31st May 1944 – Just another mission

Neil Wiffen, Public Service Team Manager here at ERO, writes for us about a bombing raid that took off from Essex 70 years ago today…

Seventy years ago the skies above Essex would have been filled daily with the aircraft both of our own Royal Air Force but to a much greater extent by the massed forces of the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces.

By April 1944 there were eight Bomb Groups of Ninth Air Force Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers and three groups of Douglas A-20 Havoc light bombers in Essex, totalling over 700 aircraft with many thousands of personnel and their supporting units. These aircraft and their crews were tasked with ‘softening up’ the German defences and associated transport infrastructure in Europe in order to facilitate a successful invasion and liberation of occupied territory, something dreamed of, and planned for, since the dark days of June 1940.

Some of these Bomb Groups had been in Essex since the summer of 1943, such as the 387th BG based at Chipping Ongar and the 322nd at Andrew’s Fields (Great Saling). Seven groups were relative newcomers, only arriving ‘in theatre’ in 1944. One of the more recently arrived was the 394th Bomb Group with around 64 B-26s who were based at Boreham, flying their first mission on March 23rd when 36 aircraft set out to bomb a Luftwaffe airfield at Beaumont-le-Roger in France.

A10950 Box 1 Book 1 B-26 image crop

A B-26 Marauder of the 394th Bomb Group (at Boreham?) This was taken sometime after D-Day as evidenced by the worn black and white invasion stripes which can be seen under the wings. Note what appears to be aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit under the port wing. This was used to ‘power-up’ the aircraft before main engine ignition. (A10950 Box 1 ‘Book 1’).

Bombing raids were run as regularly as the English weather allowed, with as little let-up as possible, and with sometimes two raids a day. With the date for D-Day set there could be no relaxation for the planners in endeavouring to give the assault troops as much assistance as possible before they hit the beaches. This meant that the Allies’ combined air forces had to keep on pounding away whenever they could.

The 394th was tasked with carrying out one such raid on this day 70 years ago. Their target for what would be their 53rd mission since arriving at Boreham was a bridge in Rouen (J.G Ziegler, Bridge Busters: the story of the 394th Bomb Group (Phoenix, Arizona, 1993), p.38.) This was to be the 10th mission in the last eight days, such was the intensity of the air campaign to date and with only a week to go for the planned launch of D-Day on the 5th June.

One of the 36 Marauders that was designated to fly the mission that morning was being piloted by Lt John Connelly of the 587th Bomb Squadron. Connelly was 11th in line to take off (S.D. Bishop & J.A. Hey, Losses of the US 8th & 9th Air Forces: aircraft and men 1st April – 30th June 1944 (Bury St Edmunds, 2009), p.543). Taking off for a heavily loaded combat aircraft was always a crucial time but especially so for an over loaded twin-engine Marauder. Fat with fuel and armed with two 2,000lb bombs the loss of an engine on take-off could have devastating consequences, and was something which Connelly was about to experience first-hand.

Lt Jack Havener of the 344th over at Stansted later recounted his experience of losing an engine after take-off: ‘We had just taken off…and were about halfway through the first turn to join up…when the right engine started sputtering and losing power. As we frantically clawed the…controls, trying to get some life back into the engine we realised we had a serious problem…By the time I had trimmed for single-engine operation we were still losing altitude, so I gave Sgt Skowski the order to pull the emergency bomb salvo lever…He immediately reached up and pulled the lever and greatly relieved the tension in the cockpit when he yelled out: ‘We got a haystack, Lieutenant!’ Havener and his crew were able to land back to their base – just (R.A. Freeman, B-26 Marauder at War (London, 1978), p.120).

Connelly decided, however, against dumping his bomb load as he decided that opening the bomb-bay doors would cause too much drag and force his Marauder to crash. Trying to regain the runway he was not able to stay aloft and crashed short of it into one of the extensive orchards that once surrounded Boreham airfield. Of the six man crew all survived wounded but Connelly and his co-pilot, Flight Officer Preston Fulgham, received major injuries.

