Christopher Parkinson, researcher for the CVMA, project introduces us to project and some of the important resources held at the Essex Record Office.
Essex is fortunate that during the 17th and 18th centuries two antiquaries wrote manuscripts which, amongst other things, described any heraldry then present in parish churches. Richard Symonds (1617-1660), an English Royalist, produced three volumes of genealogical collections which included descriptions of heraldry in different mediums to be seen in some Essex churches. While these three volumes are now with the Royal College of Arms in London, volumes 1 (covering the Hundreds of Witham, Thurstable, Winstree, Lexden and Tendring) and volume 2 (covering the Hundreds of Clavering, Uttlesford, Freshwell, Dunmow and Hinckford) are available on microfilm at the Essex Records Office (T/B 73). William Holman (1669-1730) was a congregational minister at Stepney, Middlesex before being transferred to Halstead. He visited every town and village in Essex in order to compile a history of Essex. His manuscript is now held by the Essex Records Office in just over 500 parts (T/P 195/-/-).
My particular interest in these documents is for research in stained glass heraldry that is now lost from the county. This will be included in an appendix for a forthcoming Catalogue of the Medieval Stained Glass of Essex to be published for the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, CVMA. Although the term Medii Aevi implies the ‘middle ages’, my co-author Dr Penny Hebgin-Barnes and myself will include glass up to 1800 in the catalogue within the old (pre-Greater London) county boundary. Surviving medieval including heraldic stained glass can bee seen on the CVMA website in the picture archive section;
click on the dedication of the church and the stained glass from all periods will be displayed. While there are about 162 pre-1800 stained glass shields of arms currently surviving within the county, the Symonds and Holman manuscripts show that there was a substantially larger number of such shields in churches and secular buildings during the first half of the 18th century. Obviously their loss cannot be due to the actions of iconoclasts, but presumably caused by general decay and later ‘restorations’ where such damaged glass was removed.
As well as asking our users about their favourite documents from our collections, we have also been asking ourselves. Here, Archive Assistant Edward Harris tells us about one of his favourite documents, the Grant of Arms to Thomas Barrett Leonard 1st Baronet (D/DL/F170).
This document recites a royal warrant of 13 March 1786 which directs the Garter and Clarenceux, kings of arms, to grant to Thomas Thomas the right to adopt his father’s surname, title and arms as per his father’s will.
Thomas Thomas was an illegitimate son of Thomas Barrett-Leonard, 17th Baron Dacre, and Elizabeth FitzThomas. He went on to be MP for Essex South and a Deputy Lieutenant of Essex. He was created 1st Baronet of Belhus in 1801. His eldest son Thomas became an MP for Maldon, but predeceased Thomas Sr who died aged 95 as the most senior member of the baronetage in 1857. He was succeeded in his baronetcy by his grandson Thomas (why give up on a good name?).
This document has always stood out for me as it was one of the first documents I noticed on when I began working at the Record Office, as its distinctively shaped box caught my eye. I am sorry to say that it was only recently that I actually unrolled it and discovered the wonderful illumination inside.
The purpose-made box for D/DL/F170 , with special containers for the two pendant seals.
For me it was always the meaning behind it that appealed to me. This is a document which was the making of this one man. It transformed him from a relatively wealthy gentleman into one of the foremost members of the nobility in Essex, an opportunity that he clearly didn’t squander. Without this document his life would have been somewhat different. The esteem in which he held it is obvious. The box is carefully made and decorated and the document itself is pristine to the point of looking almost brand new.
We have a portrait of Thomas’s painted by John Opie, and it now hangs on one of the walls in the Searchroom, next to a portrait of his first wife. I very much recommend having a look at it on your next visit – he looks every bit like a man who had to prove himself, and this document certainly helped.