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.

Childhood: change or continuity?

Ah, the sounds of summer holidays: music blaring through open windows, buzzing bees, the ice cream van, an absence of school bells and cars doing the morning school run… and children playing?

If you believe the common rhetoric, children do not play outside anymore. Children spend all summer indoors glued to electronic screens and no longer have the capacity to invent games, be creative, be free. Is this true? What do Essex soundscapes and personal memories reveal about childhood through the ages?

Children at play on the beach (T/562/1 Image 53)

Sounds of children at play on Dovercourt Beach. Recorded by Stuart Bowditch in 2016 for Essex Sounds.

Childhood memories are a common topic covered in oral history interviews. Interviewers are keen to capture information about the earliest possible period, as the time within ‘living memory’ unceasingly marches forward. We often have the most vivid memories from our childhoods, the time when we are first learning about the world around us. Childhood also tends to be the happiest period, the age we are happiest to talk freely about – or at least the version we are comfortable recalling.

At the Essex Sound and Video Archive, therefore, we have numerous recordings of people talking about their childhoods. For example, this compilation describes the way that people played growing up on Castle Street, Saffron Walden, taken from a selection of interviews recorded for the Castle Street Residents’ Association Oral History Project (Acc. SA496).

Maggie Gyps, Jan Bright, and William Clarke describe playing in and around Castle Street, Saffron Walden in the mid-twentieth century.

The stories are amusing and evoke a golden age when children were free to just have fun. Adults tolerated their exuberance and gave them liberty to range far and wide, making their own games, immersing themselves in nature, packing a jam sandwich and being out all day during summers that were permanently warm and sunny. As the next interviewees remarked, it was a happier time, compared with children today who are mollycoddled, kept on a tight rein due to fears for their safety, and fed on a diet of electronic gadgets to keep them amused – and quiet.

Pearl Scopes and Bill and Daphne Carter ranged free on Marks Hall Estate in the post-war period (SA 51/2/5/1).

Or was it such a golden age? And is it drastically different now?

For our Essex Sounds website, we have two recordings of children at play in north-east Essex: one from 1962, and one made in 2016. Listen to the two and compare: is there a difference in the sounds of play?

Were children better behaved in the past? Many interviewees admit to scrumping, gleaning a bit of fruit from nearby orchards to keep them going on their day-long adventures. We laugh with Bill Carter who ‘borrowed’ his neighbour’s dog to take him rabbiting.

Bill Carter on ‘borrowing’ the neighbour’s dog at Marks Hall Estate (SA 51/2/5/1).

Or Joseph Thomas, who used to sneak into film showings at the Electric Palace in Harwich in the 1920s (SA 49/1/2/15/1).

Joseph Thomas sneaking into the cinema with his friends.

How does this compare with the mischief of those disrespectful youths of today? Will our grandchildren chuckle when they hear stories of what we got up to in our childhood?

Were these children up to no good? Image of Moulsham Street, Chelmsford by Frederick Spalding, 1910 (D/F 269/1/6)

Was childhood really happier in the past? It depends on the individual’s situation, as well as the specific time period. Many oral history interviewees describe working from a young age. Charles Reason, for example, had his first bread round from the age of seven, before he started work full-time after leaving school at 14.

Charles Reason describing his first job delivering bread rolls in Harwich in the 1920s (SA 49/1/2/7/1).

School terms were often set around the harvest seasons, as Gerald Palmer describes, because children stopped attending in order to go pea-picking or fruit-picking anyway (SA 59/1/102/1).

Excerpt from Coggeshall National School log book for 1873 showing low attendance due to pea-picking (E/ML 310/1).

Child labour was vital to the household economy. If children weren’t engaged in paid work, they were often heavily laden with chores around the house, particularly when the mother was absent, as experienced by Rosemary Pitts, whose mother died when she was thirteen years old (SA 55/4/1).

Rosemary Pitts’ memories of childhood in Great Waltham in 1939-1940.

