Harwich Society’s Memories Exchange Interviews

Recently, we have been uploading a collection of oral history interviews conducted by The Harwich Society between 2009 and 2014 (Catalogue Reference SA 49/1/2).

These twenty-four interviews are just the first instalment of an ongoing project to record the experiences of current and former residents of Harwich and Dovercourt. As with most collections of oral history interviews, they reveal shared experiences but also how life varied even in one town depending on personal circumstances.

Harwich Junior School (T/Z 241/1)

The playground of Harwich Junior School was flooded to a depth of 1½ metres (T/Z 241/1).

Most of the recordings touch on the 1953 flood. On the night of Saturday, 31 January, a storm surge caused the sea to overwhelm flood defences along the eastern coast of Britain. Harwich was one of the places affected, and the traumatic experience is unsurprisingly etched on the town’s corporate memory.

Even here, experiences varied. Some residents in Dovercourt only knew about it from news bulletins on the television. But in the Bathside area, the water rose to the first floor of people’s houses. Tom Bell and Danny Goswell, then young lads who belonged to the sailing club, were kept busy ‘fishing people out of houses’ in boats, ‘rowing around doing what we could’ (SA 49/1/2/12/1).

Evacuees sought refuge in the drill hall, where the Salvation Army was handing out blankets and cups of tea, before being billeted with family members or kind-hearted strangers with rooms to spare. The water took a week to recede, and the houses were permanently damaged. Ruby Cooper-Keeble recalls how they lost all their possessions. By the time the family moved back to the house, it had been cleaned out and redecorated, but the smell ‘stayed with it for years and years’, and ‘you could actually scrape the salt off the [wall]paper’ as it seeped out of the walls, residue from the sea salt water that flooded the home (SA 49/1/2/9/1). But as a child, she still saw the ordeal as something of an ‘adventure’.

Some people, such as Mr and Mrs Moore, never moved back (SA 49/1/2/14/1).

The interviews are full of memorable details that bring the event to life: tables laid for breakfast that neatly settled back into place once the water receded; the vigour of local hero Leonard ‘Pummie’ Rose in organising the rescue operations. The stories take different tones. Tom and Danny chuckle over how, after working all day in rescue boats, they still had the energy to go out in the evening. ‘Commandeering’ a dinghy tied up outside the police station, they rowed down the main road to the Spread Eagle pub that remained defiantly open, to enjoy a couple of Vimtos before rowing home.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, recalling the childhood trauma of that long, cold, dark night spent trapped in the bedroom waiting for rescue affected one interviewee so much that it sounds as if he had to pause during the interview to compose himself.

Whether they were only onlookers or whether they lost everything, when listened to together the interviews reveal how the town rallied together to overcome this ordeal – as they had done just ten years earlier during the Second World War. From the family who tirelessly worked to restore their grandparents’ house to normal in time for Christmas (interview with Diane Butler, SA 49/1/2/11/1), to the boy who joined with his friends to build a sea wall in the sand when they moved back, ‘in our own simple way to try and stop the waves coming again’ (interview with Ray Chippington, SA 49/1/2/22/1), the town was determined to recover. And what better way to cheer flagging spirits than travelling in a ‘cavalcade of coaches’ to a football match at Wembley to support your local team in the FA Amateur Cup final? Harwich and Parkeston Football Club’s finest hour was among the happier events of 1953, as recalled by Malcolm Carter (SA 49/1/2/16/1).

The collection covers other topics as well, including experiences during the Second World War; growing up and working in Harwich; and how the town has changed. We are grateful to The Harwich Society for taking the time to capture these memories, and for allowing us to make them publicly available. We are also grateful to the participants who, as June Cummings describes, had to relive the events in the act of sharing them (SA 49/1/2/20/1).

 

You can listen to these oral history interviews in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford, or, thanks to our Heritage Lottery Funded You Are Hear project, in the comfort of your own home through Essex Archives Online.

