Explore Your Archive: ‘A world without records is a world without memory’

Saturday 16 November will see the launch of the new Explore Your Archive campaign, which aims to raise public awareness of the essential role of archives in society, celebrate our network of collections, and underline the skill and professionalism of the sector.

Developed by the Archives and Records Association and The National Archives, the campaign is designed for all types of archives, whether they be local, university, business, specialist, private or national archives.

The campaign will showcase the unique collections held in archives and how people can use and enjoy those collections.



You can find out more about the campaign and what’s going on across the country on the Explore Your Archive website, which includes a wonderful interactive map of archives across the nation – it makes you realise just how many of them there are! You can also find the campaign on Facebook and join in on Twitter using the hashtag #explorearchives, and the good people at Explore Your Archives  have made a series of short films about the value of archives, which you can watch below.

To mark the beginning of the campaign we will be heading to Chelmsford Library on Saturday 16 November to raise local awareness about the treasure trove of material held at ERO, and how people can access it. We’ll be there from 10am until 3pm, so do come and say hello!

Favourite ERO documents: interview with Mrs Champion about the Canvey Island Floods of 1953

Today is World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, organised by the International Association of Sound and Video Archives, and this year’s theme is “Saving Our Heritage for the Next Generation”. We thought that this was a good opportunity to dip into the Essex Sound and Video Archive as part of our favourite documents series.

As well as asking our users about their favourite documents from our collections, we have also been asking ourselves. Here, Sound Archivist Martin Astell tells us about one of his favourite recordings in the Essex Sound and Video Archive, an interview with Mrs Champion about the Canvey Island Floods of 1953 (SA 6/306/1).

Choosing a favourite item from the Essex Sound and Video Archive is difficult for me as I have heard and watched so many wonderful recordings of all kinds relating to Essex people and places. The archive holds numerous recordings which can be enjoyed for their entertainment value – beautiful music, amusing anecdotes, interesting documentaries, dramatic productions, and so on.

However, I have chosen one of our oral history interviews which, rather than being entertaining, is sobering, shocking and moving. It is an interview with Mrs Peggy Champion, recorded in 1978, in which she remembers her experiences during the floods which engulfed Canvey Island and other parts of Essex on the night of 31 January 1953.

In this interview – which lasts only 7 minutes – Mrs Champion (who, at the time of the floods was Mrs Peggy Morgan) tells the story calmly and without hyperbole of how she woke in the night to find sea water in the bedroom of her home on Canvey Island and how, during the course of that night, she witnessed the deaths of her husband, her mother-in-law, and her five-year-old son.

It has been said that listening to an oral history interview is the closest one can come to time travel since it involves real people from the past talking about real events as they were genuinely experienced, and the emotional impact of this one recording can perhaps tell us more about the experience of natural disaster than any number of statistics or written reports.

I believe that hearing this recording was one of the things which spurred Patricia Rennoldson Smith to gather testimony from other survivors of the 1953 floods for her book The 1953 Essex Flood Disaster: The People’s Story, and every time I hear it I am reminded of why it is so important that sound and video recordings are preserved and made available alongside the other records held in the Essex Record Office.

Favourite ERO documents: Grant of Arms to Thomas Barrett-Leonard (formerly Thomas Thomas)

As well as asking our users about their favourite documents from our collections, we have also been asking ourselves. Here, Archive Assistant Edward Harris tells us about one of his favourite documents, the Grant of Arms to Thomas Barrett Leonard 1st Baronet (D/DL/F170).

This document recites a royal warrant of 13 March 1786 which directs the Garter and Clarenceux, kings of arms, to grant to Thomas Thomas  the right to adopt his father’s surname, title and arms as per his father’s will.

Thomas Thomas was an illegitimate son of Thomas Barrett-Leonard, 17th Baron Dacre, and Elizabeth FitzThomas. He went on to  be MP for Essex South and a Deputy Lieutenant of Essex. He was created 1st Baronet of Belhus in 1801. His eldest son Thomas became an MP for Maldon, but predeceased Thomas Sr who died aged 95 as the most senior member of the baronetage in 1857. He was succeeded in his baronetcy by his grandson Thomas (why give up on a good name?).