Current scholarship studying Western societies generally traces the start of ‘childhood’ as a distinct phase of life back to the seventeenth century. The nineteenth century saw growing concern about the wellbeing of children, with increasing legislation regulating the employment of young people. In Britain, a series of Education Acts from 1870 onwards gradually made education compulsory and, eventually, free. The 1908 Children’s Act consolidated much previous legislation to protect children from exploitation and abuse (including abuse at the hands of the law). This represents a significant cultural shift: children were seen as vulnerable people to be protected rather than extra hands contributing to the household economy – or enabling cheaper manufacturing. However, many oral history interviews reveal that real change was much slower to take effect. Most people also have at least one memory of a particularly violent punishment suffered by themselves or a peer while at school, in the days of the dreaded cane.

Oral history interviews do tend towards rose-tinted depictions of the past,

(A12416 Box 1)

particularly childhood memories. However, by comparing many different stories from the same period, we can start to query the common narrative and draw conclusions from specific events rather than vague generalisations. Then we can take a fresh look at children today and reassess if things really have changed that much after all.

The United Nations’ 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child includes the right to play, recognising that it is an essential and characteristic part of childhood. In general, young people in Britain are today free to have fun in their leisure time. It will be interesting to hear how our children recall their formative years if giving oral history interviews later in life. For now, we can use Essex soundscapes to gauge whether or not children still play. What do your ears tell you about childhood in twenty-first-century Essex?

 

Hugh Cunningham’s book The Invention of Childhood (London: BBC Books, 2006) is an excellent starting place to research the history of childhood in Western societies. For further details of the oral history interviews mentioned above, or other memories of childhood, search Essex Archives Online.

Harlow Housing and Design Interviews Online

Harlow New Town was established in 1947, when the New Town Development Corporation began to purchase land around the old town and erect new housing estates. The houses primarily served to relieve housing pressures on bombed-out, overcrowded London, particularly from the East End. The first residents began moving in from 1949.

So say the textbooks, but what personal stories lie behind these brief facts? At the Essex Sound and Video Archive, we hold a wonderful collection of oral history interviews conducted by Dr Judy Attfield in the 1980s for her research project, Harlow Housing and Design (SA 22). These interviews reveal what it was like to live in the new town. Our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, has enabled us to digitise all of the original cassettes and make them freely available through Essex Archives Online.

Screenshot of SA 22 catalogue

A satisfying sight: the icons show that there is audio material attached to that catalogue entry.

At first, we thought the digitisation would be a straightforward task. Shortly after the collection was first deposited with us in 1996, we created access copies on cassette, to safeguard the original masters (our standard procedure in the Sound Archive). The access copies are all neatly labelled and clearly identified, one cassette per interview.

However, when we looked in the box containing the original cassettes, things were not quite so straightforward. We digitise from the original recording (or as near to the original recording as we can get), to capture the purest sound. On revisiting the masters, we realised that the interviewer had used one cassette for multiple interviews – a common practice when you want to make the most of the cassette tape you have. Piecing each recording together to make one complete interview has caused our digitiser, Catherine Norris, several headaches.

But now they are all digitised. Similar to our procedure with physical analogue recordings, we keep a master, uncompressed .wav file safely in storage. We then create compressed .mp3 copies as our new access copy. You can still come into the Searchroom and listen to the recordings, but you can also now listen from home, through Essex Archives Online.

Each interview is valuable in its own right, but as a collection it is even more fascinating. Dr Attfield spoke to a range of people: developers, architects, and town councillors who shed light on the planning of the new town; shopkeepers; people who moved to Harlow before the new town; and people who moved as part of the new town settlement. Putting these different viewpoints together gives a rich, rounded impression of this time in history. Some interviewees say that women found it more difficult than men to settle in new towns and felt lonely and depressed; some say that women found it easier to form new bonds because they were surrounded by women in a similar position, raising children away from their parents in unfamiliar surroundings. Some were ecstatic to have their own front doors, their own staircases in two-storey homes; some missed the familiarity of London, even if they were living in cramped, shared housing. The multiplicity of memories challenges generalisations about life in a new town. It also demonstrates (by listening to the accents of the interviewees, if nothing else) that not everyone in Harlow in the 1950s was an ex-Eastender.

