Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – The Science and History of Cloth Manufacture

We have already introduced you to two of our speakers for jam packed day of talks on the 7th March, our next introduction is for John Miners.

John has many years experience in textiles, starting his career with Samuel Courtauld & Co. Ltd in Essex. He has been involved in the sourcing and supply of historic fabrics for many restoration projects both in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the USA. His background is technical, rather than design based, and he has knowledge of the production techniques used to produce textiles in past centuries, as well as studying the social history aspects involved in the manufacture of fabrics.

In January 2018 he was appointed as Director of the Warner Textile Archive Trading Company Ltd. This archive is a rich design resource documenting the successes and innovation of Warner & Sons from the late 1800s. Owned by the Braintree Museums Trust, this Collection, the second largest archive of publicly owned textiles in the UK, comprises stunning textiles and inspirational paper designs, as well as original printing blocks, photographs and other documentary material.

John will be talking about how the local textile industry moved from the home into factories, changing from wool to silk. He will look at how Samuel Courtauld & Co changed their production methods of silk yarn using various forms of power: from hand to donkey to water to steam, then exploring the move into the production of mourning crape using machinery built to their own designs in their own workshops. In addition the history of the company up until closure in 1982 will be examined, giving information about the changes in technology.

Hopefully you will be able to join us for this fascinating subject on the 7th March. To secure your ticket, visit our website
http://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

We are only half way through our introductions, so keep an eye out here on our blog for more sneaky peeks at what our speakers will be talking about.

The Reach of The Marconi Photographic Section

Lewis Smith, the Essex Record Office’s Engagement Fellow, takes a look at some of the things in the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive.

Founded by Guigielmo Marconi in 1897, the Marconi Company (which held various names over its lifetime) were pioneers in wireless technology. Famously based in Chelmsford (regulars in the area will draw attention to places like ‘Marconi Road’ and ‘Navigation Road’), his technologies helped to shape the world we live in today: so much of our lives are a result of their research, from radio to navigation, from aeronautics to maritime, from communications continent to continent.


A11449 – 16748 MARCONI CO. TRADE MARK OR LOGO, 1947.

One part of the most interesting parts of the Marconi Company’s history was the Marconi Photographic Section, whom took hundreds of pictures over the organisation’s lifetime. These records are now stored at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. Unfortunately, this collection remains largely underused – so the British Society for the History of Science and Essex Record Office tasked me to spend some time scoping out the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive, working out what kind of images are within and, perhaps most importantly, work out how they can be used. Whilst I have only been in the archive for a relatively short period of time (since the beginning of October), there are some very interesting historical angles in desperate need of further research – from business to imperial history, from labour to marketing history.


A11449 – 78774, MAP OF NADGE RADAR CHAIN, 1968

One thing to note is that there are a lot of pictures of non-descript machines and circuitry – fans of the history of electronic engineering need look no further: historians of oscilloscopes, transmitters and receivers, power supplies, RADAR arrays, and pretty much all kinds of specialist electronic engineering will find something of interest here. These images present an extensive product history of Marconi’s inventions and patents. Perhaps more generally appealing, there is a lot for those interested in maritime and aeronautical history: one of the key ideas that came about from wireless communication was the idea of wireless navigation, and Marconi fitted many different pieces of equipment to aircraft and ships to aid in their navigation around the globe.


A11449 – 15771, TYPE D.F.G.26 RECEIVER WITH OSCILLOSCOPE TYPE O.R.3, 1945

But the view of higher international politics, engineering and industry are only one side of the coin: the prevalence of this technical equipment masks ordinary life. The archive presents us with a rich social history of the worker and their working practices. Workers, many male and female, black and white, British and international, are presented in the factories assembling intricate circuits. To look at the ethnography behind the people in these pictures reveals the clear shifts, both natural and forcible, in middle and working class employment. Notice particularly with image 2015 – everyone is happy and content, giving the viewer the impression that everything was okay working for Marconi. It wasn’t always this sweet.


A11449 – 2015, GIRLS WINDING & LACQUERING SHOP AT WORKS, 1919

As this is evidently the photographic archive of a business, there is huge scope for a business historian. These photographs are frozen moments in time, specifically captured because they want to show a particular angle, person, product or scene – why one moment and not another? Why one person over another? Why one place over another? More specifically, there are multiple photographs of how the Marconi Company attempted to market itself in a world of innovation: some of the most interesting pictures are of the exhibits set up to advertise wireless communication at various exhibitions.


