Geraldine and Martin – Can you help?


In this blog post Archive Assistant and B-26 Marauder fan, Neil Wiffen, seeks assistance with some research.

For years I have known a story about Geraldine and Martin who lived in the vicinity of Great Sailing. ‘And who were they?’ I hear you ask. Well, in Roger Freeman’s B-26 Marauder at War (Shepperton, 1978 – copy in ERO Library) there’s a picture (p. 109)Cover of publication called B-26 Marauder at war by Roger Freeman of a crashed B-26 Marauder named Geraldine, with some of the crew that flew it, and the following caption: ‘Wake over Geraldine … Parents of the real Geraldine returned the naming gesture by having their baby son christened Martin!’ This marauder was part of the 322nd bomb Group based at Andrewsfield near Braintree.

‘Interesting’ I thought, and I stored that piece of information away. Fast forward almost 40 years (really!) and in preparing for the forthcoming Welcome to Essex: remembering the USAAF mini-conference, I was looking through the picture resources at the National Archives of America (National Archives NextGen Catalog) and I came across the photo mentioned above, along with another of the actual Geraldine which, with information from it, enlarges on the story of the naming.

Geraldine examining “her” B-26
(US National Archives reference 342-FH-3A45703-52864AC)

Text that accompanies the photograph:

Little Miss Geraldine, pretty British youngster who lives next door to a 9th Air Force base in rural England, watches a ground crew Sgt. [Sergeant] paint the 80th bomb on the fuselage of “her” B-26 Marauder. Geraldine almost daily inspects the bomber bearing her name, watches from her bedroom window each time it takes off on missions. Geraldine’s baby brother carries out the bombing motif – he was christened “Martin”, for the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, M[arylan]d., builders of B-26 Marauder medium bombers.

Now, a couple of us at the Record Office have had a look to see if we can find a relevant birth for a Geraldine (not at all a common name in the 1940s) with a brother Martin, who lived in the vicinity of Andrewfield, and failed! Not having a surname doesn’t help but, knowing how many of you are out there working away on family trees and research across the county, can you help? We’d love to hear from you if you have any further information.

And not only on this, if you would like to share any memories you may have of when the Americans were over ‘ere then please do get in contact. And, perhaps we’ll see you on the 27th April as well – tickets are selling fast.

Over to you!


Just who is St Cedd? Essex Day 2023

The 26th October is St Cedd’s day. It is also known as Essex Day as St Cedd is Essex’s very own patron saint. Bur who is St Cedd? And why is he held in such high esteem in Essex? Archive Assistant, Robert Lee takes a look at the life of St Cedd.

St Cedd – A Hagiography

Icon of St Cedd

Cedd’s life began in the Kingdom of Northumbria under the tutelage of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne. The oldest of four brothers (Chad, Cynibil & Caelin), Cedd in particular would be unwavering to the Celtic Rite imbued to him by Aidan. Cedd’s introduction to Christianity was anti-diocesan: not liturgical and parochial, but peripatetic and abstinent. In one of very few sources on Cedd, the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, emphasis is made on both Cedd and Chad’s devotion to Saint Aidan; such that four years after Aidan’s death in 651, Cedd is said to have been consecrated by the hands of his successor, Saint Finan of Lindisfarne.

Cedd’s reputation in Christendom had much to do with his proselytizing. In 653, at the behest of King Oswiu of Northumbria, Cedd journeyed into the Midlands with three other priests in order to evangelise the “Middle Angles”: an ethnic group predominantly living in Mercia. By Bede’s account, Cedd was greatly persuasive, with masses coming forward to listen to his preaching and receive baptism. Cedd’s enthusiasm would even sway the opinion of King Penda of Mercia, a long committed pagan. Later in the same year, Cedd would be recalled from Mercia and sent into Essex to aid King Sigeberht of the East Saxons. Again Cedd’s evangelism was highly successful, and Essex was thoroughly Christianised. For his efforts Cedd was ordained Bishop of the East Saxons.

