The expanding Essex electorate

As the 2015 General Election approaches, we take a look at some of the records of voting history in the Essex Record Office archives…

The right to vote is something which we are all today well accustomed to, and perhaps even take for granted. In the 2010 General Election 847,090 people voted in Essex. Not all that long ago, many of these people would have been barred from the polling station.

Turn the clock back 100 years and what we today recognise as a fair electorate would be halved straight away by the exclusion of women. Go back a little further and many men were excluded on the grounds of not owning enough property. Return to 1830, and only about 10% of the adult male population qualified to vote. Essex had a population of about 300,000 people at this time, only about 6,000 of whom could vote.

Although not exactly a scientific comparison the pictures below give you some sense of just how much the electorate expanded during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This first, slender volume from 1833-34 is one of the earliest electoral registers held at the ERO. There were so few voters at this time that they are all listed in just two volumes this size, one for the northern part of the county and one for the south.

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By the time the super-sized registers for the Walthamstow Division pictures below were created in 1914 and 1915 most men had the vote, but women were still excluded. The population in metropolitan Essex had increased considerably in this time, but even taking this into account the difference in the size of the books and the changes this represent in voting qualifications are remarkable.

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Today Essex elects 18 MPs but in the 1700s and 1800s there were only four places in Essex where polling could take place for parliamentary elections – the Boroughs of Maldon, Harwich and Colchester, and the county town of Chelmsford – with each sending two MPs to Westminster.

Elections themselves were conducted very differently too. The secret ballot was not introduced until 1872; before then, voting was done openly, by a show of hands or voices, and with lists published of who had voted for whom. Thus a vote was not exactly a free one; at a time when your landlord, boss and local magistrate might all be the same person, who would be brave enough to vote against the candidate he had put up? A further Act in 1883 (the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act) criminalised attempts to bribe voters.

Before the reforms of the 19th and early 20th centuries parliamentary seats in Essex were monopolised by leading county families such as the Bramstons of Skreens, the Luthers of Brizes, the Conyers of Copped Hall, the Maynards of Easton Lodge, the Harveys of Rolls Park, the Houblons of Hallingbury Place and the Bullocks of Faulkbourne Hall. Often there was only one candidate standing; between 1734 and 1832, only 8 elections in Chelmsford were actually contested.

The ERO looks after hundreds of electoral registers dating back to the 1830s. As well as telling us something about the expansion of the electorate, they can also be useful in tracing people and their historic addresses. The registers for 1918 and 1929 have been digitised and can be viewed on Seax as they were the first years in which women could vote (married women over 30 in 1918 and all women over 21 in 1929). We are planning to continue to digitise our historic electoral registers and make them available online.

The UK has only had universal suffrage and equal voting rights for men and women since 1928 – just 87 years ago – something that is worth bearing in mind as we prepare to make our way to the polling stations on 7th May.

We Will Remember Them: North Primary School Roll of Honour

This guest post is written by Laura Davison, project officer for We Will Remember Them. This HLF-funded school project has used documents stored at ERO and included a visit to ERO for the pupils involved.

Year 5 pupils at North Primary School in Colchester are working on the year-long project We Will Remember Them, researching the lives of the 50 former pupils who volunteered or were conscripted for action in the First World War. This innovative project explores how the discovery of locally relevant histories can engage and inspire pupils in responding to moments in the history of the First Word War.

The project was initially inspired by entries in the school’s log book written by the Head Master John Harper on 9 July 1915 and 11 November 1919:

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Entry into the North Primary School log book by Head Master John Harper, describing a Roll of Honour which was to be hung permanently in the school hall, recording the names of former pupils who were serving with the armed forces in the First World War (EML 86/2)

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Another entry by Harper, describing the observance of two minutes of silence on 11 November, and a display of photographs of the 50 men from the school who lost their lives in the way (E/ML 86/2)

The whereabouts of the Roll of Honour, installed in the school hall in 1915, is unknown.  The funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for We Will Remember Them will enable the school re-instate the Roll of Honour, restoring this object of heritage to its original setting within the school’s Grade II listed building. This will be supported by a showcase exhibition, publication and teachers’ pack narrating the untold stories of the former pupils’ lives and how they were affected by the First World War.

Headteacher Alan Garnett discusses the impact of the project for the school:

This history project captures all our past, present and future. The children are often told that our school is more than just a magnificent building – it is the stories of all its former pupils and staff. To work with a local historian to uncover the stories of those who lost their lives in that terrible war will bring national and local history alive to our pupils. And to have our Roll Of Honour re-made and restored to its rightful place in our school hall, well that will be a proud moment indeed.