A10950 Box 1 Book 3 B-26 image 1

A10950 Box 1 Book 3 B-26 image 2

Two views of the Connelly’s Marauder (Serial number 42-96069). How any of the crew survived is unbelievable. Note the bomb lying on the ground. (A10950 Box 1 ‘Book 3’)

As with all things that fell out of the sky, be they enemy bombs or friendly aircraft, the local authority civil defence system sprang into action. Even though this was an American aircraft and it fell within easy distance of all the US emergency services there were two very large bombs and several hundred gallons of high octane fuel that had been spilled over the Essex countryside. Around mid-day a message was reported to Essex County Control that ‘Waltham Rd. [was] closed from Russell Green to Little Waltham. Houses in the immediate vicinity evacuated on the instruction from American Police’ (ERO, C/W 1/11/3). Shortly after 1pm the road was re-opened and residents allowed back to their properties. While all this was going on the raid that was launched earlier was carried on with – just one more day in a long war.

C-W 1-11-3 31-05-1944 compressed

The Crashed Aircraft Report for 31st May 1944 with the details of the crash from the British viewpoint. (ERO, C/W 1/11/3)

Using the description I wondered if it might be possible to pinpoint the exact location of the crash. The orderly rows of fruit trees show up very well on aerial photos and Looking at am image held at ERO, taken immediately after the end of the war, there does appear to be a scar in the landscape (circled on map), so very close to the runways at Boreham that Connelly nearly made. Seventy years on, I wonder if anyone remembers this event and can confirm the crash site?

OS TL71SW 1-10,560

Boreham Airfield post war. The runways, taxiways, hardstands and accommodation areas, along with the orchards, are all shown. Circled is the suggested area of the crash. (OS TL71SW, 1:10560)


Common scolds, evildoers and hedge maintenance – the lives of ordinary Essex people as told by manorial court rolls

Following our recent post on what a manor was, Archivist Katharine Schofield takes a more detailed look at manorial court rolls. You can find out more about manorial records and how you can use them in your own research at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014.

The majority of manorial records in the Essex Record Office are the records of the manorial courts, which are among the most important sources for medieval social and economic history.

Their greatest importance is in recording the lives of the ‘ordinary people’ of the county; in the years before parish registers began to be kept in 1538, these might be the only records in which a relatively ordinary person might appear. Some of the Essex manorial rolls also contain evidence of events of national significance, such as the Black Death of 1348-1349 and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

The manor courts dealt with everything from maintaining hedges and ditches to keeping the peace when disagreements (and sometimes violence) broke out amongst the manor’s tenants.

The court was presided over by the lord of the manor, or more usually by his steward. The records were kept in Latin until 1733, but if you don’t read Latin don’t let that put you off; the later material is in English and these records are stuffed full with fascinating details of daily life in the past.

The earliest records are rolls made up of membranes of parchment stitched together at the top.  Although these records are cumbersome and unwieldy to use today, this was the quickest and easiest way to maintain a working accessible record

The earliest records are rolls made up of membranes of parchment stitched together at the top. Although these records are cumbersome and unwieldy to use today, this was the quickest and easiest way to maintain a working accessible record

There were two types of manorial court, the court baron and the court leet, although the earlier rolls do not distinguish between the two. Broadly speaking, the court baron dealt with matters pertaining to the administration of the manor, and the court leet handled minor criminal offences.

The court baron

The court baron handled the administration of the manor, including customs (such as the use of common land for pasture, and maintaining buildings, paths and hedges), settling disputes between tenants, enforcing the rights of the lord and any infringements, and on occasion requiring the lord to fulfil his obligations towards the tenants.