A11449 – 2464, MARCONI STAND, AERO EXHIBITION, OLYMPIA, 1920

What is most interesting about the archive is the company’s vast spread throughout the globe: as with any history of the twentieth century, Empire remains front and centre. Imperial conquerors can come and go as they please, but radio technology meant the constant connection between colony and coloniser. Furthermore, the concept of technological Imperialism remained hot in this period: teaching others how to use Marconi equipment orients them towards using that equipment for a long time, forcing the colony to ask for technical help from the coloniser. This relationship is observable in the photographic archives as Marconi equipment was placed in different colonies, greatly expanding the imperial nation’s reach.


A11449 – 3070, MAHARAJAH USING A MARCONI TELEPHONE IN INDIA, No date.

Art lovers may also find something worthwhile in the archives. There are photographs of many different artistic drawings by members of staff in the collection depicting a variety of different scenes. The collection features many talented artists, as well as plastic models of Marconi scenes and vehicles, models of scientific principles, and copious drawings. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that science and art are two separate unconnected topics, but the collection features some stunning images which clearly appeal to the art behind science.


A11449 – 14559, PAINTING ENTITLED “VOICE OF FREEDOM”, 1943.

This collection is for use in the Essex Record Office under Accession A11449 in over 100 individual boxes. This project hopes to eventually digitise and map these images to show the company’s reach. I have spent time electronically tagging the pictures with keywords: if you would be interested in looking at this spreadsheet or further discussing the project, do contact me at lcsmit@essex.ac.uk. Whether for research or for a casual perusal, this collection really has a lot to offer!

The great Essex bake off(ice)

The other day a bequest in a will (D/ABW 114/3/59, Joseph Deane of Harwich, 1800) caught our attention, it was to a ‘bake office’. Now, we all understand about offices in our own day, and what ‘office’ means and who works in an office – indeed most of us probably sit behind a desk and work in an office – a room where work is undertaken by white collar workers. We probably don’t even give it a second thought. But what, historically, was or defines a ‘bake office’?

The first point of call, as ever, was to search further on our Essex Archives Online catalogue (www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk) which returned over 100 results of documents catalogued with the phrase ‘bake office’. While there are earlier examples the majority are from the nineteenth century, with the latest from the 1930s.

This plan of 1906 shows the Bake Office for what must be a thriving bakery and tea room on Military Road in Colchester. The owner is applying to have a new bread oven built.
(D/B 6 Pb3/2363)

There is generally an affinity with an attached shop (e.g. SALE/A588) but this is not always the case. Several are attached to cottages (e.g. D/F 35/7/253), possibly as a shared communal resource although they could equally provide bread for sale from one of the properties. Our understanding of what a ‘shop’ is might not necessarily match that of our predecessors – the concept of a shop, or outlet for the sale of goods, might well have been much freer and easier than what we would expect today. Someone’s front room could possibly double as a point of sale for bread during the day while reverting to a living space by night.

Several of the documents list other dedicated rooms, or possibly separate but associated structures: ‘shop with bake office and 4 bushel oven, with living accommodation, flour room and wash house’ (D/DMa/B71/16); ‘Messuage with baking office, brewhouse, cornchambers’ (D/DC 27/10); that traditional pairing of bread and beer production – ‘bake office and brewhouse’ (SALE/B5065). Other documents list a ‘candle office’ (D/DU 751/108) and ‘malting office’ (D/DHw T52/9). So along with just ‘room’ we also have the use of ‘chamber’ and ‘house’ to include with ‘office’ to describe different uses and functions of spaces within a building or structure. However, ‘office’ appears to be overwhelmingly connected with baking.

This sale catalogue lists both a “bake office” and a “Brewhouse” attached to this windmill in Pebmarsh. Beer and bread have always been natural bedfellows. (SALE/B5065)

Seeking further guidance, our venerable 1933 edition of The Oxford English Dictionary was consulted and supplied the following definitions:

Office: ‘A position or place to which certain duties are attached’

‘Office-house’: apartments or outhouses for the work of domestics’

So these are both useful in thinking about ‘bake office’. In this instance they certainly tie in with our documents: it is so called because it is a place where baking happens which could be a separate building or structure. It is probable that our predecessors used these words interchangeably and that there was no specific connection with any of the functions that took place within them – it was the act of something taking place in a room or structure that attached ‘office’ to it, be it baking, malting or candle making, so possibly a combination of the OED definitions. Maybe this is all we can say as we don’t, after all, want to over-egg the pudding! Still it’s good to ponder on such things now and again and thinking on, with all this talk of baking perhaps we might just reach for the flour, fat and sugar …

You Are Hear: What does it sound like?