This document has always stood out for me as it was one of the first documents I noticed on when I began working at the Record Office, as its distinctively shaped box caught my eye. I am sorry to say that it was only recently that I actually unrolled it and discovered the wonderful illumination inside.

The purpose-made box for D/DL/F170 , with special containers for the two pendant seals.


 Edds avec seal


 IMG_1369 compressed

For me it was always the meaning behind it that appealed to me. This is a document which was the making of this one man. It transformed him from a relatively wealthy gentleman into one of the foremost members of the nobility in Essex, an opportunity that he clearly didn’t squander. Without this document his life would have been somewhat different. The esteem in which he held it is obvious. The box is carefully made and decorated and the document itself is pristine to the point of looking almost brand new.

We have a portrait of Thomas’s painted by John Opie, and it now hangs on one of the walls in the Searchroom, next to a portrait of his first wife. I very much recommend having a look at it on your next visit – he looks every bit like a man who had to prove himself, and this document certainly helped.

Letters Close

Archive Assistant Edd Harris is back with some more medieval matters for you…

Close relations of the Letters Patent that we have looked at previously are the Letters Close (if you will pardon me the pun?)

Letters Patent are the open public proclamations of the royal court intended for anyone and everyone to read. In contrast, the Letters Close are the court’s private correspondence, intended only for the individual to whom they are addressed.

Like the Letters Patent, Letters Close still include wax seals, but rather than hanging from the letter the wax was used to seal the folded letter closed, in the way we often see in period dramas.

They deal with the more day-to-day activities of the court and as such the original Letters as sent out to the individual are extremely rare and often difficult to identify in collections. As the seal had to be broken in order to read the Letters, the seals are even rarer and at the moment only one known example exists of an unopened Letters Close, dating from the reign of Henry VIII.

Like the Letters Patent, they were recorded on rolls which are now stored at the National Archives in Kew. The first Close Roll begins in the year 1204, although there had been Letters Close before that date. The entries from the Close Rolls are also calendared (transcribed and/or translated from Latin, and indexed) in the Public Record Office (PRO) calendars, which are invaluable for researchers. Our collection of calendars in the Essex Record Office Library runs from 1227 through to 1509 (though the rolls for 1227-1272 are only recorded in the original Latin).

Following an extensive search through the catalogue of documents held at the Essex Record Office (Indiana Jones style hats were optional for those involved in the quest), we eventually identified what may well be the only original Letters Close in the archive, D/DP T1/1487.


This may be the only original Letter Close in the ERO’s collections (D/DP T1/1487). It is shown with its entry in the Close Rolls. You can see the remnants of sealing wax along the top of the Letter.

D/DP T1/1487 contains two mandates (or instructions) from the King with two separate dates, one from the 30th of May and the other from the 2nd of June 1358. They are addressed to two different people, the Sheriff of Essex and the Barons of the exchequer. Presumably the barons are effectively being copied into the message to the Sheriff as it impacts them too. The instructions relate to a rather intriguing case.

It appears that a dead man was discovered in a ditch on the Priory of Thoby’s demesne land in Mountnessing. He had apparently been killed by robbers. Eight pounds was discovered on his person, which was delivered to the Prior of Thoby to be held “to the use of” whoever it belonged to (what we would call “holding in trust” today). The rightful owner of the money, however, could not be identified nor could the King claim ownership, so the mandate orders that Prior is discharged from his duty and was presumably allowed to keep the money.

Unusually the mandates use the same text as a previous entry accidentally sent to the Sheriff of Kent earlier that year, so presumably the letter we have is the second attempt to send it to the right Sheriff.

Black History Month

Archivist Sarah Dickie writes for us about records of Black communities at ERO… 

As October is Black History Month, we thought we would look at one or two Black people who are recorded living in Essex in previous centuries. Although the perception is that not many Black and Asian people were present here until relatively recently, this is not the case. The Record Office keeps a running list of references to Black people found in parish registers and other documents and the current total is 156, covering the period from 1580 to 2011. In most cases the only record is that of a baptism, marriage or burial and from these we can only guess the background details. For example, Sarah Drake had her daughter, Jacoba, baptised in Broomfield on 26 July 1725 naming the father as ‘Jacob, the Blackmoor servant to Mr. Hill at the Parsonage.’ [Mr. Hill was not the vicar.]  In 1736/7, Rebecca Magarth, a Black maid, belonging to Edward Kelsall of New House, Broomfield was baptised. Did Jacob at the parsonage know Rebecca – we can only surmise, although with the size of the parish at that time, they may well have known of each other’s existence. What about Ann Madre, the daughter of Charles and Margaret Madre, baptised in 1736 in the neighbouring parish of Great Waltham and described in the margin as ‘Black’? She lived only a short distance away but may never have come into contact with Rebecca or Jacob; we will never know. 