Cedd attended the Synod of Whitby in 664 as a vigilant mediator between Iona (followers of the Celtic Rite) and those who followed the Roman Rite. Roman missionaries were arguing for their own computation of the calendar day of Easter, to which the predominantly Celtic northern English initially disagreed. Uncharacteristically, Cedd was won over by the catholic system, and converted to the Alexandrian computus of Easter Sunday. Following the Synod, Cedd returned to Northumbria to supervise the foundation of a monastery, but the Kingdom had been overwhelmed by the yellow plague, which would bring about Cedd’s death.

St Peters-on-the-wall in November with clear skies

St Peters-on-the-wall in November (Copyright Edward Harris)

Perhaps appropriately, Cedd is remembered far more for his itinerant sainthood than for government of the East Saxon Church. The chapel of Saint-Peter-on-the-Wall in Bradwell-on-Sea is said to have been built by Saint Cedd after his ordination. Having gone through several phases of disuse and ruination, the chapel still stands as testimony to Cedd; to God’s glory and the humility of man.

His role in converting the East Saxons and role as their bishop is the reason that Essex now claims Cedd as their patron saint.

If you would like to visit the Chapel of St Peter yourself it can be reached by taking East End Road from the brick built church in Bradwell-on-Sea for about one and a half miles, until you can see the carpark ahead of you, from there it is a ten minute walk to the Chapel. It is open all year and is well worth a visit!

All Along the Church Tower

Archive Assistant Robert Lee takes a look at one of the many small interactions that went into the creation and updating of the Ordnance Survey maps that we know and love.

I/Mb 6/1/1 - Ardleigh Church from the South.
I/Mb 6/1/1 – Ardleigh Church from the South.

Between 1791 and 1845, The Board of Ordnance had commissioned a mass triangulation survey of Great Britain; endeavouring to produce a “grand meridian line, thro’ the whole extent of the Island” (Roy). Such an endeavour would fine tune the latitudes and longitudes of the country, and allow for more accurate mapping. Approximately 300 obelisks, all ostensibly placed on some high point, like hills and mountains, were plonked around Britain, upon which triangulation would be undertaken. Not all of these points were natural, however.

I have uncovered a letter (D/P 263/6/26), sent on behalf of the Ordnance Survey Office, to a church in Ardleigh, Essex. The letter warns vehemently, yet with a hint of irony and sympathy, of the need to occupy the church’s roof once more for a re-triangulation survey in 1938. “[I]t will be necessary”, the correspondent expounds, “to carry out most of the observations by night from and to small electric projectors”.

There is something beautifully modernist about the vignette of several Ordnance Surveyors perched atop a church tower in a small county parish, operating a heavy laser projector between old stone pinnacles. No more apparent is the imminent crossover between old-time religion and contemporary science.

New Series Ordnance Survey map Sheet 29.5 1923 - Ardleigh Church sporting a triangular mark on it's tower signifying the "Trig-point" or "Triangulation point" at the top of it's tower. These triangular marks can be seen all over Ordnance Survey maps, but always somewhere high up.
New Series Ordnance Survey map Sheet 29.5 1923 – Ardleigh Church sporting a triangular mark on it’s tower signifying the “Trig-point” or “Triangulation point” at the top of it’s tower. These triangular marks can be seen all over Ordnance Survey maps, but always somewhere high up.

Playing to the Whistle: The Holden F5 Project

There are still tickets left for our forthcoming conference, Playing to the Whistle: the Railways of Essex and East Anglia, which is being held on Saturday 1st April. This will cover several aspects of the history of railways in our area along with a talk on how to make a steam engine in the 21st century. Graham Rowlands of the Holden F5 Steam Locomotive Trust, who will be speaking at our conference, shares some information about the project:

One of the last surviving F5's GER No. 789
One of the last surviving F5’s GER No. 789.

“The Holden F5 Steam Locomotive Trust was formed in 2003 with the objective of constructing a replica of the Great Eastern Railway’s M15R (latterly LNER/BR F5) Class of locomotives. With examples to be seen throughout East London and East Anglia, the last members of this type were withdrawn and scrapped by 1958. In their last years of service, they became synonymous with the Epping to Ongar branch where they operated push-pull services until November 1957. 