The collection also serves as a good example of how to conduct an oral history interview. Dr Attfield had a specific interest in the interior design of the new houses. She directed questions to gather information on this topic. However, she also asked wider questions for context. She let her interviewees say what they wanted with minimal interventions, but also guided the interview to cover her set of questions. Occasionally she probed her interviewees for more details, or challenged their viewpoints to get a better understanding, without revealing any judgement of their opinions.

Dr Attfield made a significant research contribution in the fields of material culture, gender studies, and design history, among other overlapping areas. Based for many years at the Winchester School of Art, her book Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life (Oxford: Berg, 2000) has become a key text in her field. She passed away in 2006. We are very grateful that she deposited her recordings about Harlow with us, for future researchers to use and enjoy.

One particularly moving interview from the collection is that with Mrs Summers, who moved to the new town from Walthamstow in 1952 (SA 22/1364/1). At several points in the interview, Mrs Summers describes the long adjustment period when ‘home’ still meant London before completely settling in Harlow. As well as missing her family, in this clip she describes how she ‘couldn’t get used to the newness of things’ after coming from Walthamstow with its ‘houses with big windows… little tiny houses… nice houses… [and] grubby-looking houses’.

At a time when neighbourhood plans for vast numbers of additional houses are being developed across Essex – across the country – perhaps these experiences of new settlers can help with the process of creating new communities.

Dr Attfield published an article based on these interviews in the book that she co-edited with P Kirkham, A View from the Interior: Women and Design (London: Women’s Press, 1995). The article can be consulted at Colchester Library.

We hope to showcase clips from these recordings on a listening bench in Harlow, in time for the 70th anniversary of the New Town in 2017. If you are interested in helping to work on the bench for Harlow, please get in touch: info@essexsounds.org.uk

Essex Sound and Video Archive releases first recordings online

The Essex Sound and Video Archive is delighted to announce that we have started to post a selection of our recordings online for anyone to listen for free – recordings such as this clip from a Harold Wood Hospital Radio programme about the old manual telephone exchange in Brentwood (SA 19/1050/1).

 

Image of Essex Youth Orchestra 45rpm lacquer disc from 1960

Example of an original recording in our collection that has been digitised for preservation and access

Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for our project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, we aim to digitise and catalogue 1900 of the 30,000 fascinating, diverse sound and video recordings in the Archive.

Once the material is in digital form, we can upload it to the sound sharing website, Soundcloud. Researchers no longer have to travel to the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office to listen to the material – though you would still be welcome if you want the experience of listening to an actual cassette or cd. Instead, you can listen on your computer at home, or download the Soundcloud app and listen on the go with your mobile or tablet.

We will be adding material gradually over the next three years – material such as this oral history interview with Ann Chapman (SA 13/7/2/1). It was recorded in 2010 at Fryerns Library, as part of their fiftieth anniversary celebrations. In Part 2 of the interview, Ann describes her childhood delight at jumping in muddy puddles when her family first moved to Basildon after living in crowded, built-up London. She then describes the many shopkeepers that offered door-to-door deliveries – though she also enjoyed trips to the shops with her mother.

 

From summer 2016, we will be showcasing a selection of our recordings on interactive touchscreen kiosks and listening benches that will tour public locations across the county. Our Essex Sounds website will provide an opportunity to compare the sounds of Essex, past and present: historic sounds of places in Essex from the Archive will be pinned together with new recordings made by our Sound Recordist, Stuart Bowditch. People will also be able to pin their own sound recordings to the map, to help create a representative range across the county.

All these recordings are being made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence. If you wish to use any material for commercial purposes, please get in touch. You can also get in touch if you are interested in listening to recordings that have not yet been uploaded to Soundcloud.
You Are Hear banner showing cassette tapes
To receive updates about the You Are Hear project, sign up to our mailing list.

For more information about the Essex Sound and Video Archive and the digitisation and consultancy services we provide, please visit our website.

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Threatened Collections

Project logoYou Are Hear: sound and a sense of place is the Essex Sound and Video Archive project which aims to digitise, catalogue, and share our collections, helping people connect with the county’s rich heritage through listening to the sounds of the past.

