Guest post: ‘an adventure beyond words’

This guest post is written by Ben, Grace, Evie, Akmal, Toby, Ben, Grace, Lucas and Bella who are all in year 5 at Broomfield Primary School. They were shown around the ERO by Neil Wiffen, Public Service Team Manager, and Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer. If you would like to arrange a visit for an educational group, please get in touch with us on heritage.education@essex.gov.uk

My teacher and a small group of pupils were invited to The Essex Record Office. Not the CD, track kind of record: the letter, diary, document kind of record. We were not just fascinated to find out some amazing facts, we were amazed to see some facts that gave us a link to things from hundreds of years ago. On our journey through time we filled our brains with lots of information and fun facts.

Why does the Essex Record Office (ERO) exist? Some people have interesting artefacts in their home but it’s no good having it all there! The ERO provide the capability of looking at all the information you need in one place.  You do not have to make appointments in different buildings, the ERO has everything you need, but they have certain rules. These include not taking any bags (at all!) into the Searchroom.  This is because some naughty people try and steal the information. The other rule was to use pencil only, as they don’t want to ruin any documents or information. The ERO is for people of all ages – there is no limit. You cannot only just have fun and find out information, you can understand and communicate with the past.

When the ERO was opened in 2000, there was a model made of a flower designed by pupils [ed.: the sculpture which runs alongside the public stairs up to the Searchroom]. The roots were to represent that History is in the past, the stem shows that were are the present.  The flower and the seeds (which were binary 1 and 0s) represented the information travelling out in the future.

When we walked into the Searchroom Mr Wiffen explained about the organization of the documents. We thought it sounded quite complicated but actually it turned out to be a lot easier than we thought. IMG_5792 They have this website called Seax (a Seax is an Anglo Saxon stabbing sword and on the Essex County Council logo, the swords are Seaxes).  The website called Seax helps you to find documents VERY quickly and efficiently.  We searched for ‘Maps of Broomfield’ and it came up with 113 results.  The earliest was made in 1591 and the latest was made in 2007. To search, you type in the key words, and then it shows you all the search results with the key words in date order.

Hannah then informed us about a pie chart that someone made from the information in a book called a Parish Register which had a list of Births, Deaths or Marriages.  Somebody looked at details telling us about deaths in the 1830s.  We were shocked to hear that over half the people died under the age of 10!!

We definitely realised that Seax was helpful, especially for people who live overseas and love historical documents, because anyone around the world can ask for things to be put on there.  It is much cheaper than travelling to the ERO, but it was more fun to go there for our visit.

After we observed the picture-perfect painting of James I [ed.: on display in the Searchroom], Hannah told us that when monarchs wanted portraits of themselves, they would have chosen props that represented them. For example, Elizabeth I chose a globe to show she has invaded different nations. We should look for clues in paintings, not just at the person who has been painted. IMG_5800 Next Mr Wiffen pulled a draw out full of envelopes and picked up a microfiche, which is miniscule pictures of wills and newspapers.  The reason why the newspapers are made smaller is because you can keep lots of information on a small sheet of film and the big news paper takes up a lot of room, is very thin and will disintegrate. You have to place the microfiche in a machine, so that when you look through, it will magnify and illuminate it big enough for people to read it. IMG_5807 Mr Wiffen showed us a couple of unique maps of Broomfield in the past. The first one we looked at was from 1846. It was an enormous map and Broomfield looked empty and lonely, with fewer houses and more greenery.  We found that our school and houses had not been built yet. We put our fingers on our invisible houses. Bromfield Hospital was not there yet either, but the area where it would be built was called Puddings Wood. IMG_5832 Then we looked at the earliest map of Broomfield which was made in 1591 by John Walker.We could see the beautiful colours to show the roads, houses and landmarks.  It was made for Widow Wealde and showed all of her land. D-DVk 1 watermarked The next map we looked at was created and drawn by hand in 1771 of Broomfield, it is 244 years old. It showed a field called Drakes Fut, which is near our school.  It is now called Dragon Foot Field. We talked about a legend from 1,00 years ago.  Every day workers would build a bit of Broomfield Church and use strange red bricks and tiles that they found in the field.  But in the night, when they were sleeping, a dragon would take all the bricks and bury them back in the field. Imagine how the builders felt when the dragon took their building materials! They must have felt frustrated and scared. Nowadays, we know the bricks and tiles were made by Romans and there was a villa in that field. Bricks and tiles from the villa can be seen in the walls of Broomfield Church.