The Holden F5 under construction in 2022.
The Holden F5 under construction in 2022.

The Holden F5 Steam Locomotive Trust was a spin-off from a preservation group, who had the aim of preserving the Ongar branch in Essex, after the realisation that suitable locomotives from the Eastern region barely existed. Whilst not the grandest of locomotives, upon completion the engine will be well-suited to the needs of many heritage lines; with modern engineering practices and design work being coupled with original drawings, GER 789 will be more than capable of all but the heaviest loads.

To date, The Holden F5 Steam Locomotive Trust has had a number of components manufactured including: cylinder block, smokebox, chimney, machined wheels, plus much more besides. The main frames have been assembled at the Tyseley Locomotive Works in Birmingham and support the finished coal bunker and smokebox. Major progress WILL be made in 2023.”

For details of the running order of the day, and how to book, please visit: Don’t forget, the ticket price includes lunch and tea/coffee.

We look forward to seeing you at what should be an extremely interesting day.

‘The Great Tide’ remembered

Arial Photograph of Tilbury (D/Z 35/15)  (Photo: Southend Standard)
Arial Photograph of Tilbury (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard)

On the night of Saturday 31 January 1953, a severe storm coincided with a high spring tide in the North Sea. The resulting tidal surge caused devastation along the east coast of England. 307 people were killed, 120 of them from Essex. The worst hit communities in the county were Canvey Island, where 58 people died, and Jaywick, where 37 people lost their lives.

October 2018 seems like a long time ago. Our events team was busy planning our ERO Presents series of monthly talks. As our attention turned to booking in a talk from Janet Walden from the Canvey Community Archive about the 1953 floods, we recalled that there had been some local demand to re-print a book called “The Great Tide” – and wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask Janet what she thought, and whether she could find us anywhere to have a small, understated book launch on Canvey.

The ERO team arranged for one of our library copies to be dismantled, scanned, and for the PDFs to be sent to the printers. We were aiming for the book to be launched in the February of 2020. I’m sure that we don’t need to relate what happened next.

In 2022, with the world re-opened, we started planning the launch of “The Great Tide” for February 2023, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the events that it describes. Alongside that launch, we aimed to commemorate the event more widely with the communities who were at the heart of it.

The new edition of "The Great Tide" by Hilda Grieve alongside the original 1959 edition.
The new edition of “The Great Tide” by Hilda Grieve alongside the original 1959 edition.

But what is so important about this book, “The Great Tide”?

“The Great Tide” was written and researched by Hilda Grieve, then Senior Assistant Archivist at the Essex Record Office. It was commissioned by Essex County Council shortly after the flood, with the intention of documenting the “complete story” of the disaster. Essentially this would be Essex County Council’s official report into the floods, but in the writing, it became so much more.

Published in 1959, “The Great Tide” told the story of the county’s relationship to the sea, the meteorological conditions preceding the flood, the events of 31 January and 1 February, and the subsequent rescue, relief, and restoration efforts in meticulous detail, drawn from six years of careful, patient research. It has since been described by the writer Ken Worpole as “one of the great works of twentieth century English social history”.

'Hilda afloat' (A14391) On Shrublands Close in Chelmsford during a river flood in the late 50s.
‘Hilda afloat’ (A14391) On Shrublands Close in Chelmsford during a river flood in the late 50s.

The Essex Record Office is privileged to hold Hilda’s original notes and early manuscripts, along with many of the documents that she would have had access to. Robert, one of our Archive Assistants, has pulled together a selection of these documents to display in our Searchroom.

As he found, there is substantially more in the archive than can be displayed. Hilda’s typescript itself comprises about eleven or twelve foolscap folders, full to capacity with her timetables and diagrams, all hammered out by typewriter and then reorganized in scraps on the page – the original Word formatting. Also illuminating were the more exacting records of people who lived through the flood. Still beautifully preserved in the collection of the South Benfleet branch of the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service are their case cards of missing persons, evacuees, primary school children, all meticulously accounted for, along with the faded newsprint clippings and telegrams of thanks from flood victims.