Cataloguing our recordings raises awareness of the wonderful stories and variety of musical traditions we have waiting to be discovered. Sharing our collections is in itself a worthwhile aim. However, the digitisation process is an equally significant part of the project. Without this step, our unique, irreplaceable audio collections could be lost forever.

Written records on paper or parchment are subject to threats like acidic inks eating away at paper, rusty staples wearing holes in documents, or mould forming where items have been stored in damp conditions. But if we assess the condition, rectify any problems, and keep the records stored in a stable environment, we can at least slow any further deterioration, if not stop it.

Sound and video recordings are another matter. The extreme flammability of nitrate film (used from 1895 to 1951) is well-known. Acetate film is also unstable, though less dangerous. Even with more stable polyester-based film and magnetic tape, there is a risk of deterioration as the chemicals used in the manufacturing process break down. Another danger with magnetic tape is that the base layer can become separated from the binder layer. Every playback of a tape recording puts it at risk. As for CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs, no one really knows about the long-term preservation of these, because they have not been around for long enough for us to find out (though we fear the worst).

A deteriorating reel of tape showing signs of 'spoking' (the tape shrinking and becoming tighter, pulling it taut around the centre of the reel, causing lines of tension to radiate out from the centre) and 'cupping' (the tape on the outer edges rolling in on itself)

A deteriorating reel of tape showing signs of ‘spoking’ (the tape shrinking and becoming tighter, pulling it taut around the centre of the reel, causing lines of tension to radiate out from the centre) and ‘cupping’ (the tape on the outer edges rolling in on itself)

As well as the risk of deterioration, obsolescence is another problem. Even if you have never before seen a book, you could work out how to access the information relatively quickly. But how do you access the information on a CD without a CD player? Do you have stacks of cassette tapes or cine-film reels hiding in your loft, with no way of playing them? We are carefully nursing our playback facilities so we can keep accessing these different formats, but the risk of equipment failure is high. Parts will inevitably wear out, but replacements are no longer being manufactured, and machines are no longer being supported by the suppliers. At the same time, the technical expertise to maintain the equipment is dying out as the commercial audio-visual industry moves on to digital formats.

The answer is digitisation. Unlike with written records, where the original record is easier to maintain in the long-term than electronic bits and bytes of scanned copies, with sound and video records, those electronic bits and bytes are our best hope. We can at least capture the information from obsolete formats before losing it, and then work on managing the digital versions to ensure continued access.

You Are Hear is not alone in addressing the need to digitise sound and video collections. Recently Rebekah Polding from Film London delivered a talk to the Essex History Group on the London’s Screen Archives project. This project brings together partners from local archive services, specialist institutions, private owners, and businesses that are based in London, to pool resources and ensure the city’s films are identified, saved through digitisation, and shared. They are even making some of them freely available on-line. You can find out more here.

The project is calling for anyone with films of London (including Greater London), or taken by Londoners, to donate it to the project. Get in touch with them (and us!) if you have something sitting in storage that is crying out to be saved, perhaps like this film of the annual Brandon Estate (Southwark) outing to Canvey Island in 1970:

As if trying to capture all the film about the capital city was not ambitious enough, the British Library has recently announced its new project, Save our Sounds, to try to preserve the sound heritage of the whole nation. A national audit will give a clearer picture of the extent and condition of sound archives across the country. The British Library will then be able to offer advice and discuss potential ways forward with partner institutions. You can find out more about the project here.

Edison ‘Concert’ wax cylinders in the collections of the British Library – find out more at here. Image courtesy of the British Library.

If you would like to sample just a few of the BL recordings and get a sense of their vast range, have a listen to these clips on their SoundCloud:

We are just about to submit our second-round application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to proceed with the You Are Hear project. You can subscribe to receive updates about the project here.

In the meantime, please do let us know if you have any sound or video recordings relating to Essex – we are always on the look-out for material to add to our collections. We also offer a commercial digitisation service if you have recordings at risk which you want preserved. We would be happy to discuss the options with you.

