Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – The Science of Archaeology

Our next speaker introduction is Dr Zoe Outram, science advisor for Historic England. She will be giving a talk on the science of archaeology as part of our conference.

Having been inspired by childhood trips to places like Avebury and West Kennet Long Barrow, Zoe has pursued a varied career centred around the archaeological sciences. She studied Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, reassessed the Iron Age chronology of the Northern Isles of Scotland for her PHD and, in 2011, completed a post-doctoral project in archaeomagnetism. Her various job roles have included: providing specialist scientific dating services, studying Viking and Norse settlements in Shetland and the Faroe Islands, lecturing in Archaeological Sciences, working as an excavator, and carrying out specialist work in environmental archaeology, geoarchaeology, and forensic archaeology.

From ‘Illustrations for a History of Colchester’ –
an album of illustrations, sketches and notes compiled by William Wire c.1845-1850 (D/Y 37/1/6)

Archaeology is amazing. It can tell us about our shared past – people and their lives, the landscapes and environments where they lived, the technology available to them, the trade and communication networks, and the issues and challenges that were faced. Archaeological Science allows us to ask new and exciting questions about this resource. Zoe will introduce a number of scientific techniques that can be applied to help us address specific questions: where is the archaeological site? How old is it? What can we learn about the people and their lives?

Hopefully that has whetted your appetite. If you don’t want to miss Zoe speaking at our conference, book now:

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Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – Gas Manufacture and Water Purification

In our last blog post we introduced you to Dr David Crease, one of the speakers for our day long science conference on March 7th. Next up we would like to introduce you to Peter Wynn, who will be giving two talks: one about gas manufacture and one about water purification.

A view from ERO of the Gas Holders, photo courtesy of Walter Roberts

Peter is a retired senior lecturer of civil engineering at Anglia Ruskin University and a fellow of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management. He has long held an interest in gas manufacture in Essex, having discovered papers from 1947 relating to issues with the Chelmsford gas holder’s foundations.

Though the dangers of unsanitary water supply were proved by Dr John Snow in 1854, his findings were not widely believed until after his death when the bacteria causing cholera was isolated in the 1880s.

In 1895, when John Clough Thresh became the Medical Officer of Health for Essex, the purification of water for human consumption was still very much a challenge. Well beyond his retirement, Thresh continued to act as a consultant for Essex County Council until his death in 1932. His work to improve the water supply for his adoptive county was considered pioneering by both his peers and by more recent researchers alike. His influence extended well beyond Essex.

Commercial supply of gas in the UK began in the early 19th century, originally by way of small gas plants installed in the premises where the gas was to be used. Following the formation of the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company in London in 1812, pioneers of public gas supply, many other companies were founded; including in Chelmsford in 1819.

Photo of coke lorries from the Spalding Collection

If we’ve managed to pique your interest, be sure to book your place at the conference now:

If you still aren’t quite convinced, keep an eye on our blog for more speaker introductions to entice you in!

Part of:

The Reach of The Marconi Photographic Section

Lewis Smith, the Essex Record Office’s Engagement Fellow, takes a look at some of the things in the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive.

Founded by Guigielmo Marconi in 1897, the Marconi Company (which held various names over its lifetime) were pioneers in wireless technology. Famously based in Chelmsford (regulars in the area will draw attention to places like ‘Marconi Road’ and ‘Navigation Road’), his technologies helped to shape the world we live in today: so much of our lives are a result of their research, from radio to navigation, from aeronautics to maritime, from communications continent to continent.

A11449 – 16748 MARCONI CO. TRADE MARK OR LOGO, 1947.

One part of the most interesting parts of the Marconi Company’s history was the Marconi Photographic Section, whom took hundreds of pictures over the organisation’s lifetime. These records are now stored at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. Unfortunately, this collection remains largely underused – so the British Society for the History of Science and Essex Record Office tasked me to spend some time scoping out the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive, working out what kind of images are within and, perhaps most importantly, work out how they can be used. Whilst I have only been in the archive for a relatively short period of time (since the beginning of October), there are some very interesting historical angles in desperate need of further research – from business to imperial history, from labour to marketing history.

A11449 – 78774, MAP OF NADGE RADAR CHAIN, 1968

One thing to note is that there are a lot of pictures of non-descript machines and circuitry – fans of the history of electronic engineering need look no further: historians of oscilloscopes, transmitters and receivers, power supplies, RADAR arrays, and pretty much all kinds of specialist electronic engineering will find something of interest here. These images present an extensive product history of Marconi’s inventions and patents. Perhaps more generally appealing, there is a lot for those interested in maritime and aeronautical history: one of the key ideas that came about from wireless communication was the idea of wireless navigation, and Marconi fitted many different pieces of equipment to aircraft and ships to aid in their navigation around the globe.