It is not surprising that such a momentous event crops up in several of our other collections. You can search the subject index term ‘Floods’ to find related material, such as this film footage of the floods on Canvey Island. Or look up Hilda Grieve’s authoritative work on the 1953 floods in Essex, referred to in some of these clips: The Great Tide: The story of the 1953 flood disaster in Essex (copies available in the Searchroom Library or in branch libraries across Essex).

Further afield, the East Anglian Film Archive holds a compilation of film footage of the floods which reveal the devastation caused. You can watch it for free on their website here.

Does your community have a story that should be recorded? Do you want to undertake your own oral history project? Contact us to find out more about the oral history training we provide.

Harwich Inspired Youth Action collaborates on listening bench

As part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, we have been installing listening benches across the county. These solar-powered park benches have in-built speakers, so at the touch of a button they play back clips of recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive. The clips give an insight into the heritage of the surrounding area, mostly from memories of long-standing residents first recorded as oral history interviews.

We have been working with volunteers from each community where we are installing these benches. With training, the volunteers have listened to relevant material from the Archive; chosen interesting snippets; and edited the audio recordings to create a series of short clips for the bench. They have also decided on the location of the bench and arranged for its installation and unveiling.

Photograph of Harwich listening bench on St Helen's Green

One of these benches is in Harwich, in a picturesque spot on St Helen’s Green looking towards the Treadwheel Crane and the sea beyond. The memories shared on the bench include experiences during the Second World War, visiting the Electric Palace Cinema, and of course the harrowing 1953 floods, such as Bett Calver’s experiences on that dreadful night:

 

The audio for the bench was selected and edited by members of Harwich Inspired Youth Action (HIYA). This group of teens takes on campaigns to improve the town and provide information and activities for other young people. They are supported by Teen Talk Harwich, a valuable information and support centre for the town. Here, two of the volunteers involved with the listening bench project share their thoughts on the experience. First, Brandon says:

We have both given up our own time to help create the sound bench part of the You Are Hear project, which is now located in old Harwich. The You Are Hear project was very interesting, learning about Harwich history with specific fascinating points like the floods, the building of the promenade and so much more. We spent some time picking out and editing the clips we thought would be good to use for the project and had to create 11 minutes of historic memories of the local area. Creating this project we felt not only inspired but also educated, learning about our town’s history. Once the audio was completed we went to the grand revealing of the bench by the mayor and mayoress. I felt proud to have taken my great-nan, who is 95 years old, to be part of the unveiling of the bench and felt I had shared some of her memories growing up in Harwich.

Photograph of Brandon with his family

Brandon with his family on the listening bench. Courtesy of Maria Fowler.

Stephen says:

Although this project took a long time to go through the different clips available, we had the difficult task of choosing the ones that seemed the most informative about Harwich and creating a short 11-minute audio clip with a number of people sharing their memories. I enjoyed meeting the mayor [at the unveiling ceremony], and I feel proud of what we have accomplished. We would hope you all can take the time to go along to sit and listen to the You Are Hear project in Harwich and to feel the same humble connection we did, listening to all the memories people shared over the years about Harwich.

Photograph of Brandon and Stephen holding HLF sign behind listening bench

Brandon and Stephen at the listening bench launch. Courtesy of Maria Fowler.

Read more about Harwich’s listening bench on the You Are Hear website. We are grateful to the HIYA teens for working so hard on the project.

Do you want to be involved with the next round of listening bench installations? We are looking for volunteers from Burnham-on-Crouch, Chelmsford, Clacton-on-Sea, Clavering, Coggeshall, Epping, Galleywood, Harlow, Southend-on-Sea, and Witham. Please get in touch if you can help.

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Captain Charles Fryatt: 100 years since his execution

Today, 27 July 2016, marks exactly 100 years since the execution of Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt by the German army in Belgium. He was tried by a military court despite being a civilian, and his death sentence was carried out just two hours after his trial, provoking international condemnation.

Fryatt worked for the Great Eastern Railway (GER) Company, captaining steam ships which sailed between Harwich or Tilbury and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The ships carried post, food supplies and sometimes refugees fleeing the continent. The ships continued to sail during the war, despite the dangers of enemy warships and submarines, blacked out coastlines and floating mines. Here we take a look at the story of Fryatt and the crew under his command as told through the pages of the GER magazine.