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Essex Sounds Like…

For the past six months, we have been surveying people across Essex to ask them what they know about the Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA). The main aim of the exercise was to collect baseline data, so we will have some statistics to compare with similar surveys we plan to run after the You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place project. We hope this will demonstrate the impact of the project to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and that more people will be aware of us and have engaged with our treasure store of recordings.

We surveyed our long-suffering readers in the Searchroom, so frequently asked for feedback; visitors to events that we attended; and innocent passers-by who happened to be walking through High Chelmer Shopping Centre, Chelmsford on Saturday 1 March. We even roped in the aid of libraries and village agents to distribute our surveys. The end result was 185 surveys completed by people from near and far (even some from outside Essex snuck in).

Our main aim was to establish how many people had heard of the Essex Sound and Video Archive. Forty percent of the people who answered this question knew about the ESVA but had never used it, but another 54% had not even heard of us. We obviously have some work to do!

We collected demographic information about our participants, but we also took the opportunity to ask some more interesting questions about people’s perceptions of where they live.  Eighty-six percent of participants felt they belonged to some kind of community: mostly their town or village, but social or religious groups, neighbourhoods, and on-line communities also featured. Despite a few references to the stereotypes associated with Essex (thanks largely to a certain ITV television programme), most people had positive associations with the county. Several referred to it as home or felt rooted to it by family ties. Some mentioned its attractive features, such as the seaside, the countryside, the good travel links – and the fact that it’s not London. We hope to build on this  undercurrent of pride in the county by sharing what former residents have felt about their homeland, what they experienced, and what they felt moved to create in it.

The most interesting question to me was, ‘Which sounds represent where you live?’ Although it initially puzzled a few people, we eventually got some wonderful descriptions of the aural landscape of the county. The overwhelming majority of the responses were precisely what I would have identified in my own town: Essex sounds like traffic and birds.

We created a word cloud from all of the responses received: the bigger the word, the more times it was mentioned. How does the picture compare with your location?

sounds wordcloud aug 2014

Wordcloud of sounds associated with Essex, created with www.wordle.net

In the spirit of You Are Hear, we have a sound clip alternative:

At the moment the clip is just the words spoken aloud: the recording of the actual sounds will come once the project starts, with your help.

Thank you to everyone who completed a survey or helped to distribute them. Get in touch if you want to read more about the results.

Recording of the Month, September 2014: Mrs Cranwell’s Driving Test

Our Sound Archivist Martin Astell brings us another highlight from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

SA 47/1/1/4/1

This month’s recording highlights the principal joy of working with oral history. That is, the fact that it is about people. Everybody has a story to tell, but some tell them better than others. Mrs Irene Cranwell from the village of Chrishall in Essex falls into the category of characters whose personality bursts out of the recorded interview, and in this extract she describes her somewhat unusual driving test in Cambridge.

Irene Cranwell died in 2010 at the age of 99, having become a local celebrity through regular contributions to a BBC Cambridgeshire radio show. She had been a teacher at Chrishall village school and later worked at Barkway First School and Icknield Walk First School in Royston. She also, apparently, had an impressive knowledge of local history and started a museum in Chrishall based on her own collection.

When listening to oral history interviews we should not forget the contribution of the interviewer who, in this case, has created a relaxed and congenial atmosphere, allowing the interviewee to express herself in a free and uninhibited manner.

You Are Hear: project update

Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, Project Officer for You Are Hear, writes for us about one unexpected aspect of her recent work…

HLF Logo Colour

An unanticipated result of the development work for our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, has been the number of new accessions it has prompted to flow into the repository of the Essex Sound and Video Archive.

I have spent most of the last four months investigating the copyright status of our collections, to establish which we will be able to use for our project. As I sort through the paperwork and get in touch with depositors of five, ten, or twenty years ago, this has served as a reminder of our existence. We have received recordings from people who have been busy creating new material since their last deposits, for example additional videos about Ongar from David Welford (Accession Number SA715 to add to five earlier deposits) and a new batch of oral history interviews from the Ongar Millennium History Society (Accession Numbers SA712 and SA713). Artists have given us final versions of earlier recordings, for example a fully printed and slightly amended CD from the Arts Action East and Arts in Essex African Lullaby Project, created by Julia Usher and Anna Mudeka to capture and create lullabies used by mothers in Essex from a range of cultural backgrounds (original Accession Number SA592).