Shortly after, we were showed a map from 1919 in Broomfield. There were 2 coffee shops and here is a photograph to prove that it really did exist.  We were surprised that people used to go out for a coffee, just like we do today.  Coffee shops were there to stop people from spending all of their money in the pubs. But even 100 years ago there were no roads, just mud. The road outside Broomfield Primary School was just mud too – and it looked VERY muddy.

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One of Broomfield’s two coffee shops (from the Fred Spalding Collection)

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Broomfield School and a very muddy unmade road (from the Fred Spalding Collection)

There is a pub called The Saracens Head on the High Street in Chelmsford.  We saw a photograph if it showing the American soldiers who used to go there to interact and relax. Back in the Second World War, Mr Wiffen’s dad (who lived in Broomfield) had heard planes fighting overhead when he was a boy.  Would you like it if bullet cases were falling on your shed?  That’s what he could hear, but he was probably in his Anderson Shelter.  Forty years later, he found a spent bullet case (probably from those fights) in his back garden.

Broomfield has lots of things in the ground from different periods of history.  How would you feel to be standing on history, or to never find artefacts that could be worth millions! We had an amazing time looking at the spectacular maps.

After that we carefully opened a box that was in another box with another padded cover.  Inside was a special bible that Charles I had before his gruesome and terrifying beheading happened. Somehow, Charles’s librarian Patrick Young, got his hands on it and gave it to his granddaughter Sarah who gave it to the Broomfield Church. IMG_5880 IMG_5883 When the Church was being renovated, apparently the builders dropped it by accident!  They decided to give the responsibility to the ERO to protect the Bible forever. The Bible has an amazing silver outline with a glorious red velvet cover, decorated with a lion, a unicorn, a crest of arms and initials. IT MUST’VE COST MILLIONS!!!!!  The lion was very detailed with tiny silver stitches – the mane swerving in different directions and the ribs and claws very clearly seen.  He has two beady bead eyes.

The ERO looks after Log Books from different schools, and here is a page from Broomfield Primary School in 1912.  The book sat on a special pillow to protect the spine and showed the beginning of the school summer holidays.  the school was closed so that the children could go and help with pea picking for the harvest.  Food was important – everyone needed to help collect enough food to get through the next winter.  That is why we have six weeks off in the summer.   Luckily we don’t actually have to pick peas any more!

Eventually, we reached the storage room after a long walk from the library. The storage room keeps all of the documents and old books safe. The humidity and temperature was cool enough to preserve them for even longer than usual. To access the room, Mr. Wiffen had to scan his staff card in a laser. We had to be quick going in because the door shut after 30 seconds!

As soon as we got in we felt a lot cooler and looked at huge rolls and lots of shelves and books. First of all, he showed us the stacks. These have codes on them to help staff find the right document quickly. They are moveable so they can fit more of them in. There are 8 miles of shelves altogether. He also told us that the red pipes let out a special gas during a fire to prevent the special files from burning.  Water would damage the documents, and so would foam, so gas is safer for the documents.  However, if the fire alarm goes off you have only 45 seconds to escape!

Next, Mr. Wiffen showed some precious packages, one of which was an Anglo Saxon document from 962 AD, written on parchment (Animal skin). They were deeds from Devon, part of Lord Petre’s collection. This is the oldest item in the collection.

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Looking at the ERO’s oldest document, an Anglo-Saxon charter from 962 (D/DP T209)

He then showed us a huge, hand drawn and hand coloured old map of Chelmsford from 1591, by John Walker. Even though it was old, the colours were bright and beautiful.  On the edge of Chelmsford, were two little lines to show the town gallows.  Who would have thought they would build grizzly gallows in such a beautiful town? And right behind the town centre was a field called the Back Sides, where John Lewis will be built!