Since the publication of “The Great Tide”, the Essex Record Office as well as our partners like Canvey Community Archive and Harwich Museum have continued to collect material to add to the wealth of knowledge about the events of the evening of 31 January 1953, including photographs, radio broadcasts, and oral histories.

As we’ve explored in another blog post (as well as previous blog posts, here and here), the reminiscences of people who survived the flood and took part in the rescue effort across the county are particularly moving. You can listen to recordings preserved in the Essex Sound and Video Archive at the listening post in our Searchroom.

Listening post with headphones and touchscreen. On the touchscreen is a map of the areas affected by the flood.

And so, to the events we have planned for February 2023.

Wednesday 1st February: We will be at Canvey Library alongside the Canvey Community Archive, the Town Council, and representatives from the Environment Agency, Essex County Council and the National Coastwatch to commemorate the 70th anniversary. We will have a display with us including audio, video and maps of the area at the time of the flood. As part of the commemoration, a new plaque will be unveiled in memory of the victims at 2:00pm. We will also have copies of our re-print of “The Great Tide” available for sale for the first time at a special launch price of £15.00.

Thursday 2nd February: We are inviting pupils of the primary schools on Canvey to visit us at the library to view the displays and to talk to members of the Community Archive team. All of the schools on Canvey have been provided with a specially produced education pack looking at the floods.

Saturday 4th February: We will be taking our display to Harwich Museum for the day, alongside their 1953 exhibition. Local schools have been invited to visit us again on the day and have been provided with their own specially developed education pack. You will also be able to pick up your copy of “The Great Tide” from us on the day.

Copies of “The Great Tide” are available to purchase from our online shop while stock lasts

If you would like to find out more about the 1953 flood disaster and Hilda Grieve’s book ‘The Great Tide’, listen to the recent BBC Radio 4 documentary, Learning from the Great Tide.

Beef for Christmas

In time for Christmas, Archive Assistant Neil Wiffen looks at a nineteenth century list of gifts of beef.

Christmas is almost upon us; the shops are busy and hopefully everyone’s cupboards and fridges have been provisioned ready for the festive day. Mid-winter, the bleakest, darkest and coldest time of the year has, for at least the past two or so millennia, been a time when people come together to feast and celebrate and to look forward to the return of the sun. Today we’re used to shops full of pallets stacked with tubs of chocolates, boxes of beer and so many mince pies and panettones that’d they probably reach the moon placed end-to-end. However, in a pre-industrial age life was lived very much more precariously.

A wintery scene from the Whitmore family scrapbook D/DWt Z2-12

For instance, a ‘fairly’ recent example of dearth occurred at the end of the eighteenth century. A run of poor harvest in the 1790s caused much unrest and consternation through the kingdom This led to the government surveying agriculture across the country as way of finding out what was being grown and what the forthcoming harvests in 1800 and 1801 might yield. Further spells of bad weather in the late 18-teens saw another series of poor harvests. The spectre of famine was only a poor harvest away.

A home-grown and seasonal diet must have become fairly monotonous, and it is to be assumed that all sorts of pickling and preserving must have gone on to eek out and make more interesting, stored food stuffs. Any form of ‘boost’ was surely very welcome and even more so at Christmas. A gift of some form or other to employees was often received at Christmas and in one of the Record Office collections there are lists covering several years, of the distribution of beef to what must be the agricultural labourers and their family members (the Tabor family of Bocking, D/DTa/A33A).

D/DTa A33A Lists of those who received beef in 1851 and 1881
D/DTa A33A Lists of those who received beef in 1851 and 1881

In 1851 there were 24 doles totalling 135lb of beef, while by 1881 the number of distributions had risen to 26 but the total of beef given had fallen to 96lb. In 1851 the first dole or distribution of beef is to ‘N[?]. Strait, wife & 2 ch[ildren], Jon[athan?] Strait, 7lb’. A family group of five, so just over a pound of beef per person. This could be the family of Nathaniel Straight who was recorded as living in Hall(?) Farm Cottages, Bocking, in the 1851 census (TNA, HO 107/1785, p.39). Nathaniel, the head of the household was listed along with his wife Mary and children Jonathan, Henry, Ann and Elizabeth. They were all locals, each listing Bocking as their place of birth and all, except the girls who worked in the local silk trade, were agricultural labourers.