GER magazine Capt Fryatt

The cover of the September edition of the Great Eastern Railway company magazine focused on the execution of Capt Charles Fryatt

Fryatt lived in Harwich and had joined the GER continental service as a young man in 1892. By the outbreak of the First World War he was a captain, and between the beginning of the war and his capture he made 143 trips across the Channel. The GER ships faced dangerous journeys during the war years, and on more than one occasion were hassled by German submarines. It was a run-in with a German submarine that ultimately led to Fryatt’s capture and execution.

The GER magazine of September 1916 described an incident in which the s.s Wrexham, under Fryatt’s command, had been chased by a submarine:

On March 2nd, 1915, about noon, near the Schouwen Bank, the ‘Wrexham’, proceeding to Rotterdam, was chased for 40 miles by an enemy submarine. Deck hands assisted the firemen to get every ounce of speed, and the enemy’s signal to stop was ignored. They made sixteen knots out of a boat which could hardly be expected to do fourteen knots, and dodging shells and floating mines, as well as the submarine, Captain Fryatt got his boat safely into Dutch waters. She entered Rotterdam with funnels burnt and blistered, the crew black with coal-dust.

A couple of weeks later, on 28 March 1915, Fryatt had a second meeting with a submarine, this time while in charge of the s.s. Brussels. A German submarine was sighted nearby, and the Brussels being unable to outrun it, Fryatt took the decision to attempt to ram it. He ordered the engineers to get all possible speed from the ship, and steered it straight at the submarine, which was forced to dive. Fryatt and others in the GER service were awarded watches for their bravery, but the Germans had different thoughts on the matter.

On the night of 22/23 June 1916, the Brussels, under Fryatt’s command, left the Hook of Holland with a cargo of food and refugees. The ship never arrived in Harwich, and two days later reports reached England that the ship had been captured by the German navy and taken into Zeebrugge in Belgium, then under German control. When the stewardesses were later released their tale was recounted in the GER magazine of November 1916:

After the tiring work of providing for the refugees on board the “Brussels” they were resting, when at 1.30a.m., June 23rd, they noticed the stopping of the engines and heard noises on deck. Chief Steward Tovill said there was trouble and told them to get their life-jackets on. The ship was the prize of five torpedo boats and the Germans were on board. The captain had been hailed in English. For the sake of the women and children he sent no wireless message: if it had not been for them there is little doubt that the Germans would not have been able to take the ship whole.

 

During the journey to Zeebrugge and then Bruges, ‘the captors on the way enjoy[ed] a most hearty meal. They called for wine but fortunately, think the stewardesses, there was none on board. The stewardesses were kept busy for some five hours serving the Germans and comforting the unfortunate weeping refugees’.

GER Magazine 1916 Brussels crew

Photographs of some of the crew of s.s. Brussels in the Great Eastern Railway magazine

According to the GER magazine, when the Germans wondered at the calmness of the stewardesses and asked if they were not afraid of being shot, ‘“We are Englishwomen” was considered sufficient reply’.

The crew of 40 men and 5 stewardesses was taken to Bruges and locked up in the town hall, before being scattered to various prison camps. Eventually, postcards from the crew reached Harwich, saying they were well enough but in need of aid packages. Fryatt sent his wife a letter from Ruhleben on 1 July; it only reached her on 29 July, just after his death.

Fryatt and his second-in-command, William Hartnell, were interrogated for three weeks, and on 27 July 1916 were tried by a military court in Bruges. Fryatt was found guilty of attempting to ram submarine U33 on 28 March 1915 and was sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out just two hours later – Fryatt was tied to a post and shot, receiving 16 bullet wounds. His death left behind a widow and seven children, aged between 18 and 2.

GER magazine Fryatt family

Mrs Fryatt with her six daughters and one son

The execution of Charles Fryatt provoked a storm of protest in Britain, and was denounced in the strongest terms in Parliament and in the press. The September edition of the GER magazine, in one of its milder statements, said ‘one does not expect a European nation to murder its prisoners of war’.