The Year 5 pupils have worked with Historian Claire Driver to research and record the former pupils. All the hard work has paid off, as they have identified sixty-two pupils who served and died in the First World War. Each pupil is paired with a former pupil to develop individual case study. Claire has shown them how to use archive records from the School Log Book, the 1901 and 1911 census and military records. Using the 1897 map of Colchester, they have plotted where all the former pupils lived and identified what shops were in Colchester High Street in 1914.  Gradually a picture is being formed of what it was like to live in Colchester 100 years ago.

Some of the fascinating facts the census records revealed were:

  • People’s jobs – fishmongers, bakers, railway porters, tailors, police constables and printing apprentices
  • How many people lived in a house – in some cases  up to 11 people lived in a 2 bedroom Victorian terrace house
  •  Some of the pupils even came from the workhouse at St Mary’s

The children have been on an amazing journey building up an understanding of the social context of the school to promote awareness of their lives in the context of the First World War and the impact it had on the school and its locality.

school trip 9 Pupils visit Colchester's War Memorial and discuss the symboliic meaning of the sculptures. They used 1897 maps to make comparisons of what the site looked like 100 years ago

Visiting Colchester’s War Memorial

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Identifying 4 former pupils on the Roll of Honour in St Peter’s Church, Colchester

An Open Day was held at the school, inviting local residents and families to get involved with the project and share their family stories and memories from the First World War passed down through generations.

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Visitors enjoy the EROs WW1 exhibition loaned for the Open Day

open day 4 Year 5 Teacher Maria Gray discusses the project with Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell

The children are so proud to be working on this project because it really happened in our school. Year 5 Teacher Maria Gray discusses the project with Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell

Recently, the pupils visited Essex Record Office to view the collections and discover how historians use archives to support their research. Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer at ERO and project Historian Claire Driver introduced the pupils to the wealth of material available from the collections and explained how to use a range of historical sources to find out what life was like during WWI. The children were able to ask questions about their former pupil and in some cases looked on Ancestry too.

They focused on the two fascinating stories of the nurse Kate Luard and soldier Alf Webb using sound archives, letters and an interesting range of hands-on activities which even included bandaging at a WWI dressing station.

Using different historical sources, such as photographs, sound recordings, letters and even the original admissions register and log book from our school from over 100 years ago, the pupils were able to uncover more information about life during World War One. Maria Gray, Year 5 Teacher

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Following on from the research, the pupils are now working with Creative Writer Baden Prince to creatively narrate in their own words each soldier’s individual story.  They will then work with Photographer Georgia Metaxas to document their homes, making comparisons with then and now.

Do you have any information to help our research?

If you have any information or images in relation to North Primary School during the First World War please contact Laura Davison, Project Manager at northwewillrememberthem@outlook.com

We Will Remember Them project has been made possible by the funding award from Heritage Lotter Fund’s First World War: then and now programme.

If you are planning your own First World War schools project and would like to use ERO resources or need advice, please get in touch with heritage.education@essex.gov.uk

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Where there’s a will: the Dutch in Essex

Following the recent upload of images of an additional 22,500 wills to Essex Ancestors, Archivist Katharine Schofield takes a look at some of the wills of the Dutch population of Essex…

Among the wills recently added to Essex Ancestors are a number of wills from the Dutch population of Essex, almost all of which are from testators in Colchester.

From the 1560s onwards Flemish and Dutch Protestants, fearing religious persecution, came to England.  Flemish weavers had first settled in Colchester in the 14th century, and many of the new refugees chose to settle in the town.  They brought with them the techniques of bay and say weaving which revitalised the town’s cloth industry and brought prosperity to Colchester for the next 150 years.

The Dutch wills can be found on Essex Ancestors by using the search term ‘Dutch will’. They are either written in Flemish or record testators with Flemish names.  These wills often have a distinctive style, clearly differentiating them from others of the same date.

The will of Andries de Haene dated 19 May 1587 (D/ACW 2/254) is typical of these wills.  It was proved in the archdeaconry of Colchester, and although no parish is recorded for the testator, it is very likely that he was resident in Colchester.  There are two versions of the will, one in English and one in Flemish.

The English version of ... will (D/ACW 2/254)

The English version of Andries de Haene’s will (D/ACW 2/254)

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The Dutch version of Andries de Haene’s will (D/ACW 2/254)

It begins:

‘for because that wee have nothinge more surer then death and that the houre of death is most uncertein’.

