Wharf Road’ is a bit of a clue. Nevertheless, into the last century the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation of 1797 (strictly, a river made navigable and not a canal) was an important means of transport for heavy freight. In its way, it is partly responsible for the ERO lying where it does: heavy freight includes coal, coal can be used to produce gas, and so it was natural for Chelmsford’s gasworks to rise beside the basin. Natural gas brought the end of the gasworks, and created a large development site handily close to the town centre.

This Ordnance Survey map from 1897 shows the system of waterways to the south west of Chelmsford town centre, where the rivers Chelmer and Can met, and where they fed into the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. The Navigation ended at Springfield wharf, where there were timber and coal wharves for unloading the goods brought up the Navigation on barges from Heybridge Basin, 13.5 miles away. The Essex Record Office stands today between the Navigation and the Chelmer, just south of the gasometers.

Watercolour of Springield Wharf by A.B. Bamford, 1906 (I/Ba 14/2)

The main archive of the Navigation Company was deposited in the ERO decades ago (reference D/Z 36). What we did not know then is that there were some volumes missing. Three registers of ships berthing between 1886 and 1941 at the far end of the navigation – 13½ miles away in Heybridge, on the Blackwater estuary –had been loaned out to a student. They were never returned, and their whereabouts are now unknown. Fortunately, one of the researchers through whose hands they passed kept a set of photocopies. Through his kindness we have recently been able to borrow the photocopies and make a set of digital copies from them (reference T/B 694).

The digital copies we have been able to make of the missing records are now available on Essex Archives Online, catalogued as T/B 694/1, /2, and /3

The registers name vessels unloading (or occasionally loading) at Heybridge Basin, with the names of their masters and the nature and tonnage of their cargoes. Now and again a small private yacht turns up, but for the most part this is a record of freight traffic during the last years of canals as a working transport system. As you can see from the images on Essex Archives Online, even in 1886 the navigation handled quite a narrow range of bulk goods for a small band of local companies. Coal, timber, chalk, wheat – all headed up the navigation on horse-drawn lighters. At first some cargoes of fish were also landed, although these disappear after 1901. Steamships made a few entrances, but most of the navigation’s visitors were sailing vessels.

Heybridge Basin in 1910 (I/Mb 182/1/11)

Some more unusual river traffic – a funeral barge on the navigation at Hebridge, 1912 (I/Mb 182/1/11)

As its trade was taken over by rail and then by road transport, the navigation slowly shrank into a backwater. As late as 1927 the gas company was still bringing in coal, but soon only the timber trade was left – and only one customer, Brown and Son Ltd of Navigation Road, Chelmsford. The last delivery to be registered was on 21 November 1941, although commercial traffic on the navigation did not actually cease until 1972.

Brown’s timber yard in Springfield wharf. Photo by Fred Spalding (D/F 169/1/1215)

Registers of freight traffic sound un-promising, perhaps, but they are an intriguing relic of an enterprise and a way of life that marked this patch of Essex deeply and literally. Do take a look.

Views from the You Are Hear listening benches

Have you visited any of our listening benches, installed as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place? Recently Jade Hunter, a PhD student studying Geography at Queen Mary University of London, embarked on a mini tour of some of the benches to learn more about them. She shares her thoughts on her visits in a guest blog post below.

I’m currently studying for a PhD in Geography and I encountered the listening benches when writing an assignment on sound projects. My research interests lie in identity and place, specifically in Essex, so I was really keen to visit and experience benches in different locations.

I planned to visit a number of benches which I thought could demonstrate the breadth of Essex as a large, and diverse county. I work in London, and one of the things I’m always struck by is how far away people think Essex is when they live within the (blurring) city boundaries. Visiting the benches highlighted the relationship which parts of Essex have to the city. Audio at the Raphael Park bench suggests that Essex might act as ‘the lungs of London’, and the soundscapes at the Romford, Hadleigh and Chelmsford benches include birdsong, traffic and the sounds of trains delivering people from the suburbs into the city. Viewed from the bench in Hadleigh Park, Canvey Island rooftops were flanked by a ship sailing to the London Gateway super-port, showing a connectedness not just to London, but further afield.