The court rolls record fines levied on tenants for breaking the rules of the manor, such as trespass against the rights of the lord or other tenants, or failing to keep roads, paths and ditches clear. In Writtle in 1452 for example, seven animals of John Croucheman strayed on to the land of another tenant and ate two haycocks (a small cone-shaped pile of hay left in the field until dry enough to carry to the rick or barn), and in 1477 two tenants of the manor of Great Burstead were fined for leaving dung in the main street of Billericay in front of the chapel. There were also cases where tenants were bound to keep the peace towards each other and occasions where women were presented as a ‘common scold’.  At High Roding in 1525 Agnes Norwood was presented as a scold and disturber of the peace and no tenant was to allow her to live in their house on pain of a fine of 3s.4d (D/DU 886/3).

Extract from court roll of High Roding, 1525 (D/DU 886/3), in which Agnes Norwood (you can read her name in the third and fourth words on the first full line shown) was denounced as a scold and disturber of the peace. She had been living in the house of John Baker – you can make out his name in the third full line shown.

Extract from court roll of High Roding, 1525 (D/DU 886/3), in which Agnes Norwood (you can read her name in the third and fourth words on the first full line shown) was denounced as a scold and disturber of the peace. She had been living in the house of John Baker – you can make out his name in the third full line shown.

The rolls also record the customary fines tenants owed.  These included ‘chevage’, the right to live outside the manor. In 1356, for example, a tenant of the manor of Bulphan paid 6d. for a licence.

The court baron was also responsible for the appointment of various officers, including the reeve who would collect rents and ensure that the tenants fulfilled their obligations, and the haywards and woodwards who were responsible for the maintenance of hedges, fences and woods. By the 16th century this business had become much less important.

The deaths of tenants and admissions of new tenants to land were also recorded by the court baron. The lord was entitled to the payment of a ‘heriot’ (usually the best beast) on the death of a tenant and an entry fine by the incoming tenant. Tenants of manors were described as ‘copyholders’ as they held land by copy of the court roll. Copyhold land could be bought and sold and left by will and many hundreds of copyhold deeds survive in the Essex Record Office. From the 16th to the 20th century most of the business of manorial courts related to the recording of admissions and surrenders of copyhold land. With the decline and eventual cessation of this type of landholding in 1922, the business of the courts baron ceased.

The court leet

The court leet was the lowest court of law enforcement and dealt with minor offences, such as nuisances, affray or assault, selling faulty goods, using false weights and measures, playing unlawful games, keeping disorderly alehouses, disturbing the peace and keeping inmates and vagabonds.  The court was also responsible for the election of the constable.

The court leet was also where the lord of a manor would hold something called ‘the view of frankpledge’. Many, but not all, manorial lords had the right to do this.  This was a practice with Anglo-Saxon origins.  All able-bodied men in a manor were grouped in tithings (roughly 10 men).  All the men of the tithing were bound in mutual assurance to observe and uphold the law – if a member of a tithing broke the law then the rest were obliged to report the crime and deliver the culprit to the constable.  Failure to do this would result in everybody in the tithing being fined.  If the lord of the manor had the right to hold the view of frankpledge then the chief man of each tithing (called variously tithing men, headboroughs, decenners or capital pledges) would report to the court leet to represent his tithing.

Tenants could also be fined by the court for failing to obey the law. Offences included keeping unlicensed alehouses, not practising archery (all men were required by law to practise their archery so their skills could be drawn upon in times of war), and playing unlawful games; in 1564 and 1565 14 men in Ingatestone were each fined 4d. or 8d. for bowling.

There were also more serious crimes, including cases of assault. In 1467 Thomas Hurst of West Hanningfield was fined for breaking into his neighbour’s house by force, taking his goods and claiming him to be outlaw. In 1472 in Earls Colne a mob of gathered with bows, arrows, pitchforks and other weapons and broke into the houses of three tenants, dragging one out in his shirt, and beating them severely. You can read a full translation of the passage here.