But the view of higher international politics, engineering and industry are only one side of the coin: the prevalence of this technical equipment masks ordinary life. The archive presents us with a rich social history of the worker and their working practices. Workers, many male and female, black and white, British and international, are presented in the factories assembling intricate circuits. To look at the ethnography behind the people in these pictures reveals the clear shifts, both natural and forcible, in middle and working class employment. Notice particularly with image 2015 – everyone is happy and content, giving the viewer the impression that everything was okay working for Marconi. It wasn’t always this sweet.


As this is evidently the photographic archive of a business, there is huge scope for a business historian. These photographs are frozen moments in time, specifically captured because they want to show a particular angle, person, product or scene – why one moment and not another? Why one person over another? Why one place over another? More specifically, there are multiple photographs of how the Marconi Company attempted to market itself in a world of innovation: some of the most interesting pictures are of the exhibits set up to advertise wireless communication at various exhibitions.


What is most interesting about the archive is the company’s vast spread throughout the globe: as with any history of the twentieth century, Empire remains front and centre. Imperial conquerors can come and go as they please, but radio technology meant the constant connection between colony and coloniser. Furthermore, the concept of technological Imperialism remained hot in this period: teaching others how to use Marconi equipment orients them towards using that equipment for a long time, forcing the colony to ask for technical help from the coloniser. This relationship is observable in the photographic archives as Marconi equipment was placed in different colonies, greatly expanding the imperial nation’s reach.


Art lovers may also find something worthwhile in the archives. There are photographs of many different artistic drawings by members of staff in the collection depicting a variety of different scenes. The collection features many talented artists, as well as plastic models of Marconi scenes and vehicles, models of scientific principles, and copious drawings. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that science and art are two separate unconnected topics, but the collection features some stunning images which clearly appeal to the art behind science.


This collection is for use in the Essex Record Office under Accession A11449 in over 100 individual boxes. This project hopes to eventually digitise and map these images to show the company’s reach. I have spent time electronically tagging the pictures with keywords: if you would be interested in looking at this spreadsheet or further discussing the project, do contact me at Whether for research or for a casual perusal, this collection really has a lot to offer!

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

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

Essex’s Industrial Archaeology: Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd

On Saturday 6 July 2013 we are hosting a special one-day conference on Essex’s Industrial Archaeology.

Essex is perhaps not thought of as a typically industrial county, but industry is a fascinating part of our county’s past, and shaped the lives of the people who lived here. We have six speakers who will be covering a range of topics and roving around the county:

David Alderton: Why Industrial Archaeology?

Prof. Roy Simons OBE: Marconi, the Father of Wireless

Paul Gilman: title TBC

David Morgans: Beeleigh Steam Mill

George Courtauld: The history of Courtaulds Ltd. InEssex– the first 100 years

Tony Crosby: Industrial housing inEssex

You can find out more about some of our speakers and their talks here. Tickets are just £15 which includes refreshments and a buffet lunch.

In the run up to the conference, we will be bringing you some industrial treasures from our collections to show you some aspects of Essex’s (sometimes surprising) industrial past, beginning with a sample of photographs from our collection of Marconi’s famous New Street factory, taken by Fred Spalding soon after its opening in 1912.

Professor Roy Simons OBE will be discussing the history of this famous company at the conference. Professor Simons is a Marconi veteran himself – he began working on radar systems for the company in 1943 – and since his retirement he has researched the early history of Marconi’s. We will also be showing archive footage of Marconi’s factory shot in 1934, where you can see some of the photographs below brought to life.

Guglielmo Marconi – the ‘father of wireless’  – was an extraordinary man, and Chelmsford owes much to him and the companies he established. Marconi established the world’s first wireless factory in Hall Street in Chelmsford in 1898, but by 1912 demand for the equipment manufactured there had grown so much that the company moved to new purpose-built premises in New Street. Marconi wireless equipment was used to broadcast distress signals from the Titanic, and the first publicised entertainment radio broadcast came from the New Street factory in 1920, when the famous Dame Nellie Melba sang. The company continued to improve on voice transmissions, and later became involved in the development of television. Marconi’s also played a crucial role in developing radar, which was critical to Allied victory in the Second World War. The New Street site has now been unused for a number of years, and after much discussion is currently being redeveloped.

Marconi’s factory in New Street, Chelmsford, built over just 17 weeks by a workforce of over 500 people (D/F 269/1/3676)

Marconi’s factory in New Street, Chelmsford, built over just 17 weeks by a workforce of over 500 people (D/F 269/1/3676)

Men working in the machine shop at Marconi’s New Street factory (D/F 269/1/3683)

Men working in the machine shop at Marconi’s New Street factory (D/F 269/1/3683)

Women working in Condenser and Mounting shop at Marconi’s New Street factory (D/F 269/1/3678)

Women working in Condenser and Mounting shop at Marconi’s New Street factory (D/F 269/1/3678)

The Power Test Room at Marconi’s New Street factory (D/F 269/1/3680)

The Carpenters Shop at Marconi’s New Street Factory (D/F 269/1/3681)


Essex’s Industrial Archaeology

Saturday 6 July 2013, 9.30am-4.30pm

Tickets £15 – please book in advance by telephoning 01245 244614

Click here for more information