In its report of Fryatt’s death on 4 August 1916, the Chelmsford Chronicle condemned the German decision to capture and execute him:

The murder by the Germans of Captain Fryatt, who  commanded the Great Eastern Railway Co.’s steamship Brussels, brings the fact of German frightfulness home to the country in general, and Essex in particular. The gallant captain’s offence, in German eyes, was that he, in self-defence, attempted to run down and sink and enemy submarine, which by all international law, to which Germany herself subscribed, he was perfectly entitled to do. There seems little doubt, however, that the Germans had planned some time ago to capture the Brussels and her intrepid commander, and when the opportunity came they appear to have lost no time in placing Capt. Fryatt on a trial of a sort and condemning him to death, a sentence which was carried out with feverish expedition, so that the crime they had decided to commit might not be interfered with by a neutral nation…Of course the whole Empire is crying out for vengeance.

Mrs Fryatt received telegrams of sympathy and support from several high profile people and organisations, including from Buckingham Palace:

Madam,

In the sorrow which has so cruelly stricken you, the King joins with his people in offering you his heartfelt sympathy.

Since the outbreak of the war, His Majesty has followed with admiration the splendid services of the Mercantile Marine.

The action of Captain Fryatt in defending his ship against the attack of an enemy submarine was a noble instance of the resource and self-reliance so characteristic of that profession.

It is, therefore, with feelings of the deepest indignation that the King learnt of your husband’s fate, and in conveying to you the expression of his condolence I am commanded to assure you of the abhorrence with which His Majesty regards this outrage.

At the time of Fryatt’s death, the rest of the crew were still in prison camps. From their initial imprisonment in Bruges the stewardesses were put on a cattle train to Ghent, then sent to Cologne, then a camp at Holzminden near Hanover, then finally deposited at the border with neutral Holland. The GER staff magazine of November 1916 reported:

It was indeed a pleasure and a relief to see again the released stewardesses of the s.s. “Brussels.” Mrs. Elwood, Miss Elwood, Mrs. Stalker, Mis Bobby and Miss Smith have passed through a most trying experience and have done so in a manner of which G.E.R. women can be proud.

GER magazine Brussels stewardesses

The stewardesses of s.s. Brussels while being kept prisoner

After the war, the government decided to repatriate Fryatt’s body, along with the remains of Edith Cavell and the Unknown Soldier. (We have written previously about the papers we have in our collection from Bruges relating to the release of his remains to the British.)

In July 1919, the coffin was exhumed from its grave in Bruges in the presence of Hartnell and Fryatt’s brother William. The Chelmsford Chronicle of 11 July gives a full account of the day of processions and funeral services marking the return and reburial of Fryatt’s remains. The coffin was transported from Antwerp on HMS Orpheus, and was received at Dover with full military honours. To the strains of Chopin’s Funeral March, the coffin was carried to Dover station, and from there taken to London for a funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral. Music was provided at the service by the orchestra of the Great Eastern Railway Musical Society, and the coffin was placed under the great dome of the cathedral. After the service, the coffin and mourners proceeded to Liverpool Street, and from thence to Dovercourt, where crowds awaited the return of their local hero. At the reburial, the Bishop of Chelmsford said that Fryatt was one of the representatives of the ‘self-sacrificing spirit of the English people’ during the great war.

Next time you pass through Liverpool Street station, see if you can spot the memorial to Captain Fryatt, which today can be found near the exit onto Liverpool Street.

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.

IMG_6226

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.

IMG_6214

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.

Document of the Month April 2014: Papers relating to repatriation and reburial of remains of Captain Fryatt, 1919 (D/P 174/1/83)

Each month in the Searchroom a new Document of the Month goes on display. The DoTM for April 2014 is a set of four papers relating to the repatriation and reburial of Captain Fryatt in 1919 (D/P 174/1/83).