Extract from D/DPr 69, a court roll from Earls Colne, which describes a serious assault. The court seems to have given up trying to translate ‘pitchforks’ into Latin, and written it as ‘pycheforkes’ (underlined in red).

Extract from D/DPr 69, a court roll from Earls Colne, which describes a serious assault. The court seems to have given up trying to translate ‘pitchforks’ into Latin, and written it as ‘pycheforkes’ (underlined in red).

During the 16th century most of the legal cases were being dealt with by Quarter Sessions and by the 17th century the court leet had no significance and rarely, if ever, met.

Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

What is a manor and what are manorial records?

Ahead of Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July, we begin a manorial mini-series exploring what these fascinating documents can tell us about Essex in the past. In this first post Archivist Katharine Schofield writes for us about what a manor actually was…

A manor was essentially a unit of land.  Manors were at the heart of the post-Norman Conquest feudal system whereby all land was owned by the King.  He rewarded his followers (or tenants-in-chief) by giving them land which they held in return for military service to the King.  They in turn rewarded their followers (or tenants) on the same basis.  At the bottom of the structure was the knight’s fee, the amount of land considered sufficient to finance the service of one knight.  Domesday Book, produced in 1086, shows the beginnings of this system and is arranged by manors rather than towns or villages.  It is for this reason that a number of places appear in it more than once.

Manors and parishes rarely coincided.  Domesday Book, for example, records three manors in the parish of Takeley, owned by Eudo Dapifer [the steward], Robert Gernon and the Priory of St. Valéry in Picardy.  By the time that the Revd. Philip Morant wrote The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex in 1768 there were four manors in the parish – Waltham Hall, Colchester Hall, St. Valerys or Warish Hall and Bassingborns which could trace their ownership back to the three Domesday manors.  Manors could also have land in a number of different parishes; for example, records of the manor of Berechurch or West Donyland in Colchester included property in Old Heath and on East Hill and St. John’s Green, all in other parishes.

The lord of the manor owned everything in and of the manor – the crops, animals, mineral, hunting and fishing rights and also the tenants, who could be bought and sold and who owed days of labour and items of produce to the lord.  The lord would either keep the land and farm it using the labour of his tenants or he would rent the land, retaining jurisdiction over it.

Among the earliest deeds in the Essex Record Office are a small number of early 13th century grants where named individuals, with their belongings and descendants, or chattels and issue [catallis et sequela – underlined in red below]), are sold or exchanged for land.

Grant by Thoby Priory of William le Beggere to Barking Abbey, c.1202-1201 (D/DP T1/1582). William had originally been purchased by the Priory from Robert de Saincler. In return for this grant, the abbey gave the priory land in Mountnessing.


As tenants were considered part of the property, the lord was also entitled to customary dues which would be paid as compensation for the loss of income that the tenant or members of his family would bring.  These included payments which were required when a son was sent to school or entered holy orders, as well as ‘merchet’ which was paid when a daughter married and ‘chevage’ paid to live the outside the manor.

The territorial rights of the lord over the tenants and their lands were enforced in the manorial court – the court baron.  Some, but not all, manorial lords also had jurisdiction over minor criminal matters in the court leet.

The rights of manorial lords did not change significantly over the centuries, but the nature of the manor did.  Some rights ceased to be exercised and others became more important.  It is estimated that the Black Death of 1348-1349 killed around a third of the national population and possibly as much as half of the population of East Anglia.  This ultimately led to lords being unable to find tenants willing to work the land as they had done previously, and the labour dues of tenants being commuted to rents or quit rents.  This, in turn, meant that records which commonly appeared in the early Middle Ages disappeared to be replaced with rentals.  Similarly by the 18th century the business of the manorial courts was mostly taken up with the admission and surrender of land by copyhold tenants.