John Walker's map of Chelmsford, 1591

John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591 (D/DM P1)

Lastly, we scurried out past the timed doors and saw a strange thing.  It did look peculiar, but it was one of the camera’s dust covers: a chicken tea cosy! If you live in Australia and want a photograph of a document, they will use the really good camera to take an image and then send it to you.

Then we continued our journey to the Conservation Room. The Conservation Room is a room where they carefully fix and clean documents, maps and letters. A lady called Diane showed us all the things that she needed, and some things that she couldn’t fix. For instance a letter, which was folded up into a bundle and tied up, had been burnt by fire and had got very brown.  It felt harder than metal – however it would be very, very easy to break if anyone tried to unroll the document.  Nobody would ever know what was written on it.  On the other hand, some Americans have now invented a machine, which mysteriously x-rays the bundle and scans the letters by looking at the ink inside, and makes a reconstruction that shows you what it had on it before it went in the fire. Maybe one day somebody will be able to put this document in and see what it is all about.  Right now, all we know is a date of 1917, which we found when we examined it. IMG_5955 Next Diane showed us a paper document that had lots of mould on it. She said it would never come off, so if you at home have very special letter or something else, make sure it’s not in your loft where mould will develop. The only writing on this was ‘{Be is re……..day of……year of the reign of our……. of Great Britain, Franc…….and fo forth.’  The rest of the paper had disintegrated. As well as that, we were allowed to hold a real piece of parchment.  It is animal skin and is very strong.  It lasts much better than paper so we could touch it. There also was large a circular thing made of wax. It looked a giant coin because it had Queen Victoria on her throne. On the other side, it was a picture of her on a horse.  A quarter of it had been smashed on the floor. Most of words were in Latin, however most of it we could read. These big seals were attached to important documents to show that the King or Queen agreed with what was written inside it.

IMG_5966 Last of all, Diane showed us scientific equipment such as a measuring container that could make sure that when she fixed using different liquids, she had the right amount of it. For example if she needed a litre of water, she could make sure there’s not too much and not too little.  There were other scientific instruments to make sure the temperature and humidity were exactly right in the room all the time.  It was interesting to see how Science and History were used together in one job.

We had a mind-blowing time at the ERO, our brains were stretched. It was an experience of a life time and an adventure beyond words. We had no idea it would be so interesting and would like to say thank you to the ERO for giving us an amazing tour, we learnt lots! It’s a brilliant place to find out many things. The people who work there are very kind and friendly.  They were experts and shared all their knowledge and information with us from generations ago. We were mad at Mrs McIntyre (our teacher) for making us leave, and were desperate to stay to find out more about our own pasts and where we lived. We hope to be back soon…

By Ben, Grace, Evie, Akmal, Toby, Ben, Grace, Lucas and Bella, Broomfield Primary School

We Will Remember Them: North Primary School Roll of Honour

This guest post is written by Laura Davison, project officer for We Will Remember Them. This HLF-funded school project has used documents stored at ERO and included a visit to ERO for the pupils involved.

Year 5 pupils at North Primary School in Colchester are working on the year-long project We Will Remember Them, researching the lives of the 50 former pupils who volunteered or were conscripted for action in the First World War. This innovative project explores how the discovery of locally relevant histories can engage and inspire pupils in responding to moments in the history of the First Word War.

The project was initially inspired by entries in the school’s log book written by the Head Master John Harper on 9 July 1915 and 11 November 1919:

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Entry into the North Primary School log book by Head Master John Harper, describing a Roll of Honour which was to be hung permanently in the school hall, recording the names of former pupils who were serving with the armed forces in the First World War (EML 86/2)

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Another entry by Harper, describing the observance of two minutes of silence on 11 November, and a display of photographs of the 50 men from the school who lost their lives in the way (E/ML 86/2)

The whereabouts of the Roll of Honour, installed in the school hall in 1915, is unknown.  The funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for We Will Remember Them will enable the school re-instate the Roll of Honour, restoring this object of heritage to its original setting within the school’s Grade II listed building. This will be supported by a showcase exhibition, publication and teachers’ pack narrating the untold stories of the former pupils’ lives and how they were affected by the First World War.