Charles Algernon Fryatt was born in Southampton in 1871, but while still a child moved to Harwich. On leaving school he followed his father’s example and became a merchant seaman and in 1892 joined the Great Eastern Railway Company as a seaman on the SS Ipswich. He rose through the ranks and at the outbreak of the First World War was a master mariner engaged in the G. E. R. continental service between Harwich and Rotterdam. He continued to make regular voyages on this route despite the German blockade.

On 28 March 1915, while in command of the SS Brussels he was ordered to stop by a German U-Boat when near the Maas lightvessel. Seeing that the U-Boat had surfaced to torpedo his ship, he attempted to ram it and forced it to crash-dive.

Thereafter he seems to have become a ‘marked man’ and on the 25 June 1916 the Brussels and her crew were waylaid and captured by five German destroyers soon after leaving Holland for the return journey to Harwich. Captain Fryatt was charged with attempting to destroy a German submarine and was tried by Court Martial at Bruges Town Hall in Belgium on 27 July 1916. He was found guilty and executed on the same day. The execution provoked international outrage and was widely regarded as murder.

In July 1919 Captain Fryatt’s body was exhumed from its resting place in a small cemetery outside Bruges and returned to the United Kingdom for reburial. After a funeral service in St. Paul’s Cathedral on 8 July 1919, his coffin was taken by train to Dovercourt and interred in All Saints’ churchyard. He was posthumously awarded the Belgian Order of Leopold and the Belgian Maritime War Cross.

He was survived by his widow Ethel and seven children.

The papers will be on display in the Searchroom throughout April 2014.

Papers relating to the repatriation of the remains of Capt. Charles Fryatt from Bruges to Dovercourt (D/P 174/1/83)

Papers relating to the repatriation of the remains of Capt. Charles Fryatt from Bruges to Dovercourt (D/P 174/1/83)

‘Mutual preservation’ in eighteenth-century Great Oakley

Archivist Allyson Lewis blogs for us about an exciting new accession…

We recently purchased the Articles of Association of an Association ‘for the mutual preservation of property and the more effectual prosecution and bringing to justice of house-breakers, horse stealers and thieves of every kind’ (Accession A13635 (D/DU 2835)).  This early form of insurance/neighbourhood watch scheme was formed by the inhabitants of Great Oakley and surrounding parishes on 4 February 1794.  The deed is signed by all the members, including new members to 1899.  

The heading of the Articles of Association (click for larger version)

Each member paid a membership fee of at least 10s 6d.  This money was used to publish a description of stolen property on hand bills and in the newspapers and to offer rewards for information leading to the recovery of stolen property.  The Articles specify the following rewards to be offered to anyone apprehending and convicting offenders who had committed a crime:

House breaking                               £5 5s

Stealing of horses or cattle                        £5 5s

Highway or footpad robbery           £5 5s

Breaking open barns, stables or outhouses       £3 3s

Stealing poultry, turnips, apples, pears, damaging hedges etc           £1 1s

Signatures of members of the Association

In the days before any police force, local associations of this kind were felt necessary, particularly in times of war or trouble.  This Association dates from the period of the Napoleonic wars which gave rise to a general fear of revolution and invasion.  The parishes are in the neighbourhood of Harwich where many men would be stationed in the Martello tower and as militia organised to defend the county from attack by the French.  Perhaps the members of the Association had experienced thefts from deserters or militia men trying to head home.  It is surprising that the Association was still considered necessary at the end of the 19th century, long after the formation of the county police force in 1840.

The 1953 Floods in Essex

On the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 a severe storm coincided with a high spring tide in the North Sea, and the resulting tidal surge caused great devastation all along the east coast. In eastern England 307 people were killed, 120 of them from Essex.  The worst hit communities in the county were Canvey Island, where 58 died, and Jaywick, where 37 people were killed (5% of the population).  A major operation was mounted to rescue as many people from the flooded areas as possible. Along the east coast of the UK, 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Damage was caused to over 1,600 km of coastline, as well as to thousands of homes.  It is estimated that the damage in monetary terms today would be over £5 billion.

It was of course not just England that was affected by the floods; 19 people died in Scotland, 28 in Belgium, and a staggering 1,836 in theNetherlands. Over 230 people also died on ferries, fishing boats and other vessels which were in the North Sea that night.