The entry from the list gives a household of five, but the census shows six. The census was taken in the spring and this list is from the end of the year. Had one of the children left home? If Jonathan was still at home, as suggested above, could it have been Henry, who at 18, might have moved on?

We can perhaps assume that those listed were all employees on the Tabor farms. However, the list from 1881 suggests that this might not have always been the case for a ‘Wid[do]w Rogers is listed having received 3lb of beef. Was she the relict of a now dead employee receiving some form of alms? Does this show compassion on behalf of the Tabor family?

I have just scratched the surface with just these two lists. How much more can be discovered about the lives of those listed – what connections might be uncovered? So, if you’re looking for a project for the New Year, what better than to take up this task. Do you fancy uncovering some ‘lost’ lives? If so, do get in contact for a chat. Also, there are some other documents if you search Essex Archives Online for ‘Christmas’ and ‘beef’, and I’m sure there are many other examples of gifts of food and drink waiting to be found. How about an expanded piece of research for this time next year? You know it makes sense.

For the time being, let us leave the recipients of the Christmas beef in Bocking (and we can only imagine how much they enjoyed their Christmas beef) and look forward to the next few days. Have you decided upon a large fowl, a chicken, duck or goose, a shoulder of lamb or bit o’ mutton, pork, gammon or ham, a plant-based nutty alternative, perhaps a ‘turkey’ made out of tofu (yes, they do exist!), or a meal of roasted root vegetables, sprouts and onion gravy? Whatever it is that you sit down to on December 25th, with family, friends and loved ones, we wish you all a very Happy Christmas and peaceful New Year and look forward to welcoming you to the Record Office in 2023 – maybe even to start research on these lists from Bocking!

“Exactly like a hundred other November Sundays”

After almost three years of war, apart from victory in the Battle of Britain, there had not been much good news for the British public. In particular, the end of 1941 and most of 1942 had been particularly bad with the Japanese entry into the war and their subsequent rapid advance in the far east, including the loss of Singapore and the shocking sinkings of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, while closer to home the fall of Greece, Crete and Tobruk, witnessed further terrible losses for British and Commonwealth forces.



Although earlier campaigns in north Africa had brought about some spectacular advances against the Italian army, the entry of German forces under Erwin Rommel, the famous ‘Desert Fox’, had seen these wiped out, with Egypt and the Suez Canal being threatened. The re-equipping of the Eighth Army and their stand in prepared positions in later 1942, along with the appointment of Bernard Montgomery, or ‘Monty’ as he became known, along with the exhaustion of the Axis forces, gave the Allies a crucial opportunity to strike back. The second battle of El Alamein was fought between 23rd October and 4th November and resulted in a victory for British and Commonwealth forces. Churchill famously summed up: ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps the end of the beginning.’

Why then is the Essex Record Office writing about an event that took place 80 years agon and a couple of thousand miles away. Well Churchill wished to have a victory for which he could order the ringing of church bells to raise the spirits of the nation. These had been silenced at the beginning of the war, only to be used as a warning of invasion. It was ordained that on Sunday 15th November 1942, the church bells were to be rung to mark victory at El Alamein. Eric Rudsdale recorded what must have been a very emotional event:

Dull morning, overcast. Carted hay to mill, and then went up to Barn Hall for a truss of straw. As I came back I heard St. Peter’s bells begin to chime, slowly at first, then bursting into a peal – The “great victory” celebration. This is the first time for 2½ years that we have heard bells, and I do not suppose we shall ever hear them again. Soon I heard St. Leonard’s Hythe begin, and the noise of the bells coming over the radio from a house in Bourne[?] Road. As I went home, the other bells began to call to service. The solitary cracked[?] bell of St Mary Magdalen clanging slowly, just as it did when I was a child. Few people in the streets going to church, and some children delivering newspapers, exactly like a hundred other November Sundays, a reminder of all those lovely chaps that will never return.

