Right of Way: A historically contentious issue

During our closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have been working hard adding new entries to our catalogue “Essex Archives Online“. Archivist Katharine Schofield takes a look at one of these documents which reveals that rights of way disputes aren’t a modern invention.

Among the entries added to our online catalogue during ‘lockdown’ are calendars of medieval deeds, dating from the early 13th century onwards, relate to various small properties mostly in Hatfield Broad Oak.  The deeds are part of the Barrington collection (D/DBa).

Not all of the calendared deeds related to the Barrington family’s possessions at the time, although they may have subsequently acquired the land.  They include the ratification of an agreement (D/DBa T4/253) between William le Cook of Broad Street and Hatfield Priory, dated at Hatfield Broad Oak on the Monday after Epiphany in the 18th year of the reign of Edward III (10 January 1345) and it concerns a dispute over access.  John de Barynton’ is listed as the first of the witnesses.

The access in contention is described as a footpath 6 feet wide leading through Bykmereslane beyond William’s property Bykmerescroft towards Munkmelnes where the Priory’s mill was located.  Canon Francis Galpin identified Bykemere Street or Lane as the present-day Dunmow Road (B183) past the junction of the High Street and Broad Street (Essex Review volume 44, page 88).  He described the name as a corruption of Byg (or big) mere, probably derived from the nearby ponds.  The ponds still visible on maps today presumably provided the water power needed for the Priory’s mill.

The agreement recites that there had been ‘contention’ between William and the Priory over the footpath.  The Priory produced deeds from their archives (ostensionem munimentorum), made by William’s predecessors, tenants of Bykmerescroft.  The archives had demonstrated that the Priory and all others were accustomed to use the footpath to the mill and had the right to do so.  Consequently, William agreed to make rectification.

Mills were a vital part of the medieval economy.  At the beginning of the 1th century, it has been estimated that there were between 10 and 15,000 mills in England.  They were also a key part of the income of a manorial lord.  Lords were able to compel their tenants to use their mills, paying for the right to do so.  It has been estimated that payments from mills made up 5% of manorial income at the beginning of the 14th century (John Langdon ‘Lordship and Peasant Consumerism in the milling Industry of Early Fourteenth Century England’ Past and Present 145, pages 3-46, November 1994).  The Priory was anxious not to have access to their mill disrupted and their record keeping ensured that they were able to prove their rights and request remedy.

Even today, among the many people visiting the Record Office and using the archives, it is not unusual for people to try to solve access problems, although mostly by using Ordnance Survey maps, rather than medieval deeds.

Essex’s Industrial Archaeology: Courtauld’s – silk weaving in Braintree

Today we bring you some more industrial treasures from the archive in the run up to our special one-day conference on Essex’s Industrial Archaeology on Saturday 6 July. Tickets are £15 and can be booked by telephoning 01245 244614. Details on our speakers and their topics can be found here.

Courtaulds, founded in 1794, became one of the UK’s largest textile businesses. It was established by George Courtauld, the son of a family descended from a Huguenot refugee, and his cousin Peter Taylor.

George was apprenticed to a silkweaver in Spitalfields at the age of 14 in 1775, and after his seven year apprenticeship set up on his own as a silk throwster. After making several trips to America between 1785 and 1794, where he married and began his family, Courtauld returned to England and established George Courtauld & Co. The company began with a water-powered silk mill at Pebmarsh, and by 1810 George’s son Samuel (1793-1881) was managing his own silk mill in Braintree.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, George Courtauld ‘proved to be a remarkably incompetent businessman’. By 1816, the company was in financial trouble, and his ambitious son Samuel took over to rescue the family business.

Samples of fabrics manufactures at Courtauld's

Samples of fabrics manufactured at Courtauld’s

Under Samuel’s leadership, the company became known as Samuel Courtauld & Co., and opened new mills in Halstead and Bocking. Samuel expanded into hand-loom and power-loom weaving as well as silk throwing, and from about 1830 began manufacturing the fabric that really made the family’s fortune – black silk mourning crape, which became the standard mourning dress in Victorian England.

The firm was always heavily dependent on young female workers; in 1838 over 92% of workforce was female. By 1850, the business had grown to employ over 2,000 people in three silk mills, and over 3,000 by the 1880s.

Looms at the Courtauld works (A6798 pt 12 )

Looms at the Courtauld works (A6798 pt 12 )

Machinery at the Courtauld works (A6798 pt 12)

Machinery at the Courtauld works (A6798 pt 12)

Looms at the Courtauld works (A6798 pt 12)

Looms at the Courtauld works (A6798 pt 12)

Machinery at the Courtauld works (A6798 pt 12)

Machinery at the Courtauld works (A6798 pt 12)

Silk production used machines for spinning and weaving and centralised production in factories, gradually bringing to an end the tradition of weavers working on hand looms at home. Samuel Courtauld introduced a shift system, using two 12-hour shifts so that his mills were working all day and night.

Plan of housing built for Courtauld's workers (D-RH Pb1-16)

Plan of housing built for Courtauld’s workers (D-RH Pb1-16)

Samuel’s biographer D.C. Coleman describes his leadership as a ‘benevolent despotism’. Under him the company built workers’ cottages, schools, reading rooms and a hospital in Braintree. He refused to allow any trade union activity at his factory but offered his own system of rewards and punishments for his workforce. 

Samuel’s hard work in building up the business paid off; by the time of his death in 1881 he was worth about £700,000.

Courtauld’s Ltd will be the subject of one of our talks at Essex’s Industrial Archaeology, delivered by the present George Courtauld, who worked for the company for about 20 years. 

 

Essex’s Industrial Archaeology

Saturday 6 July 2013, 9.30am-4.30pm

Tickets £15 – please book in advance by telephoning 01245 244614

See here for more information