When you visit the Essex Record Office, you will see a selection of artwork from Essex County Council’s collection displayed on the ground floor and in the Searchroom. One of the pictures to catch my eye during my first week at the Record Office was a signed screenprint called “Untitled” (1965) by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005). The overlapping patterns in this print are reminiscent of his earlier work creating collages made from newspapers and advertisements.
I’m familiar with Paolozzi’s work from my time at the V&A as their Archive of Art and Design looks after the amazing Krazy Kat Arkive of Twentieth Century Popular Culture. Paolozzi was one of the founders of the Independent Group which met in London from 1952-1955. This group is considered the forerunner to the Pop Art movement in Britain. In 1954, Paolozzi established Hammer Prints Limited with fellow artist, and Essex resident, Nigel Henderson and they designed wallpapers, textiles and ceramics in Henderson’s studio at Landermere Wharf, near Thorpe-le-Soken. Paolozzi and his family moved to Landermere the following year and lived in one of the now Grade II listed Gull Cottages. While living in Landermere, Paolozzi was a visiting lecturer at Colchester School of Art.
Landermere was a hot-spot for artists and designers. Other residents included Sir Basil Spence, the architect of Coventry Cathedral and advisor to the Basildon Development Corporation designing Basildon New Town, and John Hutton, a glass artist whose work can be seen in Coventry and Guildford Cathedrals, and the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
This screenprint and the other works of art in the collection can be found on Art UK and on the ERO’s Flickr page. And you may also be interested in a previous blog on Art in the Archives available to read here.
To celebrate #WorldBeeDay on 20th May, we take a look at the the Essex Beekeepers’ Association archive held at the Essex Record Office.
Before the invention of the modern wooden beehive in the mid-nineteenth century, bees were often housed in bee boles – a row of recesses each large enough to hold a coiled-straw hive called a skep. These bee boles were typically built in to south-facing garden walls.
In 1967, the Epping Forest Division of the Essex Beekeepers’ Association repaired the bee bole at Tilty, near Dunmow in Essex. Their Annual Report for the year includes an account of the work carried out by their volunteer construction team made up of a retired schoolmaster, a draughtsman/artist, a joiner/carpenter, a police officer, and a postman. The bee bole is flint with brick arch supports and the top storey of the structure was almost entirely rebuilt by the team. They left a time capsule inside the bee bole containing some monthly circulars published by the Division and some mead with a note reading: “We believe that the structure was part of a Priory known to have existed here before the dissolution of the monasteries, and we hope that it will be as long again before this honey jar and contents are discovered”. The Priory mentioned is the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary at Tilty. The nearby Church of St Mary, originally the Abbey chapel, has flint and stone chequerwork below the east window. The front cover of the Annual Report (pictured below) is beautifully illustrated by Mr H. C. Moss and depicts the repaired bee bole.
The annual report is held at the ERO as part of the Essex Beekeepers’ Association archive. The collection includes their first minute book covering 1880-1910 containing the minutes of their inaugural meeting at 90 High Street, Chelmsford on 14 July 1880 and a label for a jar of honey. The label was selected on 12 April 1897 when it was agreed that 20,000 should be printed by Mr A D Woodley at a cost of £5.
You may also be interested in a previous blog on the changing pattern of land usage and the historic value of meadows to the Essex landscape which is available to read here.
The tradition of the Dunmow Flitch Trials is commonly dated back to 1104 when a local Lord and Lady supposedly visited the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow disguised as paupers. They asked the prior if he would bless their marriage which had taken place a year and a day previously. Impressed by their apparent devotion to each other, the prior responded by presenting them with a flitch of bacon (which the Priory cook happened to have been carrying past at the time).
At this point the Lord, Reginald Fitzwalter, threw off his present garb and thanked the prior for his willingness to believe in their love. He then gifted some of his land to the Priory on the condition that a flitch of bacon would be given to any couple that could come to the Priory and prove their continued devotion to each other a year and a day after their marriage.
As charming as it is, this story has obviously been the cause of much doubt over the years – but what can’t be doubted is the fame that the Dunmow Flitch Trials had gained by the 14th century. Both William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer refer to the trials in their books, and they both used language which assumed readers were already familiar with the tradition. However, the first official record does not appear until 1445 when Mr and Mrs Richard Wright were awarded their flitch of bacon.
