Parish register stories

Parish registers are some of our most frequently used documents, and as well as providing useful information on baptisms, marriages and burials, sometimes an individual’s story is recorded in more detail. This is more common in the earlier centuries of the keeping of parish registers before standardisation, when record keepers could write as much or as little as they liked. Inevitably, however, such entries nearly always raise more questions than they answer.

The register for Little Clacton contains a very sad and somewhat mysterious story dating from 1592, when a bride, Prudence Lambert, hanged herself the morning after her wedding to Clement Fenn:

Clement Fenn singleman, and Prudence the late wife of Nycholas Lambert, wch dwelt in Little Clacton Lodge; were maryed uppon Teusdaye [six], the xvth day of August; but the (most accursed creature), did the verye next morning, desperatelie hang her selfe, to the intolerable grieffe of her new maryed husband, and the dreadfull horror and astonishment of all the countrye. 

Extract from Little Clacton parish register, 1592 (D/P 80/1/1 image 45)    

Prudence’s burial is recorded two days later in the same register:

Prudence Fen, now the wife of Clem[e]nt Fen, and late the wife of the above named Nicholas Lambert; was buried out of the compass of Christian burial; in ye furthest syde of the churchyard northward; uppon the xviith daye of August; for that shee most accursedlie hanged her selfe.

Extract from Little Clacton parish register, 1592 (D/P 80/1/1 image 61)


Another unusual case was found in the pages of the register for Great Hallingbury in 1708:

Anne the daughter of John Hastler and Sarah the Relict of his Father Edward Hastler (by an Incestuous cohabitation for which she did publick penance in the Parish Church of this Parish of Sunday the 11 of March last past and Sunday the twenty eighth following; the first time in the Parish Church of this Parish and the second in the parish Church of Bishop Stortford the father having absconded himself) was baptised privately on the 25th day of 8ber 1707 and her baptism publicly certified in the Church on Easter Sunday April the 4th

Extract from parish register for Great Hallingbury, 1708 (D/P 27/1/4 image 29)


A story which hopefully had a happier ending is found amongst the baptisms in the parish register of Ugley in 1759:

Anne daughter of John Grimshaw, a Sailor in the Dreadnought Man of War, & Jane his wife found in Labour in the Road, & taken care of by the Parish, was born June 27th & baptized July 7th

Extract from Ugley parish register, 1759 (D/P 373/1/2 image 17)


If you want to explore parish registers for yourself, you can do so using Essex Ancestors, which is available online for a subscription, or for free in the ERO Searchroom.  You can also look out for our Discover: Parish Registers sessions to really find out how to get to grips with these amazing documents.

Essex’s Industrial Archaeology: Housing the workers

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.

In order to attract – and keep – workers, many employers decided to build housing for their workers. Some built the cheapest, most basic housing possible, but others had a genuine concern for their workers’ welfare and built good quality homes, appreciating that healthy, content workers would be more loyal and productive. Most such houses were built after industrialisation had firmly taken hold in the mid-late nineteenth century, but there are also earlier and later examples of such developments, on varying scales.

Tony Crosby will be talking about industrial house from sites all around the county at Essex’s Industrial Archaeology, but here we share with you just a few examples, from Bentall’s in Heybridge, Crittall’s in Silver End, and Bata in East Tilbury.

E.H. Bentall & Co. of Heybridge

E.H. Bentall & Co. were ironfounders and agricultural implement makers based in Heybridge, who in the early twentieth century also dabbled with the internal combustion engine and car manufacturing. Bentall’s sold agricultural machinery all over the country and all over the world, such as this chaffcutter which ended up in Australia. By 1914 the company employed 6-700 people.

Bentall’s began building housing for their workers in the mid-late 1800s, with houses reflecting the social status of different levels of employees. The eight two-storey cottages built at Well Terrace were let to supervisors, and as such had a higher level of architectural detail than other developments. In the sale catalogue below, they are described as each containing: ‘Entrance Passage, 3 Bedrooms, 2 Sitting Rooms, Kitchen with Copper and Sink, Water laid on. Outside Pail Closet, Coalhouse and Wood Shed. Nice Garden.’ Well Terrace can be found on the map below, just to the north-east of the wharf.

Twelve three-storey houses were built in Stock Terrace for employees with large families, although some were set aside for younger single employees, subject to the supervision of a landlady. Two terraces of eight cottages called The Roothings were also built with minimum detailing for basic grade foundry workers (lot 40 on the map below). Bentall’s building became quite experimental, and in 1873 three terraces of single-storey flat-roofed concrete cottages were built, called Woodfield Cottages, although the roofs were later pitched following water leaks. More of these houses were built at Barnfield Cottages in the early twentieth century, along with several semi-detached Arts and Crafts style houses for managers.

In 1930 Bentall’s sold off a huge amount of housing stock, all with ‘good weekly tenants’, and the sale catalogue and accompanying plan (D/DCf B839) show us the extent of the housing Bentall’s had built up for their employees. The company had hit hard times in the late 1920s and 1930s, which could perhaps explain why they sold off so much property, but they did eventually recover and prosper again.

Plan showing properties sold by Bentall’s in 1930 (D/DCf B839) (Click for a larger version)

Extract from sale catalogue showing just a few of the properties sold by Bentall’s in 1930 (D/DCf B839)


Crittall Manufacturing Company, Silver End

Silver End village plan (D/DU 1656/1)

This plan for Silver End shows the development of housing for workers of Crittall’s, a metal window frame manufacturer. The development was conceived as a model village by Francis Henry Crittall, whose workforce had outgrown his existing factories in Braintree, Maldon and Witham. In the 1920s, he bought the land surrounding the tiny hamlet of Silver End, and built a new factory and a village surrounding it.