 

Similar phrases to this often appear in the Dutch wills in contrast to English wills of the same date. The first bequest is of 10s. ‘for Love and brotherlye charitys sake to the poore of oure duytch congregation’. Charitable bequests were quite common at this date and the Dutch wills usually include bequests to the Dutch congregation in Colchester.

The next bequest is to his wife who was unnamed but described as his ‘lovinge bedfellowe’.  He left her ‘all her clothes Lynen and Wollen apartayninge to her body and also the best bedde wyth all thinges longing to the same’, together with £10.

Bequests to wives of their clothes and a bed appear to be a Flemish custom, in the will of Nicolas de Hane of 1584 (D/ABW 12/181) he specified that if his widow were to remarry she would retain the bed and appurtenances ‘According to the custome of the towne of Helle’ [Halle, Belgium].

Andries de Haene continued by dividing the remainder of his goods into two parts, one part for his wife and the other for his children.  In most such cases the wife was given custody of any children and to keep their inheritance safe for them until they married when they would inherit.

Theodorus van den Berghe (the second minister of the Dutch church in Colchester) in his will of 1598 (D/ACW 3/166) specified that children should be given their inheritance on their wedding day ‘or when they come to yeares off great discretion’. William Casier, son of Malius, who was born in Meenen in Flanders [Menen, Belgium] specifically stated in his will of 1588 (D/ABW 9/259) that this was the ‘use of … Meenen’.  He also required that if his wife had to leave the country while still a widow, then any unmarried children should ‘helpe to beare the chardges of the voyage’.

It would seem that his widow Katherine did not have to leave and did not remarry as her will of 1590, when she was resident in the parish of Holy Trinity, Colchester also survives (D/ABW 9/287).  She left all her possessions to their four children Walter, Maliard, Josentge and Annanais (the executor).

Over the course of the 150 years, many of the Dutch names became anglicised many married into English families. Almost a century after the Dutch arrived Abigail Hedgethorne, a widow of St. Martin’s parish in Colchester (in the heart of the present-day Dutch Quarter of the town) left a will in 1666 (D/ACW 17/185).  As well as the English copy there is a version in Dutch where the family name was given as Hagedorn.

You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the Searchroom at the ERO in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you need exist and have been digitised at http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/

You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.

Document of the Month, August 2014: Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund, Colchester Branch, minutes

Each month a document is put on display in our Searchroom. Our document for July has been chosen by Archivist Katharine Schofield to look at first responses in Essex to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.

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The Great War began on 4 August 1914, one hundred years ago this month.  On the eve of war, the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey reportedly said, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life time’.  On 4 August Germany invaded Belgium as part of the Schlieffen Plan to capture Paris quickly by attacking through neutral countries.  As one of the guarantors of Belgian neutrality under the Treaty of London in 1839, Britain declared war on Germany.

The most pressing need was to bring the army up to strength, and the Reserves were called up immediately, often causing hardship to their families who were dependent on their wages.  As representatives of a garrison town the governing body of Colchester were particularly aware of the possible difficulties and on 5 August set up a committee ‘to consider what steps can be taken for alleviating the distress likely to be felt by the wives and families of men called on Active Service and of those losing their regular employment owing to dislocation of trade’.

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One of the Committee’s resolutions at their first meeting on 5 August, the day after war was declared, was to ask the Mayor to issue a handbill asking people not to panic buy

On 7 August the Prince of Wales appealed in The Times for money to establish a national fund to relieve distress among the families of reservists.  By midnight £250,000 had been raised and within a week £1 million.  On 10 August Colchester voted to make their committee the Colchester Branch of the National Relief Fund.

The minutes for 10 August record offers of help from local residents.  These ranged from making clothes, the services of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, to nursing by the local Convent and a number of ladies, including of German soldiers if required.  Mrs Francis offered to establish a ward in a large room off Maldon Road, the local MP placed at the disposal of the Committee 200 duck, and a list of workmen discharged ‘on account of slackness of trade’ was to be compiled.

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Offers of help from residents in Colchester received by 10 August 1914, including the services of the 4th Colchester Boy Scouts and the 2nd Colchester Girl Guides

The minute book will be on display in the Searchroom throughout August.

If you would like to find out more about First World War records at ERO, join us at our next Discover: First World War records at ERO workshop on 6 August 2014. This workshop talks you through some of the fascinating wartime records that we hold here, and also looks at how to research names on local war memorials, or to trace your First World War Ancestors. Tickets are £10 and can be booked by telephoning 01245 244644.

 

Greetings from Bangkok

In this guest blog post, Denwood Holmes writes for us from Bangkok about his research in the Essex archives…

Greetings from Bangkok, where I hope I have the distinction of being among the ERO’s more far-flung correspondents.