We have been going through some of the many documents in the ERO which tell some of the stories of the floods in Essex, a small sample of which will be on display in our ‘Document of the Month’ case in the Searchroom throughout February.

To the sea (D/Z 35/15)

To the sea – rescuers at work in Jaywick (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Reuters)

Jaywick completely flooded

Fire Brigade log book reporting phone calls to say that Jaywick was completely flooded (D/Z 35/3/1)

Canvey Island underwater (ref??)

Canvey Island underwater (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard).

Albermarle St & Alexander Road, Harich (T/Z 241/1)

Photograph of the junction of Albermarle Street and Alexandra Road in Harwich. The flood in Harwich was described as a two metre high wall of rolling water. Eight people drowned trapped in their basements in Main Street (T/Z 241/1) (Photo: Harwich and Dovercourt Standard).

Harwich Junior School (T/Z 241/1)

The ground floor and playground of Harwich Junior School were flooded to a depth of 1½ metres (T/Z 241/1).

Harwich police station telephone log (D/Z 35/6/1)

This note in the Harwich police station telephone log tells us that at the army base on Bramble Island, near Harwich, the magazines had been breached by the flood waters. High explosives had floated away and the police and public were advised to be on the look out for them, and not to touch them (D/Z 35/6/1).

Peter Pan's Playground (D/Z 35/15)

Photograph of Peter Pan’s Playground, Southend (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard). At Southend the effects were not as severe as at Canvey. The Kursaal flooded, along with the Gasworks and Southchurch Park.

Letter from Mr E. Staunton (C/DC 11/Fd43)

Letter written month after the floods by Mr E. Staunton of Benham Road, Canvey to Essex County Council to pass on the ‘thanks and gratitude’ of himself and ‘friends in this area’ to the fireman who sounded the air raid siren ‘thus giving us a chance to dress and find out over the telephone what was the meaning of the warning’ (C/DC 11/Fd43).

 

A selection of these documents will be on display in the Searchroom throughout February. Others can be ordered to view in the Searchroom. Find out how to visit us.

To find out more about the floods, why not go to hear Patricia Rennoldson Smith talk about her new book The 1953 Essex Flood Disaster: The People’s Story as part of the Essex Book Festival.

New accession: Old Harwich in photographs

The ERO has recently acquired a photograph album which contains some fantastic pictures of Harwich in the 1850s. Here we bring you an exclusive sneak peak at its contents before it is treated in our Conservation Studio and digitised. 

The album, although rather dilapidated, contains 47 rare salt paper prints of Harwich which seem to date from about 1855. Many of the photographs have faded, but despite this the images remain remarkably sharp.

 

They capture a moment when Harwich was being transformed by the rebuilding of the quay, the arrival of the railway and new developments such as Orwell Terrace. The album seems to have used the new technology of photography to deliberately create a record of these momentous changes.

Harwich was – and is – a busy port on Essex’s north sea coast. In the 1850s, the town’s quays were extended through land reclamation

The railway arrives in Harwich

An Atlas Works locomotive

The album includes images of the High Lighthouse, St Nicholas’s church, Orwell Terrace and Cliff House. They also show the short-lived first station in Harwich and works to reclaim land in Bathside to extend the quays.

Harwich’s short-lived first station

The album may have some personal connection with Robert Bagshaw who was the investor who built Orwell Terrace and Cliff House, and who was instrumental in bringing the railway to Harwich. Unfortunately the album does not have any contemporary indication of ownership. 

 

Orwell Terrace

Top-hatted men, probably investors in the new developments, in one of the streets of Harwich

The album also includes a photo-montage of many different people, almost exclusively men, who are possibly a mixture of local residents and people involved in the building works. The identification of the faces featured will be a challenge for dedicated enthusiasts!

The album has been catalogued as A13438, and we will now do everything that we can to preserve the images.

The album was purchased for the ERO by the Friends of Historic Essex, and we would like to thank them for this fascinating addition to the ERO’s collections.