The tradition lapsed over the years and, in 1832, Josiah Vine’s request for a trial was refused on the grounds that it was ‘an idle custom bringing people of indifferent character into the neighbourhood’.
Fortunately, the novelist William Harrison Ainsworth sought to revive the tradition in 1854 with his book ‘The Custom of Dunmow’ and in the following year he personally presented the flitch to two couples. One was a French gentleman and his English wife: the Chevalier and Madame De Chatelain. The other was a local couple from Chipping Ongar: James Barlow, a builder, and his wife Hannah.
During the trials, both couples were required to prove their enduring love before a jury of six maidens and six bachelors. There was also an opposing council which represented the donors of the flitch of bacon and challenged the evidence with the aim to dissuade the jurors from awarding the flitch to the couple. Successful couples were then seated in the Flitch Chair and carried in a parade, at the end of which they were required to take this oath:
‘We do swear by custom of confession That we ne’er made nuptial transgression; Nor since we were married man and wife, By household brawls or contentious strife, Or otherwise at bed or at board, Offended each other in deed or word; Or since the parish clerk said “Amen,” Wished ourselves unmarried again; Or in a twelvemonth and a day, Repented not in thought or in any way, But continued true and in desire As when we joined hands in the holy quire.’
After the Dunmow Flitch Trial, an album was compiled to commemorate the occasion. It consists of the following framed items: a painting of James Barlow, a sketch of James and Hannah Barlow, a commemorative certificate, and a picture of the Dunmow Town Hall. At the back of this album is a disguised compartment holding letters about the planning of the event, a programme from the day itself, a pamphlet about the history of the Dunmow Flitch and (perhaps most remarkably) the shoulder bone from the Barlow’s flitch of bacon!
North-East Essex Coastal Parishes. Part 1: St Osyth, Great and Little Clacton, Frinton, Great Holland and Little Holland
The latest volume of the Victoria County History of the County of Essex has been presented to Martin Astell the Essex Record Office Manager. This is the first of two volumes covering the North East Essex coastal parishes, from St Osyth to Walton on the Naze. Boydell and Brewer are also offering a spectacular 35% off for a limited period only. More details on that can be found below. All of the Victoria County History volumes draw heavily on the documents which are held at the Essex Record Office.
The nine Essex parishes lying in a coastal district between St Osyth and the Naze headland at Walton encompass a number of distinct landscapes, from sandy cliffs to saltmarshes, recognised as environmentally significant. The landscape has constantly changed in response to changing sea levels, flooding, draining and investment in sea defences. Inland, there was an agriculturally fertile plateau based on London Clay, but with large areas of Kesgrave sands and gravels, loams and brickearths. Parts were once heavily wooded, especially at St Osyth.
The district was strongly influenced by the pattern of estate ownership, largely held by St Paul’s Cathedral from the mid-10th century. About 1118-19 a bishop of London founded a house of Augustinian canons at St Osyth, which became one of the wealthiest abbeys in Essex. Most other manors and their demesnes in the district were small and their demesne tenants were of little more than local significance.
The area’s economy was strongly affected by the coast and its many valuable natural resources, including the extraction or manufacture of sand, gravel, septaria, copperas and salt, and activities such as fishing, tide milling, wrecking and smuggling. However, it remained a largely rural district and its wealth ultimately depended upon the state of farming. Until the eighteenth century it specialised in dairying from both sheep and cattle, but afterwards production shifted towards grain.
The coastal area has produced significant evidence of early man and was heavily exploited and settled in prehistory. The medieval settlement pattern largely conformed to a typical Essex model, with a complex pattern of small villages, hamlets and dispersed farms, many located around greens or commons.
Introduction: The North East Essex Coast; St Osyth; Great and Little Clacton; Frinton; Great Holland; Little Holland; Glossary; Note on Sources; and, Bibliography.
Archive Assistant Neil Wiffen reflects on the changing pattern of land usage and the historic value of meadows to the Essex landscape.
There is currently much in the media about climate change and environmental degradation. We hear on almost a daily basis about the threat to different ecosystems and landscapes, as well as about worldwide species loss. We in the UK are not immune, and subjects such as the loss of meadows and the threat to bees are now quite common topics of discussion. Recently the BBC reported that, ‘over 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, that’s a startling 7.5 million acres (3 million hectares). Species-rich grassland now only covers a mere 1% of the UK’s land area’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20150702-why-meadows-are-worth-saving).