Sarah-Joy Maddeaux of our You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place project muses on how sounds can transport us to difference times and places.

Smells and tastes are evocative senses; this is well-known. A whiff of a particular aroma instantly transports me to the place where I once encountered that scent. The smell of an extinguished match smells like birthdays, that moment at the party when you blow out the candles on the cake. The smell of chlorine takes me back to swimming lessons. The warm smell you encounter of an upstairs room on a hot day reminds me of summer; the dusty smell when you first put the heating on for the year reminds me of winter. As for the smell of a library book, well, that is a heavenly odour that evokes happy days spent discovering new texts and re-reading well-loved ones. A taste of a familiar food, too, can bring me back to childhood. A baked apple is associated with Bonfire Night; the first clementine of the season tastes like Christmas.

But sound? Certain songs remind me of a period in my life, or people I enjoyed the tunes with. But can ordinary, everyday sounds have the same effect? Working on the You Are Hear project has made me realise that, yes, sounds too can provoke memories of places encountered. After growing up in a port town, the horn of a ship reminds me of watching the slow progress of ocean-going vessels travelling through the locks. An oar quietly slipping through the water on a still morning brings back family canoeing trips. The honking of geese brings to mind autumn, and the start of a new academic year, with all the mingled expectation, fear, hope, and regret this entailed. The relentless clipping of hundreds of heels on hard floors, rhythmic but not quite in unison, will always remind me of my morning commute through the maze of underground tunnels during a brief period when I worked in London.

Thinking more about this, there are certain sounds that were distinctive to my childhood in the late twentieth century, sounds that only a comparative few (out of the course of human history) would identify with. The exquisitely sharp sound of a phonograph needle dropping into place, though this is enduring thanks to djs and music purists.

Record on record player

The drone of a dot matrix printer. The call of a dial-up modem (static at one pitch, static at a lower pitch, then wee-oh, wee-oh, all the while hoping, desperately hoping that it will connect).

For how much longer will these sounds be remembered? What sounds in human history have disappeared and been forgotten? In fifty years, will people know why the words ‘Unexpected item in baggage area’ spoken in an automated female voice provoke me to a frustrated rage because I HAVEN’T STARTED CHECKING OUT MY PURCHASES YET! Will an annoyingly chirpy whistle still prompt half of a bus-load of passengers to start rummaging in their bags looking for their phones?

Sound artists have realised the power of sound to evoke associations, and the danger of losing certain noises as our world changes. Aiming to record the present for future generations, they seek out those noises that compose everyday soundscapes, difficult to identify, but instantly recognisable to those who dwell in such soundscapes.

As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, we want to capture the sounds of twenty-first century Essex by making new recordings of what you can hear today. We will then pin these recordings to an online map, together with recordings made in similar locations or of similar activities decades ago, from recordings already in the Essex Sound and Video Archive. Will this show change, or continuity? I expect both.

We need your help. What sounds matter to you? What can you hear on a daily basis? What sounds do you think will disappear in ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred years? We are holding public consultations to ask you, the residents of Essex, what sounds mean Essex to you, or what Essex sounds like. Come along to one of the following events and tell us about your soundscape, and why you are hearing what you are, where you are.

1-3 October: George Yard Shopping Centre, Braintree
29-31 October: Grays Shopping Centre, Grays
12 November: ecdp offices, Chelmsford
19-21 November: High Chelmer Shopping Centre, Chelmsford

You will also have the opportunity to test our prototype audio comparison map; take a beginner’s workshop on making your own sound recordings; and learn more about the project. If you cannot make it to these events, please do pass on your suggestions of Essex sounds to: Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, You Are Hear Project Officer.

HLF Logo

Secrets from the Asylum

Tonight on ITV the inimitable pub landlord, Al Murray, amongst others, will be discovering the secrets of their ancestors’ lives. One of Murray’s ancestors was committed to an asylum and the show will follow his discovery of what that meant for her and the other asylum “inmates”.