IMG_2893 watermarked

Manorial survey of Castle Hedingham by Israel Amyce, 1592. This survey book includes written descriptions of pieces of land illustrated with maps. (D/DMh M1)

The Manorial Documents Register (MDR) was established in 1926, the year after manorial landholding (copyhold) was abolished, to record the location of documents and ensure that they could be traced if they were required for legal purposes.  The two main types of manorial records listed by the MDR are:

  • Court records – court rolls, later books, estreat and suit rolls, stewards’ papers, admissions and surrenders
  • Assessment of land and financial records – surveys, extents, custumals, accounts (or compoti), rentals, and quit rents

As well as the records listed by the MDR, the Essex Record Office holds many deeds of copyhold properties and of the manors themselves.  Manorial titles remain and still retain some rights, including the extraction of minerals and fishing and any remaining rights must have been registered with the Land Registry before October 2013 if a lord intends to continue enforcing them.

Over the last few years, the ERO has been contributing to a major update to the Manorial Documents Register, improving the catalogue and getting information online to make these useful and fascinating documents more available to researchers. Even if you don’t want to attempt reading the earlier Latin documents, from 1733 they were kept in English, so there may well be information contained within them of interest to your research in family history, house history, or local history. Essex through the ages on 12 July marks the completion of our contribution to the project, and celebrates the improved accessibility of these records for researchers.

Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

New Accession: photograph of farm labourers

New accessions arrive at ERO all the time, in all shapes and sizes.

One recent arrival is this photograph of farm labourers in Good Easter (D/DU 2905/1), taken in c.1905, a time when farming was still in recovery from the effects of the agricultural depression which had begun in the mid-1870s.


D/DU 2905/1

It was very kindly donated to us by Geof Garwood, whose grandfather George Pavitt is the young man fifth from the left.

All too often historic photographs come to us today without any information about where or when they were taken, or who the people pictured are, so we are lucky in this case that the photograph was donated by a descendant who could give us some more details.

Shortly after leaving the photograph with us, Geof also came across his grandfather’s Long Service Certificate presented by the Essex Agricultural Society in 1948, for 50 years’ service at Falconers Hall in Good Easter, suggesting that this is where the photograph was most likely taken. There is some more information about George in the catalogue entry for the photograph here.

Geof has now donated the long service certificate to be kept with the photograph, and while he was here we also looked at some maps of Good Easter, and found his grandfather’s baptism and his grandparents’ marriage in the Good Easter parish registers. The photograph and certificate help to add personal colour and depth to these existing records in our collection.


Geof Garwood (right) and ERO archivist Chris Lambert examine Geof’s grandfather George Pavitt’s Long Service Certificate, presented to him by the Essex Agricultural Society in 1948.


Looking up the location of the farm on which George Pavitt worked in Good Easter


Looking up Geof’s grandparents in the Good Easter parish registers

Depositing your records at ERO (either as gifts or as long-term loans) achieves two things; firstly, the records benefit from our specialist storage facilities and are cared for by experts; and secondly they are made available to researchers, not only in Essex but around the world through our online catalogue Seax.

If you have something that relates to the history of Essex places or people that you would like to deposit with us, do get in touch to discuss it, either on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 01245 244644.

And if you recognize any of George Pavitt’s fellow workers in Good Easter, we would be delighted to know.

Reconstructing late-medieval and Tudor Stebbing from its manorial records

PoosPortrait1In this guest blog post, Prof. L.R. Poos shares a preview of the research he will be sharing with us at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July (more information here). Prof. Poos is an expert in late-medieval and early-modern English social and legal history, and is Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.


In 1922 the British Library acquired most of the muniments of the Capells, Earls of Essex, from their estate at Cassiobury Park.   The Cassiobury Papers include collections of documents from many manors in Essex.  Among these are extensive document collections from Porters Hall and Stebbing Hall, the two principal manors in the parish of Stebbing, acquired by the Capells in 1481 and 1546 respectively.

