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.