View looking out over Estuary

View from the listening bench in Hadleigh Country Park. Copyright Jade Hunter.

I was interested to hear about the history of the bench locations – listening to villagers of times past speak about specificities of life in Kelvedon, for example.


Frank Hume and Ronald Hayward describe their memories of the Crab and Winkle railway line that ran through Kelvedon, a clip from an oral history interview used on the Kelvedon listening bench (SA 44/1/25/1).

But I was most drawn to benches with audio about experiences which could be more broadly shared, in locations where it is perhaps more likely that people from across and outside the county would visit too. Perched on a hillside, the Hadleigh bench plays radio clips describing picnics and walks across the park. Feeling connected to the speaker and landscape, I shared the views they described of the estuary and Canvey Island below. This overlap creates connections across experiences, across time.

Sometimes, these overlaps can serve to emphasise differences. The first bench I visited was in Chelmsford on a cold morning in February. In a BBC Essex clip from 1992, an optimistic speaker describes the opening of the shopping centre. Sounds of buoyant crowds exploring new shops pin an alternative image over my contemporary view from the bench, the closed shutters of high street restaurants, and wind howling down the shopping streets.

BBC Essex report on the opening of The Meadows shopping centre in Chelmsford, used for the listening bench in Chelmsford (SA 1/1030/1).

Environmental factors pose risks to the benches which they may not face in museums. Some benches suffered a lack of solar-power, and weather can affect engagement in other ways. I visited the benches in the week preceding the arrival of the snow from Siberia, the ‘Beast from the East’ and so Southend Pier was closed, meaning its bench was inaccessible. There is also an enhanced risk of vandalism. The Bowers Gifford bench is located in Westlake Park, behind quiet residential avenues. It sits in silence, solar panel smashed, demonstrating the risk of liberating installations from museums. However, visiting the benches made me reflect on the difference which hosting oral histories outside of the Record Office can have, contributing to an enhanced engagement and alternative interpretation of the sounds and testimonials. The bench in Raphael Park plays a song, ‘’Owd Rat-Tayled Tinker’ in Essex dialect of the 1920s.


The ”Owd Rat Tayled Tinker from ‘Owd Lunnon Town’, sung by J. London in 1906, and used on the touring listening bench while it was at Raphael Park (SA 24/221/1).

Broadcast into the park, it can overlay a range of accents spoken by current park visitors. When I visited, this was most notably a man nearby on his mobile, with an Estuary accent like my own. This accent is associated with Romford and other parts of Essex, and influenced by post-war migration from London, as people moved out into the county.

View of the bench sitting by large oak tree

Touring listening bench in Raphael Park. Copyright Jade Hunter.

My experience of Essex has been shaped by growing up in Thurrock on a suburban council estate close to industrial riverside and the greenery of Rainham Marshes. There are spots where you can see the London skyline, and remain within walking distance of the shopping centre, Lakeside. It’s easy for perceptions of a place to be shaped by media representations, or limited to your own experience of a small section of it. Visiting the benches enabled me to understand more about the variety of landscapes and people that make up Essex, and the ways in which these have changed over time and continue to do so. They made me reflect on those spaces that serve as home to smaller communities, and those which are temporarily shared and experienced by people visiting from elsewhere, the market in Romford, the country park in Hadleigh, and the pier in Southend.


Map of all 18 listening benchesCan you get to all the benches? Please note the touring bench that was in Raphael Park has now moved to outside the Finchingfield Guildhall. The touring bench in Hadleigh Park will shortly be moving to Weald Country Park.

Find out more about the benches and their current locations on our Essex Sounds website. Then share your #benchselfie with us and tell us which is your favourite clip!