Neither of the published guides to the Cassiobury Papers – the Historical Manuscripts Commission’s Report on Manuscripts in Various Collections, vol. vii, and the British Museum’s Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts, 1921-1925 – contains much more than summary descriptions of the collection.  It has taken several trips to the U.K. and significant time in the B.L. Manuscripts Room to begin to appreciate the possibilities of the records for a reconstruction of late-medieval and Tudor Stebbing.  How appropriate that I should have the opportunity to talk about them as part of an event honouring the Manorial Documents Register and its dedication to making manorial collections more accessible to historians!

I had worked briefly with Stebbing’s manorial records years ago as part of the research for a book, A rural society after the Black Death: Essex 1350-1525.  My re-acquaintance with those records is a story in its own right: two years ago I received an email out of the blue from Graham Jolliffe, Chairman of the Stebbing Local History Society, who had seen my references in A rural society to Stebbing documents and enquired politely whether I had any translations of the texts of them that I could share.  The answer was no, then.  But as we continued to chat I realised this was a chance for a worthwhile project.

Tithe map of Stebbing (D/CT 332B)

Tithe map of Stebbing, c.1840 (D/CT 332B)

The Stebbing records are not rich in manorial court rolls and even less so in manorial accounts.   However, they are exceptionally rich in surveys, rentals, and other records setting out the landholding patterns of Porters Hall and Stebbing Hall from the late thirteenth into the seventeenth century.  In addition, the collection includes some remarkable records that are not typical of manorial documentation and in some cases pertain to the parish as opposed to the manor.

Combining and cross-referencing the Stebbing manorial and parish records have set in motion several lines of investigation.   These include:  Stebbing’s involvement in the 1381 revolt – which appears to have been previously unknown – and the backgrounds of some of its participants; a remarkable farmer’s account for the year (1482-1483) after William Capell acquired Porters Hall, and the detailed view it affords of local trading networks; the very rare survival of an assessment roll for parishioners’ contributions to wax money for the parish church and the glimpse this affords into the parish community and economy.  The main Stebbing project currently underway is editing and translating for publication the series of land surveys and rentals, and – in collaboration with Graham Jolliffe and with an American colleague who is an expert in GIS (Geographical Information Systems) – to create a computer map of Stebbing and its tenancies.  ‘Essex through the ages’ will be the first opportunity to present these projects to an audience.

Join us to hear more from Prof. Poos about this fascinating project at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial documents on Saturday 12 July 2014. There are more details, including how to book, here.

Recording of the Month May 2014: Docking of the Jervis Bay

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

SA 19/1057/1

In the early 1980s the Essex-based broadcaster and journalist Dennis Rookard produced a series of radio ballads to be broadcast on hospital radio. This month’s recording is an extract from one of those programmes – called Wind Over Tilbury – which was based around Tilbury Docks and told the story of the enormous changes to working practices brought about by the introduction of containerisation in the 1960s. It was first broadcast on Basildon Hospital Radio.

‘Radio ballad’ is a term used to describe a particular type of radio programme which uses a mixture of songs and the spoken word to create an entertaining, possibly sentimental, form of documentary. The term was coined for a series of programmes made between 1957 and 1964 for the BBC Home Service by Charles Parker, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. They were entirely new in that they used the voices of the ordinary people involved, carefully edited and interwoven with the music, to tell the story without the need for a narrator.

Dennis Rookard was greatly influenced by this series and he used a similar template to make his radio ballads which, like the originals, were generally focussed on the working lives of ordinary people and used folk music to tell the story. In Wind Over Tilbury and other programmes the South-Essex musician and songwriter Jack Forbes has composed songs specifically related to the subject in hand.

The extract I have chosen is the part of the programme in which we hear a large container ship called Jervis Bay being lined up to enter a lock. Amongst other things, it provides evidence for the assertion that radio is better than television because it allows you to create your own pictures. I hope you enjoy it.