Aerial view of Silver End (I/Mp 290/1/1)

Crittall wanted his workforce to have comfortable, modern housing with hot running water and indoor bathrooms, and large outdoor spaces. The village also included a village hall, a dance floor, a cinema, a library, a snooker room and a health clinic. Crittall also purchased farmland surrounding the village so it could be as self-sufficient as possible and the price of food would be kept low.

Silver End was built in the tradition of enlightened employers providing ‘ideal’ environments for their workers, such as Titus Salt at Saltaire, and Cadbury at Bournville, and was also the first garden village in Essex.

The development at Silver End employed innovative modernist architecture, and was written up in the Builders and Architects Journal in 1919 (D/Z 114/2)

The Bata Shoe Company, East Tilbury

The Bata Shoe Company, founded by Tomas Bata in Czechoslovakia, opened a factory in the Essex marshes at East Tilbury in 1933. Over the following decades the company grew and eventually operated 300 shops across Britain and employed 3,000 people.

The Bata company built not only housing but educational and recreational facilities for their workers, and a real community grew around the factory. The Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre is collecting the memories of the people who lived and worked at Bata and has built up a vast collection of artefacts and photographs, available to see at the Centre. You can find out more about them here.

Aerial photo of factory and estate c.1960 (Reproduced courtesy of the Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre)

Bata Hotel, c.1937 (Reproduced courtesy of the Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre)

Queen Elizabeth Avenue c.1971 (Reproduced courtesy of the Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre)

Swimming pool on the Bata estate (Reproduced courtesy of the Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre)

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

Fresh perspectives: work experience at the ERO

Abbie Wheeler, who came all the way from Edinburgh to work with us for a week, blogs for us about her time here…

I went to the Essex Record Office for a one week work experience from 3 to the 7th of June. I was able to look into and experience all aspects of the Record Office. I worked with Marion and had a look at how all the documents and archive papers were photographed and digitised. It was fascinating and a great experience to see the amount of work she puts in to make the documents clear and defined to view on the screen.

I had a peek into the conservation room and had a look at a map that the conservators took months to repair because it was so badly damaged.

I also checked out the Sound and Video Archive section of the Office which really astonished me with the vast range of technology they used to identify video clips and sounds of history.

On the Thursday I worked in the Searchroom and gained an insight into how documents were retrieved for the public, catalogued, checked then stored back into the repositories. Retrieving specific documents for the public is really well executed and the amount of organisation that has to be done so the repositories are catalogued correctly and the right documents are given to the right person is unbelievable and I think the whole system is really well set up and resourceful .

Most of my day would consist of cataloguing. As a work experience student I was cataloguing building plans and I definitely underestimated how much detail needs to be put into the Seax system so each plan is identifiable. On the whole my week at the Record Office was an eye opener into the working life of an archivist and I really appreciate all the advice and help all the staff gave me. Thank you so much for such a helpful and enjoyable work experience!

Visit to Deepstore

Back in May, our Senior Conservator Tony King visited the Deepstore facility in Cheshire. Here he writes for us about what he found there…

During a recent visit to Flintshire Record Office I was lucky enough to accompany some of their staff on a visit to the Deepstore Records Management Facility which has found a radical solution to the problem of finding space to store ever expanding archives.

600 feet below the town of Winsford in Cheshire lies a 200 million cubic metre underground salt mine, one corner of which has been turned into a storage facility used by many organisations to house their archives. Opened in 1844, this working salt mine provides salt for treating icy roads but has made use of the practically unlimited space that results from the mining process to generate an income that is less weather dependant!

Boxes arriving at the storage unit

Boxes arriving at the storage unit

It may seem a bit drastic to store historically important and irreplaceable records in a working mine but many aspects of the way a salt mine is run and the conditions inside make it suitable for long-term archival storage. Temperature and humidity levels are very stable at around 14 degrees centigrade and a natural relative humidity of around 65% that can be brought down to 50% by dehumidifiers, achieving the conditions recommended for storage of archival material. The image of mines being wet places prone to drips and floods does not apply here; on leaving the access lift down which pallets full of boxed documents come daily the mine feels dry without a hint of damp. 


Boxes of documents going into the lift

Boxes of documents going into the lift

Newly arrived boxes awaiting processing

Newly arrived boxes awaiting processing

A little distance from the lift is a large document reception area where the boxes are entered into the database and then taken to one of the numerous units constructed further along the mine. On entering a unit it feels remarkably like any other repository or strong room with boxes neatly arranged on the shelves that fill the 7-8 metre high rooms. The air in each unit is carefully monitored to maintain correct temperature and humidity as well as to check for smoke particles that may indicate a fire starting. As a working mine (the working face is many miles away from the storage areas) strict rules on air quality, security and fire response all apply which is something that benefits the material stored there.

National institutions such as The National Archives as well as many County Record Offices and libraries keep a proportion of their holdings at the site and along with banks, legal firms, police authorities etc. contribute towards the 1.9 million boxes of items currently stored down this mine. Although Essex Record Office currently has no plans to use a facility like this, it was fascinating to visit the site and the fact that many organisations have already moved documents to the mine shows that these sort of arrangements are likely to become increasingly common.

Inside storage unit

Inside a storage unit

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

‘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.