1st Edn OS Map 25" showing the County Lunatic Asylum in 1975

1st Edn OS Map 25″ showing the County Lunatic Asylum in 1875

After The Asylum Act of 1845 it became a requirement for each county to have its own asylum. The Justices of the Peace in Essex opened their County Asylum at Warley near Brentwood in 1853 at a building cost of some £66,000. It was then designed to hold 450 inmates. The institution finally closed its doors in 2001 and much of the site has now been re-developed into luxury flats. To get a flavour of what the asylum was like at the end of its life this website has a number of very good pictures.

A/H 10/2/5/18 - A page from one of the female case books. The words used to describe her illnes are somewhat different to how we would describe them today. "Acute melancholia, morbidly despondant..."

A/H 10/2/5/18 – A page from one of the female case books. The words used to describe her illness are somewhat different to how we would describe them today. “Acute melancholia, morbidly despondent…”

Those documents which had survived the passing of time and the closing of Warley Hospital have now been passed to us at the Essex Record Office. These include Managers’ Minutes, Reception Orders, Case Books and Patient Indexes. We also have a range of Burial Registers which were kept by the Justices of the Peace. The majority of these documents fall under our A/H 10 reference and many of these can be searched in the Record Office, though it is worth bearing in mind that most records less than 100 years old are closed to the public and will have to be searched by one of our archivists (the exception to that being the Burial Registers which are held under references Q/ALc 12/1 to Q/ALc 12/5 and these are currently available to view on our catalogue Seax).

Q/ALc 12/1 - This is the first of 5 burial registers for the graveyard at Warley Hospital. They run from 1856 to 1935. Some burials of patients from Warley are also recorded in the parish graveyard of St Peters, South Weald.

Q/ALc 12/1 – This is the first of 5 burial registers kept by the Justices of the Peace for the graveyard at Warley Hospital. They run from 1856 to 1935. Some burials of patients from Warley are also recorded in the parish graveyard of St Peter’s, South Weald

Q/ALc 12/1

Extract from Q/ALc 12/1

If you are interested in what you discover with Al Murray tonight and want to find out more about life in the asylum or if you think you may have a relative who may have been in the County Asylum, please feel free to visit us or get in touch to discover the secrets that our records might hold.

Bienvenue les rouleurs

As the Tour de France comes to Essex, Archive Assistant Edd Harris takes a look back at our county’s cycling past…

As Essex “gears up” (geddit?) to host several hundred brightly clad racers in the third stage of the Tour de France on the 7th of July, we felt it would be a good idea to take a look back at Essex’s rich cycling past. Essex had cycling aficionados, fans and competitors long before the exploits of Ian Stannard and Alex Dowsett brought the county’s cycling talent into the limelight. (I am also reliably informed that Laura Trott comes from Harlow, and Mark Cavendish lives near Ongar.)

TS 310/1 - An ordinary bicycle (penny farthing) leaning against an unidentified shop in Southend.

TS 310/1 – An ordinary bicycle (penny farthing) leaning against an unidentified shop in Southend.

Before the invention of the safety bicycle life was a much loftier affair for cyclists. To gain any sort of real pace a large wheel had to be used, so brave men clambered onto “ordinary bicycles” or “penny farthings” as they became nicknamed. (If you are feeling very down with the kids, I hear they can also be called “P-fars” and can still be bought from specialist retailers.) The safety bicycle and the pneumatic tyre were in widespread use by 1890 bringing about a massive boom in cycling.

Almost as soon as cycling had been invented clubs were formed and despite the machines still being worth the equivalent of a small car in today’s money, hundreds of people ventured out onto the roads each weekend, and this early boom in cycling Essex is evident in some of the documents in our collections.

D/P 296/1/13 is a register of services held at St Nicholas, Kelvedon Hatch between 1897 and 1908. As well as recording interesting details about events happening both locally and nationally, it also tells us that the Vicar held a number of services specifically for cyclists attended by lots of cyclists.

D-P 296-1-13 watermarked

D/P 296/1/13 – The service register of St Nicholas’ Kelvedon Hatch with a cyclists service attended by 35 cyclists. (Click for larger version)

D/Z 518/1 is the guest book of the Cock Tavern in Ongar and it seems to have been reserved purely for the use of visiting cyclists. We have looked at it once before as part of our document of the month series, but it is well worth re-visiting. Beginning in 1890, it is full of messages of thanks from cyclists, illustrations of the badges of the clubs (amongst other things) and complaints about the local traffic. In one message thirty or more riders are said to have descended on the pub from just one club. One commenter reminisces about his first visit to the Cock Inn, drawing an image emphasising how old fashioned he thought cycling was. He is shown in tweed plus-fours, pipe in mouth, flat-capped and astride his “ordinary”. Can anyone identify T.M.R. Whitwell or any of the other names in this register?