Stories from the stores: William Raymond Scott and the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii)

Archivist Allyson Lewis blogs for us about a recent interesting discovery…

While preparing for our Discover Parish Registers workshop at Harlow Archive Access Point on Wednesday 14 May 2014 (see our events page for details), I came across a note that the registers of St Mary Magdalene, Harlow had been closed as they had been taken to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) by mistake and were not returned for two years, by which time new registers had been started.  Intrigued, I investigated further and found that the perpetual curate, Revd William Raymond Scott, had undertaken to accompany the newly-appointed Bishop of Honolulu to the Sandwich Islands, as Hawaii was then called, in 1862.  In addition, he and his wife were to chaperone 70 girls emigrating to Australia.

Extract from D/P 533/1/1

Extract from D/P 533/1/1

They sailed on the steamer the Tynemouth and the voyage was a disaster from start to finish.  The crew mutinied in mid-Atlantic and the ship had to put into the Falkland Islands.  Order was restored and the ship continued to Victoria.  On arrival Scott would not let the girls leave the ship due to the ‘moral dangers’ ashore.

He continued on to the Sandwich Islands and was present when the King and Queen of Hawaii were confirmed and received their first communion.  The service was translated into the Hawaiian language and sung.

He established a church on Maui and a school but left the islands in disgrace and returned to England where he ministered to the poor in the East End of London including Wapping Workhouse during a cholera epidemic.  He died in 1894 in Marlborough, Wiltshire.

To find out more about parish registers and how they could help your research, coming along to one of our Discover: Parish Registers workshops. There are two coming up soon, at Harlow on Wednesday 14 May, and at Walton-on-the-Naze on Wednesday 21 May. Find out more here.

Lumières, Caméra, Action!

We had a little bit of glitz and glamour at the record office today as the international television cameras started to roll in the Searchroom. The occasion was the filming of part of an episode of ‘Qui étes vous?’ which is the French-Canadian version of our own ‘Who do you think you are?’

Members of the crew prepairing to shoot in the searchroom.

Members of the crew preparing to shoot in the Searchroom

The crew and local expert Patrick Denney spent an enjoyable morning filming for the episode which features the award winning actor Antoine Bertrand. A number of our original documents were consulted but we won’t let on which in case some of our Canadian readers get upset.

The crew from Quis Etes Vous? Along with Antoine Betrand (5th from right) and Patrick Denney (6th from right)

The crew from Quis Etes Vous? Along with Antoine Betrand (5th from left) and Patrick Denney (6th from left)

Do you have any North American connections among your ancestors or does your family history wend its way back to British shores? Either way it can be a frustrating but rewarding obstacle to overcome in the course of your research and hopefully the Essex Record Office and our colleagues in the UK and elsewhere will be able to help you.

The lives and times of the High Sheriffs of Essex

Today at ERO, we welcomed a number of High Sheriffs of Essex, past and present, to a reception hosted by Cllr Kay Twitchen, Chairman of Essex County Council, to mark the deposit of a unique set of records.


One of the High Sheriff’s journals which has been deposited at ERO

Would you like to know where to find a trumpeter, or how much it costs to put on a good garden party, or how to deal with a really cold judge?  These and other more serious questions will soon have better answers thanks to the High Sheriffs of Essex.

When asked to think of a sheriff, our mental picture library might supply a greedy, grasping figure (possibly played by Alan Rickman), predictably defeated by the rather less interesting forces of goodness and virtue.  Beyond that, usually, nothing.  Considering that with the exception of the Crown itself the shrievalty is the oldest public office in England, this is a pity, but it is about to become less true.

High Sheriffs past and present gathered at ERO, hosted by Cllr Kay Twitchen (in red jacket)

High Sheriffs past and present gathered at ERO, hosted by Cllr Kay Twitchen (second from right)


Former High Sheriffs looking at documents relating to the history of the role which are held at ERO


The High Sheriff of Essex for 2014, Mr Nicholas Charrington (centre)


Looking in one of our storerooms to see the conditions in which the journals will be kept

The post of High Sheriff dates back to before the Norman Conquest. The origins of the post are in Saxon times – the title of ‘reeve’ was used for senior officers with local responsibility to the king within the shire, and over time ‘shire reeve’ became ‘sheriff’.