D/DU 888/25/3, diary of E.J. Rudsdale, pp.540-41
D/P 30/1/56, St Nicholas, Witham, Service register

Eighty years on, while the sands of Egypt are once more the centre of world attention, although this time for the battle against climate change (COP27, 6th – 18th November 2022), we can try and imagine how emotional it was to hear the bells ringing out over Essex on a dull and overcast morning in 1942, and spare a thought for ‘all those lovely chaps’ who did not return.

Curiosity Cabinet: The Dunmow Flitch

The tradition of the Dunmow Flitch Trials is commonly dated back to 1104 when a local Lord and Lady supposedly visited the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow disguised as paupers. They asked the prior if he would bless their marriage which had taken place a year and a day previously. Impressed by their apparent devotion to each other, the prior responded by presenting them with a flitch of bacon (which the Priory cook happened to have been carrying past at the time).

At this point the Lord, Reginald Fitzwalter, threw off his present garb and thanked the prior for his willingness to believe in their love. He then gifted some of his land to the Priory on the condition that a flitch of bacon would be given to any couple that could come to the Priory and prove their continued devotion to each other a year and a day after their marriage.

As charming as it is, this story has obviously been the cause of much doubt over the years – but what can’t be doubted is the fame that the Dunmow Flitch Trials had gained by the 14th century. Both William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer refer to the trials in their books, and they both used language which assumed readers were already familiar with the tradition. However, the first official record does not appear until 1445 when Mr and Mrs Richard Wright were awarded their flitch of bacon.

The tradition lapsed over the years and, in 1832, Josiah Vine’s request for a trial was refused on the grounds that it was ‘an idle custom bringing people of indifferent character into the neighbourhood’.

Fortunately, the novelist William Harrison Ainsworth sought to revive the tradition in 1854 with his book ‘The Custom of Dunmow’ and in the following year he personally presented the flitch to two couples. One was a French gentleman and his English wife:  the Chevalier and Madame De Chatelain. The other was a local couple from Chipping Ongar: James Barlow, a builder, and his wife Hannah.

During the trials, both couples were required to prove their enduring love before a jury of six maidens and six bachelors. There was also an opposing council which represented the donors of the flitch of bacon and challenged the evidence with the aim to dissuade the jurors from awarding the flitch to the couple. Successful couples were then seated in the Flitch Chair and carried in a parade, at the end of which they were required to take this oath:

‘We do swear by custom of confession
That we ne’er made nuptial transgression;
Nor since we were married man and wife,
By household brawls or contentious strife,
Or otherwise at bed or at board,
Offended each other in deed or word;
Or since the parish clerk said “Amen,”
Wished ourselves unmarried again;
Or in a twelvemonth and a day,
Repented not in thought or in any way,
But continued true and in desire
As when we joined hands in the holy quire.’

After the Dunmow Flitch Trial, an album was compiled to commemorate the occasion. It consists of the following framed items: a painting of James Barlow, a sketch of James and Hannah Barlow, a commemorative certificate, and a picture of the Dunmow Town Hall. At the back of this album is a disguised compartment holding letters about the planning of the event, a programme from the day itself, a pamphlet about the history of the Dunmow Flitch and (perhaps most remarkably) the shoulder bone from the Barlow’s flitch of bacon!

Balancing the Challenges – Managing Heritage Landscapes alongside Contemporary Needs

Essex Gardens Trust and Essex Record Office joint Symposium

Saturday 2 April, 10:00am to 3.30pm at the ERO, Chelmsford

We are delighted to be holding a joint all-day symposium in Chelmsford with the Essex Gardens Trust on Saturday 2 April 2022. This event was originally conceived and planned before the pandemic and after some enforced rescheduling, is now going ahead. The theme of the day is to explore some of the many challenges that heritage landscapes and gardens face today in trying to balance competing priorities of preservation, conservation, ecology, sustainability, and public access.

We will be welcoming to Essex, Peter Hughes, QC and Chair of The Gardens Trust whose talk is entitled “Opening the gates – Conservation and the Challenges of Garden Tourism”. Peter chose this subject for his Masters’ degree dissertation in Garden and Landscape History and undertook a case study of six important gardens around the country, some in public and some in private custodianship, and interviewed head gardeners and other prominent figures involved in garden conservation.