As an Ottoman art historian-turned-PR consultant, genealogy has been a means to maintain my interest in archival research while languishing in the private sector. Tracing my American patrilineal ancestry started out easy: most colonial New England descents are fairly well documented, and armed with the name of a great-great grandfather, two articles on the descendants of John Holmes, gentleman, Messenger of the Plymouth Colony Court by distinguished genealogist (and cousin) Eugene Stratton quickly took me back twelve generations. The original Mr. Holmes was by all accounts something of a rogue, frequently cited for drunkenness, and the executioner of Thomas Granger, the first person hanged in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for unlawful congress with animals.

After that the going got tougher. American genealogists have historically been content to end their research with arrival in the New World (why ever would we go further?), but to do with my teenage years spent in the UK, and inspired partly by David Hackett Fischer’s book Albion’s Seed, I became determined to the trace the Great Leap across the pond.

It wasn’t entirely tabula rasa: George Mackenzie, in his Colonial Families (1925) cites a Thomas Holmes of Colchester as John’s father, but without further reference. Thomas’ will, dated 1637, is preserved in ERO (D/ACW 12/225): gentleman alias maltster alias gaoler of Colchester Castle, he leaves “five pounds, my corslet, my pike, and all my armour” to his son John.

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Will of Thomas Holmes of Colchester, 1637 (D/ACW 12/225)

 

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Thomas left corslet, pike and armour to his son John (D/ACW 12/225)

The will also mentions a daughter, Susan Mor(e)ton, the widow of Tobias Moreton, gent., of Little Moreton Hall, a half-timbered manor house which still stands in Cheshire. Susan’s will, unearthed by chance in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, confirms Mackenzie’s assertion: she mentions her nephews (John’s sons) Thomas (who remained in Colchester), John, and Nathaniel, my great x8 grandfather.

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Extract from Thomas Holmes’s will mentioning his daughter, Susan Morton (D/ACW 12/225)

Along with a number of noted Colchester Puritans, the will is witnessed by George Gilberd, esquire, brother of William Gilberd/t, physician to Elizabeth I.

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Signatures of witnesses to Thomas Holmes’s will (D/ACW 12/225)

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Thomas Holmes’s signature at the end of his will (D/ACW 12/225)

The Holmes family – clearly middling Puritan parish gentry – were not native to Colchester: according to the Red Parchment Book of Colchester, Thomas’ grandfather Thomas, draper, was sworn a burgess in 1543, and is described as being of Ramsden Bellhouse. There the trail dwindles. The ERO will of Thomas Holme of Ramsden Bellhouse of 1514 mentions a brother, John, a tailor, but little more. Finally, in the Feet of Fines for Essex, we find the last signpost to date:

“Hilary and Easter, 14 Henry VII (1499); William Holme, Humphrey Tyrell, esquire, Thomas Intilsham, “gentilman”, William Howard, clerk, William Bekshyll and William Rede, plaintiffs. John Choppyn and Joan his wife, daughter and one of the heirs of John Dawe, deceased, defendants. A third part of a moiety of 1 messuage, 60 acres of land, 10 acres of meadow, 30 acres of pasture and 10 acres of wood in Ramesdon Belhous, Dounham, Wykford, Ronwell, and Suthhanyfeld. Defendant quitclaimed to plaintiffs and the heirs of William Holme. Consideration 40 marks.”

Certain prosopographical observations can be made here. Humphrey Tyrell of Warley was a younger son of the Tyrells of Heron, probably a nephew of the Sir James executed for the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Howard was his clerk. Hintlesham was an MP for Maldon, and Rede was probably the nephew and heir of Sir Bartholomew Rede, Mayor of London. All were in the circle of John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. The identity of William Holme remains a mystery; there are two or three of the name active in London at around the same time, all probably in the cloth trade. Here the trail ends, for the time being: any thoughts or suggestions on the part of the ERO community as to how to proceed are much appreciated; I can be reached at Denwood_Holmes@yahoo.com.

I conclude with a special thanks to Allyson Lewis, Katharine Schofield, and all of the staff at ERO for their help and support which regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty, extending unto providing me with pencil-rubbings of seals by mail here in Bangkok; having worked in archives from London to Damascus I say unequivocally that ERO is lucky to have you.

Stories from the stores: what’s in a wax seal?

One of the joys of working in an archive is the potential every day holds for coming across something beautiful or interesting in our collection. Last week’s star find was a medieval deed, D/DRg 6/5, or more specifically, one of the wax seals attached to it.