What have bees and meadows got to do with the Essex Record
Office (ERO), we hear you ask? Well, working among our wonderful archives we
are used to seeing lost landscapes of the past as depicted in maps or described
in documents – a land before industrial agriculture and large-scale
One important, almost universal feature of any parish’s
landscape would have been that ‘species-rich
grassland’ mentioned by the BBC. They were generally described as meadows,
which the ERO’s trusty copy of the Oxford
English Dictionary (1933) defines as, ‘a piece of land covered with grass
that is mown for use as hay. In later use often extended to include any piece
of grass land’ (pasture, on the other hand, was used for general grazing of
livestock). Look at any tithe, enclosure or estate map and there the meadows
will be, often listed and somewhere along the way appraised as well.
— An image of the same location from Google Satellite, 2019.
The importance of meadows to people in the past was immense,
particularly before the introduction of fodder crops, such as turnips, through
the 17th and 18th centuries. Meadows were mown for hay in
summer which was then used to feed overwintering livestock. Therefore the
amount of hay harvested determined the number of cattle that could be kept
over-winter. So a good hay crop was an essential product of the agricultural
year, with the whole community coming together to ensure it was harvested and
high regard that meadows were held in can be seen by how they were valued. When
the Escheator compiled the Inquisition Post Mortem (TNA, C 134/74/19) on the
death of Nicholas Dengayne in 1322/3, his manors of Colne Engaine and Prested
Hall (Feering) were valued. The 240 acres of arable
land in the former was valued at 4 pence per acre, while 140 acres in the
latter was 3 pence per acre. By comparison the 6 acres of mowing meadow at
Colne Engaine and 5 acres at Prested Hall were all valued at 2 shillings per
acre – the equivalent of 24 pence per
acre, or six to eight times the value of the arable land.
Quite what types of grasses and flowers these ‘traditional’ meadows were made up of is unknown, but we have to assume in an age before widespread use of agricultural chemicals they were very species rich with lots of insects as well. Not all ‘grassland’ was equal to a well-established meadow. By the 1930s 302,803 acres of ‘permanent grass’ was recorded in Essex (The Land of Britain: the Report of The Land Utilisation Survey of Britain part 82 Essex, copy in ERO Library, Box 95), of which 92,300 was for hay – possibly this was mainly ancient meadows. The remaining 210,503 acres might not have been of the highest quality but rather a result of the agricultural depressions of pre and post First World War. This would have been the case with the 38,977 acres of ‘rough grazing’ – not all grassland was equal!
Now, we are beginning to appreciate our meadows once more and recognise their value as habitats to vital wildlife. While there has been a great loss of meadows, more are being planted, for example by conservation charity Plantlife. Perhaps our maps and documents will guide where new meadows could be sown?
We love wills here at ERO. These fascinating and incredibly useful documents can tell us all sorts of things about the lives of people in the past, and are a brilliant resource for genealogists and social and economic historians alike.
The majority of the population did not leave a will, but where these documents exist, they can be of great help in establishing family connections (particularly before census returns begin in 1841) and for researching the amount of personal property people owned.
It can be surprising to see what testators valued; in 1641 Elizabeth Fuller of Chigwell left her eldest son Henry ‘my longe carte and dunge carte, my ponderinge crose my furnace, my mault quarne’. We think the crose must be for religious contemplation and the quarne for grinding grain but it seems an odd mix of bequests. Her second son Robert received ‘my best chest and my best brace [brass] pot’ which to modern eyes might seem to be the better bequest (D/AEW 21/71).
Our collections include about 70,000 wills which date from the 1400s to 1858. Digital images of about 20,000 of these wills have been available on our online subscription service Essex Ancestors for some time, and we have just uploaded a further 22,500.
This is a project we have been working on for many months, with our digitisers spending about 375 hours photographing the wills, our conservators spending about 44 hours conserving them, and our archivists spending about 752 hours checking all the images against their catalogue entries to get ready for the upload.
A portion of our wills collection in storage
This upload will mean that digital images of all of our wills dating to c.1720 will be available on Essex Ancestors. We will now press on with working on the rest of the wills, which date from c.1720-1858, for upload in the next few months.
To celebrate the upload, our archivists will be choosing some of their favourite wills to share on the blog over the next few days and weeks.
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.