Baptism of Rebecca Magarth, recorded in the Broomfield parish register in January 1736/7 (D/P 248/1/1)

Baptism of Rebecca Magarth, recorded in the Broomfield parish register in January 1736/7 (D/P 248/1/1)

What is tantalising about these entries is how little we know about the people concerned. Sometimes, as in the case of Maria Sambo, they have left a bit more information behind. Maria first appears in Essex records in January 1732 when she signed as a witness on the marriage bond of Henry Dunnings for his marriage to Mary Seabrook.  Her own marriage took place in Earls Colne in November 1737 when she married Warren Hull, a glover. She was 25 then but no record of her baptism has been found in Essex. However, there is a record of the christening of a Maria Sambo, the daughter of Thomas and Mary Sambo, at St. John Zachary in London on 14 November 1712.  Maria and Warren Hull had four daughters, although as two were given the same Christian name it appears only three survived.  Maria’s death is recorded in the Earl’s Colne burial register for 1766 ‘Maria a Negro the wife of Warren Hull was buried May 4 1766’. Her three daughters all died, unmarried, within a year of her so we cannot trace the family further.

Marriage of Maria Sambo to Warren Hull in Earls Colne, 1737 (D/P 209/1/4)

Marriage of Maria Sambo to Warren Hull in Earls Colne, 1737 (D/P 209/1/4)

Burial of Maria Hull nee Sambo in Earls Colne, 1766 (D/P 209/1/5)

Burial of Maria Hull nee Sambo in Earls Colne, 1766 (D/P 209/1/5)

However, although there is certainly further information to be found in the records, it is only with the help of staff and searchers passing on details they have found using parish registers and other documents that we are able to compile a list of references for further research.

Black and Asian communities in Essex today are under-represented in our collections and we welcome deposits of records from new (as well as old) communities in Essex so if you have any records that you would like us to have, either on loan or as a gift, please contact ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk It is important that archives record everyone’s history so that we can leave an accurate picture of Essex today for future generations.

You Are Hear

The Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA) has been awarded £53,700 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place project. The grant will fund the development phase of the project, to progress plans so the ESVA can apply for a full grant at a later date.

The project aims to digitise and catalogue historically valuable sound recordings and videos held in the archive, focussing on collections of oral history interviews. This wealth of digitised recordings will then be presented in different ways, enabling Essex residents in particular to learn about, interact with and enjoy the recordings, helping them to use the sounds of Essex people and places over the last 100 years to develop or enhance their sense of place.

A few of the oral histories currently stored on cassette tapes which the project aims to digitise

 The project will work with a range of community groups in villages and towns throughout Essex, enabling them to engage with the recordings and to use them to reflect upon where they live. They will learn about Essex accents and dialect, and be taught how to edit and work with sound recordings to create audio montages about the place where they live. The montages created by the groups will be uploaded to sonic park benches placed in the locations to which the recordings relate. The project will also install interactive audio and video kiosks at the Essex Record Office and create an online audio map allowing users to compare historic and contemporary sounds from the same place.

The Essex Sound and Video Archive was established at the Essex Record Office in 1987 and is one of the most important audio-visual archives in the East of England. Its collections are unique and include a broad range of recordings such as oral history, radio broadcasts, talking magazines, dialect recordings and lots of music. Highlights include recordings of Guglielmo Marconi, George Ewart Evans, Paul Simon, Kenny Ball, Max Wall, David Lloyd and many more.

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: “HLF is please to support this project – so much of our history is told through stories, sound and recordings. This funding will help to develop project plans further and give the local community the opportunity to engage with their cultural heritage and enhance their sense of place”.