The document was in the Conservation Studio with a group of other similar documents all in need of a bit of attention and better storage to protect their fragile wax seals.

The deed dates from 5 April 1462, and is part of the collection of Charles Gray of Colchester, an eighteenth-century lawyer, antiquarian and MP, and major figure in Colchester’s history. Gray assembled a large collection of medieval deeds relating to Colchester, catalogued as D/DRg 6 and D/DRg 7; the earliest dates from 1317 (D/DRg 6/2).

This particular deed grants land to William Gerard, Chaplain of the Chantry of Joseph Elianore in the church of St Mary-at-the-Walls in Colchester. Chantry chapels were endowed by individuals who left money to pay for a priest to pray for their souls to help them on their way to heaven; in this case for the soul of Joseph Elianore, a Bailiff of Colchester, and various members of his family and other associates.

The land which Gerard was being granted was 4 and a half acres, with buildings on, next to the highway leading across New Heath, bordered on the north by ‘Magdleyngreene’, on the south by land formerly owned by Robert Gete and now by John Stede, on the east by land owned by John Auntrous, and on the west by the lane leading towards ‘Bournepond Mill’ or ‘Boornemelle’.

As we mentioned recently, this is one of the advantages of using deeds in your research; they can list who owns not only the piece of land in question, but the land around it, and sometimes even previous owners.

The document has two wax seals attached to it, one very small, one medium sized. Seals were a form of security, often used to hold a letter or envelope closed, so that it could not be opened or tampered with until delivered to the intended recipient. Wax seals were also attached to the bottom of documents, as in this case, when they served as a means of authentication.

The larger of the two seals attracted our attention because the impressions in the wax are so deep and the imagery so detailed. A little investigation showed it to be the second Common Seal of the Borough of Colchester.

The obverse of the seal shows St Helena, the patron saint of Colchester. St Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, was believed to have been born in Colchester, the daughter of King Coel. She reputedly travelled to the Holy Land, and found relics of the True Cross and the burial place of the Magi, which is why Christian iconography depicts here (as here) with the cross.

Below St Helena are the borough arms, which were granted by Henry V in 1413. These again reflect St Helena’s influence, showing the True Cross and the crowns of the Magi. On each side of St Helena are niches containing angels holding shields; on the left bearing a cross, and on the right the fifteenth-century royal arms. In the niche above St Helena is a half-length Christ. The reverse of the seal shows a medieval depiction of a castellated town, with a river in front of it crossed by a bridge.

Both seals attached to the deed have been cleaned by our Conservators with a mild detergent called synpernoic A7 and distilled water, before being stowed in their own custom-made cushioned bags. These little bags are made from Tyvek with a polyester wadding. The materials are cut to size, and then heat sealed around the edge. The whole document is then wrapped in acid-free manilla before being stored in one of our special archival quality boxes.

 

Stored in protective wrappers in our climate-controlled repositories, this 671 year old document – and its wax seals – should survive for many years to come.

Conservation project: conserving the Takeley deeds

Conservation is a vital part of our work at ERO. Our conservators work to protect and conserve documents, to ensure their survival for years to come.

One recent project has conserved a collection of 42 early medieval deeds relating to the manor of Colchester Hall in Takeley (document references D/DRu T1/1-42). These deeds are special for many reasons; they all date to before 1250, many have intact seals, and notes made in Arabic numerals on the back of the deeds are an early example of the use of this numbering system in England.

In the last line of this note, it is possible to make out an 8 and a 3 – an early example of the use of Arabic numerals in England. The 4 is from a later cataloguing system.

Unusually for such early deeds, over half still have their original seals attached, and the cleaning has made it possible to pick out detail on the seals which had been lost beneath accumulated dirt.

One of the seals half-way through the cleaning process

Tears in the parchment have been repaired using patches of goldbeater’s skin (a membrane made from calves intestine), applied with a gelatine adhesive. The patches are applied with a tissue backing, which is then removed, leaving an invisible repair.

Removing the tissue backing from a parchment repair

The deeds were stored in cramped and damaging conditions, folded up in acidic envelopes, and even in an old manicure set box. The deeds have now been stored flat, with each being treated to its own custom-made board. 

A deed in its former storage, folded up in an acidic envelope. Left for long enough the acid in the paper would damage the deed.

 

A deed in its former storage in an old manicure set box

The newly-conserved deeds are on display for the next three months in our brand-new cases in the Searchroom.

The conservation project was possible thanks to the Newton Bequest, made by Ken Newton, former County Archivist and medieval historian, and his wife Mildred.