Headteacher Alan Garnett discusses the impact of the project for the school:

This history project captures all our past, present and future. The children are often told that our school is more than just a magnificent building – it is the stories of all its former pupils and staff. To work with a local historian to uncover the stories of those who lost their lives in that terrible war will bring national and local history alive to our pupils. And to have our Roll Of Honour re-made and restored to its rightful place in our school hall, well that will be a proud moment indeed.

The Year 5 pupils have worked with Historian Claire Driver to research and record the former pupils. All the hard work has paid off, as they have identified sixty-two pupils who served and died in the First World War. Each pupil is paired with a former pupil to develop individual case study. Claire has shown them how to use archive records from the School Log Book, the 1901 and 1911 census and military records. Using the 1897 map of Colchester, they have plotted where all the former pupils lived and identified what shops were in Colchester High Street in 1914.  Gradually a picture is being formed of what it was like to live in Colchester 100 years ago.

Some of the fascinating facts the census records revealed were:

  • People’s jobs – fishmongers, bakers, railway porters, tailors, police constables and printing apprentices
  • How many people lived in a house – in some cases  up to 11 people lived in a 2 bedroom Victorian terrace house
  •  Some of the pupils even came from the workhouse at St Mary’s

The children have been on an amazing journey building up an understanding of the social context of the school to promote awareness of their lives in the context of the First World War and the impact it had on the school and its locality.

school trip 9 Pupils visit Colchester's War Memorial and discuss the symboliic meaning of the sculptures. They used 1897 maps to make comparisons of what the site looked like 100 years ago

Visiting Colchester’s War Memorial

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Identifying 4 former pupils on the Roll of Honour in St Peter’s Church, Colchester

An Open Day was held at the school, inviting local residents and families to get involved with the project and share their family stories and memories from the First World War passed down through generations.

open day 1Visitors looking at ERO WW1 exhibition

Visitors enjoy the EROs WW1 exhibition loaned for the Open Day

open day 4 Year 5 Teacher Maria Gray discusses the project with Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell

The children are so proud to be working on this project because it really happened in our school. Year 5 Teacher Maria Gray discusses the project with Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell

Recently, the pupils visited Essex Record Office to view the collections and discover how historians use archives to support their research. Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer at ERO and project Historian Claire Driver introduced the pupils to the wealth of material available from the collections and explained how to use a range of historical sources to find out what life was like during WWI. The children were able to ask questions about their former pupil and in some cases looked on Ancestry too.

They focused on the two fascinating stories of the nurse Kate Luard and soldier Alf Webb using sound archives, letters and an interesting range of hands-on activities which even included bandaging at a WWI dressing station.

Using different historical sources, such as photographs, sound recordings, letters and even the original admissions register and log book from our school from over 100 years ago, the pupils were able to uncover more information about life during World War One. Maria Gray, Year 5 Teacher

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Following on from the research, the pupils are now working with Creative Writer Baden Prince to creatively narrate in their own words each soldier’s individual story.  They will then work with Photographer Georgia Metaxas to document their homes, making comparisons with then and now.

Do you have any information to help our research?

If you have any information or images in relation to North Primary School during the First World War please contact Laura Davison, Project Manager at northwewillrememberthem@outlook.com

We Will Remember Them project has been made possible by the funding award from Heritage Lotter Fund’s First World War: then and now programme.

If you are planning your own First World War schools project and would like to use ERO resources or need advice, please get in touch with heritage.education@essex.gov.uk

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Document of the Month, November 2014: ‘Poping’ in Purfleet, 1897

Archivist Allyson Lewis takes a look at a battle of wills between a headmaster and his pupils in late-Victorian Purfleet.