Cressing temple walled garden

A talk by Alison Moller – Garden Historian, lecturer, and researcher – will provide the landscape context for Essex landscape heritage sites tracing the geological formation of the land beneath the historic landscapes of Essex.

Landscape Architect, Liz Lake will explore how our historic landscapes can be a source of inspiration for modern day designers and an additional reason why they should be managed and conserved. Liz will pick out key features from historic designed landscapes and looks at how they have been reworked for our times.

Stephen Smith, Historic Gardens Consultant will speak on “A Vision for Landscape Conservation”. Many historic gardens and landscapes are managed by bodies with a culture and expectation which diverges greatly from those which envisage their restoration and conservation. For example, prejudice against exotic plant species on the one hand and an underappreciation of habitat management on the other are common points of divergence. He will argue that the different approaches can be detrimental to the original vision of a conservation project. In his paper, Stephen Smith will share his observations, drawing on examples of landscape conservation schemes on the London fringes of Essex and beyond, to identify the problems as well as proffer some mutually beneficial solutions.


And finally, Ailsa Wildig – Chair of The Tuesday Research Group, at Warley Place will talk about How Warley Place still respects its garden history – From historic garden to nature reserve looking at the challenges facing those managing and caring for Ellen Willmott’s historic garden, that was recently listed as ‘at risk’ by Historic England.

This should be a fascinating day exploring some of the challenges facing those conserving historic landscapes and gardens and will also provide the opportunity to meet or catch up with others working or with interests in these fields.

Tickets, costing £30 and include a light lunch, can be booked at

Essex Gardens Trust; caring about our green spaces

Curiosity Cabinet: Frost Fairs and Frozen Rivers

Hidden at the back of an otherwise innocuous court book from Ashdon Rectory is this unimposing memento of ‘an unprecedented scene’ which took place between December 26th 1813 and March 20th 1814 when the surface of the River Thames in London froze fully solid. As with numerous such occasions before this the locals of London contrived to hold an awe-inspiring ‘Frost Fair’ upon the frozen surface. This small copy of the Lord’s Prayer was printed on the Thames itself on February 5th 1814.

The tiny printed prayer is pasted in the back of the court book, under a written description of the unusual weather and some of the events that were impacted by it
(D/DU 153/4)

Such mementos were not uncommon; when Charles II visited a frost fair on January 31st 1684 he bought a printed ticket to commemorate the occasion. Held at the Museum of London, the ticket lists the members of the court who attended alongside the King. The very first documented frost fair took place even earlier than this in 1608, where one could even get a shave in the middle of the frozen river. The fairs were filled with the novelty of such everyday tasks being performed on the ice. Vendors set up funfair games, fortune telling, and stalls selling all variety of food, drink, and trinkets.

Unfortunately, the frost fair immortalised in the Ashdon Rectory court book was the last of its kind. The demolition of the medieval London Bridge in 1831, and other changes to the Thames made during the Victorian era, altered the flow of the river so that the water was deeper and swifter and did not freeze so easily.

However, there is further evidence of smaller freezes which affected the rivers in Essex as late as the 20th century. Rivers in Southend, Leigh-on-Sea and Rochford froze to dramatic spectacle in both 1905 and 1929.

Although the ice was thick enough to walk on no frost fairs were held during these smaller freezes and, looking at these photographs, we can see why no one would want to risk ice-skating on these unruly frozen waves!

An even more recent example occurred in 1963 and presented such an inhospitable scene in Southend, Benfleet, and Battlesbridge that G.A. Robinson was moved to dedicate a whole scrapbook to the icy scenes.

The first page of a leather-bound photo album which goes on to describe its aim of memorialising the 1963 freeze and refers back to the postcards which were used for a similar purpose in 1905 and 1929. (D/DU 1464/68)

Nowadays ice is found mostly on our car windscreens, making it difficult to picture such monumental scenes for ourselves. If you need more photographic evidence to fully comprehend these extreme conditions, make sure to check out our latest Curiosity Cabinet in the Searchroom.