In Anglo-Saxon England the sheriff was responsible for the maintenance of law and order through the system of tithings, groups of approximately 10 men who were bound together in mutual assurance. All able-bodied men aged 12-60 had to belong to a tithing, and each man in the group was responsible for the good behaviour of each of the others. They were bound to observe and uphold the law; if a member of tithing broke the law then the others were obliged to report the culprit and deliver him to the constable, failure to do this would result in everybody in the tithing being fined. The sheriff was responsible for inspecting the tithings (although after the Norman Conquest many lords of the manor acquired the right to do this for themselves).

Under the Norman regime the sheriff was the means of enforcing (literally) the King’s writ in the localities, with the authority to summon the posse comitatus (county force or power) to help maintain law and order. The sheriff discovered criminals and delivered them to the royal courts for judgement and executed writs issued by the Crown. In addition the sheriff supervised Crown lands in the county and handed over the revenue to the Exchequer and he could also compulsorily requisition food and supplies for the King (e.g. to fight war). With no oversight from central government, these powers could give the sheriff opportunities for extortion and corruption (hence the Sheriff of Nottingham).

The sheriff also presided over the shire court (the shire courts along with the hundred courts are thought to be one of the means by which Domesday Book was compiled in 1086). From the mid-13th century knights of the shire were elected in the shire court to sit in Parliament and coroners were also elected there. The last duties of the shire court only passed to county courts in 1886 with the County Courts Act.

The medieval sheriffs were also over-burdened with routine business (they have been described as ‘workhorses’ of medieval local government) which meant that law enforcement could be patchy and on occasions arbitrary. As early as 1327 ‘good and lawful men’ were appointed in every county to ‘guard the peace’, called conservators or wardens of the peace and in 1361 justices of the peace were created. In the 1540s lord lieutenants were appointed to take over the military duties of the sheriff.

By 1881 when the High Sheriffs of Essex started to keep the record books which are being deposited with ERO, they had long given up persecuting peasants.  Their real powers and duties were, in fact, quite limited.  This makes their later history a fascinating parallel to that of the monarchy itself: an exercise in finding new roles, while still keeping up appearances.  This was not always easy.

Essex County Council, 1892. Andrew Johnston, the Council's first Chairman and the High Sheriff who began the journals, is in the top centre of the photograph, sitting aside the cannon which used to be outside Chelmsford's Shire Hall

Essex County Council, 1892. Andrew Johnston, the Council’s first Chairman and the High Sheriff who began the journals, is in the top centre of the photograph, sitting aside the cannon which used to be outside Chelmsford’s Shire Hall

At first they were concerned especially with the expenses of an un-salaried office set about by all sorts of costly ceremonies (hence the trumpeters, part of the formal escort provided by the sheriffs for the assize judges when they visited Chelmsford).  From about 1890, however, sheriffs started to write more general reflections on their year of office.  In 1916 one sheriff’s car broke down on the way to the assizes, leaving him and his chaplain to complete their journey to Chelmsford ‘in an open hawker’s cart’.  In 1959, when the hot water system at the judges’ lodgings failed during the Winter Assizes, the High Sheriff ‘nearly had [his] neck wrung’, the judges threatened to leave for London forthwith, and the sheriff ended up having to stoke the boiler himself.

Even so, during the 20th century the sheriffs were able to simplify many of their office’s remaining ceremonial duties and to develop a new social role.  Today’s High Sheriffs continue to attend on visiting High Court judges, and, together with the Lords Lieutenant, to act more generally as the Crown’s local representatives, especially, in their case, in areas of crime and punishment.  They also work to promote the voluntary sector.  A mainly symbolic role, maybe, but who says that symbols are not important?