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‘Remember, remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot’ begins the rhyme.  It commemorates the attempt in 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliament by a group of conspirators led by Robert Catesby.  The aim of the plot was to kill James I and replace him with a Catholic monarch.  The group included Guy Fawkes who hid in the cellars of the Parliament building to guard the gunpowder and light the fuse as the King entered the building for the opening of the parliamentary session.  He was arrested, tortured into giving up the names of his co-conspirators and duly hanged.

The celebration of the preservation of the Protestant monarchy began almost immediately with the passing of the Observance of 5th November Act in January 1606.  Although this was intended as a day of thanksgiving for the safety of the king, it became an excuse for anti-Catholic feeling, particularly after the future Charles I married Henrietta Maria of France, a Catholic princess, in 1625.  Effigies of the pope and the devil were burned for the first time that year.  5th November Day was re-established as a celebration of Protestant monarchy after the restoration of Charles II.  The landing at Weymouth of William of Orange on 5 November 1688 added another layer of Protestant significance to the day.  During the 18th century it became more usual to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes rather than the pope.  The Observance of 5th November Act was repealed in 1859 but the tradition of Bonfire Night still continues.

In the 19th century children began a custom of ‘poping’, going from house to house begging ‘a penny for the Guy’ and gathering wood for a large bonfire.  In this log book entry, the headmaster of Purfleet School comments on his attempts to prevent boys going ‘poping’ in school hours by encouraging residents to only give to children going round after school.  He allowed the boys to bring their costumes into school and change in the school cloakrooms before going out begging for wood, food, drink and pennies, and singing traditional rhymes.

The school log book will be on display in the Searchroom throughout November 2014.

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New Accession: Poor rate assessment for Brentwood, 1694

Dr Stacey Harmer, Archivist at Brentwood School, blogs for us about an exciting discovery made at the school recently that has been deposited at ERO to benefit from our climate-controlled storage and to allow public access…

An exciting discovery has been made in the archives of Brentwood School, which are being catalogued in preparation for the opening of the new Learning Resources Centre in the summer of 2015. It is a parchment roll, protected by a cardboard cover, entitled ‘A Rate made the Tenth day of Aprill Anno Dom’ 1694 for the Reliefe of the Poore of the Towne of Brentwood’. It lists 146 heads of households (including a number of widows) and seven pensioners of the town. The person who was taxed the highest was a Mr Lambert, who was to pay 7s 6d. This may be the Francis Lambert who, in 1689, was summoned to court to answer for his contempt in refusing to serve as a petty constable even though he had been elected by the parishioners [ERO Q/SR 461/55].  A few were not affluent enough to pay any rate but were still included in the list (assessed as 0s 0d).

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Dr Stacey Harmer (right) depositing the poor rate assessment with Archivist Ruth Costello at ERO

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The first name on the list is ‘Mr Barnard’: almost certainly Daniel Barnard, the schoolmaster of Brentwood School. Barnard had been appointed to the school in 1655 at the age of 24, already an ordained priest. A year later he married the daughter of the vicar of South Weald. According to R. R. Lewis, author of The History of Brentwood School (1981), Barnard was “one of the most successful schoolmasters of his time”. His pupils included the sons of Sir William Scroggs (Lord Chief Justice of England) and Erasmus Smith (English merchant and philanthropist).

1694 is a crucial date in the history of the parish of Brentwood. Brentwood chapel, dedicated to St Thomas Becket, was built in 1221 but was subsidiary to the parish of South Weald. The parish vestry controlled matters such as the care of the poor, the collection of poor rates, and apprenticeship of pauper children.

1694 is the year in which the first records of the chapel of St Thomas Becket begin, showing an important move towards autonomy. At Essex Record Office there is a record book of the Brentwood chapel starting in 1694 which includes vestry minutes, orders for relief, overseers’ accounts and nominations of officers [ERO D/P 362/8/1]. The battle for independence from the parish of South Weald was to take nearly two centuries: Brentwood did not become a separate parish until 1873, but it is clear that 1694 was an important step in this journey.