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.

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.

Discover: Workhouse records

Researchers often discover from documents such as census returns or death certificates that an ancestor spent time in a workhouse.

The minutes of the Boards of Guardians who oversaw the running of Essex workhouses after 1834 have been deposited at ERO, and these can give an idea of what life was like for inmates.  However, a picture – or in this case an Ordnance Survey map – can sometimes be far more effective.  This extract is taken from the 120 inch: 1 mile map series and shows the ground floor of the newly built Maldon workhouse (now St. Peter’s Hospital) with a typical layout of rooms.

Ordnance Survey map showing Maldon Union Workhouse, 1873

Ordnance Survey map showing Maldon Union Workhouse, 1873 (click for a larger version)

On admission to the workhouse, males and females were separated and this plan shows further segregation: for example, aged females, bedridden females, able bodied females and girls all had different day rooms.  When allowed outside for fresh air, they would all be in different airing yards or play grounds.  Plans of the workhouse (D/F 8/611B) show that this separation continues on other floors, with different dormitories and even different staircases.

If you would like to find out more about using workhouse records, join us for Discover: Workhouse Records (from 1834) on Thursday 26 June 2014, 2.30pm-4.30pm. This session will look at why and how workhouses came into existence, what life was like as an inmate and will consider surviving Essex workhouse records. Tickets are £10.00, please book in advance on 01245 244644.

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.

Essex Ancestors update

Essex Ancestors, ERO’s online subscription service for digital images of Essex parish registers and wills, has undergone its next major update.  The service now includes parish registers from the ancient parishes of Chingford, Leyton and Walthamstow, and many of the newer parishes established as this area was built up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  These registers are held by Waltham Forest Archives at Vestry House in Walthamstow and were loaned to ERO for digitisation.  In all, ERO has copied another 473 registers, producing over 67,000 images, completing coverage of the whole of historic Essex and pushing the total number of Essex parish register images to over 580,000.

You can either subscribe to use the service from home, or take advantage of the free onsite available to visitors to the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford and to its Access Points at Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

Please note that marriages after 1957 are not included, and not every single register has survived or been deposited with ERO.  Before you subscribe please check that the documents you need exist and have been digitised.

Happy searching!

Visit Essex Ancestors at www.essexancestors.co.uk

View our handy video tutorial on how to use Essex Ancestors:

Beyond the tip of the iceberg

We spent a fun morning today with Nick Barratt, Laura Berry and director-cameraman Tamer Asfahani of the Family History Show, a monthly online video podcast, or ‘vodcast’, which showcases interesting topics from the world of genealogy.

Nick outside the ERO

The FHS team came to the ERO to film some of the resources which we have to offer, from our online catalogue, Seax, and the images available on Essex Ancestors, to the original documents which can help with your family history, and some of the ‘treasures’ of the ERO – our most beautiful, interesting and rare documents.

Laura finds out all about Seax and Essex Ancestors from Public Service Team Manager Neil Wiffen

 The Family History Show looks beyond the narrow confines of ‘family history’ strictly defined, to social history, local history, and house history, to build up a fuller picture of what life was like in the past. 

Archivist Chris Lambert shows Laura around a set of poor law records, which can tell fascinating and haunting stories about your ancestors

It’s easy for family history to become an exercise of collecting names and dates, but the truly rewarding element is finding out more about how your ancestors lived. Once you have used birth, marriage and death certificates, parish registers and census returns to find out the names of your ancestors, when they were alive and where they lived, there are so many more questions you can ask to bring history to life.

How did your ancestors make a living? What was life like for children? What happened to you if you lost your job? What did people eat? What sort of accommodation did people live in? How were your ancestors’ lives different from your own?

Answering these questions means delving into other record sets, such as the poor law records the FHS team filmed here today, which may seem daunting at first, but ERO staff are always on hand to help guide you.

Filming some of the ‘treasures’ of the ERO

We love sharing our ‘treasures’ documents, and although we cannot usually produce them to the Searchroom in the same way as most of our documents, you can come and see them for yourself at one of our Discover: Treasures of the Essex Record Office sessions. The next one is on Tuesday 23rd October – see our events page to find out more.

 

The finished vodcast will be released on the Family History Show site in November, so keep an eye out to find out what Nick and Laura made of the ERO!