African Lullaby Project

Having recently visited the tea rooms and museum at Wilkin and Sons jam factory in Tiptree, I was particularly interested in an interview with John S Wilkin, then Director of the company and grandson of the founder, recorded in 1986, shortly after the company’s centenary. We had received a copy of a similar interview in 1993, but unfortunately it was of such poor quality that it was not worth keeping. Thanks to Mr Wilkin’s widow, we now have a replacement. In an interview for Radio Colchester, Mr Wilkin explains the story behind the foundation of the company, its gradual growth, and the different stages of production. Although at the time of the interview they were in the height of strawberry season, they had abandoned the strawberries in order to complete an ‘urgent’ order of peach jam for Germany. Let nothing stand between a man and his condiment of choice.

What piece of Essex heritage will come through our doors next?

(Please note that these new recordings cannot be accessed by researchers until access copies have been created. To express an interest in hearing these recordings, please contact us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk)

Recording of the Month April 2014: ‘I didn’t want medals’ – One man’s experience of the First World War

Our Sound Archivist Martin Astell brings us another highlight from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

SA 24/1011/1

This month we have extracts from a talk given in 1992 by Alf Webb who had served as a machine gunner in the First World War. The recording from which these extracts are taken is an incredible resource. Alf Webb was talking to a group of school children and his recollections of both the mundane detail and the harsh reality of the war are delivered in a matter-of-fact and unflinching way (perhaps surprising given the audience) as he talks about mud and lice, tactics and trenches, the death of friends and colleagues, and his own unheroic attitude towards the war as he did his best to ‘try and survive and get out of this.’

If you are interested in finding further resources held in the Essex Sound and Video Archive which relate to the First World War, a sources list is available.

We will be hearing a great deal about the First World War over the centenary period, but few things will bring us closer to understanding the reality of events than to hear the experiences, thoughts and authentic voices of people who actually lived through them.

Sharing Our History: Marconi in Chelmsford

On Wednesday 7 November, the ERO is hosting a University of Essex event focusing on the centenary of the opening of Marconi’s famous Chelmsford factory…

Do you have memories of working at or with Marconi?  As part of the Festival of Social Science, the University of Essex is hosting an oral history event to commemorate Guglielmo Marconi, and the centenary of the opening of the world’s first purpose-built radio factory in New Street in Chelmsford.

Marconi, who is often credited with being the inventor of radio, first established his company in a former silk works in Hall Street in Chelmsford in 1898. But this soon became too small for his expanding operation, and in February 1912 work began on the 70,000 square foot factory in New Street. The works were opened in June that year. 

Eight years later the factory played host to the first experimental wireless broadcast, which featured Dame Nellie Melba singing two arias. The signal was received throughout Europe and as far away as Newfoundland, Canada.

Marconi's New Street factory

Marconi’s New Street factory

This free event is open to all, for people wanting to find out more about Marconi the man and the technological advances he made, as well as those who worked for Marconi, or who had relatives who worked there, to come along to share and record their memories.

Chaired by Martin Astell, Sound Archivist at the Essex Record Office, the event will feature a film and short talks by Peter Turrall, Chairman of the Marconi Veterans’ Association, who will talk about Marconi the man and how he came to be in Chelmsford, and Dr Geoff Bowles, curator of the Sandford Mill Museum, who will talk about the collection of Marconi artefacts which are held there.

Members of the audience will also be asked to share memories of Marconi’s history in Chelmsford.

Afterwards there will be free tea and cakes and a small exhibition relating to Marconi. A film crew will be on hand and those who wish to do so will be asked to take part in interviews which will then be placed on a website to form a lasting record of the event.

Entry is free and no booking is required: if you have any queries please email events@essex.ac.uk or phone 01206 872400

Wednesday 7 November 2.30-4.30pm

Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 6YT

Women at work in the Marconi factory

Women at work in the Marconi factory

Men at work in the Marconi factory

Men at work in the Marconi factory