D/Z 518/1 - Entry in the guest book for the Cock Inn in Chipping Ongar. Here T.M.R. Whitwell illistrates his first visit to the pub in 1893. Is this the same Whitwell who illustrated the works of P.G. Wodehouse?

D/Z 518/1 – Entry in the guest book for the Cock Inn in Chipping Ongar. Here T.M.R. Whitwell illistrates his first visit to the pub in 1893. Is this the same Whitwell who illustrated the works of P.G. Wodehouse?

D/Z 518/1 - Another entry from the guest book. A rather delightfully named club - the Cemetery Crawlers

D/Z 518/1 – Another entry from the guest book. A rather delightfully named club – the Cemetery Crawlers

With the increasing affordability of cycling, it became the working man and woman’s chance of escape, providing them with the freedom to travel where and when they wanted. As its popularity grew, however, the well-heeled country gent was becoming worried that his quiet country solitude was being disturbed by this riff-raff and in an attempt to assuage their worry, the National Cyclists Union banned racing on the roads in 1890. This was a ban which would last till the 1950 and shaped the character of British cycling to this day. We have always been at our best when taking part in the once clandestine discipline of time trialing, our biggest stars, Boardman, Wiggins and Dowsett can all trace their heritage back to the black clad cyclists hammering along the country’s A-roads in pursuit of the best time whilst trying to avoid the attentions of the authorities.

D/Z 518/1 - Another entry from this fascinating guestbook. It seems like interacting with motorcars was a problem for cyclists even way back in 1906.

D/Z 518/1 – Another entry from this fascinating guestbook. It seems like interacting with motorcars was a problem for cyclists even way back in 1906.

S-U 6-1 a

A series of sketches detailing the extra forms of transport considered by Lieutenant Colonel Francis H.D.C. Whitmore then High Sheriff of Essex when his car broke down en-route to an important engagement in 1922.

S-U 6-1 b S-U 6-1 c

Over time the various clubs began to specialise in different activities. There were racing clubs who time trialed and raced on private tracks, there were social clubs and there were touring clubs. Eventually one club would form which attempted to encompass cyclists all over the country. The Cycle Tourists Club or CTC would go on to become advocates for the pastime as well as organising rides and meets. The Essex Section of the CTC was formed in 1927 and almost immediately got down to business. It seems that that business was initially to very carefully delineate the boundaries of the section to avoid confrontation and then to move on to the more important tasks of arranging for design and supply of a club badge (not without some argument), deciding where to hold their Christmas dinner and ensuring that the tea stops they visited on their rides were of adequate quality. There is a little bit of riding too. Tellingly, they had to cancel a women-only ride due to a lack of interest, a problem which still blights the male-dominated pastime to this day.

A13272 watermarked 1

A13272 – On this page of the CTC minute books one member seems somewhat worried about substandard tea.

A13272 watermarked 2

A13272 – During this meeting arrangements were made for bike parking in a cow shed in Chelmsford during a lecture.

So, when Le Tour comes charging though Essex on the 7th of July remember that this is not a new cycling boom, more of a renaissance. Cycling in Essex can trace a very long history and we are always looking for more information and material relating to the clubs and riders of Essex.

Lumières, Caméra, Action!

We had a little bit of glitz and glamour at the record office today as the international television cameras started to roll in the Searchroom. The occasion was the filming of part of an episode of ‘Qui étes vous?’ which is the French-Canadian version of our own ‘Who do you think you are?’

Members of the crew prepairing to shoot in the searchroom.

Members of the crew preparing to shoot in the Searchroom

The crew and local expert Patrick Denney spent an enjoyable morning filming for the episode which features the award winning actor Antoine Bertrand. A number of our original documents were consulted but we won’t let on which in case some of our Canadian readers get upset.

The crew from Quis Etes Vous? Along with Antoine Betrand (5th from right) and Patrick Denney (6th from right)

The crew from Quis Etes Vous? Along with Antoine Betrand (5th from left) and Patrick Denney (6th from left)

Do you have any North American connections among your ancestors or does your family history wend its way back to British shores? Either way it can be a frustrating but rewarding obstacle to overcome in the course of your research and hopefully the Essex Record Office and our colleagues in the UK and elsewhere will be able to help you.